Oppression of Aboriginals People and Genocide

Oppression of Aboriginals People and Genocide

Response to Food for Thought Question 1

According to this convention, yes making and naming the oppression of the Aboriginal people in Canada genocide, would probably be an act of demystification. According to the convention referred to in the question, genocide is described as meaning any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

There have been cases of killing member of the group. Many deaths have been reported, specifically in relation to the residential schools. For example, Tuberculosis was one disease that spread through the schools. Even though many children were near death, they were found to still be forced to sit through class. Those with tuberculosis and those who had not contracted the virus yet, were mixed together in the same classes. And since this was a disease that originated in Europe (or at least aboriginals had not been exposed to it yet), these native children had no immunity to it and became sick rapidly (Akhtar, 115-16). Mortality rates rose from between 35-60% in these residential schools in just the first five years of these schools being opened! (Akhtar, 115) .

The Canadian government definitely caused serious bodily harm and/or mental harm to aboriginals, If you look for example at the residential schools, these were strict school, forcing the children learning to agree and learn religion that they had not been brought up with, and there was no choice, it wasn’t like the parents had any power. They could not even take these kids out of school.

Canada also deliberately inflicted on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. For example, in the Indian Act there were laws such as it was illegal to sell produce to people off the reserve, that they (aboriginal) grew on their reserve. This basically meant that the land they were given was useless. They could make no money off the fruits of their lands, so it forced aboriginals either into poverty or making them look for work off reserves.

Canada also imposed measures that intended to prevent births within the group; things such as marriage to an outsider (someone not aboriginal) would result in the individual losing their status and losing the ability to give their status on to their offspring. There were also forcible transfers of children from one group to another. This would go back to the residential schools, one of the key goals of these schools was to separate the Indian child from their parents and by doing so assimilating them into Canadian culture. (Monture, 86-88).

The outcome of naming the actions against Aboriginals as genocide would definitely cause many problems for Canada as well as global embarrassment. I believe it would complicate the entire situations even further then it already is. However from another point of view it may actually help with closure for First Nations People and Canada. It may just be that naming the acts as such will finally put it to rest and bring around the possibility for a new start with the Aboriginal people of Canada.

Monture, based on her argument in Standing against Canadian Law, might respond to this call to employ the moral and legal language of genocide with agreement. I believe she would probably agree based on the facts of the violation that have been committed against aboriginals. It is hard to determine what her view of this would be. The chapter in our textbook that she wrote, really focuses on aboriginal injustices in the legal system and injustices to women in particular. It is hard to really know where she would stand.  Above is listed article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the United Nations (UN) on December 9, 1948. I do believe she would definitely agree that there have been violations to Aboriginal people in all aspects of this article 2. So perhaps she would agree with this call to employ the moral and legal language of genocide.

My own position on this argument would be, that I find it hard to make a complete judgement of what I think is the correct answer. I do agree that Canada has violated the First Nations People in the ways described above, but whether that is what constitutes genocide might be going too extreme.  I am not an expert on this subject and with the amount of knowledge I have, I believe it would be insufficient to make a concrete judgement. I do agree that there have been violations and that they do need to be dealt with. Injustices still remain. I believe full closure will only happen when all issues surrounding this topic are resolved. This could take a long time yet, but awareness is a step in the right direction.


Akhtar, Zia “Canadian Genocide and Official Culpability.” International Criminal Law Review 10.1 (2010): 111-135. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Nov. 2013

Monture, Patricia. Comack, Elizabeth Ed. Standing against Canadian Law: Naming omissions of Race, Culture, and Gender. Fernwood Publishing, 2006. Print


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One response to “Oppression of Aboriginals People and Genocide

  1. You make a good case (with plenty of helpful illustrative examples) for the application of the label according to the standards of the UN Convention. Your follow-up discussion of the political implications of taking such a step is interesting. If naming the historical mistreatment of aboriginal peoples in Canada genocide might be ‘too extreme’, this could be a reflection of the socio-politics of the term (which has become synonymous with systematic mass killings, and particularly with the Holocaust), as opposed to the technical inapplicability of the concept.

    Criminologist Stan Cohen’s book ‘States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering’ is, in my opinion, a must-read for social scientists. Cohen is interested in the politics of collective denial and the nature of public campaigns that seek to have suffering acknowledged and acted upon. He describes several forms of denial – literal denial (“nothing happened”), interpretive denial (“what happened was something else”), and implicatory denial (“what happened is justified”). I think that we can use the concept of interpretive denial to make sense of the debate over the applicability of the concept of ‘genocide’ in this case.

    As Cohen notes (in Human Rights Quarterly 18.3, 1996):

    “Greater international visibility and transparency have made the more radical forms of literal denial more difficult to sustain. Even the most repressive governments–more dependent on global economic controls and exposed by the collapse of Cold War alliances–are less likely to ignore all criticism completely or to issue crude denials.

    The most common alternative is to admit the “raw” facts–yes, something did happen: people were killed, injured, or detained without trial–but to deny the interpretive framework that is placed on these events. No, what happened was not really torture, genocide, or extra-judicial killing, but something else. The harmful behavior is cognitively reframed and then reallocated to a different, less pejorative class of events.


    Such evasions are deployed because some categorizations are so pejorative, stigmatic, and universally condemned that they cannot be openly admitted or defended. Assuming that it cannot resort to literal denial, no government will concede publicly that it is responsible for systematic torture, political massacres, and genocide. Even those governments advancing the strongest possible moral justifications for their actions will not normally acknowledge that what they are justifying belongs to these extreme categories. They have to reframe and rename in order to contest the imputed meaning of their policy–what it looks like to the outside observer–and replace this with another meaning.”