Canada’s hands are not clean: report

Jim Taylor

For many years, I have railed against the policies of white supremacists — principally in the U.S., because of the daily deluge of news that spills north across the border, but also in New Zealand/Aotearoa, France, Germany, wherever. . . .

But now I am forced to recognize that Canada has been, and to some extent still is, a white supremacist nation. More specifically, a male white supremacist nation.

The catalyst is the 1200-page report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — sanitized by abbreviating it to MMIWG — released Monday, May 27.

I have long known that my province imposed discriminatory taxes and restrictions on Chinese immigrants in past years. And that Canada turned away a ship full of Jewish refugees, and forcibly relocated Japanese residents during World War II.

But the primary victims of Canada’s white supremacist policies have been our Indigenous peoples.

The report documents the experiences of 2380 witnesses to and survivors of violence against Indigenous females. Whether that constitutes “genocide,” the word used by the report, I don’t know.

But there is no question that Canada’s policies attempted to homogenize its original inhabitants.

The infamous Indian residential schools were not, as I see them, a program to kill Indigenous children — although many thousands did die, possibly twice as many as officially recorded. In some schools, even the documented death rate exceeded 50%.

Certainly, the schools were an attempt to kill a culture. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it “cultural genocide.”

The man considered the chief proponent of the residential school system, Duncan Campbell Scott, did not say he wanted to “kill the Indian in the child.” He did say, “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 into the body politic . . .”

It was taken for granted that when those incarcerated children graduated, they wouldn’t be Indian kids anymore; they would be white kids.

Scott failed to realize that, to accomplish his goal, he would need a matching educational program for white people. Because the dominant whites were not willing to accept Indians into their “body politic.”

In Shall We Gather at the River, author George van der Goes Ladd told of Chief Peguis in Manitoba. Peguis believed that by taking up white men’s ways, he would be accepted into white society. He wasn’t. He was still an Indian. Therefore, inferior.

The Indian Act, despite several amendments, still treats Indigenous people as semi-competent children, who need wiser adults to make decisions on their behalf.

Fifty years ago, when I lived on B.C.’s north coast, more than 50% of the region’s population was Indigenous. But there was not one Indigenous person on city council. Nor, as I recall, on any church or hospital board.

I hope that has changed. But the report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls makes clear how they continue to be victims in a male white supremacist society.

A 2005 database documented 582 missing and murdered Indigenous women. In 2014, the RCMP identified nearly 1,200 cases; other unverified estimates run far higher. Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group, 16 times more likely than white women.

Statistics Canada asserts that nearly 25% of all female homicide victims are Indigenous women.

Don’t confuse the issue by focussing on perpetrators — that more than half the violence against Indigenous women comes from their own men, not from white men. That’s not the point.

The point is the way those victims then get treated by the Canadian justice system. That’s where those 2,380 personal stories apply.

The court system treats Indigenous women — victims, survivors and witnesses — as unreliable witnesses.

Reports of assault or disappearance don’t merit proper police investigation — the reason Robert Pickton could kill so many women before attracting attention.

Indigenous women are often treated as willing victims. Recall the widely broadcast interview where an RCMP officer repeatedly asks the victim of an alleged rape: “Are you sure you didn’t you get turned on? Even a little bit?”

“We failed to treat missing and murdered Indigenous women like people,” says Signa Daum Shanks, a Métis professor from Saskatchewan.

Can we stop being a male white supremacist society? I think we can. We’ve already come a long way. Now we must challenge negative stereotyping whenever we encounter it. Especially about Indigenous women.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca

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