I am moved to write this blog because of Minister Duncan’s outrageous remarks that residential schools were NOT cultural genocide. This has led to discussions about whether or not the murder, torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in this country “qualifies” as genocide, given the more recent, and much more distant atrocities committed in countries like Rwanda. Rwanda gained international attention because upwards of 800,000 people died in less than a year by brutal means. The Srebenica genocide resulted in the murder of approximately 8,000 Bosnian men and women in 1995. The holocaust of millions of Jewish people is likely the most famous of all. These events all took place far away from our shores in North America and allowed Canadians and Americans to point across the sea and shake their heads in horror and disgust. North Americans have been able to rewrite their own histories so that they don’t have to face the atrocities committed here at home. They have the benefit of majority power which means that their teachers speak of peace and friendship with the Indians, their priests speak of saving Indians, and their politicians speak of things like reconciliation. Meanwhile, the horrors committed against our peoples, which resulted in the largest genocide in the planet’s history is a story that never gets told. As a lawyer, a professor and someone who does alot of public speaking about issues impacting our peoples, I am often faced with the question of whether genocide really happened here in North America (a place we call Turtle Island and includes Canada and the United States). When I answer unequivocally yes, the first reaction is usually – “You can’t seriously compare colonization with the vicious murders in Rwanda”? I agree – there is is no comparison. It was a different place, at a different time, with different methods and results. What I am saying is that what happened to our people on Turtle Island fits EVERY criteria of the international definition of genocide. In 1948, after the atrocities committed against the Jewish people in WWII, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. http://www.un.org/millennium/law/iv-1.htm The Convention declared that genocide was a crime in international law regardless of whether it was committed during a time of peace or war. Any punishment is NOT limited by time or place and there is no immunity for public bodies, government officials or individuals. They defined genocide as follows: “The Convention defines genocide as any of a number of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: – killing the members of the group; – causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group; – deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; – imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and – forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” That is not my definition – that is the definition by international law standards for which ALL nations are bound and Canada and the United States are no exceptions. Canada signed this Convention on November 28, 1949. The United States signed on December 11, 1948. Thus, in order for an act to be considered genocide, it does not require that all components be present, nor does it require that the entire group be eliminated. However, in both Canada’s case and that of the United States, ALL components of genocide are present. Specifically here in Canada: (1) killing members of the group – the deliberate infecting of blankets with small pox and sending them to reserves; – the enacting of scalping laws which encouraged settlers to kill and scalp Indians for a monetary reward; – the deliberate infecting of Indigenous children with infectious diseases in residential schools which led to their deaths; – the deliberate abuse, torture, starvation, and denial of medical care to Indigenous children forced to live at residential schools which resulted in as many as 40% dying in those schools; – the killing of our people by police and military through starlight tours, tazering, severe beatings, and by unjustified shootings; – the killing of our people resulted in severely reduced populations, and some Nations completely wiped out; – in the US, some groups were exterminated by up to 98%; (2) causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to the members of the group; – think of the torture and abuse inflicted on Indigenous children in residential schools like sexual abuse, rape, sodomy, solitary confinement, denial of food and medical care, and severe beatings for speaking one’s language, etc; – imagine the mental harm to Indigenous families and communities when their children were forcibly removed from them and left to die in residential schools; – even when residential schools were starting to close, social workers in the 1960’s onward stole children and placed them out for adoption in non-Indigenous families; – the torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in order to force them to sign treaties and agreements; – the loss of language, culture, traditions, practices, way of life, beliefs, world views, customs; – the imposed divisions in families, communities and Nations through the Indian Act (3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; – think of the deliberate and chronic underfunding of essential social services on reserve like housing, water, food, sewer and other programs fundamental to the well-being of a people like education and health; – the theft of all the lands and resources of Indigenous peoples and their subsequent confinement to small reserves where the law prevented them from leaving and providing for their families and so were left to starve on the rations provided by Canada; – or the relocations of Indigenous communities from resource rich areas to swamp lands where they could not provide for themselves; – Indian Affairs who divided large nations into small communities, located them physically away from one another, – the Indian Act led to the physical separation of Indigenous women and children from their communities through the Act’s assimilatory registration provisions; (4) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; the forced sterilizations of Indigenous women and men, most notably in Alberta and British Columbia; – the Indian Act’s discriminatory registration provisions which prevent the descendants of Indigenous women who married non-Indian men to be recognized as members of their community thus keeping their births from being recognized as part of the group; – the discriminatory INAC policy which prevents the children of unwed mothers from registering their children as Indians and part of their communities (unstated and unknown paternity); (5) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group – the long history of residential schools which had an express stated purpose – “to KILL the Indian in the child” and to ensure that there were no more Indians in Canada; – the 60’s scoop which saw the mass removal of Indigenous children from their homes and adopted permanently into non-Indigenous homes; – the prevention of children from being members in their communities due to the discriminatory Indian Act registration provisions; – the current high rate of children removed from their families which out numbers residential schools and 60’s scoop combined. Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but there is no need to do so when what is listed above more than meets the definition of genocide. So, when the Minister of Indian Affairs says that residential schools were NOT a form of cultural genocide, he is not only undoing what good the public residential schools apology did, but he is denying all of the horrors committed by Canada on our peoples – in essence, he is denying our lived realities. Watch the clips of Minister Duncan on APTN’s InFocus show that we just did on Nov.4, 2011 on the issue of assimilation and genocide in Canada: Part 1 of APTN InFocus: http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/11/04/november-4th-part-1/ Part 2: http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/11/04/november-4th-%e2%80%93-part-2/ I find it hard to believe that while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going around Canada, that the Minister of Indian Affairs would be so disrespectful. Not only were residential schools “lethal” for some languages, cultures and family relations, it was literally “lethal” for almost half the children that attended. How much more lethal would he want it to be? 60%, 70%, 80%? The Prime Minister should immediately remove Minister Duncan from his position. That won’t happen of course, because the Conservative government STILL has a policy objective of assimilating Indians. The Indian Act’s registration provisions are modern day evidence of that. I invite you all to watch the documentary entitled: The Canary Effect. It is only one hour long, but is very difficult to watch. It hurts the spirit in so many ways and I imagine will be difficult for uninformed non-Indigenous people to accept. While it relates primarily to genocide against our Indigenous peoples in the United States, much of what is said applies equally in Canada. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/canary-effect/ We are in the fight of our lives and we need to turn the tide of this war around. We have to stop blaming ourselves and believing the lies that we were told. We are not inferior, we are not genetically pre-disposed to dysfunction, our men are not better than our women, and we certainly did not EVER consent to genocide against our people. All the dysfunction, addictions, ill health, suicides, male domination and violence is all the result of what Canada did to us. We are not each others’ enemies. We have to forgive ourselves for being colonized – none of that is who we really are as Indigenous peoples. Our people are beautiful, proud, strong, and resilient. We honour our ancestors by surviving. Now we have to honour our future generations by thriving. Our children carry our ancestors in their hearts and minds. They carry the strength, honour and passion of our ancestors in their blood. Our generation must find a way, despite all the barriers in our way, to love, support and nurture our children so that we can rise up and take back our sovereignty, our honour, and our future. Our children will still go through the pain of knowing what has been done and is currently done to our people by Canada, and all the dysfunction that it has created, but maybe they will finally know where to direct the anger and stop turning it inward and hurting themselves. That anger can be focused into passion which can then be channelled into action for our people.  Our future depends on our children loving themselves and having hope. We can’t ever let them lose that. Canada may want us to disappear, but we don’t have to let it happen. All my relations… P.S. In case you want to express your concern to Minister Duncan, his e-mail is john.duncan@parl.gc.ca


  1. Hi Pam,

    This is an excellent and eye-opening post. I'm hoping you can clarify one thing for me. In 4) above, you wrote: "the discriminatory INAC policy which prevents the children of unwed mothers from registering their children as Indians and part of their communities (unstated and unknown paternity);"

    Is it the children of the unwed mother who can not be registered or the children of the children (i.e. the grandchildren) of the unwed mother who can not be registered?

    Also, is this policy still in
    existance or was it changed at some point?

    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Kristine;
    Thanks for your comments. The policy related to unknown or unstated paternity is a recent policy (post-195) and is still applied today. It impacts the children of un-wed mothers by presuming the father is a non-Indian. This means that the child gets a lesser status or no status at all. Since so many women are registered under section 6(2) because of the gender discrimination in the Act, this means that literally thousands of children are wrongfully not registered.

  3. Hi Pam,

    Thank you for the clarification. So prior to 1985, would the children of an unwed mother (unknown or unstated paternity) have been able to register?

    Or was there some other policy in place that discrimated against them even then?

    Kind regards,

  4. Hi Kristine;
    Thanks for your question. Yes, pre-1985, under the Indian Act, there was a legal presumption that the father of an unwed mother's child was an Indian and the "illegitimate" child could be registered as such. However, this was always subject to a formal protest being made which alleged a non-Indian father. Since Indian agents had a great deal of control, many of those children's registration was protested by Indian agents automatically, often without Indian women's knowledge or consent.

  5. Hi Pam;

    How does news shape the way we see the world?
    Distorted, bloated, and not representative of what is happening. Such as the comments made by our Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Mr. Duncan and his remarks regarding the term genocide and the long and sad history of the Residential Schools in Canada.
    Too often, Canadian commercial news is myopic and inwardly focused.
    This leads to a serve lack of global news. And increasingly, a shortage of "enterprise journalism" – journalistic depth built over time through original sources – that provides the context and enables thoughful response. Very much like what Pamela has brought up in her response by Minister Duncan.
    Too often, the news sticks to crime, disasters, infotainment, and horse-race politics. Many important topics such as education, race and ethnicity, science, environment, and women and children's issues are often less than 5% of all news combined.
    Much of widely-seen online news isn't better – it's often re-circulates the same stories. The result: much of our news can't be called "knowledge media" – content that builds insight about our (Aboriginal Peoples of Canada) world. It's difficult to understand the world, if you haven't heard much about it: "Minister Duncan". But we also know many Canadians want to know more.
    Storytelling is powerful. It helps us understand, make choices and can inspire us. So keep up the good fight Pamela…
    Journalism as we know it is in trouble. The old models don't serve us anymore with the content we need. Now is our chance to make it better.
    By investing aggressively and entrepreneurially in the future of knowledge media – in both journalistic reportage and in powerful storytelling, we can insure that Aboriginal people get the fullest global perspective. Let's do is now.

  6. Hi Good Vibes;

    Thank you for your comments. You make some very good points. I agree that the media has skewed so much of what the public sees and hears on Indigenous issues – and not to the better.

    I also think that as more non-Indigenous Canadians learn the facts and understand the history, many more of them will be respectful allies in our efforts at seeking justice for Indigenous peoples.

    Have to think positive!

  7. I am Adam La Forest and my family survived Acts of Genocide committed by Canada's Residential School policies.

    Please ask Minister John Duncan to resign he views are attack on Canadians as well as on Indigenous (Canadians). My family was abused and still suffers from Residential School policies.

    The Ministers actions are in violation of the Charter (subsection 2) as the Minister of INAC his position mandates knowledge and sensitivity not object denial of the truth. The Ministers actions have inflicted harm by not recognize subsection (25) and (27).

    By not acknowledging the Prime Ministers position concerning Residential Schools the Minister does not represent the Prime Ministers stance on First Nations affairs. To quote the Prime Minister the policy was "to kill the Indian in the child." Understanding the 1949 UN Declaration on Genocide this policy is in direct violation of Canada's duty to protect its own citizens and carried out policies which inflict acts of genocide.

    There has been rigorous "convergence of evidence"
    1 – Written documents
    2 – Eyewitness testimony
    3 – Photographs
    4 – The schools themselves
    5 – Inferential evidence

    To neglect the truth of the propensity of the past is a violation of human rights.

    Again, I ask for the resignation of John Duncan as his views are not that of Minister, INAC representative, or a representative of Canada.

    His tone and indignation of the topic showed he knew he was saying something that went against his knowledge.

    i mean he looked like a coward in his statement, hands shaking, shifty, lowered posture etc.

    i mean if he truly believed what he was saying he would have been more assertive in his response.

    For example: No, it was not genocide. It was federal policy and it did have unintended outcomes. As Minsiter I do not believe Residential Schools to be an Act of Genocide – (for what ever bs reason). That’s how you answer that question.

    But he cowards.

    And uses terms to distance himself from the topic.
    Making his arguement weak.

    Again, I think its his distancing strategy. If he was more direct I think there would be less contempt of his statement (although arguable).

  8. Nobody knows about Canada's genocide.
    I am a 36 yr old Canadian, and Ive just taught myself this disgusting part of our history in this past week. I have 1 sister, and we both have fair skin (white). Our grandfather was full Indian. In our adult lives my sister has embraced our Indian culture, while I ignored it. I have always wondered why so many natives have addictions and other problems, why some seem so spiteful towards white people. Racism is rampant in Canada and now, after all these years, I finally understand. It finally dawned on me, all at once. The unimaginable horrors the Indians have endured, the resulting dis-functionality and despair, the rest of society purposefully being kept in the dark of all of it, further resulting in mass indifference and racism. Its hit me like a ton of bricks and I don't know the proper words for the sick feeling its given me.
    None of it is taught in school. OUR GOVERNMENT IS HIDING THE TRUTH

  9. Hello Pam,

    I have one last question regarding the policy on unknown unstated paternity – is it the date of birth or the date of registration that must be pre-1985 to be considered under the "original" policy?

    Kind regards,

  10. Kristine;

    Thanks for your question. You are really challenging my brain cells today!! LOL INAC says that all applications for registration go by the Act that was in force at the date of birth. This means that if a child was born POST-85 to an unwed Indian mother who did not state the father, then the child is presumed to have had an Indian father and registration flows from that. Pam

  11. Pam – I didn't want to be anonymous, but I'm not sure of how to work that item. I not only agree with the genocide that was committed against our people. What is worse, it still goes on, only this time it is more subtle. I didn't have a chance to read the full article, but when it came to genocide, have you gone to the website of the International Criminal Court in the Hague. They have defined 5 types of genocide, each one standing on its own. I have examined them, and in my humble opinion, Canada is guilty of at least 4. So I always say genocides, plural against our people. Just a couple of examples that come to mind: the attempt to wipe us out with smallpox. Another was the brutal ripping away of our children and forcing them into the residential schools (attempt at cultural genocide): one other that I find particularly painful was the attempt by the founder of Halifax to literally wipe us off the face of the earth. If you have a chance to read the history of the Mi'kmaq Nation, "We Were Not The Savages" by Daniel Paul is excellent. The most brutal thing of all were the 2 proclamations for scalping. A certain price was paid for adult scalps, while a lesser price was paid for the scalps of women and children. Again, for today, does anyone think it was an accident that over half of our reserves do not have clean water, in most of the cases, I believe drinking water. The matter of the water came directly from the United Nations in a severe criticism of Canada for how it treats its indigenous people. The UN also compared us to being at the level of a 3rd nation My Name is Patrick Wood, and Pam, I do not wish to be anonymous. I shall be following your blog from now on, as I really appreciate your points of view.

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