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Professors condemn colleagues' TRC editorial

'Retrograde' opinions on TRC denounced

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2015 (1228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Less than a week after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on residential schools in Canada, a group of more than 50 University of Manitoba professors are denouncing a pair of their former colleagues who claimed the report exaggerated reality.

Just 24 hours after the TRC wrapped up its closing events in Ottawa, a blistering editorial by retired University of Manitoba professors Rodney Clifton and Hymie Rubenstein appeared in the National Post, accusing the TRC report of reinforcing "many half-truths" and "exaggerations" about residential schools. The authors defend residential schools for providing "formal education," and criticize what they call "unexamined testimonies of an unrepresentative sample of 'survivors.' "

Now, many U of M scholars are feeling compelled to respond, signing a scathing letter condemning the editorial.

Adam Muller, Adele Perry and Andrew Woolford penned the original draft of the letter, published on the National Post website Friday evening. While Muller said opinions such as Clifton's and Rubenstein's are well known to him, he found their piece particularly hard to swallow.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2015 (1228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Less than a week after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on residential schools in Canada, a group of more than 50 University of Manitoba professors are denouncing a pair of their former colleagues who claimed the report exaggerated reality.

Just 24 hours after the TRC wrapped up its closing events in Ottawa, a blistering editorial by retired University of Manitoba professors Rodney Clifton and Hymie Rubenstein appeared in the National Post, accusing the TRC report of reinforcing "many half-truths" and "exaggerations" about residential schools. The authors defend residential schools for providing "formal education," and criticize what they call "unexamined testimonies of an unrepresentative sample of 'survivors.' "

Now, many U of M scholars are feeling compelled to respond, signing a scathing letter condemning the editorial.

Adam Muller, Adele Perry and Andrew Woolford penned the original draft of the letter, published on the National Post website Friday evening. While Muller said opinions such as Clifton's and Rubenstein's are well known to him, he found their piece particularly hard to swallow.

"These opinions that were being advanced stuck in my throat in a way that others haven't, simply because they were so retrograde," he said. "I just thought we were beyond that. I really did."

After writing the first draft of the rebuttal, Muller, Perry and Woolford sought input from their peers — and with more than 50 signatories, they found ample support.

"I'm still getting more emails than I can keep up with of people who want to add their names to the letter," Woolford, a Fulbright scholar, said Friday. "I think everyone... wanted to contribute to, in our small way, correcting the potential harm we see as coming out of that letter."

One of Woolford's many concerns was the impact of the editorial on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, a centre containing the recorded testimony of residential school survivors set to open at the university later this year. Woolford said he's concerned potential guests — especially survivors — will see the university as "hostile" to the very message the centre is seeking to spread.

Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, said the editorial is a confirmation of the centre's goal. He plans to add his signature to the letter.

"It's a perfect reminder of precisely why we need the centre... so that people can never deny the brutal reality of these schools," he said.

The letter, which Woolford said was a "truly collective effort" by many of its signatories, states Clifton and Rubenstein's editorial is "an attempt to downplay residential schools' harm," and "ignores the substantial historical record and places heavy weight on the author's own anecdotal experience." Rodney Clifton, one of the authors, attended and worked at various residential schools in his youth.

The letter also states Clifton's and Rubenstein's arguments "echo the insensitivity and moral inattention the TRC is trying to address."

Clifton, however, said the editorial was not meant to take away from the harm perpetrated by residential schools, but rather to bring fairness to a "one-sided" discussion.

"We were just trying to say that (the TRC) missed a whole bunch of things that they should have included." he said. "In that sense I think (the report is) limited."

The editorial contends that despite the horrific treatment reported by many residential school survivors — physical, emotional and sexual abuse are just a start — those experiences were not as widespread as the TRC found, with many positive experiences reported as well. It also claims that the TRC's report attributes too many of the issues facing aboriginal Canadians today to residential schools.

Despite the response of his former colleagues, Clifton said the editorial is part of healthy academic debate.

"We may be wrong," Clifton said. "But our adversaries may be wrong, too, and truth comes through the clash of these perspectives in a respectful way."

Ted Fontaine, a residential school survivor and author of a book on his experience there, said that more than anything, he finds the editorial "sad."

"It's kind of sad to have these people think like this throughout their life," he said. "It's kind of sad that they've gone through life with these ideas."

aidan.geary@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Monday, June 8, 2015 at 9:47 AM CDT: Adds link to letter

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