Canada's Descent Into Collective Guilt
How The Media Used Soil Disturbances To Make An Entire Country Hate Themselves
In May of 2021 a devastating Canadian story made headlines. The Chief of the Tk’emlups band in Kamloops, B.C. announced that 215 unmarked graves were found using ground-penetrating radar on the site of a former residential school.
Canada’s Legacy media made the shocking announcement - “Grief, sorrow after discovery of 215 bodies, unmarked graves at former B.C. residential school site” (Global News). South of the border on the same day the Washington Post’s headline read - “Officials Discover Remains Of 215 Indigenous Children At Former Canadian Residential School Site.”
The Washington Post, along with many major news outlets, didn’t sugar coat anything. Whereas Global News, exercised some restraint, referred to the discovery of 215 “bodies” in unmarked graves, the Washington Post said what many Canadians were thinking; that 215 “Indigenous Children” had been discovered. Or had they?
The Canadian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. The first residential school opened in 1876, and the last one closed in 1997. It is claimed that many indigenous children who attended them never returned home.
Commonly considered one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history, recognition of the harms caused to “survivors” of residential schools has been an essential element of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commitments to Indigenous Canadians.
As the news cycle around the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops evolved, the language the media used evolved. It wasn’t long before the scene was being described as an “unmarked mass grave.” A stark and dramatic image indeed.
I will always remember the sadness and shock expressed by so may fellow Canadians in the weeks that followed, but things got worse, and confusingly bizarre on June 24 with another bombshell. The National Post headline read “Like a crime scene’: 751 unmarked graves reported found at former Saskatchewan residential school.”
Many people on social media, some of whom already believed the country was systemically racist, used the sensational headlines as an opportunity to declare it undeniable proof of Canada’s murderous genocidal history. Others said it demonstrates the evil white supremacist colonial underpinnings of the nation. While others were sorrowful, apologetic, insisting the tragic events reinforce the importance of the Truth & Reconciliation work ahead of us.
Around this time I began hearing the first rumblings of “Cancel Canada Day.” The national day of celebration expected to happen on July 1, was shaping up to be...awkward to say the least.
On June 30th, one day before Canada day (six days after the last discovery), another 182 soil disturbances/unmarked graves were discovered by the St. Mary's First Nation (a member of the Ktunaxa Nation) at the site near the former St. Eugene's Mission Residential School. Less than two weeks after that, Chief Joan Brown of the Penelakut First Nation announced that at least 160 unmarked graves were located on the grounds of the former Kuper Island Indian Industrial school, off Vancouver Island.
Canada Day came and went with muted fanfare, many Canadians choosing quiet personal reflection over celebration. The fact that we were in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic with limited safe options for group gatherings added to the sadness and outrage over unmarked graves fueled by North American legacy media.
But seemingly everyone, from legacy media to the regular folks on social media, either missed or glossed-over a number of facts relating to the nature and locations of the unmarked graves. Automatically claiming genocidal guilt, instead of seeking clarity of facts and context, seems to be the way we operate when it comes to Canadian Indigenous issues.
In July of 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reassured Canadians that “the government will continue to tell the truth and work in partnership with First Nations to fight systemic racism with real, concrete actions."
Bob Chamberlin, former vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said the following about future discoveries not yet made:
"What we're going to find is ... a very large number of unmarked graves across this country, which are going to speak very loudly about the path that this country set out to destroy children, family, culture, language, traditions and remove us from our land which everyone is enjoying today, except First Nations."
So they know of the existence and general locations of unmarked undocumented graves? They do seem to be “discovering” them fairly rapidly. What is going on?
If you read only the headlines of the legacy media’s coverage, both in Canada and south of the border, which if we’re being honest is the extent of what many do, you can’t help but form a clear impression of the horribleness of these “shocking” and “traumatic” discoveries. Read a little deeper past the headlines the message is that these discoveries are tragic confirmations of the terrible stories Indigenous people have been telling for years.
There is some truth in all of this reporting. Problems with the Canadian Residential School system were well known before any unmarked soil disturbances were discovered. However, through omission and manipulation of facts, the legacy media was complicit in the misrepresentation of these discoveries in order to feed the lucrative woke anti-west grievance economy, including the tendentially related industry that exists beside it; Canada’s corrupt Aboriginal Industry.
Everything today is viewed through the cynical lens of radical critical theory. Critical theory has been called Americanized postmodernism, I like to call the current iteration critical wokeism. It asserts that the relatively peaceful and pluralistic first-world societies of the West are actually oppressive regimes upholding the white patriarchal power structure left over from colonialism, and which serve the interests of public enemy number one; White men.
Like the authoritarian Diversity & Equity administrators of universities, legacy media accept this ahistorical meta-narrative as truth. The casual claim is that Canada is a systemically racist and white supremacist country built on colonialism and genocide. Many now consider it an act of violence to argue that there is more to Canada’s history than oppression, and that while Canada is not perfectly free from racial discrimination, the charge of systemic racism is not backed up with convincing data and is more likely to be the product of deranged and unfounded assumptions that, although make compelling headlines, are really just ways media companies cash in on woke-ness. In my essay Re-Evaluating Canada’s (Un)Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I offer an argument for why claims of genocide and cultural genocide are not consistent with the facts.
Hate Inc., a book published in 2021 by Veteran American journalist Matt Taibbi, does an amazing job of explaining the business models of legacy media, their methods of story generation, and the hidden pressures that narrow the range of allowable discourse (a theme present in Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s classic Manufacturing Consent).
There will always be some version of a grand narrative that we assume (in varying degrees) to be true. But the one we are currently suffering is a shallow and wildly unfair indictment of the West and the people in it. Legacy media are powerful arbiters of this nonsense. Their success, Taibbi explains, is dependent on getting everyone outraged, at each other and the West in general.
“Hatred is the partner of ignorance, and we in the media have become experts at selling both.” - Matt Taibbi
Non-legacy media do not suffer from the same discourse-narrowing and pressure to conform to false narratives. Candice Malcolm’s journalism, published on Canadian independent media organization True North, regarding the unmarked graves of former residential schools, serves as a case in point.
In July of 2021 she posted an article to the Truth North website titled “Six Things The Media Got Wrong About The Graves Found Near Residential Schools.” As the title of her piece states, the graves were found “near,” former residential schools, not “at” former residential schools, as the legacy media reported.
“When it comes to the coverage of graves identified near residential schools in three First Nations communities, the legacy media in Canada has done a tremendous disservice to all Canadians – especially First Nations…They have created a moral panic, and continue to fan the flames of racial division…This panic came to a breaking point over the weekend, when prominent statues were knocked over and at least 25 churches in Western Canada were either vandalized or completely burnt down. “ -Candice Malcom
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the anger Canadians feel towards the federal government and Catholic Church is “real and it is fully understandable given the shameful history we have all become more aware of.” In the first couple months after the initial discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools, dozens of churches were burned to the ground or vandalized across the country – eight of which occurred in First Nations territories.
In speaking about the vandalism inflicted on the African Evangelical Church in Calgary, Alberta premier Jason Kenney said - “These folks came to Canada with the hope that they could practice their faith peacefully. Some of them are traumatized by such attacks. This is where hatred based on collective guilt for historic injustices leads us. Let’s seek unity, respect and reconciliation instead.”
A July 4th, 2021 article in the Guardian, chronicled St Anne’s church, the “spiritual home to the Upper Similkameen Indian Band,” the fourth church on Indigenous lands recently destroyed by arson.
From the Guardian:
“The church meant so much to all of us, especially our ancestors,” Carrie Allison, an elder who helped maintain the church, said in a statement. “When your hurt turns to rage it is not healthy for you or your community.”
Candice Malcolm explained the facts around what exactly had been found near former residential schools. At this time no excavation had actually been done. The existence of graves are suspected because of the results of ground-penetrating radar scans, which can locate the presence of the characteristics of a grave, but not if it’s actually a grave, or if it is occupied by anyone, including a child.
Even if graves do exist on these sites, the ground-penetrating radar “confirms” the presence only of multiple single graves, not as some media reported “mass graves,” an image widely associated with genocide. When you are trying to evoke rage, powerful allusions of genocide are a great way to do it.
A common indigenous practice was, and still is, the use of wooden grave markings. Over time these grave markings disintegrate and disappear. Could this explain the prevalence of both unmarked and undocumented graves? Record keeping in the past was not up to today’s standards, and perhaps the use of biodegradable grave markings may have contributed to the “disappearance” of old cemeteries now re-appearing as unmarked grave sites?
This along with reports, from members of communities where graves were discovered, who have informed the media that they do not believe all graves contain children and that most likely a mix of people from the community (along with some residential children possibly?) are the occupants of the graves.
From Candice’s True North story:
“Tucked away at the very end of a Globe and Mail report on the findings at the Cowessess reserve in Saskatchewan, it said this:
-“It appears that not all of the graves contain children’s bodies, Lerat (who is one of the band leaders) said. He said the area was also used as a burial site by the rural municipality.
-“We did have a family of non-Indigenous people show up today and notified us that some of those unmarked graves had their families in them – their loved ones,” Lerat said.”
-”So what we have here is an abandoned community cemetery, where people of different backgrounds were buried.”
-”That’s quite a leap from the original storyline that these graves belong to children who had died at a residential school.”
Candice’s True North piece, and her continued journalism, stand in stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of Canadian legacy media. It is clear, in my view, that for whatever reason, the overwhelmingly majority of Canadian legacy media, promotes a dangerous narrative unfairly painting Canada and its citizens (especially white straight conservative christian types) as systemically racist, upholding a primarily white male power structure that oppresses women, BIPOC, and those who identity as LGBTQ. It’s a depressing and uninspired narrative indeed, and one that holds little congruence with the truth.
Few seem to care about the actual facts surrounding the unmarked graves. The opportunity to perform virtue signalling through self-loathing is too tempting for many to resist, so there is a morbid eagerness to accept the claim that the Canadian government and Catholic Church committed genocide against the Indigenous.
Even if every one of the thousands of graves they find turn out to be children from residential schools, the fact will remain that legacy media rushed to condemn the Canadian government and Catholic Church for an assumed genocide - well before a proper investigation was possible.
Is it wrong to think that Canadians deserve better? Stories that shock and outrage make great breaking news, get on-going repetitive coverage and solidify the narratives that become the new “normal” from which all further action, media amplification and criticism proceeds. But these media narratives do not agree with base reality.
Thankfully we have a group of Canadian researchers diligently seeking truth regarding residential schools and Indigenous issues in general. I will have more to say about them in an upcoming post, for now take a look at Hymie Rubenstein’s substack - The Real Indian Residential School Newsletter .
My personal feelings regarding Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples can best be described as sadness, regret at human failings, and that empty feeling that accompanies the knowledge injustice has been committed. Upcoming posts will deal more with Indigenous issues in Canada, for now let me state the obvious; it is easy to blame people from the past for what is so clearly seen as wrong today. That being said, I do believe there has been injustices both past and present and whether intentional or not, the people of Canada sometimes do fail each other. No one is blameless.
You can say these things, recognize that oppression and violence has been omnipresent throughout history, feel a sense of historical injustice, a need for present day truth & reconciliation, AND reject woke notions of present-day systemic/structural racism perpetuated by the invisible hand of white supremacist oppressors.
Like many Canadians I feel sadness regarding aspects of our national legacy, but do I personally feel guilt? No. Guilt is for those who commit crimes and hurt others. My “whiteness” doesn’t automatically make me adjacent to the crimes of other white people. I have a guilt-free conscience because I practice kindness. I’m not so sure the “White Fragility” woke crowd can honestly make this claim.
Thanks for reading. There will be more to come on Indigenous issues. In the meantime check out my essay Postcolonial Theory and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge: Linking Postmodern Identity Politics with Transitional Shifts in Canada’s Political Economy and Media Landscape