Exposure of Canada’s Cultural Genocide Against Indigenous Peoples Should Shake the World in a Historical Calculation That Extends Beyond Empty Apologies

A memorial for one of the 215 children found in a mass grave in Canada. Getty

  • 751 anonymous graves of Indigenous Canadians were discovered weeks after another mass grave was discovered.

  • The shocking news should prompt not only Canada, but the entire world community to consider their own stories of cultural genocide.

  • From Australia to China and a number of countries in between, marginalized communities need healing, not excuses.

  • Parisa Hashempour is a freelance journalist and lecturer in international studies living in the Netherlands.

  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

A few weeks after the discovery of a mass grave of 215 children at the site of a residential school in British Columbia, 751 anonymous graves were discovered next to another residential school in Saskatchewan, which is home to the Cowessess First Nation.

Schools, which forcibly removed more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families in all but three Canadian territories over the past 100 years, are responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 children and the abuse of many. others. The residential schools were a horrific act of cultural genocide – the systematic destruction of the culture of a national, ethnic or religious group – on the part of the Church and Canadian governments.

Following the news, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the graves as “a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced.” His words, which have been described by Indigenous activists as talk and little action, should inspire not only Canada, but a host of modern nation-states around the world to heed their unresolved histories of cultural genocide.

From Australia to China and a slew of countries in between, recent reports should signal to many in the global community that it’s time to look inward and consider both their own history and current violations of cultural genocide.

Residential schools in Canada and the United States

Cultural genocide has historically been used to eradicate the identity of marginalized groups in order to eliminate their space in the history of a place. Beginning in the 1870s, Canadian authorities took young Indigenous children and placed them in residential schools, with the goal of educating and assimilating the children into Euro-Canadian society. Schools prohibited children from speaking their mother tongue, even in letters to their parents. They were separated from their siblings, prevented from practicing traditional religions, stripped of their traditional clothes, long hair was cut, and in many cases children were given new Christian names.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said, “These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Indigenous peoples as distinct peoples and assimilate them into the mainstream of Canada against their will. Kamloops school survivor Julianna Alexander told the commission: “It took me 14 years to recover. I became a drug addict and an alcoholic. The emotional, physical and sexual abuse that many have suffered has had devastating personal consequences, and the denigration and outright attack on cultural practices have also had a pernicious and lasting effect on the survival of these customs.

However, these schools were not unique to Canada. “Kill the Indian in him and save the man,” is a quote made famous by Captain Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the predecessor of residential schools north and south of the Canadian border: the US Training and Industrial School. at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The federal government sent thousands of Native Americans to residential schools throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and subjected children to much the same treatment as they received further north.

Cultural genocide on a global scale

The image evoked by the residential school graves sent shockwaves around the world and was particularly powerful for Indigenous communities still reeling from their own experiences of marginalization and oppression. Former Arrernte Australian aboriginal William Pengarte Tilmouth wrote for The Guardian: “The experiences in Canada resonate here in Australia. . “

As in North America, the lasting cultural implications of colonization are still felt there today. Of more than 250 known indigenous Australian languages, only 140 of them are still spoken, of which 110 are critically endangered. This is attributed to the theft of the “lost generation” of Australians, children who were stolen from their Aboriginal families and integrated into white Australian homes until the 1970s. In New Zealand, too, indigenous peoples suffered the loss of life. alienation of land, massive immigration of settlers and cultural marginalization. However, it’s not just the former English colonies that have histories of cultural genocide to reckon with.

In Sweden, the indigenous Sami people are pressing their government for a process of truth and reconciliation to expose human rights violations, when logging practices could lead to the destruction of 30% of their community. Internationally, China is making headlines daily on accusations of genocide amid the continued persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Claiming that Uyghurs are a terrorist threat, more than one million Uyghurs have reportedly been held in camps since 2016 in a situation said to be characterized by forced labor, sexual and physical abuse, “re-education” and intensive surveillance. Internal documents from the Kunes County justice system from 2017 and 2018, provided to the BBC, described the camp’s intentions as “brainwashing, cleaning hearts, strengthening righteousness and eliminating evil” – it is clear that the world is far from having learned the lesson.

Action on words

In 2008 and 2009, Australia, Canada and the United States all issued formal apologies. However, as Australia’s indigenous languages ​​are on the verge of extinction, Canada’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Report is as relevant today as it was when it was written two years ago, and more than one in three Native American children live in poverty, words do not go far enough. When apologies have been offered, they have often been disappointing. Take Barack Obama’s 2009 declaration, silently signed and circulated with fanfare, it states: “Nothing in this section… authorizes or supports a claim against the United States; or serve as a settlement of any claim against the United States. “

This is quite different from the approach taken in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasizes the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. Restitution has been paid and the commemoration continues through monuments, art and culture. The recent rise of the far right in the country has sounded the alarm bells for many, but despite this, a 2020 DW report found that more than half of those polled agree with the focus on crimes from Germany’s past. . This approach may not be suitable for all countries, but the key is to choose policies over performance.

In New Zealand in 1982, with the Maori language at risk of extinction, to combat this, grandparents offered to take care of children in daycare centers for language immersion. In 1998, there were over 600 such daycares, showing that there are tangible ways for governments to help marginalized communities rebuild themselves as they heal from the wounds of colonization. Indigenous children are overrepresented in Canada’s social protection system, but changes to social assistance and public health can help address this issue.

The settler electorate in post-colonial nations should join with their indigenous neighbors to demand accountability and action from governments, the international community should pressure each other to tackle the problem of genocide culture in their countries and implement policies that protect all marginalized communities. , cultures and languages.

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