Over the past few months, several mass and unmarked graves have been identified near former residential schools for indigenous children in Canada. Such institutions were created with the explicit objective of removing children from their families and tribes, and forcing over them the culture, language and religion of Euro-Christian colonisers. They were the site of violence and abuse usually performed by religious orders and subsidised by the Canadian state.
Now human remains are surfacing, and with them the stories and experiences of victims and survivors are gaining more space in the spotlight and mainstream conversations. How is Canada dealing with the “discovery” of these unmarked graves and with the growing claims that what happened to indigenous children amounts to cultural genocide?
To discuss such a sensitive topic we asked for the help of not one, not two, not even three, but four experts. Ry Moran, a member of the Red River Métis and former founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, is now associate university librarian at the University of Victoria, with a focus on reconciliation, a groundbreaking position with the objective of decolonizing the university’s archives and collections. Fannie Lafontaine is a professor at the Faculty of Law of Laval University, holder of the Canada Research Chair in International Criminal Justice and Fundamental Rights and co-author of the legal analysis for the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Historian Karine Duhamel is Anishinaabe-Métis and was the Director of Research for the MMIWG inquiry as well as managing the Forensic Document Review Project and the Legacy Archive. Andrew Woolford is professor of Sociology & Criminology at the University of Manitoba and former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, with a specific focus on cultural genocide against Indigenous Peoples in North America.
This time we don’t have any Netflix suggestions or escapist reading advice for our listeners. Instead we decided to put together a different kind of reading list, in the best summer school break tradition and in line with our guests’ wishes. To better familiarise yourself with the issue of the decades long difficult relationship between the Canadian government and Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, here are all the reports mentioned in the episode, from earliest to latest:
- The Hawthorn Report (or A survey of the contemporary Indians of Canada, 1966), which investigated the social conditions of Aboriginal peoples across Canada and came to the conclusion that they were Canada’s most disadvantaged and marginalized population, thanks to years of bad government policies;
- The Red Paper (1970), a policy proposal by the Indian Association of Alberta, put forward as a reaction to policies proposed by Pierre Trudeau’s government;
- The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP, 1996);
- The Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba (AJI, 1999);
- The Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild (2004);
- The Ipperwash Inquiry (2007), to investigate events surrounding the death of Dudley George, who was shot in 1995 during a protest by First Nations representatives and later died.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report (2015), especially its Call to Action;
- The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019);
- and The Kamloops Indian Residential School Le Estcwéý (The Missing) report, about the discovery of 200 potential burial sites, whose findings were released on July 15th 2021.
This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between Asymmetrical Haircuts and JusticeInfo.net. JusticeInfo is an independent website covering news on justice related to mass violence, so as to promote reconciliation and fight impunity in societies facing serious crises. It is a project of Fondation Hirondelle.