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End Canada's ongoing genocide

Brian Champ

June 4, 2021
On May 28th, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School using ground penetrating radar technology.
Residential "schools" were really concentration camps for Indigenous children, funded by the government and operated by churches to ensure that "when they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything Native except their blood.". This particular school was operated from 1890 to 1969 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate order of the Catholic church. 
The existence of children buried at this site was "a knowing" in the community, but the confirmation of this horror has profoundly affected Indigenous communities all across the continent who are reeling with grief for the lost children and anger at the colonial violence that continues to this day.
The Trudeau government has spent almost $100 million actively fighting Indigenous people in the courts, including survivors of St. Anne's residential school. They are actively denying responsibility for the consequences of residential schools, saying the loss of language and culture was an 'unavoidable implication' of 'children being educated in English or taught the Christian doctrine, according to CBC. They have only completed eight of the TRC's 94 calls to action, and only one of the six calls to action about missing children and documenting and protecting burial sites. The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation gave up waiting for action and commissioned the discovery work themselves.
Meanwhile, the government is spending billions on pushing oil and gas pipelines through unceded Indigenous lands. Trudeau's hypocrisy is increasingly exposed.
The revelations of this mass grave have retraumatized survivors across Turtle Island. Indigenous gatherings are being held to provide mutual support and comfort and to mourn and heal through traditional ceremonies. Many survivors of the schools have only now been able to share publicly their stories of violence and abuse.
Many memorials have sprung up across the country, with supporters leaving pairs of children's shoes and teddy bears to remember the Indigenous children: at the "eternal flame" monument on the parliament grounds in Ottawa; at the heavily graffitied statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, on the grounds of the university in Toronto that bears his name; and on the steps of many Catholic churches across the country. Calls for the removal of Ryerson's statue, and to change the name of the university that have been demanded for decades have been brought forward again. In Charlottetown, the city council on June 1st voted unanimously to remove the statue of John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada who suppressed Métis and Plains Cree resistance to the expansion of the settler colonial state.
Every Indigenous family and community has had children taken by the residential schools, first begun by the Catholic Church in the 1840s, but funded by Canada after confederation. They were part of an attempt by the Canadian government to destroy Indigenous societies and culture which were obstacles to the settler-colonial state's "nation-building" project. Children were forcibly taken from families, beaten for speaking their Indigenous languages, and suffered malnutrition, physical violence, forced labour and horrific sexual abuse. The last school closed in 1996. 
Though the revelation of this mass unmarked grave is only the tip of the iceberg. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 to record the history and impacts of residential schools, documented the deaths of over 6,000 students. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the TRC, said the number of children who died in these schools could be as high as 25,000 or more.
In 2015, the TRC published a six-volume report, including a 266-page volume called Missing Children and Unmarked Burials. As New Democrat MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq stated, "This is not a discovery but confirmation, Indigenous people have been talking about bodies buried at these schools for decades."
For many settlers, however, it can be shocking and surprising. The revelations shatter their mythologies of Canada as a "peacemaker"; as a tolerant, equal society; as a champion of human rights; as a friend of the underdog.
Socialists must be clear – Canada has always been a genocidal settler colonial state and continues to be so to this day.
The TRC described these institutions as perpetrating a "cultural genocide". But as Cree lawyer Eleanore Sunchild – who has represented many survivors of the schools – said after the story came out, "To me, mass graves indicate genocide. It's much more than cultural genocide. It's actually genocide. Indian children were killed. Indian children went missing. All of that truth will be revealed." Those who designed and ran the schools, the RCMP who stole Indigenous children from their mothers and communities and the Canadian and provincial governments who pursued these and other related policies are guilty of genocide. 
In fact, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) argued in a report from June 2019 that Canada was guilty of genocide, not just in the past but in the present. 
The forcible taking of children and their deaths in staggering numbers is widely being acknowledged as genocide. But the same logic is at work in the policies of the Trudeau government today. As Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada stated, "the government pattern of behaviour towards First Nations, Métis and Inuit children has not come very far from the attitude that allowed for residential schools to go in the first place".
Indigenous children are still being removed from their families in disproportionate numbers. According to 2016 census data, although Indigenous children made up only 7.7 percent of the total population, they represented more than 52 percent of children in foster care that year.
Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015 vowing that his Reconciliation mission was "to repair this most important relationship" with Indigenous peoples. But he has failed to solve the long-term water crises on 63 reserves, ignored the calls of the Grassy Narrows First Nation for justice and compensation for the mercury poisoning of their land and waters, and bought a pipeline (TMX) that is being built through unceded Secwepemc territory. The RCMP invasion of Wet'suwet'en territory, where they chainsawed through a sign that read "Reconciliation", created an indelible image of the reality of Canada. Signs made by writing "Reconciliation is Dead" on upside down Canadian flags were everywhere during the #ShutDownCanada movement that closed rail lines, roads and ports in February of 2020.
During the pandemic, there have been renewed struggles for Indigenous sovereignty: ongoing Secwepemc struggles against the TMX pipeline; the Birch Narrows Dene First Nation in northern Saskatchewan blocking a road used for uranium mining; Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Neskantaga First Nations declaring a moratorium on mining development in the Ring of Fire area in northern Ontario; a council of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy agreeing that no more development would be allowed on their land (sparked by the 1492 Landback Lane assertion of Haudenosaunee sovereignty in the face of a luxury home development on their land.); and the struggles of the Nuluujaat Land Guardians, a group of Inuit hunters who blocked a bridge and an airstrip at Baffinland's Mary's River Mine and were supported through an open letter written by mine workers.
The depth of feeling generated by the horrific revelation will only motivate more struggles to defend Indigenous sovereignty over their land. We can expect to see increased militancy in the coming months. The shared experience of the horrors of residential schools by Indigenous people across Turtle Island strengthens the connections between different struggles.
Showing support and solidarity for Indigenous people reeling from this news is important, including renewing the commitment to support Indigenous struggles for sovereignty. We need to be firm with people who argue this genocide is past history and insist that this is a struggle against ongoing genocide.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said of the Trudeau government, "I think they're going to really be shocked at the backlash that will come after this horrific revelation of the atrocities of the genocidal residential school system."
During the TRC process, a number of organizations implicated in the residential school horror, including the Anglican and United churches and the Canadian government made formal apologies for their roles in this disgusting treatment of Indigenous people. But the Catholic church has issued empty statements of sympathy for the victims. They have refused to accept responsibility for this history. Therefore, one of the demands is for a formal apology from the Catholic church. While this absolutely minimal demand should be supported, it should not distract us from the focus on the governments, police forces and courts that continue these genocidal policies to the current day.
We must demand that the government at a minimum keep their promises and provide: 1) clean water for first nations, 63 of which are on long-term boil water advisories; 2 ) forensic analysis of all residential school sites for mass graves of Indigenous children; 3) stop opposing residential school survivors in court; and 4) implement all 94 TRC calls to action.
Many Indigenous people will no longer wait for promised reforms to be fulfilled – they are demanding and taking #LandBack. Systems of genocide cannot be reformed, but must be overthrown, and this means confronting the profit motive that demands that Indigenous people be removed from the path of megaproject development.
Furthermore, building the links between Indigenous struggles for sovereignty over their traditional territories and the struggle of workers against the system – such as those that we saw at DeltaPort last year and Mary River mine this year – provides hope that capitalism's genocidal and rapacious logic can be stopped.
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