Tom Flanagan — last seen getting fired in 2013 by the CBC after defending child pornography as “free speech” — was recently asked by the New York Post about his thoughts regarding unmarked graves at residential school sites.

Opinion

Tom Flanagan — last seen getting fired in 2013 by the CBC after defending child pornography as "free speech" — was recently asked by the New York Post about his thoughts regarding unmarked graves at residential school sites.

"This is the biggest fake news story in Canadian history," the former political science professor/political adviser said last week. "All this about unmarked graves and missing children triggered a moral panic."

The Post piece also features retired historian Jacques Rouillard, most known for arguing residential schools were not evidence of genocide, and fired academic Frances Widdowson, who has argued Indigenous cultures were "savage," neolithic" and "barbaric" before the graces of European civilization "advanced" them.

The day before, the National Post published an opinion piece by Terry Glavin claiming the estimated 1,300 unmarked graves at residential schools were "sites of speculation," "unverified," and "in none of these places were any human remains unearthed."

Glavin condemned journalists for causing a paranoia that resulted in a Canadian "reckoning" for residential schools, longing for a time when reporters would fact-check claims of residential school survivors, and dig up "truth" about children’s bodies and not create "national convulsions."

This is what happens a year after one of the most important and uncomfortable struggles with addictions in Canadian history: denial.

This is what happens a year after one of the most important and uncomfortable struggles with addictions in Canadian history: denial.

Luckily — as anyone knows about going through the process of recovery — denial eventually gives away to honesty, acceptance, and growth.

The problem is addiction accompanies ignorance, minimizing the problem, and blaming others. Change usually only happens when addicts reach rock bottom.

Well, rock bottom for Canada comes in the form of old, irrelevant, out-of-touch and harmful academics, historians and columnists, it seems.

The past year has been Canada’s most crucial on the issue of residential schools and what to do to begin a path to reconciliation.

The truth is: the full story regarding unmarked graves of residential school children may never be known.

We are, after all, talking about old sites (some nearly 100 years old) and porous church record-keeping — never mind the macabre fact of finding and excavating children’s bodies.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada researched and published on the starvation, abuse and violence at residential schools and how thousands of children went missing.

What happened is obvious. No one should really need much more, nor be shocked when more information is unearthed.

If anyone does need more, though, there are the testimonies of residential school survivors, many of whom identify deaths by disease, shoddy living conditions, and, yes, murder, did in fact happen.

Canada is addicted to telling itself residential schools weren’t that bad, that there are redeeming parts to stealing and trying to assimilate children, that genocide didn’t happen. Luckily, the spokespeople of Canada’s addiction are now retiring, being fired or shown as irrelevant to the conversation Canada needs to have to determine its future.

Still, the addiction lingers.

Canada is addicted to telling itself residential schools weren’t that bad, that there are redeeming parts to stealing and trying to assimilate children, that genocide didn’t happen.

It’s less than a year since the then-premier of Manitoba said: "The people who came here to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build."

Federal party leaders Erin O’Toole, Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper have also said similar things. All have since retracted, reversed or minimized their comments.

The past year has seen some of the most informed, competent, and critically aware journalism, research and commentary in Canadian history on residential schools — precisely because most writers, academics and reporters have listened to Indigenous Peoples.

Instead of filtering and controlling Indigenous voices, as in the past, this has meant Canadians have heard from elders, leaders, and knowledge keepers first-hand.

Part of the inescapable truth Indigenous peoples are saying is residential school is a part of a genocide and much of this violence continues today.

Hearing from rich, elite Canadian men on whether they are convinced of Indigenous truth seems like asking those who benefit from ignorance, propaganda and lies to deconstruct that same system.

Hearing from rich, elite Canadian men on whether they are convinced of Indigenous truth seems like asking those who benefit from ignorance, propaganda and lies to deconstruct that same system.

Challenging those who deny Indigenous voices is a part of rebuilding the world as a peaceful and inclusive place.

No one enjoys discomfort, but change ain’t easy. So, as deniers make one last-ditch attempt to catch your attention, know that the work to bring the stories of unmarked graves, residential schools and what to do next is worth it, because it’s a path away from addiction and towards growth.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.