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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The recent discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was horrific, yet sadly comes as little surprise to those who have had the courage to gaze into the dark abyss of Canadian history. After all, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) received testimony about numerous such unmarked graves. Regrettably, no subsequent action was taken; in fact, many TRC witnesses were accused of peddling lies. Undoubtedly there will be numerous similarly traumatic exhumations in the years to come.

Due to a colonial education system that glossed over Indigenous peoples as if they are a mere footnote, it’s been easy for Canadians to subscribe to the myth that their country is harmless, inoffensive, polite. We’ve perpetuated the notion that Canada is a country of innocence: kindness, peacekeeping, and excessive apologies.

But reality is starkly different: the construction of Canada was consciously engineered to cause harm to Indigenous peoples, both past and present.

Many non-Indigenous Canadians refuse to acknowledge this inconvenient and insidious side of their country. It’s easier to avert our gaze from unsettling stories, or to remain wilfully ignorant, when the truth reveals our collective inhumanity.

As the Germans have exemplified, true “patriotism” is not about thumping one’s chest or engaging in flag fetishism; instead, it’s about adopting a philosophy of continual improvement, which requires the bravery of acknowledging mistakes and weaknesses. This is what Canada should seek to emulate, rather than the brash and vacuous nationalism seen to our south, especially when it comes to Indigenous reconciliation.

While the last of Canada’s residential schools were shuttered by 1996, systemic racism remains rampant throughout Canadian society. Whether it’s spending $8 million fighting First Nations children in a human rights lawsuit, dozens of unfulfilled TRC recommendations, communities that still lack drinking water (when Canada can apparently find money to send a moon rover into space), or over-representation of Indigenous people in foster care and incarceration, we need to face facts – colonization has been catastrophically harmful for Indigenous people, and we’re still not doing enough to put things right (or as right as they ever could be).

It’s easy to shrug and give up when the entire country is embedded with systemic racism, but social evolution often occurs gradually thanks to individual efforts. It’s vital for every non-Indigenous Canadian to realize that indifference or inaction is a quiet vote in favour of the unacceptable status quo.

One of the most powerful efforts Canadians can make toward Indigenous reconciliation is to eradicate ignorance, specifically a lack of knowledge and awareness of what has previously and still currently causes harm. The education system may have only scantly addressed Indigenous history for most of us, but there’s nothing stopping Canadians from taking the initiative to learn on our own, and to share such learning with our peers. If you have the courage, immerse yourself in the darker side of Canada’s history, and then learn how you can help address the systemic racism that continues to fester inside the heart of this country like a cancerous lesion.

As part of that learning journey, the following is a list of books about how Canada has harmed Indigenous people, as well as how we can all be part of reconciliation. With the abundance of documented evidence now readily available, there is no longer any excuse to remain ignorant of our own country’s uncomfortable history.


Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (by James Daschuk; University of Regina Press, 2019)

Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, implemented numerous genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples. Perhaps the most brutal was his government’s use of starvation as a weapon to clear Indigenous peoples from their land, which was subsequently given away for free to European settlers.

No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous (by Sheldon Krasowski; University of Regina Press, 2019)

Newly-rediscovered historical accounts suggest that the Canadian government intended to mislead Indigenous peoples during treaty negotiations, specifically regarding the “surrender clause” and land sharing. Is our entire country the product of bad-faith exploitation?

Peace and Good Order: the Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada (by Harold R. Johnson; Random House of Canada, 2019)

The CBC offers an apt summary: “[T]he case against Canada for its failure to fulfil its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.”

Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal (edited by Myra Tait and Kiera Ladner; ARP Books, 2017)

150 years after Confederation, most Indigenous peoples still do not receive respect and recognition of their treaty and Indigenous rights. This book contains a series of essays about their exasperating relationship with Canada.


An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women (by Karen Stote: Fernwood Publishing, 2015)

Offers evidence of Canada’s program of forced sterilization of Indigenous women. (Readers may notice many parallels with how China is currently treating the Uighur Muslim minority.)

Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada (by Samir Shaheen-Hussain; McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020)

When sick children from Indigenous communities in northern Quebec were flown to urban hospitals, their parents were not allowed to travel with them. This contributed to normalizing the harmful separation of Indigenous children from their parents and families. Such children often became the victims of medical violence: abuse in “Indian Hospitals”, the subject of unethical medical experiments, or preventable exposure to diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis.

They Came for the Children: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools (by Trust and Reconciliation Commission of Canada staff; 2012)

Painstakingly details the harm and violence Canada perpetrated against Indigenous children. The goal of residential schools was to “kill the Indian in the child”, in which the state attempted to erase Indigenous identity through cultural and linguistic genocide.

A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System [2017 edition] (by John S. Milloy; University of Manitoba Press, 2017)

Residential schools offered an inferior education; their purpose was not to educate, but to decimate Indigenous identity. The schools were chronically underfunded and usually mismanaged, with little to no supervision of school officials to prevent abuse and neglect. As one “Indian Affairs Superintendent” put it in 1948: “[I]f I were appointed by the Dominion Government for the express purpose of spreading tuberculosis, there is nothing finer in existence that the average Indian residential school.”

Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School (by Jack Agnes; Theytus Books, 2006)

Although the bodies of the 215 Indigenous children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School were discovered only last month, the horrors that occurred at the institution are well documented, including in this book published 15 years ago. More than 30 former students recount their harrowing experience at the infamous facility.

Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia [4th Edition] (by Isabelle Knockwood; Fernwood Publishing, 2015)

Forty-two survivors are interviewed about their experience at this east coast institution. This fourth edition also contains follow-up interviews about the students’ reactions to the Canadian government’s apology in 2008.

Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada (by Larry N. Chartrand, Tricia E. Logan and Judy D. Daniels; Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006)

Despite that the Canadian government was intent on assimilating Indigenous peoples into a Euro-Christian society, the government did not want to take responsibility for the Métis. As such, the Métis experience was unique: although some did attend residential schools, others who lived outside of Indigenous communities were not offered any coherent education.

Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors: a National History (by Larry Loyie; Indigenous Education Press, 2014)

Intended for general readers, this book contains the experiences of more than 70 survivors of residential schools, as well as 125 archival and contemporary images.

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School (by Bev Sellars; Talonbooks, 2012)

Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars spent part of her childhood at a church-run residential school. Such institutions refused to acknowledge Indigenous children’s real names, and instead stripped them of their humanity by referring to them merely as numbers. Sellars’ memoir addresses the trauma of survivors, including substance abuse and suicide, but also charters the path toward healing.

My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell (by Arthur Bear Chief; AU Press, 2016)

Bear Chief’s memoir recounts the sexual and psychological abuse he endured at a residential school in Alberta, as well as his failed legal battle over redresses for his traumatic childhood. Bear Chief would return to his community later in life and reconnected with the Blackfoot language and culture.

From Bear Rock Mountain: The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor (by Antoine Bear Rock Mountain; Touchwood Editions, 2019)

At age seven, Antoine Mountain was snatched from his family and sent to residential school. He spent a dozen years at three schools, intended to erase his Indigenous identity. Mountain argues that Canada has its own holocaust to atone for.

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (by Joseph Auguste Merasty; University of Regina Press, 2017)

A national bestseller that was deemed the fourth most important “Book of the Year” by the National Post in 2015, Augie Merasty recounts the aggressive assimilation policies used by church-run residential schools. Indigenous children were taught to be ashamed of their heritage and subjected to horrific abuses. Despite the darkness of his ordeals, Merasty writes with a warm wit.

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City (by Tanya Talaga; House of Anansi, 2017)

This multiple award-winning national bestseller looks at Thunder Bay, a city that has come to epitomize Canada’s systemic racism, if not outward hatred, toward Indigenous people. Talaga focuses on the lives of seven students who died while attending high schools away from their communities.

Invested Indifference: How Violence Persists in Settler Colonial Society (by Kara Granzow; UBC Press, 2021)

In this recently-published book, Granzow examines how “…gendered and racialized everyday violence against Indigenous people has become symbolically and politically entrenched as a central practice in the social construction of Canadian nationhood.” She argues that violence continues to be used against Indigenous peoples, and that Canadians has been mostly indifferent to their plight, as their lives have been portrayed as disposable.


Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh (Raised somewhere else): A 60s Scoop Adoptee’s Story of Coming Home (by Colleen Cardinal; Fernwood Publishing, 2018)

Cardinal was a victim of the “60s Scoop”, in which the Canadian government removed 20,000 Indigenous children from their families during the 1960s and placed them into non-Indigenous households. All of these children were disconnected from their loved ones and culture; many suffered violence and abuse.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (by Alicia Elliott; Doubleday Canada, 2019)

In this national bestseller, Elliott reflects on her experience of being Indigenous in a colonized Canada – including mental illness, poverty, and sexual assault – and examines the intergenerational trauma she and countless others inherited. Elliott shines a light on numerous forms of systemic racism still embedded deep within Canada.

Five Little Indians (by Michelle Good; HarperCollins Canada, 2020)

When five Indigenous teenagers are released from residential school, they emerge confused into an unfamiliar world. They end up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but each take a very different path in life. This recent novel has received numerous awards.

Genocidal Love: A Life After Residential School (by Bevann Fox; University of Regina Press, 2020)

After time spent at a residential school, “Myrtle” has become indecisive, timid and wary of others. This piece of fiction traces how the author struggles to find her voice as she partakes in a journey of healing. Shortlisted for numerous awards.


21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (by Bob Joseph; Indigenous Relations Press, 2018)

This book explains how federal legislation traps Indigenous peoples in a paternalistic relationship with the Canadian government, and the route for a return to Indigenous self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance. There are numerous tips for how non-Indigenous Canadians can contribute to reconciliation.

In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation (edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail; Touchwood Editions, 2016)

Many Canadians acknowledge that the status quo with Indigenous peoples is unhealthy and requires improvement, but they don’t know where to begin. This book shares fifteen stories that aim to help Canadians understand how they can contribute to reconciliation and decolonization, and emphasizes that we all have a responsibility to participate.

Living in Indigenous Sovereignty (by Elizabeth Carlson-Manathara; Fernwood Publishing, 2021)

What are Indigenous peoples asking for from settler Canadians? If you’re not sure what solidarity work and reconciliation from non-Indigenous Canadians encompasses, this recently-published book helps clarify. Ultimately, settlers will need to learn to live within Indigenous sovereignty, requiring a shift in thinking from Canadian society.

Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada (by Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker; Fernwood Publishing, 2015)

Want to help achieve reconciliation? If so, non-Indigenous Canadians need to embrace the label of “settler”, because this is the first step to “…understanding that Canada is deeply entangled in the violence of colonialism, and that this colonialism and pervasive violence continue to define contemporary political, economic and cultural life in Canada.” Expect this book to unsettle you, but its ideas are necessary if Canada aims to genuinely embrace transformative change.

Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada (by Paulette Regan; UBC Press, 2011)

“[T]o truly participate in the transformative possibilities of reconciliation, non-[Indigenous] Canadians must undergo their own process of decolonization. They must relinquish the persistent myth of themselves as peacemakers and acknowledge the destructive legacy of a society that has stubbornly ignored and devalued Indigenous experience.”

Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization (by Eva Mackey; Fernwood Publishing, 2016)

This “…critical analysis of present-day disputes over land, belonging and sovereignty will help us understand how colonization is reproduced today and how to challenge it.” The book asserts that “…embracing difficult uncertainty can be an integral part of undoing settler privilege and a step toward decolonization.”

Canada at a Crossroads: Boundaries, Bridges, and Laissez-Faire Racism in Indigenous-Settler Relations (by Jeffrey S. Denis; University of Toronto Press, 2020)

Denis “…emphasizes the social psychological barriers to transforming white settler ideologies and practices and working towards decolonization.” His book argues that “…genuine reconciliation will require radically restructuring Canadian society and perpetually fulfilling treaty responsibilities.”

To Share, Not Surrender: Indigenous and Settler Visions of Treaty Making in the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia (edited by Peter Cook, et al.; UBC Press, 2021)

“[T]he continuing inability to arrive at equitable land-sharing arrangements stem from a fundamental absence of will with respect to accommodating First Nations world views. To Share, Not Surrender is an attempt to understand why, and thus to advance the urgent task of reconciliation in Canada.”

The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations (by Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane; University of Toronto Press, 2021)

The Gatherings shows how Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can come together to create meaningful and lasting relationships.” The book affirms “…that authentic relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – with their attendant anxieties, guilt, anger, embarrassments, and, with time, even laughter and mutual affection – are key to our shared futures here in North America.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

In my third year at the University of Toronto, I remember sitting in a small lecture hall at Emmanuel College for a Canadian poetry course. There, I discovered words that have stayed with me, from an aptly named poem called “Can. Lit”, written by Earle Birney. I turned to my old copy of a Margaret Atwood-edited anthology to read his final lines today: “it’s only by our lack of ghosts / we’re haunted”.

I’ve always been fascinated by these words, tying them into William Lyon Mackenzie King’s quip that if some countries have too much history, Canada “has too much geography”. A theme of Canadian literature is that our environment is not necessarily a menace, but its emptiness, its vastness, its cold and unforgiving nature are threats that can infect the mind.

It’s only by our lack of ghosts we’re haunted.

I think more accurately, it’s only by our deliberate refusal to see the truth about the ghosts we murdered. Across the quad from that lecture hall, a gateway arch reads “THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE”.

We need to speak the truth more frankly than ever, to refuse to look away.

The truth is Canada committed genocide. The systematic erasure of Indigenous culture and language was deliberate. Government policy infamously sought to “kill the Indian in the child”. We knew children ran away from residential schools and perished in the cold wilderness.

Now we also all know that their little bodies were buried in mass graves behind the school yard. But we’ve always known this. People knew it at the time. The reports written over the years, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s, say there are more mass graves out there. Probably 4000 or more children’s bodies are hidden away underground, taken out back like refuse by the nuns, priests, bureaucrats and caretakers who ran residential schools.

Michael de Adder drew a comic this week that nailed the point better than words: a schoolhouse façade, a concentration camp behind it.

We often wonder how the guards left work and returned for suppertime in 1940s Poland, Czechia, Germany; now, we should equally wonder about the Canadians who finished burying bodies and then went to their child’s hockey game in Kamloops, Sault Ste Marie, The Pas – Canadian towns like yours and mine, within many of our lifetimes.

Intergenerational trauma has been talked about, the impact felt by the generations raised by parents who had suffered such profound abuse, physical and sexual assault, neglect, isolation, the suppression of language and culture, forcible removal from family. Now we need to also expand that term to mean the families who were left wondering where their daughter had gone, never having closure, the stuff of the traumatic scenes on mystery and cop TV shows.

The outpouring of grief this week, the evocative images of little shows at town halls, of teddy bears at the flame on Parliament Hill can make us choke up.

But it’s action we need.

An end, once and for all, to the intergenerational government policy that Indigenous peoples should be second-class citizens on their own land. If North York had a boil-water advisory, it would be a scandal if it wasn’t fixed in days. First Nations reserves live with boil-water advisories for decades, to this day. Fix that. Improve education, with Indigenous educators forming curricula, with schools built by Indigenous contractors on their land. Reform the curriculum for everyone else to teach our real legacy. Continue nascent efforts to impede Aboriginal law into our systems. Recognize that Canada has not only always been multicultural, but also multinational.

Ensure Indigenous Canadians are empowered and supported to lead the change their communities need themselves. That’s an imperative of reconciliation: reclaiming power and agency. A number of years ago, a colleague accused me of not having “done the work” to understand Indigenous issues. I didn’t say so at the time — (and why defend myself by saying that I’d been interested, if that’s the right word, since I was a child in these issues, I’d made a small contribution in the education sphere of influence I had at the time, what does that prove) — but the reality is none of us have done enough, and the real work we need to do as settlers is to amplify and ally with Indigenous peoples themselves, to empower them to lead the solutions they champion.

This week, America confronted the legacy of the race massacre in Tulsa, the war-like destruction of Black Wall Street in Greenwood, Oklahoma. Both our countries have original sins we must confront, and fix.

We are not haunted by our lack of ghosts; we are haunted by trying to bury them, rather than atoning for who killed the children. Because we did.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The U.S. is threatening to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed this during a bipartisan congressional hearing on Monday. “Here’s what I propose – and join those who are proposing – is a diplomatic boycott,” she said. The plan would see “lead countries of the world withhold their attendance at the Olympics.”

The Speaker continued, “Let’s not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China. For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing – while you’re sitting there in your seat – really begs the question, what moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world?”

While I strongly disagree with Pelosi’s left-wing positions on politics, economics, foreign policy and many other matters, she’s absolutely right on this issue.

Since 2014, China has been repeatedly accused of genocide against the Uyghurs, the Turkic ethnic group primarily located in Central and East Asia. A United Nations human rights panel revealed in 2018 that an estimated 1 million Uyghurs are being held in what has been described as a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.” Gay McDougall, a U.S.-based lawyer who sat on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, told Reuters on Aug. 10, 2018 that 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims had been forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang region.

This accusation of long-term genocide is horrific enough on its own. You also have to take into consideration the various attacks and massacres caused by the Chinese Communists since taking power in 1949. This includes everything against the Tibetan people, Hui people, Taiwanese, Mongols, Hong Kongers – and their own countrymen, from the Guangdong Massacre to Tiananmen Square.

Hence, a boycott of Beijing 2022 seems appropriate.

It wouldn’t be the first time an Olympics faced a partial or mass exodus. Some Jewish athletes boycotted or were restricted from participating in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Germany due to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The first boycott involving countries occurred during the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, followed by 1964 (Tokyo, Japan) and 1976 (Montreal).

The most significant boycotts occurred in 1980 (Moscow, USSR) and 1984 (Los Angeles). The former witnessed a massive 66 countries refuse to send athletes to the Iron Curtain, while the latter involved 18 countries that balked at sending their athletes to the U.S. These two Olympic boycotts were memorable components of the Cold War, as they were widely covered and politically charged from start to finish.

There was also a small boycott of communist and socialist countries during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. It was led by North Korea, and included Cuba and four other nations.

What would make Beijing 2022 unique is that it would be the first boycott of a Winter Olympics. Hence, a different group of countries that specialize in winter sports would be directly affected by this decision.

Which brings us to Canada.

Our country has become one of the world’s best at the Winter Olympics. We rank fifth overall on the all-time medal table. Since the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, we’ve finished no lower than fifth place on the medal table. Canada also finished first at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver by winning a record 14 gold medals.

At the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Canadian Olympic team finished an impressive third behind Norway and Germany (who both tied our record gold medal haul). That’s our country’s second-best finish at the Winter Games. Many assumed we would have a strong chance of finishing first overall in Beijing next year.

That being said, how can Canada go to China in good conscience?

The Uyghur genocide and situation in Hong Kong should give us plenty of pause. Meng Wanzhou and Huawei Technologies has been a significant conflict in Canada-China relations since Dec. 2018 due to various safety and security concerns. The Two Michaels (Spavor and Kovrig) have sat in a Chinese death camp for almost 2 1/2 years, and these Canadian citizens are no closer to coming home.

The sticking point is – as I’m sure most of you surmised – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While the PM has taken a firm stance in the Meng Wanzhou affair, his government quietly partnered with Huawei to fund university research in Canada. The Liberals have walked on eggshells with respect to the Two Michaels, and the diplomatic backchannels aren’t having much effect.

Trudeau’s cabinet even refused to participate in the Feb. 22 motion declaring that China had committed genocide against the Uyghurs. It passed 266-0, for the record.

Trudeau doesn’t have a good poker face when it comes to China. He desperately wants to follow in his late father’s giant footsteps and protect this political and economic relationship. It’s time for him to realize that today’s China doesn’t care about Canada, and President Xi Jinping is more than happy to wave his mighty hand and dismiss our very existence.

I never thought I’d write something quite like this in the next sentence, but here goes nothing. When it comes to the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Justin Trudeau should follow Nancy Pelosi’s lead and support a diplomatic boycott.


Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.