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Cultural Genocide

1937 Kamloops residential school

1937 Kamloops residential school

 

In the current mood of sensationalist news stories around European football, lost amongst the events of the real world was a haunting reminder of the deadly cost to indigenous populations of colonial growth in Canada, and undoubtedly throughout the rest of world in what has been in effect cultural genocide.

 

751 unmarked graves have found at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan, which follows 215 children’s graves were found at a similar residential school in British Columbia. It was one of more than 130 compulsory boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by Canadian religious authorities during the 19th and 20th Centuries with the aim of ‘assimilating’ indigenous children, whether their families wanted it or not. Between 1863 and 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken, some without knowledge or consent, from their families and placed in these schools and were often not allowed to speak their language or to practice their culture or religions.

 

The Roman Catholic church, responsible for the operations of up to 70% of residential schools, has not yet issued a formal apology. The church has also faced widespread calls to release all records related to residential schools, to augment the incomplete government record and at least give closure to some families. How there could be no record of these deaths? Given their past history, this is unsurprising, I guess.


The reason these schools existed is straight forward, if unpalatable. Based on how the Americans used similar institutions as a means of ‘nation-building’, one of the main purposes of the schools was to hold the children hostage against the good behaviour of their parents using their children as insurance to counter any resistance attempts by armed Indigenous nations sand to establish control over territory, no tribes would give trouble of a serious nature to the Government who had their children completely under control.

After these unmarked graves were finally found using ground-penetrating radar, it has emerged that as a result of destroyed records, the true number of children who died while attending such residential schools may be as high as 6,000, due in large part to the squalid health conditions inside, and lack of parental care and contact. Students were often housed in poorly built, poorly heated, and unsanitary facilities, with little or no health care. Physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school ‘officials’ led some to run away, many never returned to their home communities. Others died of suicide. Some of these schools had a mortality rate as high as 69% — most of the children dying within the first year of attendance of starvation, malnutrition, disease, and violence.

 

A “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” convened by the Canadian government concluded that the Canadian government had pursued a policy of cultural genocide against indigenous people. You don’t say. The victims of colonialism are many, but it’s on occasions like this that you realise just how wide spread and shameful the practices used to decimate indigenous populations were, and still remain in use to this day, take a look at China’s vocational school program in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

 

China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in this region. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms. There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labour and of women being forcibly sterilised.

 

The past is always with us. On one hand we condemn such practices, yet our recent, and not so recent ancestors invented it. We can’t change the past, perhaps we can influence the future?

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