NDP MP Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP MP Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP calls on Ottawa to recognize residential schools as genocide

MP wants institutions acknowledged as the deliberate, systematic destruction of a cultural group

New Democrats are calling on the federal government to recognize the residential schools policy pursued by Canada for over a century as genocide against Indigenous Peoples.

In a motion to be tabled in the House of Commonson Thursday, NDP MP Leah Gazan is asking fellow lawmakers to unanimously acknowledge the institutions’ history as the deliberate, systematic destruction of a cultural group.

“There is no reconciliation without truth. And what happened in residential school was clearly an act of genocide, with impacts that reverberate (in) our families’ community today,” said Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre and a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan.

“In honour of all the children who never returned home, in honour of all the mothers and fathers and families that were left to suffer in grief, we must end the debate.”

Gazan’s demand comes in response to last month’s news that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

The government-sponsored, church-run institutions operated in Canada for more than 110 years and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ruled in 2015 they constituted a “cultural genocide.”

Gazan questioned the sufficiency of the commission’s determination, laid out in a report that followed seven years of hearings and testimony from thousands of witnesses.

“There is no legal definition in international law for cultural genocide. What happened at the residential schools was genocide, full stop,” she said, citing the United Nations convention against genocide.

Genocide comprises any one of the criteria laid out in the 1948 convention’s definition, and Gazan said Canada’s residential schools policy meets all five: killing members of a group, causing them serious physical or mental harm, placing them under conditions to destroy them, imposing measures to prevent births or forcibly transferring children to another group.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Liberals “will look at the wording of the motion.”

She noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week he accepts the conclusion of the 2019 inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that “what happened amounts to genocide.”

At a news conference with Gazan on Wednesday morning, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said denying an act of genocide would “belittle the history and the reality” of survivors of schools that continued to open into the 1970s.

“Residential school is not a historic thing that happened hundreds of years ago. It happened just yesterday,” he said. “My younger siblings attended residential school.”

Christian churches and the federal government launched the boarding schools in the 1880s and kept them going for more than a century, seeking to convert and assimilate Indigenous children, who suffered widespread physical and sexual abuse at the institutions. Thousands died in them.

The last one closed in Punnichy, Sask., in 1996.

A third-generation survivor, Dumas said churches also need to atone for their role. “I am very disappointed with the stance of the church for their silence.”

On Sunday in Rome, the Pope expressed his pain over the recent discovery by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation of the unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. But many Indigenous leaders have stated their disappointment and frustration over Pope Francis’s remarks, saying they fall short of an apology for the Catholic Church’s key part in the policy.

“Old wounds opened up. Our nation woke up,” said Gerry Shingoose, an elder and survivor who attended the Muscowequan Residential School in Saskatchewan for a decade starting in the early 1960s.

“I ask that each one of you bring that love forward to the survivors and their families, because when we were in school we never received that love. We received hate,” she said. “And no child should ever experience that.”

A vote on Gazan’s motion, which requires unanimous consent to pass, is expected Thursday.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

—Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

Federal PoliticsIndigenousresidential schools

Just Posted

The Trail Smoke Eaters will open the 2021 season on Oct. 8 against the Cranbrook Bucks in Cranbrook, and will have their home opener the next night against the same Bucks. Photo: Jack Murray
BC Hockey League announces 54-game schedule to begin in October

Trail Smoke Eaters open season with home-and-home series versus Cranbrook Bucks

Daryl Jolly, his wife Kerry Pagdin, their sons Cole Jolly (left) and Graeme Jolly, and their dogs Gracie and Clover. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College arts chair diagnosed with lung cancer, family launches fund drive

Daryl Jolly co-founded the college’s digital arts program

TELUS is proposing to construct a 5G tower at Pople Park. Photo: Sheri Regnier
First 5G tower in Trail proposed for placement in popular park

TELUS has a consultation process open until June 28

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

South Slocan’s Ti Loran is among the recipients of this year’s Neil Muth Memorial Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
Neil Muth Memorial Scholarships awarded to 4 students

Students in Creston, South Slocan and Revelstoke are sharing the honour

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Grace (left), a caribou that was born in a maternal pen north of Revelstoke, is alive and well said the province. It appears she even has a calf. Maternity pens aim to increase caribou calf survival by protecting them from predation until they are older and less vulnerable. (Contributed)
For the first time in years, caribou numbers increasing near Revelstoke

North herd growing but south herd still concerning

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Most Read