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Government Apology as Totem Regeneration: Media Discourse and National-Identity Building

Open Panel

Abstract

The theories of religious scholar Celermejer (2009) show how the government apology can be used as a form of “recovenenting”. In "recovenenting" the nation rhetorically and symbolically splits itself from its former sinning state by referring to politically regretful periods as mere aberrations in juxtaposition to otherwise glorious pasts. Combining these theories with Rene Girard’s concept of the single victim mechanism (2001) and neo-Durkheimians Marvin and Ingles (1999) notions of totem regeneration sheds light on the hidden religious roots of contemporary national identify building. This paper will use the combination of these theories and the method of critical media discourse analysis to explore Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology to survivors of the Canadian residential school system. It will contend that by splitting the totem-word Canada into Canada-past and Canada-present, members of the totem domain were able to scapegoat the totem Canada-past as the sole agent responsible for the harm done to indigenous people at the residential schools. In sacrificing the totem of Canada-past, which had been polluted through violations of the beliefs in equality and human rights in the residential school system, through the humiliation of the confession of sin and the political apology process, members of the totem domain were able to regenerate the unpolluted totem as Canada-present to hide the systemic racism and abuse of human rights still existent in Canada.