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Re-presenting Genocide: The Canadian Museum of Human Rights and Settler Colonial Power

  • Rita Kaur Dhamoon (a1)

In settler societies like Canada, United States, and Australia, the bourgeoning discourse that frames colonial violence against Indigenous people as genocide has been controversial, specifically because there is much debate about the meaning and applicability of genocide. Through an analysis of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this paper analyzes what is revealed about settler colonialism in the nexus of difficult knowledge, curatorial decisions, and political debates about the label of genocide. I specifically examine competing definitions of genocide, the primacy of the Holocaust, the regulatory role of the settler state, and the limits of a human rights framework. My argument is that genocide debates related to Indigenous experiences operationalize a range of governing techniques that extend settler colonialism, even as Indigenous peoples confront existing hegemonies. These techniques include: interpretative denial; promoting an Oppression Olympics and a politics of distancing; regulating difference through state-based recognition and interference; and depoliticizing claims that overshadow continuing practices of assimilation, extermination, criminalization, containment, and forced movement of Indigenous peoples. By pinpointing these techniques, this paper seeks to build on Indigenous critiques of colonialism, challenge settler national narratives of peaceful and lawful origins, and foster ways to build more just relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rita Kaur Dhamoon, PhD, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada. E-mail:
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