Tag Archives: Kimberly Murray

Canada: 150 years of pluralism or colonialism? Canada’s future depends on how it deals also with its history of genocide

An indigenous rights activist holds a sign reading "Canada 150 is a Celebration of Indigenous Genocide", in Toronto

“It took us seven generations to create this mess” said Manitoba Senator Murray Sinclair, one of the three Commissioner of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to explain the 150 years of Canadian history. “Probably it will take seven more generations to fix it”, said Kimberly Murray, the Executive Director of that same Commission, referring to the next 150 years of Canada.

Canada is known in the world for being one of the most diverse and pluralistic society, with one-fifth of Canadians born elsewhere, being also a gigantic country with a small population of 35 million people, always in search of immigrants. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt “multiculturalism” as an official policy, considered every Canadian citizen equal regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation. But one thing are the laws and structures and one thing the application of those policies on the ground. Actually, the recent celebrations for the 150 years since Kanata-Canada foundation have sparked a lot of criticism from civil society organizations, especially the ones representing the First Nations, saying that in reality this country history is based on colonization, segregation and even genocide, not only “cultural genocide” as the Truth and Reconciliation commission defined it[1].

I had the possibility to participate in June to an international congress on humanities and social sciences, organized by Ryerson University in Toronto, a very intercultural city (where also half million Italians reside, the biggest Italian community outside Italy). At the conference, several panels were organized to talk about the past and the future of Canada, with important names like John Ralston Saul or Mohamed Fahmy. One of the persons that spoke in one of the panels was Kimberly Murray, who I had the possibility to interview after the conference, and who told me a little about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Commission, that worked between 2008 and 2015 was part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, an agreement between the government of Canada and almost 90 thousand Native Canadians recognized as victims, the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history. The Commission showed how for many decades indigenous children belonging to First Nations or Inuit or Métis (Mixed) were removed from their families and placed in the Canadian Indian residential school system, in schools operated often by the Christian churches, mostly Roman Catholic, where they were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Over 7 thousand kids died. Recently the Canadian prime minister Trudeau even asked Pope Francis to apologize for the history of the schools and “move forward on a real reconciliation.”[2]

But the story is not finishing with the schools. Special hospitals were also created for indigenous people, with a racial segregation organized to isolate indigenous people from the settlers. Like in the residential schools these hospitals were places of abuses until the end of the 20TH century. Actually, there are complains that the current health system continues to treat indigenous people differently from the others, with a discrimination that substituted the segregation. Also, through the foster care and adoption system, thousands of indigenous children were taken from their homes and then adopted by non-Indigenous families both in Canada and abroad, during the 1960s, the infamous “60s scoops” as it has been defined, an attempt of “cultural genocide” as the Commission defined it.

The agreement reached with the tens of thousands of indigenous people, costed to the Canadian government $2 billion compensation package for the victims. But it is not only money that can repay the suffering and the story of colonization and segregation. Unfortunately, only few people have been convicted for the deaths in the schools but the attempted genocide, cultural or physical, that British and French colonies before, and Canada and the US after, did to the indigenous people of North America is something that cannot be erased from history. That is why the 94 Calls to action of the Commission ask for changes in educational programs, increase funding for Aboriginal languages, address the lack of health services available to indigenous communities etc. Murray said that these recommendations have started to be implemented at community and local level but not at national one, and some of the recommendations will have hard time to be implemented. This is the case for example of the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, that require prior consent by the indigenous people before the construction of infrastructures on the indigenous land, as Canada’s Supreme Court has not recognized this consent standard yet (very important with the recent protest for the constructions of pipelines in North America[3]).

Many other countries have stories of genocide and not all of them has recognized that. But the recognition of a genocide at the foundation of a nation is the only way to come to terms with our history and get the legitimacy in front of the international community. It is a showing of strength not of weakness.[4] And actually, the US should follow the example of Canada, as it never had any process of healing and reparation, either economic or spiritual, and less a Truth and Reconciliation Commission neither for the Indian American genocide or for the African American slavery and segregation. And today we can see the consequences with the still discrimination and racism towards Indian Americans and African Americans.

Awareness of the past, and acknowledge of the suffering, is the first step for a real “truth and reconciliation” with our own past and this is the path that Canada should take to build a better future. It will be good for Canada and it will be good for many other countries, that will look up at Canada as an example.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/06/10/cultural-genocide-no-canada-committed-regular-genocide.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/30/trudeau-asks-pope-francis-to-apologise-to-indigenous-people-for-churchs-abuses

[3] See on this the recent news: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/standing-rock-and-what-comes-next/article33280583/

[4] See on this my article on “The Strength Found from Admitting to Genocide” http://chargedaffairs.org/strength-found-admitting-to-genocide/

 

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