You’re listening to Back in the USSR, comrades and friends. This is Siegfried. Once more, things did not work out as planned. I planned on making new episodes of the show on a more regular basis after the long hiatus I took this spring, but, as it so often does, life got in the way and I was unable to do that. That being said, I’ve wanted to make a show about the topic that I’m going to discuss today for quite some time now. It’s not an easy subject to discuss. Many of the details are absolutely horrific. But as settlers on stolen native land, we have to see the truth of indigenous genocide and confront its reality. The discovery of the bodies of hundreds of indigenous children beneath the grounds of multiple former residential schools cannot be papered over by the rhetoric and false promises of politicians. Mass murder is a Canadian reality and Canada Day, July 1, should be a day of mourning, not celebration. Countries built on genocide should never be celebrated. If we want a country that we can be proud of, we’ll have to vanquish colonialism and start again. I’m firmly convinced of this.
Earlier this month, I attended the gathering in downtown Guelph to mourn for the 215 indigenous children discovered in unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. Since then, the grounds of other former residential schools have also been investigated through the use of ground-penetrating radar and hundreds more bodies have been found. This past Thursday, on June 24, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan reported that between 600 and 751 unmarked children’s graves were discovered at the former Marieval Residential School. Like the Kamloops school, Marieval was also run by the Catholic Church in cooperation with the Canadian Government between 1886 and 1970. In a statement, the Cowessess First Nation stated that “our community is in mourning and our families are in pain. Every one of our Cowessess members has a family member buried there. The pain we are feeling is real.”
It’s important to remember that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), in the final report of its investigation into residential schools released in 2015, documented 566 deaths at this school alone over the course of its nine decades of operation and admitted that the true numbers were likely much higher. Remember that there were 139 residential schools across Canada, created under the Indian Act with the specifically stated intention of destroying indigenous culture and assimilating children into white society by stealing them away from their families and communities, forbidding them from speaking their own languages and placing them under some of the cruelest disciplinary regimes imaginable. These were genocidal institutions.
The TRC confirmed 6000 deaths related to the residential school system, but given its magnitude and its longevity, with the last school not closing until 1997, that is almost certainly a gross undercount of the true figure. As more and more bodies come to light, we’re discovering the truth that the Government of Canada and the various churches it collaborated with (Catholic, Anglican, United etc.) in running school was not only committing cultural genocide, but physical genocide as well. The residential schools weren’t just brainwashing and horrifically abusing indigenous people, they were killing indigenous people, and doing so on a large scale across many decades. White Canadian heroes like Tommy Douglas and Pierre Trudeau did nothing to stop this murderous system, instead they facilitated it.
It’s important to note that we know who perpetrated these crimes. This is not a mystery. Beginning in 2005, the Federal Government hired seventeen private investigative firms to track down thousands of people guilty of physically and sexually abusing children at residential schools. But they weren’t tracked down to face criminal charges, only to see if they would be willing to testify in hearings to determine compensation for residential school survivors. Needless to say, very few of them agreed to do so. As a comrade of mine pointed out, probably a dozen different people who work under Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs) have the power to unilaterally acquire and leak the names of 5315 already-identified residential school abusers contained on a secure server at the cost of their jobs, and they just don't. So, all these abusers are known to the government and all of them are walking free despite having been active participants in genocide, how’s that for a travesty of justice? Yet it’s hardly surprising in the context of a settler-colonial society, founded on the destruction of indigenous nations, that wants to sweep these crimes under the rug.
And, of course, Justin Trudeau’s up there doing his usual clown routine, talking endlessly about how he’s “committed to truth and reconciliation.” Giving the same false promises and empty rhetoric that he gave during the Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline protests last year. He’s expressed his horror and disgust without making any firm commitments, which is kind of his calling card by this point. In true White Canadian fashion, he’s all about deflection, to the point of arguing that Canada owns up to its genocidal “past” unlike China with the Uighur population of Xinjiang. Once again, trying to sweep the residential school issue under the rug by shouting “look over there”.
This would be truly laughable if it were not so serious. This settler-colonial country founded on genocide trying to distract people from its very real, documented, undeniable crimes, by pointing to a post-colonial socialist state that even the US state department’s lawyers say cannot be charged with genocide based on the current situation in Xinjiang in accordance with international law. I’m sure the thousands and thousands of residential school survivors in Canada and the US (because there were plenty of similar institutions there too) would love to have the wall-to-wall media coverage and attention that these handful of Uighur “concentration camp" survivors get. You know, the many, many, many survivors of the real genocide that’s been documented by multiple royal commissions and official government reports (the TRC alone made 94 recommendations in its 2015 report on residential schools, which the Canadian government has effectively ignored), as opposed to the sham genocide alleged to in bogus studies by US government funded hacks like Adrian Zenz affiliated with the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation and the quasi-fascist Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The current genocide allegations against China are not unlike what happened in the 1980s when the Reagan Administration promoted the bogus claims of far-right Ukrainians that more people died in the 1933 “Holodomor” famine than were killed in the Holocaust – which some of these same Ukrainians actually participated in, by the way, including our own Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather, who she remains very proud of.
Settler-colonial governments promote fake genocide narratives about other countries while covering up the real genocides that they commit or are complicit in at home or abroad. Even in the face of undeniable evidence, like the hundreds of dead children unearthed at these former residential schools, they still try to claim the moral high ground and attempt to point the finger at someone else. And all this after more than a century of policies aimed at crushing indigenous people politically, economically and culturally. It’s the ultimate in cowardice and hypocrisy.
But fortunately, people are waking up. Hundreds of people showed up to the event that I attended earlier this month, mourning the 215 children found in Kamloops. There are major actions planned for July 1st. Egerton Ryerson, the founder of Ryerson University in Toronto and one of the key architects of the residential school system, had his statue torn down. Thousands of people have stood in solidarity with indigenous people across the country as they fight for truth and justice. And thousands more have agreed to “cancel Canada Day”, refusing to celebrate genocide. A shift in consciousness is taking place, not unlike what happened during the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests last year only more profound.
But anger and tears are not enough. Reparations need to be made to residential school survivors and their communities, not only by the government but by the churches that ran the schools. Surviving perpetrators of abuse at these schools should be tried for their crimes and punished. The racist Indian Act needs to be torn up. Treaties must be respected. The tyranny of Child Protection Services over indigenous families, which continues to tear indigenous children away from their communities, must be brought to an immediate end. Serious action must be taken to protect indigenous women and girls, NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS. And indigenous nations must have genuine self-determination and sovereignty over their lands in the face of capitalist development projects, pipelines, and extractive industry. And, in the end, a new constitutional arrangement must be democratically drafted, voted on and put into effect to end the mechanisms of colonialism and make this country a voluntary federation of distinct nations.
Canada will most likely not survive a process this thorough. The old settler-colonial country will have to die and a new country will have to be built in its place. But if that’s what justice demands, then it must be done. We can’t have it both ways. White Canadians in particular are going to have to make a choice, whether they want colonialism or justice. Indigenous people have made their voices clear. We must listen to them and decide what it is that we want for ourselves. I for one, would like to see those of us of European descent become something better than colonizers and abusers.
We can’t keep leaning on BIPOC people to tell us what to do or make all the decisions for us, putting all the burden on their shoulders. That’s childish and racist. We have to take responsibility and decide for ourselves what we want to be. What future do we want? No one else can do this for us and there’s a lot of right-wing, reactionary forces that want to stunt our growth and keep us tied to colonialism. White people need to stop being good little colonial policemen. White people need to stop being good little colonial conscripts keeping everyone else in line within a racist system. We need to rebel. We need to mutiny. We need to evolve. If we do this, there is no reason why we can’t become some of the world’s fiercest fighters against systems of oppression and exploitation. The mutinous soldier is always the empire’s most dangerous foe. Remember 1917.