Category Archives: Indigenous Genocide

Cultural Genocide Part II


When I went to school I was told that Prime Minister John A. MacDonald was one of the heroes of Canada. We thought he should have been awarded the status of saint John. He appointed himself as the Minister Responsible for Indians in his cabinet. If you think the expression “cultural genocide” is too strong to describe what Canada did with the imposition of its Indian Residential Schools on indigenous people consider this statement he made in the House of Commons in 1883:

“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages: he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.  It has been strongly impressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”


The Prime Minister did not misspeak. He meant it. This was government policy. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission  explained this in this way:

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct people and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will. Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott outlined the goals of that policy in 1920, when he told a parliamentary committee that “our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.” Canada did not do this with “good intent” as some suggest.”


As the TRC said,

“the Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources. If every Aboriginal person had been “absorbed into the body politic,” there would be no reserves, no Treaties, and no Aboriginal rights.”

 In fact, then there would be no Aboriginals.  The genocide would be complete. The final solution would be realized.


How Patriotic are You?


This Lynne, one of the kindest gentlest people I know. I think you can figure out where she stands.

Today was Canada Day and I asked a number of my friends, ‘How patriotic are you?”  In other words, was it appropriate to celebrate Canada Day after all that has happened in on Canada in the last few weeks?  Who feels comfortable celebrating Canada Day.  Some say they were not comfortable with that. I know someone who said she will not celebrate Canada Day again. Others felt it was appropriate to celebrate, but with some important qualifications.

This is Jenn and Kel. They are funny, kind and empathetic.

I love my country. I always have and probably always will.  Yet, I am bothered by recent history I have learned, particularly since I read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. That disturbed me a lot. Since then I have tried to learn more about the history of the country I love. Some of that history is not something to be proud.  As a T-shirt said that I saw recently, “No pride in genocide.”  I do not like it when our country is lumped in with the genocides of Nazi Germany, Russia, China, Serbia, Rwanda, and the United States. That bothers me and I admit I was a bit reluctant to celebrate today.

My lovely wife Chris, reluctant to celebrate, but ready to enjoy life.

It really depends on your point of view. If you are looking at our country from a comfortable pew, as Pierre Burton called it, the country looks pretty good. We have a lot to be thankful for. We have freedom and opportunity to earn and enjoy a good life. Yet if you are looking from the line at our local soup kitchen or if you are one of the many indigenous children in care of the state where they put you in a foster home or even worse a hotel, things don’t look quite so good. They have less to be thankful for than I do. For indigenous children who suffer from intergenerational trauma life is not so good. Too often people from the comfort of good jobs, safe homes, and communities where we are respected find it easy to enjoy Canada. Sometimes we don’t see our own privilege.

Lynne and her radical husband ready to start the revolution–tomorrow.  2 of the finest.

If you think Canada is the best country what are you doing to make it so?  If you recognize that life could surely be a lot better for those less fortunate what are you doing to help them?

This is your faithful scribe, trying to meander towards truth and justice but finding it difficult.

When we celebrate Canada Day we must make sure that we do so with eyes wide open, not denying or ignoring the suffering of others. We must not avoid Canada’s sins.  They are more than blemishes. No matter what we think the evidence is clear: we can do better? We should do better.

Cultural Genocide Part I


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) found that Canada was guilty of cultural genocide. Because of legal constraints, it was not allowed to say that Canadians were guilty of genocide. What does that mean? How did it reach that conclusion?

First of all, the TRC had meetings and events around the country. It gathered mountains of information. Anyone who wants to deny its conclusions had better come with mountains of data too.

The TRC pointed out that Canada ignoring the fact it had no such legal authority,

“Canada asserted control over aboriginal land. In some locations, Canada negotiated Treaties with First Nations; in others the land was simply occupied or seized. The negotiation of Treaties, while seemingly honourable and legal, was often marked by fraud and coercion, and Canada was, and remains, slow to implement their provisions and intent. On occasion, Canada forced First Nations to relocate their reserves from agriculturally valuable or resource-rich land onto remote and economically marginal reserves.”


For example, in Manitoba, at the behest of white farmers, moved a First Nation from rich farmland to much less desirable land One of the things that Canada did that attracted the attention of racists from as far away as South Africa and Nazi Germany was the “pass system.” Under that system indigenous people were not allowed to leave the reserve without permission from the federal government representatives—i.e. the Indian agent.

Canada also did its best to eliminate indigenous systems of government. They were so successful at this that many Canadians never realized that indigenous people had systems of government and law  before Europeans arrived. Canada did that because it wanted to control indigenous people. As the TRC said, “Canada replaced existing forms of Aboriginal government with relatively powerless band councils whose decisions it could override and whose leaders it could depose.” It did all that even though no mention of this was made when Canada negotiated treaties with First Nations. In fact, in many cases, as soon as treaties were signed Canada actively tried to get around those treaties. Where was the supposed “good intent” of Canada? The answer is clear—it was absent.

At the same, Canada “disempowered Aboriginal women, who had held significant influence and powerful roles in many First Nations, including the Mohawks, the Carrier, and Tlingit.” Canada preferred white male supremacy. After it emasculated aboriginal government, “Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity.”

Of course, most horrendously Canada took brutal measures to separate children from their parents and family and sent them to foreign schools, often in distant places, where they were forbidden to speak their language, wear their favoured clothes, while they were falsely taught that their parents were ignorant and uncultured brutes. Only ignorant and uncultured brutes would do that!

Then those schools turned out to be places of horrendous physical, sexual, and emotional abuse where the law protected the abusers and disregarded the abused. As the TRC concluded, “This was not done to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.

That was what the residential school system was all about.

Facing the Truth of Canadian Government Policy


Based on my reading of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) the harms inflicted on indigenous students were not caused by some bad apples. It was not just the result of nasty sexual predators. That was only part of the harm. The actual harms went far beyond that. Too many Canadians don’t know the story of the residential schools in Canada and too many are completely ignorant of Canadian government policy for more than a century.

As the TRC said on the very first page of its executive summary which itself is 382 pages long:

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide”.”


That is certainly an attention grabbing first paragraph. It should be enough to set aside puerile presumptions of good intent. Canada was not filled with “good intent” when it started Indian Residential Schools nor was it when it operated those schools through contractors consisting largely of various church groups. The churches too were not filled with “good intent” either. That does not mean there was no good intent. There were some sincere people with good intent in the system. They were just not as abundant as we might have hoped. It was the system that caused most of the harm. Not bad apples.

Some people were startled by the use of the expression “cultural genocide” in the TRC report.   How could Canada be guilty of that? Others thought the TRC did not go far enough. They wished the report had not prefixed their indictment with the word “cultural.” These people thought Canada’s actions were just plain “genocide”.

The fact is the TRC was under legal constraints. It had obtained legal advice that it could not allege anyone was guilty of genocide because that is a crime and only a court of law can find criminal guilt and only after a trial at which the accused is represented by counsel, has the right to submit evidence and cross examine witnesses speaking against their interests.  The TRC was not a court. It was a tribunal or commission.  This is what the TRC said,


“Physical genocide is mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. 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 to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group.  Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed.  And most significantly, to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

In dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.”


The TRC really did not pull any punches!

The government estimated that 150,000 students attended the Indian Residential Schools. Those schools and the students inside them, were a vital part of Canada’s program to force assimilation on the First Nations people of Canada against their will. It was not just an ugly chapter in its history. It was a vital part of what Canada was all about it. It is, and continues to be, a vital part of who Canadians are. Canadians must face that ugly truth.

African American novelist, James Baldwin was one of the sharpest critics of racism. We could all learn a lot from him. As he said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

That is what Canada and Canadians must do.

It wasn’t a few bad apples that caused the problem. It was the tree.