One word in the final report by the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls raised eyebrows and hackles among some people.
Use of the word genocide to describe the white-dominated society’s treatment of Indigenous peoples was viewed by some as an insult, an affront, to white people. Particularly upset are some folks who are so proud of their ancestors for enduring hardships while converting the wilderness into productive farms, communities, and provinces.
One of them asked over coffee where the Indians would be if the white man had never come to the Americas. The implication was that whites brought “civilization” to the Indian peoples.
If the white man had stayed in Europe, the Indigenous peoples in the Americas would be just fine. They had their own culture, their own religion, their own economy based on hunting the game on the land, and health care from native plants.
In this region they had built their own meat packing operation trading bison meat to other tribes for stone tools and materials.
Yes, the white man brought the technology used by Indigenous peoples today and the way to convert what whites thought was useless land into agricultural land and showed how to exploit resources.
The whites also brought smallpox disease that wiped out whole tribes, brought whiskey to which most Indigenous peoples have low tolerance, creating endless social concerns.
The white man encouraged, virtually forced the Indians onto reserves on the worst farmland and instructed them to learn agriculture. When some bands became too good at farming, the Indian agents refused to let them sell their products outside the reserve.
When the white leaders signed treaties with the Indians, they promised to look after them forever in the sincere belief that their superior Christian religion and values would be quickly adopted by the pagan Indians.
That did not happen, leaving governments with a huge financial burden and laws that treat Indigenous people like children.
Along the way the white man took some lands from bands without compensation, forced children away from their families into residential schools where they were punished for speaking their language and often abused.
They did learn to read and write but that in no way justifies taking them away from their families and intentionally trying to destroy their culture.
The Sixties Scoop was another blow to Indigenous people’s culture with children removed to so-called better homes.
Under white man’s law, police were allowed to look the other way when an Indian went missing or immediately suspected them of wrong doing. Judges often had harsher sentences for Indians than whites doing the same offence.
It was as if Indians didn’t matter.
To judge another person or group of persons one ought to try and put yourself in their shoes.
From that perspective it is easy to understand why the word genocide was used to describe treatment of Indigenous people.
Ron Walter can be reached at email@example.com