Governor General Mary Simon claims 'media' to blame for residential school 'denialism'

A July 19 Senate report concurred with the governor general, recommending a federal ban on 'Residential School denialism' without defining the term.

Governor General Mary Simon claims 'media' to blame for residential school 'denialism'
The Canadian Press / Spencer Colby
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Despite urging all Canadians to unite on reconciliation, Canada's first Indigenous governor general took potshots at 'unnamed' media for promoting residential school 'denialism.'

In a keynote address at the fifth National Gathering on Unmarked Burials, Governor General Mary Simon said the media are trying to "control the story of Indigenous peoples" through "Residential School denialism."

"For the longest time, too long, this trauma was buried, unheard," continued Simon. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada reported that approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada.

"Denialism takes the form of attacks online, through the media and the desecration of burial sites," she added.

A July 19 report from the Senate Indigenous peoples committee concurred with the governor general, recommending a federal ban on "Residential School denialism" without defining the term, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

"The committee heard about ongoing denialism about residential schools and that some individuals deny the negative effects on generations of Indigenous peoples," read the Senate report Honouring The Children Who Never Came Home

"Denialism serves to distract people from the horrific consequences of residential schools and the realities of missing children, burials and unmarked graves," the report stated. 

"For years, the loss, fear and pleas from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts and communities went unrecognized," said Simon. "Children disappeared at residential schools and other institutions, buried in unmarked graves."

On January 21, the federal government settled a $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit for the loss of language and culture caused by residential schools.

Then Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller said they signed the deal with plaintiffs representing 325 First Nations that opted into the suit.

Each of the 325 plaintiffs will receive $200,000 to develop "a funding proposal that reflects the objectives and purposes of the Four Pillars." Once the proposals have been reviewed, they will guide the Initial Kick-Start Fund disbursement of $325 million.

The parties appeared before the Federal Court on February 27 to approve the settlement terms. 

Last month, Saskatchewan's English River First Nation (ERFN) claimed dozens of 'unmarked graves' exist on the site of the defunct Beauval Indian Residential School.

Near the northern Saskatchewan village of Beauval, ERFN said it found the alleged graves of 79 children and 14 infants using ground-penetrating radar.

"Schools should come with playgrounds, not graveyards," said ERFN Chief Jenny Wolverine in a statement.

"We are saddened to learn of the additional findings, and we know our work is not over, not at Beauval and not at any of the other residential school sites."

With several investigations ongoing, those already completed have yet to unearth human remains at any suspected 'unmarked grave.'

In May 2021, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., reported the discovery of alleged remains belonging to 215 children at a former residential school.

"Canadians have seen with horror those unmarked graves," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters then.

Nationwide outrage ensued, and the alleged graves catalyzed Truth and Reconciliation while propelling vandalism and the burning of over 60 churches nationwide in the summer of 2021.

On July 1, 2021, Manitoba protesters, angered by the deaths of children at residential schools, toppled statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria on Canada Day.

Simon, Canada's first Indigenous governor general, told reporters in June that she hopes people come together to discuss the issue of the toppled statues. 

"There [are] frustrations, there's anger, and from time to time, they will express that anger and the frustrations," she said.

While Simon maintained that her office is apolitical on the contentious topic, she emphasized recognizing colonization and residential schools' impact on Canada's Indigenous people.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the federal government provided $7.9 million to search the Kamloops site and $3.1 million for a National Residential Schools Student Death Register.

The feds budgeted another $238.8 million for a Residential Schools Missing Children Community Support Fund that expires in 2025.

As of writing, no remains have been unearthed at the Kamloops site, with investigations to take upwards of two decades to complete.

In October 2021, excavation crews unearthed only debris at Edmonton's Camsell Hospital after ground-penetrating radar detected 34 anomalies in the facility's surrounding area.

The hospital formerly treated Indigenous people with tuberculosis for decades but faced abuse and forced sterilization allegations. However, the absence of human remains led to no further site searches.

After researchers detected 57 anomalies under Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church, Manitoba's Pine Creek First Nation did not unearth human remains in August after excavation.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation records indicated 21 students allegedly died from abuse at the Pine Creek school.

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