February 17, 2016

Report: Indian Boarding Schools Facilitated Genocide

Noah Stid

In 2015, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada asserted the nation had undertaken a pattern of “cultural genocide.”

The Commission’s findings asserted that 150,000 Indigenous children had been stripped from their parents and forced to attend Church operated Boarding Schools, where they experienced malnutrition, corporal punishment and sexual abuse that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,200 children.

"If you look at the U.N. definition on genocide, it meets every single one of those factors. And there’s nothing cultural about it.”

– Pamela Palmater, professor and activist

Commission chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, called the program of the boarding schools, “nothing short of Cultural genocide” for their deliberate attempt to disintegrate Indigenous family relationships, eliminate Native forms of spirituality, and permanently extinguish the languages spoken by First Nations peoples for millennia.

Pamela Palmater, a Canadian, activist, professor and political commentator appeared on Democracy Now to say cultural genocide was too tepid of a description.

“I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission went about as far as they felt comfortable in naming it cultural genocide,” she told the program. “But I—it’s just genocide through and through. If you look at the U.N. definition on genocide, it meets every single one of those factors. And there’s nothing cultural about it.”

While former PM Steven Harper largely ignored the commission’s findings, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that, “no relationship is more important to me, and to Canada, than the one with First nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.”

Trudeau vowed to “renew and respect” the relationship between Canada and the Indigenous Citizens, and promised to uphold all 94 calls to action put forward by the Commission, including launching an investigation into the thousands of unsolved missing persons cases of Canadian Indigenous women.

This reaction draws a stark contrast with Canada’s closest ally to the South, the United States of America, which has thus far confronted its own genocidal past towards Indigenous peoples with conspicuous silence and denial.

As the birthplace for the Boarding School model that inspired the Canadian system, the United States bears much of the guilt for suffering it created, but American steps to reconcile with past crimes against Indians have been halfhearted.

In 2009, Barack Obama signed into law the Native American Apology Resolution in a small, private ceremony that was off limits to the public and the press.

The symbolic yet watered down piece of legislation had to be snuck into the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill to even be considered.

It’s vague language offered no strategy to alleviate the systemic discrimination and dire poverty faced by millions of contemporary Native people.

This is why the Lakota People’s Law Project has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to Canada’s. Only a formal inquest into the injustices and crimes of the Boarding School Era, can correctly identify from where the current social ills stem.

Furthermore, in order to move forward, there must be a reckoning with the past, a consideration of what past and present policies are preventing comprehensive Native American renewal.