Years of Cultural Genocide in Canada

Photo source: Open Canada

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

For more than a hundred years, the First Nations Peoples, of Canada, were forced to learn in an educational framework, designed to remove all evidence, of their native identities. 

As Canada became one hundred fifty years old, in 2017, many people believe that it was their celebration of genocide.

While Canada was willing to spend billions of dollars on events marking Canada’s one hundred fifty years, in 2017, essential social services for First Nations people were under-funded.

Pamela Palmater, in a Now Toronto Oped, wrote, on March 29, 2017: ‘arguably, every firework, hot dog, and piece of birthday cake in Canada's 150th celebration will be paid for by the genocide of Indigenous peoples and cultures’.

In recent past, a damning report, that took a remarkable six years to produce, details how five hundred thousand children from aboriginal families were forced to attend over one hundred thirty Christian boarding schools, between the nineteenth century, and the 1970s, with an aim to integrate them in Canadian society. In this process, at least four thousand people were estimated to have died, in these schools, and many were buried in unmarked graves. This residential school system is a violation of the United Nations Genocide Convention.

According to Truth and Reconciliation Commission, cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures, and practices, that allow the group, to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out and destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. It is a mass action, where spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, languages are banned, and objects of spiritual value are seized, and destroyed. And families, at large, are prevented in the transmission of cultural values and identity, from one generation to the next. TRC has reported that Canada, as a nation, has done all these things, including peoples amounted to cultural, biological and physical genocide.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin believes that Canada attempted to commit ‘cultural genocide’ against aboriginal peoples, in what she calls as the worst stain on Canada’s human rights record. In her working past, she has often cited laws that barred Indians from leaving reservations, widespread starvation, disease and denial of the right to vote.

In Canada, despite the historic animosity against First Nation peoples, there have been National Inquiries. There have been important antecedents, such as the 1991 Aboriginal Justice enquiry, the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the 2001 Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, the 2015 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, and 2019 Reclaiming Power and Place, the final report of the National Inquiry. But, unfortunately, due to myriad reasons, this twelve hundred page final report has fallen upon deaf ears. For this reason, a good future of long-oppressed indigenous people remains uncertain. But, Trudeau, has promised to pursue a strategy, that would be quite different than that of former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.

The historical complexity of this issue will also raise bars for another debate: if Canada keeps on claiming to be a plural, multicultural, tolerant, immigrant friendly country, then under what right, does it claim to be a champion of integration, especially if its a state that has committed genocide, since the nineteenth century.

As Canada has a rich colonial past, several of its educational institutions, have come under sporadic vilification. In Halifax, a school was voted to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High School. The school was named after an individual, who was responsible for putting bounties, on the heads of Mi’kmaw people, reflecting in many deaths. Also, in Toronto, Ryerson University has come under flak as well, because it is named after Egerton Ryerson, a strong supporter of residential schools, where thousands of indigenous children died violently, through torturous deaths. The ‘Famous Five’ women, celebrated in Canada’s history, have also been questioned, for their heroic stature, as champions of women rights, because they favoured sterilisation against indigenous women.

Canadians, and the world, at large, should not be shocked. In history, the ‘Indian policy’, that was based on obtaining lands and resources, in larceny, and reducing financial obligations, to indigenous peoples, resulted in the primary aim of ‘assimilation’, or ‘elimination’, of these First Nation tribes. These acts included confining indigenous peoples to tiny reserves and forbidding them to hunt, fish, or provide food to their families, forcing them to live on unhealthy, and insufficient rations, that caused their ill health, and death from lack of food. These inhuman policies were a product of Canada’s legalisation process, through the state and the judiciary, which include the Gradual Civilisation Act of 1857, the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869, and Indian Act of 1876.

Today, more indigenous children are taken from their families, put into foster care. The indigenous population, now, comprises of only four per cent, but some prisons nearly contain hundred per cent indigenous inmates. The federal government, in an unhinged attitude, by not displaying any sympathy, has continued with its policy of little intervention. For these reasons, Canada has remained vulnerable to genocide probes, and the scholars, the Hague and other institutions, who knew about it, remained firm in their belief, that Canada, has a serious face-saving exercise to consider.

Several experts on human rights and culture believe that Trudeau had no right to speak on National Aboriginal Day, in 2016, about the importance of reconciliation and the process of truth-telling, until he makes some necessary amendments, especially with the kind of institutions they have. In fact, an amount of token, there was no good gesture, and compassion, to include indigenous art, songs and dances in Canada’s one-fiftieth celebration. Due to gross neglect, the majority of indigenous languages are becoming extinct, of around sixty. Although, there are some political scientists, who believe that the responsibility, now, rests upon indigenous peoples, themselves, to narrate their experiences through colonial languages, in terms of English and French, so that the cultural divide is broken down.

As indigenous peoples used to live under their own tribal, self-governance systems, the colonial structures, that slowly replaced them, gave a sense of statelessness, to them. Under the current scenario, these First Nation Peoples have no interests, in learning about political liberties, national identity, and what the pillars of a modern democracy in Canada stand for. In fact, these same systems have been used to destroy their political, and social aspirations.


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