White Fragility — Getting Past Our Collective Guilt — Acknowledging Genocide

John Matterson
3 min readJun 10, 2021


Following protests last week where Egerton Ryerson’s statue at Ryerson University was pulled down, questions have been raised as to whether Ryerson was really all that bad. Apparently, he had learned to speak Ojibwe and had friends that were indigenous. That last point of course being the most standard of all White Fragility stances — I can’t be racist because I have an “ enter race here “ friend.

Canadians are finally catching up to the reality that our country was/is responsible for genocide. Our increased awareness is forcing us to face our collective white fragility. Canada has been a leader in the world in speaking up against other country’s human rights abuses, all while hiding our own.

Our truth has been exposed to the world, so what do we do? We try to deflect the blame to the Catholic Church. They certainly deserve a lot, but not all. We look for ways to rationalize our behaviour by identifying residential schools as the acts of a few bad people. We claim that some people’s intentions were good. We admit that Duncan Campbell Scott was horrible, but we don’t mention that his actions received broad support at the time. This includes when he infamously stated in 1920:

“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

In Ryerson’s case, he died before the creation of the first residential school, but “he drafted an influential 1847 report calling for religious-run “industrial” boarding schools in order to instill “civilization” in the “North American Indian.”

National Post Tristen Hopper Jun 8, 2021.

Ryerson, like so many other settlers, arrived in Indigenous territories and saw the world from a white perspective. He treated “Indians” as less than human. He treated them as a problem that needed to be fixed.

I see comments on social media saying not all residential schools abused students. Again, a clear example of white fragility. Sure, some were not as bad as others, but in all these schools the first step was taking a child from their family. That alone was abuse, and it typically got much worse from there.

When the first settlers arrived in Indigenous territories, they only saw the world from their own point of view. Their white supremist point of view. They ignored the rich lives First Nations were leading. The First Nation people were willing to share their ways, but the settlers had no intention of learning from them. They instead focused on assimilation to “get rid of the Indians”.

Today, the denial continues. White people still think we know better. We have ignored First Nations ways for hundreds of years. It’s time to pay attention to what we missed.

First Nations practiced sustainability and respect for the land, but when settlers arrived, they extracted resources and permanently damaged habitat. They hunted and fished to near extinction and abused the land to the point where our existence is at risk.

First Nations looked after their communities and left no one behind taking a communal approach. Settlers, on the other hand, arrived with a focus on individualism. They raced to get as much as they could for themselves. Today we have billionaire’s living in luxury, making money at the expense of others and paying no taxes, while there are millions living in poverty.

Fist Nations planned by looking 7 generations back and 7 generations forward. They focused on leaving the world in a better place for future generations while respecting their past. The descendants of settlers are more focused on quarterly reports and stock valuations.

We have much to learn from First Nations. This starts with us listening.

We need to stop fighting First Nations in our legal systems, and acknowledge their rights.

We need to support First Nations in gaining equity.

We need to learn as partners.

We need to acknowledge the truth. No more wishy-washy political preaching. No more carefully crafted speeches focused on avoiding future legal battles It is time to admit what happened and move forward from there.

We need a straightforward acknowledgement of Genocide. The truth.

Originally published at http://steppingup748937840.wordpress.com on June 10, 2021.



John Matterson

I am a writer that happens to have Parkinson’s. I write about my experiences with a balance of humour, optimism and honesty.