National Indigenous History Month Should Promote Truth Telling

The Canadian House of Commons designated June as National Aboriginal History Month in 2009. The name was changed to National Indigenous History Month in 2017. The theme of the first […]

The Canadian House of Commons designated June as National Aboriginal History Month in 2009. The name was changed to National Indigenous History Month in 2017.

The theme of the first week of this year’s effort to “honour the stories, achievements and resilience of Indigenous Peoples,” June 1 to 9, was “environment, traditional knowledge and territory.”

The most explosive example of “traditional knowledge” ever revealed by Indigenous people was the following May 27, 2021, assertion by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Indian Band) Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir:

This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light – the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School…. We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths. Some were as young as three years old. At this time we have more questions than answers…. We look forward to providing updates as they become available.

The federal government rushed to accept the entire contents of this assertion even though it had no substantiation then and even less credibility now.

On May 31, 2021, Marc Miller, the former Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, announced in the House of Commons that:

Mr. Speaker, people across the country and in indigenous communities feel the pain of this discovery. Not one community is untouched by the situation.

On Thursday evening [May 27, 2021], I spoke to Chief Casimir and assured her of my steadfast support for the grieving and reconciliation process over the coming weeks. We have been in contact since then as well. We will be there with them as they lead this initiative, and we will help meet their needs in the coming weeks and months.

 On May 27, 2021, this story was totally unsubstantiated. Today, it lies in tatters.

  • No such confirmation was revealed on May 27, 2021, contrary to the declaration by Chief Casimir, and none has occurred since. Indeed, the number of “remains” was quickly reduced to 200 and then just as quickly resurrected to 215.
  • The content of the “knowing in our community” has never been revealed.
  • There is no current evidence that whatever the inconclusive technique called ground penetrating radar revealed — even if this should turn out to be human remains, a highly unlikely possibility — they did not represent the undocumented deaths of missing children.
  • Ground penetrating radar cannot determine the age of any of the soil disturbances it detects let alone reveal the existence of organic material.
  • No important updates were ever made available except the most recent one on May 18, namely that these “remains of 215 children” are now termed “anomalies” — signs of subterranean soil disturbances of unknown provenance — surely a near admission that this has been a horrible error or a
  • deliberate hoax.
  • “At this time,” three years later, there are still “more questions than answers.”

Was this immediate acceptance of Indigenous “traditional knowledge” because our post-nation state leaders believe Indigenous people, unlike all other people on the face of the earth, are so honourable that they never engage in fantasy, prevarication, distortion, or exaggeration, a “noble savage” racist assertion at best?

Not surprisingly, such a nonsensical view of Indigenous people is held by indigenous academics and other intellectuals, though they would never use the word “savage” to describe themselves or their people. Instead, they prefer to argue, somewhat hypocritically, that this is how many Canadians still view Indigenous people.

Or was this leap on the Indigenous knowledge” bandwagon a more insidious form of racism, namely the soft bigotry of low Indigenous cultural expectations, in this case excusing Aboriginal people for believing in the unbelievable because they continue to be beguiled by irrational pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment, anti-Western modes of knowing and reasoning?

Or were our leaders deliberately looking for a Canadian-style George Floyd moment so they could engage in gratuitous virtue signalling and chest pounding as a deflection from unsuccessfully ending true Indigenous adversities like poverty, homelessness, and drug addiction?

What the government’s reaction to the May 27, 2021, announcement shows most of all is that Indigenous “traditional knowledge” and Western scientific knowledge have nothing in common. Indeed, they are incompatible.

Although the federal government has arbitrarily given precedence to Indigenous knowledge in recent decades, the rest of us must remember that these two ways of describing and explaining reality belong to two very different paradigms of knowing that should never be confused or conflated.

At least this jumbling of very different knowledge systems should never be done if scientific truth-telling is the goal.


Hymie Rubenstein is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and editor of REAL Indigenous Report.


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On National Indigenous Peoples Day, what needs celebrating is no genocide and no missing children

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