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LETTER: Indigenous people deserve better than this

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the Editor

Brian Jones, in his recent column (ostensibly about the tragic death of Quinn Butt), pivots in a paragraph to the recently released Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). He makes the case that the report’s use of the term genocide (which he places in scare quotes) is “preposterous,” and that the responsibility for the deaths of thousands of Indigenous women and girls lies solely with Indigenous men. Earlier in his column, he makes much of a statement that is “obviously and demonstrably false” – I can only wish that he had applied this standard to himself.

First, to the perpetrators of this violence. Jones lays blame exclusively with Indigenous men. One imagines that he might have been simply exaggerating the oft-quoted figure that 70 per cent of violence against Indigenous women and girls is perpetrated by Indigenous men. The thing is, there is no factual basis for even that figure. Indeed, had Jones taken the time to dig into the report (or listened to commentary from many Indigenous writers and analysts), he would have found an entire section debunking it (it starts on page 252 of Volume 1b, if anyone is interested in actually reading this critically important report).

This is not to say that domestic violence within Indigenous communities and families isn’t an issue — it most certainly is — but framing the MMIWG crisis solely in those terms shows a deeply troubling unwillingness to engage with the deep and growing understanding we have about the powerful effects of intergenerational trauma on communities, with the fact that many of the perpetrators are from outside of them, or with the many ways in which we have built a system which actively puts people at risk.
While on the subject of trauma, I have to return to Jones’ dismissal of the term genocide as “preposterous.”

I would be fascinated to hear exactly which parts of the 46-page supplementary legal analysis (provided with the report) he disagrees with, and why. According to that analysis, Canada’s actions do indeed constitute genocide, both as the term’s framers’ defined it and as it is defined in international law.

This is a tough thing to see in writing. That’s the point.
The kneejerk reaction here is perhaps understandable. Non-Indigenous people like me grow up with a specific vision of what “genocide” means in our minds.

As someone from a Polish Jewish family, I know that story pretty well — it’s my own. But it’s not the only possible story. If we take a minute to listen to Indigenous voices - sadly underrepresented in Canadian media — we quickly hear just how resonant the Report's conclusions are. That matters.

What we have now is a choice. We are presented with more than a thousand pages of evidence, gathered at great effort and sacrifice, that make the case for us to re-evaluate not just our own history, but also our present. We can dismiss it as “preposterous,” or we can start to grapple with what that means, and how to begin making it right. I would urge Jones, and anyone who nodded along to his column, to consider that choice carefully.

Joshua Smee,
St. John’s


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