Jeff Benvenuto, Andrew Woolford,
and Alexander Laban Hinton
That word is “genocide.” That word, in fact, is what Aboriginal
people, elders, and Survivors generally [use to] talk about the fact
that, for many generations, they and their ancestors were subject to
significant oppression at the hands of the government, and the hands
of the Churches, and at the hands of society. And that oppression has
resulted in significant loss for them. And valuing that loss is very dif-
ficult, because that loss is often reflected in the loss of relationship, that
loss of identity . . . [and] that loss of a sense of direction.
Justice Murray Sinclair, 2012
In the struggle to develop a larger social discourse on the ongoing legacy of co-
lonial genocide in Indigenous North America, the current debate in Canada
over residential schools may provide a critical opening. Speaking to students,
scholars, and Survivors at the University of Manitoba in September 2012,
Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of
Canada (trc), delivered his keynote address on Canadian residential schools
and the question of genocide. The label of genocide in this context is
tentious, evidenced by the fact that the word is not mentioned in the trc’s
mandate, the Canadian Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement
(2006), or the Canadian government’s most recent apology to residential
school Survivors. Thus when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in front
of the House of Commons in June 2008, he apologized not for genocide per se
but rather for “this policy of assimilation” that removed an estimated 150,000
Canadian First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children from their families and
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