A Canadian Genocide in Search of a Name

Phil Fontaine, Dr. Michael & Dan Bernie M. Farber, thestar.com , 19 July 2013

Canadians have been staggered by the news arising from a University of Guelph study which proves that in our lifetime Canadian authorities knowingly and wilfully starved aboriginal children in residential schools. Their incomprehensible rationale: they wanted to conduct nutritional experiments on these famished children for future study.

View a short video: Loss of cultural identity basis of lawsuit

Phil Fontaine, Dr. Michael & Dan Bernie M. Farber, thestar.com , 19 July 2013

Canadians have been staggered by the news arising from a University of Guelph study which proves that in our lifetime Canadian authorities knowingly and wilfully starved aboriginal children in residential schools. Their incomprehensible rationale: they wanted to conduct nutritional experiments on these famished children for future study.

View a short video: Loss of cultural identity basis of lawsuit

It is time for Canadians to face the sad truth. Canada engaged in a deliberate policy of attempted genocide against First Nations people. And the starvation experiments were only the first of a litany of similar such attempts to control, delegitimize and, yes, even annihilate First Nations to suit the needs of a growing Dominion.

Some have argued that the beginnings of this genocide had its seeds with the establishment of the Indian Act of 1876, which legalized First Nations as an inferior group and made them wards of the state. In truth, these were just words on paper compared with accusations lodged against the Canadian government by our first Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Peter Bryce, in 1907.

According to an academic study undertaken by Adam Green for the University of Ottawa, Dr. Bryce uncovered a “national crime” pertaining to the health of First Nations people. In a book Bryce wrote after he was summarily dismissed from his position for blowing the whistle on the Canadian government’s complicity in the mass deaths from tuberculosis of aboriginals on reserves and in residential schools, Bryce outline in detail what he observed.

According to Bryce, Canada’s aboriginal people in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan were being “decimated by tuberculosis and that the federal government possessed the means to stop it.” Instead, it chose a such minimalist approach that, in the medical opinion of Dr. Bryce, it “amounted to almost nothing.”

The government of the day sought to hide Bryce’s findings from the general public and chose to bury the report and relieve Bryce of his duties. This had the effect of ensuring that no real steps would be taken to help save the lives of natives on reserves and in residential schools from the ravages of this disease. Indeed, Bryce was so frustrated that in the end he charged that “the government’s treatment of it’s aboriginal peoples amounted to nothing less than an infuriating and criminal disregard to the country’s Treaty pledges.”

It would be the easy course for us to continue to turn our backs and pretend that Canada would simply never have engaged in a deliberate attempt to destroy aboriginal people. However, the facts seem to point ominously to that conclusion.

We must ask ourselves: When does genocide become genocide? This might seem an absurd question, but history isn’t always forthcoming with a neat little package bearing the label “genocide, open with caution.” The definition of genocide is quite clear, however:

. . . 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.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II

Under this definition, Canada’s treatment of its First Nations, even in our own lifetime, meets the genocide test:

  • The recently exposed nutrition experiments carried out in the residential schools meets the criteria under point (b).
  • The residential school system itself, and the practice of forcibly removing First Nations children from reserves and placing them with adoptive non-aboriginal families, common in the 1960s, and referred to as Sixties Scoop, meet the criteria under point (e).
  • The decision by the government in the 1900s to allow native children to die of tuberculosis meet the criteria under point (c).

This list is by no means exhaustive.

In 1910, Duncan Scott, then head of Canada’s residential schools, refuting the high death rate in his schools as reported in the Bryce’s study, wrote:

“But this does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared toward a Final Solution of our Indian Problem (our emphasis).”

The Government of Canada currently recognizes five genocides: the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica.

The time has come for Canada to formally recognize a sixth genocide, the genocide of its own aboriginal communities; a genocide that began at the time of first contact and that was still very active in our own lifetimes; a genocide currently in search of a name but no longer in search of historical facts.

Phil Fontaine is the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Dr. Michael Dan and Bernie M. Farber are the president and senior vice-president respectively of Gemini Power Corporation, working with First Nations to build sustainable industries.


1 comment
  1. Genocide was result of aboriginal policy

    Readers’ Letters, TorontoStar.com

    Genocide not goal of aboriginal policy, Letter July 25

    Yes, Adam Green, the Indian Residential Schools were part of a genocidal plan. Its founders openly stated their aim to “kill the Indian in the child” and wipe Indian identity out of the body politic. According to the UN, to try to erase an ethnic identity is genocidal, and so is separating children from their parents.

    The Indian Act was an act of ethnic cleansing that confined aboriginal people to small land bases where they couldn’t make a living, and made their age-old democratic self-governance and religions illegal. Malnutrition, disease and cold were the main killing instruments.

    I understand the shock and denial of Dr. Lionel Pett’s family, upon hearing of his participation. For years, I’ve lost sleep over things I don’t want to think about — like generations of hungry children crying for their parents while my homesteader family was eating together on their land. But truth matters.

    Ordinary people: teachers, church people, doctors and especially administrators did the dirty work, often at a distance. Virtually all Canadians approved of what is now recognized as genocide. Who has never heaved a compassionate sigh and wished that aboriginal people would let go of the “past” (the fact that they are distinct peoples and nations), and get “modern” (be like the rest of us)? That’s genocide.

    In the 1980s, Canadians read daily about the revelations in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Why aren’t we kept informed of the testimony to our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Why aren’t we being allowed to face our shame, and grow and change?

    Deb O’Rourke, Toronto

    Adam Green deserves praise for drawing our attention to the progressive attitudes of Dr. Peter H. Bryce, however, he errs in his understanding of the term genocide, a concept that did not even exist until well after Dr. Bryce published his work in 1907 and 1922.

    The definition of genocide is a strict one, and by all strict criteria, Canada’s historical treatment of its aboriginal peoples meets the test. Since Confederation, First Nations who led traditional lives and who were technically wards of the state, were deliberately starved, experimented on without their consent, left to die from tuberculosis when the means for saving them were at hand, forcibly relocated at gunpoint, separated from their families, and otherwise prevented from passing on their language, culture, and parenting skills to their children.

    All of this was done, not for their own good (as some might argue), but for the sake of Canada.
    The overarching theme in the Department of Indian Affairs in Bryce’s time was that there was no place in a modern country for a traditional First Nations lifestyle. It matters not whether the genocide was active or passive. All that really counts is that Canadian government programs targeting aboriginals eventually morphed into a deliberate policy of attempting to eradicate First Nations culture, tradition and yes even extending to life itself.

    Dr. Michael Dan, Toronto


    Adam Green denied that the government’s former policy of enforced assimilation of the aboriginal peoples of Canada was genocidal; but his definition of genocide is too narrow, not to say disingenuous and self-serving.

    After conquering the native peoples, the government of Canada seized their lands and forced them to forfeit their independence, drawing up “treaties” to legalize these acts of aggression. The native tribes were then grudgingly allowed to eke out a miserable existence on tiny patches of their former territories whilst being subjected to a policy of suffocating paternalism and enforced assimilation, which one would normally associate with a totalitarian dictatorship rather than an enlightened, democratic society.

    In collusion with the churches, the government attempted the systematic obliteration of the natives’ traditional cultures, customs, languages, and religions, and, to this end, took away their children, subjecting them to brainwashing in residential schools, where they were punished for speaking their own languages or otherwise manifesting their native identities.

    This shameful policy may well be branded as genocidal, for its goal was to destroy the very identities of the native tribes. It is no wonder that so many present-day native people are depressed and dysfunctional.

    As if that were not bad enough, it has now come to light that some native children in residential schools were involuntarily used as the subjects of nutritional experiments in which they were deliberately deprived of adequate nourishment. These shockingly unethical experiments were precisely the sort of “crimes against humanity” that were perpetrated by Nazi doctors and scientists like the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.

    I do not know which is more disgraceful — the official abuse of Canada’s native peoples or the general public’s apparent indifference to it (or acquiescence in it) as implied by the fact that hardly any indignant letters about it have appeared in the Star.

    T.A. Jackson, Burlington

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