What is Cultural Genocide?

What is Cultural Genocide?

By Katarina Ziervogel

In the 19th century on the very same land European settlers arrived on many years before, the Canadian government made an inimical decision that would forever change the lives of Indigenous peoples. The government set up an “education system” in which they removed Indigenous children away from the First Nations reserves, away from their home, and away from their own family to be ‘educated’ in residential schools and to be assimilated into mainstream society, where the settlers resided.

At the time, it was an attempt at erasing the Indigenous people’s heritage, traditions and language starting with the children. Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald’s initiative for the final result of residential schools was to “take the Indian out of the child” an infamous quote linked to the history of residential schools. Meanwhile, the First Nations reserves were meant to isolate the rest of Indigenous peoples from the mainstream society.

Recently, a letter from 1912 has resurfaced as evidence of how the Canadian government attempted to erase Indigenous people’s culture. Sylvia McAdam, one of the co-founders of the Idle No Moremovement discovered a letter from her own mother’s belongings. The letter came from the Department of Indian Affairs and points out the Canadian government’s policy that was in effect at that time, to ensure all traditions of First Nations including the sun dance and such were banned to prevent Indigenous people from practicing their own culture.

Today, there is a term for it known as “cultural genocide” with the residential schools and intergenerational trauma as an undeniable evidence. The term needs to be acknowledged in order to reconcile the issues Indigenous people have been dealing with the Canadian government for decades.