Linda Larson, Have You No Sense of Decency?

Speaking to a committee of the BC Legislature a week ago, Richard Jock of the First Nations Health Authority mentioned the legacy of residential schools and the continuing effect on First Nations people.

Liberal MLA Linda Larson(Boundary Similkameen) asked:

How long do you think before the legacy of those residential schools finally burns itself out of the First Nations people?

Afterward, NDP leader John Horgan said:

A question like that reveals remarkable insensitivity on the part of an elected representative toward the tragic experiences suffered by First Nations people in B.C. residential schools.

We should never forget what happened, so that we can ensure nothing like that ever happens again. Premier Christy Clark should immediately ask her MLA, Linda Larson, to apologize for her offensive and insensitive comments.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, talked about Larson’s comments:

I thought they were absolutely inappropriate, ill-informed and, quite frankly, incredibly ignorant. Just as the world still remembers other human-rights atrocities, like the Holocaust, to honour victims and learn from the past, the lasting effects of residential schools on First Nations people must also not be forgotten.

She should know and understand that. That’s why I find it absolutely astounding that she would make such comments.

In response, the MLA accused her critics of playing petty politics. Apparently Linda Larson paid little attention to or learned nothing from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It gave this background to institutions of confinement that lasted about 120 years and ceased to exist only 20 years ago:

Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.

During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.

The commission described its purpose:

There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.

The expressions by an elected government member demonstrate that racism can be like incurable viruses that reside and reproduce in hidden places. Disease can be resistant to treatment, racism can be resistant to education. It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation’s indigenous people have long been subject to unfair treatment.

UBC historian Jean Barman first published The West Beyond the West in 1991. I’ve been reading a revised edition from 1996. Barman says that in the mid 20th century, First Nations people:

had forced on them a realization of their dependence and subordination. …one of the biggest problems for the Indians was that they weren’t equal to other citizens of Canada. Conditions of everyday life were often appalling. …in some communities, public places refused to serve Indian people. Natives knew that if they walked into a restaurant, they would be asked to leave, and if they refused, the police would be called.

…Veterans and others realized that, despite war service, Indian people were not even citizens…

It was not until the sixties that aboriginal people had the same theoretical rights to purchase and consume liquor in British Columbia as non-aboriginals. I remember informal segregation in my hometown of Powell River. The senior high school enrolled its first students from the Tla’amin Nation in about 1963 and there was very little social interaction and certainly no teaching of indigenous history to school children. Unless one drove almost five miles north of the townsite, there was little evidence of aboriginal presence.

My wife, a long time critical care nurse, worked in the Powell River hospital as a teenager. She still shudders today at a recollection of being told that an indigenous patient’s name did not matter, all that was needed was her band ID number.

Yet, I am sure that much progress has been made in my lifetime, apparently not including MLA Linda Larson. Gwen and I visited Alert Bay three times last year and had opportunity to visit First Nations people who have pride restored but still understand the depth of harms visited upon their elders and the residual impacts that linger on. Generations of parents had children stolen and many youngsters grew to be adults with family bonds injured.

It is vital that we go forward recognizing and respecting the need to reconcile. The BC Liberal Government ought to make clear they believe this is required because it is just, not because it is politically convenient.

Our Voices, Our Stories – Trailer from Craven Studios on Vimeo.

My video from a community meeting in Alert Bay to view director Barbara Cranmer’s film.


Categories: Indigenous

10 replies »

  1. Forgive the terrible editing.

    Again- Like all BritishColumbians I have had a long learning and unlearning curve with respect for First Nations. My generation couldn’t have been worse prepared for reality going all away from being taught in school only about Eastern “tribes” and not a word those living with us. I don’t find it possible to describe the contempt our parents had for Indians, passed on as part of our heritage. All hstory was suppressed, the justice system of which I was a part was despicable. I need not go on. When changes started my generation was in its forties and for some the changes in law started by Pierre Trudeau were bewildering.

    But in our guts we knew that something was terribly wrong. We read. We made contact. As a politician I was in touch both politically and socially with The Kamloops Indian Band. I was astonished! This wasn’t like Indians were supposed to be!

    I read the Supreme Court of Canada cases and was enraged. Who the hell did these people think they were?

    It didn’t take long for me and mine to realize “they” were scores of cultures, nations and languages and, whether I liked it or not they had entrenched Constitutional rights continually being stated and enforced by the highest court in the land. I not only began to agree, as if that really mattered, but proud! They didn’t seek revenge but compensation and my hand as a brother. It has been an exhiliarating experience.

    Not all of my generation felt as I but most did.

    Ms Larson, where the devil were you all this time? What an experience of a lifetime you have missed!

    You must surely be given a suspension from Caucus if Premier Clark is to demonstrate that her committment and that of her government to the our new, fairer, and far more enjoyable British Columbia is more than just politically correct lip service under pressure.


    • Rafe, an excellent comment. I’m a post-war baby boomer but my experience with indigenous people was similar. You were fortunate to have been in positions to interact with First Nations communities directly and you learned from the experiences.

      Linda Larson almost used the old line, “Some of my best friends are [fill in the blank].” What she said was, “I have many friends and some have died too young as a result of the connection [to residential schools] through their parents. ”

      Larson apparently ignorant of fact that the last residential schools closed only about 20 years ago.


  2. Yet again we witness absolute disregard for the traumas and indignities suffered by our First Nations people. Linda Larsen should be fired right along with her buddy Christy Clark who endorsed this behavior. All we see is lip service but nothing in the way of true regard for what happened and how to ensure it is never forgotten as a point of respect and learning.


  3. Premier Clark defended Linda Larsen, saying that, because no First Nations people in the room responded angrily to the MLA’s comments, her words were ok. Of course, had they made an issue of these insensitive remarks, Clark would have criticized the representatives as disrespectful and uncivil.

    It’s not surprising that a narcissist lacks empathy for the generations of indigenous people who’ve suffered under racism and systemic discrimination. Clark spends her time plotting how friends can fill their pockets by converting public wealth to private and she has little time for people who don’t serve her immediate goals.


    • Whatever happened to the apology? Where did the simple sense of decency from leadership go? This remark by Ms Larson wasn’t part of the cut and thrust of political debate but what had to be, given the circumstances, a deliberately cruel jibe by a government MLA at fellow citizens, without the slightest pretext of fairness much less legitimacy. It ranks right up there with asking an Afro American why he can’t just forget slavery or why a Jew can’t simply overlook the Holocaust?

      Decent people apologize. A premier, with even a soupcon of care for those who have been collectively discriminated against and badly hurt by the society she leads, would promptly and forcefully dissociate herself and her government from hurtful remarks such as Ms Larson made, apologize and discipline.

      Like Stephen Harper, Christy Clark is without a sense of caring and I, for one British Columbian, believe we’re entitled to better.


  4. And there was the photo op queen on t.v. defending the idiot MLA. Like where do they dig these B.C. Lieberals up from? Hasn’t she been reading the papers? Oh, well this is the cabal who triple deleted the HighwAy of Tears e-mails, so what can we expect? This is the gang who gives us the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for 14 out of 15 years. Larson is as dumb as they come. I can hardly wait until she asks some one when Jews will forget about their Holocaust and the Armenian Holocaust. If idiot Larson asked me when my family was going to forget about the Jewish Holocaust I’m afraid I would have decked her. Yes, I know assault and battery, but I really could say I’d lost it. If there is anyone left in this province who would vote for this morally and ethically depleted bunch of thieves, crooks, and liars they all deserve each other.

    I know what, lets take Larson and the photo op queen and for a week subject them to what some First Nations children were subjected to in the residential schools. then we’ll see if how they feel and we can ask them when they are going to get over it. How would she like to be awoken each day at 4 or 5 a.m. forced to get up, scrub floors, forced to do all sorts of menial work, beaten, sexually assaulted, yelled at, kicked, punched, told how worthless they where, and not given an adequate diet, etc.

    Larson obviously has not kept up with medical research. Some of it done at U.B.C. which revealed that the suffering the children were exposed to in residential schools altered their DNA. that is how much they suffered. Once you alter the DNA of people, things don’t just change back in a few years. I’d recommend Larson watch the latest PBS documentary about the “First 9 months”. the last episode dealt with what happens to a fetus when its mother is subjected to stress in the last month of her pregnancy. The research was done by a Quebec scientist.
    She was able to do her research on the subject after the Quebec Ice Storm 17 years ago. She followed women who were in their last month of pregnancy or more importantly their children. These children had a higher rate of anxiety disorders and were slower to develop communication skills. Many of these children came from middle and working class families, so that once the ice storm was over, life went back to normal, but the fetus’s DNA was altered forever. So if Larson thinks this is something which will “burn out” she has demonstrated very clearly what a burn out she is. Not to mention insensitive, ignorant, and just plain stupid. the same goes for her boss, photo op queen for defending her.


  5. In answer to Ms. Larson’s question I would have to answer that first it would have to stop! Her stupid words confirm the attitude is alive and well still.For this stupid stupid woman to utter those words and for this stupid stupid premier to try and defend them can only serve to affirm to first nations that their is little hope of reconciliation. If these are the thoughts of those they are entrusting to understand then their is little hope.Both Linda Larson and Christy Clark displayed an inadequate mentality without the capability of compassion and understanding. In their stupor of life around them they shock us with their lack of thought or more so their ability to think.


  6. Amazingly, the spread of religious ran institutions has spread almost unchecked into our health care system. Senior homes & hospices are being ran by religious organizations, did we not learn anything from history, or does history merely conflict with a certain political agenda?


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