Early Indian policy was designed to accomplish two main policy objectives: (1) acquire Indigenous lands and resources, and (2) reduce financial responsibility to Indigenous peoples. The primary way in which these two objectives were to be achieved was through the physical, legal, social and spiritual elimination of Indigenous peoples. I say “elimination” because that is the word which best describes government intentions. Most people today use the term “assimilation” but to my mind, this word is much too soft to describe the design and impact of government policies on Indigenous peoples in Canada. To some readers, the term “elimination” may seem a little harsh, somewhat of an exaggeration, or perhaps rhetoric blown out of proportion which forgets the good intentions governments, churches and traders had for Indigenous peoples. I beg to differ – not because I fall into any externally imposed category of left-wing, liberal, radical or “nutbar”. I beg to differ because the facts – the brutal, uncomfortable facts tell us a much different story. My biggest concern is not that the colonization project devastated Indigenous peoples, because the historical record clearly shows it did; it is that the colonization and devastation of Indigenous peoples continues, albeit couched in softer terminology. Today, the few history books that have been amended to include mention of Indigenous peoples speak of the tragic loss of Indigenous cultures over time. They speak of this “loss” as a romantic part of our history where the strong, noble Indian chief on his horse looks across the horizon and realizes that the ways of his people are fading away with the coming of European trains, traders and technologies. This sort of representation may even invoke feelings of melancholy in Canadians who long for the simplicity of the old days. But it belies the truth about Canada and its direct and intentional “obliteration” of Indigenous peoples, cultures and territories. If the term “elimination” does not make some readers uncomfortable, surely the term “obliteration” will. The purposeful destruction of a people implies the kind of ill-intent, even malice upon which a country like Canada could surely never have been built? Terms like those imply that perhaps what happened to Indigenous peoples was not simply “progress”, “civilization” or a “good policy gone wrong” – no, this falls in the realm of a word that usually upsets the majority of readers: genocide. Many people do not understand the legal definition of genocide, nor are they aware of how genocide is considered internationally. Many are of the misunderstanding that genocide is the mass murder of millions of people all in one shot – something akin to the holocaust. In fact, genocide is defined in the United Nations Convention on Genocide as follows: 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.
That is the definition. In Canada and the United States, settler governments have committed genocide against Indigenous peoples, not under just one category, but under every single category noted above. We all know it, but the reality stands in such stark contrast to the mythology created by government about what Canada stands for, that many people resort to denial. Indigenous peoples who have raised the subject have been referred to as “nutbars”, “whackos”, “conspiracy theorists”, “radicals” and “terrorists”. The issue of genocide is radical – not because it is not true, but because it stands so far outside the realm of humanity and human rights that the tendency is to save the term for only the most obvious, horrific, well-known instances of genocide committed in places far away from Canada. http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/pamela-palmater/2011/11/unbelievable-undeniable-genocide-canada The term genocide is usually saved for instances where the victims are considered to be humans – and Indigenous peoples have long been characterized as non-humans for centuries. Aside from the historical depictions of Indigenous peoples as “savages”, “heathens” or “pagans”, they have also been treated by governments as “dangerous and sub-human”. The myth of Indigenous peoples being sub-human allowed governments to steal Indigenous lands under the legal fiction of “terra nullius” (lands belonging to no one). They knew better of course, but it allowed them to justify not only the theft of lands from Indigenous peoples, but the brutal acts of genocide which were committed upon them. The fact that early governments sent small-pox infested blankets to Indigenous communities knowing it would nearly wipe them all out, is a historical fact. These were not the actions of a few bad apples, or something that happened in the stone age. This has been acknowledged as modern “biological warfare” by publications in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The scalping laws in Nova Scotia were deliberate acts of murder which decimated the Mi’kmaw Nation population by almost 80%. The forced surgical sterilization of Indigenous women against their will, and often without their knowledge or consent, destroyed Indigenous peoples in a very physical way. The government and church-run residential schools knowingly created conditions that led to the mass deaths of the Indigenous children who attended – upwards of 40% never made it out alive. Incredibly, not only did government officials know that Indigenous children were dying and even “acknowledged” the high rates of deaths and their causes, but this was part of the overall objective: “But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards the final solution of our Indian problem.” (SI Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott) Why do I bring all this uncomfortableness up in my blog? Why am I asking readers to face the brutal reality that is Canada? It is because genocidal acts against Indigenous peoples continue to this day, hidden in government policies which purport to be in the best interests of Indigenous peoples. It is because every government (Libs and Cons) has had a hand in continuing the situation, but mostly because this Harper government has ramped up efforts to eliminate Indigenous peoples. In my opinion, the Harper Indigenous Manifesto is about erasing Indigenous peoples from Canada socially, culturally, legally and physically. What used to be forced sterilizations to prevent child births and control Indigenous populations is now pre-mature deaths from the extreme poverty directly linked to chronic, purposeful under-funding, over-prescription of addictive drugs, and lack of housing, water and sanitation. What used to be residential schools became the 60’s scoop and is now child and family services removing our children from our communities at alarming rates. What used to be European/western education forced on our children through residential schools, is now the provincial school systems, which for the most part, teach the same western ideologies, histories, sciences and politics to our children and specifically exclude our traditional Indigenous knowledges, languages and cultures. What used to be scalping laws, are now starlight tours, murdered and missing Indigenous women by the hundreds, and quelling land claims with brute military and police force. What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples leaving their reserves are now laws which take away rights when one leaves the reserve (taxes, governance, jurisdiction, trade, identity). What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples gathering in one place is now CSIS, RCMP, DND and INAC putting us on terrorist watch lists, monitoring our movements, and over-incarcerating our men, women and youth at increasing rates. What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples hiring lawyers to advocate on their behalf, are now devasting funding cuts to local, regional and provincial First Nation political organizations. All coming at a time when Harper wants chaos, confusion, and lack of political capacity to ensure there is little resistance to his comprehensive Indian Act-based legislative agenda. He hopes to strike fear and confusion in chiefs so that they don’t know whether to stay quiet and hope it doesn’t get worse, or take action. Either way, funding cuts will be imposed on local First Nations as well. This is not about whether regional political organizations are doing a good job or not – this is about Harper fulfilling the original intentions of Indian policy (1) accessing Indigenous lands and resources and (2) reducing financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. He just happens to see striking at political organizations as the best way to isolate individual First Nations, already overwhelmed with issues, so they are easier to bully into submission. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) either does not have the capacity or inclination to take these issues on. Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that local community members are going to be looking to their local First Nation governments to take action. In the same vein, First Nation leaders will be looking for assistance from their treaty, regional and provincial organizations. The days of waiting for the AFN to do something are over. If these funding cuts are ok, so will be the ones that come to individual First Nations, then will come the eventual constitutional changes, the accelerated extinguishment of Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the division and sale of the rest of our lands. If Canadians think that this does not concern them – they should think again. As your “Canada” slowly becomes a dictatorship led by a rogue Prime Minister who is obsessed with power, Canadian laws, rules, and regulations are breached with impunity. Everything from elections, ethics, budgets, and legislation are manipulated without regard for the rule of law. The damage done by these renegade Conservatives is already so severe that analysts feel it will take years to undo the harm. In standing beside Indigenous peoples to oppose these destructive policies, Canadians would be living up to the spirit and intent of the treaties and, in so doing, protecting their own futures. Economic reports have already shown that the costs of maintaining Indigenous peoples in poverty is higher than the solutions. Those same studies show that the costs of delaying the resolution of land claims and treaty implemention for example, are higher than if those claims were resolved equitably. Even the most basic math shows that it costs more to keep an Indigenous person in a federal prison for one year ($100,000) than it does to pay for a 4-year university degree ($60,000). If you think for a minute that once Harper is done erasing Indigenous peoples, that he won’t come after women, children, the impoverished, the remaining pristine environmental areas, water basins and sanctuaries all in the name of wealth and power, think again. There is no room for justice, diversity or freedom in a dictator’s view of the world. We are all compelled to act. Our reasons do not have to be the same. I can be a Mi’kmaw citizen and someone else can be a Canadian citizen, but still have a mutual interest in protecting the environment. Whether someone votes in federal and provincial elections, or like me, does not vote in elections – we all still share the desire to protect our waterways. One can be Maliseet and someone else French, but still feel it important protect our cultures for future generations. I have no intention of letting Harper erase me, my family, my home community or Mi’kmaw Nation. Let’s put our heads together about a plan of action. Extra sources: http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/crsp/article/viewFile/35220/32057 http://www.oba.org/en/pdf/sec_news_sept11_c3_palm.pdf http://lawandstyle.ca/opinion_first_nations_fiasco/ http://fusemagazine.org/2012/07/35-3_palmate
solutions solutions. I can only hope most first nations people see these things for what they are, so what's the next step?
Hey Duff, good question! The solutions have been identified in over 3500 studies, reports, publications, community engagement sessions and suggestions from youth, elders and leaders. The problem has never been to identify the solutions for there are many different actions needed for the numerous complex situations our people are in, the issue is political will to implement. There is no one magic solution, but a whole bunch of targeted actions would go a long way to addressing issues while we figure out the bigger ones. Take for example education – imagine putting adequate funding into education plus control over our own education what we could do to revitalize languages, cultures, traditional Indigenous knowledges, and pride and hope in our youngest. Now add the resolution of land claims so that Indigenous peoples have access to their OWN water sources so they could protect them and provide water for their communities. Add to that a share of the resources from our lands that are in the hands of governments and third parties – what we could do to address the housing crisis? What if it was not a crime to fish for a living and hunt for food – how well could we address diabetes if we ate country food? Then imagine our elders not being locked up when they take our kids on the land and share their knowledge and wisdom while hunting and passing on the lanague and traditional values at the same time. So much is possible…
so sad that this is still happening in this day and age…
Excellent article. All Canadians need to hear this call, and become involved. The plight of Canada's aboriginal people befalls all of us eventually. We have become a sad nation, a nation of people too scared or lazy to stand up for each other.
First of all we must elect Conservatives and Liberals out of our government, and opt for a more socially conscious one. And that means socially conscious concerning indigenous people as well as women's rights, abortion issues, priorities being medical services including special needs people, education, standard of living for ALL CANADIANS. And bloody well cut-backs on military warmongering spending! Our government should be concentrating on raising the standard of living for ALL Canadians instead of buying fighter jets etc. etc. etc.
Take heart, compassionate Canadians. All this garbage was by design, so if we collectively come together for justice, then we too shall overcome. So sorry for what has transpired since contact, but know that I care and want to heal the injustices and problems, and hold out hope for the seventh generation, to lead us forward into a beautiful, healthy future!
There are more aboriginal people today than before European contact. That's hardly what I'd call "genocide". If anything, colonial policies have fostered the conditions for the rapid growth of aboriginal and Metis populations.
Perhaps you can make a list of evidence which you will accept to reverse your current opinion.
Dear anonymous; I think you should read the academic literature (including science, history, mapping, demography studies, anthrolopgy, etc) regarding Indigenous populations pre-contact before you ask a question like that. The Europeans all spoke of "great multitudes" of Indigenous peoples in what would become Canada. Average estimates put Indigenous populations at 10 million, but may have been much higher. Even if we use the low number of 10 million, that is almost 10 times higher than the current population of 1.2 million. Colonial laws, policies and actions decimated Indigenous populations by upwards of 93-98% in regions. Being informed about these issues helps with fact-based discussions.
About 2 years ago I came across an MOU signed in 2009 between then INAC and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in which they agree to meet about every 6 months to discuss a wide ranging agenda of Indian "issues". We have always known there was colusion by the two agencies but now there is documented proof. And then along comes the Land Management Act – the Canadian version of the U.S. 1887 Dawes Act which was also premised on forcing us into fee simple, individual land ownership. The result of the Dawes Act was the loss of an additional 150 million acres of supposedly treaty guarenteed land mainly due to our peoples inability to pay the taxes that came with fee simple. The point is – they never, ever stop trying to eliminate us as peoples and nations.
I see you don't publish comments which contradict your view of the world. That's okay, the fact that aboriginal people now occupy Canada in far greater numbers and in better health and longevity than prior to European contact cannot be ignored except by those with conspiracy theories to promote.
Anonymous your funny, no wonder why you remain anonymous; because of you nonintellectual comments and baseless one sided arguments and position. You should dig deep and do some research before you spew you ignorance. I studied at the same right wing institution as Harper, Zionist Levant, Flannigans, Coopers. Remember Flannigan has no problem viewing child porn and is a Texas Republican like Harper aspires to be, never cause whether he likes it or not we are a Constitutional Monarchy. So if anyone can give an accurate depiction or opinion of these Zionist right wing war mongers I can. So move along, you are probably Flannigan himself, now get, go play on the road or something, lol.
Dear Anonymous, I think you overlooked the fact that I already published your comments about populations. I published it and I responded with the factual information to help answer your query. I would advise publishing your name next time, as there are alot of Anonymous's.
also, one note to add to the above excellent article, is that in "canada" only implemented 3 of those 5 definitions in their implementation of this convention, knowing full well that they violate the ones they left out. but, like you said Pam, it's moot anyway, since they violate all 5. i've always said they violate all of them. constantly.
i'm proof positive of some of those. i barely speak my own languages (i'm learning them though!), my own family (coupla exceptions in generations before me) don't know their culture or history.
also, i have to wholeheartedly disagree and point out factual errors they have, with Anonymous September 15, 2012 10:19 AM: no, our numbers are not up to what they were pre-contact. no, we are not healthier nor do we live longer, and no, we don't occupy "canada", "canada" occupies indigenous peoples' lands. could you stop with the manifest destiny and imperialist rhetoric? try going after truth, instead of parroting lies.
i could quote your own "Health Canada" at you, but you obviously have a web browser, so you can go to their web site for the stats (what little stats there are on us).
Yes I understand what your discussing elimination. The North Coast Pasific we are heading for a direct hit by (economic development). They want us to settle a treaty with British Columbia Treaty Process. Be absorbed into Canadian Taxation Law.
We are in elimination to Skeena River, creeks watersheds. With 5 energy Pipe Lines such as K – LNG Pipe line, Coastal Gas Pipe Line, Enbridge Pipe Line, Spectra Energy Pipe Line, Powered up by North West Transmission Line, transport oil on CNRAIL.
Now lets add mineral exportation. From all the dead ground.
If that is not enough they want us to be self government?
With these treaty. We will be whiped out of existence.
Agree with your opinions; I believe the Aboriginal Affairs Department has the elimination policy in place. They starved our peoples on the reservation settings in the 1800's with so called Treaties, with no intention of ever living up to them . Now the same policy is starving the Populations off the Reservations and out the cities. There is a modest effort to assist this re-settlement, but this is also grossly underfunded. Harper is not alone. Paul Martin could have done so much more when he had his excess budgets. Now his attempts seem hallow and disingenious.
I am waiting for a perspective from Ovide Mercredi… who is stunningly silent. Perhaps he is with-holding his wisdom, as any great statesman would, for this media-circus (which is strangely reminiscent of a Tea-Party badgering S.O.T.B)to subside… stayed tuned, more honesty to come…
Comments are closed.