“That’s not who we are” are words that roll off the tongue of Canadians every time Canada or a Canadian commits an act that contradicts our self-description of “fair arbiter, promoter of just causes, a decent country”; a place where the world would love to come to live if not for the Immigration Department placing limits (generous as they are, we proudly claim) on who and how many can settle in “our” fair land.
So effective has been the national message of our innate decency and the hectoring of other nations (mostly those that are not our friends) if their behaviour fall below “international standards of decency”, that Canadians new and old alike are not supposed to look into our closet to see what skeletons lurk therein. Our training precludes us from even considering that there may be such a closet.
Well, sometimes the door of our hidden history get pried open, and light is shone in the corners to reveal a few things that don’t quite fit the national narrative. And when they are revealed we cry foul, taking the lead from our media, and deny that there is anything there to see or that things are not what they seem, it’s all an illusion, let bygones be bygones and let’s just get on with it. That’s some of the reactions we got from the mainstream media and “respectable” spokespersons on the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on Monday June 3rd.
Entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place”, the report reveals these ugly details: 1980 – 2012, Indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada while representing only 4% of the female population; 1997 – 2000, the rate of homicide for Aboriginal females was almost seven times higher than other females; they were disproportionately affected by all forms of violence and significantly over-represented among female Canadian homicide victims; indigenous women were far more likely than other women to go missing. Homicides for non-Indigenous women declined between 1980 and 2015 while the number of Indigenous women killed increased from 9 to 24 percent in 2015. This is but a small sample of what the report delineated.
Taking the long view from the time the Europeans came into contact with the indigenous people of Canada up to the present, the report used the term “intergenerational genocide” to describe the “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses.” It said that “settler colonialist structures enabled this genocide, whereby the progeny of survivors also endured the sufferings caused by mass violence which they did not directly experience.”
This powerful assertion certainly had in mind the following: a few years after the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous population fell by at least 80 percent (80 percent of Canada’s population today would be 29 million), 139 Indian residential schools were set up solely to take “the Indian out of the Indian”. Malnutrition, electrocution, physical and sexual abuse were characteristics of these schools.
While it did not deny that stuff did happen, mainstream news editorials took exception to the use of the word “genocide”. Really? they blushed. Now, the Holocaust was genocide, Rwanda was genocide, but Canada committing genocide? Gimme a break!
Former Canadian soldier Romeo Dallaire, who was the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994 when the genocide occurred, also “had a problem” with the word genocide, he said that genocide “was a deliberate act of a government to exterminate deliberately, and by force and directly, an ethnicity or a group or an entity of human beings.”
Canadian researcher and author Yves Engler suggested that “ Dallaire’s criteria for a genocide… better applies to indigenous people in Canada than to the Tutsi in Rwanda.” The indigenous people were dispossessed of 99% of their land, subjected to starvation and sterilization, made wards of the state, had their movement restricted and religious/cultural ceremonies banned, gifted blankets and handkerchiefs infected with smallpox (the natives had no immunity to this European borne disease and died like flies). Quebec General Jeffery Amherst later wrote: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”
Engler quotes superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, Duncan Campbell Scott: “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.”
We know what followed the spoken wisdom of General Jeffery Amherst and Duncan Campbell. And that in our view leaves us with but one question to answer: Was it intergenerational genocide or just plain genocide?