Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention defines genocide to include: ‘…e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’
As early as Australia’s Victorian Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869, legislation allowed the removal of Aboriginal people of mixed descent to force them to assimilate into white society. Up to the 1970s, in Australia, thousands of ‘mixed-race’ children were stolen from their mothers by welfare officials. The children were given to institutions as cheap or slave labour, and many were abused. Described as ‘breeding out the colour’, the policy was known as assimilation. In 1997 a landmark report, Bringing Them Home, disclosed that as many 50,000 children and their mothers had endured ‘the humiliation, the degradation and sheer brutality of the act of forced separation… the product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the state’. The report called this ‘genocide’.
The violence against indigenous peoples around the world is truly shocking. It has been a story of stolen lands and of stolen children.
From the nineteenth century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. And it was justified by the settler-colonialists as humanitarian and for the child’s own good. Far from being protected, indigenous children were regularly victims of abuse. Indigenous children were taken from their families, often by force. They were housed in crowded, state-funded, church-run facilities, where they were abused and forbidden from speaking their languages or participating in any form of cultural practice or activity, and forced to adopt new names and identities. Many of these children were informed that their families had either given them up or had died. To increase the success of removal policies, the authorities would often send the children vast distances from their families and friends.
The system’s purpose: ‘To kill the Indian in the child’. Children in native residential schools were wards of the federal government and consequently came under the responsibility of various religious communities. ‘The use of the word school is a misnomer,’ said Cindy Blackstock, a professor at Montreal’s McGill University and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. ‘They were prison camps.’ (tinyurl.com/ychmpdxs)
Intimidation and fear were the teaching tools used to ensure children could not practise their customs and traditions, cutting off any bond to their history.
Conditions were consistently horrendous and distressing, leaving emotional scars on most. Thousands of children taken to the ’schools’ died of disease and other causes. We are only now discovering that many were buried in unmarked graves, to be forgotten as easily as they were neglected.
The Canadian Federal government formally apologised for the policy and abuses in 2008 which its Truth and Reconciliation Commission called ‘cultural genocide.’
The churches also apologised for their roles in the abuse. Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by churches. One, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate which ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School from 1890 until 1969, apologised for what it called the cultural and religious ‘imperialism’ that motivated residential schools, the disruption of families and communities that resulted, and instances of physical and sexual abuse that occurred. At the time, it made no mention of the 215 unmarked graves found at the site, and now admit that they are unable to explain their official records of only 50 deceased children. So it appears to any reasonable observer that the true death rates were being covered up.
Indian Boarding Schools had also been established in the United States with the objective of ‘civilising’ Native American children. The current US Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, has directed her department to ‘uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences’ of the ‘dark history’ of these institutions.
The Catholic Church, to hide its complicity in the abuse that took place in its institutions, approved of a state law in South Dakota designed to halt survivors from seeking legal retribution from the Catholic authorities, so shielding the Church from any responsibility or accountability (tinyurl.com/y3ccu5fw).
Today, similar policies very much reminiscent of the residential school systems persist but the language is couched in euphemisms. The children are still being ‘taken into care’ for their own ‘welfare’ and ‘protection’.
In 2016, 7 percent of children across Canada were aboriginal, but they accounted for nearly half of all the foster children in the country. In the province of Manitoba, 10,000 of the 11,000 children in care are indigenous and are taken from their homes for reasons such as poverty, bad housing or lack of wholesome food. Capitalist Christian ‘family values’ would rather break up families than fix the problem of deprivation and the underfunding of social services to the indigenous communities.
Even in the UK, we have witnessed the ‘abduction’ of kids due to the prejudice against those deemed different from ‘us’. From 2009 to 2018, the number of Roma children in care in England has risen by 933 percent, a figure disproportionate when compared with other ethnic groups.
Socialists have been accused of standing for uniformity but the advocate of assimilation, intent upon eradicating the lingering traces of pre-capitalist culture, has been and always will be the ruling class, striving for homogenous consumers with a few pockets of indigenous peoples retained as curiosities for the tourist trade. Socialism is not about one-size-fits-all. Communities and cultures will co-exist, in a global cooperative commonwealth that celebrates both diversity and unity