Thursday, March 15, 2012

Canada's Quiet Genocide - and the price of privilege

Having had the opportunity to travel extensively and to live on 4 continents, I have often reflected on how lucky I am to be born in Canada. Lately, I am beginning to realize some of the true cost of that privilege.

Today I attended the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Cowichan and heard stories from residential school survivors who had been forcibly taken from their families, prevented from speaking their language, isolated from their culture and often subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Theirs was the latest chapter in the systematic genocide that targeted the original inhabitants of this land. Earlier attempts included violent exterminations; cash bounties for killing indigenous people, eliminating the bison herds which were a primary food source and leaving smallpox-infected people or blankets in villages where people had never encountered the disease.

While not as openly violent, the residential schools were one of the most effective instruments of assimilation. For more than a century, the Canadian government paid the national Christian churches to operate these schools with the intention of assimilating Indigenous children into the dominant culture of mainstream society. For more than 3 generations, these children were forcibly removed from their homes and subjected to a system which aimed at the destruction of their family connections, oral traditions, languages, cultures, knowledge systems, spiritual traditions and Indigenous identity. These schools operated until the early 1990s and more than 80,000 survivors are living today. The impact on the survivors and their descendants is clearly illustrated in the commission's interim report, which should be required reading for every citizen of Canada.

From this history, it seems clear to me that the Government of Canada signed treaties with the Indigenous peoples of this land with the intention of eliminating the cultures and/or the people before they really needed to consider the long-term effects of the treaties.

And yes, in my opinion, this really does qualify as genocide - in every way comparable to Hitler's extermination of the Jews. In the past I often wondered how, at the end of WWII, the vast majority of the German citizens could deny any knowledge of Hitler's Final Solution with it's ghettos, forced evacuations, death camps and crematoriums. Now I think I understand.

It is a privilege to live in Canada - and until we acknowledge the price that the Indigenous peoples of this land have paid for our privilege- Canadian justice is nothing more than an illusion.

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