Canada’s genocidal history demands action

Editorial | Stephen Whitworth | June 10, 2021

The stupid pandemic already messed-up this year’s National Indigenous People’s Day party, and grim shadows continue to darken Indigenous history month (which should be a celebration of the past and renewal of culture and language).

But did anyone really need yet another horrific reminder of the cruelty and hatred that defines Canada’s historical relationship with the people it pushed off land to make way for European so-called “civilization”?

I guess they do. But it isn’t sad settler children who were kidnapped, abused and killed, is it?

The 215 graves discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation this past May are the latest reminder of the incomprehensible depravity of Canada’s treatment of those who once welcomed Europeans.

Surprise at this discovery is just more proof many Canadians simply do not grasp the scope of Canada’s genocidal crimes against its First Peoples. But that surprise isn’t very surprising, is it? Rarely has so much awfulness been ignored by so many for so long with such ease.

Today’s Canada remains a country afflicted with deep prejudice towards Indigenous Peoples. There are constant reminders: the racist remarks, the angry looks, the boldness with which racism is spewed online. Then there’s the structural inequality that leads to unsafe safe drinking water on so many First Nations (not to mention some racialized city neighbourhoods), the poverty so many Indigenous people are trapped in, the discrimination endured in health care (even by the dying!!!), and the fact that if you’re Indigenous, statistically you won’t live as long as non-Indigenous Canadians.

Have you heard about Indigenous suicide rates in Saskatchewan? That’s one of things that happens when you live in a country that hates you: it literally makes you sick. Just don’t protest that too effectively; you might get kicked off the Saskatchewan Legislature’s lawn.

And then there’s the “justice” system. Security guards following Indigenous shoppers (and yes, they do this to Indigenous customers in suits, too). Every time an Indigenous person is terrorized or injured during an encounter with police. Disproportionate incarceration rates. The fact that (almost) everyone I know who’s had a loaded gun pointed at them has been Indigenous. Gee, wotta coinky-dink.

Remember Colten Boushie, who received a settler-administered death sentence for trespassing on lands his ancestors freely travelled? Remember Neil Stonechild, left to freeze in Saskatoon? Remember the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women, still awaiting justice?

Canada is a country where, in 2021, a White, French-revolution-cosplaying ex-convict former newspaper baron can have his garbage opinions about the “civilizing” culture of European settlers printed in one of our country’s national newspapers (not to mention land a virtual speaking engagement at Canada’s Farm Show. Seriously).

It’s a country where a senator felt comfortable making ignorant declarations about the “good deeds” of residential schools.

It’s a country where so-called hockey “fans” can turn on a pro for the “crime” of making a turnover while Indigenous.

It’s a country that needs to change.

If you’re a settler, do our Indigenous friends a favour this month and acknowledge the benefits you’ve reaped at their expense. This isn’t about guilt, it’s about honest assessments that inspire just actions. If you’re feeling ambitious, study the history — the real history — and look for ways your voice can help finally push this genocidal nation toward justice and a better, kinder future.

Need a reason? You just got 215.

There are undoubtedly more to come.