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  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights says the colonial experience in the country, from the time of first contact to present day, is genocide.

    Canadian Museum for Human Rights says the colonial experience in the country, from the time of first contact to present day, is genocide.

Published 18 May 2019

Canada has long been overrun with large numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and over-representation of Indigenous people in correctional facilities.

The treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada was reviewed and will henceforth be identified as a genocide, the Winnipeg-based Museum for Human Rights has declared.

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The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has come forward and said that the organization now recognizes the colonial experience in the country, from the time of first contact to present day, as a humanitarian crime.

"I think for many years we didn't think it was the role of a museum to declare this to be a genocide," Louise Waldman, the museum's manager of marketing and communications, said. "And I think now what's happened is we understand it's not just our role, but our responsibility and our commitment as a national institution that's dedicated to human rights education."

However, Frank Chalk, a professor at Montreal Institute of Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, expressed concern that saying the entire colonial experience is genocide may "stretch the genocidal net so far that it will tear and break, and if everything becomes genocide, then nothing is genocide."

In Dec. 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report described Canada’s residential school system as cultural genocide and, in turn, sparked new discussions about what genocide as a whole is, Waldman noted.

"It hasn't been about blasting out public statements. It's been more about starting dialogue and ensuring that we are listening and learning and growing and giving that opportunity to all our visitors, as well."

The 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

"I think we recognize as a museum that our lack of clear acknowledgement of the genocide against Indigenous peoples has caused hurt, and we've listened and we are working to do better," Waldman explained because the organization previously labeled the challenges met by Indigenous peoples as cultural genocide rather than general genocide.

The North American country has long been overrun with high instances of Indigenous children ensnare in the welfare system, large numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the over-representation of Indigenous people in correctional facilities as well as high suicide rates in Indigenous communities.

The new policy was mandated by CEO John Young, who stated that there were initial misperceptions about the museum.

"I think we've been very reflective of not only where we are as a country, but where we intend to go, and have a conversation about genocide and genocidal policies toward Indigenous Peoples in Canada," the museums chief highlighted.

Lawyer and advocate Pam Palmater, chair of Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, said the museum's change in stance is a positive step, but hopes the conversation will be featured more prominently.

"To me, you shouldn't be able to walk two feet into that museum without first seeing an exhibit on genocide."

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