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The chairman of Canada’s truth and reconciliation commission says removing more than 100,000 aboriginal children from their homes and placing them in residential schools was an act of genocide.
Justice Murray Sinclair says the United Nations defines genocide to include the removal of children based on race, then placing them with another race to indoctrinate them. He says Canada has been careful to ensure its residential school policy was not “caught up” in the UN’s definition.
“That’s why the minister of Indian affairs can say this was not an act of genocide,” Sinclair told students at the University of Manitoba Friday. “But the reality is that to take children away and to place them with another group in society for the purpose of racial indoctrination was — and is — an act of genocide and it occurs all around the world.”
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend the government schools over much of the last century. The last school closed outside Regina in 1996.
The $60-million truth and reconciliation commission is part of a landmark compensation deal between the federal government, the Crown and residential school survivors. It is about halfway through its mandate and has visited about 500 communities, where it has heard graphic details of rampant sexual and physical abuse.
The commission has taken 25,000 statements from survivors so far and has heard from about 100 people who worked in the schools, Sinclair said.
Their legacy has left an indelible impact on Canadian society, he added. The commission has heard stories of survivors continuing the cycle of abuse with their own children.
Even those who worked at the schools are not immune. Many of them were victims, too, and suffer lingering guilt and shame.
“We’ve had teachers come forward to us and spoken to the commission … about how they so hated the experience of teaching in a residential school that they quickly left,” Sinclair said. “They never put the fact that they worked at a residential school on their resume and they always kept that fact hidden from everybody, even from their own families.”
Just as children of school survivors suffer with their parents’ pain, so, too, do children of those who worked in the schools, Sinclair said. Children of staff members also attended the schools and still grapple with what they saw and experienced there. Some watched their parents become deeply depressed later in life as they came to realize what they had been a part of.
“In many ways, they also feel victimized by having been in residential schools. There is a great mixture of experiences here.”
The commission is expected to release an interim report shortly about what it’s heard so far. But even halfway through its mandate, Sinclair said, it’s clear work will take much longer to complete.
There are between 200 million and 300 million government documents on residential schools policy and about 20 million photographs. The commission has only managed to copy about 14,000 photos for the record, he said.
Canada will have to work hard to undo the damage done by the schools long after the commission has finished its work, Sinclair suggested. Generations of children — both aboriginal and non-aboriginal — have been brought up on a curriculum that dismissed aboriginal culture and history as worthless and inferior.
Another consequence is that there is a spiritual void in many aboriginal communities, Sinclair added. Churches that once had strong congregations in aboriginal communities have moved out and elders who could pass on traditional spiritual teachings are no longer living.
“It took 130 years to create this problem. It’s probably going to take us 130 years to undo it.”
Not a form, it is genocide.
Most importantly, there are stories that define who we are and how we came to be ‘us’. Stories that have shaped our identities and continue to negotiate them as new stories take us to different destinations. This story is about ‘someone’ within me that I did not know even existed. A story about coming to Canada. A story about an unforeseen collision. A story that continues to weave its threads to this day.
Canadians always have questions. Specifically, ‘white’ Canadians always have questions that come with pre-packaged answers. Everywhere I go, I frequently get asked, “Where are you from”?
I generally reply, “I am Indian”, which is usually received with great confusion.
“You are Indian”!!!?
I can see the wheels of identity categorization churning in their heads and to avoid awkward silences and bring the conversation to an end, I follow up with, “Yes, Indian, as in from India.”
“Oh! So you are East-Indian. Why didn’t you say so”?
When I came to Canada, I had no idea that I was East-Indian. All my life I had considered myself to be Indian. I suddenly felt the weight of my new identity on my shoulders leaving me wondering if I was in the right temporal location. The identity ofEast-Indian comes from the time of British colonialism in India. They had established the East-India Company to manage trade affairs and it eventually became a part of the colonial enterprise. When I hear the term East-Indian, it automatically inscribes upon me the identity of still being a colonized subject. It seems like no one informed my interrogators that India gained its independence some seven decades ago.
I am a colonized time-traveller in Canada.
After spending some time in Canada, I started hearing horrendous comments about the ‘backwardness’ of Indians.
How they were lazy.
How they were drunks and unfit parents.
How they were living off welfare and spending the money on alcohol and drugs.
How Indian women were loose.
All of this infuriated me to no end and I wanted to find these Indians that people were talking about. Where are these Indians you speak of? Maybe if I could find them, I could find out what all this talk was all about. They are making all of us look bad. And then it all came crashing down.
In my first year of university (my third year in Canada), I had gone out to a restaurant with some of my dorm-mates. All of them ‘white’. We ordered our food and drinks and paid casual attention to a hockey game going on. As the evening progressed, my friend Tom introduced us to his friend Jared (who is ‘white’) who had come to join us. We had the usual introductions and as I said above, he asked me where I was from. To which I replied, “I am Indian.” We sat down and enjoyed our meals peppered with light conversation. After that, I got up to have a cigarette. As I put on my jacket with a cigarette dangling from my lips, Jared looked up to me and said,
“You must get cheap cigarettes, huh”?
I had no idea what that meant. He thought that I hadn’t heard him properly and went on to explain himself.
“I mean, cigarettes must be quite cheap on your reservation.”
For a nanosecond, I was completely dumbstruck. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, two different worlds collided without being asked.
He thought I was aboriginal.
My being was abruptly intertwined with aboriginal peoples’, without our consent, and a mistake of six centuries of colonial hubris was shaping who I was/am.
Let us rewind for a minute. The story of Columbus is well known. He sailed the high seas to search for India and landed in what is known as the ‘Americas’ in modern day linguistic currency. The peoples’ he encountered were labeled ‘Indian’ and Columbus continued to believe he had landed in India till his death bed. The identity of ‘Indian’ was/is violently inscribed onto the lands, bodies, languages and a multitude of aboriginal nations that were/are richly diverse.
Fast forward to present times and the label of ‘Indian’ is still being upheld by Canadian institutions and modern day racist vernacular. Aboriginal peoples’ are still being dehumanized and defined by the colonial legal framework of the ‘Indian’ Act. The immigration of ‘Indians from India’ threw a wrench in this neat tidy category of Other. There could not possibly be more than one ‘Indian’. A whole new twist to the ‘Indian’ problem was afoot.
No worries. An easy fix.
The ones coming from India are ‘East-Indians’.
Aboriginals are ‘Indians’ or ‘Red-Indians’ depending on the grade of racism one subscribes to.
‘East-Indians’ taken from India to the Caribbean during colonialism as slaves and/or indentured labourers are ‘West-Indians’.
Done and done.
My alleged East-Indianness is derived from two different colonial projects. One through the direct subjugation of my people’s and the other through the subjugation of aboriginal peoples’ of the Americas. It might not have been apparent above, but I was not offended that I was mistaken to be aboriginal.
I was, and still am, upset about the superimposition of a history of a diverse group of aboriginal peoples’ on my being to which I have no authority to represent.
I was, and still am, angered by the fact that my being was not under my control, and with the careless utterance of a label I was asked to bear the weight of pain that was not mine and could never be even if I wanted to shoulder some of it.
I was, and still am, enraged by the fact that I am continuously portrayed as a colonized subject and forced to fit within a colonial category of individuals that my forefathers died fighting against so that we could be free.
I was, and still am, disturbed to see that the only type of aboriginal person that can be imagined is one who lives on a reservation apparently living off the largesse of Canadian tax payers.
This seemingly benign account about identity-politics is one of the stories that has shaped me. It is one that has sharpened my senses to how colonialism still affects our lives in overt and covert ways. It is a story about ‘becoming Canadian’ and the swallowing of colonial baggage required in the process. It is about immigrants and aboriginal peoples’ caged in stratified colonial spaces that overlap at the behest of colonial masters. It is about the inextricable alliance between us in the anti-racist/anti-colonial struggle that needs to be nurtured and brought to the forefront.
I refuse to be East-Indian. I was never East-Indian and I never will be. I was born Indian and I will die as one. If these colonial labels are discarded by state institutions and in daily discourse, then maybe I will die as a Canadian.
by HarshZ (via The ‘Indian’ Problem! « It Is A Harsh World)
Racialized communities experience ongoing, disproportionate levels of poverty. In other words, people from Aboriginal and ethno-racial minority groups (communities of colour) are more likely to fall below the low income cut off (LICO) and to have related problems like poor health, lower education, and fewer job opportunities, than those from European backgrounds. While it is possible for anyone to experience low income and reduced opportunities, individual and systemic racism plays a large role in creating such problems. Discrimination means that members of racialized communities are less likely to get jobs when equally qualified and are likely to make less income than their white peers. It means they are more likely to live and work in poor conditions, to have less access to healthcare, and to be victims of police violence.