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Falsification of the Past: Indigenous Canadians, Residential Schools, and claims of ‘Genocide’. A Personal Account

Debating genocide in Canada
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Written by Stuart Adams

Canada has been convulsed by claims that residential schools established a century ago for the education of indigenous children engaged in cultural genocide and even mass murder. Yet the extreme claims, though often repeated, have yet to be proved, and there is reluctance to release the supposed evidence on which the claims are based. In this moving personal testimony, Stuart Adams sets out the history of his family and of his own career spent caring for indigenous children. Their dedication and commitment should be contrasted to the wild accusations currently being made and promoted by Canadian media.

A few days before the Coronation, the King met with indigenous leaders and their advocates from Canada. They came to the Palace to set out their historic grievances over land rights and the treatment of indigenous children in residential schools which were established across Canada by Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Protestant churches in the late-Victorian period. The delegation was seeking an apology from the King in his capacity as supreme governor of the Church of England. Some Canadians apparently complain that the late Queen neither listened nor apologised. As for her son, he ‘made no commitments’ and discussed instead ‘his interests in climate change, indigenous knowledge, housing and reconciliation’. [1]

The particular issue of residential schools in which indigenous children were educated has convulsed Canada in recent years. It was initially claimed that the education these schools provided was designed to break the link between the children and their native backgrounds, what has been described as ‘cultural genocide’. Historical evidence that counters these claims – for example, that many tribal leaders saw the need to educate their people and equip them for roles within the new society of which they were inevitably becoming part – was ignored. A crude interpretation that viewed all Christian and western socialisation as intrinsically malign, held sway instead. In recent years, however, the claim of cultural genocide has turned into allegations of physical genocide – of the deliberate killing of hundreds of children who attended these schools. The reaction to these claims, especially on campuses across Canada, has been extreme. The allegations led to the burning and deliberate damage of more than 70 churches and church buildings across Canada in 2021.

History Reclaimed recently published an exhaustive refutation of the claims of murder by Hymie Rubinstein and Tom Flanagan, demonstrating that there is no evidence to support them.

Though public funds have been set aside for excavation of the alleged burial grounds where the remains of the children are supposedly to be found, so far the results of the surveys undertaken have not been made public and there are strong reasons to doubt any of the claims made. It is certainly true that some indigenous children died at the residential schools from tuberculosis, which was rampant on native reservations at the time. But these sad deaths were from natural causes, rather than deliberate acts of murder. The allegation, as allegation, is a far more potent weapon than the reality, however.

Speaking out against the claims of genocide and murder is difficult and leads to all the familiar vices of our current culture: vilification, cancellation, the sack. There is even something called ‘residential school denialism’, apparently manifested by those who ask for proof of heinous acts, and who try to explain rather than condemn out-of-hand the motives and pedagogy of people who lived decades before us. This dangerous ‘denialism’ – in reality a quest for the truth – must be countered, therefore, as demanded in a recent article in the (Toronto) Globe and Mail.

Professor Frances Widdowson, a specialist in indigenous history in Canada, was fired from her job at Mount Royal University in Calgary for trying to hold to academic standards and academic proof. She gave a most interesting and revealing insight into her personal situation, and indigenous issues in general in Canada, in her recent webinar for History Reclaimed on 5 May 2023.

The claims being made about the Canadian past are familiar in one sense because they apply current ideas and standards to entirely different historical contexts. Today, we would not go about the education of indigenous children in the same way as the residential schools did a century ago. But that is no reason to doubt the good faith and commitment of the teachers and administrators who ran the schools for the benefit, as they saw it, of the children at that time. The claims now circulating go beyond matters of culture and education to mass murder, however, and, as such, they betray another familiar aspect of the anti-historical culture of western societies at the present moment: the absence of evidence. Ideology, irrationality, and emotion take the place of hard facts.

In this sad affair, claims of victimhood are everywhere. But no one stops to consider the victims of the allegations being made: those people and their ancestors who devoted themselves to the welfare of the indigenous in Canada in the past.

When HR published the article by Rubinstein and Flanagan we were contacted by Stuart Adams, whose own life and family history have been bound up with the education and support of native Canadians for generations. We found his personal account of these matters so interesting and moving, and we think this testimony so important, that we publish it below. Stuart Adams himself, and the reputation of his family, is a victim of contemporary ideology and of the failure to understand the past.

Lawrence Goldman

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/national-indigenous-leaders-head-to-coronation-1.6828175

 

Mr Stuart Adams:

‘When I was born in 1946 my family lived on the opposite side of the Somass River from Alberni Indian Residential School on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Born in 1906, my mother continued to live there until, in 1993, she lost her will to live, thanks, in large part, to the emerging story that people like her and her parents and siblings were among the worst villains in Canadian history.

Her parents, a Presbyterian clergyman and his wife, had served as principal and matron of two church-run residential schools (one in Manitoba and this one in Alberni Valley) from 1922 to 1937. My mother was inspired to train as a primary school teacher by her adolescent experience at the Manitoba school. She taught at the Alberni Residential School and its associated day school from 1927 to 1938 and then at another day school for one year (1938/39) when the Department of Indian Affairs fired her for “corrupting the morals” of her students by dating an indigenous man and thereby suggesting that intimate inter-racial relations were OK.

Her younger sister taught music and photography as a volunteer while living in the two schools. She contracted tuberculosis at the second school, from which she died as a consequence. It was not only the indigenous students at these schools who died of TB: their teachers did, as well. Her older brother served the staff and students of residential schools as their medical doctor and became well-known for his reports and warnings that the residential schools were ideal incubators for TB and other communicable diseases, and were admitting students without giving them medical check-ups.

My family history may be of interest in itself. Three of my mother’s grandparents were the grandchildren of Loyalists who, like almost all the Loyalists who moved north after the American Revolution, were from the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware). The Loyalists who headed north, instead of south to the Caribbean or east to Britain, were more often ethnic German than anything else. They were descendants of the 13,000 “Poor Palatine Germans” who, during the reign of Queen Anne, migrated through the Netherlands to England where they were temporarily encamped in Blackheath.

They were dispersed from there, some to Ireland where they were put to work in linen mills, and many to New York where they were put to work in the production of naval supplies (rope, tar, lumber and poles suitable for masts). When their masters (including New York’s Governor Hunter) refused to release them from indentured servitude after their 7-year contracts expired, some asked permission of the Mohawk to settle among them. Living among the Mohawk they and their descendants became known as “blue-eyed Indians” or Mohawk Dutch. The soldiers who manned the forts to stop whites from moving into designated “Indian Hunting Grounds” were often Mohawk Dutch. So were five of my maternal grandfather’s eight great-grandparents and two of my maternal grandmother’s eight great-grandparents. Usually regular soldiers, as opposed to “volunteers” pressed to serve in militia during times of war, Palatine German men fought alongside Mohawk men on the British side in the Seven Years War and, again, in the American War of Independence. Their sons served as volunteers in the Upper Canada militia in the War of 1812. It is doubtful that Canada would exist as such were it not for the Mohawk, others of the Six Nations, and their Palatine German, Dutch, Huguenot, Walloon, Highland Scots, and Scots-Irish friends, neighbours, concubines and wives.

The last of my mother’s ancestors to live anywhere but Canada were her maternal grandfather’s parents, a blacksmith and his wife who emigrated from Edinburgh to Upper Canada in 1830. Three of the four Scottish-born children died of cholera not long after arriving in Upper Canada, so they had three more and gave them the same three names. The fact that Edinburgh is also Mecca to Presbyterians and home of David Hume informed my choice of that city as my destination when, in mid-April 2000, I left Canada while assuring myself I would never have to live there again.

Since the summer of 1991, Canadian politicians, political parties and governments from across the political spectrum and at federal, provincial and local levels have spent several billions of tax-payer dollars (I kid you not, it all adds up) on royal commissions, human rights tribunals, out-of-court settlements and other mechanisms and processes that have, in effect, tried, convicted and condemned my mother, her parents and siblings and thousands of other Canadians without so much as laying charges. The out-of-court settlements have generously rewarded indigenous people (who often have very low incomes) for making allegations in full knowledge that they will never have to face the accused and will never have to face cross-examination by lawyers who might question their evidence, present new evidence, and otherwise attempt to defend the accused.

Six years into this mammoth (32-year-long and continuing) exercise in character assassination, my 90-year-old mother spoke the last words she would ever speak: “It would have been better if we had never lived. Our reputations have been utterly destroyed. My own grandchildren will be too ashamed to admit they are in any way related to us. I feel so sorry for you boys. How you will live with this I am sure I don’t know. I wish I could stay to help you cope but I can’t.”

It may be of interest that in 1998 I wrote a paper on indigenous land claims and sent copies to various influential British Columbians. They included Gordon Gibson, Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute, and he asked if I would allow the Institute to publish it. You can find it at https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/UnderstandingNisgaaAgreement.pdf.

It begins with a discussion of the “self-redemptive liberalism” that drives guilt-ridden whites to advocate for, or go along with, policies that sometimes do serious harm to the racial, ethnic and other minorities with whom they pretend to be sympathetic.

I knew that by allowing the Fraser Institute to publish my paper I would be burning the bridges that would have made it possible for me to continue to attract clients and earn my living as a consultant who, for the previous 20 years, had worked for indigenous organizations and for others looking for help in their relations with indigenous organizations. At the time, I was preparing to make my own brave contribution to the de-colonization of North America by de-camping to one of my several ancestral homelands.

It has helped me cope to imagine that, when I flew from Vancouver to Edinburgh in mid-April 2000, my mother and her parents and siblings were on the plane with me and, once we were settled in Edinburgh, we would have lots of time to discuss and reflect on what had happened to us. Ever since, I have imagined they are still with me wherever I am, and I am able to ask them, “What would you do under these circumstances?” It has helped me, too, to borrow from Dorothy and breathe a sigh of relief as I tell myself, “We’re not in Canada any more, Toto. And we’ll never ever have to live there again.”

My mother was the founding President of the Alberni District Museum and Historical Society, and she gave their museum and archives hundreds of photos her younger sister had taken in the two Indian Residential Schools that her family had lived and worked in. Most of these photos have disappeared from the archives and many have ended up in a United Church of Canada archive, where they have been mis-attributed and where copies have been taken to illustrate stories that portray members of my family as malicious racists who ripped children from the arms of their weeping mothers and grandmothers, subjected them to all manner of abuse and humiliation, made them feel ashamed of their own race, washed their mouths out with soap if they spoke their own languages, and so on.

Listen to what the sanctimonious and censorious mobs are shouting on Canada’s National Days of Truth and Reconciliation and you will hear the whole litany, including allegations that they slaughtered children and buried them in unmarked graves in the grounds surrounding Indian Residential Schools. Then join Canada’s Prime Minister as he falls to his knees, holds a teddy bear over those imaginary graves, and weeps for the imaginary indigenous children lying therein.

Call it what you will – mass hysteria, mob justice, witch-burning, scapegoating, government-sponsored domestic terrorism – but what Canadians have done and continue to do to thousands of innocent people is surely one of the more disturbing phenomena of our times. If you dare stick your head above the parapet and say so, the mob will turn on you and your living relatives, and they will step up their attacks on the ancestors you would defend if only you knew how without drawing further fire.

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Stuart Adams