Budget 2024 as the Eve of 1984 in Canada

The Federal Government released its Budget 2024 last week. In addition to hailing a 181% increase in spending on Indigenous priorities since 2016, “Budget 2024 also proposes to provide $5 […]

The Federal Government released its Budget 2024 last week. In addition to hailing a 181% increase in spending on Indigenous priorities since 2016, “Budget 2024 also proposes to provide $5 million over three years, starting in 2025-26, to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to establish a program to combat Residential School denialism.” Earlier this spring, the government proclaimed:

The government anticipates the Special Interlocutor’s final report and recommendations in spring 2024. This report will support further action towards addressing the harmful legacy of residential schools through a framework relating to federal laws, regulations, policies, and practices surrounding unmarked graves and burials at former residential schools and associated sites. This will include addressing residential school denialism.

Like “Reconciliation,” the exact definition of what the Federal government means by “residential school denialism” is not clear. In this vague definition, there is, of course, a potential for legislating vindictiveness.

What further action is needed to address “the harmful legacy of residential schools” except to enforce a particular narrative about the schools as being only harmful? Is it denialism to point out that many students, such as Tomson Highway and Len Marchand, had positive experiences at the schools and that their successful careers were, in part, made possible by their time in residential school? If the study of history is subordinated to promoting a particular political narrative, is it still history or has it become venal propaganda?

Since the sensational May 27, 2021, claim that 215 children’s remains had been found in a Kamloops orchard, the Trudeau government has been chasing shibboleths. The Kamloops claim remains unsubstantiated to this day in two glaring ways: no names of children missing from the Kamloops IRS (Indian Residential Schools) have been presented and no human remains have been uncovered. For anyone daring to point out this absence of evidence, their reward is being the target of a witch hunt. As we recently witnessed in Quesnel, B.C., to be labeled as a residential school denialist is to be drummed out of civil society.

If we must accept a particular political narrative of the IRS as the history of the IRS, does our freedom of conscience and speech have any meaning?

To the discredit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, fictions of missing and murdered children circulating long before the Commission’s inception were subsumed by the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Unmarked graves and burials were incorporated into the TRC’s work as probable evidence of foul play. In the end, the TRC found no evidence of any murders committed by any staff against any students throughout the entirety history of the residential schools. Unmarked graves are explained as formerly marked and lawful graves that had since become lost due to neglect and abandonment. Unmarked burials, if they existed, could be construed as evidence of criminal acts, but such burials associated with the schools have never been proven to exist.

Those who claim there are unmarked burials have painted themselves into a corner. If there are unmarked burials, there have had to be murders because why else would anyone attempt to conceal the deaths? If there are thousands of unmarked burials, there are thousands of children who went missing from residential schools. How could thousands of children go missing from schools without even one parent, one teacher, or one Chief coming forward to complain?

There are, of course, neither any missing children nor unmarked burials and the Special Interlocutor told the Senate Committee on Indigenous People: “The children aren’t missing; they’re buried in the cemeteries. They’re missing because the families were never told where they’re buried.”

Is it denialism to repeat or emphasize what the Special Interlocutor testified before a Senate Committee? Is combating residential school denialism really an exercise in policing wrongthink? Like the beleaguered Winston in Orwell’s 1984, it is impossible to keep up with the state’s continual revision of the past, even the recent past.

For instance, the TRC’s massive report contains a chapter on the “Warm Memories” of the IRS. Drawing attention to those positive recollections is now considered “minimizing the harms of residential schools.”

In 1984, the state sought to preserve itself through historical revision and the enforcement of those revisions. In the Trudeau government’s efforts to enforce a revision of the IRS historical record, the state is not being preserved. How could it be if the IRS is now considered to be a colossal genocide? The intent is to preserve the party in government and if it means sending Canada irretrievably down a memory hole as a genocidaire, so be it.


Michael Melanson is a writer and tradesperson in Winnipeg.


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