Sunday, August 24, 2008

Canada’s Dirty Colonial Past: The Residential Schools Genocide

by Alok Premjee

On June 11, 2008, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the some 100,000 living survivors of Canada’s more than century-long Indian Residential School system. His apology touched upon some of the atrocities aboriginal children suffered, which included physical torture, sexual abuse and rape, prohibition of native languages and cultural practices, inadequate food, shelter, and medical treatment, and, worst of all, being kidnapped from their families.

These acts of violence largely destroyed aboriginal ways of living by forcefully assimilating its survivors into Canadian society. Harper admitted that the logic of the Federal Government and the Catholic, Anglican, and United churches from the 1870s onward was to forcefully assimilate the aboriginal population (which they classified as “inferior beings”) into Canadian culture. Provisions were built into the 1884 Indian Act to legally force aboriginal children to attend these schools, and to arrest and/or fine parents for resisting these terms. The Indian Act was a legal-genocidal document not only in cultural terms: with a close to 50% mortality rate in the residential schools, the government of Canada and churches in Canada oversaw and administered a physical genocide of indigenous peoples. The last of these residential schools were closed only recently in the 1990s.

Harper’s apology comes two months after the formation of the International Human Rights Tribunal into Genocide in Canada (IHRTGC), a non-governmental body established by indigenous elders. The IHRTGC has recently made a presentation to members of the United Nations, publicly revealing the whereabouts of some 28 mass graves of the child victims of the residential schools. In total, it is estimated by researchers that about 50,000 children perished in these schools.

Thus, Harper’s shallow and worthless apology wasn’t an expression of Canada coming to terms with its genocidal past, but the Canadian government responding to the mobilization of indigenous people against a long history of Canada’s genocidal policies.

In the criminal justice system, when a criminal is convicted of murder, he or she is punished accordingly. Yet, indigenous peoples are expected to accept shallow apologies for a genocide committed against them.

The only solution to this historical injustice is for indigenous peoples to reclaim their resources and their land in order to begin rebuilding their societies and self-determine their futures. Everything that has been stolen from these peoples by the Canadian government acting on behalf of the rich certainly won’t be handed back without a struggle. It’s up to indigenous communities to take back what belongs to them, as is being done all across Ontario and Canada today. Non-Native working-class people are allies to these struggles because we share a common enemy with indigenous peoples: the Canadian ruling-class that exploits us, lies to us, taxes us, represses us, and sends us to war with other peoples.