Canada has consistently failed to make progress commensurate with the many lofty pronouncements and expectations on the Indigenous file.
It’s a national shame that most Indigenous Canadians on reservations live far below acceptable socio-economic standards.
Money isn’t the problem. By 2022, the federal budget allocations to Indigenous will have doubled since 2016 to nearly $25 billion.
Symbolic gestures like the new ritual acknowledgements when standing on Indigenous land improve nothing. The culture of pronouncements, symbolic nods, confessions of privilege, apologies and promises that governments have developed are virtue-signalling political gimmicks.
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Engaging in truth and reconciliation is, in principle, a good thing, but engagement has been partially derailed away from truth and from reconciliation. The reporting on and reactions to the 215 graves in Kamloops is a case in point.
None of these observations are meant to deny documented abuses or the grief and pain that the news evokes in individuals. It’s precisely in respect to the painful experiences of victims and their families that the reporting and reactions have failed.
Our intellectual and political classes keep failing miserably. There has been no shortage of public officials, organizations and private citizens rushing to exhibit pain, as well as anger and indignation. But for a few opinion-makers, the rush to express these sentiments, real or affected, has trampled on truth and on reconciliation.
The trampling on truth is most evident in the descriptions of what was found in Kamloops. Take the reporting of “mass graves,” for instance. This formulation is inflammatory and callous when we consider victims’ relatives. Saying “mass graves” evokes the murderous intention of killing machinery at work, like the trenches in the Balkans where the victims of ethnic hatred were dumped by the thousands.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has alluded to such places in making references to “genocide.” Here and abroad, Reuters, The Guardian, BBC and The New York Times have parroted the false formulation. While calling for prayers in “truth and reconciliation,” a University of Toronto scholar friend of mine affirms that Indigenous children were “wantonly murdered and dumped in a mass grave.”
There’s more at play here than semantics. The graves, unmarked at the time of finding, are individual graves located inside the perimeter of an institution that operated for over eight decades. These are not mass graves.
We must discover the truth, no matter how horrible by Gerry Chidiac
Allowing for the possibility, even if remote, that foul play was involved in every case, there’s no evidence that warrants such conclusions while the remains are still buried. No one has yet been exhumed; no investigation has commenced.
As Peter Stockland recently pointed out, it’s also impossible to determine the age of buried remains using the methods employed in finding the graves. In this sense, truth has been sacrificed in the rush to display sympathy and outrage, to the point of mainly serving condescension and falsehood. The political co-opting of the pain of others is particularly offensive; the misreporting is injurious and irresponsible.
Such careless liberties in reporting, whether honestly expressed, rooted in sophistry or seeking sensation, re-open wounds and rub poisonous salts. They subject relatives to imagining atrocities unlived and victims to remembering, for no benefit, nightmares lived. They erect real obstacles to national reconciliation.
Reconciling requires forgiveness. Presenting monstrous untruths as facts obfuscates reason and inflames anger that impairs forgiveness.
People who care about Indigenous Canadians, especially in the press, have the greater responsibility to report accurately and truthfully, mindful of the consternation and the renewed suffering they stir.
Moral character has never been exclusively measured in words; rather, it is measured in deeds. For generations, successive federal governments have made promises without delivering.
For all the inflated rhetoric, even the present federal government has been incapable of permanently delivering potable water to so many Indigenous children.
Expressions of solidarity, vacuous electoral promises and virtue-signalling schemes won’t deliver the outcomes Indigenous Canadians need, just as handing out large amounts of unaccountable monies over decades has failed.
If politicians and the press begin with truth instead of grand schemes, we might pave the way to reconciliation. Similarly, modest, effective development and targeted action lead to meaningful solidarity.
Otherwise, cheap talk offers no solutions. Cheap talk invites more self-congratulatory attitudes. Cheap talk snuffs opportunity. Cheap talk is a formidable obstacle to moving on from past injustice.
Marco Navarro-Genie is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
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