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:

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