Above Photo: Children hold a banner during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation march in Montreal on Sept. 30. (Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette)
The genocide of Indigenous Peoples must be taught in schools at all levels to make sure this part of Canada’s history is understood.
Some Canadians bristle at the suggestion that Canada has committed genocide. But the discovery of over 6,000 unmarked graves at residential schools has shocked Canadians into realizing that such atrocities occurred in their country. This is what we had to reflect upon during the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.
According to the United Nations, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: 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; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Any one of these actions is an act of genocide and a violation of the Genocide Convention passed by the UN in 1948, which Canada has signed on to.
Canada has carried out all of these crimes at one time or another against the Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Protections of the rights of Indigenous Peoples had to be reinforced against genocide in Article 8 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed in 2007, which says, in part, Indigenous Peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. States must provide effective mechanisms for prevention and redress.
The declaration also prevents any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; any form of forced population transfer and any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
This article had to be included in a declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 because genocide is an ongoing threat to Indigenous Peoples around the world.The unmarked graves discovered this summer, as horrifying as they may be, do not tell the whole story. Why were they there? Who decided that this was a good idea? What was the government policy that created this situation, and who should be held accountable?
All these questions were answered in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and their 94 calls to action.
It is clear that Canada carried out a genocide to eliminate the Indigenous Peoples in Canada in whole or in part by destroying their languages and culture and governing structures, separating the children from their parents, removing peoples from their lands and territories, sterilizing Indigenous women, and promoting propaganda of racial superiority over Indigenous Peoples.
This was done not only in residential schools but also in the government-run day schools that operated in the communities. These schools had the same curriculum and objectives of the boarding schools: to eradicate the language and culture of Indigenous Peoples.
I am a victim of that policy. I can’t speak my Mohawk language and had to find my culture, spirituality and identity on my own.
The impact of Canada’s genocide has created multigenerational trauma and will take generations to heal. Canadians have to accept that a genocide was inflicted against the First Peoples of this land.
That is the first step.
And let’s be clear: the object of the genocide was to eliminate the original owners of the land. Then Canada could claim all the land, territory and natural resources for itself, and eliminate the “Indian problem” of land ownership, treaties and fiduciary responsibilities.
The next step is educating our youth. The genocide of the Indigenous Peoples must be taught in the school systems at all levels to make sure that this part of Canada’s history is understood.
As a board member of The Foundation for Genocide Education, I am proud to say that we are taking action. We have collaborated with the Quebec Ministry of Education and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and the University of Sherbrooke on a guide on teaching genocide that includes the true story of the genocide against our First Peoples.
This guide will help and encourage educators to teach this vitally important subject, and will empower students to speak out against injustices and systemic racism still seen today. It will be introduced in every high school in the province this fall, and include testimonial videos of the survivors of genocides, including my own story.
Survivors of the residential school system will also be going to schools to give presentations, as part of the foundation’s team of genocide survivor presenters. We know that history is best taught by hearing the voices of those who experienced it, and it is now time to start listening.
Our children must learn that genocide is not only about gas ovens, bullet-ridden bodies and mass graves. It’s about notions of racial superiority, insidious government policy, and willing participants in its execution.