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Will the Canadian government acknowledge the genocide against Indigenous peoples?

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Photo: Pedlann/Wikimedia

Tomorrow, June 3, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) will release its final report titled Reclaiming Power and Place.

CBC News has obtained a copy of it and reports that it will conclude that the estimated 4,000 Indigenous women who have been murdered or disappeared in this country in recent decades are victims of a "Canadian genocide" driven by "state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies."

This is likely to spur commentary in mainstream media about the veracity of that conclusion, but if we were to apply the United Nations definition of genocide, it should be undeniable that the Canadian state has committed genocide against Indigenous peoples.

The UN definition says that "any of the following acts" constitute genocide:

"Killing members of the group"

An estimated 6,000 Indigenous children died at residential schools. The number is likely even higher given the federal government stopped counting fatalities in 1920 after the chief medical officer at Indian Affairs noted that children were dying at an alarming rate. That same year, it became mandatory for every Indigenous child to attend a residential school.

"Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group"

It has also been documented that 1,300 Indigenous children at residential schools were used as medical test subjects (including the testing of tuberculosis vaccines), tens of thousands of Indigenous children suffered sexual abuse, and that most were malnourished while others had nutrition experiments conducted on them.

"Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part"

Federal government documents have noted that the life expectancy for Indigenous people in Canada is 15 years shorter than the general population, infant mortality rates are two to three times higher, and the incidence of diabetes is four times higher. The suicide rate among Indigenous youth is about five to six times higher than for non-Indigenous youth in this country. As many as 72,000 Indigenous people do not have access to clean drinking water in this country.

"Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group"

In the 1970s, there were about 1,200 Indigenous women coerced into being sterilized, with almost half of the procedures at hospitals operated by the federal government. A class action lawsuit proposed in 2017 on behalf of 20 Indigenous women in Saskatchewan says the practice of forced sterilization has been happening since the 1930s.

"Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group"

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools. The Sixties Scoop, which took place between the 1950s and the 1980s, also saw an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children taken from their families and fostered or adopted primarily by white families.

In the present day, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Indigenous children are in state care in this country. There are now more children in Canada's child-welfare system than there were at the height of residential schools.

Canadian genocide

There is a strong argument that all of these definitional terms for genocide have been met. That said, it should again be highlighted that the United Nations definition specifies "any of the following acts" constitute genocide.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former prime minister Paul Martin, and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin have already stated Canada committed "cultural genocide" against Indigenous peoples. Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now acknowledge the MMIWG Commission's assertion of a "Canadian genocide"?

Will he then also acknowledge the autonomy of Indigenous nations, recognize and implement free, prior and informed consent (which would include not building the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline on Secwepemc territory), and follow the steps identified by Indigenous peoples to address the ongoing colonial legacies of poverty, violence, and despair?

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Pedlann/Wikimedia

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