The past few weeks have been heart wrenching and shocking as 751 unmarked graves were found at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, less than a month after a mass grave containing the bodies of 215 Indigenous children was found at the site of another residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
These two gruesome discoveries once again cast a spotlight on Canada’s systemically racist and state-sanctioned genocidal policies.
There is no question that racism has been in the DNA of Canada for a long time.
For those living in willful ignorance of this tragic truth, what has happened to Indigenous peoples in Canada must have made for a rude awakening. It is history that truly made Canada what it is today.
Canada’s self-congratulatory history is “stained with the blood” of Indigenous children. According to conservative estimates from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from the 1880s to as late as 1996, approximately 4,100 to 6,000 children died amid abuse and neglect in the residential school system, whose aim was to “take the Indian out of the child”. But there was no policy for the burial of children until seven decades later in 1958. It remains a mystery that how many more graves there are in the country and how many more Indigenous children died from harsh mistreatment during the process of forced assimilation.
Canada is a country built on deliberate and systematic abuse against Indigenous women. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, coerced sterilization of Indigenous women took place in federally operated hospitals, as sterilization legislation in Alberta (1928–72) and British Columbia (1933–73) limited the reproduction of “unfit” persons, and increasingly targeted Indigenous women. The practice continued into the 21st century. Approximately 100 Indigenous women have alleged that they were pressured to consent to sterilization from the 1970s to 2018.
This is Canada’s history, a shameful legacy that continues to inform every aspect of generations of Indigenous peoples.
It lurks in the everyday life of First Nations communities with no water fit for drinking, no adequate sanitation, no proper housing and education.
It lurks in the mental life of Indigenous peoples, who are scarred with identity crisis, shame, anger and suicidal thoughts. Between 2011 and 2016, First Nations peoples experienced a suicide rate three times higher than that of the non-Indigenous population of Canada. In some Indigenous communities, the suicide rate among youth under the age of 15 is almost 50 times greater than that of the non-Indigenous youth.
It lurks in hospital wards and emergency rooms where Indigenous peoples have been mocked, berated and rejected.
It lurks in Canada’s law enforcement where an Indigenous person is more than 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than a white person.
It lurks even in Canadian government building where Indigenous politicians do not feel safe and often face “racial profiling” by the security. “People like me don’t belong here in the federal institution.” Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democrat MP for Nunavut, voiced the frustration and anger of the 1.4 million Indigenous peoples across the country.
Indigenous lives matter. Apology is not enough. Reconciliation will never be realized with assumed humbleness. The Canadian government must make some real tough decisions to compensate the Indigenous victims and their families, to fundamentally relieve their plight, and to eliminate the “systematic racism, discrimination, and injustice” against them.
A thief poses as a police officer. That is the usual tactic some Western countries employ when it comes to human rights. The whole matter seems have been deflected under the weight of the Canadian government’s continual carping on the human rights records of other countries, including China. Canada has accused Xinjiang of genocide when 12 million Uighurs live in harmony with other ethnic groups in the country.
Canada should take off the blinders, look inward, and deeply reflect upon its own ugliness and stains. Any sign of self-examination would indicate the country’s commitment to equality and human rights is nascent at best.
(The author is a commentator on international affairs.)