Canada crimes against First Nations was genocide

First Nations children hold letters spelling out ‘goodbye’ at Fort Simpson Indian Residential School in 1922. (J.F. MORAN/LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA)

By PHIL FONTAINE AND BERNIE FARBER

Special to The Globe and Mail

On Monday, Oct. 14, we have the unique and historic opportunity to meet with Professor James Anaya, the Special United Nations Rapporteur for Indigenous People. It is our conviction that Canada’s history with First Nations people was not just dark and brutal, but in fact constituted a “genocide” as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. Unresolved issues regarding genocide can have the effect of holding back real progress in economic development in any community.

Genocides rarely emerge fully formed from the womb of evil. They typically evolve in a stepwise fashion over time, as one crime leads to another and another.

The Holocaust is the undisputed genocide of all genocides, and it has been argued passionately by many historians that no other dark period in human history quite compares to it. Although qualitatively true in some aspects, modern historians no longer need to rely on shades of darkness in order to analyze genocide.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) was adopted on Dec. 9, 1948. It gives a very clear definition of what is and what is not a genocide. Stated another way, since 1948, social scientists have had the necessary tools to determine if genocide has occurred. It should also be pointed out that under the CPPCG, the intention to commit genocide is itself a crime, and not just the act of genocide.

It’s clear that Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of starving First Nations to death in order to make way for the western expansion of European settlers meets the criteria of genocide under the CPPCG.

Similarly, the entire residential school system also passes the genocide test, in particular if you consider the fact that the Department of Indian Affairs, headed by Duncan Campbell Scott, deliberately ignored the recommendations of Peter Bryce, Canada’s first Chief Medical Officer, regarding the spread of tuberculosis in the schools. Such willful disregard for the basic principles of public health constitutes an act of genocide by omission, if not deliberate commission.

Finally, we have the very recent and painful memory of forced removal of First Nations children from their families by Indian Agents which occurred in the 1960s, also known by the popular term “Sixties Scoop.” This is an act of genocide that clearly meets the CPPCG test, and also fell outside of the residential school system.

Our conviction is that Canadian policy over more than 100 years can be defined as a genocide of First Nations under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

We hold that until Canada as represented by its government engages in a national conversation about our historical treatment of the First Nations; until we come to grips with the fact that we used racism, bigotry and discrimination as a tool to not only assimilate First Nations into the Canadian polity, but engaged in a deliberate policy of genocide both cultural and physical; we will never heal.

The fact that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples have not been wiped out, and are indeed growing in numbers, is not proof that genocide never occurred, as some would have us believe. The historical and psychological reality of genocide among our Aboriginal communities is very much alive and a part of living memory. The sooner we recognize this truth, the sooner both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians will be able to heal from our shared traumas.

This is adapted from a letter to the United Nations Rapporteur for Indigenous People delivered by Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Bernie Farber, senior vice-president of Gemini Power Corporation and former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress. It is also signed by Elder Fred Kelly, a spiritual elder and member of the AFN Council of Elders, and Dr. Michael Dan, president of gemini Power Corporation.

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3 thoughts on “Canada crimes against First Nations was genocide

  1. I had the opportunity to also address an a very important issue that always seems to be missed. This what i had said to the UN and to James Anaya.

    October 11, 2013

    Hobbema Alberta
    James Anaya
    UN Special Rapporteur

    Good Morning (Afternoon) My name is Gerald Delorme. I have been trying to get our Historical Graves and Sacred Sites protected since 1999.

    Ever since 1856 the Dominion of Canada has known that our Sacred Sites and Graves needed to be protected. These governments have even ignored the McKenna- McBride Commission Report of 1916 which in it states there existed a very strong feeling regarding proper protection for their graveyards,and steps had been taken in most cases to recommend the reservation of small areas for such purpose. In some instances , however the plots would be so small that it would not deemed wise to recommend that reserves should be created involving a large outlay for surveys. It is therefore ,recommended that where such cases arise,-the Governments of the Dominion and the Province should mutually arrange for the protection of these graves. (Taken from the book Gustafsen Lake Under Siege Janice Switlo. This report was in British Columbia. Regardless of where it is. These Governments know the importance of our Graves and Sacred Sites.

    In 1981 I started working for the City of Edmonton. At that time fellow workers had come up to me and had informed me that in 1976 they had dug out skeletal remains out of Rossdale and many were dumped in a landfill and a few others brought to a cemetery. I had paid no mind to them because at that time I had no clue I had ancestors buried at Rossdale.

    In 1994 I had an accident at work which lead me to do the research to where I am today.

    I was raised in a foster home since the age of 6 days old. In 1999 once I had felt I had enough research to go out and find family I had encountered a group of people that was once band called Papaschase that was on the south side of the river. So I decided to see what this was all about.

    We had went to a city meeting and found references of my family members being buried at Rossdale. From there the knowledge of a Historical Gravesite was evidence. I went back to the very men who were there in 1976 and interviewed them all. What I had found out and what the city was trying to do were totally different avenues. I would trust the men who had held our ancestors skulls in their hands before the misleading the City of Edmonton has done.

    I began to see the cover up of their ways. This was not right. So from there I had asked the city to stop this genocide more than once. To this day this systematic discrimination continues. The Rossdale Traditional Burial Site has had 9 major impacts thus far starting in 1943 and this would include an aboriginal lady coming for her baby in 1908. It has been over 100 years and the foot print of our Culture is being erased and it is certainly not from the lack of trying to get this and other areas protected like any one else’s’ graves and sacred sites on Turtle Island in a safe and respectful way like many other have tried to do for the Sacred Sites and Graves of all our ancestors on Turtle Island.

    In 2008 I had asked the City of Edmonton to get designation for Rossdale as an Historical site.After 2 years of waiting I had wrote to the monuments board of Canada to seek recognition. I had also asked if any one else had submitted an application. The answer was no. Needless to say it fell through the cracks on the behalf of the city which I found out myself and also I was told. I had worte to the Minister of Indian Affairs on more than one occasion and their response was. the Indian act restricts my responsibilities to Statues Indian and their reserve communities. My thought is these Graves and Sacred Sites were here long before the so called Indian Act and he is the head of the Ministry and he should be doing something about it regardless.

    In 2009 there was the expansion of the Light Rail train to the south side of Edmonton. They encountered skeletal remains. The city treated those remains with absolutely no respect what so ever. Some of the remains were reburied in a cemetery and the rest went to a land fill. Much like in 1976 when at least 40 or more bodies were dug up and dumped into a landfill. It took me over a year to find out where the body of that young girl ended up. This was not by the city but by the coroners office. The city did not once call and ask how we would like to repatriate the remains. In fact one of the managers had said he was surprised they did not find any more bodies. Thus me leading up to this human rights complaint against the city. Which now I have the Human rights being question as to why they are not sticking to their decision. I have learnt that the Province and the City of Edmonton say one thing and do the opposite.

    In 2010 I have given the City of Edmonton a request to accommodate. Which they have not.Thus me launching a Human Rights complaint that is still ongoing. I have also given the Province and the city of Edmonton a good blueprint to start from. The North American Grave and Repatriation Act to put into law as a guide line. This still has not happened. In 2000 a cross cultural community was formed between the federal government and provincial to address the concerns and possible change in the law to protect the graves. We met 2 times and that was it. These governments wanted to know where our sites were. We more or less said not until there is protection. The came back saying that they had no more funding to pursue this any further.

    In 2008 another brief attempt was made by a letter from of of the MLA’s in a question package. Since then nothing.

    The so called Protection the Province had put on the Traditional Burial Grounds at Rossdale has already been amended to accommodate a new road and bridge. In our estimates we have at least 1000 people buried since 1795. The History of the area dates to at least 8000 years of occupancy.

    My recommendations would to have the North American repatriation act as a blue print with a bit more bite to it and that all nations can add to it until it becomes a powerful tool so that industry will the respect and protect our Sacred Sites and Historical Graves once they have been encountered. This with Substantive Equality and Restorative Justice would be a very strong deterrent of future development over our Graves and Sacred Sites. It has been very obvious over the many years that our Sacred Sites and Graves have no meaning to the colonial powers. Respect ,understanding and education is order for all levels of government along with the people of Canada, Like I have said many times. Get use to us because we are not going anywhere any time soon. Thank you for your time and having this opportunity to bring this important matter to your attention. I am all of one voice in sea of thousands and hopefully with an added voice it will be clear in what our good intentions are. Thank you.

    Gerald Delorme

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