Humanity

An Ad Running in Saskatchewan Says Residential School Trauma Is a Myth, & I’m Pretty Sure No One’s Noticed, Nevermind Concerned?

I’m back. 

A huge thank you to everyone who encouraged me to get back to blogging, and who kept your Patreon subscriptions active (if you didn’t, I totally get it). I’ve been extremely tied down with a communications contract for the last five-ish months, and it was tempting, at times, just to shut this site down, as opposed to seeing it sit unused.  But that’s over now – I’m glad I kept it, and here I am.


So I’m sitting in a restaurant in small-town Saskatchewan recently, listening to a small-town Saskatchewan radio station playing behind the counter. My ears perk up when I hear a bombastic male voice say “Indian residential schools”… and then my jaw drops.

The voice belonged to former Saskatchewan broadcaster Roger Currie, who says he’s now a news director for a community-owned radio station in Winnipeg, which appears to be run by the original cast and crew of Three’s Company.

*Sept 24, 2018 (10AM-ish) update: I thought it would be obvious, given the opening line specifies that I was in Saskatchewan, listening to a Saskatchewan radio station, that I wasn’t in Winnipeg, listening to a Winnipeg radio station. To make it abundantly clear – I did not hear this ad on CJNU. However I think the fact a longtime Canadian broadcaster and on-air newsperson is behind it is relevant, because those roles, under any circumstance or on any issue, are quite powerful when it comes to influencing public opinion. 

What I was hearing was Currie’s “commentary” in a paid radio ad from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP).

And holy wow, was it amazing – in all the really, really worst ways, which I will dissect for you now, because what the actual f**k Saskatchewan?

The ad begins:

“For many years now, we’ve been told that the residential school system deserves the blame for many of the dysfunctions in indigenous society…”

Currie could barely conceal the scorn in his voice for anyone who was “told” that and believes it.

Update Sept 24, 2018 (5PM-ish) update: 

According to this unreal good, in-depth story by the CBC on the issue:

“The ad was voiced by Winnipeg-based freelance radio personality Roger Currie. He said he was “regretful” for his role in the piece and that he “made a bad call.”

“That’s not who I am,” Currie said.

“I regret doing it. I apologize for any hurt and offence … that my participation may have caused. These are not my thoughts, but that’s not a real, valid excuse.”

….When presented with the script about residential schools, Currie said he was hesitant but in the end, he said he took the word of Peter Holle, president of the FCPP, that the script was based on accurate research. Admittedly, Currie said, he didn’t know if it was true or not.

“What can you say?” Currie said. “I have not read the Truth and Reconciliation report. Very few people have.””

Oh Roger, you were so close. So close. But good on you for saying something.

I mean, one could conclude that intergenerational trauma has long been researched extensively and accepted as fact by the general public and notable researchers, psychologists and general experts.

One could peruse this research paper (one of the many, many available on the internet) entitled The intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the concept of historical trauma, which provides “empirical evidence for the concept of historical trauma…the consequences of numerous and sustained attacks against a group may accumulate over generations and interact with proximal stressors to undermine collective well-being.”

For anyone at the FCPP that’s interested, you can find that paper on the National Centre for Biotechnology Information‘s website, which is a subsidiary of the US National Library of Medicine. I’m sure you’ll dash right over.

Anyway, we’ve been “told”.

Next up, the commentary helpfully clears up some of the prevailing confusion Currie seems to feel exists around residential schools.

(Remember, I’m listening to rural Saskatchewan radio and this is a paid advertisement.)

“Myth: residential schools robbed native kids of their childhoods…”

I’m sorry, what?

Did you just say “Myth”?

Sure did.

The ad then counters that so-called myth with the “fact” that the average residential school stay was a mere five years.

Oh, well then. What could possibly go wrong with a school-aged child forcibly taken away from their parents and immersed in a perverse and probably horrifically abusive environment for just five measly years? (Representing anywhere from a third to half their life at that point, but who’s counting, besides not the FCPP?)

He doesn’t leave it there though, blowing our minds with the little known tidbit that

“…the vast majority of aboriginal youth never attended a residential school.”

By the 1920s residential schools were f**king mandatory for school-aged indigenous children, Roger. I’m not even going to link to a source because I swear to god my kid learned that fact in Grade 6 social studies.

It is actually painful to continue typing this stupidity, but I’m going to, because I really think we need to understand that not only does this attitude and ignorance exist in Saskatchewan, but it buys broadcast advertising and nobody seems to notice.

We’re next advised that the “myth” that residential schools robbed indigenous students of their language and culture is negated by the “fact” that those same students were “more likely” to retain their culture than those who did not attend residential schools, and more likely to provide leadership in cultural preservation.

The ad then goes on to cite various sources quote research explain where that little gem came from nope nevermind.

I’m not saying that residential school survivors were not or are not strong, or haven’t made an effort to recover and/or preserve their culture and language. What I am saying is that the insinuation that residential schools actually helped that effort is…I don’t even know.

Maybe a facepalm emoji? Cause there really are no words for that kind of ignorance.

Let’s wrap this up, cause no one around here is getting any smarter.

“Myth: the harm that has been done to those attending residential schools has been passed on to today’s generation.”

Wait waitwaitwait… wait a darn minute.

The ad JUST finished explaining how there was no damage inflicted by residential schools. In fact, the commentary basically suggests residential schools were a colonial-Disneyland, with indigenous kids lining up at the gates, begging to be let in to have their lives magically transformed.

So what is this “harm” you speak of?

“In fact there is little evidence that abuse suffered by a grandparent had any effect on the academic success of the generations that followed.”

Let me get this straight: according to the FCPP, there was really no harm or abuse inflicted by residential schools, but in the extremely rare case there was, that abused, broken pupil went on to have a perfectly normal life – keeping busy furthering their indigenous language and preserving their culture, undoubtedly – and raising their happy, healthy family.

This ad is almost breathtaking in its Trumpian-like absence of facts.

It then concludes by urging “all Canadians” to address “today’s problems” and their “real causes”.

Translation: the extensive social and economic barriers currently plaguing indigenous nations and peoples across Canada today are their own fault because bad choices, and residential schools were actually awesome – and this message is being broadcast across cars, tractors, restaurants and kitchens in rural Saskatchewan.

I heard it on a radio network, so I’d be willing to bet it’s a bulk ad buy playing across the province on any number of local radio stations.

How do potentially thousands of Saskatchewan people hear this kind of narrative – a completely false narrative that does NOTHING but stoke even more racial tension in rural Saskatchewan – and not speak up?

In the event that you need to hear this ad yourself, you can find it on the FCPP’s website here.

^^ *Sept 24, 2018 (4:30PM) update: the audio file that this post is regarding has been removed and replaced with some essay that isn’t relevant to this discussion.

What really freaks me out is that the FCPP is actually considered pretty credible. It’s a political thinktank, the rightwing mirror to an entity like the leftwing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. When the FCPP releases a study or survey the media turns it into a news story, like this one on the potential sale of Saskatchewan Crown Corps, or this one on Canada Post, which was a national story.

This is a third-party credibility (aka publicity 101) strategy which amplifies and legitimizes the FCPP’s profile as trustworthy… meaning when commentaries like this one run on the radio, people don’t think “hmm, maybe this is a paid advertisement”.

Instead they think, “This is on the radio so it must be news.”

So here’s what I think needs to happen:

  • the radio station needs to pull those ads immediately, because they’re not fact-based commentary, they’re simply spreading misinformation and untruths;
  • the FCPP needs to take a hard look at what exactly they’re trying to accomplish, because someone(s) in that organization not only allowed Currie’s commentary to exist under the FCPP banner, but also thought “We should pay for this message to be spread in Saskatchewan”;
  • if the above doesn’t happen, media then needs to decide if the FCPP remains a credible source of actual news going forward.

In the meantime, humor me while I imagine a morning on coffee row in small-town Saskatchewan with this crap on the airwaves:

“June, did you know residential schools were actually good for native children?”
“But… didn’t the government pay billions of dollars in settlements, and Stephen Harper apologize for residential schools?”
“All I know is I just heard it on the news on the way into town so it must be true.”
“I knew it. They just want to blame us and <insert more racist stereotypes here in a rant which eventually spills over to the other tables and definitely includes at least one reference to Gerald Stanley>.”

….aaaaand scene.

The FCPP boasts that its “respected Board and team of Expert Policy Advisors includes both experienced public policy innovators and prominent academic specialists from around Canada and the world.”

So where are they?

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For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in political strategy, media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime about either at tammyrobert@live.ca
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46 replies »

    • I don’t think there’s any question of deciding whether “the FCPP remains a credible source of actual news going forward.” It was never anything of the sort. Its sole purpose is to put a paper-thin veneer of credibility on right-wing messages that are utterly unsupportable by real policy research. Even the Fraser Institute (which I don’t much care for) doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the FCPP.

      That said, I’m surprised that even they would put out something this toxic. And *then* have the gall to end their ad by saying that “public policy should be based on evidence, not myth.”

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    • If talking about the Holocaust constitutes inciting hatred against Jews by David Ahenaque (sorry for the spelling) , what does this horseshit constitute. This is straight up propganda and this man should be charged with inciting hatred against Natives.

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  1. Tammy Robert, you are right on the mark here on so many levels. The “news” and “research” agencies are appealing to a dim-witted and uninformed component of the general public. Of course, it also plays to those who actually believe the bullshit. Well done and keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. please let us know what station you heard this on. It is one thing to have that ad on their own “think thank” website, and another thing for a radio station to be taking money to allow them to air that on their station. It is very important that we know what station was allowing this type of advertising, so that complaints can be directed to the proper station manager, and noted on any complaints to Advertising Standards Canada.

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    • Hey Val,

      I appreciate your passion for the issue and your desire to report it. However, I’m quite certain that the handful of individuals who work at this small-town station have nothing to do with the company’s ad rotations, so there’s no way I’m unleashing the internet on them. I also think there’s a good chance, given how viral this post has gone, that the ads will come down anyway, which I suspected before I published. Finally, I think addressing the source, which I’ve provided, is far more important than the medium. Thanks for reading, Tammy

      Liked by 1 person

      • on the contrary unfortunately. It may not be the staff of the small town station who picked the ad, but whoever accepted the money and put it into rotation are the ones responsible and on the hook for this. Yes it was the people who made the ad who we can all be disgusted with, but as far as accountability to the public the broadcaster IS responsible for the content as per the Canadian Association Of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and I think some complaints are in order (can be made to Advertising Standards Canada http://adstandards.com/…/Consume…/howToSubmitAComplaint.aspx

        If it wasn’t the station who approved the ad, then we have a right as Canadian tax payers to know who accepted the money for that ad and took it to air, and we have a right to make formal complains because that is why we have broadcast standards in Canada. I used to live in the United States, and the last thing I want to see happen in Canada is the free for all – dog and pony show- that is broadcasting in America. Please try to understand the importance of finding out who approved that ad, accepted money for it, and then proceeded to put it into rotation. Those people or that person or that broadcaster MUST be held accountable or at least made aware of their DUTY as a broadcaster in Canada:

        Canadian Association Of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics
        Clause 14 – Advertising (Details)
        (a)
        Broadcasters recognize that they are responsible for the acceptability of advertising material they broadcast. All commercials must conform to applicable laws and regulations.
        (b)
        Broadcasters shall ensure that advertising material within a newscast is clearly distinguishable from the news information adjacent to it. To this end, any commercial message broadcast within a newscast should not be read by the newsreader.
        (c)
        Broadcasters shall ensure that there is no influence by advertisers, or the perception of such influence, on the reporting of news or public affairs, which must be accurate, balanced, and objective, with fairness and integrity being the paramount considerations governing its reporting.
        Clause 15 – Prohibition of Subliminal Devices
        Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to avoid broadcasting any advertising material or program that makes use of any subliminal technique or device, which means any technique or device that is used to convey or attempt to convey a message to a person by means of images or sounds of very brief duration, or by any other means, without that person being aware that such a device is being used, or being aware of the substance of the message being conveyed or attempted to be conveyed.”

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  3. This is not even an isolated occasion of the denial of an atrocity. There is also a very vocal group denying the sandy hook elementary killing spree, among others, which took the innocent lives of many young children. Imagine hearing this announcement as one of the parents of a victim.
    The abuse and neglect of indigenous children needs to be mandated as educational curriculum, and every event should be properly documented for posterity.

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  4. Good article but next time please avoid the swear words. I took you seriously until you started swearing. Then I had to question your intelligence.

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  5. Disgusting, petition to take down. Totally uncalled for bias by high profile celebs swaying public oppinion as they ussually try to do. Always against legitimate FNs groups because they feel their oppininion is the proper one. They”re the reason word and plans like Divercity, Harmony and Multi Culturalism don’t work anywhere. They have the proper setups and tools to persuede and sway public oppinion, to seed and allow closet racist and bigots to have their say, way and day airing their oppinions. Radio Public personalities are actuall hate groups, and people.

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  6. “What I was hearing was Currie’s “commentary” in a paid radio ad from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP).” How can the FCPP completely ignore the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s years and years of research? This ad totally destroys their credibility.

    Like

  7. A Cree friend of mine pointed me to your article; thanks for writing this and for including the link to the FCPP so we can contact them directly.

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  8. Excellent piece as per usual. Thank you for bringing this to light. I would quibble with one thing. The FCPP is NOT just a right of centre equivalent to the CCPA. I would doubt you could find a piece of “research” as shoddily done as this on the CCPA website.
    You can disagree with CCPA’s interpretation of the data they present or their perspective on contemporary politics (and I often have), but the data they use is almost always from reliable gov’t sources, their papers are fully sourced and properly referenced. When they collect data themselves they are up front about the methods used. All of that makes it possible to critically assess their work and how they’ve arrived at their conclusions. You can’t do that with the FCPP’s “research” because they don’t give you the information you need to be able to see where they’ve got their data or how it was collected.
    There are reliable right of centre think tanks like CD Howe whose work is respectable and should be taken seriously as well researched scholarship. FCPP is not one of those think tanks and to make a false equivalency between them and the CCPA is, I think, unfair. It gives FCPP a gloss of legitimacy it does not deserve. And it can leave the impression that FCPP and CCPA are just two sides of the same coin. Any rigorous comparison of the work presented by each organization would easily demonstrate that FCPP doesn’t meet acceptable standards of research to be credible.
    All that said, this is again a great piece of reporting and I hope it has the reverberations we all want it to have.

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  9. The Frontier Centre has taken down the sound clip. I don’t know if there is a way to find a recording of it? Your link no longer works unfortunately. I listened to it yesterday and found it extremely offensive. Thank you for your excellent writing on this!

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  10. I found the author of the piece that is the basis of the ad. He was the son of a Infian Residential School principal, and his perspective is, well, tainted to say the least. He often points that the parents of children would be punished by law for not sending their children but criticizes that it wasn’t THAT harsh so they shouldn’t have taken the punishment seriously if the schools were so bad. His anecdotal opinion deems to wipe actual fact away. He dresses statistics in ways that are truly jaw dropping.

    One of Mark deWolf’s posts:
    https://waynekspear.com/2014/04/04/mark-dewolf/

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    • Hey gypsy, thanks so much for your comment. The actual audio that I’m writing about has since been removed from their site and replaced with the essay. Good, I guess? I’ve added a new note to the post, but I apologize for the confusion.

      Like

      • Did you?
        I just finished saying to this commenter that this post isn’t about that article. If you read my post, you’ll note that information is also right in the piece:
        “the audio file that this post is regarding has been removed and replaced with some essay that isn’t relevant to this discussion.”
        That article was subbed in by the FCPP after they took down the original post, which is actually kind of shady, IMO, and definitely isn’t relevant to this post.

        Like

    • No, that’s not what I say at all. I point out that Canadians believe the punishment was very harsh, an example of general statements (the use of the word “Imprisonment” instead of “two weeks in jail”) being used to colour the discussion and paint the Indian Act as extremely repressive.

      Like

  11. Today’s white grandkids and great-grandkids will keep paying the grandkids and great-grandkids of the residential school ‘survivors’ until hell freezes over.

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  12. Dear Ms Robert. I can understand anyone being very upset and even outraged by a radio ad that claimed the Indian residential schools did not cause trauma among Canada’s Indigenous population. But the ad — extracted from a much longer essay I wrote for the Frontier Centre — says no such thing. It says that the EXTENT of the trauma is much less than the current narrative suggests. It contains verifiable facts that run counter to the impression that most, even all, native children attended an IRS institution, that every child enrolled lost his or her entire childhood, that IRS students lost more of their native language and attachment to their native culture than children who didn’t attend. The facts come from credible and scientifically-conducted studies that reasonably examined undermine much of what is confidently stated by Indigenous politicians and many in the media — without giving facts to support what they say. Feel free to contact me.

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    • Thanks Mark. Did you actually read what I wrote? Because if you did, you’d have noted that right underneath the link I had posted to the *audio file* that I wrote about, I provided this update:
      “the audio file that this post is regarding has been removed and replaced with some essay that isn’t relevant to this discussion.”
      This post has nothing to do with what you wrote. The FCPP has subbed it in for the original content on that page, which is actually kind of shady, but you’re welcome for the free publicity.

      Like

      • He is trying to tell you that they used part of his essay to actually create the ad. That the ad is based on his words and views. This is why the radio ad has been replaced with his essay on their site now… probably at his request even.

        He is basically coming to your blog to defend his opinion on the stated “myths”.

        This isn’t some mix up or non-relevant article. This IS the article that turned into a radio ad.

        This guy’s aggressive shoving of his opinion on residential schools ( as a white son of a principal), trying to argue “it wasn’t that bad” is misguided at best – revisionist and reductive for sure. Due to the length of time he seems to have been pursuing his “crusade” of rewriting the scope of the trauma based on finding whatever information he can to allow his up bringing to “sit well” in his current psyche, it would seem he isn’t just out to try and argue the impact of something that the TRC and the Canadian courts and the government of Canada have all agreed was horrendous and in violation of Canadian human rights… it would seem he is out to reconcile his own family’s involvement in this and his own experience as a principal’s son (he most likely did not need to freeze to death trying to escape to go see a parent – the principal! He most likely did not have the shit beaten out of him by the nuns. He most likely was not sexually abused by those in authority. He most likely did not lose the ability to Express his cultural stories, religious myths or symbols, songs or dance while attending the school, he most likely did not live in daily fear while attending…. so he sets about compiling data that can help paint a picture of “it wasnt that bad”. While COMPLETLEY ignoring the findings of the TRC and the testimony and documented records of the DEATHS, the physical and mental abuse, the sexual assaults, and the acknowledgment of the Canadian government of the truth of what went on. Minimizing this, and trying to say the scope of the trauma “isn’t actually that bad”, is not only revisionist… it is pushing an initiative of ducking or waiving accountability in our communities. He actually tries to say that he is arguing the accounts of so many and the results of the racist policy where these schools were MANDATORY, that he is denying this all in the name of reconciliation! My gawd…. it’s like when someone pretends like they want to apologize to you, only before they say sorry they just want to argue you first some more about how they did “nothing wrong”. How the hell do you apologize for something you still will not even admit to doing !?!??!! Why is this child of a residential school principal working so hard to push the narrative that the trauma being expressed by so many isn’t real? Why write an essay and attend gatherings and lend your words to a think tank running advertisements encouraging people to disregard documented truth as MYTH ?????? He even is now trying to say the radio ad DID NOT say exactly what it DID say!!!!!!

        Just like holocaust deniers…. there seems to often be a theme of self-preservation.

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    • Your essay is bunk:

      “By 1939, that figure had risen to approximately 15 percent of the First Nations population, but the total enrolment of 18,752 still represented only 70 percent of the 26,200 First Nations children aged 7 to 16.7 Not until the late 1950s were nearly all native children — about 23 percent of the First Nations population — enrolled in either a residential school (in 1959, about 9,000), a federal day school (about 18,000) or a provincial public school (about 8,000).”

      I dare you to explain why you have used the numbers “15” and “23” here. Only children go to school. If a school traumatizes children, isn’t that enough? Are you claiming it isn’t as big deal as Harper said because the adults weren’t also institutionalized?

      Fully half of your article is just a misuse of percentages in this ignorant way.

      Like

  13. I can understand anyone getting upset or even outraged at a radio ad that claimed the Indian Residential Schools did not cause trauma for Canada’s Indigenous peoples. But the ad says nothing of the kind. It points out that the EXTENT of that trauma has been exaggerated (by those who think to gain advantage by doing so — and that includes the media), leading Canadians to think that every harmful situation or behaviour that plagues naive communities can be traced back to IRS enrolment. The ad simply states facts that are supported by credible and scientifically carried-out studies. There are far more important causes of the current situation, and focusing on the residential schools might make us feel morally superior but it does not address the real causes.

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  14. Hi Tammy, thank you for raising this story. I’m curious, what sort of program was on at the time the ad aired? It seems that this issue could also raise questions around radio advertorials and how they are presented.

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  15. It’s an add made by racist people designed to hurt the descendents of Residential school survivors and survivors and to see what kind of negative reaction it gets from the people they hurt. The racists will protect this add ignoring the facts of the victims along with the apology of PM Steven Harper with there facts made up by there non native scientists and non native witnesses. It’s a political strategy for how there racist culture makes lies seem like the truth. This add is made under the guise of free speech and opinion, but it’s main intention is to try erase the true history of what took place in Canada. The Radio station that played the add has stations in towns with low First Nations population, towns such as Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Humboldt, Weyburn, Estevan, Rosetown/Kindersley. South Saskatchewan.

    Like

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