A high-ranking First Nations leader has joined in the call for an apology from local MLA Linda Larson for her “incredibly ignorant” comments regarding residential schools.
While leading a legislative committee meeting on health in Victoria last week, Larson asked an executive from the First Nations Health Authority: “How long do you think before the legacy of those residential schools finally burns itself out of the First Nations people?”
Later, she wondered: “How many generations is it going to take before the words ‘residential school’ no longer play a part in how people feel?”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said Larson should offer an “unconditional apology” for her comments.
“I thought they were absolutely inappropriate, ill-informed and, quite frankly, incredibly ignorant,” said Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and former head of the Penticton Indian Band.
Just as the world still remembers other human-rights atrocities, like the Holocaust, to honour victims and learn from the past, he explained, the lasting effects of residential schools on First Nations people must also not be forgotten.
“She should know and understand that,” said Phillip. “That’s why I find it absolutely astounding that she would make such comments.”
B.C. New Democratic Party leader John Horgan has also called on Larson to apologize, but the MLA for Boundary-Similkameen apparently stands by what she said.
She didn’t return a call for comment Wednesday, but said in a statement: “What happened with residential schools was an absolute tragedy. There was and continues to be horrible consequences to peoples’ lives because of residential schools. I know too many people in our community who have suffered.
“Every member of that committee, regardless of their party, is interested in one thing – how can we work together to help people. At that committee meeting we were talking to the health authority about how we can help people. I’m surprised and disappointed that Mr. Horgan would try and use my comments for partisan purposes.”
Horgan also called on Premier Christy Clark to force Larson to apologize, but that request was brushed off during a stop in Penticton on Tuesday.
“The First Nations people who were in the room (at the committee meeting) didn’t express any offence at it at the time, so I think we can follow their lead,” said Clark, adding Larson “was really trying to understand what it is we can all do to try and heal those wounds, which is so important for us as a generation.”
Phillip said Clark’s refusal to order an apology reflects the premier’s own “cavalier” attitude towards First Nations.
It’s not the first time Larson has courted controversy with her public remarks.
In a December 2015 interview with The Herald, she criticized the “crazy people” who rallied against a secret focus group she had planned to summarize public feedback to a proposal for a national park in her riding. That comment drew widespread condemnation from environmentalists.
The following is an excerpt from the transcript of the July 7 Select Standing Committee on Health meeting at which MLA Linda Larson made her controversial comments on residential schools during an exchange with presenter Richard Jock, chief operating officer of the First Nations Health Authority:
JOCK: I think the legacy of residential schools is one that we really need to carefully address and do so throughout our system. In fact, trauma-informed care is a really important ingredient to improving care….
LARSON: Thank you. That gives us a chance to ask some questions. You made a referral to the residential schools. How long do you think before the legacy of those residential schools finally burns itself out of the First Nations people?
JOCK: Well, I think there are a couple of aspects to that. One is that as long as our people feel uncomfortable with the system, as long as they feel that institutions are not friendly to them, then I think the legacy will not find its way out of the system.
LARSON: What institutions now are not friendly? I mean, the residential schools were horrific. There's no doubt about that. I have many friends, and some have died too young as a result of the connection through their parents. I'm talking generationally. How many generations is it going to take before the words “residential school" no longer play a part in how people feel?
JOCK: Well, that one's a tough question. I guess what I would say is that as long as people are feeling that they are being discriminated against when they present at a hospital or in any kind of a mainstream institution, then we'll not see the end of that.