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December 6, 2021
In the 1970s and ’80s, no one was talking about Indian residential school tragedies. Criticism of the former prime minister ignores that context.
On Oct. 24, former prime minister Jean Chrétien was invited to promote his new book on one of Quebec’s most-watched television program, Radio-Canada’s Sunday night Tout le monde en parle. After light chat about a number of issues, the conversation turned on the merits of political experience and using history as a guide to policy-making. Guy A. Lepage, the host, asked Chrétien for his insights on a few current issues and then broached the subject of Indian residential schools. “We can’t rewrite history,” Chrétien said, “terrible things happened.”
“I imagine you were not aware,” Lepage offered. “How did you react?” Chrétien answered that the topic was never raised while he was minister of Indian affairs from 1968 to 1974, a portfolio to which he was genuinely committed both professionally and personally (he and his wife, Aline, adopted an Indigenous boy from the Northwest Territories). Chrétien then volunteered that he had lived in a boarding school for most of his youth and had known hardships. The interview continued on other topics.
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