Canada Acknowledges Indigenous Genocide

Canada Acknowledges Indigenous Genocide

As published in the Victoria Standard: July 3, 2019

Canada’s government has accepted the findings of a $92 million Inquiry into the fate of murdered and vanished Indigenous women and girls. The Inquiry’s 1200 page final report, Reclaiming Power and Place: National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Girls and Women (MMIWG, required three years of research and consultation. Notably, Prime Minister Trudeau agreed with the report’s declaration that Canada’s historic treatment of Indigenous people amounts to genocide.

The final report offers 231 recommendations such as changes to police practices and Canada’s legal system. It cites genocide research dating back to 1973 and estimates that nearly 4000 Indigenous females have been raped, murdered and/or disappeared since then. The government’s acceptance of the report has been greeted with understandable skepticism by Indigenous leaders and women’s advocacy groups familiar with official Canada’s inconsistent approach to the safety, dignity and territorial sovereignty of Indigenous people.

The report states that the Canadian government “…deliberately and systematically violated racial, gender, human and Indigenous rights, with its actions amounting to genocide.” According to the United Nations, genocide involves actions intended to fully or partially destroy ethnic, national, racial or religious groups by killing, forced population transfer or coercive reproductive policies. Canada has finally honored its national signature on the 1948 United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Included in the final report is a comprehensive argument explaining why Canada’s “series of actions and omissions” created the conditions for Indigenous women in particular to be treated in a manner that constitutes genocide. The report also addresses residential school abuses, forced sterilization and the mass seizure and relocation of indigenous children by authorities. It further emphasizes that these actions were conducted to destroy Indigenous cultural practices, language and identity in a misguided effort to assimilate Indigenous people into mainstream society. The notorious Indian Act receives frequent mention.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer quickly objected to the report’s use of the word genocide, although he did acknowledge what he called the “tragedy” of Canada’s Indigenous people. Conservative Party intentions regarding the Inquiry’s recommendations are unclear although Scheer’s predecessor Stephen Harper refused to consider a similar Inquiry back in 2014.

The Harper Conservatives had attempted to define violence against Indigenous women as a solely criminal matter, devoid of sociological factors like race, mental health and income. They attempted to localize the issue and include it in their so-called tough-on-crime agenda. The report offers evidence that contradicts the Harper government’s claims about the number of Indigenous women who had been assaulted or murdered by Indigenous rather than non-Indigenous men.

Canada’s government will now experience enhanced domestic and international scrutiny on its Indigenous policies. For example, the Organization for American States (OAS) has suggested to International Affairs Minister Chrystia Freyland that an international body be formed and tasked with investigating Canada’s alleged Indigenous genocide. This idea is repellant to many Canadians who are either indifferent to or unaware of the full historical record.

In a related matter, Conservative Senators strongly oppose the passage of C-262, a recent NDP bill that recommends that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) apply to Canada. They fear UNDRIP’s potential for facilitating a natural resources development veto to Indigenous communities. The veto option would provide Indigenous communities with significant bargaining power.

Domestic opponents of Indigenous emancipation may seek to undermine the report’s findings by comparing Canada’s Indigenous genocide to historical episodes like the expansionist violence of the United States and Spain’s imperial brutality in Latin America. Admittedly, Canada’s Indigenous genocide featured fewer of the mass killings perpetrated by American and Spanish authorities. Nonetheless, the suffering of Canada’s Indigenous people started when the first Europeans set foot on Kanata, centuries before the nation finally noticed that thousands of women were being raped and murdered with impunity.

Canada must now join its parent nations France and Britain to answer for past sins. To their shame, both of these powers have mainly succeeded in shielded themselves from any legal responsibility for their imperial offenses. Canadians would be wise to study this report and pressure their elected representatives to act on its recommendations. Ignoring or attempting to minimize the scope of Canada’s Indigenous genocide is a grave mistake with profound consequences.