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

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Nanoose Bay man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

This young fledgling white raven was spotted in the Coombs area on May 16. (Mike Yip photo)
Expert says 2 sets of parents producing rare white ravens in mid-Island area

One of the iconic birds is currently recovering at wildlife centre after being rescued

Flowers planted along Highway 19 in downtown Parksville. (Submitted photo)
City of Parksville plants more than 15,000 annual bedding plants

Residents encouraged to take flower photos and post to social media

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Denmark soccer player Christian Eriksen collapses during game against Finland

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

Most Read