Cultural genocide is an explosive term – but not too strong when applied to the fate of many languages of Indigenous people across North America, Turtle Island.
According to 2016 Canadian census data, the mother tongue of over 213,000 people was an Indigenous language. In Ontario, it was over 25,000.
In September, parents of Indigenous children enrolled at the Toronto District School Board petitioned trustees to expand the Indigenous language programme. Board officials acknowledged the need for more. Seven schools have provided Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) classes for over a decade. But of the 53 languages taught to 30,000 students during the International Language Elementary Programme last year, none were Indigenous.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action highlights the need to preserve and strengthen Indigenous language and culture. Clearly, there is far to go.
Gisele Gordon, one of the TDSB-petitioning parents, told the Toronto Star “My mother-in-law is a fluent Cree speaker. My husband, like most of his generation, is not. This is a direct result of residential schools.”
On October 5, the Canadian federal government agreed to pay $800 million to survivors of the “60s Scoop” for the harm suffered by an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were robbed of their cultural identities when seized by the state and placed with non-native families between 1965 and 1984. There is no “settlement” on the table for the victims of the infamous Residential Schools programme, which placed more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children in church-run schools from the 1870s to 1996. Many of those children were beaten, sexually abused, and starved for speaking their mother tongues.
Meanwhile, in the secret talks to re-write the North America Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian government’s promise to “modernize” the NAFTA by demanding it include a new chapter on Indigenous peoples, seems to be empty. It is reminiscent of the Jay Treaty of 1794, signed by Britain and the USA, which pledged free cross-border movement of Indigenous people and the goods traded by them, along with protection for Indigenous cultural properties and traditional knowledge.
Can there be “reconciliation” before there is real, substantial restitution, to the tune of trillions of dollars, from the treasury of the corporations and business elites who have profited from Indigenous genocide and the plunder of natural resources?
Photo: Amnesty International