One powerful word, recklessly and incorrectly used, has just done irreparable damage to the Reconciliation Movement. This is my personal opinion but as an aged writer who loves the English language and who also loves and respects my country I take deep exception to the MMIWG report claiming “Canadian Genocide”.
I have long agreed that Canada’s Indigenous peoples have been abominably treated both physically and mentally – sometimes by political design, sometimes by omission, and initially too often by a misguided missionary instinct. In winter time I have visited sub sub standard homes in Indigenous communities and have been appalled. And I, who as a youth, learned that one could drink the pure waters of the boreal forest am equally appalled that our society has not only made such drinking water toxic but is sluggishly slow to improve it. The accounts of Indigenous murdered women and girls are profoundly disturbing and shake my faith in the justice system. But “genocide?”
Where are the mass graves, the gas chambers, the government organized military assaults on entire villages? When were our Indian Wars? In the USA the Indian Wars of the1800s really were aimed at exterminating an entire people. During those times, when Sitting Bull and his people cleaned Custer’s clock for him and escaped north they were greeted and escorted to new ground by a RNWMP corporal and two constables. Canada, a homicidal genocidal nation? Ignorant occasionally, and too often misguided but homicidal towards an entire people? Come off it. Genocide implies organized homicide on a mass intentional scale.
Okay, okay. I know many will argue against that definition and it is their right to do so. And I have willingly accepted the term “cultural genocide” with reference to the Indian Act, the Residential Schools, and other aberrations. But there comes a time when in sheer defence of the National Honour and the English language we must call a halt. This current ill-thought-out attack on both is reprehensible and, as I said, is going to do deep harm to the oh-so-important Reconciliation Movement.
I have listened to the legalese spin from the MMIWG team spouting the esoteric UN definition of “genocide” which makes it a pretty big tent; so big it diminishes the words Holocaust and Rwanda. Unfortunately, words that may mean something to the lawyers have a simpler intrinsic meaning to the people who in fact own the language.
It is, of course, a symptom of the times. Corporations assault the English language at will. They alter the spelling and the meaning to promote their products. But, more seriously, loose and lazy use smudges the meaning of words and reflects loose and lazy minds. When I was a youth the word “decimation” meant exactly what its roots implied. One in ten. We were taught that Roman Centurions would dish out severe disciplinary punishment to one in ten of their hundred men. Today, after vast destruction by tornadoes and hurricanes, reporters love to tell us that the area was decimated. Really?
Case in point. I myself live in an area that is designated as “The City of Kawartha Lakes”. One can find many definitions of what a “city” is but most of us have a very clear picture in our mind of big buildings, bustling crowds of people, much traffic, open areas called parks, and no livestock. But my “city” is the size of an entire county. It covers 3,059 sq kms, four times the size of Toronto. It has a population of only 76,000. It has a more or less central small town and half a dozen hamlets, all lost in the midst of rolling farmland, forest, and large areas of lakes. The uninitiated traveller meets the city`s greeting signs miles from any collection of inhabited buildings and can be forgiven if he or she never does figure out where the so-called “city” is. It was given a “city”charter by the limp minded Harris government. It could increase its credentials by building a cathedral in a cow pasture but in my gut I know it is not a “city”. Such abuse of a word is a crime against the English language and, in my opinion, should be an indictable offence.
I also believe that “Canadian Genocide” is a crime against the English language and, if not indictable, should at least be retracted before it does irremediable harm. It is a landmine that should be avoided by Indigenous folk and politicians alike. The success of the Reconciliation Movement depends upon mutual goodwill and is too important to our country for this deeply hurtful and misused verbiage to turn that Movement into collateral damage.
P.M. Trudeau at first only quoted the phrase but eventually reluctantly endorsed it — another one of his several betrayals. Jagmeet Singh immediately accepted it and as a result I may actually tear up my NDP life membership card.