February 29, 2012
Sinclair is Wrong -- It Wasn't Genocide
Christopher Powell, a sociologist at the U of M, has gone too far in his Feb. 24 column, Sinclair is correct -- it was genocide.
First, he says that the residential school system meets the UN's definition of genocide. Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes five definitions. The first, and probably the one most people understand, is: "Killing members of the group." Not surprising, this is the dictionary definition of genocide.
The fifth definition in the UN list is: "Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Is this is what happened with aboriginal children? Is assimilation really genocide?
Second, he says, "We should remember that thousands of children did die preventable deaths from harsh living conditions at the Indian residential schools."
I know that residential schools were harsh because I went to one, I lived in another one, and I worked in Stringer Hall, the Anglican residential hostel in Inuvik in 1966-67. Moreover, my wife attended Old Sun, the Anglican residential school on the Siksika Nation, for eight years. Her parents also attended the same school.
I have never seen good evidence of one child dying a preventable death. I have, however, seen supervisors work diligently to help their residents receive medical care.
At Stringer Hall, for example, a young boy in the senior boys' dorm, where I was the supervisor, developed severe stomach cramps. I called the residential nursing sister, and she arranged for him to be taken immediately to the hospital where a doctor diagnosed a ruptured appendix. Surgery was performed, and 10 days later the young fellow returned to the hostel. Undoubtedly, if he had been out on the trapline with his parents he would have died.
I have no intention to generalize from this case to the way all children were treated in all residential schools throughout the long and sad history of these institutions. Likewise, I doubt that Powell can provide good empirical evidence that "thousands of children did die preventable deaths."
Without well-documented evidence, I'm afraid that Powell has misled his readers. For the sake of the truth, he should tone down his rhetorical claims.
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
is a Senior Scholar at the University of Manitoba and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (www.fcpp.org). He received his B.Ed and M.Ed. from the University of Alberta, his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and his Fil.Dr. from the University of Stockholm. In addition, he has been awarded a Spencer Fellowship from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, a Rh. Award from the University of Manitoba, a R.W.B. Jackson Research Award from the Canadian Educational Researchers’ Association, and both an Edward Sheffield and a Distinguished Research Awards from the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education. He has written for numerous newspapers and journals, including the Canadian Journal of Education, Policy Options, Sociology of Education, the National Post, and the Winnipeg Free Press. His books include Socioeconomic Status, Attitudes, and Educational Performances: A Comparison of Students in England and New Zealand, Authority in Classrooms, Crosscurrents: Contemporary Canadian Educational Issues, and Recent Social Trends in Canada, 1960-2000. His most recent book, What’s Wrong With Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was published in 2010 and was written with Michael Zwaagstra and John Long.