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The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada

  • David B. MacDonald (a1) and Graham Hudson (a2)

Abstract. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been investigating the array of crimes committed in Canada's Indian Residential Schools. Genocide is being invoked with increasing regularity to describe the crimes inflicted within the IRS system, the intent behind those crimes, and the legacies that have flowed from them. We ask the following questions. Did Canada commit genocide against Aboriginal peoples by attempting to forcibly assimilate them in residential schools? How does the UN Genocide Convention help interpret genocide claims? If not genocide, what other descriptors are more appropriate? Our position might be described as “fence sitting”: whether genocide was committed cannot be definitively settled at this time. This has to do with polyvalent interpretations of the term, coupled with the growing body of evidence the TRC is building up. We favour using the term cultural genocide as a “ground floor” and a means to legally and morally interpret the IRS system.

Résumé. La Commission de vérité et réconciliation a enquêté sur la matrice de crimes commis dans les pensionnats indiens au Canada. Le mot génocide est invoqué avec une régularité croissante pour décrire les crimes infligés au sein du système des pensionnats, l'intention derrière ces crimes, et l'héritage qui s'en est ensuivie. Nous posons les questions suivantes: le Canada a-t-il commis le génocide contre les élèves Aborigènes en essayant de les assimiler de force dans des pensionnats indiens? Comment la Convention des Nations Unies sur la prévention de génocide peut-elle aider interprétations des revendications de génocide ? Si ce pas de génocide, quel autre descripteur est plus approprié ? Notre position pourrait être décrite comme « séance de clôture »: la question de génocide ne peut être réglée définitivement en ce moment. Cela concerne les interprétations polyvalentes du terme, couplé avec le corps grandissant d'évidence que le CVR accumule. Nous préférons le terme génocide culturel comme « un rez-de-chaussée » et comme un moyen de légalement et moralement interpréter le système IRS.

Corresponding author
David B MacDonald, Political Science Department, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East Guelph ON, N1G
Graham Hudson, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto ON, M5B 2K3,
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Elazar Barkan . 2003. “Genocides of Indigenous Peoples: Rhetoric of Human Rights.” In The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective, ed. Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan . New York: Cambridge University Press.

K. Bischoping , and N. Fingerhut . 1996. “Border Lines: Indigenous Peoples in Genocide Studies.” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 33(4): 481511.

Graham Hudson . 2008. “Neither Here Nor There: The Non-Impact of International Law on Judicial Reasoning in Canada and South Africa.” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, 21 (2): 321355.

James R. Miller 1996. Shingwauk's Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Christopher Powell . 2007. “What do genocides kill? A relational conception of genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research 9 (4): 527–47.

Andrew Woolford . 2009. “Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 4 (1): 8197.

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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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