Historical books detailing residential schools released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission sit on a table as the commission releases an interim report during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday February 24, 2012. After long imposing inaccurate and offensive labels on Indigenous peoples, Canada has made some progress in updating our official terminology. But there are still many hidden assumptions which need to be challenged as part of the wider goal of achieving reconciliation.
Take, for example, the concept of the “frontier”.
In principle, the term may refer to any border. But in the western Canadian context, it often implies a perceived dividing line between European settlers and the land they enclosed as individual property, and the Indigenous population whose well-established communities and cultures were shamefully treated as being unworthy of recognition or respect.
The failure of Canadian governments to acknowledge the basic humanity of Indigenous peoples lies at the root of centuries of policy designed to discriminate: from the breaking of nation-to-nation treaties to the deliberate subjugation and isolation of Indigenous people and communities, to schemes with the purpose and effect of separating families and destroying languages and cultures.
The horrendous legacy of residential schools represents just one example of the latter type of blight on Canada’s past. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report confirmed the connection between residential schools and the wider pattern of physical and cultural genocide.
Unfortunately, the frontier mentality hasn’t entirely given way to more informed views of Indigenous peoples. And we should be particularly concerned that it’s still being actively promoted.
This past week, writer Tammy Robert took note of a disturbing radio advertisement which sought to portray basic facts about residential schools as “myths”.
After the ad was exposed to public scrutiny, a number of the people involved apologized for their roles — including both narrator Roger Currie, and the radio company which aired it. (Similar apologies were offered when an Alberta distance learning course was exposed as including a question about the “positive effect” of residential schools.)
But no such apology was forthcoming from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, which placed and funded the radio ad in the first place. And while the use of paid advertising may represent some escalation in a battle to validate colonial policy, the underlying message is far from a new theme for the Frontier Centre.
The ad itself was based on content recently posted by Frontier Centre contributors. And similar themes can be found in posts by multiple commentators dating back decades which seek to diminish or excuse the harm caused by residential schools, along with the Sixties Scoop.
Moreover, alongside its minimization of the systematic abuse of Indigenous children, the Frontier Centre has actively promoted the 1969 White Paper which proposed to abolish all treaty rights, First Nations jurisdiction and other recognition of Indigenous status. Its past publications have endorsed the mandatory relocation of First Nations communities and the elimination of funding for housing and post-secondary education, while opposing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And its commentary about Indigenous people is rife with accusations of “dependence” which attack the already insufficient funding provided for basic services which we take for granted.
One might wonder what could possibly motivate an organization to fight for such repugnant positions. But there are two apparent explanations: beyond apparently wanting to appeal to anti-Aboriginal bigotry, the Frontier Centre’s historical funding includes large donations from mining interests which make their money overriding Indigenous rights around the globe.
In the end, if anybody is on the wrong side of a civilizational divide, it’s the mercenaries attempting to defend both historical and current discrimination in […]
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