A policy gone wrong?

Greg Horn
Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan is clearly off base when he said Canada’s Indian Residential School System was an education policy gone wrong and not an act of genocide. For decades Native children were snatched from their homes by federal officials, with the help of the RCMP, and forced to attend church-run residential schools – where they were forbidden to speak their languages and practice their culture and were often subject to physical and sexual abuse.

The purpose of the residential school system was to rid Canada of the “Indian problem.”

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem,” Duncan Campbell Scott, federal superintendent of Indian Affairs, said in 1920. “Our objective is to continue until there Is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian department.”

Genocide is defined as the “deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial or cultural group.”

Duncan’s comments came Thursday during an announcement that the Conservative government would be installing a stained glass window on Parliament Hill to honour survivors of the Residential School System.

“I don’t view it that way (as an act of cultural genocide), but it was certainly very negative to the retention of culture and if it had extended for another generation or two it might have been lethal, yes,” Duncan said, according to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Saying the Residential School System was not an act of genocide is like denying the Holocaust or saying Slavery was good for Black people.

The bottom line is that the entire system was designed to rid Canada of Indians; to assimilate Native people into mainstream Canadian society. The very purpose of these schools was genocide.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper all but acknowledged this during his June 2008 apology to Residential School survivors.

“Today, e recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm and has no place in our country,” Harper said in his apology. “The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools police were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.”

Saying that this was not systematic genocide is a slap in the face to the students who suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands the people that were supposed to be caring for them. It’s a slap in the face to the students who never made it home and are forever lying in unmarked graves on the grounds of the schools where they suffered so much abuse.

It is because of this school system that there are generations of Native people across Canada that cannot speak their own languages. The Residential School System taught their parents and grandparents not to teach their children and grandchildren their own language to save them the abuse that they suffered while they were in school.

The ultimate goal of ridding Canada of it’ “Indian problem” did not succeed because of the sheer strength and willpower of Native people. Native people will continue to persevere and continue to fight to keep their languages alive.

Mr. Duncan, you can sugarcoat history if you like, but the facts remain the same. Genocide is genocide.

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