On Monday, 14. October 2013, we had 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.

 

UPDATE:

Canada Exposes First Nations Unfairly to Toxic Waste: UN

UN reported high levels of mercury contamination in water and soil resources dangerously close to Indigenous communities, like this tar sands plant near the Athabasca River. | Photo: Reuters

By tS - 7. June 2019

Canadian Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by toxic waste and hazardous material, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Baskut Tuncak said Thursday.

After spending two weeks in Canada to evaluate the nation’s progress on human rights and managing toxic substances, the U.N. expert surmised there is a clear lack of responsibility surrounding the disposal of these materials, particularly near Indigenous communities.

“I was struck by the incredible proximity of the affected First Nation to dozens of intense chemical production and processing facilities, which resulted in incredible releases of pollution and waste affecting the [residents’] health,” Tuncak told the Guardian.

From May 24 to June 6, the U.N. rapporteur traveled throughout the country, interviewing government officials, academics, Indigenous communities and businesses in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Ontario, and Alberta.

He reported high levels of mercury contamination in water and soil resources, a shocking lack of clean water, and a large quantity of toxins produced by petrochemical refineries, pesticides, and the infamous Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project — all dangerously close to schools and living communities.

Testimonies reported disastrous effects on both physical and mental health within these communities, particularly from the impact on the loss of culture and land. The phrase “cultural genocide” was brought to the rapporteur’s attention on numerous occasions.

“Canada leaves many questions to be answered regarding whether equal protections are afforded from toxic exposures, and why victims have been denied their right to an effective remedy for decades,” he said.

“There is a pervasive pattern of inaction of the Canadian Government in the face of unquestionable risks and injustices from the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures. Indigenous peoples, the poor, children, older persons, workers, and people with disabilities are at grave risk of impacts on their human rights, compounded by a general inability to access justice that must be addressed,” Tuncak said.

“It’s a question of political will. Canada has the financial ability and the technical capacity to do things better ... When it comes to environmental performance, its record on compliance leaves a lot of room for improvement,” he said.

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HIDDEN FROM HISTORY: The Canadian Holocaust