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Canada's First Nations Push Back Against Centuries of Murder, Abuse and Neglect

Doreen Nicoll


Victors write the history books. They write versions that are often coloured by their perceptions and the image they want to portray. They hope that time will erase any trace of wrongdoing or injustices imposed on others. But, they forget that memories are long and passed from generation to generation. They forget that some bystanders will not be silenced or stopped until justice is served.

After reading recent editorials by Betty L. Reade and Richard Gwyn it's time Canadian history books were rewritten and the disturbing truth laid bare.

In June 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis establish Halifax thereby violating earlier treaties with the Mi'kmaq (1726). When Mi'kmaq fought against this expansion the British constructed more settlements and forts. On October 2, 1749, Cornwallis placed a bounty on the head of every Mi'kmaq man, woman and child. Ten guineas, the equivalent of $19 today, was paid for each scalp. Cornwallis meant to eradicate the Mi'kmaq.

To date this law has never been repealed.


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The Indian Act passed by Canada's Parliament in 1874 effectively imprisoned Aboriginals on reserve lands making them legal wards of the state.

Proof of genocide exists in the form of letters documenting the distribution of small pox infected blankets by the British to Aboriginals during the battle of Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan in 1885.

In 1884 Ottawa passed legislation creating state-funded, church administered Indian Residential Schools. In 1920 the federal government mandated that Aboriginal children must attend residential schools from age seven to fifteen.

In 1928 the Sexual Sterilization Act was passed in Alberta. Anyone attending a native residential school could be sterilized upon the approval of the school Principal. At least 3,500 women were sterilized under this law.

In 1933, British Columbia passed the same Sexual Sterilization Act. The United Church established sterilization centres in Bella Bella and Nanaimo. Thousands of native men and women were sterilized until the 1980s.

That same year, residential school principals were made the legal guardians of all native students. This law required Indigenous parents to surrender custody or face imprisonment.

The federal government attempted to close all residential schools in 1938, but gave in to pressure from Catholic and Protestant church leaders.

From 1946 until the 1970s a Central Intelligence Agency used students from Canadian residential schools as involuntary test subjects with the consent of the churches.

During the 1940s and 50s, Health Canada used children from residential schools in medical experiments.

Even after the last residential school closed our institutions failed to protect Indigenous children, youth, and women.

B.C. judge David Ramsay pleaded guilty on May 3, 2004, to sexual assault causing bodily harm, breach of trust and three counts of buying sex from a person under 18. The offences took place between 1992 and 2001.

His victims, mostly Aboriginal girls living in poverty and in trouble with the law, were subjected to acts of escalating sexual violence. Some were as young as 12 years old.

In June 2004, Ramsay was sentenced to seven years in jail. He died January 19, 2008.

In 2015 an RCMP officer in northern Manitoba arrested an intoxicated Indigenous woman at a house party only to return, off duty, to request her release into his custody so that he could, "pursue a personal relationship."

In Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, an RCMP constable took a complaint from a woman who was choked, beaten, stripped, and pushed out of a house naked by her boyfriend. The constable failed to interview witnesses and refused to lay charges as per RCMP policy on domestic violence, which states, in part, "A charge will be laid when reasonable and probable grounds exist, irrespective of the willingness of the victim to give evidence."

Respected international and national groups are demanding a national inquiry into Canada's 1,181 missing and murdered Indigenous women. This process must be followed with the timely implementation of recommendations.

The International Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9, 1948 set the United Nations definition of genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

(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

Using this check list, Canada is five for five.

Yes, the terms cultural genocide and genocide need to be used when referring to Canada's treatment of Indigenous people because Canada has clearly established a history of persistent attempts at eradicating our Indigenous populations.

As Mr. Gwyn pointed out, "a huge increase is taking place in the number of university-educated Aboriginal [people]." This is testimony to the fact that Canada's Indigenous people are able to embrace education as well as cultural traditions and native languages. 

Thank goodness they were, and are, strong enough to fight for their rights without giving in to learned hopelessness.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is a contributor to and is a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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