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Seeking Truth and Reconciliation: Confronting Residential School Denialism

Education Webinar 2024

The Canadian Association of Sociology of Education (CASE) and Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) Sociology of Education Research Cluster hosted this webinar on January 25, 2024.

Watch the Recording

Presentation 1: Truth before Reconciliation: How to Identify and Confront Residential School Denialism

Dr. Sean Carleton, University of Manitoba

In 2017, Lynn Beyak, a Canadian Senator, delivered a controversial speech defending Canada’s Indian Residential School system (1883–1996) as being ‘well-intentioned.’ Made shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report to show Canadians the evidence of how residential schooling for Indigenous children and youth constituted genocide, the Senator’s speech sparked national debate. This talk historicizes and theorizes the role of denialism in colonial settings to argue that speech acts such as Beyak’s can be understood as a discursive strategy used by colonizers to legitimize and defend their material power, privilege, and profit. The talk examines Beyak’s public comments as well as 100 support letters she received and published on her Senate website to show how they embrace anti-Indigenous racism generally and employ residential school denialism specifically to attack and undermine truth and reconciliation efforts in Canada.

Bio: Sean Carleton is a settler historian and assistant professor in the departments of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba.

Presentation 2: "Show Me the Bodies or Shut the Hell Up": A Discourse Analysis of the Mass Grave Hoax.

Ashley Kyne, Simon Fraser University

Since its inception, the Canadian government has pursued its policy of genocide to deprive Indigenous Peoples of their sovereignty and gain control of their land and resources. A noteworthy mechanism was the residential school system. The discussion of residential schools re-emerged during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc confirmed the remains of 215 children who were former students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. While there were various responses to the discovery, one YouTube video titled The Canadian Mass Grave Hoax denounced the findings of the mass graves. As an example of residential school denialism, we examined how commenters (n = 1,100) responded to the YouTube video through discourse analysis. In advancing the literature of denialism, the “mass hoax” phenomenon, and misinterpreted facts about residential schools. The findings suggest denialism can be understood as a common strategy some settlers use to defend their privilege and delegitimize the efforts of truth and reconciliation.

Bio: Ashley Kyne is a master's student in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada

Moderator: Dr. Jeannie Kerr, Simon Fraser University

Jeannie Kerr is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. Her scholarship examines the reproduction of societal inequalities in K-12, teacher education, and higher education settings, and is directed towards collaboratively repairing and renewing relations in educational settings, urban landscapes, and Canadian society. Drawing on her significant experience in culturally enriched urban K-12 classrooms, her theorizing and research projects centre the complications and complicities in educational activities, and works to disrupt the centring of Euro-Western approaches and knowledges in the broader interest of systemic change.