Conrad Black’s bogus attack on Truth and Reconciliation: He white-washes history to minimize Indigenous “grievances”

Conrad Black’s two articles in the National Post: “The truth about truth and reconciliation” (March 21, 2021) and “A serious conversation for a serious country” (April 3, 2021) assert two blatantly false claims about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

  • “the rampant but fraudulent truism that this country is rotten with ‘systemic racism'”
  • “there is no evidence whatsoever that any Canadian authority ever advanced or imposed any policy on Natives or anyone else that was designed to eliminate or shorten lives or truly eliminate their culture

The above two statements ignore the truth of Indigenous lived experiences as expressed and documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report. The six volumes, based on thousands of interviews with Indigenous survivors of residential schools and exhaustive research into Canada’s colonial history presented conclusive evidence that Canadian government policies and actions institutionalized “systemic racism” and committed “cultural genocide” as a means to – in the words of Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913-1932) – “get rid of the Indian problem”.

For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”

Truth and Reconciliation Commission “What We Have Learned: The Principles of of Truth and Reconciliation” 2015

That would explain why Canada (under Stephen Harper, a conservative prime minister) and 7 provinces (with a mixture of political affiliations) with 90.5% of the Indigenous population in Canada felt compelled to issue formal and official apologies for each of their government’s colonial policies and actions that specifically targeted Indigenous people in a profoundly negative way over the 154 years since the founding of Canada in 1867.

JurisdictionDate of ApologyComment
Canada June 11, 2008 Formal apology for residential school system policy that was “profoundly negative and … had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language
British Columbia 2003 Deep regret for the mistakes of past governments in their treatment of Aboriginal people
Alberta Mar. 27, 2014 Expression of Reconciliation for the Legacy of the Residential School System
Saskatchewan Jan. 7, 2019 Apology in response to impact of Sixties Scoop
Manitoba June 12, 2008 Formal apology to the Indigenous community for the legacy of the Residential School system
Ontario May 30, 2016 Apology for the brutalities committed for generations at residential schools and the continued harm this abuse has caused to Indigenous cultures, communities, families and individuals
Québec Oct. 2, 2019Official apology to Indigenous people was Call to Action # 1 from Viens Commission for the harm they have endured as a result of provincial laws, policies and practices
Canada Aug. 14, 2019Official apology to the Qikiqtani Inuit in Nunavut for policies including forced relocation and family separation, the killing of qimmiit (sled dogs), who were key to culture, survival and community health since time immemorial, and other assimilative actions
CanadaJan. 22, 2019Apology for multiple forced relocations of the Ahiarmiut Inuit in the 1950s from their traditional territories without supplies to survive resulting in starvation and death
CanadaMarch 8, 2019 On behalf of the Government of Canada to Inuit for its actions during the tuberculosis epidemic from the 1940s to the 1960s throughout Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homeland)

Black, however, tells a different tale.

For him, Indigenous grievances are a “policy” issue that governments “with undoubtedly good, if not overly well-informed or imaginative, intentions have grappled with for over 220 years”. He begins by giving a white, Eurocentric history lesson supporting his view of the benign intentions of successive colonial rulers and governments:

  • The French conducted a Christianizing mission, which attempted to assist the Natives in adopting European norms though the implicit notion that they were primitive heathen naturally incited considerable resentment
  • “King George III issued a royal proclamation in 1763, which stated that any transfer of lands involving First Nations would be a “treaty between sovereigns”…although they were considered to be ultimately under the authority of the British crown”. (That was definitely not the view of those First Nations who signed treaties. For those First Nations who never signed any treaties, their land was simply stolen)
  • “It was British government policy throughout to encourage First Nations to become Christian, agrarian societies, as this was seen as the best and fairest method of helping Aboriginal people to adapt to modern civilization…and to facilitate the acquisition of property and of the rights accompanying it.” (Did anyone bother to ask the Aboriginal people if that was what they wanted? Of course not. What if they said “No”. Imagine! Saying no to forced relocation to less desirable areas that were more like internment camps where you were forbidden to live according to your culture, spiritual ceremonies and beliefs, where your children would be taken away, where you would need permission to leave your “reservation”, where you were not allowed to own property etc. etc. etc.)

Black glosses over the truth about the past with glib, unsupported – to use his own word – piffle! His paternalistic condescension is a reflection of an elitist colonial attitude that places the civilization of Shakespeare (who I love by the way), Descartes, Michelangelo and Leonardo as the pinnacle of human evolution versus the Natives who had a “Stone Age civilization that was almost entirely nomadic, had very little agriculture, very few permanent structures, no textiles and, though they had tools, they were mostly made up of animal bones.” See ” A reply to Conrad Black: On Indigenous history we cannot ignore inconvenient truths” by Taylor C. Noakes for an excellent rebuttal (National Post March 26, 2021)

Europe is also the civilization of British, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Belgium colonial imperialism that enslaved and slaughtered hundreds of millions of people, not only in the New World but also in Europes’s own backyard in war after war after war, over – let me guess – territorial claims to land and property! Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Add in the missionary zeal of the Crusades in attempting to eradicate the muslim world and European civilization does not look so civilized after all compared to the Indigenous populations in the America’s who may have had their share of conflict but nothing compared to the slaughtering armies of Europe.

But I digress…

Back to Conrad and his view that, “the rampant but fraudulent truism that this country is rotten with ‘systemic racism'” is not true and the allegation that “a slow-motion genocide occurred here” is a “monstrous falsehood for which there is not a shred of believable evidence”. Putting aside for a moment the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report and the 231 Calls to Justice of the Final Report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, both of which specifically addressed accountable stakeholders across all strata of Canadian society, here is additional, current evidence to support the charges of widespread racism and discrimination throughout Canada:

  • Canadian Human Rights Tribunal awarded $2B+ in damages to First Nations children discriminated against by federal government funding and access to service policies and provincial policies such as using Birth Alerts to apprehend Indigenous babies into the child welfare system where 52.2% of all children in care in Canada are Indigenous even though they only make up 7.7% of children under the age of 14
  • An emergency meeting on racism in Canada’s healthcare system was convened with all levels of federal and provincial governments and Indigenous leadership on Oct. 16, 2020 after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Québec hospital, a blatant example of systemic racism at its worst. (Canada)
  • Numerous investigations into excessive use of force by the RCMP and other police forces in BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nunavut that were fuelled, in part, by systemic racism and discrimination
  • In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care (Dec. 2019), the first comprehensive review of systemic racism in Indigenous health in Canada found pervasive systemic racism against Indigenous people and presented 24 recommendations for the provincial government and suggested actions for the federal government (British Columbia)
  • Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress” from 2019 with 142 Calls to Action to address discriminatory practices of police, justice, correctional, youth, health and social services (Québec)
  • Alberta Human Rights Commission: Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. Research, data, and information collected from consultations with key stakeholders indicate that systemic racism—in the health, education, child welfare, housing, and justice (including policing and corrections) systems—is a major issue facing Indigenous Peoples in Alberta (May, 2021). (Alberta)
  • Our Children, Our Future: The Health and Well-being of First Nations Children in Manitoba” released by Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) looks at the health and well-being of registered First Nations children living on-reserve and off-reserve in Manitoba. Among the recommendations “Urgent action is needed to eliminate discrimination and racism at all levels of the health care system, beginning with health care providers and extending to policies that place First Nations people at an unfair advantage. (Dec. 9, 2020)” (Manitoba)

Black would also have us believe that “There is no evidence whatsoever that any Canadian authority ever advanced or imposed any policy on Natives or anyone else that was designed to eliminate or shorten lives or truly eliminate their culture.”

I beg to differ, but….

“Through the Department of Indian Affairs and their agents, The Indian Act gave the government sweeping powers with regards to First Nations identity, political structures, governance, cultural practices and education (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2020).

The Indian Act which came into force in 1876 outlawed (until 1951) – 75 years but who’s counting!:

  • expressions of Indigenous culture such as traditional ceremonies such as the sun dance, powwows and the potlatch
  • sacred objects, totem poles, masks, pipes etc.
  • Hiring a lawyer to advance any land claim against the federal government; First Nations were prohibited from even becoming lawyers
  • Objecting to having their children taken away to attend residential schools
  • Leaving the reservation without the approval of the local Indian agent. The pass system was created in 1885 and repealed in 1951. 66 years of being confined to the reservation. If that’s not internment, what is?

Residential Schools were official government education institutions. Over 6,750 interviews of residential school survivors testified to their direct experience attending Indian Residential Schools (130 in operation between 1831 and 1996) who were prohibited from:

  • speaking any Indigenous languages
  • practising any form of Indigenous spirituality
  • engaging in any Indigenous traditional customs or practices
  • severing ties to family and community where language, culture and traditions could be learned

Residential schools were designed to assimilate Indigenous children’s culture into the emerging culture of Euro-Canada. This assimilation was meant to be achieved by replacing Indigenous languages with English, Indigenous spirituality with Christianity, and Indigenous people’s inherent right to territory with sedentary living and a capitalist economy.

Mashkiwenmi-daa Noojimowin: Let’s Have Strong Minds for the Healing By: Amber Crowe, MSW, J.D. and Jeffrey Schiffer, Ph.D. Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal. April 30, 2021

Other evidence of the legacy of European civilization:

  • The extinction of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland
  • mass starvation of the prairie Indigenous peoples to force them onto reserves to allow construction of CP Rail
  • recent forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Saskatoon hospitals
  • forced relocation of the Inuit on multiple occasions resulting in starvation and death

Conrad Fiction vs Historical Facts:

Conrad Fiction

“There were, by best estimates, around 250,000 Indigenous people in what is now Canada when the first European explorers and settlers arrived in the 16th century.”

Historical Truth

Anthropologists and historians have, however, given a tentative range of between 350,000 and 500,000 people, with some estimates as high as two million. By 1867, it is thought that between 100,000 and 125,000 First Nations people remained in what is now Canada, along with approximately 10,000 Métis in Manitoba and 2,000 Inuit in the Arctic. The Aboriginal population of Canada continued to decline until the early 20th century. This dramatic population decline is attributed to disease, starvation and warfare directly stemming from European settlement and practices. The Canadian Encyclopedia: Demography of Indigenous People in Canada”

Conrad Fiction

“The residential school system did end up causing real harm to many people but nor were they the malign plans of evil men.”

Historical Truth

Consider the following examples of government approval of white supremacy, forced starvation, dismissal of the high rates of deaths of residential school children and forced assimilation:

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister:

  • When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.
  • I have reason to believe that the agents as a whole…are doing all that they can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense
  • The executions of the Indians ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs

Duncan Campbell Scott. Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. 1910

  • It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.
  • 50% of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education they received therein”.
  • I want to get rid of the Indian problem…Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department, that is the whole object of this Bill

Conrad Fiction

“King George III issued a royal proclamation in 1763, which stated that any transfer of lands involving First Nations would be a “treaty between sovereigns”…although they were considered to be ultimately under the authority of the British crown”

Historical Truth

In light of the history and subsequent agreements in relation to the Treaty of Niagara, the Royal Proclamation can no longer be interpreted as a unilateral declaration of the Crown. As a result, the Royal Proclamation can no longer be interpreted as a document which undermines First Nations rights. Colonial interpretations of the Royal Proclamation should be recognized for what they are – a discourse that dispossesses First Nations of their rights.

John Borrows: Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Proclamation, Canadian Legal History, and Self-Government

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 “became the first public recognition of First Nations rights to lands and title. (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada). Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 states that the “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are herby recognized and affirmed”.

One of the loudest and most frequent demands of Indigenous people in the relationship with settlers is for the return of the land. There are mountains of evidence that describe the theft of Indigenous territories, and even more mountains that testify to the harms that followed and the need for restoration. “Land Back. A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper”. October 2019

258 years after the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Indigenous nations are still fighting, protesting and occasionally winning in court. The Supreme Court Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia SCC44 2014 was the first declaration of Aboriginal title in Canadian history.

Conrad Fiction

“MacDonald gave them the right to vote.”

Historical Truth

My father, who was a career soldier, enlisted in the Canadian army when he was 18 and fought in World War II, the Korean War and the 1967 UN Peacekeeping mission in the Middle East. He was finally allowed to vote for the first time in 1960 when the Canadian government granted Indigenous people to right to vote without giving up their treaty rights and Indian status.

The right to vote referenced by Black was a “conditional” right.

Conrad Fiction

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended in 1996 that approximately one-third of all of Canada be carved out and given to the sovereign rule of the four percent of Canadians who qualify as Indigenous people, without any burden of taxation, to be sustained for all eternity by the taxpaying residents of this country.

Historical Truth

What a load of “piffle”.

“Let us be clear, however. To say that Aboriginal peoples are nations is not to say that they are nation-states seeking independence from Canada. They are collectivities with a long shared history, a right to govern themselves and, in general, a strong desire to do so in partnership with Canada.” The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People.

What else does the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples state:

  • To rebuild their nations, Aboriginal people need enough land:
    • to give them something to call “home” – not just a physical space but a place of cultural and spiritual meaning as well
    • to allow for traditional pursuits such as hunting and trapping
    • and resources for economic self-reliance
    • and resources to contribute significantly to the financing of self-government
  • If self-government is accompanied by fair distribution of lands and resources – as we argue it must be – Aboriginal governments can become largely self-sustaining in the long term through greater access to what are called ‘own-source revenues
  • As they develop, Aboriginal nations will use their resources to take fiscal responsibility for their own governments and services
  • Those who live off aboriginal territory would continue to pay taxes to federal and provincial governments

Currently, First Nations reserves occupy 0.2% of Canada’s land mass.

The fact is that as with all the previous Indigenous commissions, white papers, reports, studies etc, the recommendations were ignored until they were re-stated and expanded upon by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. Calls to Action 45 through 47 call for a Royal Proclamation and Covenant of Reconciliation” very similar to what the Royal Commission called for 25 years ago in 1996. And just as the government response was then so it is now. Calls to Action # 45 (federal) and # 47 (federal, provincial, territorial, municipal have “Not Started”.

So what is it that conservatives like Conrad Black or Tom Flanagan of the Fraser Institute are so afraid of that they have to resort to lies, distortions and blatant fear mongering to get their point across. See “What doe the Fraser Institute’s Tom Flanagan get right about reconciliation? Not very much!” for another example of conservative thinkers specious tomfoolery!

At the end of the day it’s all about their colonial obsession with land and their belief that it is their god-given right to do with it as they please. Why else would the provincial conservative leaders of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec (Coalition Avenir Québec) and New Brunswick be so virulently opposed to The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP advocates for the “minimal rights” for Indigenous peoples – rights that are taken for granted by every other Canadian.

“Rights” that for Conrad Black must always take a back seat to conservative principles of property who see “Reconciliation” as a burden to be opposed rather than a historical redress that needs to be embraced.

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