6.5 The Genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

From the actions of European settlers during colonization to Canadian Government policies, such as the Residential School (IRS) system and the Sixties Scoop, Indigenous peoples, as well as their cultures and ways of life, have been the target of systematic eradication (Fonseca, 2020; NCCIH, 2014). The experiences of Indigenous communities in Canada, especially experiences tied to the IRS and the Sixties Scoop, were referred to by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as cultural genocide (ATPN, 2015; Canada, n.d.; NCCIH, 2014; Staniforth, 2015). The findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) drew a different conclusion – that the Government of Canada perpetrated genocide against Indigenous peoples (MMIWG, 2019). As noted by Fannie Lafontaine (2021, para. 13), Canada has demonstrated a continuing policy, with varying motivations but with an underlying intent that’s remained the same – to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically and as social units.


painting showing RCMP officers, nuns, and a priest separating Indigenous siblings and carrying screaming children outside of a residential school.
“The Scream” by artist Kent Monkman depicts the reality of Canadian Residential Schools and the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church and the Canadian government.©Kent Monkman. All rights reserved. Image used with permission.

The criteria set forth in the UN Convention on Genocide (1948) can be applied to the IRS system to illustrate the appropriateness of the term genocide to describe Canadian government policies, actions and inactions. The IRS resulted in Indigenous children being forcefully removed from their communities to be assimilated into a Euro-Canadian style of life, at institutions run by the State and religious organizations (Colborn, 2021; Fonseca, 2020; Lafontaine, 2021; NCCIH, 2014). Children were often deliberately malnourished, housed in cramped and dirty quarters, and not provided medical treatment when they became ill (Daniel, 2021; NCCIH, 2014). Although the members of the Catholic Church are largely responsible for the mental, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse that occurred within these schools (Colborn, 2021), “the Canadian government was happy to leave these children to die because they were Indigenous” (Staniforth, 2015, para. 10).


a classroom of Indigenous students in a classroom at a residential school. A white female teacher stands amongst seated students. All students have short hair.
 Cree students at All Saints Residential School in Lac La Ronge, SK (March 1945).

As of June 2021, there were “4117 [documented] deaths of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children at residential schools across Canada” (vanbuekl, 2021, para. 4). This number grows with each site study (Giles, 2022; House, 2022; Stewart, 2022). The refrain “Every Child Matters” has been used to show support for the continued exploration of all IRS locations. The genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada, however, is much larger than the IRS or the Sixties Scoop. It continues in many ways today, for example, through inadequate government policies and action to address the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) (TVO Docs, 2019); and through insufficient government funding to address structural racism, evident in current living conditions in Indigenous communities throughout the country (i.e., water and air pollution, housing insecurity, inadequate educational and medical facilities, etc.), that continue to negatively impact the health and wellbeing and life-expectancy of Indigenous peoples (Richmond & Cook, 2016; NNCIH, 2014). 

Click the links to learn more about the
genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada:

No Longer ‘The Disappeared’: Mourning the 215 Children Found in Graves at Kamloops….Residential School   Icon with exclamation mark inside a hexagon to signal potentially emotionally difficult or distressing course content.(Warning: Article contains use of some not up-to-date language illustrative of the language used when developing the RS school plan)

How Canada Committed Genocide Against Indigenous Peoples, Explained by the Lawyer Central to the Determination

Is It Really Genocide? In Canada?

In the following video, Indigenous activists, artists, and journalists Ian Campeau, Sarain Fox, Tanya Talaga, Jesse Wente, and Riley Yesno explain how the actions committed against Indigenous populations in Canada meet the international criteria for genocide. 




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

On Death and Dying (Original) Copyright © 2022 by Jacqueline Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book