Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Genocide?

“I don’t view it (Indian Residential Schools) that way (as an act of cultural genocide), but it was certainly very negative to the retention of culture and if it had extended for another generation or two it might have been lethal, yes,”- Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan

“As we are all aware, the history of residential schools tells of an education policy gone wrong,”- Duncan.

The previous comments were made on October 27, 2011 during an announcement for a stained glass window to commemorate the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools. I was extremely disappointed to read these comments for more than the obvious reason. First, the comments and the outrage are only noted in Indigenous media, I have found nothing about it in the mainstream media, where only the commemoration plans were reported.
Secondly, there is no doubt that the residential school plan was an act of cultural genocide, if not physical genocide. Children died. Children were abused. Children were changed. Many families were broken and changed forever. The very buildings feel like scars on the landscape to me. I have spoken here before about how the schools have affected me, and to have this one truth denied, I don't know how to respond. What do I tell my Aboriginal students about their history and their family histories? Not genocide? They were only trying to kill the Indian in the child. They didn't fully succeed so it doesn't count?
I would like to remind teachers that our children are affected by the residential school experience and legacy. Do not let Minister Duncan's words affect your understanding of it. The schools were an act of genocide, denying it is also an assault on Aboriginal people. Please look at Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and then take a close look at the residential schools. Take a look at the entire lived experience of many First Nations people.

Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment
of the Crime of Genocide
Article 2

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


“I, along with so many of our people, feel if you consider what the term genocide means. It references to the killing of people. Our people died in residential schools…the residential school was cultural genocide; the attempt to, over the course of history, to kill the Indian in the child. And that has been the experience of our people.”-AFN Grand Chief Shawn Atleo.

And a couple of related posts: When the truth about what happened to people is told
And The ghosts that haunt me
The Mythological Indian

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