Residential Schools [The Report]
by Dr. Roland Chrisjohn
Published: Dark Night field notes #17
On May 24, 2000; St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick hosted a conference called Residential Schools: The Past is Present. It brought together residential school survivors and speakers addressing the system and its effects. Two participants were Jim Craven, who has served as a judge in an Inter-Tribal Tribunal and prosecutor in a Blackfoot Tribunal on the roles of certain churches and the government of Canada in the Indian Residential School system, and Roland Chrisjohn, rapporteur to the Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Justice for the psychosocial effects of residential schools. Dark night field notes here presents excerpts from talks and interviews related to the conference.
Roland Chrisjohn speaks:
I started writing my book on residential schooling, The Circle Game, in 1991, originally for Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Justice. I had done some work with the Williams Lake First Nations, seven or eight First Nations in and around British Columbia. And from that the Royal Commission approached me to write the psychosocial part of a three-pronged attack. Somebody was going to write about the legal aspects of residential schools, another person was going to write about the historical aspects and they were going to get a psychologist to write about the sociology and psychology of the residential schools.
At that point I was distancing myself quite drastically from psychology, so I asked “How could you be asking me to do this if you’d read anything I wrote on the residential schools?” “Well no, but we’ve heard good things.” I don’t know anyone who could have said anything complimentary about what I’d written before 1994, because I was taking to task a lot of what I call the standard account of the residential schools. But in 1994, I finished it. The Circle Game is essentially the 1994 report with appendices that answer questions arising from our presentation. The Royal Commission didn’t do anything with it. If you go through the volumes that came out later, you won’t find more than an occasional reference that this report ever existed.
The day after I delivered it to the Royal Commission, I got a call: “This is a marvelous report. Brilliant! We’re going to give this a big send-off.” They had done a report on suicide and another on native justice and the third was to be my take on the residential schools. Two days later, I get a second telephone call; “There’s been some problems with your paper. We’re wondering if you’ll summarize it in one page for us?” “No, it took me a hundred pages to say what I had to say. I never contracted to give you one page. If you don’t want to go with it, that’s your business.”
The interesting thing about working with the Royal Commission is the extent to which it tried to back away from the issues the report raised. For some reason, everybody has the idea that the Royal Commission report is an Indian report. It’s not an Indian report; it’s a government report done by government functionaries or by academics who were getting their support directly from the government. Indians didn’t write this. It doesn’t reflect an Indian view. It represents the same basic attack, the same spirit. You see the same mechanism in operation. They learned absolutely nothing or if they did learn anything, they certainly weren’t going to tell anyone about it.
And the other thing was the extent to which they were moral cowards. Just as a simple example, the legal expert consultant nowhere mentioned international law. I brought this to the attention of the lawyer. “Look, there’s no mention of the UN genocide convention, of the UN Charter on Civil and Political Rights, international law. You’ve treated this entirely as a case of tort law.” Tort law means somebody did an injury to somebody and we’re going to argue about it in a court, or I’ve made a promise of some sort and I don’t come through. A tort is a matter of “I’m arguing with you.” Genocide is a collective injury and requires a collective response of some sort. And the lawyer said, “I didn’t see that international law had anything to do with this.” And rather than argue with her, I decided I would put some international law in my book. I’m a psychologist. I don’t know international law but if a dog comes up and bites me, I know I’ve been bit. It doesn’t throw me into a metaphysical quandary to try to understand what’s happening.
The historian John Malloy, author of A National Crime, was a little bit better. During the Royal Commission work, he shared with us that there was direct conspiracy between the churches and the government to put a particular spin on what the residential schools had been about and what should be done about them, He had uncovered correspondence between all four of the major churches in which the government expresses that “What we’re going to play up is that the Indians are sick people and what they really need is a bunch of therapy, which, of course, we’ll provide for them. This way we’ll keep out of court, out of litigation, out of any notion of criminal responsibility.”
I had surmised in my work that there was such an agreement, but John Malloy had the piece of paper. But if you go through A National Crime, you don’t see that piece of paper published. He suppressed it. Now the word is he’s going to write a second book with those papers in it. Why he waited, I don’t know. Do you wait until the house is alreadv burned to the ground before you pull the fire alarm or do you wait until later? If I had the responsibility for publishing that piece of paper, it would have been on page one. I would have said “Look what’s being done to you in the name of responding to what happened in the residential schools.”
What has happened in terms of the response to the revelations of the residential schools? And what is that response designed to do? Why react the way the churches and the government and even the First Nations have reacted? What’s the purpose behind all that? Is this the only way to look at what happened? Or are there other ways? And why was this particular way chosen?
What happened with reservation schooling wasn’t kind of like genocide, it wasn’t cultural genocide, it wasn’t something approximating genocide. It was genocide. And when I say that, even from First Nations people, I often get these long looks. And nobody who’s ever given me those long looks has ever read the UN Convention on Genocide, so I put it in my book.
If you look at Article 2(e), “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group is an act of genocide.” This is the same UN Convention on Genocide that Canada bound itself to in 1949 and assented to in 1951 in a unanimous vote of both houses of Parliament. So for thirty years or more, Canada knowingly committed genocide.
Furthermore, genocide is actually against the law in the Canadian criminal code. It’s a crime like spitting on the sidewalk or driving too fast or running down people in walkers. All that’s illegal. Genocide is, too. When Canada decided that it was going to make genocide a crime, it made killing people and deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction a crime. But if you look at all the sections in Article 2 – I don’t know, maybe the typewriter ribbon ran out or somebody made a mistake that day – there are three sections that didn’t make it into the Canadian criminal code:
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
(e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
I don’t have to argue whether Indians were taken away from their parents and were put under other peoples’ control. We can go up to Parliament right now and we can pull out the pages of the law that say Indians were required to turn over their kids under penalty of law: “You are hereby required to transfer….” We can find the RCMP reports on how they went out and did it. Could there be any doubt that if this had been included in the Canadian criminal code, whether genocide was committed? I don’t think so. If anyone can tell me why Canada taking Indian kids away from their parents, their families, their communities, their ways of life and putting them under the control of other peoples, whether they were churches or federal run institutions, is not an act of genocide, I’d like to hear the argument.
I do see why the other two sections are in. Because they think they can argue that they didn’t kill Indians in residential schools as a policy. And they can also argue that they didn’t deliberately inflict on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction because to do that you have to be able to look inside somebody’s head, don’t you? You have to show deliberate intent, you have to show mens rea. And one thing you hear over and over whether you’re talking to a church cleric or a government official is that they had the best intentions for Indians in mind. They can dispute the intentions, so they can put in the sections that depend on intent, but the section where the actions are not disputable – those were just left out. How interesting. What a coincidence.
Cast a glance at Article 3. Article 3 says there are a whole bunch of things you can do that are still a crime under international law. You don’t have to do genocide. You just have to conspire to commit genocide. As soon as the first prime minister sat down with the first minister of Indian affairs and said “Why don’t we get one of the churches to raise these Indian kids; we’ll take ’em away from their parents,” that’s a conspiracy and that’s a crime under international law. They didn’t actually have to do it. All they had to do was talk about doing it. “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide.” So you can’t advocate doing that – that’s inciting publicly. Attempts to commit genocide. You don’t have to succeed – you just have to grab the kid and get as far as the door and if they stop you and take the kid back, it’s still a crime.
And finally you have complicity. Complicity is not taking the steps to undo the wrong. It’s an act of omission as well as commission. And I have to strongly advise you that what Canada did to its population as a whole was to make them all complicit in genocide. People who were seventeen and younger in 1986, the Canadian government made complicit in an act of genocide that had been going on for a long time. The rest of us Canadians are complicit in international law.
In Nuremberg, a lot of people said they were only following orders when they were killing the Jews, as a defense. Nuremberg said that was not a defense. That somebody else was telling you to do something is not a defense. You have to take personal responsibility for what you did not do to prevent the destruction of the Jews. That’s an act of complicity. The Canadian public can’t say, “Oh well, we didn’t know what was going on in the residential schools, so we’re not responsible.” The churches can say “We were only doing what the government was demanding that we do,” the government bureaucracy can say, “We were only doing what Bureau of Indian Affairs told us to do,” but that’s a specious excuse. All those people were involved. “Oh well, we were only doing what we were told.” doesn’t absolve anybody of the crime of genocide.
Canada has been operating to make sure that you will not get the charge of genocide into a Canadian court. And they did that very interestingly under the guise of being nice and friendly. In the 1960s, First Nations people were still not citizens of Canada. And then the government woke up and said “Oh my, what an oversight. These Indians have been sitting around for almost a hundred years in Canada and we haven’t made citizens of them yet. Let’s make citizens of them.”
Now if you read what Indian organizations were doing back in the early 60s, none of them were complaining about that. None of them were angling for the vote or the right to bear arms or to work for Ontario Hydro. You couldn’t work for Ontario Hydro if
you weren’t a citizen. Indians weren’t Canadian citizens. You couldn’t go to university in some parts of Canada because you weren’t a Canadian citizen, but that wasn’t what they were angling for.
When you go back, you find that the Charter on Political and Civil Rights was coming into force in the early 60s. And what it says very clearly is that genocide is going to be an international crime that an international court of law will sit on. That means that we, in 1964 anyway, could have started to take the Canadian government to international court for the crimes of genocide that were going on – kids were still being taken away from their parents. We could have done that in 1964.
But in 1962, 1963, suddenly we find that we’re citizens. Now, why was that? Because under the Charter, these international rights were between nations, not within nations. If one part of the citizenry was complaining about its treatment by another part of the citizenry, that was considered an internal affair under international law and none of the UN’s business. We got declared citizens in the 60s so that we were now considered internal minorities of Canada, not separate governments and the proof of that is to look at the colonized peoples of the world who suddenly were named citizens of their countries in the 60s. Suddenly the Algerians, whom the French had been dumping on for hundreds of years, the Fijians, the Tahitians became French citizens. Suddenly the internal minorities, the Chukchi, the Khanty, the other First Nations people within the Soviet Union became its citizens. All throughout the British Empire, people became British citizens instead of oppressed minority populations.
Another coincidence, isn’t it? That suddenly when the UN creates an instrument and a forum for redress internationally, Canada obviates it with this blatant move. And ask the Supreme Court of Canada about that because the Supreme Court of Canada wants to treat its own treaties with First Nations as sui generis, of its own specific type. While its treaties with other countries are treaties between nations, its treaties with First Nations – “Well, they’re kind of like treaties and they’re kind of not like treaties.” Canada prefers to think of them not as legally binding treaties but as voluntary acts of generosity toward us. One of the problems of taking any of these things to the Canadian legal system is that the Canadian legal system finds ways of validating itself and saying what it wants to say. When the parliamentarians run into a problem, they legislate their way out of it.
You have to read between the lines of the Canadian cover-up version of what happened: “We’re welcoming you into the brotherhood and sisterhood of Canada, blah-blah-blah.” What does Article 2e say in the Genocide Convention? “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Am I to believe that the parliamentarians, like the Minister of Affairs, read those words and said “Oh. That’s ok.” Canada was very prominent in negotiating the terms of this document. The draft version was much more encompassing. It was primarily the US and Canada who eviscerated the force of the UN Convention on Genocide down to the five stipulations that have come through to us today. But they had still left that in.
In the draft that was defeated, there was actually a provision that forcible citizenship was an act of genocide. So Canada got rid of that in 1948, and then did it in 1960. Is still doing it. You can look it up. The important thing is how many have read it at all? You don’t get it in a civics class or a history class. Knowledge of what it contains is so rare, that when I explain that I mean not figurative but literal genocide, no one has been able to argue with me on the basis of the convention. Maybe, they’re arguing on the basis of the CNN or the ABC version of the convention.
Let me take this further because my book has been reviewed. All I do when I talk about genocide is let people read the genocide convention. If you can read Articles 2 and 3 and understand that the kids were taken away from their parents and put under the charge of churches, I don’t have to say anything more. People can figure it out. Yet here’s one nice review of my book by J. R. Miller who wrote his own book on residential schools. He writes: “What these authors call genocide in their terminology is more often labeled cultural assimilation by scholarly analysts.” Unless I misread it, it’s genocide in the UN terminology. I didn’t make that word up. I’m using it properly. It’s not my terminology. And then I must not be scholarly because of my use of the term. One day the scholarly analysts got together and held a vote to decide what genocide is going to be. But did the scholarly analysts inform the UN?
This is what Michael Parenti calls “distortion at the point of origin.” Whoever he’s writing this for, J. R. Miller knows his audience. Nobody’s going to bother to read my book after reading this. Or if they do, they’re not going to bother checking to see whether or not I’m abstrusely and arcanely twisting English language to fit my definition of the events. He knows his audience, that like most Canadians, they’re smug, complacent and lazy and they’re not going to bother. They’ll conclude “J. R. Miller wrote a book on the residential schools too, but he’s a scholar unlike the person he’s reviewing, so he must be right.” By the way, he makes his living by going around to Indians telling them “You had a great thing in residential schools, you know. Get over it.” and offering them therapy. Historians giving therapy – that’s really interesting. I’m in this because you’re denying history. If you deny that genocide typifies and characterizes the interaction between the aboriginal people of this continent and the European population, then you can’t understand what’s going on.
Let’s look at another work, Restoring Dignity – Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions by the Law Commission of Canada. It’s available on the Internet so you can get a free copy. Law! These guys are lawyers. So what do we read from the Law Commission of Canada about residential schools? “The effect of residential schools has been so pervasive that some believe the school system could only have been part of a larger campaign of genocide.” Footnote.
I look up the footnote – it’s my book! “They (that’s me) contend that the actions of the federal government and the churches that ran the residential schools violated Article 2c of the convention on genocide. That Article defines genocide as acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such or by means of deliberately inflicting conditions of life on the group calculated to physically destroy the group in whole or in part.
You can read my book and I do not talk about Article 2c. I talk about Articles 2b, 2d,and 2e. Why? Because Article 2c talks about deliberate intent. I can’t look into someone’s head and see intent. I’m a psychologist, so let me tell you a truth about psychologists. We’re no better at discerning anybody’s intent than anybody else. We don’t take the tops of people’s heads off and see the intent inside. But I do know that when someone takes your kid and tells you “You better not stop us or we’re gonna throw your ass in jail,” that that constitutes genocide. And that’s exactly what happened.
Is this an ancient report? It’s dated March-April 2000. The Law Commission of Canada knows its audience. They’re going to charge that “Some idiotic, hot-headed, stupid people – non-scholars – talk about genocide.” But they’re not going give me a fair hearing are they? Because they’re not going to tell people in their six million page report what the genocide convention actually says – they’re going to say I harp about Article 2c. Show me and I’ll eat it. I harp about those sections that didn’t make it into Canadian law – b,d and e – which, again, the average Canadian doesn’t know.
And this is what’s sold to the Canadian public who are supposed to believe that the Law Commission of Canada is dealing substantively with the problems of institutional abuse. But they aren’t. They’re lying to the public – suppression at the point of origin. How many generations of social workers, historians, social scientists are going to read “Yeah, there was that ‘blip’ there from some now extinct group of people who were so paranoid they thought we wanted to kill them. Of course, they’re all gone now.” How many generations of people are going to be misinformed by this?
You can’t let people understand what’s really going on because then they might start catching on. Canada does not want to have to say, “We committed genocide.” They want to pretend that they’re against it. “Heck, we’ll go to Rwanda. You name it. We’ll go there. We’ll stop genocide.” They just won’t stop it in their own country. Well, they may be good world citizens but they’re not very good Canadian citizens.
I have to say that I was extremely disappointed with the response of the churches, all of them. When I was working on this book, a number of things were very clear to me. One was and still is that I did not want to go the litigation route. Why? First of all, it validates the Canadian court system. Asking the Canadian court system to sit in judgment of criminal acts on the part of the government and the churches for what took place in residential schools just legitimates their ability to decide under tort law what the injuries are and what the compensation should be, and even whether the crime took place.
We’re going to argue about whether or not it was a crime? This is the same court system that from 1867 to 1986 did not see any difficulty with the residential schools. Think about it for a moment. Did the Jews, after the Holocaust, have to go to a Nazi court to say so-and-so did this to me? Were Nazis sitting in judgment on Nazis with respect to what happened in the concentration camps? They were not. Nuremberg had its limitations but at least nobody pretended the Jews would get a fair hearing of grievances from a Nazi court. Yet this is precisely the pretense that the litigation route requires First Nations people to be involved in. We have to argue before a court system that didn’t see any problem with the residential schools for more than a hundred years. They’re the ones who are going to sit in judgment of the injuries done us?
I also do not see any particular reason to enrich the legal profession. Preparing cases is expensive and lawyers are justly paid a lot of money for their work, but they take about a third if not more of any financial settlements associated with the cases. If there’s going to be a financial settlement, why would I want to give a third of it to this person?
And again, the court route brings us back to arguing whether genocide took place. While I’ve never heard a coherent argument that it wasn’t, I do find plenty of obfuscation, remaking history, and ignoring the subject. There shouldn’t be any arguing whether residential schooling is genocide. Noam Chomsky says that to even doubt the existence of the Holocaust denies the humanity of all sides involved in that conversation. The same thing applies here. For us to deny that the residential school was genocide, to have to argue about whether it was genocide or not is denying both our humanities. People are not willing to take their lumps over this, that genocide took place. Instead, it has to be turned into an argument of some sort.
And, as has been pointed out in other places, that’s not a reasonable process. A lot of the people who have to stand up and recount what happened to them twenty, twenty-five years ago, find that impossible to do in an adversarial proceeding. Not only do they find it so impossible that they do not sue. They find it so impossible that they commit suicide rather than face the task. “To bring some order of justice into my existence, I have to get up in front of a group of people and to argue first whether it happened to me and then whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.” In the early days of reactions to residential schools, I remember they used to bring Indians to these conferences who would stand up and say “I went to residential school and nothing bad happened to me.”
So my reponse is “So. It’s a vote now?” So the black people learned to read and write and now they play basketball – slavery was all right! When the people who got out of the concentration camp, a lot of them lost weight – hey, they didn’t have to diet! They learned reasonable trades! Are we supposed to look for the good side of genocide? Well, there was a good side and a bad side, and then we’ll decide whether it’s right or wrong. Well, I’m sorry. Genocide is an absolute immoral act. And I shouldn’t have to say that, particularly to churches. I don’t now how many ministers, priests and different people have given me one evasion after another. Why? It’s a moral issue. On a moral issue, I shouldn’t be arguing facts of law, subtle interpretations of this, that or the other. A person who’s morally grounded should be able to recognize the morality or immorality of the action.
And from that, you don’t start apologizing to yourself about it: “Oh well, we had the best intentions when we committed genocide on you.” Genocide with the best intentions is ok genocide? It’s the genocide with the bad intentions – if those Germans had only been polite during the Holocaust: “Please, will you walk into this gas chamber. Please, will you get on this train?” If the Nazis had only been polite, the Jews would have nothing to complain about. Really?
At the beginning of preparing this report, I don’t know how many times I went to different church officials. I sent all the churches my report while it was still in draft form. I said “Let’s avoid this. I do not want to argue about whether or not our genocide was a good genocide or a bad genocide in a court of genocidal law. What we need is for the churches to stand up and say “You’re right. What can we do to undo it? We can’t turn back the clock. We can’t undo the harm. But we can undertake from this moment forward to bend our full powers, our full efforts, our full spiritual weight toward undoing what we did.”
And you know, if somebody had said that, I don’t think any First Na tions person would have brought any charge in a court of law, of genocide or abuse or whatever. That would have been a sincere moral act on the part of people who were honestly contrite and were undertaking to undo it. But that’s not what we saw. When I was at Williams Lake, I heard “Well, you know those Indians. They’re complaining and lying.” That was the start. And then, “Oh, they’re exaggerating. Well, we’ll admit to some of it but there wasn’t that much.” It was all of these blockade tactics, these let’s-close-ranks tactics. It was never honesty; it was never a moral response.
The churches, like the government, reacted like a corporation does in a position of liability. Denigrate the victims as much The churches, like the government, reacted like a corporation does in a position of liability. Denigrate the victims as much as you can, and if that doesn’t work, then restructure yourself to limit your liability.
I’ve used this example many times and in many places. What did Dow Corning do when they suddenly realized they were in a liability position with breast implants? Dow Corning ceased to exist as a corporation. It had all these other different corporate centers and the one that was responsible for the improper breast implants suddenly became a very small sub-segment of Dow overall, and when people tried to sue it, the small sub-segment went bankrupt. And people had to sue a non-existent corporation that had no money to pay them. Thank goodness Dow Corning can continue to put Pyrex or whatever they make on the shelves and avoid that particular issue. Well, that’s what the Anglican church and the Catholic church did in Toronto recently. They corporately restructured themselves to limit liability. That’s not the response of an institution of morality. That’s the response of a business.
What other responses have there been? Alternative Dispute Resolution. I don’t know how mad I can get about this. The alternative dispute resolution mechanism that all the churches are going for, that the government is going for, that the Assembly of First Nations is going for, is a way of keeping things out of court and of making sure that the costs associated with it won’t be large. Now, I can understand on a corporate level why they would be involved in doing that. What I can’t understand is why they would be doing that on a moral level.
Nor do I like the term Alternative Dispute Resolution. So the fact and events of the residential schools is a dispute, now? I suppose what happened between the Jews and Nazis in Nazi Germany was a dispute, also? The Nazis wanted to make soap and slaves of the Jews and the Jews didn’t want to become soap and slaves. If only we had psychologists like me in Nazi Germany, they could have said “Ok, Jews and Nazis. There’s an authentic dispute here. Let’s resolve it. Jews, they want to make sweaters out of you. Maybe we can just shave your heads, as a beginning gesture of conciliation. That’s what we’ll do. OK, that’s resolved. Soap? Hmm, that’s a little tougher, but it’s a dispute so we can resolve it with this nice talking mechanism.”
That’s what we’re getting. What they’re going to do to deal with the genocide of First Nations and aboriginal peoples in Canada is to make it a dispute. If that’s a dispute – “We want to force you not to have your cultures and your languages and we certainly want to take all your land and your minerals and your trees and stuff.” If on the one side, you have one people who want to steal everything you have and on the other side you have people who want to retain it, that’s an authentic dispute and let’s resolve that. Well, it’s baloney, and again it’s a reconstruction of history on the line that Canada didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s a lie and I’m entirely against it.
There’s a perception among non-indigenous people that the Assembly of First Nations is an Indian organization. It is not. If the federal government pulled the funding for the Assembly of First Nations tomorrow, it wouldn’t be there the day after tomorrow. They all play golf together and their children go to the same private schools. Nobody can distinguish the Assembly of First Nations from the federal government. The government simply founded a group of people who will go along with their response to help them limit liability.
A third thing I want to talk about is this ridiculous Healing Fund. The Assembly of First Nations is willing to go along with this notion that storefront organizations are going to heal the sick Indians. That’s another bottom line. “Yeah, we established a genocidal institution to strip language and culture, and demean, humiliate, kill, disfigure, maim, and psychically destroy these children and the sick people are them. Yeah, they’re the ones who are sick.” It’s just like after the Holocaust. The problem with the Holocaust was that there weren’t enough psychologists around. If the Jews coming out of the concentration camps had only had enough psychologists to talk to, there would have been no need for a trial at Nuremberg because they would have dealt with the essential issue of genocide. It was a psychological problem.
Think for a moment. Make yourself a psychologist in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Who do you work for? What’s your job? Your job is to talk to the inmates. You’re not supposed to be talking to the guards and the administration. Your job is to help the inmates accommodate themselves to their circumstances. “Oh, I know you’re not getting enough to eat, but buck up. You’re still looking pretty good. Just stay in there. Don’t feel so depressed. You know if you smile at the guards more, they’ll be nicer to you.” This is what a psychologist at a concentration camp would be doing. This is what your job would be.
And who is the sick person in the concentration camp? I don’t think it was the Jews who were brutalized, I don’t think it was the inmates of the residential schools that are the psychologically, psychically, spiritually disfigured people. I think it is the population of people who did it, who have lied to themselves about it and who are covering it up.
The resolution of the psychic, psychological problems of the Jews in the concentration camps wasn’t to send them therapists of some sort. The resolution was the destruction of the system of oppression that was doing that to them. The Jews had a suicide rate fifty times that of the non-Jewish German population during the Holocaust. That rate dropped to an ordinary average rate right after Hitler’s government fell. What an astonishing coincidence.
I think this pathologizing of the victims is another crime. It’s also just another way for the system to pay itself. Let me tell you, there are more people in this room than there are native psychologists in Canada or North America. Native people are not getting rich by calling Indians sick people and demanding that they go for psychotherapy to resolve what happened in the residential schools. Social work schools, psychology schools, psychiatric schools, universities, clinics, hospitals – they’re making money out of that. “You feel bad about your residential school experience. I’m going to make you feel really good. I’m going to give this guy money. Doesn’t that make you feel better?” Something’s missing in the equation.
I can believe that a business would do this. I can believe that a government would do this. And in 1993 and 1994, I warned the churches that if they did it, they would be held accountable by the same standard. If they can’t behave other than as a business or a government, then that’s how I have to regard the church – as just another business that’s trying to squirm out of a position of liability. And that makes it anything but a moral institution.
And I think it should mean that to a lot more people. It’s not hard to see once it’s pointed out, but if you’re in control of the media, if you’re in control of these 10,000 page reports, if you’re in control of what’s on CBC, of what’s in the newspapers, you can make it seem this way or that way. That therapy and healing and alternative dispute resolution are generous responses instead of what they really are – cover-ups.
You go to every church Web site and they’re all talking about how they’re facing bankruptcy. This does me absolutely no good whatsoever. In 1993 and 1994, I said “Don’t lie down with dogs or you’ll rise up with fleas. If you decide that you’re going to be on the side of the government when the dispute comes down between the government and the victims of the government, the government will get rid of you as it needs to.” I was just reading yesterday that the Catholic church in Saskatchewan is being driven into penury because every time a case comes forward where they’re holding the Department of Indian Affairs responsible for an abuse in a residential school, the government’s naming the church as a co-respondent. “Well, it wasn’t just us. The church did it too.” And the church is saying “They didn’t sue us! They’re suing you.” When one institution stabs the back of another institution, it’s no surprise. I told them this would happen in the early 90s – that the route to go was the moral route, to take the high ground, to tell their parishioners that they’re going to take the high ground and why. For church members to collectively advocate on the part of First Nations people not to redress specific personal injuries but to undo the damage of the residential school that existed to destroy our ways of life, however different they were.
And this is where the ripple effect comes in. The injury from the residential schools does not reside simply in the people who went to residential schools. It resides in their children and their grandchildren and their friends and their families and our very ways of life that were destroyed by that attack. What has to be undone is all of that – not just “Well, I’ll give you $25.00 and you’ll feel better.” That’s a useless response. It’s a worse than useless response. It’s a divide and conquer response. Because we start arguing “Well, you didn’t go to residential school so you’re not as worthy as I am because I went to residential school and so on…” We do not need to be divided on this issue.
Finally, the past is the present. The residential schools may have changed, may have dissipated, may have gone away, but the concerted attack on us as First Nations people has just changed tactics. It didn’t stop. It didn’t go anywhere. Just because you can run your residential schools now, for example, from a day school perspective doesn’t mean that the ideology behind the residential schools has been eliminated. No, it’s still there. We get the ideology through the television, the newspapers, our everyday interactions with the grocer and everybody else. And we don’t understand it that way or it’s not presented to us that way, so we don’t respond. The residential school is not the past – the past is right here.
I want to be really cheeky here, as if I haven’t been. As to bankruptcy, if the churches want to tell me that this was a moral response on their part, and that God was actually telling them to behave in this particular way, then all I can say is “Then God wants to eliminate your church.” If that’s the route that you’ve gone and now you’re feeling “poor us, we’re going to go bankrupt from this,” then if you were following the words of God, then that’s what God wanted. He wanted your church to go bankrupt. So you can argue with him, but you can’t argue with the Indians about this.
Now I don’t believe that though. I don’t believe the churches as institutions were responding to the voice of God in all this. They were responding to the voice of the government. And the voice of the government was “Let’s hang out. Let’s see if we can’t dissipate it.” It’s the same problem with the Jews and Nazi Germany. It’s only been in the last two or three years that people have even begun to talk about the restitution of the property that was taken from the Jews and held in Swiss banks. Switzerland had the operation of billions of dollars of capital for forty or fifty years and now they’re thinking of giving back some of the money to Jewish organizations. And the best estimates are that less than one penny on the dollar is actually going to make its way back by way of compensation for what was taken from them.
And why were they doing that? They were doing the same thing that the federal government is hoping to do with the residential schools situation. That if they can put off dealing with it long enough, “Maybe they’ll all die off. When there are no people around anymore to complain about it, we can rewrite history. If we can put a human face on our barbarism long enough, then maybe we’ll get away with it.
And if the Canadian government wants to get away with genocide, I’ll tell you, they’ve almost done it. The number of people who have my message are like a flea on an elephant compared to the number of people who have heard entirely differently. The court system doesn’t care, the government doesn’t care, the church as institutions do not care. I do not believe that Canadians as individuals want to believe they’re genocidal or that if they really understood what their involvement was, that they’d put up with it. Because I don’t know how many people I’ve met and they’re good honest people. They simply have been lied to up and down the line. They do not know the enormity of what they’ve done, so, as individuals, I think every Canadian can come to grips with the enormity of what’s been done, with what has to be undone.
But I don’t think the government, the judiciary, the churches as institutions have any moral aspect. One of the characteristics of institutions is that they subtract morality from decision-making processes. That’s elementary sociology. But what I want to say to Canadians in general is “Ok, you’re this close to getting away from genocide. If that’s the way you want to play it, fine. But if you really are moral people, if you really believe what you say about being accountable to St. Peter or somebody else at the point of your death, I’m telling you now that you haven’t got away with it. You haven’t dealt with it and you’re going to be responsible for it at some point even if it’s not in this world.”