Speech delivered in Edmonton, Alberta by Dr. Roland Chrisjohn
Member of Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), healer (“psychologist”), author of The Circle Game
Date of speech unknown
Excerpts transcribed by Jim Craven
as posted to sovernet-l on September 1, 1998
…”Residential schools were one of many attempts at the genocide of the Aboriginal Peoples inhabiting the area now commonly called Canada. Initially, the goal of obliterating these peoples was connected with stealing what they owned (the land, the sky, the waters, and their lives, and all that these encompassed); and although this connection persists, present-day acts and policies of genocide are also connected with the hypocritical, legal and self-delusion need on the part of the perpetrators to conceal what they did and what they continue to do. A variety of rationalizations (social, legal, religious, political and economic) arose to engage (in one way or another) all segments of Euruocanadian society in the task of genocide. For example, some were told (and told themselves) that their actions arose out of a Missionary Imperative to bring the benefits of the One True Belief to savage pagans; others considered themselves justified in the land theft by declaring that the Aboriginal Peoples were not putting the land to ‘proper’ use; and so on. The creation of the Indian Residential Schools followed a time-tested method of obliterating indigenous cultures, and the psycosocial consequences these schools would have on Aboriginal Peoples were well understood at the time of their formation.
Present-day symptomology found in Aboriginal Peoples and societies does not constitute a distinct psychological condition, but is the well-known and long-studied response of human beings living under conditions of severe and prolonged oppression. Although there is no doubt that individuals who attended Residential Schools suffered, and continue to suffer, from the effects of their experiences, the tactic of pathologizing these individuals, studying their condition, and offering ‘therapy’ to them and their communities must be seen as another rhetorical maneuver designed to obscure (to the world at large, to Aboriginal Peoples, and to the Canadians themselves) the moral and financial accountability of Eurocanadian society in a continuing record of Crimes Against Humanity.
I’m not denying that people in the Residential Schools–some of them–are having troubles today. But I don’t want to talk about the pathology, the alcohol and drug abuse, and the suicide of people who went to Residential School when that takes us away from talking about the real issues, and that is, what are the political, the economic and the legal ramifications of what occurred to First Nations People in these schools. We keep talking about how sick we are but we never ask: how sick were these people who created these things? Why is the sickness on our side? Why is it we have to prove how sick we are in order to get something done about these kinds of things?
I was in a room, early on in the Royal Commission work [Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples], and everybody was telling me oh, well, all this great work you are going to do, that is going to talk about the healing and the therapy that is necessary with Residential Schools. And I’m looking around, there’s a former Supreme Court Justice, there’s a lawyer, there’s another judge over here, there’s another person with legal training who has written law books or whatever, they’re sitting around telling me all of this and I said “it sounds like I’m in a room with damn psychologists.” In a room full of judges and lawyers does nobody recognize that crimes have been committed here? And why aren’t we talking about crimes? No, no that’s not even a fit topic for conversation. What we have to talk about is how sick the damn Indians are; and well we are going to take care of them.
Right. Let’s see how that game works; how the “Therapeutic State” works here. Well the Indians are sick, so do we do? We’re going to take some money, we’re going to give to largely, white, anglo-saxon protestant Eurocanadian therapists, and they’re going to visit with these people for 20 fifty-minute hours, after which time they’re going to be cured. So isn’t interesting that we’re going to transfer white people’s money from one pocket to another pocket and we’re going to call this ‘money spent on Indian People.’
The same game is being played in the education system. Where what we do, is if weve got a child with some difficulty with education, we send them to a psychologist, and in the Province of Alberta, that psychological assessment costs $4,500. That’s $4,500 that goes from the Federal Government to the pocket of a white, anglo-saxon, protestant psycholgist who writes a report and says ‘kid is not learning very much.’ Oh, well thank you for clearing that up. That’s $4,500 that is counted as ‘money spent on Indian Education’, but it’s money that we merely get to authorize the transfer of from the Federal government to the private pockets.
Now does anybody point out, does anybody wonder that the fact that the assessments are not validated, the statistical properties are not established for First Nations children, means that such an assessment is an ethical violation of Canadian and American psychological testing standards? Oh, no, nobody bothers to bring that up; there’s money to made here.
Notice what happens, when, uh–Dr. Hanson was saying about blame the victim– look at how the system reacts to a child who is having difficulty in school: there’s got to be something wrong with the child. We can’t ask the question: Is it possible that maybe there is something wrong with the curriculum?; Is it possible that there’s something wrong with the way that the structure of learning is set up so that some idiot stands up in front of a large group of people and talks, so somebody hears a loudspeaker, and everybody else is a tape recorder, and this is how education is supposed to behave? This is how it is supposed to take place?
We’re not allowed to inquire into the dynamics of the educational system. What we have to do is accept that there’s something wrong with us. We’re the problem. The Residential School does exactly the same thing: the treatment of alcoholism as a disease that First Nations People have as a genetic thing or learned behavior that we don’t seem to be able to get around. Time and time again, the same process is taking place, and that process is, let’s not ask about the systemic kinds of things, let’s not ask about larger factors, let’s not ask about other responsibilities that may be entailed, let’s find what’s wrong with the specific case, what’s wrong with the Indians in this particular instance….
…we must misunderstand Indian Residential School to the extent to which we think that the pathology in the system lies within the survivors of the individual survivors of the Residential School experience. The pathology that you are looking for is not in the pathology of the people who went through the experience, the pathology is in the system of order that gave rise to that Residential School, that saw it in operation, that put it in operation, that thought it was a good thing, that patted itself on the back occasionally saying: ‘aren’t we doing well by our brown cousins?; we’re bringing them freedom and we’re bringing them into this particular world; aren’t we generous?; and all they are paying for it is all of their land, all of their trees, all of their minerals, all of their water, their freedom, their language, their religions, every aspect of their form of life, that’s all their paying.’
Now the fact that they didn’t make that bargain, that they didn’t ask for that, means that well they are kind of stupid you know; they don’t recognize just how superior our way is. So even though they are kicking and screaming, we’re going to do for them. There’s the patriarchy, there’s the patronizing aspect of it. The “Therapeutic State” will constantly congratulate itself that it’s doing good as it is doing the most horrendous thing.
…the extent to which we ourselves as First Nations People have continued that task, by not examining those kinds of questions, by accepting that the problem is our own individualized pathology, by running all kinds of workshops where we’ll say ‘we’ll let’s get together and we’ll hug a lot and this will overcome what happend to us in the Residential School.’
Oh, I’m sorry, it is a political problem, it is a legal problem, for the churches and for the Government of Canada, it’s also a financial problem, because they’ve got mighty big bills to pay if the Canadian public begins to realize what what done to human beings in their name. This is one of the reasons you won’t find the United Nations’ Genocide Charter inside history books, textbooks and in Canadian schools because the Canadians don’t want to tell their people what they’ve been doing in their name. They don’t want to see, starkly, in Article Two and Article Three, what their responsibilities were as human beings, and how, the acquiesence to the Residential School, even if they never even heard of an Indian or ever saw an Indian, how they were implicated in the crime as well–by their governments, by their churches.
They don’t want to hear about that, so we don’t put this in the textbooks. We don’t put in the textbooks what Canadian responsibilities are in terms of language, religion, education, our educational rights as human beings on this planet. Where they say ‘oh, well, we don’t have enough money for that. You want to have your own Indian university or you want to have your own Aboriginal research center, we’ll, there’s just not enough money.’ Well, that’s a violation of the Common Law of Nations that Canada is signatory to. Their avoiding their responsibilities and they’re covering-up by putting over it all the veneer of the “Therapeutic State.”
And God help us; a lot of us are involved in that “Therapeutic State.” We sit down and we do not go into the grounds of what’s going on, why is this happening, what are the historical backgrounds for this. One of the wisest things Dr. Szasz has ever said is: ‘the libraries are open, go and read, you want to find out about this stuff…’
There’s nothing here in The Circle Game that’s esoteric; we didn’t have to burrow into the national archives late at night and come out with secret scraps of paper. Everything we’ve got is public, and open and available. But we’ve got blinders on, and the blinders are ‘oh well Indian people are suffering and we’ve got to deal with that.’
I’ll tell you. Give us back all the land, gives back the payment for everything stolen, meet your obligations under the Treaties and I will see how many of us are still sick. Even if we are sick, we have the right as sovereign people to decide what we are going to do about it–not accept Health and Welfare Canada’s pronouncement that ‘it’s twenty sessions with a psychologist and you’re out the door, that’s it, you’re cured.’
These are part of our sovereign responsibilities. We do not need research; we need to think clearly about these issues. I come to a conference like this and I hear people saying ‘there aren’t any practical suggestions. Well, I’m sorry, when Dr. Szasz says that ‘you’re not fighting facts, you’re fighting ideologies’, that’s what we have to understand. The philosophy that stands behind what was done to us in the Residential School is the philosophy that stands behind the health and welfare cuts, stands behind the dismantling of the educational system in the Province of Alberta and so on and so on. We have to understand that ideology. We’re not doing any of that as we sit around hugging each other saying ‘oh, you had a bad time and I had a bad time too.’
We should be madder than hell about this; and we should be doing what Dr. Szasz has been doing: educating people about the history, the background, the ideology, the commonality of experience that is involved in this.
There’s a part in “Schindler’s List” which is the most horrible part of “Schindler’s List” of a most horrifying movie, that’s a moment that all of us have to say to ourselves ‘this is to be avoided entirely.’ It’s that moment when he has to stand there and say to himself and say to the people around him, ‘I could have done more.’ If we go to our graves and we say to ourselves ‘I could have done more’, I call myself a healer, I call myself a therapist, and I could have done more, then we’re gonna relive that horrible moment in “Schindler’s List” over and over again, and we’re gonna be doing it while we smile and while we pretend that we’re being generous and honest and open with the people who have come to us for help.
That, will be another crime against our own humanity. Thank you.
transcribed by Jim Craven
About Roland Chrisjohn
Roland Chrisjohn is is a member of the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), a healer (“psychologist”), and the sole tenured professor at the Department of Native Studies at St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick where he focuses on a critical introduction to the history of colonization and its impact on the applied social sciences, particularly psychology and social work.
He is the author of The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada, which outlines the manner in which the Canadian state has intentionally misrepresented and obscured the history of residential schools. He frames the Residential School system in the wider context of settler-colonialism and the ongiong genocide of indigenous peoples.