Monday, 23 May 2016

Part One of Three: Why I Think Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Parallelism or Assimilation - Overview

Disclaimer: my references to the writings of other people--both indigenous and non-indigenous--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my family, friends or associates.

Note One:  In this post, I will primarily be focussing on First Nations people living on- and off-reserves.  For brevity's sake, I will not be covering Inuit- and Metis-related issues.  But when I include information about indigenous people generally, e.g., statistics, it sometimes incorporates Inuit and Metis.

Note Two:  The nature photos, which I took during walks in my neighbourhood, have nothing to do with the contents of this post.  I found working on this entry so mentally challenging that I sometimes recharged by playing slideshows of these images.

Part One - A         Introduction

I realize there are a number of interpretations of aboriginal integration, so I am clarifying at the outset that my recommended version is not the type that advocates assimilation.  As I explained in my "Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Assimilation or Parallelism" post, August 7, 2011, I am in favour of aboriginals maintaining their rights, but also their Canadian citizenship.  However, I believe that any rights maintained should not harm aboriginals or non-aboriginals.  In other words, I recommend a selective retention of rights.  Will explain more about what I mean by "selective retention" in the "Integration" section of Part One.

I also think that any rights upheld should not erode Canadian sovereignty.  Will have more to say about this in the "Ordinary Canadians" section of Part Three.

Am dividing up this topic into three separate posts as follows:

• Part One of Three - Why I Think Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Parallelism or Assimilation - Overview

• Part Two of Three - Why I Think Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Parallelism or Assimilation - Integration is Already Happening in Many Places

• Part Three of Three - Why I Think Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Parallelism or Assimilation - More People Need to be Involved with Indigenous Policy Decision Making

Part One - B        Three Main Policy Viewpoints - My Interpretation

In a number of other posts on this blog, I said I think Canadian aboriginal integration is better than parallelism or assimilation.  I agree with a reader of my blog that I need to elaborate on what I mean by this.

Below are my interpretations of the three main policy viewpoints.

Part One - B.1       Parallelism

The Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau tried to implement the 1969 White Paper, which advocated assimilation, but this concept was rejected by many of the country's aboriginal leaders.  Consequently, the White Paper was shelved.  For further information on the events before, during and after the White Paper, see my "Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Assimilation or Parallelism Post," August 7, 2011.

Alan Cairns was the first to use the term parallelism, which he described as "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities travelling side-by-side coexisting but not getting in each other's way."  But Cairns is not a proponent of the term that he coined.  Parallelism is sometimes portrayed as a two-row wampum, that is, aboriginal and non-aboriginal collectives following separate cultural paths.  The preservation of indigenous knowledge is one of the principal self-determining aims of the aboriginal route.

Parallelism is also depicted as either "nation-to-nation" constitutionalism or a third order of government.  The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) advocated parallelism, as did the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report executive summary.

Aboriginal leaders frequently talk about sovereignty in connection with their wish for "nation-to-nation" relations with Canada, the provinces and territories, but it is sometimes not clear what they mean by these terms.  Are they talking about nation as in operating as a self-sufficient entity within the Canadian federation, or as in operating outside of it?  Do they mean sovereignty as in good governance, or as in separate "nations" from Canada?

As I explained in my review of Cherokee/Greek Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian, February 11, 2014, "sovereignty has various interpretations amongst aboriginal groups."  I have no problem with aboriginal communities being directly involved with decisions that affect them, but I do not agree with these communities operating outside of the federal, provincial and territorial framework.

Creek from bridge, May 22, 2015
 Part One - B.2       Integration

Generally speaking, integration proponents believe it is best for aboriginals to maintain their Canadian citizenship, and to be actively engaged in national discourse.  Although many integrationists want to see aboriginal culture preserved, they recognize that sometimes there has to be a partnership or overlap with mainstream Canadian federal, provincial and/or territorial jurisdictions.

Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard summarize integrationism as "inclusion, universality and progress," and contend there are two main versions:  liberalism and political economy.  They see the liberalism branch as valuing individualism over collectivism.  Political economists believe that goods and services should be available to all equally, not just to those with tribal affiliations.

Some analysts believe that assimilation is an extension of the integrationist position, but I see it as distinct.  This is because some integrationists think aboriginals have rights over and above other Canadians, such as those enshrined in the Constitution.  My view is what separates integrationists from assimilationists is the special rights issue.  So I think assimilation needs to be a separate category.

I am of the view that aboriginals should maintain their Constitutional rights, but there needs to be a review of cultural practices that may harm aboriginals or non-aboriginals.  If cultural practices are detrimental to either race, then natives should not be able to argue that they have a right to practice for traditional reasons.  Two examples of this are bad medicine and the historically negative treatment of women by some tribes.  So that is what I mean by selective retention of rights.

In addition, I do not think that indigenous rights should infringe on Canadian constitutional sovereignty.  That is why I was concerned with what Gordon Gibson had to say in his analysis of Section 25 of the Charter.  He said "if parts of the Charter offend traditional aboriginal practices, those parts of the Charter are not enforceable as against Indian governments."  This section needs to be revised to make it clearer that any practices that might infringe on Canadian sovereignty cannot be upheld as constitutionally protected.

Duck spreading wings, October 11, 2015

Part One - B.3       Assimilation

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report described assimilation as colonial and Canadian authorities asserting that "European ideas about progress and development were self-evidently correct," and stated that these ideas should not be imposed on aboriginals.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada labelled the 1820-1927 era as "Legislated Assimilation" and 1914-1982 one as "New Perspectives."  Even though there were quite a few improvements to aboriginal policy during the latter period, it still included the 1969 White Paper, which many aboriginal leaders considered assimilationist.  As previously mentioned, the White Paper was shelved.

It is rarely noted that a third of aboriginals do not identify themselves as such in the federal census.  But this needs to be factored into any discussion on aboriginal policy.  Yes, it is true that some of these people likely assimilated because of colonial polices, but others felt they were better off joining the mainstream.

In Bad Judgment, John Reilly said that his friend, Austin Tootoosis, a Cree healer, described five levels to assimilation.  The first is when aboriginals follow their traditional ways, and are usually in good shape psychologically.  Level five is completely assimilated individuals who are usually well mentally.  It is levels two through four where difficulties can occur because people have "no real identity or sense of direction."

I agree with Tootoosis that problems can occur as he described.  But there are many different outcomes that can result in levels two through four, and some of them may be favourable.  For instance, integration can fall into this range.

Part One - C        Why My Personal Journey Has Led Me to Conclude That Integration is the Best Option

As I have explained in other posts on this blog, my parents got involved with indigenous issues when I was six, so I grew up with this matter constantly around me.  My work in aboriginal organizations, in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories, primarily during the 1975 to 1987 period, has given me a perspective that a lot of people do not share.

My views on this issue have been influenced by four factors.  The first is that I felt pressured to carry on my mother's aboriginal involvement after she passed away in 1976.  The time period before and after her passing was when some indigenous groups and their "native support" partners were establishing a national presence, e.g., voicing opposition to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, due to unsettled land claims.  Many of the people my mother had aligned herself with naturally hoped I would carry on where she left off.

But I had numerous concerns about this.  In fact, these misgivings were so strong that I told a native support representative that my mother was a "hard act to follow."  When I realized that my apprehensions were mostly falling on deaf ears, I tried to mask my self-doubts with an outward "crusader zeal."  But this crusader mask only made things worse in the long run.

The second factor was that it was the 1970s, when attitudes were different than they are now.  I thought it was better for me to go with the flow, rather than challenge other people's agenda setting for me.  I realize now that, in the eyes of some people involved with the "cause," taking this on was a lifetime commitment, but I did not see it that way.

The third is that my personality is totally unsuited to working in the indigenous rights field.  I have always been a very opinionated person, and this trait alone increased the odds of my having difficulties.  In addition, I have very strong convictions, which frequently put me at loggerheads with some equally strong-willed indigenous people.

Fourth: despite the fact that I had more than a decade of background with aboriginal issues before I started working in the organizations, I now realize it would have been better if I had known more about the historical aspects of the indigenous situation beforehand.  If I had known this, it would have been easier for me to comprehend all that I went through.  This is why I agree that indigenous history should be included in the K-12 curriculum.  But this information needs to be taught in a balanced manner, presenting all sides, not the all-too-common "aboriginals are always right and non-aboriginals are always wrong" narrative.

Nevertheless, I do not want to give the impression my experiences were entirely negative.  I have lots of happy memories, such as attending drum dances and stage plays.  I also know that many of my late parents' interactions were uplifting for them.

Autumn splendour October 8, 2015

One of the highlights of my work in this area was travelling to remote communities in the Northwest Territories and Northern Ontario, e.g., to provide advice and assistance on band library development.  Because airplanes usually only fly in and out of these places once or twice a week, I sometimes stayed for a few days, either in lodges set aside for visitors, or in tents, or in the homes of band librarians who requested my visit.  Will never forget the spectacular scenery I saw from bush plane windows.  However, I also had some more harrowing adventures, such as a helicopter ride through a blizzard, and a water taxi trip across a turbulent bay.

In addition, I know what it is like to live with few amenities.  When my ex-partner and I were in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, during the 1975-1976 period, we lived in a tent on Long Lake Beach, a few kilometres outside of the city limits.  He did not want to pay for a campsite, so we were up on the rocks.  Then for about ten months, we lived in a house in Yellowknife's Old Town with no running water, no plumbing, and, for the first three months or so, only plastic covering the windows.  Have not forgotten the hassles of using a "honey bucket" for a toilet, and hauling in oil from the road to heat the furnace.  Because water was poured into a barrel inside our front door once a week at varying times, we could not lock the door.  I really hated having to boil water on the stove to have a sponge bath.

I also realize that reserve water problems are not limited to Canada's north.  After taking a shower at one reserve house south of the 60th parallel, I was covered with a rash for quite a few days.

The most profound aspect of my involvement was that a Slave (Dene) woman contributed substantially to saving my life in 1972.  I was suffering from a severe infection that a Toronto doctor claimed was all in my mind.  As a result, I regularly popped 292s, and became more and more frail.  I was staying with this Slave woman in Yellowknife, and was supposed to board a plane to the remote community of Fort Simpson.  When the taxi driver came to take me to the airport, she took the suitcase out of my hand and gave it to the driver.  She said "you're not taking her anywhere but the hospital."  I spent three weeks in Yellowknife hospital and almost died.  In the early 1980s, I learned this woman had passed away under tragic circumstances.

So, by the mid-1980s, I had learned first-hand (albeit temporarily) how difficult and challenging life can be for indigenous people.  But the memories that have been permanently etched in my psyche are those that involve indigenous people reaching out across the racial divide, like the selfless act of the Slave (Dene) woman in 1972.  The memories I would often rather forget were the frequent wranglings over what made us different from each other.

During my years with the organizations, I frequently advocated for separate systems for aboriginal people  But even at that time, I harboured inner doubts about this route.  These fears were heightened after aboriginal rights were enshrined in the Constitution in the 1980s.  From the mid-1980s onwards, I became increasingly disillusioned with the "cause," and I think that constitutional entrenchment played a role in this.  It seemed to give some of my aboriginal associates the view that they were racially superior to me.

What also contributed to my angst was that the residential schools issue became more and more the focus of scrutiny from the mid-1980s onwards.  I am very much aware of the damage done to many former students by the schools because I worked with quite a few "survivors."  But I also found that it occasionally became an excuse for questionable behaviour.  For instance, one "survivor," who I had known since the mid-1960s, viciously betrayed me in the late 1980s.  When I confronted her about this, she blamed her behaviour on her time at a residential school.  But I think her main motivation was that she was angry with me over a political difference of opinion, and consequently spread the falsehood to get revenge.

During the 1976 to 1982 period, I was employed by, or a volunteer for, a number of what at the time were referred to as "native support" programs.  This sometimes involved arranging for aboriginal leaders from the north to speak to groups in the south.  Frequently the churches initiated and funded these projects.  For instance, there was an inter-church group called Project North (Anglican, Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United Church) that lobbied in support of land claims.  In fact, Project North is mentioned in Volume 1 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report as a "concrete expression" of the churches demonstrating cooperation and involvement on aboriginal issues.

That is why it bothers me so much when many residential school "survivors" make it sound like the churches were always their adversaries, when the truth is the churches were sometimes the ones that lobbied the hardest for aboriginal rights to be preserved.  For further information on my views about the residential school controversy, see my September 7 and November 6, 2015 posts elsewhere on this blog.

As mentioned earlier, I harboured doubts about the "separate systems" approach to dealing with aboriginal issues.  But I did not realize the extent to which national indigenous groups were lobbying to ensure this concept became enshrined in federal government policy.

One of the most prominent examples of this "separate systems" advocacy was the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) Report.  I did not really analyze this report until the early 2000s.  But I realize, now that I have, its overemphasis on parallelism, and under-emphasis on the interconnectedness between aboriginal and non-aboriginal societies, was likely one of the main driving forces behind my increased disillusionment.

Tsimshian author Calvin Helin's Dances With Dependency (2006) helped me to come to grips with another aspect of my discouragement: that many aboriginal communities were overly dependent on government assistance, and that this was negatively impacting community cohesiveness.  For more information about Helin's book, and other books by him that had an impact on me, see my February 10, 2015 post.

My reading of Australian anthropologist and linguist, Peter Sutton's, The Politics of Suffering (2011) further cemented my view that some aspects of aboriginal traditions, such as bad medicine, and the abuse of women by some tribes, were best forgotten.  See the "Peter Sutton" label in the right sidebar for more information on this.

I realize there were and are many positive developments that have resulted from indigenous people asserting their rights, and exposing the harm done by many aspects of the residential schools.  But I feel the attention has swung too far from personal responsibility to identity politics.

Fortunately, there are indigenous people who share a lot of my concerns, and who I keep in touch with.  I realize the risks they take are often far greater than mine, because there is so much pressure on them to "toe the party line."  But they speak out anyway--kudos to them.

Robin, March 16, 2016

Part One - D       Too Much Emphasis Being Placed on the Parallelism Viewpoint

My contention is that all levels of government--federal, provincial, territorial and municipal--frequently place too much emphasis on communicating with the three main indigenous organizations, that is, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Metis National Council (MNC) and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).  This top-level communication means that the focus tends to be on the parallelist viewpoint, particularly in the case of the AFN and the MNC.  This post will be concentrating on the AFN's version of parallelism, e.g., when AFN spokespeople talk about "nation-to-nation" dialogue.  My overall point is that some on-reserve and urban aboriginals may not agree with this viewpoint.

In my September 5, 2011 post entitled "Aboriginal Issues During the 'Culpability Era,"" I explained that only the chiefs elect the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).  This is the equivalent of the mayors of cities choosing the prime minister.  So it should not be assumed that all reserve residents support what the national chief is doing.

Differences of opinion can also occur regarding on-reserve governance.  For instance, some reserve residents have brought public attention to band mismanagement, and have frequently been severely reprimanded for doing so.  But as Ojibway writer, Richard Wagamese, rightly pointed out, "there is no colonialism inherent in accountability. . .and there is no besmirching a people's integrity by asking their leadership for honesty."

Another factor to bear in mind is that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) only represents those First Nations living on-reserve.  Yet more than half of aboriginals live in urban areas.  Moreover, these city-dwellers may not be as keen on parallelism as their reserve counterparts.  The 2010 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Survey (UAPS), found that seven out of 10 were comfortable with their Canadian citizenship.  Although these nationalists may not see themselves as integrationists, that may be essentially what they are doing, if they agree with Canada's rights and responsibilities as citizens.

And, as previously mentioned, a third of aboriginals do not self-identify as such in the federal census.  So they have chosen the assimilation route.  Although I am not necessarily advocating assimiliation, I think this factor has to be taken into consideration.

Consequently, the aboriginals who advocate parallelism may represent less than half of the national indigenous demographic.  Despite this, the parallelists receive a disproportionate amount of the media attention.  I think the non-parallelist perspectives of the integrationists and assimilationists should be given more weight.


Adams, M. & Gosnell-Myers, G. (2013, January 22).   Don't forget Canada's urban aboriginals.  They're not just passing through.  Globe and Mail:

Cairns, A.C. (2000).  Citizens Plus: Aboriginal People and the Canadian State.  Vancouver: UBC Press.

Cairns, A.C. (2005).  First Nations and the Canadian State.  Kingston: Queen's University.

Gibson, G. (2009).  A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy.  Fraser Institute.

Government of Canada (2014, July 23).  The rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Helin, C. (2006).  Dances With Dependency: Indigenous Success Through Self-Reliance.  Vancouver: Orca Spirit.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2013, October 21).  First Nations in Canada.

King, T. (2012).  The Inconvenient Indian.  Doubleday Canada.

Liebsman, H. (2005).  In Search of a Postcolonial Theory of Normative Integration: Reflections on A.C. Cairns' Theory of Citizens Plus. 38 (4), 955-976.

Reilly, J. (2014).  Bad Judgment.  Alberta: Rocky Mountain Books.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996).  Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.  Retrieved October 15, 2015 from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada:

Sutton, P. (2011).  The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the liberal consensus (2nd ed).  Melbourne University.

Travato, F, Abada, R & Price, J.A. (2015, March 4).  Urban Migration of Aboriginal Peoples.  From Canadian Encyclopedia:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015, December).  Final Report: Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 2, 1939-2000. (archived)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015, June 2.  Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report. (archived)

Wagamese, R. (2015, October 9).  Accountability and Band Finances.  From First Nations Drum:

Widdowson, F, & Howard, A. (2013).  Approaches to Aboriginal Education in Canada.  (Widdowson, F, & Howard, A., ed).  Brush Education.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Canadian Indigenous Residential Schools - Counter-Narratives

Disclaimer: my references to the writings of other people--both indigenous and non-indigenous--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my family, friends or associates.

Note: my definition of counter-narrative is a point of view that challenges what many believe to be true.  I contend that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report executive summary, which was released June 2, 2015, almost invariably promotes the narrative that "aboriginals are always right, and non-aboriginals are always wrong."  But even though this view is widely held by many apologists in Canadian society, I believe it is a fabrication that needs to be questioned.  This post is my counter-narrative to this fabrication.

A.        Background Information

About a third of Canadian indigenous children attended government-funded and church-run residential schools from the mid-19th century to 1996.  Since the early 1990s, the Canadian public has become increasingly aware of the negative effects these schools had on many of these children.  On June 2, 2015, public awareness was heightened yet again by the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report executive summary.  My September 7, 2015 post is a critique of this summary.

As I explained in my critique, I am very much aware of the harm that resulted from numerous aspects of the residential schools, due to my late parents' and my interactions with quite a few survivors.  However, I contend that TRC summary overemphasizes the negative and under-reports the positive.  There are aboriginals who graduated from these schools, who went on to lead productive and successful lives, but their stories frequently do not get the attention they deserve in the summary.  Most of the accounts mentioned in section B were not included in the summary.

In addition, the media has concentrated on relaying the damaging aspects of the schools.  This has reinforced in the minds of the general public that it was an entirely hurtful experience for all the children, even though this was not the case.  Yes, it is true that a lot of the material listed below appeared in the media, but these positive or counter-narrative accounts make up a very small percentage of what is disseminated by the press.

There are many non-aboriginal and aboriginal people who worked at the schools, who did the best they could under the circumstances, and who know they are not responsible for any abuses.  My compilation includes their stories as well.

I hope that what I have provided serves as a warning to non-aboriginal apologists who think that caving in to every indigenous demand is the way to go.  Hundreds of people devoted a great deal of their lives to doing the best they could for the aboriginal children in their care.  Despite this, a great percentage of them are being scapegoated.

Until the late 1980s, I was in many respects an apologist for the aboriginal "cause."  But then I was falsely accused of having views that I did not.  As a result of this devastating experience, I concluded it is better to be honest with indigenous people about the positive and the negative, rather than going along with whatever they want.  If one gives in too easily, then he or she could easily get scapegoated, like what happened to me.

Even though I had nothing directly to do with the schools, I understand the frustration being experienced by those who have found their positive accounts are not being given enough attention.

Someone recently told me that he thought emotions were too high to deal with the positive aspects now, and that we would have to endure the "over-heated rhetoric and anger for at least a generation."  I disagree with him.  The general public has been hearing about the negative aspects of the schools for more than 25 years, yet the rhetoric and anger have not abated very much.  I believe this is likely because, as some commentators have pointed out, there is more money to be made from complaining about the residential schools than not.

Have assembled below what I consider to be significant articles that have appeared in the news from 1996 until recently, but it is far from an exhaustive list.  Counter-narrative material that is included in my September 7, 2015 post, or in other posts on this blog, is not repeated here.

B.        Counter-Narrative Compilation

B.1      1996, December 5.  Field, J. Fraser, "The Other Side of the Residential School Question," Catholic Education:  Originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun on the same date.

- Field presents a lot of compelling arguments why people should not generalize about the residential schools era.

B.2      1997, February 24.  British Columbia Report, "So sorry for abuse, but so reluctant to see success: the Indian industry capitalizes on residential school problems while ignoring achievements," British Columbia Report, 8, 10.  Retrieved from ProQuest.

-"[S]ome British Columbians" acknowledge there were abuses at the schools, but contend that Indians are over-stating the abuse issue in order to further their land-claim demands."

B.3      1998, November 2.  McFeely, T., "The great white guilt trip: Fontaine seeks national forum and papal apology to boost residential school abuse payouts," British Columbia Report, 9, 17.  Retrieved from ProQuest.

- Roman Catholic priest recognizes there were abuses at the schools, but said the "silent majority" of aboriginals "had positive experiences."

B.4      2006, November.  Krotz, Larry, "Who's sorry now? inside the culture of apology," United Church Observer:

- [A] "substantial number of. . .people view institutionalized and national apologies with skepticism."

B.5      2007, February 19.  Krotz, Larry, "Separate and Unequal," The Walrus:

- "Money for crimes committed at residential schools may be forthcoming, but problems with the reserve system remain."

B.6      2007, December 13.  Greenberg, L., "Residential school cheques fuel envy, acrimony on Alberta reserve," CanWest News.  Retrieved from ProQuest.

- ". . .the sudden influx of cash payments to former residential school students has prompted a wave of bitterness and recrimination."

B.7      2008, May 7.  Wagamese, Richard, "The value of residential schools," Ottawa Citizen.  Retrieved from

- Wagamese recognizes the "horrendous experiences" at the residential schools "need to see the light of day," so there can be "nationwide healing."  But he wants the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to also relate the positive stories.

B.8      2008, June 11.  de Souza, Father Raymond J., "Two sides to the story," National Post:

- "To recognize what was wrong does not require ignoring what was right."

B.9      2008, June 11.  Sandberg, Don, "Residential Schools Propaganda?" Frontier Centre for Public Policy:

- ". . .even those who did not actually attend residential schools blame all of their social ills on the aboriginal residential school era."

B.10     2009.  Sutton, Peter, The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the liberal consensus.  Victoria, Australia: Melbourne University Press.  New edition published in 2011.

- Since 1969, Sutton has worked as an anthropologist and linguist with Australian Aborigines.  I share many of the concerns he raises in this book.  In his chapter entitled, "On Feeling Reconciled," he questions the value of "formal, legal, bureaucratized Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians."  He thinks that reconciliation is more effective when it is a "personal and interpretive journey."

B.11     2009.  Gibson, Gordon, A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy: Respect the Collective--Promote the Individual.  Fraser Institute.

- On pages 145-147 of this book, Gibson critiques many of the articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report executive summary promotes the implementation of UNDRIP, but I share many of the concerns that Gibson raises about it.

B.12     2009, March 3.  Winnipeg Free Press, "Residential school survivor hikes mission donation to $50,000,"

- William Woodford donated $50,000 of his residential school settlement money to the Siloam Mission, a Winnipeg homeless shelter.

B.13     2009, June 17.  White, Patrick, "Healing comes full circle," Globe and Mail:

- Residential school survivor, Edward Gamblin, thanked his Grade 3 residential school teacher, Florence Kaefer.  He said her class was "place of refuge" and that "[s]he was a good teacher."

- This positive account is included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report executive summary.

B.14     2009, October 1.  Hill, Angela, "Remembering and healing," Prince Albert Daily Herald:

- Mental-health expert, Austin Tootoosis, feels survivors need to let go of their anger and work for the benefit of the "community at large."

B.15     2010, July 9.  Sandberg, Don, "It's Time to Focus on Healing," Frontier Centre for Public Policy:  This article also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on the same date.

- "Promotion of the negative through the past 20-some years has led many aboriginals to blame the residential schools for all of life's hardships and miseries. . .but we are responsible for who we ultimately become."

B.16     2010, November.  Narine, Shari, "TRC takes criticism on the chin," Windspeaker:  Retrieved from ProQuest.

- Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart-Olsen said an "international approach" was not included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) mandate, so the TRC should be spending less time on that and more on "this particular initiative."

B.17     2010, December 21.  Williams, Garrett, "Woman honoured for positive impact on residential school," Kenora Daily Miner and News:

- Rena Martinson and her reverend husband John were in charge of an Anglican residential school in Fort George, Quebec, for six years in the 1950s.  Martinson "left a positive and lasting impression" on the community.

B.18     2011, May 19.  Clifton, Rodney, "Some Other Truths about Indian Residential Schools," C2C Journal:

- Clifton worked at a residential school, and his Blackfoot wife attended one for 10 years.  "[N]either she nor her parents lost their language. . ."

B.19     2011, July 14.  Sison, Marites N.  "Mixed experiences at Indian residential school," Anglican Journal: anglicanjournalcom.

- Anglican Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, attended the Poplar Hill School in northwestern Ontario, where she had "more good than bad" experiences.

B.20     2012, June 21.  Sims, Jane, "Sharing a sombre legacy," London Free Press:

- Article includes statements by eight residential school students who attended Mount Elgin School, in southwestern Ontario.  Four of the eight reported having more positive than negative memories.

B.21     2013.  Wagamese, Richard, "Returning to Harmony,"

- Wagamese describes himself as "an intergenerational victim" whose immediate and extended family all attended residential schools.  In his 2008 Ottawa Citizen article, he wrote about his mother's positive experiences.  However, in this essay, he said she still "carried wounds that she could not voice."  In his 40s, Wagamese decided to stop blaming the schools for his addiction and anger.  For "many weeks," he attended a United Church service, and "found peace with churches, and, in turn, residential schools, with Canada."  He said he hoped the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada hears more stories like his.

B.22     2013, September 30.  DeLaurentiis Johnson, Julia, "In conversation with Tomson Highway," Maclean's:

- Highway said he was "part of the first wave of native writers" who had political correctness forced upon them.  But he thinks the "next wave of native playwrights should be afforded the freedom to let their imaginations fly."  He contends that being politically incorrect is "essential for art."  Although Highway was not addressing the residential schools issue directly in this quote, I think any creative person would be wise to heed his advice.

B.23     2014, January 11.  Russell, Paul, "Paul Russell: Could it be that residential schools weren't all bad?" National Post:

- Russell said that most of the letters to the editor received by the National Post "argue that the schools have been unfairly portrayed in the media."

B.24     2014, February 28.  Argan, Glen, "Oblates, TRC offer radically different views of history," Western Catholic Reporter:

- In October 2013, Ronald Niezen published a book about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) entitled Truth and Indignation.  He said the TRC focussed on "emotional trauma," which tended to draw attention away from "survivors' stories which do not stir emotional responses." It also tended to exclude testimony from religious staff who worked at the schools.

B.25     2014, March 27.  Wittmeir, Brent, "Hearings to 'lay bare the soul of the nation,' truth and reconciliation chairman says," Edmonton Journal:

- Truth and Indignation author, Ron Niezen, worries that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada "will deepen the chasm between sufferer and perpetrator, accuser and accused, affirmed and excluded."

B.26     2015, June 7.  McKay, Donald, "Unworkable demands," [Letter to editor], Calgary Sun:

- McKay said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) summary "missed a great opportunity to make meaningful recommendations. . ."  He thinks the TRC should have recommended that aboriginals separate their governance structure into two organizations: one responsible for preserving the culture, and the other for operating institutions such as health and education.

B.27     2015, July 8.  Cooper, Barry, "Cooper: Residential school report won't bring reconciliation," Calgary Herald:

- Cooper complains that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) summary is "[b]adly deficient in terms of evidence, context and logic, riddled with cliches and factual errors, the result brims with half-truths."

B.28     2015, July 10.  Meadows, Lea, "Honour the truth about schools," [Letter to editor], Calgary Herald:

- This letter was in response to Cooper's July 8, 2015 opinion piece listed above.  She said "I agree with Barry Cooper that the TRC report does not honour the truth because it does not reflect all residential school students' experiences--like my mother's and grandmother's."

 B.29     2015, November 1.  CBC Radio/Unreserved, "Tomson Highway finds inspiration in one woman's musical laugh,"

- Highway talks about his autobiography, which is coming out in 15-year instalments.  His first 15 years is scheduled to be released first, and will discuss the beneficial aspects of his nine years at a residential school.

B.30     2015, November 5.  Globe and Mail [editorial], "A pitfall or two on the road to reconciliation with First Nations,"

- This editorial raises concerns about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report executive summary's push to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  I agree with this editorial that it would be problematic if the Canadian government allowed UNDRIP to become a legally binding document.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Final Report Executive Summary, 2015 - Critique

Disclaimer: my references to the writings of other people--both indigenous and non-indigenous--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my family, friends of associates.

Note 1: the page numbers in square brackets refer to page numbers in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) executive summary.  If "Rec." and a number follow a page number, it refers to a specific TRC summary recommendation.

Note 2: the nature photos, which I took during walks in my neighbourhood, have nothing to do with the content of this post.  I found working on this post to be so mentally exhausting, that I sometimes recharged by playing slideshows of these images.

A.      Introduction

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)'s "Frequently Asked Questions" section of their website (, the commission's mandate "is to inform Canadians about what happened at the Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience."  The 382-page executive summary of the final report was released on June 2, 2015 (the multi-volume final report is supposed to follow around December 2015).  This post is my critique of the summary.

Metis Chelsea Vowel and other aboriginals have complained that some who have written about the TRC summary have not taken the time to examine it thoroughly.  But I can confirm that I reviewed every page, took voluminous notes, and did extensive research before I started working on this post.

My heart goes out to those who suffered abuse at the schools, who lost the connection to their culture, and whose families were torn apart by the experience.  I have witnessed natives being treated in a demeaning and exploitative manner, so I have some idea how terrible it must have been.  It is good that, through the TRC, survivors have had an opportunity to inform non-aboriginal Canadians about what happened to them, and why many aspects of the residential schools experience (1849-1996) were counterproductive.

Nevertheless, I find the TRC summary overemphasizes the negative and under-reports the positive.  It sometimes goes into detail about constructive outcomes for students in terms of the arts, music and sports, but pays very little attention to the academic and leadership accomplishments of quite a few graduates.

Branch near creek, London, Ontario, May 29, 2015

B.      My Background With Indigenous Issues

From 1975 to 1987, I worked primarily in native organizations in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories.  Quite a few of the people I worked with were residential school survivors, and I sometimes heard stories from them about the abuse they had suffered.

I was, however, also aware of this issue much earlier, due to the fact that my parents, Jay Peterson (1920-1976), and Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), got involved with aboriginal issues in 1958, when I was six.  From the mid-1960s onwards, survivors sometimes told me harrowing anecdotes, such as getting the hair on their heads shaved off if they spoke in their native language.

I have a one-page university program admission questionnaire, across which an aboriginal woman wrote that she refused "to be part of an apparatus" that was damaging her people  She closed with what she thought the program really thought of her: the number she had been assigned at residential school.  Although it is undated, I believe she wrote it in the late 1960s.  Am assuming because it is in my mother's files that she gave it to my mother.

But a greater percentage of my mother's aboriginal files contain positive material, such as photos and news clippings of craftspeople either displaying their artistry, or of the crafts themselves.  This is because my mother was impressed by the creative ability of many indigenous peoples.  She frequently visited reserves, and I sometimes accompanied her.  She bought crafts, brought the items back to town, sold them, returned to the reserve, and gave the money to the creators.  A Chippewa woman, now deceased, recounted how my mother would arrive on the reserve "with the grease from the roads in her hair."

In addition, my mother arranged for artisans to come to London, Ontario, to demonstrate or sell their crafts, e.g., when she was on the board of the Western Fair Association.  As a result of her enthusiasm, I developed a deep appreciation for native people's creative abilities.  I treasure the many types of aboriginal art I have in my home, some of which originally belonged to her.

It is therefore not surprising that the parts of the TRC summary that upset me the most were the ones that chronicled how aboriginal clothing and other cultural symbols were thrown in the garbage or otherwise disparaged [e.g., p. 44, 86].  In fact, there were numerous times when I broke down and wept in horror.  Of course, I was also upset by the many other examples of mistreatment.  But I sense the actual destruction of cultural property must have dealt a particularly disastrous blow.

Horse Chestnut flowers, May 29, 2015

C.      Maria Campbell's Input Not Covered in Summary

Although there are a number of references in the report to the 2014 Traditional Keepers Forum, which was held at the University of Manitoba, there is no mention of input from Metis author Maria Campbell.  She had recently done research regarding violence against aboriginal women going back to the 1600s (Trudeau Fellow, 2010).  She contended it was the "role of the commission" to look into the way aboriginal men have contributed to the violence.  She recommended that men take action at the community level, and there be less focus on expecting government to solve the problems.

One of the TRC commissioners, Marie Wilson, told Campbell that she honoured her outrage and the challenge it presented to the men.

I was really glad to read this, and was looking forward to seeing Campbell's views covered in the summary.  Alas, there was no mention of what she said at all.  Indeed, there is no discussion of any traditional factors that might lead some aboriginal men to become violent towards women, even though it is well-documented that a few tribes historically did not always treat their women with respect.  Since one of the recommendations is for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls [p. 224; Rec. 41 i)], I found this omission particularly disasppointing.

The TRC report gives the impression that life before colonization was idyllic, when the truth is that, yes, it was better in many ways than modern times, but there was inter-tribal warfare, even the annihilation of one tribe by another.  It think it is important for aboriginals to consider how their occasionally violent past might be contributing to some of their difficulties.  For instance, some regional conflicts stem from historical battles.  Fortunately, many tribes recognize this and are addressing the matter.

A lot of aboriginals are asking non-aboriginals to stretch their way of looking at the world, to accommodate a broader range of possibilities, and I suggest the reverse should also take place.  Although it was certainly wrong that some non-natives banned native cultural practices, perhaps there are a few that are best forgotten.

D.      TRC Recommendations Worth Implementing

I agree with Macdonald-Laurier Institute Senior Fellow, Ken Coates, that a lot of the TRC recommendations hinge too much on "a government-driven system of new programs," and that more focus should be placed on "aboriginal-led solutions."  I also concur with him that there needs to be more focus on aboriginal groups and governments looking at which recommendations are the most urgent, and then moving forward to implement them.

Some of the 94 (frequently multi-part) recommendations are reasonable, such as bringing on-reserve education funding up to the equivalent spent on non-aboriginals [p. 193-196; Rec. 8].

Incorporating "age-appropriate" information on the history of the residential schools into Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum is also a good idea [p. 285-290; Rec. 62 i)].  But this information needs to be balanced, presenting both the positive and negative of the schools.

Waiving the costs for those survivors who were forced to change their names [p. 205; Rec. 17], and the chief coroners releasing the records for children who died while at the schools [p. 309-310; Rec. 71] are excellent recommendations.

In addition, it is admirable that the TRC held a number of National Event Education Days and Youth Dialogues, and that some of the participants produced materials, like a documentary video, that can be used for educational purposes.  It is also encouraging that there is a recommendation for regular federal funding for "community-based youth organizations" [p. 294-296; Rec. 66].

Nevertheless, aboriginal youth leaders have complained that some indigenous organizations do not take them seriously, and that funding allocated to them is often the first to go.  So the question is, could this happen to "Youth Programs - Recommendation 66" in the TRC summary?

Horse Chestnut, London, Ontario, May 29, 2015

E.      Positive Accounts That Are Not Covered in the Summary

One aboriginal who is not mentioned in the summary, although she has written about her residential schools experiences for decades, is 93-year old, honorary lifetime Dene chief, Cece Hodgson-McCauley.  This feisty News/North columnist has described her 10 years at the Catholic convent in Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, as the best years of her life.

In her July 13, 2015 column, she said a youth group is "questioning this whole residential school thing.  You can't fool everybody."

On August 3, 2015, she added that the "silent majority" is "waking up and asking questions.  Not only the majority at large, but elders who went through residential school but were afraid to speak during the seven years the [TRC] was researching. . .You just watch.  If the government thinks the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a done deal, it will have a rude awakening!"

Cree playwright, Tomson Highway's novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998), which deals with his time at a residential school, is referred to on p. 329 of the summary.  But there is no mention of the fact, that when questioned about that time of his life during a 2013 interview, he said he believed in dwelling in the present and the future.  He also said he became trilingiual and learned to play the piano because of the school.

In addition, there is no mention of Highway's website (, on which he says he will speak about "'memoirs of a successful Native residential school survivor.'  Or how I learned to stop complaining and celebrate my life."

Gwich'in PhD candidate, Crystal Fraser and Ian Mosby, a McMaster University Postdoctoral fellow, contend that most survivors did well "in spite of," not because of, the schools.  They believe further research is required regarding this topic.  I agree that further study is required, but more focus needs to be placed on why quite a few survivors have done so well, and/or have positive memories of the schools.

Dandelion seed head, London, Ontario, May 29, 2015

F.      The Residential Schools Era Was Complex

The late Rev. James Edward (Ted) DeWolf was Principal of the St. Paul's Indian Residential School at the Kainai First Nation on the Blood Reserve in Southern Alberta, from 1953 to 1963.  His wife, two daughters and son accompanied him, and the children attended the school.  St. Paul's classes only went up to Grade 6.

Starting in Grade 7, son, Mark DeWolf, rode the bus every school day with the other Kainai students into Cardston, to attend the junior high there.  The rest of his family relocated, in 1963, to LaTuque, Quebec, where his father took over administration of another residential school.  Mark lived with a family in Cardston, in 1964, while completing his secondary education.

In 2011, Mark made a submission to the TRC [excerpt on p. 324-325] regarding the ways he interacted as a "little white boy," from the age of six to 16, with his aboriginal comrades (classes, lunchtimes, recesses, sports and recreation).  He learned from the native students how their land and life had been "taken away from them."  But he also explained some of the ways his father "worked within the system to try and make it a better one."

DeWolf is now a retired Halifax educator, who is writing a memoir about his childhood on the reserve.  Although he is very aware of the failings of the IRS system and the harm it inflicted, he thinks people have to better understand how complex it was.  He said:

"There is nothing simple about the story of Canada's Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  For one thing, the IRS system underwent considerable change during its 147-year history, with fluctuations in its size and influence.  Beginning as a collection of industrial schools and later transformed to a residential school model, it began as one solitary school in 1849, grew to a maximum of 80 schools in the 1930s, then shrank again until the last one closed in 1996.  At different times, the system operated under quite different mandates, policies and funding practices.

Different religious organizations from a number of Christian denominations provided staffing and funding, and the schools served many different native communities in quite different ways.  Individual schools saw very different teachers, counsellors, and administrators come and go, and Canadian attitudes towards aboriginal people evolved.  Over time, some schools came to resemble less the Dickensian workhouse and more the regular boarding school. . .

But. . .the general public knows little of this complexity.  Long, complicated stories, filled with details that confuse rather than inform, do not easily attract readers.  What finds its way into the public consciousness is an encapsulated version, often focusing on the more sensational aspects: helpless young people tormented physically and sexually, the sometimes brutal repression of vital native culture, and the misery of children torn from the arms of their parents by Indian agents or RCMP constables. . .The frequent repetition of such sensational stories. . .builds a belief in the minds of Canadians that they are plain and simple fact.

Simple, yes.  Fact, not so much. . .The facts show that [abuses] happened much less frequently than is commonly believed, and arguably had much less effect on First Nations communities than has been confidently stated.  The "accepted facts" routinely included in widely disseminated media reports are helping to create a convenient myth.

. . .Far more significant factors have created--and perpetuate--the many problems facing First Nations people today [such as]. . .underfunding of native education generally, the government's repeated failure to observe treaty obligations, and a variety of misguided federal policies."

One of the "convenient myths" is that aboriginal people lost their language because of the schools.  However, the 2002-2003 First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey found that 69.7% pf residential school survivors spoke one or more aboriginal languages, and 74.8% could understand one or more.

The survey authors thought this might be partly due to the resilience of the students, e.g., speaking secretly to each other in their language.  This resilience factor gives weight to the Fraser/Mosby contention that survivors did well in spite of, not because of, the schools.

Tree stump, London, Ontario, August 7, 2015
However, historian J.R. Miller, has concluded from his research that "well into the twentieth century, most missionary bodies did not agree with the government's desire for a complete ban on the use of Native languages."  Church officials frequently disobeyed what the government was trying to impose.  Miller points out that "it was in the praying and working areas of the schools, rather than the classrooms, that Native languages were most likely to be heard, especially when the supervisors themselves were Native people."

In addition, Miller has found that English was frequently the "linguistic common denominator" language for schools that had "ethnically diverse" students from tribes who spoke different dialects.

Further, DeWolf has determined from his research that a "surprisingly large percentage of native people received no formal education at all" during the 1849-1996 period.  Two of the reasons for this were a shortage of schools and high rates of absenteeism.  Miller has arrived at similar conclusions.

Miller has also concluded that "the conventional role of the residential school fails to note that the system never reached more than a minority of young Indians and Inuit."  It is estimated that approximately one-third of aboriginal children attended residential schools.  Others attended day schools, provincial schools, or no schools at all.

Branch across path, London, Ontario, May 22, 2015

G.      Information About Deceased People Sometimes Presented in a Misleading Way

Sometimes information about a deceased person is presented in a misleading way.  For instance, the summary quotes what Oblate priest, Father Andre Renaud (1919-1988), said in a 1958 article, about separating aboriginal students from their culture [p. 5].  But it fails to note that Renaud's opinion changed just a few years later.  In 1961, he launched a summer course to help Indian teachers promote cultural pride in their children.  In addition, he helped the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians secure a location for the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College.

Furthermore, the "estate and friends" of Renaud established a scholarship.  Eligibility involves aboriginal education and "applicants should have experience with indigenous languages."  Renaud is described in the online scholarship information as an individual who "dedicated his life to the education of indigenous people in Canada and throughout the world."  He is also remembered in glowing terms in the entry for him on the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan website, which notes he was "invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1973."

There is no personal reason why I am highlighting the TRC's coverage of Renaud here.  I do not believe I ever met him.  However, my mother was a member of the Indian-Eskimo Association (IEA) at the same time he was also involved (ca. 1964-1968), so she likely knew him.  In fact, I have some of my mother's IEA files, which include a 1964 presentation he made to the IEA Ontario Division, regarding curriculum development for Saskatchewan aboriginals.

Misleading information in the summary also includes not acknowledging non-aboriginal contributions to cultural practices.  On p. 85, there is a reference to a student being punished for writing in "Cree syllabics at the Fort Albany school."  But it is not mentioned that a Methodist missionary named James Evans (1801-1846) helped popularize the use of this writing method.  Some Crees believe Evans did not invent syllabics, as is widely claimed.  They contend that syllabics were around long before Evans got involved, and his contribution was to turn the symbols into a writing system.  Nevertheless, "many Cree people" believe "Evans deserves credit" for increasing Cree literacy through his translating and printing initiatives.

Selwyn Dewdney (1909-1979) "pioneered the study of Amerindian rock paintings and carvings in Canada. . .[He] came to know and respect the native peoples of Canada."  When he was a teenager, Dewdney accompanied his Anglican priest father on a portage through remote Northern Ontario communities.  Three Cree "veteran canoemen" and "devout churchmen" each carried "a dog-eared prayer book in Cree syllabics."  Every evening, the travellers held a brief prayer session, which included Selwyn's father reading the Lord's Prayer in Cree.

Sumac, London, Ontario, August 7, 2015

H.      TRC Authors Favour Parallelism Approach, But I Think Integration is Better

I contend there are three major positions on aboriginal policy: parallelist, integrationist and assimilationist.  I am in favour of the integrationist approach.  For further information on my views on this, you can refer to my August 7, 2011 post entitled "Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Assimilation or Parallelism," which can be found elsewhere on this blog.

Alan Cairns was the first to use the term parallelism, which he described as "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, travelling side by side coexisting but not getting in each other's way."  But Cairns is not a proponent of the term that he coined.

The TRC authors are clearly proponents of parallelism, as were the authors of the 1996 report they frequently cite: the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP).  RCAP advised that aboriginals be allowed to establish a third order of government.

I totally understand why many aboriginal reserve leaders want more control over what they do at the community level.  For more information on my views on this, see Sections D.2 and E.2 of my February 11, 2014 post on Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian, which can be found elsewhere on this blog.  However, I think it is a gross generalization for the TRC authors to give the impression that all aboriginals agree with the parallelist viewpoint.

The TRC authors also frequently make sweeping generalizations about what aboriginal people think and feel.  For instance, they say "[d]espite being subjected to aggressive assimilation policies for nearly 200 years, Aboriginal people have maintained their identity and communities" [p. 134].  But they, as did the RCAP authors, fail to note that a third of aboriginals do not even identify themselves as such in the federal census.  Yes, it is very true that some aboriginal people assimilated because of colonial policies, but others have willingly chosen to blend into Canadian society as a whole.

I.      Conclusion: "Caring Measures" More Important Than "Stratospheric Rights"

The report's overarching agenda is to justify why aboriginal and treaty rights need to be strengthened, including in terms of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  But I am not convinced that, even if all these rights were implemented, that the aboriginal situation would substantially improve.

Australian anthropologist and linguist, Peter Sutton, has more than 40 years experience with the Aborigines in Australia.  His book, The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the liberal consensus (2009, 2011), is filled with many insights that I share.  Marcia Langton, the Aborigine scholar who penned a foreword to the book, echoes his concerns.

Sutton complains that too many politicians, lawyers and activists insist that Aborigines will not be truly happy and fulfilled until all outstanding issues, such as social justice, treaty and reconciliation, have been met.  He responds with "[t]his unscientific mumbo-jumbo beggars belief. . .Caring measures. . .rather than documentary measures based on increasingly stratospheric rights. . .lie at the effective end of realistic processes for improvement."

In my opinion, the TRC summary spends too much time on documentary measures, and not enough on caring ones.  Yes, it was caring for the commission to hear the testimonies of thousands of survivors.  But the lessons from these frequently painful accounts need to be translated into more than a blueprint for "stratospheric rights," particularly since not all Canadian aboriginals, and not all those who were involved with the schools, are on the same page as the TRC.


Cairns, A.C. (2000).  Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State.  Vancouver: UBC Press.

Cairns, A.C. (2005).  First Nations and the Canadian State: In Search of Coexistence.  Kingston, ON: Queen's University.

CBC Radio/New Fire.  (2015, September 1).  Season Finale: Political Panel.  Retrieved from

Coates, K. (2015, July 31).  Five Priorities for Aboriginal Canada in Election 2015.  Retrieved from Macdonald-Laurier Institute:

Coates, K. (2015, July 17). Premiers' Embrace of Aboriginal Issues Has Been a Long Time Coming.  Retrieved from Huffington Post:

Coates, K. (2015, June 3).  Real Truth and Reconciliation Requires Aboriginal-Led Solutions - Not Governments.  Retrieved from Macdonald-Laurier Institute:

Cree Literacy Network (n.d.).  Another Version of Cree Literacy: the Cree Story of Syllabics.  Retrieved July 28, 2015 from Cree Literacy:

Dewdney, S. (1997).  Daylight in the Swamp: Memoirs of Selwyn Dewdney (A.K. Dewdney, Ed.)  Toronto: Dundurn.

DeWolf, M. (ca. 2014).  Myth Versus Evidence: Your Choice (unpublished).

DeWolf, M. (2011, October 28).  Submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Eigenbrod, R., Kakegamic, G. & Fiddler, J. (2003).  Aboriginal Literature in Canada: A Teachers' Resource Guide.  Retrieved from

Fayant, G. (2015, February 9).  Gabriel Fayant: Native youth claim their future through technology.  Retrieved from Globe and Mail:

First Nations Centre (2005, November).  First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS).  Retrieved from National Aboriginal Health Organization:

Fraser, C, & Mosby, I. (2015, April 7).  Setting Canadian History Right? A Response to Ken Coates' 'Second Thoughts About Residential Schools'.  Retrieved from Active History:

Hodgson-McCauley, C. (2015, July 13).  Assembly of First Nations needs to listen to youth.  Retrieved from Northern News Service:

Hodgson-McCauley, C. (2015, August 3).  I liked residential school.  Retrieved from Northern News Service:

Hodgson-McCauley, C. (2012, December 3).  Positive stories from residential schools.  Retrieved from Northern News Service:

Hutchinson, G.M. (1988).  Evans, James. Retrieved July 2, 2015 from Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

Lederman, M. (2013, October 21).  Playwrights Tomson Highway and Michel Tremblay talk politics, religion and perspective.  Retrieved from Globe and Mail:

Miller, J.R. (2004).  Owen Glendower, Hotspur and Canadian Indian Policy. In J.R. Miller Reflections on Native-Newcomer Relations: Selected Essays.

Miller, J.R. (2004).  The State, the Church and Indian Residential Schools.  In J.R. Miller Reflections on Native-Newcomer Relations: Selected Essays.

Stonechild, B. (2006).  The New Buffalo: The Struggle for Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education.  Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Sutton, P. (2011).  The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the liberal consensus.  Victoria, Australia: Melbourne University.

University of Manitoba (2014, July 24).  Traditional Knowledge Keepers: "Now is about restoring'. Retrieved from University of Manitoba/UM Today:

University of Manitoba (2014, July 24).  What is the good path to healing and reconciliation?  Retrieved from University of Manitoba/UM Today:

University of Regina (n.d.) Renaud, Andre (1919-88).  Retrieved July 2, 2015 from Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan:

University of Saskatchewan. College of Education (n.d.). Andre Renaud Memorial Scholarships.  Retrieved July 2, 2015 from

Vowel, C. (2015, June 9).  Read the Truth and Reconciliation Report Before You Form An Opinion.  Retrieved from Huffington Post:

Wiart, N. (2015, June 23.  Crowd-sourced video project aims to make the TRC report more accessible.  Retrieved from

Winnipeg Free Press (2015, June 2).  Truth and Reconciliation: Q&A: History of residential schools.  Retrieved from

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

My Custom Domain,, is the Way to Locate This Site

As of today, April 8, 2015, my custom domain, which is,, will be the way to locate this site.

Traffic to my blogspot url:, or

will be redirected to:

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Review of Calvin Helin's Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World

Disclaimer: My references to the writings of other people--both indigenous and non-indigenous--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my family, friends or associates.

Note:  The photos included with this post were taken by me.  The turtle artwork is by my mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976).  Although none of these images have any direct connection with the material being discussed, Helin stresses, in Dances With Spirits, that "we are inseparable from nature."  My regular walks through my neighbourhood remind me of this.

Calvin Helin is a "member of the Tsimshian Nation," and is originally from the community of Lax Kw'alaams, which is on the Northwest coast of the province of British Columbia, in Canada.  Now he lives in Vancouver, which is a city in the southern part of the same province.  He is "the son of a hereditary chief," and an "entrepreneur, lawyer and best-selling author."

His book, Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World (2014), "guides readers in applying ancient wisdom for a better understanding of today's complex modern world.  Millions crave spiritual fulfillment in a time of broken social relations.  Yet most are confused as to why their deepest yearnings for meaning and a kinder, gentler way of life are becoming more distant. . ."
". . .We live in a skewed society, focused on technology and money.  Through understanding our true nature, a better existence can be created."

Before I start my Dances With Spirits review, I will briefly discuss two of Helin's other books, which I have also read.

View from bridge, London, Ontario, May 25, 2014
A.          Dances With Dependency: Indigenous Success Through Self-Reliance (2006)

In Dances With Dependency, Helin argues that "[t]he current governance system is not only antiquated, but politically disempowers a substantial portion of the indigenous population, concentrates power and financial resources in the hands of a few elites, provides for painfully poor political and financial accountability and transparency, and continues to encourage a culture of dependency" (259-260).  He concludes that "simply throwing money at the problem will never lead to a long-term solution and may actually be exacerbating existing struggles.  Aboriginal people need a new generation of ethical leadership. . .with the courage to take the real action necessary for a brighter future" (265).

When I read this book in 2007, I was happy to learn that an aboriginal person shared my (non-aboriginal) view that the current "system" sometimes does more harm than good.  I was also pleased that he stressed the importance of self-reliance.

I assumed that, because he is an indigenous person, he probably had no trouble getting the book published.  So I was surprised to learn, in 2011, that he got 32 rejection letters for his Dances With Dependency manuscript.  Publishers told him they thought the aboriginal leadership would be offended because he "touched on reserve corruption."  Consequently, he borrowed $100,000 and published it himself.  He said in a 2010 interview that the majority of people who purchased the book were "grassroots" indigenous people.  When asked what the aboriginal leaders thought of his ideas, he responded that some shared his concerns, but others "wished he was at the bottom of a lake."  Regardless, the book is a bestseller seven times over.

In some of the previous posts on this blog, I have spoken about the different ways I became disillusioned with the aboriginal situation, and the fact that, since about the mid-2000s, I have primarily been on the outside looking in.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of aboriginals, like Helin, who are striving to not only improve the situation for their people, but also to help educate the non-aboriginal population about how we can all constructively move forward.  I always enjoy reading the stories of these courageous reformers.  I know from personal experience that it is hard for anyone to question the "elites" and the "system," so I recognize how brave they are.

Naturalized area in London, Ontario, September 19, 2014
B.          The Empowerment Mindset: Success Through Self-Knowledge (2012)

The target audience for Dances With Dependency was the aboriginal population.  But The Empowerment Mindset is addressed to everyone, regardless of race.  Helin's travels through life made him realize that "negative emotions and toxic thoughts" were holding back not only aboriginal, but also non-aboriginal, people.  In this book, he provides recommendations to help people find "constructive and fulfilling ways to attain success and happiness" (15).  He lists 10 "Laws of Empowerment" such as the importance of "hard work and sustained effort," and the need to adhere to a "strategic plan."

This book helped me to counter my own "mental and emotional sabotage" and to become more focussed on fulfilling my goals.

C.          Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World (2014)

Dances With Spirits, like The Empowerment Mindset, is written for everyone.  The book helped me understand better why historically and currently some indigenous people are reluctant to assimilate into mainstream society.  Although Helin acknowledges that many aspects of mainstream thought can be positive, he feels there needs to be more balance and perspective.

The book is divided into three parts, which I will discuss below.  However, I have only included topics from each part that are particularly interesting to me, so it is not an exhaustive compilation.  After each topic, I have included "personal observations" as to how the topic relates to me.

C.1        Part I - When Myths Make a Mess

This part of the book "examines the structure of our current economic model and its economic, social, psychological, and spiritual impacts" (xxv).

C.1.1      Vicious Cycle of Consumption

Helin argues that advertising and marketing make people think "the only route to happiness is to consume ever more stuff" (9).  He says the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) "is deeply flawed because it is based on consumption by the population, rather than a broad range of aspects that reflect national well-being" (10).

Personal observations: My father, Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), frequently warned me and others that our possessions could kill us.  As my first cousin's partner, Jim McClocklin, said at my father's funeral: "Uncle Chuck knew that life was not about things--life is about developing relationships and making memories."

The older I get, the more I understand what my father meant.  When I see advertising that urges me to hurry up and buy something, I ask myself whether I really need whatever it is.  Often the answer is I do not.

C.1.2      When Debt Leads to Slavery

Helin cites statistics regarding the alarming level of debt in the United States.  He contends we need to "do more with less" (31-34).

Personal observations: The same is true on this side of the border.  According to an analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, Canada, among other countries, now has a greater household debt load than what existed at the height of the "credit bubble" in the United States and the United Kingdom.  Canadian debt increased to 162.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2014.  The study found that Canada is one of the countries most at risk of foreclosures and bankruptcies.

I have a hard time understanding why so many people take the plunge into debt, just because they want to "keep up with the Joneses." 

C.2        Part II - Veils to Vision

This part "discusses aspects of a vision for a new economic model that better addresses our social and spiritual well-being as well as our economic needs" (xxv-xxvi).

Wildflower, London, Ontario, July 15, 2014
C.2.1     The Technology Trap

Helin provides compelling arguments why technology, if not used wisely, can contribute to a whole host of problems.  For example:

• A study showed that students disconnected from their digital devices, for even a period as short as 24 hours, developed withdrawal symptoms similar to those of substance abusers.

• People are losing touch with the natural world and with each other because they are so immersed in the digital world (71-76).

Personal observations: What I find particularly disturbing about the "technology trap" is it can cause people to risk their own lives and those of others.  More than five years ago, the province of Ontario, in Canada, banned the use of portable device assistants behind the wheel.  And last year, the fine for breaking the law went up to $1,000.  Yet in 2014, police in London, Ontario laid 2,187 charges in this regard--close to double the number from three years ago.

C.2.2      Funnel Vision

Helin uses the phrase "funnel vision" to describe the tendency of Western cultures to "judge technologically poor societies as inferior."  This approach blinds many Westerners from seeing the cultural and spiritual strengths that frequently exist in societies other than their own.  This lack of recognition and support has caused many ways of life, including indigenous, to be eroded and, in some cases, to die off completely (81-84).

Personal observations: My family home was known as the "United Nations" because people of many different backgrounds passed through our doors.  So I grew up learning about the diversity of world views.

My mother, Jay Peterson, initially got involved with aboriginal issues in 1958.  From about 1969 until her passing in 1976, she devoted a large percentage of her time to helping educate people about the indigenous situation.  For instance, she taught a Native Studies course at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.  Aboriginal people were frequently guest lecturers at this course.

I have some of the materials from her Fanshawe College course, including a one-pager entitled "Ways of Wisdom."  Twenty-one aboriginals from different tribes across the country helped my mother assemble this document.  It includes 11 observations, such as native people "were more interested in BEING than BECOMING."

My mother's relationship with aboriginal people led to my getting connected to the "cause."  From 1975 to 1987, I worked primarily in native organizations in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories.  But, as explained earlier in this post, I have mainly been on the outside looking in for about the past 10 years.

My mother's indigenous experiences spanned an 18-year period, but mine have lasted for more than 55 years.  Although I share her view that non-aboriginal people need to be better informed about the history and heritage of indigenous people, my approach is quite different from hers in other respects.  If you want to know more about my opinion on this, you can check out my other posts on this blog.

Artwork by Jay Peterson, ca. 1964-1974
C.          Part III - Creating Harmony

This final part "explores how we can incorporate the knowledge of past societies into a vision for a new economic model that can lead to a more holistic well-being that includes our social and spiritual dimensions" (xxvi).

C.3.1       A New Definition of Wealth and Progress

Helin contends a new international standard needs to be developed.  This standard would include making adjustments to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so it takes into account factors such as environmental sustainability and individual and government debts.  Quality of life, education levels, responsible governance and other measures can then be incorporated in (105-110).

Personal observations: Because of reading this book, I have become more aware of how much media commentary revolves around the GDP as a measurement of the country's health.  I agree with Helin that we need to adjust the measurements for this.

C.3.2        Finding Common Ground

It was refreshing to read Helin's arguments for why all people on this planet need to find "common ground."  It was even more refreshing to read his acknowledgement that we all need to move beyond the various intolerances that have emerged in our respective cultures, and try to work together for the best of all.

This is my favourite quote in the book:

As long as the views of one group are not harming another, we should tolerate others in the spirit of respect, cooperation and goodwill, recognizing that we are not diminished by differences as a species, but are ultimately strengthened by them.  Instead of promoting hate and suspicion about each other, we need to promote tolerance and understanding (123).

Personal observations:  These are what I think the implications are for aboriginal policy.  I contend there are three major positions: parallelist, integrationist and assimilationist.

Alan Cairns was the first to use the term parallelism, which he described as "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities travelling side by side, coexisting but not getting in each other's way."  But Cairns is not a proponent of the term that he coined.  The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (1996) advocated parallelism, that is, forming a third order of government separate from non-aboriginal society.

Integrationists, on the other hand, believe that a total separation of the cultures is not necessary or warranted.  However, there are many variations of this view.

Assimilationists prefer that aboriginals become part of mainstream society.  About a third of Canadian aboriginals have chosen this route, and do not identify themselves as such in the federal census.

I do not have any problem with aboriginals maintaining their culture and governance models, as long as they are also willing to remain part of the Canadian state.  I also contend that those aspects of aboriginal culture that may be harmful to any race should not be retained.  So I see my views in the integrationist category.

My impression, after reading three of Helin's books, is that his views also fall into the integrationist slot.  I think this approach is the best route forward for all Canadians.

Tree, London, Ontario, September 19, 2014
D.          The "Body, Mind & Spirit" interview with Calvin Helin, October 1, 2014.  Host Patricia Kennedy and co-host Leith Peterson

"Body, Mind & Spirit" is a CHRW 94.9 FM radio show at Western University in London, Ontario.  The show airs three times a month, and the host is registered nurse, Patricia Kennedy.  The show "explores holistic medicine, practitioners, research, health issues and more."  Around late August 2014, Kennedy asked me if I would be willing to appear on the show, to discuss the book I am working on, which is about my two generations of experience with aboriginal issues.  I told her I was declining interviews until my book is hopefully published.  However, I suggested that she consider speaking with Calvin Helin about his book Dances With Spirits.  This is because I thought many of the issues he discusses related well to her show's theme.

Kennedy said my suggestion was good, as long as I agreed to be co-host.  Helin agreed to be interviewed by Kennedy and me on October 1, 2014.  There is a permanent link to the show audio at  Go to "Shows & Events," then "Body, Mind & Spirit," then October 1, 2014.  Or go to "Blog," then October 2, 2014.

There are a number of technical glitches during the first 20 minutes or so, but all the people I have spoken with, who have listened to the approximately 57-minute broadcast, say they were glad they heard it.  Quite a few said they planned to read Dances With Spirits, and some also spoke of checking out some of his other books.

If you decide to listen, I apologize in advance for my poor delivery, particularly during the first part of the show.  Had extensive training at college and university regarding how to properly present myself verbally, but all that accumulated knowledge escaped me the morning the show was recorded.  Will endeavour to do better if I ever have to do anything like this again.


Cairns, Alan C.  Citizens Plus: Aboriginal People and the Canadian State.  Toronto: UBC Press, 2000.

Council of Reference - Ways.  Fanshawe College Canadian Studies Native Peoples I - Ways of Wisdom [course handout, unpublished].  Fanshawe College Native Studies, ca. 1971-1974.

Grant, Tavia.  "New alarm bells over household debt as Canada faces 'downward spiral.'"  Globe and Mail, February 5, 2015.

Helin, Calvin.  Dances With Dependency: Indigenous Success Through Self-Reliance.  Vancouver: Orca Spirit, 2006.

Helin, Calvin.  Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World.  Los Angeles: Premier Digital, 2014.

Helin, Calvin.  The Empowerment Mindset: Success Through Self-Knowledge.  Los Angeles: Premier Digital, 2012.

Jacobs, Mindelle.  "First nations, last place: Chiefs and councils keep bands dependent, says author." Edmonton Sun, November 17, 2010.

McClocklin, Jim.  Charles T. Peterson [eulogy, unpublished].  April 4, 2007.

Peterson, Jay.  Phase Five: Experiencing Equality [seminar, unpublished].  University of Western Ontario, Department of Occupational Therapy, March 1975.

Rollason, Kevin.  "Native lawyer slams aboriginal welfare."  Winnipeg Free Press, January 21, 2011.

Van Brenk, Deborah.  "The number of distracted driving tickets handed out by London police keeps going up - as is the number of collisions in the city."  London Free Press, January 28, 2015.

Vancouver Sun.  "Enormous opportunities seen for first nations entrepreneurs."  April 6, 2011.