By Chris Marchand
I’ve debated this week over whether to wade into the issue of our local Senator Lynn Beyak’s cringe-worthy comments to the senate about Residential Schools, particularly in light of the fact that some of the problem has to do with non-Aboriginal people speaking out of turn — which I probably am.
I’ve heard the extended version of her comments and I’m sorry to say it’s nothing I wouldn’t expect to hear from any older white person around here. Her comments are quite indicative of a generation that grew up much closer to this, who still see the many shades of gray in an issue that has grown black and white in the modern media landscape.
We’ve spent the past decade or more re-assessing this part of our history through the perspective of those who experienced it first hand, examining its terrible legacy and its effects on the generations who have followed.
In the complex mental gymnastics Beyak must have performed to arrive at a place where she believed she could stand up in front of the Senate and say her piece, I wonder how it is she came to miss the larger point.
Underlying the acts of these, as Beyak puts it ‘kindly and well-intentioned people’ who envisioned, built and operated Canada’s Indian Residential School system was the idea fundamental to colonial thought — that the traditional culture of Canada’s Indigenous people was without value and therefore should be eradicated and their populations assimilated.
If our intentions, kind or otherwise, are based in such a foul and arrogant philosophy as this, it certainly doesn’t make what we’ve done any less damaging.
In my opinion, this point hangs like an axe over discussion of any aspect of Canada’s Residential Schools, superceding any attempt to rationalize or justify what happened as well-meaning.
It is the same kind of hindsight that keeps us from regarding members of Hitler’s SS as loving fathers and devoted countrymen, which surely some of them were. Yet they were men possessed of ideas that we know to be monstrous and our culture has made monsters of them.
Is that fair? Maybe? Maybe not? What is the more important narrative to preserve in our history?