A Dialogue in the Calgary Herald

August 9, 2010

On July 30, 2010, the Calgary Herald published a short article entitled “Residential Schools Generate Anger But Also Pride,” written by Lea Meadows. It told the story of Meadows’ parents, Harry Meadows and Elsie McLaren Meadows who worked as teachers at Indian Residential Schools in Manitoba. Elsie was also a student at an Indian Residential School and it was her positive experience there that inspired her to become a teacher.  Meadows writes against painting everyone who worked at the schools as an abuser. She also notes that the word “survivor” may not be the best or most suitable term for all former students. She writes:

I do not deny there were people in those schools who greatly harmed students. We all must speak out against such abuse. But to label the schools themselves and all who worked there as evil, and to describe everyone who attended a school as a “survivor” is facile — and it dishonours those who were truly abused and did have something horrific to survive.

I have wondered about the way IRS history will be told. Undoubtedly, it is a complicated history, and trying to create one cohesive narrative may disallow for this complexity to come through. In addition, I think Meadows brings up an interesting point about the term “survivors.” It is a term that is commonly used for former students, but I wonder if everyone identifies this way. And I wonder too if its association with other historical traumas empowers or disempowers its use.

In an article entitled, “Many Threads are Woven Into the Fabric of Truth,” published on August 5, 2010, Justice Murray Sinclair responded to Meadows’ piece. He wrote:

We are grateful for people such as Meadows, who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Their memories and contribution to history will be preserved. The input of former staff is of tremendous value because their number is declining. Each story lost to us represents an experience that will be missing from the public record, diminishing our ability to reflect the reality of the schools and assess their ongoing impact. While the TRC has heard many experiences of unspeakable abuse, we have been heartened by testimonies which affirm the dedication and compassion of committed educators who sought to nurture the children in their care. These experiences must also be heard.

I’m glad to see that this dialogue is happening in public and that the Commission is welcoming differing viewpoints and memories to come forward.

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