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Open Discussion Needed On The TRC

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27Apr

A few weeks ago Rod Clifton was invited to speak at a CBC Town Hall Meeting about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on Canadian Indian Residential Schools (TRC). CBC producer Donna Carreiro then sought “frank and insightful conversation” on the difficulties Canada is having in reconciling Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s understanding of the history of Indian Residential Schools.

Most people have heard of the TRC, few have read the 3,500 page, 6 volume Report. CBC was probably interested in Clifton because he is a well-known commentator on Indian Residential Schools. He actually read the Report and is editing a book on it.

Clifton, a retired U of M education professor, long ago worked as the Senior Boy’s Supervisor in Stringer Hall, the Anglican Residential Hostel in Inuvik. He has since written and talked extensively about residential schools. Moreover, Professor Clifton’s wife was a student in Old Sun, the Anglican School on the Siksika (Blackfoot) First Nations in Southern Alberta for 10 years. Her parents attended the same school, each there for eight years.

Unfortunately, a week before CBC’s Town Hall was to be held, Clifton was disinvited from the program. He would have talked about serious matters that many Canadians do not know about or fully realize.

Specifically:

  • About 30 percent of the schools had Indigenous names given to them by the churches running them. The first residential school was the Mohawk Institute, established in 1832. Others were named Old Sun, Crowfoot, and Poundmaker, after respected Indigenous chiefs.
  • Only about 30 percent of Indigenous children over the schools’ 150-year period attended residential schools. The other 70 percent either never went to school or attended day schools, which were similar to public schools that other children attended.
  • Many of the Indigenous children in Southern Canada lived in residential schools for only 5 days a week, going home on weekends. Most students went home during summer holidays.
  • Average attendance was for only about 4.5 years, not 12 years.

Clifton’s concern is that the whole truth, including awkward facts, need to be discussed before true reconciliation can even hoped to be obtained. CBC’s Town Hall, no doubt influenced by CBC’s ever-more grating and corrosive obsession with victimology and identity politics, would have provided a good opportunity to broaden this complicated  discussion. Some of the most outrageous claims in the Report need to be examined carefully, not simply accepted as the ‘gospel-truth’ by polite Canadians who do not want to offend anyone, particularly Indigenous people, some emotionally distraught.

For example, an Indigenous person claimed she was flown to Inuvik (when Clifton was there) in the cargo bay of a small airplane. There was no attempt to verify this claim. The TRC commissioners did not ask other people on the same plane if the story was true, and they did not obtain records filed by the airline to see the passenger list and if cargo was on the plane. It would have been very easy to check facts, like these.

CBC surely has a responsibility to check claims before presenting them as “news.” Is reconciliation possible when false information is left to “float around”?  A more open discussion on residential schools is needed. Clifton could have helped.

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