EDITORIAL: The word you’re looking for is genocide

To avoid the word genocide because it makes us uncomfortable is to undervalue the people with the courage to share the truth

When the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released earlier this week the commissioners chose their words deliberately.

What Canada and colonialism has done to Indigenous people in this country is colonial genocide.

The inquiry, which spent two-and-a-half years listening to the testimony of Indigenous people from around the country, told us they had no other choice but to use that word.

To shy away from the word genocide because it makes us uncomfortable is to undervalue and undermine the work that the commission has done and the courage that it took for so many Indigenous people to speak their truth.

The national press has been adding to the pain by almost immediately tripping over themselves to try and discredit the inquiry’s decision to use that word.

What commentators and editorial boards don’t appear to have done is read the 43-page legal explanation laying out why the commissioners felt genocide was legally the accurate word for what has happened and continues to happen to Indigenous people.

Over more than 1,000 pages in its final report, the inquiry lays out the generations-long effort to silence and suppress the voices of Indigenous people and the prolonged national policies that put them at risk.

By choosing, within days of its release, to focus on discrediting one word, the importance of those stories and facts are being suppressed again.

The inquiry’s decision is based on the United Nation’s definition which defines genocide as:

(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

This is not a “shifting definition” as some criticism has suggested, but rather something that has been in place since 1948.

While it might be easier for us to imagine that the word genocide only applies to atrocities like the Holocaust or mass killings in Rwanda — after all, that happens to other people, not us — the inquiry’s legal analysis shows why thinking of genocide as only those type of mass killings “belittles the complexity of genocidal violence and undermines its very definition.”

You do not need a totalitarian leader for something to qualify as a genocide. Legally killing and causing harm in this context means more than homicides committed by individuals.

Unlike the holocaust model, genocides can also be slow moving, spread out over centuries and committed using policies of the state.

This is where Canada, whether we want to admit it or not, finds itself.

The Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights all fall under one or more of the categories that define genocide.

Those who testified in front of the inquiry spoke of “deaths of women in police custody; [Canada’s] failure to protect Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people from exploitation and trafficking, as well as from known killers; the crisis of child welfare; physical, sexual, and mental abuse inflicted on Indigenous women and girls in state institutions; the denial of Status and membership for First Nations; the removal of children; forced relocation and its impacts; purposeful, chronic underfunding of essential human services; coerced sterilizations; and more,” according to the report.

Add to that the fact that previous efforts such as the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the 2001 Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission and the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission have found similar issues but led to little change, it’s hard to argue that the harmful policies by the state are not ongoing.

Acknowledging the genocide is going to bring national attention and going to require that Canada take action. But if that’s what it takes to spur change, so be it.

It hurts to look closely at these issues. It should hurt. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.

When non-Indigenous people rush to the defensive, when their first instinct is to start sputtering: “that’s not right, that’s not us, I would never do that,” they are discounting and undervaluing the stories of the Indigenous people who testified bravely and publicly in front of the commission.

Non-Indigenous people should be taking direction from Qajaq Robinson, the only non-Indigenous commissioner on the inquiry, who spoke about sitting with feelings “that I’m sure many of you non-Indigenous people in the room or watching may be feeling and sitting with right now. Shame, guilt, denial, that urge to say, ‘No, 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. No.’

“But it’s the truth. It’s our truth. It’s my truth, it’s your truth. The families, survivors and Indigenous peoples across this country have brought this truth to light. I see it. I know it. I own it.

“And I say to you now, it might challenge who we think we are, who we hope to be, but who we will be and who we are is ultimately defined by how we respond now that we know.” (AJ)

MMIWG

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read