15 Aug 2018

The Harm Perpetuated by the Myth of "Cultural Genocide" in Canada

Updated August 16, 2018: added examples to show that Canada engaged in the common understanding of genocide in the government's pursuit of "the final solution to the Indian problem"; also reformatted and made minor corrections and clarifications.

Canadian journalists are reporting today that the federal government is consulting with Indigenous peoples about the creation of a national holiday to acknowledge the damage caused by the residential schools system. Examples include The Globe and Mail and CTV News articles. This national holiday nonsense boils my blood.

I want to quickly voice my concern that sufficient consultation has probably not taken place. The articles do not mention if a Métis representative body has been consulted. If sufficient consultation had taken place then grassroots people would not be hearing about it for the first time in a news story. They would be hearing it from their leaders and neighbours. How many survivors of the residential schools system have been consulted?

Regardless, a failure to fully and meaningfully consult with Indigenous peoples is an old game for Canada. In this article I want to add my voice to those who have warned about the continuing sham known as "cultural genocide".

The news articles linked above refer to Canada's shameful residential schools system as one piece in the machinery of "cultural genocide" enacted against Indigenous peoples. The proposed national holiday is supposed to ensure that Canada never forgets the destructive legacy of residential schools. Don't be fooled: the term "cultural genocide" immediately whitewashes Canada's history of violence. The term "cultural genocide" is a distraction from the fuller ordinary and legal meanings of genocide.

"Cultural genocide" has no legal meaning, but it commonly refers to one or more acts perpetrated by a government with the aim of destroying the cultural heritage of an identifiable group of people. The term "cultural genocide" has also been unsuccessfully used by some academics attempting to design typologies of genocide (see Dadrian, for example). The term "cultural genocide" is a half-baked idea which sounds nice to the colonizer's ear, but actually has little substance or meaning behind it. It is also used by Canada to imply that the genocide has ended. It hasn't. No surprise that the term "cultural genocide" has gained significant traction with politicians and bureaucrats.

By comparison, the common understanding of genocide may be defined as one or more acts perpetrated by a government with the aim of killing members of an identifiable group of people. The Canadian government knowingly caused the deaths of thousands of Indigenous children in the residential schools system. The alarm was first sounded around 1907 by Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer for the Departments of the Interior and Indian Affairs. He spent years trying to get Canada to respond to the alarming rate of deaths at residential schools. The eventual response was chilling.

Duncan Campbell Scott was the Superintendent of the department at the time. Scott justified government apathy about the deaths as follows:
It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.
It is well known that "the final solution" is veiled language for the killing of an entire race of people. The Nazis adopted this language in relation to the targets of their own genocide. Remember that the Nazi party was established in 1920; it was a Canadian bureaucrat that used the genocidal language first.

Scott admitted in yet another letter that:
... insufficient care was exercised in the admission of children in the schools. The well-known predisposition of Indians to tuberculosis resulted in a very large percentage of deaths among the pupils. They were housed in buildings not carefully designed for school purposes, and these buildings became infected and dangerous to the inmates. It is quite within the mark to say that fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received. [emphasis mine]
Fifty per cent of "inmates" likely died in residential schools at that time! If this happened today in any school there would be a swift response to lay blame and prevent it from ever happening again. How did the federal government respond in 1920? They stopped recording the deaths. The Indian Act was amended to make residential school attendance mandatory. Indian Agents were empowered to forcefully take children from their families. Canada ramped-up its efforts to expose Indigenous children to a known fatal health risk of Canada's own creation. Therefore, the common understanding of genocide was enacted by the Canadian government against Indigenous children through the residential schools system.

The legal definition of genocide is more comprehensive than the common definitions for genocide or "cultural genocide"; the international legal definition of genocide is set out by the United Nations in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:
[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Here too, the residential schools system was intended to cause and has been proven to have resulted in the infliction of everything listed above, including:
  • the deaths of massive numbers of Indigenous children from preventable diseases;
  • the mental, physical, and sexual assault and torture of Indigenous children;
  • the sexual sterilization of Indigenous children; and
  • the forced labour of Indigenous children for long periods of the day.
Additionally, the residential schools system was one of several systems employed over the history of Canada to forcibly transfer Indigenous children to non-Indigenous groups (the Sixties Scoop and the Millennial Scoop are other examples of past and present systems of Canada's genocide).

Further, Canada's genocide against Indigenous peoples has more than one aim. Assimilation has been commonly but offhandedly admitted by Canada for some time (see Prime Minister Harper's 2008 apology). Assimilation is acknowledged by Canada because it has arguably ended. However, Canada has never admitted that the genocide against Indigenous peoples was primarily aimed at material gain. This refusal stems from the fact that the genocide continues to the promote the material gain of others via the wrongful taking of land and resources from Indigenous peoples. Canada's genocide promoted and continues to promote the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land and the beneficial use of those lands. This dispossession occurs so that Canada may continue to extract resources for the extreme profit of a relatively small group of wealthy individuals, as well as the prosperity of large numbers of non-Indigenous Canadians.

Canada's genocide was motivated first and foremost by theft. The effects of that genocide are ongoing to allow that theft to continue today. Assimilation and racism form the blanket used to shield the perpetrators from the revelation that their crime was motivated by greed.

Clearly, the residential schools system was a program of illegal genocide enacted by Canada against Indigenous peoples across this land. Further, the after-effects of the residential schools system continue today. The Millennial Scoop continues today. Systemic oppression and violence continues today. Canada's beneficial use of stolen land continues today. Therefore, Canada's genocide against Indigenous peoples has not ended.

Unfortunately, the term "cultural genocide" has been used with increasing frequency in Canada over the last two decades. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission bolstered the legitimacy of the term in 2015; page 1 of the Summary of the Final Report of the TRC claimed that the policy which spawned the residential schools system "can best be described" as "cultural genocide". The finding of the TRC is very wrong. The term "cultural genocide" only serves to facilitate the whitewashing of Canada's horrific, greedy transgressions against Indigenous peoples.

For all of the above reasons, I vehemently oppose the use of the term "cultural genocide" to describe Canada's actual genocide against Indigenous peoples. I am not the only one. The weasel words "cultural genocide" are being used by Canadian politicians and bureaucrats to downplay the state's heinous genocidal acts against Indigenous peoples. The media is legitimizing these weasel words when they pass them unchallenged to the public. The term "cultural genocide" has infected the national consciousness. The proposed holiday is aimed at worsening the national amnesia and cloaking the full horror of Canada's genocide in a day of celebration. I am truly disgusted, and I have been for a long time.

It is an affront to decent human beings everywhere that Canada's illegal oppression of Indigenous peoples is downplayed as "cultural genocide". Canada can keep its national holiday. Informed Indigenous peoples want complete reparations for Canada's decades-long oppression of us, undertaken by the government to perpetrate its theft of our land and resources. Why does the federal government continue to think it can placate us by peddling trinkets? We know better. We demand complete restitution.

I will continue to send this message to the government of Canada:
We are here. You have harmed us. You continue to harm us. We want you to stop. We want you to make full and fair restitution for the harm you have caused us. Only then may we have reconciliation.
Are you sending this message to Canada's government? Will you join us?


[1] Journalists have only reported that the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have acknowledged discussions with the federal government about this new holiday. No mention of the Métis National Council. It is also unclear whether the consultations are wider-ranging than national representative bodies.

For those who are unaware, Métis children were also incarcerated in the residential schools system for the supposed offense of being born native. The absence of any comment from a Métis representative body suggests that Canada is once again engaged in a bare minimum consultation to support the claim that meaningful consultation has taken place. Even if the MNC has been consulted alongside the AFN and ITK, there are many other Indigenous groups, community leaders, and affected people who should be approached for input.

1 comment :

  1. Wow just read this for the 1st time (I'm slow) & it confirms stuff I've moRe than hinted at in various writings, on social media etc.. but from a knowledgeable position, with dates & names, which means more! So much more that I think this entire article musT be added to official annals of this Govt-controlled 'issue'; in fact l'd argue that the theft part which continues -ie. rape of stolen lands' resources enriching corps & investors due to widespread usage- iS a main cause of climate change, resulting from eco-damaging unsustainable extraction etc...

    In BC, this 'resource rape' has been ramped up (again & again) to inflict exTreme damage -eg. polluting, risky LNG/ mining projects- but most appallingly, by logging permits still freely issued by Premier Horgan's NDPs to clearcut the last of our intact (C02-sinking) old-growth forests, ecosystems enriched by time to nurture abundant thriving biodiversity. This govt-approved use of stolen natural habitats is also driving the last nails into the coffins of extinction for our most iconic species, oblivious to the non-stop cries of protest from concerned grassroots orgs/ individuals.. With GHGs rising not reducing as they ought, PROTECTING these last unlogged stands from releasing all their prodigious C02 sequestered over centuries (ie. What logging does) is CRUCIAL to climate action - called an EMERGENCY by official govt. announcements!? Yet this CRITICAL aspect of climate change is barely touched on in any climate plans/ Green New Deals I'Ve read!? If THIS is how Govt treats emergencies, evil outcomes seem inevitable.. & we're in big trouble!

    Your native ancestors stewarded Canada's lush forests & waters for millenia, before the colonists came & appropriated it illegally.. & took just 200yrs to plunder it by unsustainable development.. Even today, this CRIMINAL RAPE of forests/ wildlife habitats continues virtually unchecked, KNOWING the scientific death sentence ascribed to modern methods - ie. results of which spell, eventually & literally, the end of the world as we know it: yes EXTINCTION of aLL LIFE ON EARTH!! WHAT TO DO??

    (I send letters to Govt. constantly-every month- with these urgent concerns, both thru NGOs & not, to no avail..) I'm getting desperate, & thinking a Greta move might be needed to publicize the severity of the situation & incite ACTION..?

    YES it's past & present Govts' fault for giving greedy commerce/industry green lights to destroy our life-giving rainforests & regenerative resources - ignorance is no excuse, they chose RAPE over deferring to natives' own knowledge of their homelands. But being among the last wild ecosystems left on Earth (which CANNOT be duplicated - takes years for forests to build up the benefits they bring), our intact wilderness habitats desperately need to be proTeCTed from governments that are clearly derelict in their duties by their decisions - results of which are bringing climate breakdown & extinction far too close for anyone's comfort..

    QUESTION: Why don't eco-lawyers, eg. EcoJustice, bring these urgent cases to court & @ least have Govt's most heinous projects halted while defending stolen territories against devastating developments? Don't they have a good chance of WINNING, since science firmly backs the rights of climate/ nature over Govt's 'ECOCIDE' designs? Our futures are @ stake here!

    Ps. Thank you for this blistering piece of journalism!