This is a follow-up to the first article entitled, Senator Lynn Beyak & Residential Schools: An Invitation to Dig Deeper. Please read that first to better appreciate this post.
What follows is my response on Facebook to a gentleman who took issue with the contents of the first article. Here is what he said:
“What a long winded self serving and completely irrelevant pile of academic drivel! Its the paternalistic, self righteous misguided bleeding hearts like this that brought us the Residential school system in the first place! Who were they? They were by the conventional wisdom of the time the most ethical and morally righteous segment of our society. The churches.. Take a look at the children in this picture, clean, clothed , healthy sitting at desks with books and school supplies. Then take a look at the following picture of naked Jewish women (some with babies in their arms) waiting to be shot in a ditch. And then tell me the intended outcome for the victims in both pictures are the same! Genocide?…Books and bullets have the same intended outcome?”
“You think the intended outcome of this Genocide was to prepare these women and children for a better life? If these two examples are equally heinous (“Genocide”) which would you prefer? …the contents of a book implanted in your head or the contents of a bullet? Books and bullets do not have the same intended outcome and to assert that they do trivializes true genocide. To suggest that that term applies to the residential school system is arsine! Before condemning Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak for saying a lot of good was done in residential schools, consider two things. First, the views of renowned Cree novelist, playwright, classical pianist and Order of Canada recipient, Tomson Highway, when the Truth and Reconciliation Report on residential schools was released in December, 2015. Here’s what Highway said, quoted by Joshua Ostroff in The Huffington Post, in a column headlined: “Tomson Highway Has A Surprisingly Positive Take On Residential Schools”. “All we hear is the negative stuff, nobody’s interested in the positive, the joy in that school. Nine of the happiest years of my life, I spent it at that school. I learned your language, for God’s sake. Have you learned my language? No, so who’s the privileged one and who is underprivileged? “You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative. But what you haven’t heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn’t have happened without that school.
This year the residential school system was called “cultural genocide” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after collecting hundreds and thousands of stories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse against first nations children. But one Chief from the Northwest Territories is telling a completely different story. “Those were the best years of my life. My family says the same thing, my sister swears by it. We were treated wonderfully.” Chief Cece Hodgson-McCauley, of the Inuvik Dene Band, spent 10 years at a residential school. That she was taken in as an orphan. Speaking to Gormley on News Talk Radio, she said they learned many things there. “They taught us how to sew, make our own clothes, they even showed us some neat arts like sewing quilts and beads and things like that. And we worked in the kitchen, learned how to cook.” Hodgson-McCauley claims that a lot of the bad stories told about residential schools are a lie. “They’re only reporting the bad side, and the more you lie, the more you say it’s bad the more money you make, and the lawyers are making money because they’re pushing people to tell their stories.” She said some people have contacted her, wanting to tell their positive stories about the schools, but are too scared to come forward. Hodgson-McCauley wants the truth to come out, and she plans on being the person to start it.
“Truth” requires objectivity and will withstand scrutiny. We’re not getting that with the conventional politically correct narrative Dissenting opinions are censured and branded as raciest when in truth just the opposite is true.”
Here is my response:
Ken, I do not doubt the sincerity of what you have written from your perspective. But there are many truths hidden within truths.
For example, it’s interesting that you posted the picture of the children in the classroom as a way of bolstering your argument. Because someone else could easily look at that same photograph and see how incongruent it is. Do those children make sense in those clothes, in that room, with such sad appearances? This picture tells a many stories.
It’s also instructive that there is really only one other event you can reach for to knock the Indigenous people down to size – the Holocaust. After all, what can compare with mass extermination? That the suffering of the Indigenous people is in the same conversation tells us a lot about our relationship with the Indigenous people.
Besides, there is a big deflection here, which is myopically focused on the quality of the schools and those that ran them – for good reason. That ‘quality’ question, as we can see from the comments, is a subject of great debate, though from my perspective, if there is any good to have come from the residential school system, when we look at the state of the Indigenous people, in general, hasn’t the enforced system failed miserably?
Are there some Indigenous people who are doing well? Most definitely by some measures. However, when the success rate is so low, isn’t it disingenuous to focus on the good when it’s pretty clear that the enforced system did not and has not been effective in its proselytization of the Indigenous people?
Of course, one can cherry pick this and that reason in order to make a case that the fault for this failure falls at the feet of an incredibly diverse and storied race of people who are just, unfortunately, not smart or capable enough to get it.
Ken, you have made a solid case that is, nevertheless, easy to counter but what we are doing as a left-brained culture is leaving out the most important criteria of all; the crux of the matter.
Underlying all of the distractions in the debate over the quality and nature of he care is one simple fact: Indigenous children and their parents were ripped away from each. Even if we were to agree that the British system was better; even if we could convince ourselves that ‘they’ would really do better under this new system, there are no humans on earth that would have fared better under this violent coercion.
Outside of a small percentage of Indigenous children who were in extremely abusive homes, the vast majority of children would have been devastated by the sudden loss of their parent(s). As most people will agree with, parents are children’s everything; their Gods, however imperfect.
Ken, let me ask you this. Hopefully, you’ve had children because then this will be relevant.
Imagine one day you, you Ken, with who you are at this moment, if there was a knock at your door and there were people there to take your 6 year old son away from you. You look at these people who are removing your child and they look totally different than you, in every way. So foreign. Your boy, he doesn’t want go to go. Really, who would? But it doesn’t matter what you think. Or what your boy is feeling. Because you don’t have a choice. Ken, how do think you would react to that right now? If someone came to you door and demanded you hand over one of the precious people in your home? Your boy. Your pride and joy. No choice.
And then the ensuing pain for so so many parents and so so many children. Imagine that same boy of yours suddenly thrust into an existence in which every single thing is different. How can this be anything but frightening?
Imagine your 6 year old. How would he be reacting to this insanity? How could he understand at that age that it’s really all for the best? The reality of this kind of situation is such that the stranger’s twisted logic cannot compete with the feelings of abject fear and confusion that will have overtaken your child. How else would it be when your boy has gone from always having your love and protection to be overwhelmingly alone in a place filled with people – strangers?
However well-intentioned some of those strangers were, their impact would been severely limited by the abyss that your boy is toying with, as he works feverishly to create a strategic survival personality to contain his rampant fear because… You, Dad, are your boy’s touchstone and you have effectively fallen off the side of the earth.
Meanwhile, Ken, as your boy goes through unimaginable turmoil at school, you’re at home. Emasculated. Humiliated. He’s your boy. You know how bad this is. Your own frailties and faults shoot up with a vengeance. Your powerlessness in the face of such absurd injustice. And there’s nothing you can do but shut your mouth and get on with it and hope, against all hope, that somehow, some way, your boy will be okay – that he’ll thrive. Even though you know better of course. Because you were taken to that place as well.
The strangers say, ‘Don’t worry, Ken. Your boy will be just fine. In fact, you’re welcome, in advance, because our system is clearly superior to your millennia of traditions. We’re saving your boy and your people. Best if you just forget about the past and read these books and wear these clothes and speak our language. Trust us, it’s way better and as you can see, you don’t have a choice anyway. So, shut your mouth and get back to work.’
Ken, you might not even have anything against these people living with their own system. But you just can’t understand why they won’t just let you live with yours – with your boy. You know, live and let live and all.
Granted, Ken, all of your concerns about your boy and him being stolen from you make incredible sense from your backward perspective, but that’s not really relevant because we have deemed ourselves to be correct. Therefore, you are incorrect. Off you go.
Ken, could you imagine a scenario in which after this goes down you maybe sit and have a stiff drink, then maybe another one?
Meanwhile, Ken, you and others, including a few Indigenous people, have pointed out in these comments that some children did manage to do well in residential school and life. This is true, though by far the exception rather than the rule. But still true to a degree.
So, let’s focus on the success stories. Once again, our left-brained system always seeks to evaluate results within a closed framework. A much fuller truth lies beyond these limited metrics of the ultra-rational mind; a myriad of emotional criteria that is difficult to comprehend for those who have personally and generationally compromised access to our feelings.
(Sidebar: Ken, even if you know that some have done well, I can’t help but note that you have so little compassion for the many Indigenous people who have clearly not done well – even if its ‘their own doing’. Think of your boy, ripped away from you… )
Ken, let’s return to that day when your boy was taken away and had to figure out, at 6, how to navigate that strange place.
As we see from history, humans are outrageously resilient. Whatever our age, we will do our utmost to make the best of even worst situations. When humans experience situations as traumatic as those experienced by Indigenous children, it entails engaging with unprecedented levels of denial, avoidance and revisionist history in order to just function.
So, what are we to make of those Indigenous people who have succeeded within this RMP system?
Again, this is complex. The permutations are so many that they could fill an entire book. However, Ken, here are some things to consider as your 6 year old boy tries to find his way. Children invariably take on responsibility in the face of trauma, at home and away. In the case of your boy, he’ll be wondering why he’s been put in this place. Why has he been taken away from his family?
Maybe my family doesn’t love me anymore. It must be that my Dad doesn’t love me anymore. Otherwise, how could he let this happen. If my number one protector has allowed this to happen doesn’t it mean he doesn’t love me? It must be because I’m not lovable. There must be something wrong with me. That’s why I’ve been put in this place.
Also, I’m being told that I’m fortunate that this is happening but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like the opposite. But I’m just a kid. What do I know? My parents – my gods – have allowed me to come here and the people who work here say it’s great. So, my feelings must be incorrect. My feelings are clearly not to be trusted – and the more I feel, the more insane all of this feels.
Your boy is making all of these evaluations in the first few days, the upshot of which is the necessary banishment of feelings behind a wall – to a place where they will be paradoxically protected but also won’t keep inconveniencing the poor lad because, after all his feelings are no longer relevant or to be trusted – and they are brutal and incomprehensible.
They’re too painful to keep feeling in this place. If your boy shows vulnerability, he will suffer more, at the hands of the administration, as well as some of the other children who are exactly in the same situation and who adjust by becoming bullies – bullying being a result of deep insecurity and fear. Dad and Mum have disappeared. No one is there to hold me and let me know that everything is going to be okay.
So, your boy feels your abandonment and betrayal, without understanding the reasons. Then comes the ultimate betrayal; in order to survive, the boy betrays himself – and his heart. Anything to avoid touching into the abyss that is now a constant companion. The soul-crushing ramifications of this self-betrayal cannot be exaggerated or understood by those who have not experienced it.
This is the default initial position for every child put into such absurd circumstances. Based on a host of reasons, children will react differently. Some will fare better than others. Will your boy become a bully, a victim, a joker? Will he give himself over to this new system? Will he be unable to adjust and instead of resigning himself resist – and become a whipping boy for administrators who are involved in such an inhumane activity that they cannot brook resist that shines a glaring light on what is being perpetrated? Those children who were more sensitive; who felt the incongruence more keenly; who knew that something was very wrong; who could not sit still and say nothing… these children will have suffered the most. They will have made up most of the children who were beaten mercilessly; who were most violently sexually abused. It’s unfathomable really. These were children. Only left-brained logic, devoid of the heart connection, can attempt to make heads or tails of this insanity.
What will become of your boy Ken? Without the necessary presence of his Dad, what will you boy do? Resignation? Submission? Adherence?
Ken, are you the product of the same coercive system? Were you also taken away by those same strangers? Did you lose your parents and your way of being? Have you done your very best to make a life for yourself under such impossible circumstances? Have you struggled? Was your boy born into this and because of your effed up life did you have trouble being a good parent?
At the risk of offending some Indigenous people – who are sincere when they say they thrived under the residential school system (there are very few) – as Mary Dale has pointed out in a comment, “I know hundreds of Indigenous people who attended residential schools, many who are successful and all were traumatized.” Based on what I have described as the process that a young child undergoes to adjust to the residential school life, how could it be otherwise? Furthermore, Mary says, “They are not successful because of residential schools, they are successful in spite of [them].”
And some of these ‘successful’ Indigenous people will have sacrificed their parents and their ancestry for that success. If they’re parents were damaged from the same system and so were unable to be good parents, and then they were taken away as well, how many Indigenous children decided that they’re parents and culture were a failure and that the way forward was to give themselves over to this dominant system?
Ken, a couple of times you have mentioned Tomson Highway and his apparent support of the residential school system. Not sure where you got that quote, and in what context it was presented, but his renowned novel, the “Kiss of The Fur Queen” held no punches in describing the sexual abuse of Indigenous children at residential schools. Did residential school teach him skills that he’s used in his life. Of course. But at what cost? As for the other quote from the Lady Indigenous Chief you also quote, yes, she has spoken positively about her personal experience in ONE residential school. She first spoke out in 2012 and even though she opened the door wide for others to step forward. Few have done so. I’d submit that while some Indigenous people did on the whole have positive experiences, they are clearly in the tiny minority. Furthermore, in keeping with my other commentary in my previous and present post, when we are traumatized as children, especially with the initial abandonment, some people do a better job adjusting; of making the best of things. Meanwhile, many children from all walks of live will also create revisionist history to make the past more palatable. Either way, it’s complicated. The full picture of the state of the Indigenous people tells the story.
Most potentially controversially, I’ll say this final piece – with great respect and empathy for the suffering of the Indigenous people. Those Indigenous people who do speak glowingly of the residential school system are likely among the ranks of children who in order to survive that horrendous place created, as so many of us do in our regular lives, revisionist history in order to avoid touching into the pain of it all. In the face of overwhelming trauma, memory is entirely unreliable.
A perfect example of this avoidance and denial on the part of both White man and Indigenous people is a comment contributed by Dennis Laughton who says, “Some [Indigenous people] experienced abuse, but I also have had conversations with some who other than being lonely due to separation from their family suffered no further abuse of any kind. Point is NOT ALL SUFFERED. It is not all black or white.”
Firstly, again I do not doubt Dennis’s sincerity in sharing his experience. It is undoubtedly accurate. But based on what I have laid out we can see the overarching disconnect: “other than being lonely due to separation from their family”. The dominant culture, in general, doesn’t have a clue what it feels like to have their child stolen from them. The perpetrator and their ancestors will go to great lengths to lessen the victims’ suffering – for obvious reasons. In this case, the threshold of ‘real’ suffering is if you were sexually abused. Otherwise, sure it was probably bad, but not THAT bad. Meanwhile, many Indigenous people, understandably divorced as they had to become from their feelings in order to survive, cannot feel the true devastation of their experience. And those who were not sexually abused have to somehow feel lucky about that. It could have been worse!
Long story short, there is much more nuance to all of this than can be entertained by our RMP system that is itself suffering from the traumatization inflicted on the Indigenous people. The western world is still dealing with its colonial ways that have left destruction in their wake in Africa, North America, India and the Middle East – with ongoing repercussions. While some westerners wonder about all of this terrorism in the world, no culture is even in the same stratosphere as the western countries when it comes to historic inflicting of death and destruction.
The British colonial way was the same in every instance mentioned above. Make contact with the natives, make friends and partnerships and eventually betray the natives, via divide and conquer, in order to steal the natural resources that they would use to build and maintain the empire. For a more thorough reading on this subject you can read my Brexit piece available at boardingschooltrauma.info.
Ken, please forgive me for singling you out here. There are many commenters who have relayed the same type of information you have. You are a legitimate representative the ‘silent’ majority who simply don’t know and, understandably, don’t want to know the truth of Canada’s dealings with the Indigenous people – so insane it is. You are imparting what you know and feel to be correct. However, I will repeat what I said in the piece, “The extent to which Canadians have been, and in many cases remain, unable to meaningfully acknowledge the crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Indigenous people is commensurate with the depth of trauma that is embedded in the fabric of Canadian society.”
When I see how many commenters have taken my piece as somehow supporting Senator Beyak’s position; that I’m somehow revealing her as some kind of superhero, it lets me know where we are at in our national healing process. We have a ways to go. After all, hundreds of years of abuse and betrayal will not be remedied in a matter of a few years. We are all doing our best in this difficult process. We are encouraged to be open to the idea that, despite our own experiences, there are deeper truths that we may not have access to because of our own personal generational traumas that have produced blind-spots.
We are encouraged to listen with as much compassion and non-judgment as possible. Ken, if you come to Toronto one day, I’d be glad to sit and have a coffee with you and chat. Our backgrounds are, no doubt, quite different but I’m guessing we’d have much more in common that you might guess. I know we both want what is best for our families and our country. But, in the end, I’m not here to convince you or anyone else of anything. I’m presenting a different perspective. It’s up to readers to decide if they want to be open to it.