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Jason Kenney has built his political reputation around a willingness to fight, and he’s been happy to do battle on everything from energy to equalization. But it seems nothing gets Kenney as animated — or as agitated — as the idea of fighting so-called “cancel culture.” He showed that again on Tuesday, when a reporter asked if it was time to remove the names of people closely associated with the residential school system, like Sir John A. Macdonald and Bishop Grandin, from public buildings in the wake of the discovery of remains of 215 children on the site of a former Kamloops, B.C., residential school.

“This is the problem with your line of questioning,” he told CTV’s Shannon Johnston. “If the new standard is to cancel any figure in our history associated with what we now rightly regard as historical injustices, then essentially that is the vast majority of our history. Instead, I think we need to learn from it, to learn from both the greatness, the audacity of vision and the generosity of spirit of former leaders.”

For most Indigenous Canadians, “generosity of spirit” would not be the first description that comes to mind when talking about the architect of the residential school system. But there was much more in this vein, and at one point in the press conference — which was about the province’s plan to deliver second doses of COVID-19 vaccines — he doubled back to continue making his point about cancel culture.

“If we want to get into a debate about cancelling Canadian history,” he said, “we need to understand that it’s all of our history. I think that kind of destructive spirit is not really the spirit of reconciliation. The spirit of reconciliation is to learn from the wrongs of the past, (and) to seek to remedy them, while knowing our history and moving forward together.”

Pontificating on the nature of reconciliation is a tone-deaf move at the best of times, to say nothing of the days following the discovery of a mass grave of Indigenous children. But for Kenney, it seems, that news — and indeed, the events of the last five years — hasn’t changed his perspective one bit. After all, his comments at the press conference are very similar (and in some cases identical) to those he made in a campaign video in 2017, where he delivered a speech about the perils of cancel culture while standing next to a strategically placed blue pickup truck in front of Sir John A. Macdonald Junior High. “The point is we always strive to do better,” he says in the video. “But I reject this campaign of total defamation, of historical vandalism directed at our founding prime minister.”

Kenney isn’t the only person in his orbit who hasn’t updated their thinking on this issue. Chris Champion, the historian and former Conservative staffer who Kenney tapped to help write the social studies component of Alberta’s controversial new K-6 curriculum, also doubled down on his pre-existing beliefs in the wake of the Kamloops discovery. In a Twitter exchange, the Dorchester Review — the journal Champion founded and edits — suggested that Indigenous children were at residential schools like the one in Kamloops “because in many cases their parents wanted them there. That's why this should be based on research, not the politics and cashola of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission).”

Comments like that reflect the bias that Champion and others in Kenney’s inner circle, including former speechwriter Paul Bunner, who once described the residential school system as a “bogus genocide story,” consistently show on this issue. That bias is baked into the province’s new curriculum, which ignores the TRC’s call to make information about “residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada” mandatory requirements for K-12 students.

But Kenney’s fixation on protecting statues and names of schools and buildings reflects a broader misunderstanding of how history works — and how it ought to. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote in a recent piece, “history is not set in stone. It is a living discipline, subject to excavation, evolution and maturation. Our understanding of the past shifts. Our views on women’s suffrage, sexuality, medicine, education, child-rearing and masculinity are not the same as they were 50 years ago, and will be different again in another 50 years.”

That might be what Kenney is most worried about when it comes to so-called “cancel culture.” His past, after all, includes well-documented efforts on his part while attending Bible college in San Francisco to prevent gay men and women from visiting their dying partners in hospital during the height of the AIDS crisis.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s fixation on protecting statues and names of schools and buildings reflects a broader misunderstanding of how history works — and how it ought to, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #ableg #CancelCulture #reconciliation

And while he may regret those actions today, he didn’t seem to mind talking them up in a 2000 speech. “I became president of the pro-life group in my campus and helped to lead an ultimately successful initiative petition, which led to a referendum which overturned the first gay spousal law in North America, in 1989 in San Francisco. I fought a lot of battles there.”

Those battles, and his role in them, aren’t about to be forgotten any time soon. As he watches the growing push to remove the influence of Sir John A. Macdonald from shared public places, perhaps he can feel the weight and judgment of history bearing down on him as well.

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Throughout his career Kenney was elected by people seeking to punish others a blunt object in human form of little value other than performing as expected. He is well on the way to cancelling himself and like Harper will be remembered for nothing at all good.

Gary Younge is quite correct about history. It includes anthropology and archaeology which are deep historical, indeed prehistorical excavations and revelations about the human species and how we evolved. Similar excavations of the literate eras of history are equally fascinating as we uncover the very recent past and re-write what we think we know about history, as with the relatively recent resurrection of the Tulsa Massacre.
We now stand on the edge of mass graves, filled with children who died at residential schools. Until we know more about these children and how they died we cannot know, for sure, whether these deaths were statistically "normal" for the era in which they lived. One has only to visit cemeteries for which there are gravestones, to know how many children of the 19th century died prematurely from diseases we have tried to eradicate with vaccines and tuberculosis which ran rampant in the population until penicillin was discovered, and which now threatens us again thanks to antibiotic resistance. However, we also know that crowded institutional living is very bad for the health and well being of all people, let alone vulnerable children who are so easily abused in these settings.

As this sorry chapter in our history unfolds we are once again going to be reminded just how brutal, how wrong headed humanity can be. And if we do not learn from this dreadful and unwelcome reminder, our species is likely going to continue to commit atrocities.

"Cancel culture" is the whining response from people who do not want to learn the truth about human misdeeds. A great deal of effort has gone into cancelling parts of our history. The Armenians can tell you about that. The stories lauding the "conquering" of the New World have always cancelled the lives of the people who preceded the European annihilators. Many books, many teachers, many people are still trying to do that.

Betsy Cornwell wrote: "Until we know more about these children and how they died we cannot know, for sure, whether these deaths were statistically 'normal' for the era in which they lived."

From Andrew Nikiforuk's article yesterday in The Tyee:
"…[Canada’s first chief officer of medical health for Immigration and Indian Affairs, 1909] could see no moral reason why the government could ever tolerate a TB 'death rate' among First Nations two to three times higher 'than that of an average Canadian community.'"
‘The Story of a National Crime’, (The Tyee, 02-Jun-21)
"Enfeebled by homesickness, brutal and sadistic punishments and wholly inadequate nutrition, they died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, the Spanish influenza and measles, among any number of proximate causes. At the Old Sun boarding school in Alberta, there were years when children were dying at 10 times the rate of children in the settler population."
"Terry Glavin: Canadians have known about unmarked residential school graves for years. They just kept forgetting" (National Post, Jun 02, 2021)
Nothing "normal" about forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in tubercular and abusive residential schools, tearing families apart and erasing their language and culture.
Nothing "normal" about wilful neglect, poor living conditions, substandard housing, malnutrition, experimentation, and child abuse.
Bkgd Info
"The dark history of Canada's Food Guide: How experiments on Indigenous children shaped nutrition policy" (CBC)
"Canada's great historical shame" (National Post)
"Over many decades - from the 1870s to 1996 - 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and sent by the federal govt to church-run schools, where many faced physical and sexual abuse.
"Many died from tuberculosis because they were malnourished and were housed in poorly-ventilated buildings."
"Ear experiments done on kids at Kenora residential school"
"Students at the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora were the subject of nutritional experiments and exposed to experimental treatments for ear infections. Some became deaf."
"Hungry aboriginal people used in bureaucrats' experiments" (CBC, Jul 16, 2013)
"Food historian published details of nutritional experiments that began in the 1940s"
"Recently published research by food historian Ian Mosby has revealed details about one of the least-known but perhaps most disturbing aspects of govt policy toward aboriginal people immediately after the Second World War.
"Govt documents eventually revealed a long-standing, govt-run experiment that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.
"Instead of recommending an increase in support, the researchers decided that isolated, dependent, hungry people would be ideal subjects for tests on the effects of different diets.
"One school deliberately held milk rations for two years to less than half the recommended amount to get a 'baseline' reading for when the allowance was increased. At another, children were divided into one group that received vitamin, iron and iodine supplements and one that didn't.
"Many dental services were withdrawn from participating schools during that time. Gum health was an important measuring tool for scientists and they didn't want treatments on children's teeth distorting results."
"Aboriginal children used in medical tests, commissioner says" (CBC, Jul 31, 2013)
"Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools." (CBC)

Slightly off topic but..............because their parents wanted them there." Ridiculous.

History erected the statues. History can pull them down.

Kenney & Co. are just seeking to draw attention away from the illegitimate foundation of the 1867 colonial order from which they benefit. There is no treaty authorizing the unilateralism of the BNA Act S91.24 (claiming authority over 'Indians and lands reserved for Indians') or the Indian Act 1876.

First Nations treaties are the constitutional foundation of all governance in Canada. Not the unilateralism of the British Crown. Pulling down that colonial prejudice is what colonial politicians fear most. So they throw colonial cash at it hoping it will go away!

Disappearin' injuns is the central colonial project! Like Justin's daddy's '69 White Paper.

So watch for more deflections, slights-of-hand, the anything-but responses from colonial governors, like Kenney & Co., who perpetuate the colonial 'cancel culture' of disappearing injuns. Old John Eh knew what he was doing and how residential schools were central to that railroad project called Confederation.


Truth and Reconciliation is a process which begins in accepting the truth and the difficult part is reconciliation of the past in order to move forward, not everyone arrives at the same time, indeed some never arrive at all and choose to live in denial or to acknowledge the past. Nonetheless T&R is a blueprint forward and we in Canada do not have to reinvent the wheel. If I can make a reading recommendation, The VII foundation has put together a thoughtful and powerful book of text and images to help get you there. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Columbia etc have been there and are still there, Canadians need to take part if we are to to heal and move towards a just society. IMO.

As a general rule I'm fine with the whole statue-toppling thing, and in general I think Canada should be doing a hell of a lot more to stop victimizing First Nations and help them move forward. But I'll admit to being a bit torn about Sir John A. MacDonald.
Sir John clearly did some really bad shit, notably pushing along the residential schools, which were a horrific blight on Canada. Not only that, but the residential schools were far from an aberration; rather, they were just one expression of the general colonizing thrust of the Canadian project. We can see the same spirit in Canadian policies to this day, like when we back authoritarian, antidemocratic regimes who enable our imperialist corporations in places like Honduras and Haiti. So I think it's not unreasonable to say that the drive to create Canada in the first place was based on the same ideas as the residential schools, that trying to create Canada implied doing things along the lines of the residential schools.

So perhaps founding Canada was in itself a vicious settler-colonialist project and it should never have been done. Although in practice, if it hadn't been the results would just have been a larger United States. But nonetheless, it did get done, Canada did come into being, and it is the country we live in and are citizens of. And the individual most responsible for that happening was Sir John A. MacDonald. We can repudiate anyone else in our history and just be saying "Canada's history needs to be adjusted and seen in a new light". But repudiating Sir John kind of implies saying "I should renounce my citizenship and the whole country should be dissolved". That's a big ask.