*Possibly triggering re: Residential Schools*

So this latest article in ICT raised yet again the issue of ‘positive Residential School experiences’.  I know, and have met, quite a few people who were actually in the Residential School system and who have good things to say about it.  However, some of these people also have bad things to say about those whose stories are not as cheerful. 

Some of the most upsetting scenes I’ve witnessed were confrontations between Residential School survivors in unrelated public meetings/discussions.  This article sort of reminds me of that.

Okay, let me sort of break down what is bothering me here.

1) Some people feel that their experiences in Residential Schools were not that bad, or even very positive.

2) A lot of people had really traumatic experiences, whether they directly suffered high levels of abuse, or witnessed others being abused.

3) There is fairly wide-spread agreement that the system itself was abusive.

Okay.  I want to think that these three points are fairly uncontroversial.  But they aren’t.  Here are the two harmful approaches I have seen played out that are the subject of this post:

Those who say their experiences were mostly positive (I’ll just call them ‘positive-experience’ people for short), addressing those who experienced it as abuse (‘negative-experience’ people):

  • Say that ‘negative-experience’ people are exaggerating, especially if the ‘positive-experience’ individual went to the same facility.
  • Say that ‘negative-experience’ people are just using this as an excuse to take no responsibility for their lives or worse, just want sympathy or financial compensation.
  • Say that ‘negative-experience’ people are trying to silence ‘positive-experience’ people.

'Negative-experience' people towards 'positive-experience' people:

  • 'Positive-experience' people have been brainwashed/colonised into believing that their experiences weren't abusive on at least some level.
  • 'Positive-experience' people are repressing their real memories.
  • 'Positive-experience' people are minimising the pain suffered by 'negative-experience' people.

Okay.  Essentially on both sides there are a few things going on. 

  1. You’re lying.
  2. You’re using your experiences to silence mine.

Lying.  There are accusations about whether the other person is telling the truth or not.  This can and is used in both directions.  No you weren’t abused, you must have been abused…

Then there is the accusation that if you tell your story (positive/negative) you are minimising the other person’s experiences (good or bad).

Then you get people who like to ‘listen in’ on native experiences and choose the experience that fits their agenda.  You get the former students of Residential Schools used like flags for political gain.  That’s a whole ‘nother issue that makes a lot of people VERY gun shy about talking about anything in public sometimes.

So there is this internal conflict over Residential Schools that really does need to be addressed, because there is room I think for both experiences.  I think the sheer number of negative-experience people does merit more of a focus on the ‘bad side’ and on the inherently abusive nature of the system itself, but that does not invalidate ‘good experiences’, whether fleeting or total. 

The interim report of the TRC (PDF) does make some mention of those good experiences on page 11 of 39, but it is two paragraphs out of the entire thing.  Does that make ‘positive-experience’ people feel silenced or ignored?  I’m not sure.  But there is a lot of bitterness internally about Residential School experiences too.  People get sick of hearing about it, or feel like it’s being used to excuse bad behaviour etc…and then hearing that your experiences are seen as ‘exaggerated’ or ‘excuses’ can be very painful.  Some ‘positive-experience’ people have expressed feelings of guilt over the fact that their time in Residential School was not bad like other people’s experiences. 

I just hope that these internal conflicts are addressed in whatever healing actually does eventually happen.  Not that I’m particularly convinced much is going to come out of the TRC report, given that so little was done after RCAP, and after so many other Commissions, Inquests, Inquiries and so on. 

Anyway, what do you think about the linked article?

  1. faerieclara answered: While positive experiences were totally possible and very valid, they were incidental. The point still stands that the RS system was wrong.
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