Native Canadian genocide, new report

This video from Canada says about itself:

Reconciling to a Hard Truth

30 March 2012

A historic settlement agreement promised closure for residential school survivors. But no one thought it would open the floodgates to thousands of new abuse claims.

By Carl Bronski in Canada:

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report and the crimes against the native people

6 June 2015

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) issued its report Tuesday documenting the horrific abuse suffered by 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children at residential schools between the 1840s and 1996.

The century-and-a-half policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their families and communities and herding them into faraway schools run mainly by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, amounted, said the report, to nothing less than a “cultural genocide.” One, moreover, that has left deep scars on indigenous people up to the present day. At the height of the program in 1931 there were 80 residential schools across the country with 15,000 captive native children.

The TRC—comprised of its chair, Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, journalist and broadcast executive Marie Wilson, and lawyer and former Conservative MP Chief Wilton Littlechild—was appointed by the federal Conservative government in consultation with the Assembly of First Nations as part of a negotiated settlement to a class-action law suit against the federal government and Canada’s churches brought by residential school survivors.

Over the course of six years, the TRC took testimony from 7,000 residential school survivors and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents. It found that the residential schools were a central component of a Canadian state policy designed to “cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada.”

In releasing the Executive Summary of the TRC report (six volumes of documentation will be forthcoming), Sinclair noted that between 5,000 and 7,000 children died whilst in the custody of the residential schools from disease, malnutrition, fires, suicide and physical abuse. Many were buried even without a name recorded. Parents were not notified as a matter of course. Many residential schools had no playgrounds for the children, but did have cemeteries. Healthy children were consciously placed in dormitories with children suffering from tuberculosis. Sick and dying children were forced to attend class and sit up in church. Malnutrition was rampant. Testimony from school survivors recounted how hungry children would raid the slop-buckets of livestock for additional sustenance.

Discipline was harsh. Children were often corporally punished for speaking their native language. Teachers would berate them as “stupid Indians.” Humiliation and de-humanization were part of the regime. One survivor recounted that the shoving of children’s faces into human excrement was a standard punishment. In some institutions, children were not addressed by name but by number. Survivor testimony described a life without love or human warmth but fraught with fear, beatings, hopelessness and, in the dreaded dead of night, rampant sexual abuse.

Despite the government’s purported aim of providing education to residential students, especially in the form of workplace skills, school administrations more often used the children as indentured labour, imposing back-breaking chores for up to half of the school day. School text books were a rarity, with Christian religious indoctrination a priority.

TRC Chair Sinclair received a loud ovation Tuesday from a ballroom full of school survivors, Band Chiefs and aboriginal advocates when he characterized the more than century-long government residential school policy as “cultural genocide.” The term comes from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding document reluctantly signed by the federal government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but deemed only “aspirational” and not immediately implementable. Those cheering Sinclair’s declaration were also cognizant of the 2011 statement from John Duncan, Harper’s former Aboriginal Affairs Minister, that the residential school system was not part of a program of “cultural genocide,” but rather simply “education policy gone wrong.”

The TRC report, however, avoids a crucial conclusion arising from any objective study of the horrendous history of the program—that the aboriginal policy pursued by the Canadian capitalist state was not simply aimed at the eradication of a culture but at the eradication of a people. The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defines genocide in legal terms as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s 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.”

The tribulations suffered by generations of aboriginal children in the residential schools fall into most, if not all, of these categories. But many of those pulling back from a characterization of Canadian government policy towards the native population as genocidal—including the administration at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights—downplay the question of conscious “intent.”

The historical record contradicts this approach.

Policies geared towards physically expunging native populations as part of the Canadian state’s westward expansion have been documented by many historians. James Daschuk in his recent book Clearing the Plains, for example, describes the approach of Canada’s first governments towards its aboriginal population as “outright malevolent.” Policy statements called on government agencies “to starve uncooperative Indians onto reserves and into submission.” Treaty guarantees for food in times of crisis were ignored. Government agents allowed food to rot rather than distribute it to starving native bands. The 1876 Indian Act codified aboriginals as an inferior group and made them wards of the state. In 1885, Canada’s “founding father” and first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, bragged to parliament of his government’s fiscal stewardship, pointing to its refusal to give food to hungry, malnourished First Nations people “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce expense.”

Under Macdonald, who presided over the Canadian state’s dispossession of the native peoples in today’s Prairie provinces, the residential school system was greatly expanded and systematized and, in the process, directed even more deliberately against the indigenous population. In 1883, he told an agreeable parliament: “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 and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has strongly been pressed on myself, as the head of the (Indian Affairs) 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 argument that “intent” to destroy native populations was not evident in the policy of Canada’s capitalist elite flies in the face of subsequent developments.

In 1909, Peter Bryce, an official of the Ontario Health Department was commissioned by the federal government as the country’s first Chief Medical Officer to report on the health conditions of aboriginal children in residential schools in western Canada. Bryce, citing an average death rate of between 30 and 60 percent, reported that children in the schools were malnourished, living in squalid, freezing conditions and being systematically exposed to tubercular patients. He accused officials of deliberately killing the students through their actions and inactions. Furthermore, church and school officials were consciously falsifying mortality records.

The report was quashed by the Department of Indians Affairs and the recommendations ignored. Bryce was later dismissed from his post. Said Duncan Scott, then head of Canada’s residential schools program, Bryce’s report “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared toward a final solution of our Indian problem.”

In Alberta in 1928 and British Columbia in 1933 acts were passed allowing for the forcible sterilization of residential school students. It has been estimated that as many as 3,000 children underwent this procedure. And recently, a report surfaced showing that in the 1940s and 1950s malnourished aboriginal children in residential schools were used by government researchers in dubious medical experiments that systematically kept them on starvation diets, denying them milk, nutrients, vitamins and dental treatments to measure health outcomes. The “research” was done with the full knowledge of Canada’s then Liberal government.

The government’s subsequent treatment of native children changed little. From 1960 until 1986, as many as 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families, placed in either residential schools or non-indigenous foster homes, or put up for adoption.

Even today, as a result of the deplorable poverty and squalor to which large parts of Canada’s native population are subjected and the paternalistic attitude of the state, First Nations children make up more than 50 percent of Canadian children in foster care. Under Manitoba’s NDP government others are housed, without proper care and supervision, in run-down “welfare” motels.

The continuing abuse and neglect of the aboriginal peoples is one of the historic crimes of Canadian capitalism and one that exemplifies the true character of Canadian “democracy.” It is critical for the political development of the Canadian working class that it recognizes this and fights vigorously to oppose the oppression of the native population.

In a second article, to be published at the beginning of next week, the WSWS will detail the political context and debate over the Truth and Reconciliation report. This will include an examination of the dismissive attitude adopted by Prime Minster Stephen Harper, the report’s ostensible embrace by the opposition parties and much of the corporate media, as well as the government-appointed Commission’s recommendations. These are aimed at reconciling the native people to Canadian capitalism and the Canadian state, not ending the system responsible for their oppression.

Canada launches inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women. Justin Trudeau promises ‘total renewal’ of relationship with aboriginal people with investigation of nearly 1,200 murders and disappearances in three decades: here.

10 thoughts on “Native Canadian genocide, new report

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  3. Saturday 19th
    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Families of more than 1,000 missing or murdered First Nations women have finally won a promise from Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to hold an official inquiry. JOHN RICHMOND reports

    After a long and protracted battle lasting more than 25 years, the friends and families of more than 1,000 missing or murdered First Nations women have finally won a promise from Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to hold an official inquiry.

    It is a historic moment for an issue that was deliberately ignored by police, media, government and others who now admit the “problem” was hiding in plain site. I know because I was there and, if I am honest, I was part of the problem.

    A little more than 20 years ago I was living and working as a social worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood — at the time, Canada’s poorest area by postal code. I was a young, eager do-gooder; fresh out of university and only a few years out of the mainly white, wealthy suburbs where I grew up.

    One of my clients — I’ll call her Betty, not her real name and I have altered some details to protect her privacy and identify — was an indigenous woman in her thirties with many of the problems and challenges normally faced by First Nations people living in poverty in urban Canada.

    One day, Betty indicated to me she was interested in returning home to her reserve in Saskatchewan. Betty was never able to tell me much of her life story but the little I knew was tragic: taken from her family by force under circumstances she could not recall and placed in a religious residential school where she suffered abuse she was never able or willing to describe. At some point she left school and wound up on the streets of Winnipeg and from there “drifted” out to British Columbia, ending up on the Downtown Eastside where she spent much of her time as a much-abused sex worker and huffing paint thinner.

    Helping Betty leave the Downtown Eastside to a home I naively imagined was some sort of less-than-perfect back-to-nature “native” community seemed — at the time — a great idea. But a call to the reserve soon cured me of my white, middle-class misconceptions. Betty was welcome back, I was told, although no-one seemed to know her, but she would not be “escaping” her lifestyle by moving to the reserve and she might just be better off staying in the city.

    In the end Betty wanted to go and I sent her on her way.

    And I never found out if Betty even reached her “home” on her reserve in Saskatchewan. Sure, I made a few phone calls — but that is all I did. “Out of sight, out of mind,” as Native Canadian/American writer Thomas King says in his recent book The Inconvenient Indian.

    Betty disappeared, perhaps literally, perhaps in King’s sense of inconvenient Indians, or perhaps both.

    I thought I was helping but at the end of the day Betty disappeared just as did many First Nations women — hundreds on the Downtown Eastside alone over the course of many years.

    I looked Betty up on the list of still officially missing women from the 1990s and, not surprisingly, did not find her. What I do know, however, is that like many people who worked in good, middle-class jobs on the Downtown Eastside, I did nothing about it.

    Just as we now know — thanks to the December 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report on indigenous residential schools — that more than 3,000 children died after being taken from their families and knowingly abused and neglected. In Alberta alone, 50 per cent of the children in these “homes” died, some trying to escape in the middle of the winter. If it sounds like a concentration camp it probably felt like one.

    Once again, the truth is that just many of us had heard the stories about residential schools for years and knew the truth long before anyone in authority got around to creating a truth commission. I certainly knew what had gone on — I heard it at work from First Nations clients all the time.

    King is brutally honest in his book: “We don’t mind killing people we don’t like,” he says. And we certainly don’t mind people disappearing whom we don’t like, or consider an inferior race.

    Unless you have lived in Canada for a long time it can be hard to imagine just how conveniently absent First Nations people are from daily life. We have constructed a universe that disappears the people who were here before us and to do so we have developed the usual repertoire of racist stereotypes familiar to colonial, settler states — “drunk,” “bum,” “beggar,” “violent,” “dangerous” and the most useful: “radical” Indians.

    Historian James Daschuk has a caused a minor raucous with his new book Clearing the Plains, which demonstrates that government policies in the 19th and 20th centuries really were meant to make the Indian disappear, by design and by deliberate neglect.

    The only problem is, it didn’t work then and isn’t working now. Indigenous people keep cropping up at the most inconvenient times and places — even when they are supposed to have disappeared.

    Thanks to the hard work and dedication of friends and families of the disappeared right across Canada, the issue first saw the light of day in the late 1990s.

    The ground-breaking Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) report had been released a few years before, only to be promptly shelved and mostly ignored by the then-liberal government of Jean Chretien who was, not coincidently, the author a 1969 government White Paper on how to force the assimilation of indigenous peoples once and for all.

    But some journalists were starting to dig into previously barely reported stories of indigenous women who had mysteriously disappeared. Angela Sterritt, a First Nations journalist in British Columbia, gives an excellent account of events on the Downtown Eastside showing that eventually some of the missing women were “found” on the farm of mass-murderer Robert Pickton, outside Vancouver.

    Pickton, was charged with 27 counts murder, was known to police years before and a search warrant on his farm could have been executed three years before he was arrested, which would have saved at least 14 women.

    Despite the racial context when the story broke, the focus of the media was Pickton himself and the “lifestyles” of his victims. Few journalists bothered to pick up on the much larger issue of missing and murdered First Nations women.

    Thankfully, families and friends, some journalists, human rights organisations and alternative media carried on the struggle to raise awareness.

    As former Shuswap Nation Chief Arthur Manuel says: “For 150 years the government has been trying to rid itself to the ‘Indian problem’ by ridding itself of indigenous peoples through assimilation.” But it hasn’t worked.

    Canada’s Conservative former prime minister conservative Stephen Harper famously said: “Um, it’s not really high on our radar, to be honest.” The newly elected Justin Trudeau promised “a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples” and an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

    Manuel, who served on the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues, is both optimistic and realistic about the possibilities of the coming inquiry. “I think Trudeau is serious about tackling these tough issues.”

    He agrees with Pamela Palmater, associate professor of indigenous governance at Ryerson University in Toronto, who worries the “inquiry will dance around the outside and not get at the dark side of murdered and missing indigenous women — the deep-seated racism against indigenous peoples and the impunity with which non-indigenous people can prey on them — including state officials.”

    Justice Murray Sinclair said at the December 15 official release of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “It will take more than pious words to bring about reconciliation.”

    It will take much, much more than pious words. As Canadian settlers on stolen indigenous land, hopefully this new inquiry will prompt us to start looking deep in our heart to answer that question.


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