On Genocide at Home and Away
Updated: Oct 3, 2021
While researching the topic of genocide, I came across a statistic that rather stunned me: it has been estimated by the Political Instability Task Force that between 1956 and 2016, a total of 43 genocides took place. That is a truly heart-breaking figure. Under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide the United Nations defines as genocidal ‘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.
Of course, most of us are aware of the more infamous examples of genocide and attempted genocide: Nazi Germany’s ‘final solution’, the Rwandan slaughter of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that many powerful states—Great Britain, France, United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia—have engaged in unjustified wars against weaker nations and violated human rights with impunity for strategic, imperialist, colonialist or corporate-driven profit reasons, often with the purpose of wiping out any sort of indigenous resistance.
Yesterday, while I was walking from Townsite to a gathering at Willingdon Beach with Indigenous brothers and sisters to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation I was reflecting on the two examples that many reluctantly think of (and even deny) as clear and unambiguous cases of genocide or ongoing genocide. The first is the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist Israel, and the second is the historical Canadian attempt to erase the first peoples.
What Israel’s former Professor of Political Studies Efrain Inbar meant by ‘mowing the lawn’ was turning Gaza into a wasteland and ultimately the intentional and complete erasure of Palestinian people. The Zionist myth that Palestine was “A land without a people for a people without a land”, that it was mostly an empty desert with ‘only a few islands of Arab settlement’ or the complete lie that only Israel could ‘redeem the land from ‘swamp and wilderness’ and ‘make the desert bloom’, has only recently been challenged and more accurately described as the 1947-9 ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the near-total destruction of Palestinian society.
It ended with at least 750,000 Palestinians being thrown out of their homeland and made refugees—and even more tragic the murder of 15,000 in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres. This attempt to ‘cleanse’ Israel of Palestinians is ongoing and you can read more about it in a number of important books:The Punishment of Gaza by Gideon Levy, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict by Norman Finkelstein, and Ilan Pappé’s Ten Myths About Israel and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
As for the Canadian example, anyone in the least familiar with the ‘Indian Act’ or the history of Residential Schools will understand that these latter were real-world attempts to “take the Indian out of the Child” as Canada’s first Prime Minister expressed it. James Daschuk has described this genocidal impulse in graphic terms in his important book Clearing the Plains. The Canadian Government (helped along by social services and police forces) did everything they could to strip indigenous people of their culture, practices, history, and language in order to enforce 'assimilation'.
Assimilation is a more neutral way of describing the erasure of the identity of an entire people. The other name for erasure is, of course, genocide. Even more tragic is the attempt to cover up the mass death of Indigenous children found in unmarked graves at the site of Residential Schools across the country. You can be certain that the discovery of the 215 Indigenous children’s bodies in the mass grave at Kamloops Residential School and the 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former indigenous residential school in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan are only the beginning—in fact, the estimated number of unmarked child graves is now more than 3,200.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair has said that 6,000 children died while attending these ‘schools’, where students were often housed in poorly built, poorly heated, and unsanitary facilities while being physically and sexually abused by school authorities.
And to add insult to injury we have the expression of faux sorrow and pitiful apology by our Prime Minister, the political opportunist in chief—an ‘apology’ that rings rather hollow in light of the way his government has treated Indigenous land and water defenders, and the outrageous decision to spend millions of dollars to appeal a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations.
We Canadians have often seen ourselves as being at the forefront of genocide recognition and human rights abuses in other countries. The bottom line is that we don't really have to look to other countries for examples of genocide because we practiced it here in Canada for more than a hundred and fifty years.