Using the right word -- genocide -- to describe Canada's treatment of Aboriginal peoples

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

While riding the elevator together, our Canada Post mail carrier peered over my shoulder at the front page of my newspaper. Pointing to the article on Aboriginal children being starved in government research experiments, in a strong Eastern European accent he exclaimed, "Shameful! Just like what the Nazis and then the Soviets did to us. And here in Canada we let them get away with it?"

According to Raphael Lemkin, the inventor of the term genocide and the reason we now consider it a crime, genocide is a coordinated plan aimed at destroying a group. Despite popular misconceptions, it doesn't require killing all, or even some of the members of the group.

While there may not have been a master plan to execute every Aboriginal person in Canada, throughout much of our history there has been a deeply and widely held belief that First Nations, Metis and Inuit, as groups, should cease to exist. Reducing the number of Aboriginal people and eliminating those who weren't willing to assimilate into Euro-Canadian society was helpful to this cause. Evidence of genocidal desires can be found in any number of government documents and public statements, and when the conditions were right, Canadians, whether bureaucrats, researchers, doctors, missionaries, social workers or entrepreneurs, felt justified in carrying out a range of genocidal acts.

The time has come for non-Aboriginal Canadians to wake up and stop hiding behind words like cultural genocide and convoluted legal defenses. Forcibly transferring children from one group of people to another, like in the Indian Residential School System and the "Sixties Scoop" which adopted out Aboriginal children to white families, is explicitly forbidden in article 2e of the UN Genocide Convention. Deliberately starving children is too according to articles 2b and 2c.

If it wasn't for Canada, and a contingent of colonizing nations who in 1948 gutted a whole section of the UN Genocide Convention, the other "kinder" and "gentler" techniques of genocide we were and are still using against Aboriginal peoples would also be crimes. As historical research like Dr. Ian Mosby's is beginning to show us non-Aboriginal Canadians -- it's not news to our Aboriginal neighbours -- we used biological and physical techniques of genocide when we could get away with it.

If we really want to move ahead as a nation, reconcile with Aboriginal peoples, and ensure "Never again!" then an apology for their inhumane treatment in state sanctioned research experiments is not enough. Our government needs to put the pieces together and acknowledge that we did try to eliminate First Nations, Metis and Inuit as groups. Thank the Creator that we mostly failed.

 

Rochelle Johnston is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto on bystanding behavior in the context of colonial genocides. She has also worked for over a decade in various capacities as an advocate for the rights of young people in Canada and Sudan.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.