The Great Sin of Paternalism in Canada

“What connected the Führer and his people was fear of the modern age, or in other words, the future.”


“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian,” Macdonald said, according to archived documents. “He is simply a savage who can read and write.”


How can we understand the motivations behind something as inhumane as residential schools? John A. Macdonald, the celebrated first Prime Minister of Canada and the foremost father of Confederation, left a legacy of discrimination and sorrow that will outstretch my generation, my children’s generation, and perhaps even my children’s children’s generation.

As he approached the end of his political career, John began to become obsessed with the idea of uplifting all the citizens of Canada to what he believed was equal status. A noble goal – one that is mirrored in modern struggles against homelessness, against racism and against the patriarchy. Unfortunately however, in this instance the ends do not even begin to justify the means.

This beloved man -

“Kill the Indian, but save the man.” 

So said Sir John A. Macdonald as he convinced a nation to wrest young Native children away from their families. So said Sir John A. Macdonald as he passed legislation that allowed him to destroy cultures in the name of patriotism.

How did he persuade Canadians into this?

How did he persuade Canadians into this?


In Socials class, we have been discussing the idea of “Paternalism.”

From Google:

“Paternalism (or parentalism) is behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group’s liberty or autonomy for that person’s or group’s own good.”

This was the mindset that was infused into not just John A. Macdonald at the time, but to a majority of Canadian citizens. ‘It is for the good of the Aboriginals’, was a common theme from those who advocated for Residential Schools. Even if the Schools really were used simply to ‘elevate’ Aboriginals to British culture, the murder, torture, and disregard for fellow man is inexcusable, by all accounts.

The problem is, John A. Macdonald was not a villain of the time, nor is he considered one now. He is merely the face of a systemic social issue, that of disregard and discrimination towards First Nations peoples from other Canadians. Residential Schools, for all the horror that they inspire now, were a popular idea of the time. Voters loved the concept of equality and unified culture, even if it was through assimilation. The fact that the majority of bloody hands would be blamed on Macdonald simply made it even easier for the average citizen to tune out cries, and distance themselves from the prosecution.

When and where did the virtues of freedom and the very liberal world view of Confederation transition into Conservative fears?



Jackson, Lisa. “Is John A. Macdonald Really the Canadian Hero We Think He Is?” The Huffington Post. 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 1 May 2015. <>.

Ireland, Nicole. “Native Groups Use Macdonald’s Birthday to Raise Issue of His Legacy of Residential Schools.” Toronto Sun. Toronto Sun, 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 1 May 2015. <>.

“Canadian Indian Residential School System.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 1 May 2015. <>.

Seligmann, Rafael. “The Atlantic Times :: Archive.” The Atlantic Times :: Archive. 20 Jan. 2005. Web. 4 May 2015. <>.

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