Amidst grappling with the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, a grim discovery around mid-year 2021 has shone light into one of the darkest chapters of Canadian history. Since May 2021, media outlets have been buzzing with various historical counts of the crimes against humanity perpetrated against Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government. On May 27, an unmarked grave was found at the Kamloops residential school on Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Territory where remains of 215 children were buried. Barely a month after, another discovery of 751 bodies was found outside a former residential school 85 miles east of Regina, Saskatchewan. These discoveries of body remains have reopened persistent wounds for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, especially residential school survivors and their families.

These discoveries stir up many heartbreaking emotions and serves as a reminder for the Canadian government to formally acknowledge its past act of genocide to its own people. Meanwhile in February this year, the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion to recognize China’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs as genocide. Canada was the second country in the world to take this position. 

In addition to the February motion against China’s treatment of its Uyghur population, Canada recognizes seven other genocides namely: 

  1. The Holocaust during the Second World War;
  2. The Armenian genocide;
  3. The Ukrainian famine genocide (Holodomor);
  4. The Rwandan genocide;
  5. The Srebrenica massacres;
  6. The mass killing of the Yazidi people; and
  7. The mass murder of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.

Yet, there is no motion to date to recognize the Indian Residential School system as a violation of Article 2e of the UN Genocide Convention (forcibly transferring children of the group to another group). A formal recognition could be the starting point in reconciling the past, establishing the truth and mapping a way forward for the future.

What can we collectively do?

Protecting the cultural heritage and legacy of Indigenous communities hinges on the law governing the state. If a motion is passed that indeed national, ethnic, racial or religious genocide, in whole or in part has been perpetrated against the Indigenous communities, this passes a strong message of reconciliation in the country. The communities will also have more faith in the state to honor their rights and heritage. Overall, there is more trust in the justice system for fairness and equity, and a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across this country.

Here’s how everyone can be involved:

  • Write to your MP, MPPs, City Councillors, Church leaders on the need to pass the motion recoginizing the acts against Indigenous communities as genocide. Also, urge them to:
    • carry on with the pace of implementing the “calls to action” from the TRC five years ago. Only 8 of 94 “calls to action” have been implemented till date, and in 2020, no “calls to action” was completed. At this rate, we may not complete these “calls to action” for another 50 years 
    • stop fighting First Nations children and residential school survivors in court and take decisive action to end the issue of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG)
  • Decolonise yourself by reading and learning about indigenous peoples and the true history of Canada
  • Be conscious of your bias and how it informs your interactions with Indigenous communities
  • Speak out against sexism, racism and misogyny

Stay tuned for STAND Canada’s week long campaign on Indigenous issues from July 11-17 for more information.

Author: Lara Isiolaotan, Co-Director, Strategic Policy

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada February 3, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS
Shoes are placed on the lawn outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS

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