Thoughts on today’s hearing on the nutritional experiments conducted on Indigenous children in Residential School, Port Alberni institute.
Firstly I want to thank Tseshaht First Nation and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council for hosting this important event and to Dr. Ian Mosby for presenting the findings he researched on the “nutritional experiments.” I also want to thank the support workers for being there and their attentiveness to the needs of those who were present and also to each and every Residential School survivor in that room and elsewhere who were unable to attend.
The first poignant thing which needs to be underscored is that although these experiments occurred it must, MUST, be stated that the conditions of starvation were widespread and already a systemic issue long before the experiments started. The experiments capitalized on conditions which were present in each and every Residential School Institution and only slightly modified, for the worse, the nutrition of the children who those particular experiments were carried out on. Starvation diets were everywhere and the experiments merely enhanced the starvation to target specific vitamins and foods for reduction from already substandard nutrition allotments documented far below the government guidelines for proper nutrition for children.
The Canadian Red Cross had no part in those experiments. What the Canadian Red Cross’s involvement with the Residential School Institutions was was to assess what nutrition and conditions were present in the institutes themselves and to make recommendations to the government and the institutes based on those observations. Across the board the Canadian Red Cross made observations about the substandard food provided for the children and their recommendations reflected those observations. It must be noted however that accounts of those visits by the Canadian Red Cross by Residential School Institute Survivors describe an increase in various foods and upgrades in the quality of foods served to the children during the times that the Red Cross visited these institutions. We can conclude that the employees of these institutions knew that the regular nutrition provided to these children would invite criticism and so they put a show on for when outside agencies that were not under the control of the government came to see what was happening at least nutritionally speaking. This has been corroborated through a few surprise visits during the period when observers reported that the food quality was completely inadequate and often harmful due to being spoiled or of a quality so low that it would only be fit for farm animal consumption.
Long term or intergenerational effects of the starvation diets may not ever be completely known. Long term or intergenerational effects of the experimental diets may not ever be completely known as well. Many things may not be ever completely known about the effects of the Residential School System.
You, me, everyone in that room, everyone in this city, everyone in this region and everyone in this world, do not understand what the impacts of the Residential School System are and will continue to be for Indigenous peoples. We may apply words and phrases such as “cultural loss”, “acculturation”, “language loss”, and “cultural genocide” but all of those words and phrases and the very concepts themselves are rooted in a philosophical system which is foundationally unlike an Indigenous way of knowing things. In short, today we do not see things and understand things in the same way that our ancestors did prior to the Residential School System era. In that space between then and now all of this trauma, all of this genocide including Residential School, has come forth and we will not understand what the effects have been. Not in our lifetimes. Perhaps never. But perhaps we will be able to once we regain that fluency of language, that fluency of culture, that we understand that our ancestors used to possess and did their very best to bequeath to us despite the concerted application of genocide across a social, physical, mental, and spiritual spectrum and in continuous existence for at least the last 200 or so years.
We are not going to find those fluencies by using colonial (mumulthni) methodologies in colonial (mumulthni) contexts in colonial (mumulthni) settings, in disconnected groups categorized by age and disassociated from familial settings which are the essential and basic foundations of our peoples. Until we learn together then, and maybe only then… and only maybe, will we be able to fully comprehend what the Residential School System has done to our peoples. That will take generations to find out. Perhaps then there will be reconciliation. But until we have a full comprehension of what has taken place from an Indigenous way of knowing which closely resembles our ancestors, there can be no reconciliation. Not in an Indigenous context from an Indigenous point of view as the very word “reconciliation” is a colonial construct as well.
What are the Indigenous words for reconciliation? What is the Nuu-chah-nulth word for “reconciliation”? What is the Tsimshian word? Or the Nehiyaw?
Perhaps we are very far from what our ancestors knew of reconciliation. So far that we have to do a lot more before we can speak of it and perhaps when we travel that distance, we won’t want to.
So many genocide deniers out there. Here is a point-by-point examination along with examples of genocide committed by canada and canadians against Indigenous peoples. The definition of genocide used in this example is the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which has been employed since 1948. In 1952, canada adopted this into their laws under the criminal code but they dropped articles B and E. In 1985, they dropped the third article of 5 to leave only 2 articles of genocide in their criminal code when they removed article D. For further reading on this click this link: http://www.guelphmercury.com/opinion-story/2783465-strategy-of-genocide-vital-to-making-of-canada/
It should be noted that the UN maintains ALL articles of the definition of the crime of genocide while canada has cut 60% of the punishable crime from its laws. Also worthy of noting is that contravention of any ONE definition of genocide is punishable.
It should be further noted that Article 3 of the UN definition stipulates that “Persons committing genocide … shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals”. This is especially important if you are working in the child apprehension industry, the police, or any other occupation which places you in the position to be assisting the state in genocide against Indigenous peoples.
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
A) Killing members of the group
— Bounties were offered for the scalps of Indigenous men, women, and children across the territory of canada until the 1900’s. Today, Indigenous peoples (who are not canadian citizens) are killed routinely by the RCMP and canadian authorities, sometimes while handcuffed and imprisoned. The willful extermination of Indigenous peoples historically by the use of smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and other diseases have been employed in every province to clear areas out for settlement by europeans.
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
— Medical experiments were conducted by canada and canadians on Indigenous peoples in every territory and province of canada throughout its history. Starvation experiments were common not only in residential schools but on reserves which were de facto prisons where Indigenous peoples needed to apply for a pass to leave their reserve for any reason including hunting, fishing, or gathering foods. Electrocution, hypothermic experiments, pharmaceutical experiments, and others have been documented.
C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
— The OFFICIAL policy of canada was to completely annihilate Indigenous peoples from the territory known as canada up until 2008. There was then an apology from the canadian government and political parties for their culpability and guilt of committing egregious harm to Indigenous peoples although they would not and will not admit that it is genocide. Forced relocations into inhospitable environments, sometimes thousands of kilometres away, affected every tribe of Indigenous peoples. Missionaries were employed to attack the spirituality of Indigenous peoples. Wage labour and market economies were used in conjunction with forcible denial of access to lands and resources to survive so that indigenous peoples’ means of sustaining themselves were attacked deliberately to undo their self-sufficiency.
D) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
— Forced and unconsented sterilizations were widely used and documented until at least the mid-1980’s. Also, forced and unconsented abortions were used to cover up rapes and molestations of children as well as the killing and disposal of newborns by canadians.
E) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
— Well known and documented extensively is the residential school system employed for over 150 years as a means to destroy the basic building blocks of nations and peoples: families. More documented and lesser known however, is the continuing dispossession of Indigenous children from their families by the child apprehension systems. There are currently more Indigenous children being held by the state and its citizens than there was at the height of the residential school era.
All I know is if you read this and you deny that genocide was and still is being conducted against Indigenous peoples in what is known as canada, you have made a conscious choice to deny genocide in the face of proof.
But hey, don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what well-known Indigenous lawyer Pamela Palmater has to say about it.
“Radical” is a relative term. In terms of ambient genocide and oppression, as can be found in canadian society and attitudes toward Indigenous peoples, “radical” is simply stating that oppression and genocide is wrong and needs to stop.
In a culture of resistance, speaking against genocide and oppression when it is present is a given and can lead to a cessation of the oppression and genocide as fluency in social justice increases proficiency of application.
If we can create a society where the act of speaking and acting out against genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples is not seen as “radical” but as a normalized response to those conditions, then we may gain the fluency in social justice necessary to create a society with justice for all. Seeing that the foundational injustice of this society is the continuing oppression and genocide of the original peoples of these lands, it would set the foundations of justice for these lands on solid moral ground which is what social justice organizations are seeking, and not finding with the rare exception. Solid moral ground that has eluded the people living in these lands called “canada” or “vancouver” or “british columbia” or other names colonial settlers insert rudely with the intent of erasing Indigenous peoples from the lands they have inhabited for thousands of generations.
But first we must bear the label “radical” without being shamed by it. We must bear it without fear, trepidation, or guilt or any of the other manipulations from those that would use them to see the status quo of genocide and oppression continue. We must speak against the genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples in the face of ignorance, true or willful. We must bear the term “radical” and claim that word if it is to be thrust onto us who seek social justice and a just society. We shall be proudly “radical” until such a time that speaking out and acting out against genocide and oppression is no longer “radical”. We must accept that we are “radical” until such a time that the word loses its relative meaning because we have normalized justice. Until we have given moral foundations to the societies on these lands and we can ensure that the term “radical” is placed on the shoulders of peoples and groups who do not want justice.
In a time where the term “radical” is placed on environmental groups committed to protecting clean water and responsible development projects free from obliterating contaminates, and when Indigenous peoples standing up against genocide and the same things that environmentalists are standing against, are labelled “radicals” we must accept that we are radical in the face of a social order that accepts genocide, ecocide, and perhaps worse as normal in a democratic society.
In a society that accepts genocide, ecocide, and oppression of dissent as societal values and actions and voices of dissent to those social norms are called “radical”, I gladly and gratefully accept the label “radical”.
I will wear it with pride as I continue to speak out against genocide and oppression. I will accept it as part of the package of social justice activism because being radical is simply being committed to a better world for all based on a foundation of justice for all.
It’s not drinking or doing drugs made me a bad person, it’s just that it sabotaged all the good things I could do and consumed much of the time I could put toward solutions. Without those things I am sure I wouldn’t have made it to today and I learned much about fighting, struggle, compassion, gratitude, determination, loss, family, and so much more through those times.
I didn’t AA or NA very much for my own reasons but the way I found through all of the chaos and setbacks was to steadfastly learn along the way and what I learned was that although there were problems with my life there were reasons for that. Those reasons were the intergenerational effects of continuing genocide by the colonization of our peoples and lands. Our people are suffering because our lands are suffering and for every Warrior who overcomes the suffering (including deception) means one more Warrior to fight for the lands. These Warriors have been through emotional, physical, and spiritual landscapes that would have destroyed most people and have indeed taken many lives. But they are here today and we are all better off for them.
I am no addict. I am no alcoholic. I never was. I was medicating the trauma from the genocide that is inflicted on Indigenous peoples every moment of every day. I need no further medication because I see the sickness of the society that lays those judgements and labels down and I see the strength of our cultures, lands and families.
I encourage all those who are medicating to reject the notion that there is something wrong with you because there isn’t. It is the society which we are living (and dying) which is sick and when you are ready to see or you have seen enough to know, the fight for the lands and for the future of this beautiful world is waiting for more Warriors such as you. Warriors who know what loss feels like and who know what struggle is like on a spiritual level. Warriors who know compassion, gratitude, and determination. You are the hope of the ancestors and the ones yet to be born and there is strength in your hearts.
“Why don’t we just vote our way out of this mess?”
Perhaps the stupidest “solution” offered for Indigenous peoples. Every single political party is born and bred from the canadian system of governance which is a constitutional monarchy maintained through a colonial relationship with britain and is only possible through the continued exploitation of our lands for thier purposes. Without their domination of our lands for their benefit they could not continue to operate their bureaucracy and infrastructure (police, military, etc) to maintain their domination over these lands.
Add to this the fact (not opinion, F-A-C-T!) that every political party maintains their moral authority to rule and all parties which have found themselves in majority situations have used their power to undermine, strip away, confine, and otherwise continue the path of genocide that this canada was born from. The Conservatives have a long track record overtly founded on the philosophy of cultural supremacy that the other parties seem to have the decency to conceal a bit more than the Cons. The Liberals will sell out to the highest bidders and their “moral authority” is directly tied to who is filling their bank accounts. They were there for Oka. They were there for Ipperwash. Lets not that.
“But what about the NDP?” some would ask.
The NDP were at the wheel when the military were ordered in to Gustafsen Lake just northwest of kamloops with armoured vehicles, helicopters, machine guns, and other weapons of death as they bombed a civillian vehicle and shot millions of rounds at Indigenous peoples conducting ceremonies on their own unceeded lands. Only through extreme courage and a bit of luck was nobody killed but Indigenous peoples still did jail time in colonial jails for simply being Indigenous on their lands.
“And the Green party?”
Despite the new-agey feel and the environmentalist greenwashing of their party platform, the domination theodicy is still present. Unless their preamble to their charter begins with “We recognize and affirm that these lands referred to as ‘canada’ are the property of Indigenous peoples and all moneys and power derived from their lands are to be returned to them” then their strip is the same colour as the rest of the political parties and they stand on the shoulders of their genocidal ancestors in order to continue the disposession and domination of lands that do not belong to them.
“We should form our own First Nations/Indigenous/Aboriginal/Cree/Salish/Mohawk/etc. Party so we can have a voice/change things/have power ourselves/etc.”
Good idea except for the fact that the foundations of the system you are seeking to empower yourself by is the very cause of the disempowerment you suffer. The system itself hinges on widespread resource theft (referred to as a “staples economy”) which is only possible through the destruction of the lands we live on, the foods we survive on, and the waters we will die wirthout. This system reduces people to simple commodities and guess what? We are people! We also do not govern ourselves by a system which degrades people to having a voice once every 4 years and even then you only get to say WHO you are voting for and not WHAT THEY ARE DOING. Our Indigenous governance is far more accountable to the people than that. If we decided to invest all of our energies into an “Indigenous” political party (an oxymoron if I have ever heard one) we would simply be completing the assimilation process begun through enforced band elections under the Indian Act which are meant only to teach us obedience, disempowerment, and acceptance of what we should not accept.
“What do we do then?”
Stop the paltitudes and show some moral courage to see what is happening and has happened right in front of us. Stop believing the same tired old rhetoric of “reconciliation” while our incarceration numbers are doubling every few years and our children are being swallowed by the settler society through children and family services, drugs, alcohol, colonialist schools, prisons, and the thousands of other ways we refuse to acknowledge. Stop being blind to the non-stop logging trucks taking trees from your lands while you sit back and give them a wide berth. Stop saying to yourself “We have to heal”, and “It’s not my place, that’s for the leaders.” Start saying “My children need these things to live!” And, “My grandchildren deserve better than inheriting a dying planet!” And perhaps most importantly “Let’s stop the domination of our peoples! Today! Right now!”
Do something just please, PLEASE don’t tell me to vote because if that is our big idea for liberation, we’re fucking doomed.
The federal government didn’t have to go far to find out what First Nations leaders were planning during last winter’s Idle No More movement.
The plans were sent directly to the government inbox.
Terrance Nelson, the former chief for Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, forwarded private emails to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs – meant as “a warning to Canada not to get stupid,” he told Global News in an interview.
The group of five emails, all forwarded on Dec. 30, 2012 and released recently to Global under Access to Information law, contain suggested strategies from some of the most outspoken voices of the Idle No More movement. No responses from the department were included in the released documents.
An email from Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, warned that Idle No More “will escalate to various levels of violence and confrontation” and that chiefs…
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