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Activist Communique: The basics of colonization

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The basics of colonization:

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the children. You destroy the children by taking their mothers.

Women -- child-bearers, life-givers -- sit at the heart of the community. Indigenous culture is carried in the blood and breath of the mother who teaches the next generation. Two-legged and four-legged children alike are born falling to the ground and they fall down on the ground again to die.

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the mothers.

For 500 years on Turtle Island, colonization has threatened the culture, lives and land of Indigenous people.

Upon "discovery," the displacement of First Nations people tore families from their traditional territories. It tore families apart through murder, conversion, starvation and forced displacement. Genocide. Estimates of the death toll range from 2 million to 100 million people. Not only were families exterminated, but whole bands and nation were wiped off the face of Mother Earth. With no mothers and children left, the whole of those cultures died.

*

This legacy of destruction and genocide continued with the Canadian residential school system, where the Canadian government, working through Christian institutions such as the Catholic and Anglican churches, forcibly removed children from their mothers and families and took them to distant residential schools.

Removed from their mothers and cultures, these residential schools cut out with blunt and sharp knives any trace of "Indian" in the stolen children with the shearing of the children's hair, and beatings if they spoke their mother language. The language of their mothers.

These residential schools were federally run through the Department of Indian Affairs. Attendance was mandatory and government Indian agents were employed to go from community to community and identify and take these children from their homes. The loss of a child not only destroys a mother's heart, but her ability to teach her daughters and sons their traditions, how to live as adults, and how to be good parents themselves.

According to statistics compiled by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): "Initially, about 1,100 students attended 69 schools across the country. In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada. There were a total of about 130 schools in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick from the earliest in the 19th century to the last, which closed in 1996. In all, about 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools."

Children were taken from their homes and sent to school for 10 months of the year. Communication back home was severely impeded since correspondence from the children had to be written in English which many parents couldn't read. Brothers and sisters at the same school rarely saw each other, as all activities were segregated by gender. Rules and traditional protocols regarding such things as inter-clan relationships were ignored.

The residential school system destroyed a mother's ability to raise and teach her children. When these children -- those that survived -- became adults and returned to their families with the "Indian beaten out of them," they were strangers to their parents and their culture.

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the children.

*

After the province of Alberta passed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act, between 1928 and 1972 over 2,800 sterilization (optional and compulsory) procedures were performed on women considered to be "unfit" by the government. While other state-sponsored eugenic sterilization projects were cancelled after the end of the Second World War, the Alberta government actually increased the funding and scope of eligibility for its eugenic program.

According to government statistics, the First Nations community represented only 2.5 per cent of the general population in Alberta, but made up 6 per cent of the institutionalized population. "Towards the end of Alberta's sterilization program, Aboriginal people and Métis made up 25 per cent of the sterilizations performed. Furthermore, those of Aboriginal ancestry were disproportionately assigned the "mentally deficient" rating, which denied them their legal rights and made them eligible for sterilization without consent."

A sterilization program -- with racist underpinnings -- also operated in British Columbia where victims of this procedure proceeded in 2003 to sue the government for sexual assault.

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the mothers.

*

There is a list of missing women in Canada, a list of missing and murdered Indigenous women that continues to grow.

According to the Native Women's Association of Canada's (NWAC), a total of over 600 Indigenous women have gone missing in Canada; 393 died as a result of murder or negligence and 115 remain missing. In only 53 per cent of the cases involving Indigenous women was someone charged, whereas the average rate for charges in a homicide in Canada is 84 per cent.

NWAC's report also indicates that Indigenous women are five times more likely to be murdered than other women in Canada. Rates of violence against Indigenous women are highest in British Columbia, where 28 per cent of the cases of missing and murdered occur.

These figures are not historical. These facts are not just numbers and statistics and math, but directly affect the heart of First Nations communities in Canada. No mothers. No sisters. No daughters. No continuation of life.

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the children. You destroy the children by taking their mothers.

Audrey Huntely, a member of No More Silence Toronto, wrote in a rabble.ca article of her travels to bring justice to murdered and missing women: "Not only had they all experienced the devastation of loss by violence of someone precious, but they had also suffered from the treatment they experienced at the hands of those they went to for help. They were received with blatant racism at worst, passive indifference at best. Fearful and desperate for help in their search for their missing friend or family member, they instead had to endure insult upon injury."

This is a picture of death from racism and neglect.

First Nations communities across Canada have been carrying the burden of this sadness for generations as they walk this trail of grief. They are stepping out of the shadows and coming forward. First Nation communities and the allies demand that these murders and the disappearances stop.

It is not that Canada is unaware of this situation. Three years ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued this statement: "Hundreds of cases involving Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention."

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the mothers.

On July 29, 2011, NWAC's president Jeannette Corbiere Lavell commented, "the Government of British Columbia has shut us out of the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and now we have no confidence that it will be able to produce a fair and balanced report. The decision of the B.C. government to restrict funding for counsel primarily to police and government agencies demonstrates how flawed and one-sided this process has become." It has since pulled out of the inquiry in protest, followed by other groups.

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the mothers.

On Friday Oct. 29, 2010, the federal government announced the end (due to lack of funding) of the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) program, an announcement made by female MP Rona Ambrose.

As defined by its creator, NWAC, Sisters in Spirit was: "a research, education and policy initiative driven and led by Aboriginal women. Our primary goal is to conduct research and raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada."

The systematic racism and colonial policies of the Canadian government -- a Harper government that asserts that Canada has no history of colonialism within its borders -- has forced Indigenous women to turn to the United Nations (UN) for help.

Announced in late 2011, The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has been moved to conduct an inquiry into the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.

According to Corbiere Lavell, in January and in September 2011, Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) and NWAC requested this inquiry because violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that demands immediate and concerted action.

The slow, insidious disappearance of these women not only robs communities of their important women but also robs them of all the wisdom these women held and all the potential for future generations.

The basics of colonization:

To destroy a culture, you must destroy the children. You destroy the children by taking their mothers.

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