OP-ED: Telling indigenous people to move on gets you cancelled in Winnipeg
OP-ED: Telling indigenous people to move on gets you cancelled in Winnipeg

Encouraging people suffering from some adversity or the other, self-imposed or not, to move on used to be considered sage advice. 

Striving to forge ahead – what in earlier generations was called “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” – was seen as better than wallowing in self-pity. 

Not anymore. Those daring to utter the phrase “move on” are more likely than not to be ostracized, boycotted, shunned, or fired for doing so, especially when this advice is aimed at indigenous Canadians.

Two cases in Winnipeg, one from mid-2021, and the other from last week, well illustrate the corrosive wrath of increasing rates of cancel culture in our country.

The first case involves Brian Giesbrecht, a former Manitoba Provincial Court judge, currently a highly productive editorial writer.

Giesbrecht had written a fortnightly column for the Winnipeg Sun newspaper for about two years. His June 4, 2021, editorial titled “Some questions about Kamloops” dealt with the announcement the week before of the alleged discovery of the graves of 215 buried Kamloops Indian Residential School (IRS) students, a finding later research has shown to be highly problematic.

Assuming as most people did at the time that actual bodies of children had been discovered, Giesbrecht argued:

In fact, it is shocking that many people seem quite willing to accept slanderous conspiracy theories about teachers and priests murdering, and secretly burying, hundreds of children…. It is far more likely that the deaths simply reflected the sad reality of life back then.”

He concluded with the assertion:

The dead should be appropriately honoured, but we should be mindful that some opportunists will exploit these dead children for financial and political gain. The residential school story has now been exhaustively told. Canadians have heard it – and we get it.

It is time for the country to move on.”

Not unexpectantly, Giesbrecht’s otherwise innocuous editorial provoked the wrath of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., a non-profit organization representing 26 Northern Indigenous bands, whose grand chief called his views “hateful” and threatened to sever his organization’s relation with the newspaper. This warning was sufficient to see the opinion piece’s instant online removal together with the permanent severing of Giesbrecht’s association with the newspaper. Self-flagellating, the Sun refused to remove reader comments full of insulting ad hominem slurs like “filth,” “He is the disease,” “A despicable Canadian Caveman,” “so ignorant,” “what a barbarian,” and the like.

The second case involves an even more prominent person, James McCrae, who was an elected member of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly from 1986 to 1999 where he held several portfolios including justice, health, environment, and education.

It was these years of political experience and Conservative Party credentials that led to his May 10 cabinet appointment as a citizen member of a committee helping to select judicial officers (“masters”) for the Provincial Court of King’s Bench.

The Tory government immediately came under fire for giving a patronage appointment to a former Manitoba attorney general who has openly denied that the IRS system was a form of genocide, leading to McCrae’s abrupt resignation from the committee on May 25.

McCrae said he felt it was best to step aside from the voluntary role, given the concerns about his appointment: “I don’t wish to be the source of any pain or bad feelings in my province,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press.

Of particular concern to his ideological opponents was McCrae’s June 14, 2022, commentary titled “Yes, it is indeed time to move on,” an accurate and totally innocuous essay promoting the education of indigenous children.

In the piece, McCrae argued that the boarding schools, while far from perfect, were designed to provide Indigenous children with the means to participate in and benefit from the modern world, a noble cause if there ever was one.

Not so, according to Winnipeg Free Press columnist Tom Brodbeck who, like all other McRae critics, called him a “residential school denier” who “continue[s] to peddle falsehoods about” the schools and “other inaccurate rants about Indigenous issues,” none of which he bothered to document in a May 26 opinion piece titled “No space for residential school denial in government.”

Ironically, perhaps even hypocritically, Brodbeck’s tirade hardly matches his previous long-standing moral perspective on indigenous issues, one that exemplifies the old proverb “He who pays the piper, names the tune.”

The “he” used to be the Winnipeg Sun where Brodbeck was a right-leaning columnist for many years, even arguing in a 2014 column titled “Violence against women shouldn’t be distinguished by race,” that “At some point we have to realize we’re all Canadians, we all have the same rights and protection under the law, and that the colour of our skin doesn’t matter.”

I’m sure “move on” advocates like Giesbrecht and McCrae would strongly concur.

Brodbeck’s column especially argued that as far as murdered indigenous women are concerned, it is wrong to keep “distinguishing between racial backgrounds when it comes to addressing violence against women.” This was equivalent to arguing it’s wrong to distinguish between indigenous and non-indigenous children when it comes to residential school attendance.

But that was then and this is now. In 2019, Brodbeck joined the Winnipeg Free Press and ethically metamorphized to hard left and wildly “woke” to accommodate his new employer’s ethos, as his assessment of the McCrae affair clearly illustrates.

The experiences of Giesbrecht and McCrea, not to mention Brodbeck’s transformation, show that when it comes to Canada’s indigenous people, “Yes, it is Indeed Time to Move on” has become one of the most controversial public policy calls in our increasingly fractured country.

Yet this statement was rarely disputed in the five centuries of contact between the growing number of European settlers and Canada’s aboriginal peoples whose previous leaders understood the need to adapt to Western civilization. Indeed, those indigenous people in close contact with the European agents of change, eagerly embraced modern technology, formal education, market exchange, Christian religious beliefs and practices, and the supremacy of the British and then Canadian state.

But the natural process of gradual and voluntary assimilation hit a roadblock in 1969 when “time to move on” was politically rejected by indigenous leaders and activists after Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced its White Paper outlining new government initiatives.

This White Paper was presented to Parliament by Jean Chrétien, then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and read, in part:

“To be an Indian is to be a man, with all a man’s needs and abilities. To be an Indian is also to be different. It is to speak different languages, draw different pictures, tell different tales and to rely on a set of values developed in a different world…. But to be a Canadian Indian today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart – apart in law, apart in the provision of government services and, too often, apart in social contacts….

“Not always, but too often, to be an Indian is to be without — without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all, without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high.

“Obviously, the course of history must be changed.”

Translation: It’s time to move on.

The White Paper was never enacted. And the adverse effects of its rejection continue to live on.

It must also not be forgotten that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June 11, 2008 “Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools” argued that the IRS Settlement Agreement “gives us a new beginning and an opportunity to move forward together in partnership.”

Today, those calling for indigenous people to move on or move forward, on their own or with the rest of the country, are vilified as racist genocide deniers.

Still, those calling for the identical treatment of indigenous and non-indigenous people will never be silenced, if only because they have social justice, genuine equality, and scientific truth as opposed to exaggerated grievances, special rights, and recently invented myths on their side.

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