The past is the present when it comes to Canada’s genocidal Indigenous policies

    Jun 2, 2021
    A memorial outside the Vancouver Art Gallery for the 215 children uncovered near Kamloops Residential School is pictured on May 30.

    OTTAWA—Even though Broadway is closed, Canada continues to turn in a Tony-winning performance of its ostensibly inherent commitment to niceness, fairness, and multiculturalism, while committing backstage atrocities. Anyone who has been through this country’s education system has witnessed the systematic erasure of Canadian genocide towards Indigenous peoples.

    Last week, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found a mass grave of 215 bodies of children as young as three years old next to the Kamloops Residential School, which closed in 1978. Before Donald Trump, Canada had one of the largest, most systematized, and longest child separation policies that ripped children from their parents’ arms, placed them on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR owes many Indigenous communities reparations for this), and shipped them off to various residential schools. The executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report describes this diabolical reasoning: “Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.”

    This is genocide, more specifically, cultural genocide and it’s ongoing.

    Instead of the residential school system and the Sixties’ Scoop, today we have the child welfare system, which disproportionately removes Indigenous children from their homes to place them in foster care, often within hours of birth. We have a federal government that refuses to honour a Human Rights Tribunal ruling that determined the federal government violated Jordan’s Principle by chronically and systematically underfunding child education and health services on-reserve. PressProgress reports: “The tribunal previously found on-reserve Indigenous health and education services funding was about 38 per cent lower than funding for non-Indigenous services.” Fighting in court instead of spending the money required to equalize services for children on-reserve to those off-reserve shows the federal government continues to discriminate against Indigenous children.

    We have a Saskatchewan government, which at the time of this writing, is calling on the federal government to take immediate action in researching any undocumented deaths and burials in residential schools in Saskatchewan, yet only ended birth alerts in February of this year. To see how comparable the child welfare system today is to the residential school system of the recent past, the Canadian Encyclopedia notes: “In 2004, there were more Indigenous children in the child welfare system than there were in residential schools in the 1940s, at the height of residential school policy.”

    Forced sterilization policies, as described in the Encyclopedia, allow “the state to deny responsibility for and avoid doing something about the often deplorable social, economic and health conditions in most Indigenous communities.” In other words, it’s cheaper for the state to sterilize Indigenous women so they won’t have to fulfill their mandate to provide equal quality of services to Indigenous communities.

    This isn’t Canada’s past, it’s Canada’s present.

    Breen Ouellette, who was a counsel for the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, this year revealed the current forced sterilization policies of British Columbia: “I was informed today that social workers in B.C. have forced Indigenous children under the age of 10 to have IUDs inserted by doctors. Within the last decade. Then they failed to ensure these children have follow-up care.”

    We have an injustice system that allowed Gerald Stanley to get away with killing Colten Boushie. An independent report by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) found the RCMP “mishandled witnesses and evidence” and racially discriminated against Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste. To date, there has been zero accountability reported within the force.

    Much like the injustice afforded to the family of Boushie, residential school survivors have found little to no justice from Canadian courts, as documented by the First Nations Studies Program at the University of British Columbia. Fewer than 50 convictions have come “out of more than 38,000 claims of sexual and physical abuse submitted to the independent adjudication process.”

    And let’s not forget that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister from 1968 to 1979, the same time the Canadian government took over the administration of the Kamloops Residential School.

    It’s difficult to distinguish between history or the present when the through line is that direct. Given this, it’s time to tell truth about how genocidal and racist this country is, and stop feigning shock when there are those who respond in the affirmative.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.