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Does this week’s voluminous executive summary of a report-in-progress from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) point to a “way forward” for indigenous people, or merely stoke grievance, that most potentially self-destructive of political weapons?
Nobody would deny the wrongs of residential schools, but according to Wab Kinew, associate vice-president of indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg, and an “honourary witness” to the TRC, failure to pursue the TRC’s elaborate laundry list of 94 recommendations would lead to “more uncertainty for the resource industry.” That sounds like a threat. But who is being threatened if not his own people, for many of whom resource development offers the best hope for regaining self reliance and respect?
The use of the term “cultural genocide” by the report’s authors and many sympathetic observers is inflammatory. Indeed, analogies to the Final Solution are likely to provoke distaste rather than sympathy among that vast majority of Canadians who had nothing to do with this aspect of Canadian history which, we might remember, was the retrospectively shameful norm, not the exception, in the colonial era.
What was involved in the residential schools was not genocide, it was well-intended “acculturation” to the very different kinds of knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in a fast-evolving modern society. Many aboriginal parents were eager for their children to have such education. Its residential form was dictated by small, often extremely remote, communities and nomadic lifestyles.
The fact that it came attached to replacing one set of “spiritual” values — which were in no way “inferior” — with another is indeed reprehensible. And there is obviously no excuse for sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church (The TRC wants an apology from the Pope. They may well get one, but, ironically, by climbing aboard the climate change bandwagon, the Catholic Church remains a threat to aboriginal people, since climate hysteria is behind much anti-development agitation).
The eagerness of some influential figures to reach for the sackcloth and ashes may prove less than helpful, because it offers ammunition to anti-development forces outside the aboriginal community. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau rushed to accept the report’s recommendations, obviously without reading them.
Insofar as many aboriginal communities today are genuinely “in crisis” the roots lay as much in continuing to live in remote reservations with abysmal facilities, poor educational opportunities, few jobs, and sometimes incompetent and corrupt leadership, as with the legacy of residential schools.
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