2 Aug 2019

Text & Translation: Corinna

#The colonization of Canada

The indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuït and Métis) became victims of cultural genocide during the times of European colonialism.

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The first European contact was with the Native Canadians in the 11th century, who intended to settle Newfoundland and Labrador. But there were clashes with the indigenous people and as a result the Northman abandoned their plans. In the late 15th century, Europeans returned to North America to fishing and whaling. They set up non-permanent camps and settlements and had little contact with the natives. In the 16th century, particularly the French and British began to explore North America more intensively and discovered local products such as beaver furs and other animal skins for the European market. For their production and hunting, however, they needed the help of the indigenous people. A good partnership developed into the 17th and 18th century.[1]

However, more and more settlers came to Canada and not only demanded land and resources, but brought with them diseases against which the natives had no defences. As with the indigenous people in what is now known as the USA, smallpox acted like a biological weapon. About half of Canada’s 200,000 to 300,000 indigenous people died of European diseases between the 17th and 19th century. This was the opportunity for settlers to colonize the land, exploit resources and gain control over the indigenous peoples.[2]

Ruslan/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

By order of the British government, the colonies were obliged by law to conclude contracts about the land of the indigenous people. Thus, the indigenous people transferred their sacred land to the colonial rulers and in return received goods or services from the Crown. Unfortunately, most indigenous peoples were mistaken that the agreements could be changed over time and adapted to their needs, but that was not the case. In some parts of Canada, the treaty obligation was even ignored, and the indigenous people were simply expropriated from their land and put into reservations that were far too small. Even today, many indigenous people fight for their rightful ancestral land and the right to self-determination.[3]

#Conversion and forced assimilation

In addition to diseases, the European settlers (especially the French) imported Christianity to save the souls of their trading partners. They tried to convert the natives to the Christian faith and to give up their culture. The indigenous people were to become European through and through. For this purpose they built churches and schools and from the 19th/ 20th century onwards assimilation was officially carried out by the government.[4] Thus, the Indian Act was enacted in 1876 and expanded in 1884 and 1920. It provided sanctions for the indigenous people if they did not commit themselves to Christianity. At the same time, traditional and social practices and the wearing of traditional clothing and ritual dances were banned.

‘I want to get rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed. They are a weird and waning race.’ [5] – Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932

Nationalmuseet – National Museum of Denmark/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

Between 1870 and 1996, the Canadian government financed some 130 residential schools run by the Protestant and Catholic Church. The declared goal was to kill the Indian in every child. In the beginning they were only day schools; the children were allowed to return to their parents and the community in the evening. However, this proved unfavourable and allegedly destroyed all attempts at ‘civilization’. Soon the schools were converted into boarding schools and indigenous children had to spend the whole year there. As desired, many children lost contact with the community and with their roots and traditions.[6]

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuït and Métis children were forcibly snatched from their families and sent to these schools. Many of these children died of poor living conditions (illnesses, cold, malnutrition) or were victims of physical, psychological, sexual and verbal violence. This drama still has an impact on the following generations of indigenous people as they are marked with disturbed family relationships, violence, depression and suicide as well as alcohol and drug abuse.[7]

‘It’s hard for me to really love my children. I grapple with the word ‘love’. […] I don’t think we can ever heal from this. We’re just going to have to die with all the pain.’[8] – Joseph Gordon Edechanchyonce, former student

David Stanley/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

In 2008, the Canadian government apologized for this inhumane act for the first time and set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the crimes committed in residential schools. After many years of investigation, the commission concluded that the Canadian government and the Christian church had committed cultural genocide against Canada’s indigenous people. The Commission’s detailed reports, opinions and recommendations can be found here.


# www.cnn.com (2016) Reflections of Canada’s ‘cultural genocide‘. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/30/living/cnnphotos-canada-residential-schools-identity/ (06.03.2017)

# National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – University of Manitoba (2017) Available at: http://nctr.ca/about-new.php (06.03.2017)

# Woolford, A. (2009) „Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Canadian Aboriginal Peoples“. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 4: Iss. 1: Article 6. Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1149&context=gsp (02.03.17)

[1] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 82
[2] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 83
[3] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 84
[4] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 92
[5] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 92
[6] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 85 / National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – University of Manitoba (2017)
[7] Woolford, A. (2009), S. 85 / National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – University of Manitoba (2017)
[8] www.cnn.com (2016)

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