Pope Francis’ Atonement in Canada: The Truth Behind the Mea Culpa

I just read this article in the Hungarian Conservative about Canada’s policy of forced assimilation of Indigenous children enacted in 1857 by the Gradual Civilization Act. Written by Mario Alexis Portella who has an impressive set of academic credentials, it highlights problems with discerning the truth of acts committed by previous generations against Native populations, whether they be in Canada or America.

Regarding this topic of “mass graves” of Canadian indigenous children being discovered around Canadian residential schools, Portella writes

In May 2021, the young anthropologist Sarah Beaulieu, after analysing the land near the former Kamloops residential school with ground-penetrating radar, launched the hypothesis, based on preliminary findings, of the existence of a mass grave, without having done even one excavation—not one corpse has since been found. [2022: paragraph 4].

Will this fact be as highly publicized and disseminated throughout the world in the same manner as the original claim made by Sarah Beaulieu? Probably not. And this raises profound questions of how we separate claims and opinions made about the archaeological and historical record of the indigenous peoples of the Americas when it comes to their treatment by various colonial powers. 

We have a unit in this course (Cultural Anthropology 1011 – University of New England) where we cover this very topic of Canadian residential schools and their treatment of Indigenous children. Did I bother to do a follow-up and investigate the truth of these “mass graves”? No, I did not; I was satisfied with these allegations as they seemed consistent with the narratives that have since developed regarding the treatment of indigenous children in Canada, and Native American children in the United States, a narrative I have been sympathetic to as my knowledge of this history has developed over the years.

Read the article (link below) and let me know what you think. Does emotional headline-grabbing news trump scientific fact when it comes to the colonial history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States? How do we as social scientists and anthropologists sort out these competing claims that come from all sides of the spectrum of political and vested interests?

Pope Francis’ Atonement in Canada: The Truth Behind the Mea Culpa

About Douglas J. Anderson

Douglas has just accepted a new challenge to become a Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot Participant (VSPP) in the Philippines to support high school teachers in developing and implementing a revised STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum. Along with his wife Ana María, Douglas recently completed nearly three years of Peace Corps service as a Community Health Activist, teaching nutritional science classes, and developing the TiNi (Tierra de Niños, Niñas y Jovenes Para el Buen Vivir) UNESCO Program in the public schools of Cuenca, Ecuador. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Anthropology and currently teaches online courses for the University of New England Maine (Cultural Anthropology) and the University of the People (Philosophy and English). He also works as an Academic Coach and can be contacted at https://www.apprentus.com.
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