The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.” [page 6]Needless to say, I was very surprised and pleased. Finally, the ruthless snake-oil salesmen had done something true and good. Finally, they had allowed themselves to state things as they were, and not as they could be spun to their advantage. But something nagged at me: what, exactly, did they mean by "cultural genocide"? Thankfully, the very same document explains what was meant by this term:
Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group [emphasis added]. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted.Still, the nagging continued. You see, genocide is not defined in Canadian law; it is certainly not defined in the findings of Royal Commissions. The accepted definition for genocide belongs to international law, specifically the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. There is no such thing as the hair-splittingly precise division of this concept into Physical and Cultural. There is just genocide, defined in Article 2 of the Convention as:
...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;In truth, the only thing these definitions have done is split Article 2 subsection a) away from Article 2 subsection e). Sadly, this is where the Boys in Short Pants of the Harper Government were able to make what was one of the most masterfully cynical communications coups of their entire reign. They admitted to the crime of genocide piecemeal, and in so doing, avoided admitting to the actual crime of genocide. Even in the definitions provided by the findings, elements of the internationally accepted definition of genocide are plainly admitted, but are hidden in plain sight.
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In this case, they had a little assistance. The term "Cultural Genocide" has actually been bandied about since 1944 by Raphael Lemkin - originator of the word genocide itself. It was never included in any official documents, and its meaning has already been argued about for decades. As a matter of fact, the word almost found its way into the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but was ultimately found to be a distraction, and removed in favour of genocide (simpliciter). There is already a strong tradition of argument about the nebulous and distracting term, and there will henceforth continue to be.
This is where the useful idiots come in. When the findings were reported, there was not a single news outlet that reported this as a finding of genocide. Every single mainstream news outlet reported it as "cultural genocide" without any further soul searching or analysis. They even glossed over the fact that not one line after the admission of "cultural genocide", the findings admit to "physical genocide" and "biological genocide" as well. But that was only the first step. The definition of "cultural genocide" in the report is short and imperfect. It would make the career of any grad student in international law to write a concise legal definition that could be cited from this point forward. Especially now that it is in an official government document. Meanings and ramifications can be argued about in academic circles for decades, and some, like me, might assert that the definition is meaningless and amounts to genocide pure and simple... but that's exactly the point. Now, my interpretation is simply a single inhabitant in a diverse ecology of legal and academic interpretations of what is now official documentation, for which there will be no true final resolution. The charge of genocide has been given to the academics, and they will dissect it to meaninglessness. Those are the true useful idiots - the tools who will be incapable of resisting the urge to whitewash the charge of genocide by assisting Harper's old spin doctors in redefining it.
What does a charge of genocide mean? Political action. Mandatory action. A charge of "cultural genocide" on the other hand means argument and hand-wringing. By the exploitation of an obscure argument, the media sound byte of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was deprived of its rightful teeth. You now know that cultural genocide doesn't exist: the destruction of a culture by forced relocation and erasure of cultural artefacts is still genocide by definition. It demands immediate and resolute action to seek redress. Reconciliation will be very difficult if we get this wrong.