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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