(Written June 1, 2021 for today’s edition of the Winkler-Morden Voice newspaper)
What is genocide?
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says the following quoting from the United Nations definition adopted in 1948:
“Genocide is an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts fall into five categories:
- Killing members of the group
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
There are a number of other serious, violent crimes that do not fall under the specific definition of genocide. They include crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and mass killing.”
Oxford defines it as: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular race or nation. The term is recorded from the 1940s, in relation to Nazi rule in occupied Europe.”
I am thinking about the word because of the news of the mass grave containing 215 Indigenous children at a residential school site in British Columbia.
Canada’s government has been studiously avoiding using the term in relation to what has occurred and continues to occur to First Nations. The admission of genocide comes with responsibilities that no government up to this day wants to usher in despite increasing calls and evidence supporting its existence.
This is what happened and continues to happen to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Every single point from the Holocaust museum AND the Oxford dictionary applies to their circumstance past and present. The genocidal structures and systems are so rooted and endemic to our nation that they actually go shockingly unnoticed by those who have not and are not experiencing it.
From the moment of colonization Indigenous peoples have been killed and injured. They have suffered generational mental harm; there has been deliberate inflictions on the conditions of life calculated to bring about physical and cultural destruction, or, as former deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott once said in relation to an amendment to the Indian Act –
“I want to get rid of the Indian problem….Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”
Scott, who knowingly ignored a report from Canada’s Chief Medical Officer warning of deadly conditions in residential schools that were killing children and changed the Indian Act requiring Indigenous children between the ages of 5-15 to attend them.
There has been forced sterilization of First Nation’s women intended to prevent births; and children were and still are forcibly transferred out of the culture and the hands of parents and family.
I hesitate to say that the history of what has and is occurring to Indigenous people in Canada could not get closer to the various definitions of genocide because I know how terribly creative people can be with their horrors.
It is well beyond the time for Canada’s government and people to admit the obvious – genocide has and continues to occur in Canada.
One cannot move to end a thing if one denies that thing’s existence in the first place. Institutions complicit in the effort such as churches, also need to admit their role and use the word – genocide.
We must confront this horror so we can work to heal and end it.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you were involved. It doesn’t matter that my grandparents didn’t come to Canada until 1910. It doesn’t matter that I feel bad. What matters is acknowledging the reality of genocide.
People are worried about the cost of such admissions. People are worried about saddling their children with debt and bankrupting the future.
I can tell you this – I would rather leave my children with a financially bankrupt nation because we had to work to build infrastructure and heal wounds than a morally bankrupt nation because we are afraid of admitting genocide and owning up to the horrors perpetrated on our fellow citizens…the horrors of genocide.