The Sean Carleton Show

Last January I attended a webinar featuring settler historian Dr. Sean Carleton on “How to Recognize and Confront Residential School Denialism.” Carleton has been leading the vanguard in spotting this […]

Last January I attended a webinar featuring settler historian Dr. Sean Carleton on “How to Recognize and Confront Residential School Denialism.” Carleton has been leading the vanguard in spotting this distinctly Canadian menace.

The webinar began, of course, with the necessary land acknowledgement. Being a settler means having to recognize by whose grace we reside in Canada before saying anything else. After the pre-national preamble, Carleton began his presentation in grinning earnestness because, if anyone deserves to enjoy what he is saying, it is Carleton.

Carleton introduced us to former Senator Lynn Beyak as the archetypal residential school denialist. Beyak got herself in Carleton’s crosshairs several years ago for suggesting some nuance might be warranted in the historical narrative of residential schools. As all should know, the sum is too evil to consider the parts.

Senator Lynn Beyak; the face of residential school denialism.

Several minutes of prodding a beast long since dispatched might seem less than what a capable denialist hunter can do but with the wily Frances Widdowson still at large, along with her pack of fellow denialists, we can excuse Carleton for strategically deferring what could be a fatal encounter. Carleton did not name Widdowson and her co-denialists who are now conveniently arrayed as contributors and editors in a single ledger of infamy. Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth About Residential Schools) must be to Carleton what the Hypostasis of the Archons would have been to St. Augustine: mensa non grata.

Owing to its origins, ‘denialism’ has its worst instance in the denial of residential school genocide (an actual genocide as opposed to that tepid and aloof ‘cultural genocide’ determined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). When taking questions someone asked: What, in your opinion, constitutes the intent necessary to establish genocide?

“Who cares what my opinion is?” replied Carleton who then proceeded to recite the second article of the UN Convention on genocide in a timely reminder that proving genocide requires proving intent. Worried that the audience might have missed the point, co-panelist Ashley Kyne held a book up to the camera assuring us that the author answered the question of intent. Citation isn’t what it used to be but does it need to be when there is Google?

Inevitably, Carleton had to address the moose that wasn’t in the room: so far not one body has been found in any suspected secret burial involving residential schools. Carleton directed our attention to Carcross, Yukon, where more “anomalies” and more deaths have been discovered in further archival research. So long as there remains one discrepancy yet to be resolved, one more soil disturbance to be pondered, the specter of genocidal priests and nuns remains to be exorcized.

Pity Carleton for the road he has chosen. While denialists are in the unenviable position of proving the schools weren’t genocide, Carleton has to prove that the denialists are doing a poor job of it. Carleton admits that denialism is spreading but it isn’t due to whatever rhetorical chicanery the denialists pull off as much as it is because “denialìsm speaks to all of us as Canadians.”

Carleton shared how denialism personally spoke to him as a student. Carleton didn’t hear about the horrors of residential schools in school because he was only taught the history that preserved the “colonial status quo” with its structural myths of Canadian goodness. The evil perfidy of denialism is saying Canada meant well when, in fact, the people most considered good – priests and nuns – were, if anything, holding midnight mass murders.

Neither Carleton nor Kyne touched upon the Survivor stories of newly born babes –  the miscegenation of priests raping students – being tossed into school furnaces, an act that prefigured the crematoria of Auschwitz. The accounts are perhaps too terrible for any trigger warning to deflect and small children could have been watching.

Kyne`s segment was based upon her paper: ‘Show Me the Bodies or Shut the Hell up’:A Discourse Analysis of the Mass Grave Hoax (that is, the denialists’ hoax about the hoax). Kyne did a detailed study of the comments posted to a YouTube video (“Mass Graves in Canada: Truth or Hoax”) because when it comes to denialism, one source of ignorant bigotry is indicative of the rest.

The mass grave hoax began innocently enough with the May 2021 announcement that 215 children’s remains had been found. The shocking discovery inadvertently gave rise to misinformation. Some, like the New York Times, reported that a mass grave had been found in a defunct apple orchard (forbidden fruit, indeed!). The diabolical double-hoax of the denialists is built on using misinformation about initial claims of a mass grave being found when, in fact, 215 serial murder victims had been found. Denialists assert that no mass grave means no genocide which is just as debased as saying that if there aren’t 215 names for these missing children, then there aren’t 215 missing children ignobly interred in what also used to be a septic field.

Whatever their motives, the denialists’ methods have been exasperatingly effective. Just days after the Kamloops announcement, 22 lawyers were errantly complaining about a mass grave to the International Criminal Court. In fact, Chief RoseAnn Casimir, who made the announcement was soon after taken in by the denialists’ deceptions and sadly repeated the mass grave myth herself in a resolution she presented to the Assembly of First Nations. Even Carleton himself fell victim to their subterranean subterfuge.

Asked how denialists might incorporate the failure of the church basement excavation at Pine Creek First Nation in their nefarious narratives, Carleton explained that that is what denialists do, they cherry-pick facts to create doubts about residential school genocide. Even though none of the radar-detected 14 bodies were found in the basement, added Kyne, it doesn’t mean that those bodies aren`t there somewhere.

“The priests and nuns know where the bodies are,” explained Kyne. “That’s what GPR is for.”

While denialists might gloat about the spades batting .000 so far, Carleton pointed out that records show there are 4,000 school deaths and that barely includes the 15,000-25,000 Murray Sinclair mentioned in a recent update of the TRC`s findings.

Not wishing to leave the audience daunted by the denialists’ machinations, Carleton reassured us that his fidelity to bringing the truth so necessary for reconciliation would endure. More than anyone, Carleton knows what it means to be wrong about genocide.


Michael Melanson is a Winnipeg writer and tradesperson.


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