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Motion Pertaining to the Residential School System

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum, pursuant to notice of February 8, 2021, moved:

That the Senate of Canada:

(a)acknowledge that racism, in all its forms, was a cornerstone upon which the residential school system was created;

(b)acknowledge that racism, discrimination and abuse were rampant within the residential school system;

(c)acknowledge that the residential school system, created for the malevolent purpose of assimilation, has had profound and continuing negative impacts on Indigenous lives, cultures and languages; and

(d)apologize unreservedly for Canada’s role in the establishment of the residential school system, as well as its resulting adverse impacts, the effects of which are still seen and felt by countless Indigenous peoples and communities today.

Honourable senators, I want to thank all of you for the statements that were made today and for your support. It is a sentiment that I will keep with me.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 69, which deals with the harmful impacts and legacy left behind by the residential school system. Just as I continue to search for a rationale or teachable moments from my traumatic experience in residential school, I am similarly looking for teachable moments through the instances of racism that I have experienced first-hand on the Senate floor. Attempting to understand the reasoning behind the racism is all I can do with the uncalled-for attacks on us as former students of residential schools. Although these attacks were covered by parliamentary privilege and made under the guise of freedom of speech, I am still trying to ascertain what function this targeted racism and racial profiling served.

How does one foster understanding, harmony and community from one race to another? One way is to share, hear and listen to each other’s stories in a safe way. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples provided space where former students could finally put down the burden of pretense and share the dark nights of our souls publicly — something we had never before felt safe to do. This allowed these extraordinary people to decide it was time to step courageously into the fullness of their lives.

The stories we shared with Canada, as former residential school students, are sacred stories. They are sacred stories because of the images and hurt we shared: children abducted from their families, their communities and all that was familiar; the emotional capacity we lost because we were forbidden to express ourselves; the very real emotional, physical, sexual, religious, spiritual and mental abuses that were exercised every day by representatives of the church; the breaking of family, community and cultural ties; the supervised intention to break our communication skills; and children having to look after each other. Despite trying to negotiate the daily terrain of racism and trauma that we were experiencing as innocent children, there were still bonds made between the students to connect us as family, and we remain as family today.

These stories still resonate in our memories and in our lives. Our bodies and their stories carry the historical context of racism: that a group of White politicians had decided in the 1800s to initiate an experiment that we needed to be segregated so that our identities could be shaped to be White and different from who the Creator envisioned us to be.

Honourable senators, telling our stories is related to our soul’s and spirit’s intention to increase our consciousness. Our experiences that had earlier been kept in the dark become illuminated. Bringing our stories into the light causes this dark relationship to end. I did not bring out my story to be ridiculed or challenged on the Senate floor, especially by a non-Indigenous senator.

As a Cree woman, I refuse to remain in victimhood. I was meant to be more than what other humans envisioned for me. It remains a daily struggle for me to work through the intentionally imposed trauma. Many days I have to affirm to myself that I and other Indigenous peoples matter and we cannot continue to be intentionally placed in gaps that continue to threaten our existence and identity — gaps made by the laws of Canada or by actions in the Senate.

Colleagues, in the training provided to the former senator and her assessment criteria done by the University of Manitoba after completion of the training, it was noted that:

Time was spent exploring the concept [of racism] in depth and how it is systemically embedded and entrenched within social, political and legal institutions.

On reflecting upon her past conduct, she affirmed that it did not align with her obligations as a senator in relation to racism. It was said that:

She noted how it has caused hurt and harm for Indigenous peoples and communities. She expressed sorrow as she sees how this is wrong.

It was also indicated that:

. . . she took full responsibility for her past actions and accepted that she had breached 7.1 and 7.2 of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.

Dr. Jonathan L. Black-Branch stated:

She leaves the program with further knowledge, ideas and understandings, equipped with new tools for approaching her professional work and her personal beliefs.

However, the belief of former students, including me, was that she left the program much as she had entered it.

In the session regarding the historical context of Crown-Indigenous relations in Canada, Dr. Miller, a Sixties Scoop survivor, provided her feedback, stating:

In particular, she probed why it was a problem to post letters from people who had not had abusive experiences in the residential schools on her website. I discussed Residential School denialism and how some people could interpret presenting only those letters as contributing to the denialism narrative as well as the reality that given how recently the Residential School system ended, we still have many colleagues and co-workers let alone elders whose lives were profoundly changed in negative ways by the experience and whose trauma is still deeply felt. Her response to this was “Oh — so it’s just too soon.”

Dr. Miller continues:

. . . I very much had the impression that she has been of the opinion that the success stories of a few served as justification for the pain of the experience with regard to Residential Schools and 60’s scoop in particular. I hope that it is widely recognized that just because one has survived a painful ordeal and had a successful life afterward, does not justify the pain one endured or demonstrate that the pain was necessary for the success to be achieved.

Indeed, Historical Trauma scholarship suggests that refusal to recognize and or validate the trauma is a trigger likely to deepen the trauma, which I think is directly related to the issues with her website.

On the former senator’s training — which focused on privilege, fragility, microaggressions, triggers and anti-racism practice — Dr. Miller states:

We also discussed privilege and how it blinds you to the oppressions experienced by those who do not have access to the same privileges . . . .

Dr. Miller continues:

We also explored in great detail the ways in which colonialism as an ideology always relies on systemic racism to justify displacement, extraction, theft, and psychic or physical violence. Racism can exist without colonialism but colonialism is always accompanied with a prejudicial narrative, often encoded in law, to justify colonial acquisition.

Honourable senators, in author Diane J. Goodman’s paper entitled Oppression and Privilege: Two Sides of the Same Coin, she states:

Generally, when societal inequalities are discussed, the focus is on how certain groups of people are disadvantaged — discriminated against, mistreated, and oppressed. However, an equally significant aspect is how other groups of people are advantaged — receive unfair and unearned benefits and privilege because of oppression. In this article, I describe oppression and privilege as two sides of systems of inequality, both of which are important to understand and address to achieve greater equity.

She continues:

Privileged groups establish the societal norms and standards by which other groups are judged. They have greater institutional power and control, and get to set the laws, policies and practices that impact others. . . .

Advantages and disadvantages are cumulative, they are not simply unrelated one-time occurrences. This is one reason why an historical perspective is critical. We cannot understand today’s situations without appreciating how the past has shaped the present and continues to shape the future.

Under the subtitle of “Characteristics of Privileged Groups,” the author states:

People from privileged groups generally lack knowledge of the oppression others face.

Unless individuals from privileged groups make a conscious effort to learn about and get to know people from disadvantaged groups, and then have honest conversations about the realities of being from a subordinated group, it is unlikely they will develop a meaningful understanding of that form of oppression. . . .

People from privileged groups generally lack an awareness of one’s privilege.

People from privileged groups generally deny or avoid looking at others’ oppression and their own privilege.

. . . the dominant narrative is that there is equal opportunity for everyone and that the country is meritocracy—people get what they deserve. . . . It is easier for people from privilege groups to deny that there is a problem or blame the people who are disadvantaged than to look at how they themselves are complicit in the oppression of others. . . .

Honourable senators, it is an unfortunate reality that Canadians followed the story of racism played out in the Senate beginning in early 2017 through the posting of inflammatory and incendiary letters that depicted former students of residential schools in negative, stereotypical fashion. These attacks, stemming from the activity of a former senator, came randomly without reason or provocation and with the intent to have these racist attacks remain on the national news.

My question is: Why was this former senator allowed to continue expressing her troubling views for as long as she did without a more forceful, decisive, unified and meaningful challenge from the Senate?

To understand racial discrimination in Canada, we must focus our efforts as parliamentarians on those who have the power to undermine this institutional racial discrimination. The Senate and the House of Commons have not looked at the part they play, intentional or not, in perpetuating this institutional racism and discrimination.

Honourable senators, I encourage you to join me in the debates on unbraiding the racism, discrimination, violence and abuse that occurred with the making of the residential schools and its resulting adverse impacts, the effects of which are still seen and felt by countless Indigenous peoples and communities today. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the harm that these schools have done as well as engage in change. This change will come by senators acknowledging the ongoing costs of the oppression of Indigenous peoples and the need for broader social and political change. I encourage you to join me in speaking to and supporting this motion, culminating in an apology which will redress much of the damage that has been sown from the Senate on this matter, both historically and of late. Thank you.

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