It Is Time to Move On

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Reconciliation, Residential Schools, Brian Giesbrecht

I wrote an opinion column immediately following the May 27, 2021 announcement of the “shocking discovery of 215 bodies found in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.” In that column, I correctly stressed the need to wait for real evidence before jumping to the conclusion that the graves of residential school students had been found. In the column, I mentioned the history of a time when death from communicable diseases was common. I also expressed doubt that there was anything sinister about any of the deaths that had taken place at the residential school.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the claims about murdered and secretly buried residential school children are highly suspicious, if not completely false. To date, we know that there were no mass graves, and no bodies of residential school children have been exhumed. The “evidence” that there are any students’ bodies buried in unmarked graves at the school is increasingly looking shaky.

My colleagues and I have written numerous essays explaining that the lack of credible evidence supporting Chief Roseanne Casimir’s claim that her “way of knowing” that “children as young as six” had been forced to bury their comrades late at night is probably not true. It is becoming clearer that this “way of knowing” was a recitation of the twisted conspiracy theory of defrocked United Church minister Kevin Annett. The Kamloops community, as well as many other indigenous communities across the country, seem to have been taken in by Annett’s ravings.

But it was the last line of my column that appears to have caused most of the outrage among the Indigenous community in Manitoba. I mentioned previous historical mistakes that had been addressed with appropriate apologies and compensation. I also noted that after apologizing and compensating for these wrongs, the country was then able to move on. As well, I noted that residential school students had received compensation, and that many apologies had already been expressed.

I suggested that it was now time for the country to move on.

More than a year later, I stand by those words. It is indeed time for Canada to move on from the residential school claims. It is true that these schools harmed many people, but they also provided many with an education that would have been unavailable. Canadians have spent the last three decades apologizing and compensating Indigenous people for their experiences in Indian Residential Schools. For the good of everyone, we have new and more important challenges to face.

But many influential voices refuse to release their grip on this divisive issue. For many, it is simply a matter of money and power. Over $6 billion has now been paid out in direct compensation with many more billions been paid out indirectly. That is an average of over $100,000 for every living person who went to a residential school, even for those who attended for less than one year. Even students who acknowledge that their time in residential school was valuable, were called “survivors and were compensated.

It is, indeed, time to move on.

But a number of people don’t want to move on. The latest manifestation of the residential school issue is the very expensive searches for alleged “missing children,” who were, in fact, never missing, is an attempt to keep the money flowing.

I must make it clear that the legitimate search for the burial places of ancestors is not what I am talking about. That kind of search is understandable. What I am referring to is the reckless campaign to disparage the religious leaders, especially the priests and nuns of yesterday, based on a conspiracy theory. This reckless campaign has already resulted in the burning down of a number of churches, and the slander of many fine people who worked in the residential schools.

At last, an increasing number of newspaper columns by respected journalists, Conrad Black and Terry Glavin, for example, are helping to expose the falsity of this claim. I am confident that more evidence will emerge that ends this smear campaign against the churches that managed Indian Residential Schools.

And yes, I still believe what I wrote last year: It is time for the country to move on.