Good day. Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Laurel Curley and I’m from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in southern Ontario. I’m writing to bring to your attention a rather significant matter that continues to affect every person in Canada, Native and non-Native alike.
The significance of this matter is in relation to its direct contradiction to the Two Row Wampum Treaty, the Canadian Constitution, and the United Nations Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Crimes of Genocide. I trust we can consider the matter and work toward a reasonable response in terms of addressing ongoing genocidal tendencies that continue to manifest daily in the lives of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.
Specifically, your June 11, 2008 apology to Aboriginal Canadians for the harms and abuses of the ‘Residential School Experience’ also identifies ongoing intergenerational and community effects that continue to plague us. Although the ‘Residential Schools‘ have closed, there remains a residue of contamination across the country that continues to manifest in well-researched and documented social ills that have not yet been successfully addressed.
There is no shortage of research and information on the ‘Residential Schools’, however, the ‘Residential School Experience’ is merely a manifestation; a presenting issue that is but one part of a much larger issue rooted in the ethnocentricity of cultural imperialism. I trust we can agree that this larger issue, including its many manifestations, not only demands our attention but also requires successful address.
Allow me to articulate my own perception of our shared reality in Canada. As preamble to this, I’m inclined to state that my parents raised me to “Call a spade a spade and give credit where credit is due”. From this point on, I will honour my parents wishes. You see, I am a Survivor of one of the many Canadian Prisoner of War Camps for Indigenous Children (a.k.a. Indian Residential Schools).
Although my incarceration at the Mohawk Institute was a mere 10 months, my experiences there along with their ongoing effects, have now brought a level of clarity to my understanding of the larger issue that cannot go unaddressed. That is, that genocide has occurred, is occurring and will continue to occur in Canada unless and until it is revealed, challenged, addressed and overcome. It is to this end that I offer the following for your consideration. Please note that for purposes of brevity, only one or two of many examples are listed for each point.
The United Nations Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Crimes of Genocide defines genocide as any one of the following exhaustive acts: 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; and, e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
With regard to subsection a), I call your attention to the 2,000 plus Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada as well as to the thousands of Aboriginal children who did not survive the Prisoner of War Camps and whose grave sites are being identified on ‘Residential School’ grounds across the country.
In terms of subsection b), please consider how dietary substitutions such as sugar and wheat have resulted in pandemic levels of diabetes and other physical ills known to shorten life expectancy and detract from the quality of life. In terms of mental harm, I find this most easily identifiable at the systemic level; that is, research shows that Aboriginal people in Canada are targeted for punitive processes by educational, denominational, judicial and administrative systems, among others.
Subsection c) can be identified by the simple fact that Canadian Aboriginals under 25 have the highest suicide rate in the world. In terms of subsection d), research is now showing that young girls in ‘Residential Schools’ were subjected to forms of torture and abuse that resulted in a lifelong inability to bear children.
Finally, in regard to subsection e), ‘Residential Schools’ started this particular trend which was then taken up by, and some say is the raison d’etre of, the Children’s Aid Society (yet another systemic concern). Subsection e) can also be seen in the fact that very few, if any, Aboriginal people are able to secure a secondary or post-secondary education within our own communities.
Interestingly, there are a few noteworthy side points to be added here. First, that each of the above points along with many others are in direct violation of the Two Row Wampum Treaty which is the first Canadian/Aboriginal social policy designed to govern Canadian/Aboriginal relations.
Interestingly, this Treaty was designed with the intent to stop cultural imperialism and its manifestations in their tracks. Second, the Two Row Wampum along with many other Treaties, is supposed to be protected by Section 25 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. Third, that the UN identifies any of these acts to be genocidal while our shared history shows that all of these acts have been, and are being, committed against Aboriginal people in Canada on a daily basis.
Of equal interest are the following facts. 1. Canada and Ontario’s appropriation of un-surrendered, deeded Six Nations’ land occurred surreptitiously concurrent to the operation of the Mohawk Institute Prisoner Of War Camp for Indigenous Children. 2. Monies borrowed by Canada from the Hodinosho:ni (a.k.a. Six Nations) to construct canals, hospitals and universities has not been repaid nor has a repayment plan been proposed. This identifies that the monies were not ‘borrowed’ so much as they were stolen. 3. Many of the original agents of genocide forcibly implanted into our communities have not been removed but rather, seem to have stepped up their efforts toward our collective demise. 4. Canada continues to legislatively sanction the criminalization of Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals committed to upholding the Two Row Wampum Treaty through federal policies such as Bill C-10.
Interestingly, despite your apology, Canada does not seem to have voluntarily undertaken to address these and other longstanding issues in spite of a verbal commitment to right historical wrongs. With the many brilliant minds you have at your disposal, I’m surprised such blatantly genocidal tendencies continue to be maintained in our communities; unless, of course, their original mandate remains the same.
In considering contemporary Canadian cultural imperialism as it manifests in Aboriginal communities, I look to my own lived experience and community of Six Nations for examples. My level of education is not a common occurrence in Aboriginal Canada.
There are more than 20 denominational spaces in my community, outnumbering our traditional spaces at least four times over. To the best of my knowledge, only Brantford, Ontario has an Aboriginal Persons Court to address judicial concerns in a culturally appropriate manner. However, this Court can only be accessed by those who plead guilty to whatever criminal offense they are charged with. This means an Aboriginal person must acquire a criminal record in order to be heard by a culturally sensitive Judge.
Administratively, the ‘elected’ system forced into our community at gunpoint close to a hundred years ago by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, remains diligent in its efforts to conform our people to your ways. Interestingly, said system continues to operate at full throttle with a voting base well below 10% of the target population. Further, your implanted system’s consistent misrepresentation of our Indigeneity occurs daily through culturally invasive practices such as promoting alcohol and gambling in our community, and attending UN discussions on our behalf, without our consent.
As we know, cultural imperialism provides the underlying environment for colonialism to occur. The colonial mentality, whether Canadian or Aboriginal, expresses itself quite eloquently in the forms of prejudice, discrimination, and racism. All of which exist, and at times thrive, in the Canadian/Aboriginal realm.
One would expect the “learned” sectors of Canada, including universities and senior federal officials, to not only understand these collective issues but also to encourage, and work toward, their immediate resolve. Undertaking comprehensive action toward resolution of these and other issues would clearly identify that cultural imperialism is no longer tolerated in Canada nor is it allowed to manifest in our relationship or our shared reality.
Laurel Curley, Ph.D.(c)