Christopher Powell, a sociologist at the U of M, has gone too far in his Feb. 24 column, Sinclair is correct — it was genocide.
First, he says that the residential school system meets the UN's definition of genocide. Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes five definitions. The first, and probably the one most people understand, is: "Killing members of the group." Not surprising, this is the dictionary definition of genocide.
The fifth definition in the UN list is: "Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Is this is what happened with aboriginal children? Is assimilation really genocide?
Second, he says, "We should remember that thousands of children did die preventable deaths from harsh living conditions at the Indian residential schools."
I know that residential schools were harsh because I went to one, I lived in another one, and I worked in Stringer Hall, the Anglican residential hostel in Inuvik in 1966-67. Moreover, my wife attended Old Sun, the Anglican residential school on the Siksika Nation, for eight years. Her parents also attended the same school.
I have never seen good evidence of one child dying a preventable death. I have, however, seen supervisors work diligently to help their residents receive medical care.
At Stringer Hall, for example, a young boy in the senior boys' dorm, where I was the supervisor, developed severe stomach cramps. I called the residential nursing sister, and she arranged for him to be taken immediately to the hospital where a doctor diagnosed a ruptured appendix. Surgery was performed, and 10 days later the young fellow returned to the hostel. Undoubtedly, if he had been out on the trapline with his parents he would have died.
I have no intention to generalize from this case to the way all children were treated in all residential schools throughout the long and sad history of these institutions. Likewise, I doubt that Powell can provide good empirical evidence that "thousands of children did die preventable deaths."
Without well-documented evidence, I'm afraid that Powell has misled his readers. For the sake of the truth, he should tone down his rhetorical claims.
Frontier Centre for Public Policy