Sie sind auf Seite 1von 6


Prairie Perspectives on Indian Residential Schools, Truth, and Reconciliation The Forks, Winnipeg, MB, Thursday 17 June 2010 Opening Statement I thank the Cree and Anishnabe peoples for hosting us on this their land, and I dedicate my talk to them and to the other First Peoples of this continent as they struggle for self-determination. I hope that what I have to say is useful for that struggle. Now, I have changed the focus of my talk somewhat from what is indicated in the abstract in your program. When I sat down to write these comments, it came to me that, as a genocide scholar, it could be worthwhile for me to explain why I consider the implementation and administration Indian Residential School system to have been an act of genocide, before I explain how it is that genocides can seem moral to those who help commit them. I hope Im not belabouring the obvious. But my sense is that for many Indigenous people, the applicability of the term genocide is self-evident and common sense, but that for most White Canadians, its far from apparent. Id like to talk about two word: genocide, and morality. Usually these words dont go together; in fact, usually, they are opposites. But sociologists study morality, not in terms of what people ideally ought to do, but what they actually do, what they say they believe to be moral and what they do when they consider themselves to be acting morally. In these terms, morality is a social institution like law, or tradition, or custom, or any other set of rules. And in these terms, genocide can be made moral it can be moralized. That is, genocide can become something that people believe they have a moral right and a moral obligation to carry out. Most settler Canadians believe that Canada is a moral country, so it is unthinkable that Canada should be culpable for genocide. But I argue that it is precisely because Canada is a moral country that genocide could happen here in the way that it has. So the first part of my talk will address the concept of genocide, while the second part of my talk will focus on the moralization of genocide. Part 1 - Genocide For most people, the Nazi holocaust, and specifically the Nazi extermination of European Jews, comes to mind as the prototypical example of genocide. And its true that horror at the concentration camps and the gas chambers helped to mobilize the political will behind the passing of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. But the genesis of the concept of genocide, as something that ought to be a crime, goes further back then the Jewish holocaust or the Nazis themselves.

The Moralization of Genocide in Canada

Page 2

During the First World War, the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire, led by Turkish nationalists, systematically murdered or expelled nearly all of the Empires ethnic Armenians. An estimated one million Armenians were killed, not only by direct violence, but also from being force-marched entire villages, men, women, children, elders through desertous mountain passes, where many died of from hunger and thirst and exposure to cold, on their way to the borders of the Empire (see, e.g.Dadrian 1997; Bloxham 2007). This event became news around the world, and and in the small town of Bezvodny in Imperial Russia, a young Jewish man named Raphael Lemkin, learning of destruction of the Armenians, began the emotional and intellectual journal that would eventually lead him to coin the term genocide (Elder 2005). In 1933, Lemkin submitted to the Legal Council of the League of Nations in Madrid a proposal to criminalize two new acts: barbarity, defined as action against the life, bodily integrity, liberty, dignity, or economic existence of a person, if taken out of hatred towards a racial, religious, or social collectivity, or with a view to the extermination thereof; and vandalism, defined as destruction of cultural or artistic works for the same reason (Lemkin 1947). However, his proposal did not succeed. I mention this earlier effort because it shows how Lemkin saw a connection between cultural destruction and physical destruction. These two meanings come together in Lemkins conception of the term genocide, which he proposed in the 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. I will quote him at some length: By genocide we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. [] Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group. (Lemkin 1944: 79) Mass killing is not intrinsic to genocide, but social and political and cultural disintegration are. This is the first published use of the term genocide. Most of the book in which it appears does not discuss genocide, but colonialism specially, German colonialism in Eastern Europe. In unpublished notes that Lemkin wrote for his planned Encyclopedia of Genocide, which tragically he never finished, Lemkin examined the history of genocide in the colonization of the Americas (McDonnell and Moses 2005). Although he focused almost exclusively on the depredations of the Spanish as recorded by Bartholome de las Casas, its clear that Lemkin considered the destruction of a culture by a colonizing power to be genocide.

Christopher Powell, The Forks, Winnipeg, Thursday 17 June 2010

The Moralization of Genocide in Canada The 1948 Genocide Convention presents a narrower conception of genocide, but even this definition is broader than simply mass killing:

Page 3

In the present Convention, genocide means 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; (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 Forcibly transferring children out of a group, in order to destroy the group as such, counts as genocide. In Canada, The federal government wanted Aboriginal people to assimilate into Canadian society. According to Duncan Campbell Scott, the principal architect of Indian residential school policy, Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question and no Indian Department. ... I want to get rid of the Indian problem (Funk-Unrau and Snyder 2007: 285) In the relatively narrow terms of the Convention, then, the history of the Indian Residential School system in Canada is a history of genocide, and the Government of Canada is culpable for that genocide. And in the fuller conception of genocide elaborated by Lemkin, the residential school system was only one component of a coordinated plan of different actions that included legislated attacks on Indigenous political, economic, religious, and family institutions made with the aim of dissolving the many First Peoples and incorporating the remaining individuals, severed from their culture, into White settler society. Part 2 - Morality In 1940, in the small rural community of Wittlich, Germany, a 12 year old boy named Alfonz Heck watched as the Gestapo arrested and took away his best friend, Heinz, along with all of the Jews in his village. Writing about the event many years later, Alfonz revealed that at that moment he did not say to himself, How terrible they are arresting Jews. Having absorbed knowledge about the Jewish menace, he said, what a misfortune Heinz is Jewish. As an adult he recalled, I accepted deportation as just (Koonz 2003: 5). In her remarkable book, The Nazi Conscience, historian Claudia Koonz has documented the range of ways in which the National Socialist German Workers party cultivated a public morality. In schools and universities, in youth programs and family education seminars, in newspapers and civil society organizations, the Nazis cultivated an idealistic and self-sacrificing sense of love for and duty towards the German Volk. Scientists set to work formulating strict Christopher Powell, The Forks, Winnipeg, Thursday 17 June 2010

The Moralization of Genocide in Canada

Page 4

racial categorizations, and although they met with persistent failure, the idea of the Volk as a natural, biological unit of human community gained widespread legitimacy in Germany through discourses that mentioned Jews only tangentially and usually in moderated tones. Through a lively and participatory public discourse, the Nazis established a conceptual framework that naturalized Jewish exclusion from citizenship and from moral obligation, by situating that exclusion within a larger framework that defined positive ideals and aspirations for individuals and the nation. Through these measures, the Nazis created a cultural climate in which individual Germans could be persuaded that murder and even genocide were moral obligations. Sociologists who study morality do so in terms of what people actually do that is, what people say they believe to be moral and what they do when they claim to be acting morally. In this sense, morality is a social institution, like law or custom. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim observed that morality in Western societies tends to have several characteristics: 1. morality is authoritative one obeys moral precepts for their own sake, not as a means to some personal end; 2. morality defines some good that is desirable and desired; and 3. morality is sanctioned by widespread public opinion (Durkheim 2002: 29, 33-35) Crucially, Durkheim understood morality as an objective social fact (Durkheim 1982, 1984) and, therefore, as something that people encounter as coming from outside themselves. So, if a person follows an obligation that they perceive as coming, not just from another person in particular, but from society in general, and that obligation is authoritative, desirable, and publicly approved of, then they will experience that obligation as a moral one. Precisely these conditions obtained in the Third Reich, and the testimony of people like Adolph Eichmann, that is, ordinary bureaucrats and soldiers who participated in genocide (see for instance Arendt 1994), shows that they experienced the extermination of an entire people as a moral duty, personally unpleasant, but necessary in the service of a higher purpose in this case, the purification of the Aryan race, a project that was held to benefit not only the German nation but the human species as such. Did a comparable sense of higher moral purpose animate the process of genocide in Canada? The findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples suggests that it did, at least as regards the Indian Residential Schools. Chapter 10 of the Commissions Report describes the rationale of the schools as having been based on the perception of Indian cultures as savage, backward, and unable to survive in the European modernity that the settler society was of necessity building in the lands it had appropriated (Dussault et al. 1996). Moreover, adult Indians were perceived not only as incapable of adaptation but an obstacle to it; children needed to be separated from their parents and from all contact with their culture if they were to have any hope of being civilized. Only in the children could hope for the future reside, for only children could undergo the transformation from the natural condition to that of civilization. Aboriginal children had to be rescued from their evil surroundings, isolated from parents, family and community, and kept constantly within the circle of civilized conditions. There, through a purposeful course of instruction the Christopher Powell, The Forks, Winnipeg, Thursday 17 June 2010

The Moralization of Genocide in Canada savage child would surely be re-made into the civilized adult (Dussault et al. 1996).

Page 5

According to this rationale, workers in the Indian Residential School system could understand their actions, painful as they were in the short term, as ultimately beneficial for the children involved, for Aboriginal people, and for the Canadian nation. Of course, this does not explain sexual abuse; nor does it explain the terrible death rate of children in the schools from disease and dangerous working conditions. Nor does it obviate the personal hatred that some school personnel displayed towards their young charges. But this notion of the IRS system as benefiting the Indians by civilizing them provided a framework in relation to which specific acts of violence could register as necessary to the task at hand. In this context, only a very few instances of violence might appear unjustified or excessive, compared with the great weight of moral necessity of the project as a whole. This moralizing framework harmonized with dominant narratives about the superiority of Western civilization, on which the project of state-building in Canada has based its legitimacy in no small part. Genocide was an authoritative obligation pursued for a higher goal, approved of by the public opinion of White settler culture. As experienced by its perpetrators, genocide in Canada was moral. Or we today who do not approve of it can say that it was moralized: it was made into a moral obligation. For that to have happened, the moralization of genocide must have connected up with much broader elements of Canadian settler culture. And I will say in conclusion that I dont think that White settler society has begun to face up to the significance of that fact, and to what it says about the project of building Canada as a nation.

Christopher Powell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of What do genocides kill? A relational conception of genocide in the Journal of Genocide Studies (2007) and of The Wound at the Heart of the World, in Evoking Genocide: Scholars and Activists Describe the Works that Shaped Their Lives (Adam Jones, ed., 2009.) His book Civilization and Genocide is forthcoming in 2011 from McGill-Queens University Press. Contact Info: tel: (204) 474-8150 / fax: (204) 261-1216 email:

Christopher Powell, The Forks, Winnipeg, Thursday 17 June 2010

The Moralization of Genocide in Canada Works Cited

Page 6

Arendt, Hannah. 1994. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition ed. New York: Penguin Books. Bloxham, Donald. 2007. The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dadrian, Vahakn N. 1997. The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Third, Revised ed. Providence: Berghahn Book. Durkheim, Emile. 1982. The Rules of Sociological Method. In Durkheim: The Rules of Sociological Method and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method, edited by S. Lukes. New York: The Free Press. . 1984. The Division of Labour in Society. New York: The Free Press. . 2002. Moral Education. Translated by E. K. Wilson and H. Schnurer. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. Original edition, 1961. Dussault, Ren, Georges Erasmus, Paul I. A. H. Chartrand, J. Peter Meekison, Viola Rosbinson, Mary Sillett, and Bertha Wilson. 2010. Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples. Government of Canada 1996 [cited 15 June 2010]. Available from Elder, Tanya. 2005. What you see before your eyes: documenting Raphael Lemkin's life by exploring his archival Papers, 1900-1959. Journal of Genocide Research 7 (4):469-499. Funk-Unrau, Neil, and Anna Snyder. 2007. Indian Residential School Survivors and StateDesigned ADR: A Strategy for Co-Optation? Conflict Resolution Quarterly 24 (3):285304. Koonz, Claudia. 2003. The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Lemkin, Raphael. 1944. Axis rule in occupied Europe : laws of occupation, analysis of government, proposals for redress, Publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Division of International Law, Washington. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Division of International Law. . 1947. Genocide as a Crime Under International Law. American Journal of International Law 41. McDonnell, Michael A., and A. Dirk Moses. 2005. Raphael Lemkin as historian of genocide in the Americas. Journal of Genocide Research 7 (4):501-529.

Christopher Powell, The Forks, Winnipeg, Thursday 17 June 2010