Residential school column in News/North draws criticism from N.W.T. elders

In her News/North column Monday, Cece Hodgson McCauley, a former Dene chief, suggests some people lied to cash in on settlement money.

Cece McCauley went too far, says Gwich'in elder; everybody has an opinion says Dene national chief

'We all heard of horrible lies created by some individuals in order to receive as much money as they could,' columnist Cece McCauley wrote in Monday's News/North. (CBC)

A columnist is standing by comments she made in News/North Monday that have some saying she's gone too far. 

In her regular Northern Notes newspaper column, Cece Hodgson McCauley, a former Dene chief, suggests some people lied to cash in on residential school settlement money.

"We all heard of horrible lies created by some individuals in order to receive as much money as they could," she wrote.

McCauley asserts Senator Lynn Beyak and her supporters were trying to present a positive and fair side of residential schools, something McCauley insists the media ignores.

"What are the positive sides of the residential school legacy? Did no one ask if there was something good?"

Gwich'in elder and residential school survivor Ellen Smith. (Submitted by Ellen Smith)

Gwich'in elder and residential school survivor Ellen Smith, says while McCauley is known to rock the boat, this time she's gone too far.

"It's not about the money. It's what truly took place in our environment when we all went to residential school," Smith told CBC Monday after reading the column. "I went there for 11 years."

Smith said she was a councillor on the Inuvik Native Band when McCauley was chief. She's also chair of the elders/youth hand-in-hand group, which raises awareness about the intergenerational effects of residential schools.

'We have to say it's negative'

Colville Lake elder and residential school survivor Laura Tobac hates to disagree with McCauley, but calls the column disturbing.

"It's hard to say anything good. We have to say it's negative, because we had to pretend just to cope with each day. It was like walking into a dungeon with no hope of getting out," explained Tobac.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus holds the file on residential schools for the Assembly of First Nations.

He read the column, and in a text message said "everyone is entitled to their opinion."

As for McCauley, she insists elders in the N.W.T. are gathering information to go public on the positive side of residential schools.

"For a lot of poor kids, it was the only place people could get three square meals a day," she told the CBC.