How Canada subjected 150,000 Native children to cultural genocide

Residential school in Canada.
Native students at a residential school in Canada.
Native students at a residential school in Canada.

News East West

TORONTO: Denigrating the Indian education system and favouring the `superior’ English education system for colonial India, Lord Macaulay in his `Minutes of Indian Education’ in 1835 said, “…English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanskrit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of law, nor as the languages of religion, have the Sanskrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our engagement; that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.”

He said, “I have conversed both here (in India) and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. … I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. Honours might be roughly even in works of the imagination, such as poetry, but when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded, and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable.”

The report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after six years of work and testimonies of nearly 6,000 survivors of cultural genocide,  last week paints a similar picture of the white Canadian government against the country’s native nations in the 20th century.

As part of their cultural genocide, over 150,000 Native children were forcibly removed from their families and put in residential schools. Out of these, 3,200 never came back to their families. No one knows where they were buried as their names were never recorded.

The commission report says the Canadian government pursued, “a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.’’

The aim of sending Aboriginal children forcibly  to residential schools was “primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.’’

The report says, “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

According to commission chairman Murray Sinclair,  seven generations of aboriginal peoples bore the brunt of cultural genocide as they were cut off from their families, roots, language, culture, spiritual traditions and their collective history.

Commissioner Marie Wilson poignantly said,  “Parents who had their children ripped out of their arms, taken to a distant and unknown place, never to be seen again. Buried in an unmarked grave, long ago forgotten and overgrown. Think of that. Bear that. Imagine that. The reason of death a mystery.’’

The commission worked for six years to collect testimonies and statements of 6,000 survivors and their relatives to show the Canadian government and the church pursued a policy of cultural genocide and assimilation against native people people to consolidate hold on Canada.

Interestingly, the report quotes the remarks of Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald, who during his speech in the House of Commons in 1883 said: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.’’

Didn’t Macaulay say the same thing about Indians in 1835 what John Madonald said about Native nations of Canada in 1883?

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