Mass graves tell the story of exploitation and genocide

Statement by the Communist Party of BC, May 31, 2021

The discovery of 215 children’s bodies buried on the grounds of the Indian Residential School in Kamloops has sparked a wave of deep sorrow and anger across Canada, which has a centuries-old history of committing genocide against Indigenous peoples. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported six years ago, at least 6,000 children were known to have died in these schools, and many others were not yet counted. The death rate among the 150,000 or more children forced into these institutions was over one in 25, higher than among Canadian troops who fought in the Second World War.

The Communist Party of BC joins with many other movements and organizations calling for meaningful action to end the racist legacy of colonialism and capitalism in this province and across the country. Official apologies, inquiries that result in recommendations largely ignored by governments, legislation that evades the fundamental issue of the theft of Indigenous lands – these measures were never sufficient, and the latest expressions of sadness from Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ring completely hollow.

The news from Kamloops proves again that the residential schools were instruments of assimilation and genocide by a Canadian imperialist state which was literally built on the foundations of colonial empires. The drive to seize the lands and resources of the northern half of Turtle Island began over five hundred years ago, and has never relented.

This is a story of violent displacement of original inhabitants across vast territories, and treaties signed but soon violated and ignored by the colonial powers and then the Canadian capitalist state. In the name of creating “a white man’s country”, lands which were never surrendered – including most of modern day British Columbia – were simply occupied while Indigenous nations were forced onto small reserves. Cultural genocide took many forms on the west coast, such as the potlach ban, denial of fishing and hunting rights, and religious conversions.

The residential schools were a deliberate instrument to weaken collective resistance to the massive resource theft by the Canadian capitalist class and US-based energy monopolies. Forbidden to speak their own languages, these children suffered hunger, cold, physical beatings, and sexual and psychological abuse. Those who fled were brutally punished, and the families of those who died were often not even informed.

Since the TRC report and the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canadian politicians have uttered many high-sounding words about reconciliation. But the federal Liberal government still refuses to end its racist discrimination against Indigenous children in care, and similar issues of unfair treatment of Indigenous children and youth continue in British Columbia. Both the Liberals and the Horgan NDP give massive taxpayer support for fossil fuel pipelines and hydro dams, in violation of Indigenous treaty rights and the UNDRIP requirement of informed consent for such projects. The Horgan government’s refusal to protect old growth forests at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island is yet another example of its true priorities.

It has always been the case in Canada that corporate profits and wealth are the guiding principle of governments, not the interests of Indigenous children. The Communist Party of BC calls on the Horgan government to take immediate concrete action: cancel the Site C dam and LNG projects, take serious measures to improve living conditions in Indigenous communities, and restore so called Crown lands to their rightful owners, the Indigenous nations. On a Canada-wide scale, the TRC demand for a full and complete accounting of all deaths in Residential Schools must be an immediate priority for all governments.

(NOTE: The Indian Residential Schools Crisis line number, 1-866-925-4419, is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of personal or family members’ residential school experiences.)