Tag Archives: Justice

History of First Nations Genocide in Canada

The United Nations defines genocide generally as “any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” (United Nations, 2013) and elaborates on this statement to include any of the following acts: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to physically destroy the group (the whole group or even part of the group), [and/or] forcefully transferring children of the group to another group” (United Nations, 2013). The UN also states that under this convention, there is no immunity from prosecution for nations engaging in practices deemed as genocide (2013).

While Canada prides itself on its reputation as a peacekeeping nation, many unfortunate instances in history have been swept under the rug in order to preserve the public image of a diplomatic, unified state. While the horrific treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is increasingly garnering public attention, the lack of knowledge about these historical events and legislation, which systematically sought to destroy First Nations culture, is still a critical issue in Canadian society. From the Vatican’s Papal Bulls exploited by European monarchs in the 16th century to vehemently misappropriate Indigenous land to the implementation of the Indian Act of 1876 and the Indian Residential School System, Canada’s development and history expressed and continues to express a colonialist stance and Eurocentric priority. To commence discussion, an analysis of the United Nations literature on genocide coupled with synthesis of historical events involving the Indigenous in Canada is necessary.

Regarding the initial, broad definition which states that “an act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” as genocide, it is essential to refer to early Western conquest circa the 1500s. Papal Bulls and the Doctrines of Discovery were used by Christian colonizers around the world, to seize land that was not rightfully theirs; monarchs were not only permitted to claim this land as theirs on grounds of being divine Christians, but were actually encouraged to do so employing whatever force necessary (Gardiner, 2013). This intentional attempt to “destroy in whole or in part… a religious group” is evident, as the goal of the European monarchs and crusaders was to globally purge the non-Christian world (Gardiner, 2013). Following initial conquest, North America was bestowed to King George, with the stipulation that Aboriginal land title would be preserved unless otherwise ceded by treaty, sold to the Crown and resold to settlers (Gardiner, 2013). The Royal Proclamation officiated these ‘guidelines’ and claimed to establish purpose of maintaining both European and Aboriginal best interests and unity, when in reality, it initiated colonialist rule over the First Nations Peoples of Canada (Gardiner, 2013). Subsequent acts such as the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 directly sought to destroy the national, ethnic, racial and religious group(s) of First Nations Peoples, by coercively swaying Aboriginal persons to surrender their statuses as Native individuals with the promise of various ‘incentives’ (Gardiner, 2013). Fierce attacks on Indigenous sovereignty, in addition to manipulative legislation that deviously persuaded individuals to abandon one’s cultural identity are a direct assault on a “national…” group. Furthermore, the Indian Act of 1876 was vastly more overarching than previous acts and dictated control over practically any and every small aspect of Aboriginal life, in conjunction with the state’s agenda of aggressive assimilation (Gardiner, 2013). The Indian Act prohibited a multitude of significant Aboriginal cultural practices – an especially notable example being the legal prohibition of the traditional potlatch ceremony: another example of a deliberate attack on Indigenous culture (Gardiner, 2013).

Moreover, the ultimate goal of the Indian Residential School System (1880s – late 1990s) was to “kill the Indian in the child” – a statement that makes direct reference to the broad UN definition in addition to the particular outlined genocide paradigms. Young Aboriginal children were abducted from their parents by the state, and transferred to facilities maintained by religious, European individuals (Gardiner, 2013); this “forceful [transfer of] children of the group to another group” exemplifies the United Nation’s definition of genocide. Furthermore, children were forced to disengage with their First Nations cultural identities by means of appalling punishments in the form of severe emotional, mental, physical and sexual abuse daily (Gardiner, 2013). Children were denied adequate diets and in turn, became extremely malnourished and diseased; additionally, living conditions within the schools were repulsive which also contributed to widespread illness (Gardiner, 2013). According to the UN definitions, this alone would satisfy every single criterion to deem genocide, most specifically “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”. Likewise, many First Nations children died at the hands of their captors, either directly or indirectly as a result of the cruel maltreatment and neglect of individuals confined within the ‘schools’, yet another example of the systematic destruction of the Indigenous nation within Canada (Gardiner, 2013).

To readdress the question on the whole, the premeditated and relentless attack on First Nations culture and Peoples within Canada was 100% genocide. It is evident that historically, Canada has taken a variety of shocking approaches with the intention of eliminating not only Aboriginal autonomy, but additionally, Aboriginal culture and Peoples. Early Westerners asserted rule over First Nations Peoples through unjust and violent means all indicative of genocide. While the declaration of these historical instances as ‘genocide’ may be inflammatory or offensive to particular members of society, it is a duty our nation owes to First Nations Peoples; there must be acknowledgment and awareness of the harms and tragedies inflicted upon their communities and families. The pervasive colonist, Western ideology still present in Canada asserts that a mere apology and extra funding is ‘enough’ or in some cases, ‘too much’ in terms of remedial measures for First Nations peoples in response to the aforementioned events. I argue that while potentially provocative, labeling the acute, ill treatment of Indigenous Peoples over an extended period of time as ‘genocide’ is completely accurate and necessary. The recognition of the First Nations genocide in Canada would be an act of demystification, as it provides clarification regarding significant historical events that have since been progressively distorted and omitted from public discourse, as they have not traditionally been accepted in accord with the hegemonic Eurocentric stance of much of North America. Acknowledging these injustices and engaging in this ‘consciousness-raising’ provides opportunities to better analyze and comprehend how the historical context and treatment of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada has contributed to the current heightened rates of abuse, victimization and overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples within the Criminal Justice System today. Rejecting the status quo approach of the past by actively engaging in critical dialogue regarding the extensive history of First Nations inequality and wrongs in Canada is an essential step in movement towards promoting equality and justice, and the deconstruction of existing social hierarchies.


Gardiner, Paige. (2013). Indigenous People of Canada and Structural Factors. Canada.

United Nations. (2013). Convention on The Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/treaties/genocide.asp



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Looking Ahead: Deconstruction and Justice

At first glance, my reply to Derrida’s claim “Deconstruction is Justice” is that of agreement. For all its clarity and poignancy, the answer is not easily deduced. To make sense how the agreement came to be, the internal workings of the text require critical analysis. The practice of deconstruction is to unlock provisional conventions and to make space for unanticipated patterns of being (Pavlich, p. 170). The presence of concepts and of definitions is at all times over the horizon. It is a reflexive relationship between openness and closure. The modus vivendi—our way of life—carried with our language and our text will always stand on the end of a new frontier. For Derida and all human beings, everything is language. The power of language and of words comes to define us, unite us, and separate us from others and from ourselves. To ascribe a single definition to a word is to take away its vitality. Justice, like language, is something that is in constant ebb and flow. Weber (2005) claims that justice is “of the incalculable and the unpredictable” (p. 38). It is through the process of deferring to other terms and to calculable externalities—such as law—where infinite concepts, like ‘justice’, may create “meaning, being, and presence” (Pavlich, p. 170). In this sense, one cannot revise a few definitions to the exclusion of all others.

The concept of justice is circular. The end is unknown and its beginning is undistinguished. From where I stand, Derrida (1997) is not mistaken when he claims that “Deconstruction is Justice”. The concept of justice is something that is on the verge of becoming but requires an externality to make it known. For instance, at one point in time it was legally permissible for a husband to rape his wife in Canada without legal ramifications involving responsibility (Criminal Code, 1970). In 1983, Bill C-127 was introduced into legislation to create space for conversation and to make martial rape a criminal offence. From this perspective, it can be said that justice could not be materialized in and of itself; it required the externality of law. Justice may also be observed as a measure that asks for or demands others to state what it is or what it is not. Although it is held that “law does not guarantee justice anymore than justice guarantees good law” (Pavlich, p. 173). Consequently justice, like deconstruction, is provisional and subject to reversal.

The concept of deconstruction is something that happens from within that which already exists or is said to exist. It is shaped by one’s sociological and political context (p. 174), which creates meaning and understanding through language. Deconstruction as a practice is holistic as it opens up concepts that have not been fully unpacked. For concepts and texts that appear fixed or fully understood, deconstruction becomes crucial. In summary, both deconstruction and justice are concepts that favour innovation and development; bridging the gap between theory and process, abstract and concrete. To deconstruct justice is to make possible the unattainable and provisional moments in time. Justice cannot be made a reality in and of itself. It is constantly evolving, changing shape and is in need of other words, subjects and objects that are not present. Life is not static and neither is the praxis of deconstruction or justice.


Bill C-127, S.C. 1983, c. 125.

Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C. 1970, c. C-34.

Derrida, J. (1997). Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. Edited with a commentary by John D. Caputo. New York: Fordham University Press.

Pavlich, G. 2011. Law & Society, Refined. London: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Elisabeth (2005). “Deconstruction is Justice”, SubStance 34(1): 38-43


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