Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends John A. Macdonald’s legacy amid backlash over residential schools’ deadly legacy

Rare defence these days. But like all historical figures, a mix of the good and the bad, just as we too will likely be judged by future generations:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney drew criticism Tuesday with a staunch defence of the legacy of Canada’s first prime minister — who is back in the spotlightafter the discovery of a mass burial site of Indigenous children near a former residential school.

Yet another statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was carted off in the back of a truck Tuesday; this time, it was a jaunty seated version of Macdonald removed from a Charlottetown street corner.

The removal in Prince Edward Island was the latest public consequence of Macdonald’s role in creating a residential school system for Indigenous children, which spawned decades of abuse and death.

Three quarters of a country to the west, Kenney decried what he described as the cancellation of one of the architects of the country, “imperfect” though he may have been.

“I think Canada is a great historical achievement,” Kenney told reporters in response to a question that followed an update on his province’s vaccine rollout.

“It is a country that people all around the world seek to join as new Canadians. It is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John A Macdonald was an imperfect man, but was still a great leader.”

Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker of Treaty Six, an area that includes much of the central parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, said in a statement he was “appalled” at the insensitivity of the premier’s comments at a time when Indigenous people from coast to coast are grieving the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“The country and the province was established at the cost of our lives and well being,” he said.

“Just when we think we are experiencing acts of reconciliation, the premier contradicts all the efforts towards an understanding.”

Macdonald, a Scottish immigrant who became Canada’s first prime minister in 1867, has been under increasing scrutiny for his role creating the residential schools system. In 1883, Macdonald spelled out in the House of Commons his thinking on the schools, which would come to number more than 130 from coast to coast.

“Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools, where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men,” he said, as quoted in the House of Commons record of debates.

Tuesday is not the first time that Kenney has gone to bat for Macdonald, who, Kenney points out, tried to extend the vote to some First Nations. Last summer, Kenney said he’d like to see a Macdonald statue toppled by protesters in Montreal installed on the grounds of the Alberta legislature.

The discovery of the bodies in Kamloops, however, has triggered a fresh wave of pushback against Macdonald and the other creators of the system.

The Macdonald statue in Prince Edward Island, which news reports note has been defaced several times this year, is going into storage. Meanwhile, a group of students at Ryerson University say they will now refer to the institution as ‘X University,’ because of Egerton Ryerson’s association with the schools. And in Calgary, a school named for cabinet minister Hector-Louis Langevin is being rebranded.

When asked Tuesday, Kenney said he was unaware of that last decision, which had been announced hours earlier and instead, repeated his support for the former first minister.

He said that when he was a federal minister he’d founded a bill to recognize a John A Macdonald Day, to acknowledge the man “without whom Canada would not exist.”

“This is the problem with your line of questioning,” he said, speaking to the reporter who’d asked about the statue. “If the new standard is to cancel any figure in our history associated with what we now rightly regard as historical injustices, then essentially that is the vast majority of our history.”

Kenney listed Tommy Douglas and the Famous Five, who pushed to get the vote for white women, all of whom to some extent supported eugenics as a way to sterilize the weak.

He also mentioned Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who made it effectively impossible for Jews to immigrate to Canada during the Holocaust, and prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who brought in martial law that led to the arrest of “thousands of people with absolutely nothing to do with the FLQ Crisis.”

On the other hand, he pointed out that former prime minister Stephen Harper made an official apology to residential school survivors, and that the federal government has provided more than $3.5 billion in restitution.

After the discovery in Kamloops was announced last week, Kenney tweeted that it was a “terrible reminder of the legacy of Canada’s system of aboriginal residential schools.”

His then became the first province to announce it would help fund the search for more unmarked graves, though officials have announced no details or specific dollar amounts so far.

But his unflagging support of Macdonald comes at a time when his government is facing growing fire for failing to educate children about residential schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on every child to learn about residential schools starting in kindergarten. But the proposed curriculum drafted by Kenney’s government doesn’t begin teaching that history until Grade 5.

As reported by CBC, one of the people hired to review the social studies draft, a man named Chris Champion who previously worked for Kenney when he was a federal minister, has called the inclusion of First Nations perspectives in school a fad, and said the blanket exercise commonly used to teach about the effects of colonialism brainwashes children.

Furthermore, some Indigenous leaders asked to consult on the new curriculum have accused the government of engaging in tokenism and of misrepresenting their positions.

Kenney said the new plan would be an improvement over the current curriculum, which doesn’t introduce residential schools until Grade 10 and that the amount of content students will learn increases overall.

“I think that’s the solution, which is to present young people, to present all Canadians, including new Canadians, with a balanced depiction of our history, including the terrible gross injustice and tragedy of the Indian residential schools.”

Source: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends John A. Macdonald’s legacy amid backlash over residential schools’ deadly legacy

Senator criticizes Alberta proposal to shield younger students from lessons on residential schools

One of the better articles soon the Alberta proposed revised curriculum, reminding me of some of the internal discussion regarding the citizenship guide, Discover Canada, steered by the same political staffer to Jason Kenney:

The former chair of the commission on residential schools says a proposal from government-appointed advisers in Alberta to shield younger children from that dark history would be a “terrible mistake” that would leave them with a distorted view of the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada.

Senator Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said children can handle information about the difficult topic of residential schools when it is presented in an appropriate way. If the education system waits until they are older, as contemplated in a leaked curriculum proposal, he said that will perpetuate a “wall of mythology” about Indigenous people and their history that will be next to impossible to undo.

“It’s not only a terrible mistake, but it would be an act of discrimination against the Indigenous people,” Mr. Sinclair told The Globe and Mail.

“It would be, in fact, a continuation of the white supremacy which the residential schools and the public schools have historically perpetrated against the Indigenous people of this country. And we should call it what it is and we should fight it when we can.”

An advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government has presented the Education Minister with a package of recommendations, published Wednesday by the CBC, for the kindergarten-to-Grade 4 social studies curriculum. The document argues that information about residential schools should not be taught to children in Grade 3.

Instead, the document says that material should wait until students are older, potentially in Grade 9, and with residential schools presented as one example of “harsh schooling.”

“The ugliness of Dickensian schooling, boarding schools, 19th-century discipline methods, and residential schooling that applied to some Indigenous kids can probably best be saved for later when learners are more mature and are less emotionally vulnerable to traumatic material,” the document says.

“For example, there could be a Grade 9 unit about benign vs. harsh schooling in the past, inclusive of all cultures not only Indigenous, but with regard to the particular problematic of residential schooling even if it applied only to a minority of Indigenous children.”

Mr. Sinclair rejected that idea, and said it is possible to present the history of residential schools in a way that that is appropriate for young children.

“We’re not asking them to start holding up bloody pictures and demanding that they cry,” he said. “What we’re saying is, talk about it from the perspective of children. Talk about it in ways that they can understand, that they can utilize. It can easily be done.”

Mr. Sinclair, who has called on provincial education ministries to ensure students learn about residential schools, said young children already learn about potentially upsetting topics, such as wars.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange stressed the ideas in the document are merely recommendations. She said residential schools would be taught in elementary school but she declined to say at what age that would start or how that information would be presented.

“We are absolutely committed to truth and reconciliation and to ensuring that the truth about residential schools is in our K-6 curriculum. That is non-negotiable,” she told reporters at the provincial legislature in Edmonton.

She noted that a larger working group that will include teachers will examine the curriculum this fall and a draft will be ready for public feedback next year.

Richard Feehan, the Opposition New Democrats’ critic for Indigenous relations, said teaching all students about residential schools should be non-negotiable.

“They worry that young children can’t hear that story, and yet here we are approaching Nov. 11, when we go into every grade in school and talk about the history of World War One and the history of World War Two,” he said.

“But somehow, when we talk about Indigenous children being harmed or being killed, it’s somehow too much for children to handle. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report in 2015 described the Canadian government’s long-running policy of removing Indigenous children from their communities as cultural genocide.

The report also found that abuse was rampant within the residential school system.

“Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers,” the report said.

The commission called on ministers of education across the country to include the history and legacy of residential schools in kindergarten-to-Grade 12 curriculums. In 2014, the Progressive Conservative government of the day publicly committed to ensure students at all grade levels learn about the legacy of residential schools.

When it comes to First Nations, the proposed curriculum document focuses on teaching young children about the life and customs of Indigenous people, particularly before contact with Europeans. Topics include the structure of First Nations leadership, farming, hunting, Arctic survival and “warfare.”

While the document argues lessons about residential schools would be traumatic, it also proposes that students in Grade 3 be taught about ancient Rome, battles of the Middle Ages and slavery in the Ottoman Empire.


Alberta Teachers’ Association president calls for curriculum advisor to be dismissed after racist articles surface

The adviser in question, Chris Champion, was the lead staffer under then IRCC minister Kenney on citizenship and the point person on the citizenship guide, Discover Canada, which remains in use.

My account of the development of the guide and some of the issues and challenges can be found in ch 2 of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism. While discussions were at times intense, we had the opportunity to provide our advice and comments and maintained a good working relationship.

Although Discover Canada improved coverage of Indigenous history compared to the earlier vapid, A Look at Canada, the unreleased draft guide will have more in-depth discussion of Indigenous peoples. Hard to know why, almost five years since then Minister McCallum promised a revision, still not released.

Equally hard to imagine one making such a comment about Indigenous histories being a “fad” in 2019, both substantively and politically:

On Wednesday August 27, 2020 the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) called for the resignation of a Dr. Chris Champion from the Alberta Curriculum Review Panel.

It was recently brought to light that the member of the Alberta Curriculum Review Panel – which was made in order for the UCP Government to overhaul and review the previous NDP school curriculum – was a writer of racist articles which was titled “Alberta’s Little History War,” which called the inclusion of First Nation perspectives in school lessons a “fad.”

This particular article was written just last year, and it was written by Dr. Champion who is advising the social studies curriculum of Alberta.

The ATA, as the professional organization of teachers, promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice and serves as the advocate for its 46,000 members.

In a news release by the ATA, an advisor who has called the inclusion of First Nations perspectives in school lessons a fad needs to be dismissed from his role in advising on Alberta’s social studies curriculum, says ATA President Jason Schilling.

“Minister LaGrange, Chris Champion has got to go,” said Schilling.

Given the well-documented writingsand publications that have recently surfaced, Schilling says that Chris Champion has no place advising the curriculum writing work currently under way in Alberta.

“Champion’s appointment to advise curriculum is in direct opposition to the Joint Commitment to Action that both Alberta Education and the ATA signed in 2016. The minister must either dismiss Champion or rescind its endorsement of the Joint Commitment.”

In June 2016, the Joint Commitment to Action was signed by representatives of the Government of Alberta, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and five Alberta education stakeholder organizations as part of an enduring commitment to respond to the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Schilling says that in his school re-entry meeting with Minister LaGrange on August 19, he told the minister that they needed another meeting dedicated to discussing curriculum and that Champion had to go.

Acknowledging that the Association has been almost exclusively focused on a safe return to schools in September, Schilling says the Association regrets not issuing an earlier statement on this important matter.

This is just the latest in the story of the Albertan Government’s racist employees. There is not only Dr. Chris Champion, but there is still Jason Kenney’s racist speechwriter Paul Bunner. The ATA is just the latest to call for the firing of either of the racist state employees; the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta (SSISA), Grand Chiefs of Treaty 8, Chiefs of Treaty Six, the Blackfoot Confederacy, and the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Alberta have also voiced their concerns.