In the 1990s, more and more scholars, activists, and indigenous leaders began to demand that Canada recognize the treatment of Indigenous Peoples as genocide.1 In a recent article, “A Canadian Genocide in Search of a Name,” Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, along with Michael Dan, a medical doctor and philanthropist, and Bernie M. Farber, the son of Holocaust survivors and executive director of the Mosaic Institute, called on Canada’s government to accept responsibility and do just that.2
It is time for Canadians to face the sad truth. Canada engaged in a deliberate policy of attempted genocide againstFirst Nationspeople. . . .
Some have argued that the beginnings of this genocide had its seeds in the establishment of theIndian Actof 1876, which legalized First Nations as an inferior group and made them wards of the state. In truth, these were just words on paper compared with accusations lodged against the Canadian government by our first Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Peter Bryce, in 1907. . . .
Dr. Bryce uncovered a “national crime” pertaining to the health of First Nations people. . . . According to Bryce, Canada’s aboriginal people in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan were being “decimated by tuberculosis and . . . the federal government possessed the means to stop it.” Instead, it chose such a minimalist approach that, in the medical opinion of Dr. Bryce, it “amounted to almost nothing.” . . .
We must ask ourselves: When does genocide become genocide? This might seem an absurd question, but history isn’t always forthcoming with a neat little package bearing the label “genocide, open with caution.” . . . Under [the UN Genocide Convection’s] definition, Canada’s treatment of its First Nations, even in our own lifetime, meets the genocide test:
The recently exposed nutrition experiments carried out in the residential schools meets the criteria under point  (b).
The residential school system itself, and the practice of forcibly removing First Nations children fromreservesand placing them with adoptive non-aboriginal families, common in the 1960s, and referred to as the Sixties Scoop, meet the criteria under point  (e).
The decision by the government in the 1900s to allow native children to die of tuberculosis meets the criteria under point  (c).
This list is by no means exhaustive. . . .
The Government of Canada currently recognizes five genocides: the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica.
The time has come for Canada to formally recognize a sixth genocide, the genocide of its own aboriginal communities; a genocide that began at the time of first contact and that was still very active in our own lifetimes; a genocide currently in search of a name but no longer in search of historical facts.3
- 1 : Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Laban Hinton, eds., Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 5–7.
- 2 : Both Michael Dan and Bernie Farber head the Gemini Power Corporation, which is supporting First Nations in their efforts to create sustainable industries.
- First Nations : First Nations have lived in North America for tens of thousands of years. Today, the term refers to some 617 different communities, traditionally composed of groups of 400 or so. These nations enjoy a richness and diversity of identity, culture, and customs. Many view North America as their traditional homeland and do not recognize aspects of US and Canadian sovereignty. Alongside the Métis and Inuit Peoples, First Nations are part of a larger grouping officially called the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.
- Indian Act : Enacted by the federal government in 1876, the Indian Act combined all previous legislation regarding the First Nations and brought them under federal jurisdiction. This act created the term Indian as a legal category and defined Status Indian (registered Indian), which excluded Inuit and Métis people. It gave the government, through the Department of Indian Affairs, the power to create laws and policies regarding “Indians” and “Indian” affairs such as membership, reserve infrastructure and services, systems of governance, culture, and education.
- reserves : The key tool of a common colonial strategy, reserves were small, barely habitable areas where the colonizers sought to manage the people they dispossessed. In Canada, the 1850s saw a series of legislative enactments redefining the boundaries of First Nations communities, property, and land use, which increased pressure to relocate to reserves. Lack of investment and poor government services exacerbated First Nations isolation, leaving many reserves economically depressed and prone to violence and crime.
- 3 : Phil Fontaine, Michael Dan, and Bernie M. Farber, “A Canadian Genocide in Search of a Name,” The Star, July 19, 2013, accessed October 3, 2014. Reproduced by permission of Phil Fontaine, Michael Dan, and Bernie M. Farber.