Our View: Arguing over a word just another insult to Indigenous people

hearing missing women
Bernie Williams, right, who has been an advocate for women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for 30 years, testifies at the final day of hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Richmond, B.C., on April 8, 2018. A much-anticipated report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is set to be released to the public in June. The four person commission tasked with examining root causes of violence toward Indigenous women and girls announced today it will hold a closing ceremony in Gatineau, Que. on June 3. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls issued its final report on June 3 and it was truly devastating.

The report included stories from thousands of family members and survivors of violence, as well as experts and officials who delivered testimony at 24 hearings and statement-gathering events in 2017 and 2018.

The report said systemic racial and gendered human rights violations — still happening today — are the cause of thousands of disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and two-spirited people.

The report pointed to examples of harms suffered at the hands of Canadian authorities, including the failure to protect them from exploitation, trafficking and killers; deaths in police custody; physical, sexual, and mental abuse in state institutions; the removal of children; forced relocations; coerced sterilizations; and the lack of funding for social services.

Marion Buller, the inquiry’s chief commissioner, said the tragedy in Canada is a direct result of a “persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human- and Indigenous-rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals.”

And then the report said that the thousands of Indigenous women who were murdered and or went missing represent a genocide.

Now, when faced with such overwhelming evidence of a national tragedy, you would think the reaction would be one of horror, but also resolve from Canadians to ensure this madness is stopped in its tracks.

You would, of course, be wrong.

Instead, a few media outlets and some politicians – like Conservative leader Andrew Scheer – decided to obsess about the use of the word “genocide” – arguing that it was incorrect to use this term in connection to what the report outlined.
So, a report details atrocities in our country, but some people felt it was more important to push back and quibble over semantics – distracting people from the truths detailed in the report. The message sent to Indigenous people was that people weren’t listening and didn’t care about their pain. Star newspaper Indigenous columnist Tanya Talaga said it felt like the inquiry’s findings were being “mocked” by pundits in the media. MORE

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Blowback to the word genocide proves the national inquiry report was right

Jingle Dancers perform at the closing ceremony marking the conclusion of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on June 3, 2019. It’s time Canada stopped being so defensive and started having the difficult discussions we need, Tanya Talaga writes.

I should have anticipated the blowback to the final report of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

For decades, news outlets chose not to report on Indigenous issues. Where were the investigative exposes on the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora while children were medically experimented on? Or the special projects on the pedophiles praying on the children of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School or on Ralph Rowe, the flying Anglican priest believed to have sexually abused hundreds of First Nations boys?

Where were the stories on First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, who were picked up off of sidewalks, raped and left for dead?

Tanya TalagaThere are exceptions of course. I [Tanya Talaga] have, since January 2019, been paid to cover Indigenous issues as a columnist for the Star. I’m not alone in the Canadian media landscape. But we are few.

The inquiry did not mince words in calling out the media. The commissioners found that media has not accurately portrayed Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people, too often reinforcing negative stereotypes, perpetuating racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny — perpetuating the notion that Indigenous peoples are “less-than.”

But rather than listen, rather than take this opportunity for sober self-reflection, the media, on cue, proved the commissioners’ point.

Most major Canadian media organizations quickly published pieces dismissing the genocide finding, while mostly ignoring everything else in the 1,200-page report based on the testimonies of some 2,300 families, survivors and experts.

Wouldn’t it be better for those being accused of complicity in a Canadian tragedy to listen and consider rather than rushing to engage in precisely the sort of behaviour the report says is so dangerous?

In any case, surely something is wrong when so many expend so much more energy defending colonialism against the “genocide” allegation than grappling in good faith with the cruel consequences the commissioners chronicle or their 231 recommendations for redressing those consequences.

Maybe it’s no wonder. For the past 150 years this country has taught its children — its future police officers, politicians, doctors and editors — to look away from Canada’s true history, to avert their eyes to the “Indian problem” or to treat it as a problem of Indigenous peoples’ own making. MORE

The national MMIW report’s use of the word genocide sparks an international debate

“I’ve made the decision to no longer write for @globeandmail based on this editorial – written by editors who clearly have not read even the supplementary report on the legal reasons the word “genocide” was used. They are shaping public opinion against Indigenous women like me.” — Alicia Elliott, journalist

Prime Minister Trudeau accepts it, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star editorials reject it, an Indigenous journalist resigns and human rights organizations look to investigate Canada


Chief commissioner Marion Buller, front left to right, and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michele Audette get ready to prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

On June 3, Canada’s National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women released an extensive and long-awaited final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.The report, which was released to the public and political officials — most notably Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — at an official closing ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on Monday, initiated a firestorm of international debate when Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry shared the commission’s findings in the report.

“The significant persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses — perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state — designed to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures, and governance; and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families, and individuals, is the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA (Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people … and this is genocide.”

After Buller stated the word genocide, the audience erupted in applause.

“This is genocide”: Full statement on MMIWG report by CTV News

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the audience and later addressed the crowd consisting of families and victims of missing and murdered Indigenous women: “We have failed you, we will fail you no longer.” MORE

Never forget: Yes, there was a genocide. Why don’t we correct the wrong now?

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

…Today, Canada has a choice. It can continue to look away and praise itself as one of the best places in the world and quietly put the report on the shelf like it has in the past for all the previous reports (the Royal commission on Aboriginal peoples, and the public commission of inquiry into missing women in B.C. in 2012).

Or, it can decide to be courageous and brave and start decolonizing its institutions starting from stopping the abusive and racial profiling practices used by some local police forces, to overcoming the general apathy and complacency of the RCMP, to repealing the mother of all evil, the Indian Act.

Like any radical change, this decolonization process wouldn’t be easy or popular to adopt. Already, most of the major newspapers in Canada are, since the release of the report, aligning with editorial after editorial and opinion after opinion against the word “genocide” used in the report. Many have been acting offended and choosing to focus on the word genocide, while all the crucial issues discussed in the report have seemed already to be once again forgotten.  SOURCE

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What does it mean to call Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women a ‘genocide’?

In international relations, words have weight – and some are much heavier than others


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, said he accepted the MMIWG inquiry’s conclusion that the massive number of deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women constituted “a genocide.” (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Now, the debate over the unique nature of the crime of genocide has become part of Canada’s political dialogue going into the fall election campaign. In its final report, released this week, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls described those thousands of victims as casualties of a “genocide.”

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adopted that language as his own, telling an audience in Vancouver that “we accept the findings of the commissioners that it was genocide.”

But despite Trudeau’s careful use of the past tense, the commissioners who drafted that report were talking very explicitly about the present. They wrote that Canada has pursued “a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units.”

The report points a finger of blame at “present-day Canadian state conduct,” including what it calls “proactive measures to destroy, assimilate and eliminate Indigenous peoples.”

National Inquiry commissioner Marion Buller defended her commission’s decision to use the genocide label, saying comparisons to other countries are misleading.


Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry Marion Buller addresses a crowd at the closing ceremonies for community hearings in April 2018. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

“I think it’s important for everybody, for all Canadians, to know that we often think of genocide as the Holocaust, the killings in Africa or elsewhere. And of course that is genocide, and of course that is tragedy,” she said.

“But the type of genocide we have in Canada is, as my colleague Commissioner Robinson said, death by a million paper cuts for generations.”

“Examinations of the commission and risk of genocide largely and unhelpfully revolve around the numbers killed,” the report says, suggesting that the definition is bad at capturing what it calls “the particular nature of Colonial Genocide.”

The report then says that Canada should be judged not only by its actions, but also by its omissions. Together, it says, they constitute the Canadian government’s “genocidal policy, a ‘manifest pattern of similar conduct’, which reflects an intention to destroy Indigenous peoples.” MORE

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The political quagmire of the prime minister accepting his country’s complicity in genocide: Robyn Urback
Will the Canadian government acknowledge the genocide against Indigenous peoples?

“This [declaration of genocide] is likely to spur commentary in mainstream media about the veracity of that conclusion, but if we were to apply the United Nations definition of genocide, it should be undeniable that the Canadian state has committed genocide against Indigenous peoples.”

And today, the genocide continues,

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The MMIWG final report lands: ‘I hold up a mirror to Canada’

The chief commissioner urged Canadians to learn their ‘true history’, delivering a scathing report monumental in scope and minute in detail


Trudeau holds a copy of the report presented to him by the commissioners of the national inquiry in Gatineau, Que., on June 3, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

It was of course the consciously freighted language that grabbed all the headlines and sparked many of the media questions the day the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report.
The hefty document—as big as a New York City telephone book and the product of nearly three years of work, hearings across the country and considerable controversy and upheaval—called the thousands of cases of dead and disappeared daughters, aunts, mothers, wives and friends “nothing less than the deliberate, often covert campaign of genocide,” adding, “This is not what Canada is supposed to be about; it is not what it purports to stand for.”

“Today, the commissioners and I hold up a mirror to Canada,” Chief Commissioner Marion Buller said. “We reflect back what we have heard and what we have documented.”

She elicited a big cheer from the crowd when she exhorted Indigenous people to “decolonize yourself” by learning the history of their people and the “true history” of Canada. But Buller reflected the tone of the day and of the report itself with her relentlessly fierce message that no one look away or back off on this issue now that the report is printed and bound.

“The murders, the abductions, the human trafficking, the beatings, the rapes, the violence—yes, the genocide—will continue unless all Canadians find the strength, courage and vision to build a new, decolonized relationship with each other based on respect and self-determination,” she said. “Let us walk together. Let us work together. We must do this, together, to achieve our destiny as strong, proud people in this great nation.”

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson—who was raised in Nunavut and speaks fluent Inuktitut but is not Indigenous herself—suggested that many of the people watching and listening to the ceremony might have similar reactions to her own: “Guilt, shame, denial, the urge to say ‘No, no, that’s not what this is. This is not who I am. I didn’t play a part in this. My ancestors didn’t play a part in this. We’re good people.’” But the families and survivors who spoke to the inquiry in 15 community hearings held across the country revealed a collective reality she urged others not to look away from.

“But it’s the truth,” she said. “It’s our truth, it’s my truth, it’s your truth.”

MORE

First Nations and the federal election: An exercise in self-termination

This warning by Russ Diabo posted in Ricochet, July, 2015 is even more timely today.

Image result for Ricochet: First Nations and the federal election: An exercise in self-termination

For the past several weeks, I have observed with increasing frequency a call for First Peoples to get out for the upcoming federal election. The mainstream media and now the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, are urging Indigenous people to vote, particularly since it is looking like a three-way race between the federal leaders and their parties (sorry, Elizabeth May).

…I took particular notice of an opinion piece by Tasha Kheiriddin in the National Post. Kheiriddin was responding to Regina Crowchild, a councillor with Alberta’s Tsuu T’ina Nation, who said that she would not want to see “an alien government’s polling station” on her reserve, adding that “if we join Canada in their election system, that’s a part of genocide.”

Here was Kheiriddin’s counterargument:

The reality is that, paradoxically, if First Nations are truly interested in more autonomy, they will never get it without cooperation from the federal government. That means electing a government that is sympathetic to their perspective — and they will never do so unless they go to the polls. Voting is not capitulation, but a recognition that in a democracy, you need to participate if you want your voice to be heard.

Despite the mainstream media’s pleas, we must remember as First Nation individuals we are connected to our families, communities and nations. Therefore we have collective or group rights, which Canadian citizens — whether founding settlers or recent immigrants — cannot claim.

In fact, Canada (including the Supreme Court of Canada) bases its asserted sovereignty and territorial integrity on the racist, colonial Christian doctrine of discovery. Kheiriddin’s argument makes sense only if Indigenous peoples already consider themselves as “Canadians.” MORE

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