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It is a word associated with the worst of war crimes.
Yet “genocide” is the descriptor the authors of the long-awaited final report on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls used to encapsulate generations of intergenerational trauma – “centuries in the making,” as it was defined – and the violence that emanated from the greater world around them where bodies turned up in indignant ways and in indignant places.
Or were never found at all.
All the key federal politicians were at the Museum of History’s main hall for the closing dedication, of course: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Seamus O’Regan, minister of Indigenous Services, and Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti.
The massive report – with 231 recommendations it says are in dire need of being addressed – is the culmination of a three-year inquiry often plagued with dysfunction, controversy and personal problems, but contains what chief commissioner Marion Buller called “important truths” in her condemnation of Canadian laws and institutions that still violate Indigenous human rights.
“I hope that knowing these ‘truths’ will contribute to a better understanding of the real lives of Indigenous people and the violations of their human and Indigenous rights when they were targeted for violence,” wrote Buller.
But genocide? Genocide is defined as “the deliberate and systematic elimination of a racial, political or cultural group.”
Is that what happened here? Did colonialists, right up to present-day governments, “deliberately” attempt “eliminating” the First Nations in this country so that, at the end of the day, none existed?
It’s an awfully ugly accusation.
There was, instead, a tremendous amount that went wrong from the very beginning, and is still going on via the Indian Act, but there was no intent written in any diary or history book ever discovered to wipe out all Indigenous people.
There was the damaging intent in the residential school fiasco, for example, to “kill the Indian in the child” to speed up a desired assimilation, but certainly not to kill the child.
But the inquiry gave few even a speck of humanity.
The report’s recommendations – highlighted as “calls for justice – include developing a workable response to human trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence, including in the sex trade.
“They are not optional,” says the report. “They constitute legal imperatives.”
Missing and murdered Indigenous women believe to number in the thousands but, as the report admits, “no one knows the exact number.”
The Native Women’s Association created a database that in 2010 documented 552 missing and murdered Indigenous women, while four years later the RCMP pegged the number closer to 1,200.
The fact that no one knows for certain is shameful on its own.
A former aboriginal affairs minister under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Bernard Valcourt, is taking a lot of heat for his rebuke of the report using the word “genocide.”
“Who feels better in Canada among First Nations for that thunderous silly conclusion that all we wanted as to kill them off?” tweeted Valcourt.
As expected, condemnation of Valcourt came quickly, with social media lighting up, and Carolyn Bennett among the first to launch a partisan jab.
“Distressing to see @BernardValcourt displaying such ignorance,” tweeted Bennett. “@AndrewScheer needs to denounce him & ask him to join Senator (Lynn) Beyak on the cultural sensitivity that seems to be necessary for all Conservatives.”
Expect more political point gathering to continue.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019