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TWO-EYED SEEING AND INDIGENOUS WORLDVIEWS. CAN THERE TRULY BE MANY TRUTHS?

TWO-EYED SEEING AND INDIGENOUS WORLDVIEWS. CAN THERE TRULY BE MANY TRUTHS?

Originally published on October 30, 2023 by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

James C. McCrae 

Only one explanation for this phenomenon can be “the truth”.

Recently, an Indigenous acquaintance asked me if I had ever taken a course or undergone training on understanding Indigenous worldviews or perspectives. He also asked if I had ever tried incorporating two-eyed seeing into my life and thought processes.

My correspondent feels it is almost impossible for me, a white man, to understand the generational effects of colonialism “which would now be classified as white nationalism”.

He told me that within an Indigenous worldview, “there can be many truths”. As an example of an Indigenous worldview, he wrote “John A. Macdonald was a nation builder. He was also a racist.” He denounced Macdonald, charging that he “coerced (First) nations into treaty through starvation, moved the schools off reserves, and implemented the pass system.”  He offered no context for any of these events — context that would help us understand the times, the challenges, and the requirements of adjusting to 19th and 20th century changing realities. He also failed to address the need to keep peace between Indigenous and newer Canadians. 

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, Canada’s First Prime Minister, who had Indigenous friends and whose government permitted school attendance for Indigenous children to be voluntary

To my acquaintance’s argument, I replied that I had not taken any courses on Indigenous worldviews or perspectives. And perhaps that is why I cannot understand – or accept –  the idea that “there can be many truths”. 

I accept that people can view events in different ways and arrive at different conclusions, but there is still only one “truth”. If some people believe there can be more than one truth, I must disagree. Some may believe in “alternative truths” but I do not.

Indigenous or otherwise, let’s not confuse “worldviews” or “perspectives” with “truth”.

If it is true that the treaties were coerced, why do so many First Nations rely on them today? Some Indigenous leaders and activists even call them “sacred”.  

If the treaties were coerced, shouldn’t they be abandoned in favour of the recognition that all people in Canada are equal? After all, different status for different people is the antithesis of democracy. Or do we not believe that strengthening democracy should be our objective? How well have 147 years of Indian Act apartheid worked for First Nations Canadians so far?

My acquaintance failed to acknowledge that maintaining attendance at Indian day schools was a serious problem. Attendance was so low that keeping schools and staff available was not a reasonable thing to do. Indigenous children were not being educated. 

“Notoriously poor attendance” in Maritime day schools was one reason for establishment of the region’s only Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.

My acquaintance failed to acknowledge that Indigenous leadership wanted residential schools. The leaders wanted their children to be educated, fed, clothed, sheltered and provided medical care when needed.

He failed to mention that the pass system — the requirement that Indigenous people obtain a travel document from an Indian agent in order to travel outside their Reserve — was discontinued approximately 80 years ago. It was introduced in 1885 because of the North-West Rebellion, when a number of Indians left several Reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan to take up arms against the government (Pass System in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia). Although inconsistently enforced during the 50 years or so that it existed, the system was kept in place much too long, but it had been introduced for what was believed at the time to be a very sensible reason. 

A reserve pass issued by the Duck Lake Agency to a man who wished to visit his children at an Indian Industrial School in 1889. (Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan)

Sadly, racism was the way of the world in the early days. Racism still exists today but, working together, we can still make a positive difference for the Indigenous Canadians of the future.

Whether through two-eyed seeing, an Indigenous worldview, or some other means, a (diminishing) number of people still believe that 200 or more murdered Indigenous children were secretly buried — some buried by six-year-olds — in the former apple orchard of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Some (again, diminishing, as truth emerges) still believe former AFN Grand Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who, in an interview with Stephen Sackur on BBC’s HardTalk in  August of 2021, told the world that 1600 murdered children’s bodies had been “recovered so  far.” 

Former AFN Grand Chief RoseAnne Archibald

Two-eyed seeing cannot render Archibald’s statement true. To date, not a single murdered Indigenous child’s body has been recovered.

But fortunately a rapidly-growing number of concerned Canadians are calling out for evidence before condemning our country as a genocidal state.

Many issues will be resolved if/when excavation takes place at Kamloops. When we know who those alleged victims of IRS enrolment were, how they died, and who their families are, we will then be in a much different position. But this matter has nothing at all to do with Indigenous worldviews and perspectives. It has nothing whatsoever to do with two-eyed seeing. 

Facts are facts, period.

Canadians are trying hard to learn more about our First Nations, Inuit and Metis people and our shared history, and most of us support efforts to make life better for everyone. But I sincerely hope that does not require us to believe things that are simply not true.

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