In the past few weeks, many have expressed concern about the Uyghurs of China, appropriately describing the Chinese government’s actions as genocide. Although I feel too little attention has been paid to this horrendous crime, it has eclipsed—along with truckers, Ukraine, and the latest celebrity shenanigans—the 54 potential grave sites found on Keeseekoose First Nation. At this point, the 54 sites are thought to be the remains of children from the two Indian residential schools that operated on Keeseekoose land. As we have with every discovery, a community from across the Land gathered online to pray and grieve.
Many in our church, leaders included, have avoided or denied the use of the term “genocide” in describing the relationship of colonial peoples to Indigenous peoples on this land. I am sure that I will get more than usual pushback on using that term here. I would like to say, as a gesture of protection in advance, that I am quite familiar with the arguments against this designation. It is something, I hope you will understand, that one encounters a lot over the decades.
We don’t use the term “genocide” to trivialize someone else’s experience or to detract from the attention paid to others. We are also deeply aware of the people who acted bravely to show compassion to Indigenous peoples along the way. It is clear, however, that, as in the case of the Uyghurs, when one people decides that it is best to make another people over in its own image—however kindly it may insist it is doing this—the consequent dehumanization is genocidal. The death of so many young ones, the persistent dangerous poverty of so many in their own land of plenty and the continuing failure of the people of Canada to make Indigenous equity and well-being a matter of effective concern all point to one thing: Canada has not faced up to its past and the ongoing misery that the policy and practice of erasing another people’s humanity has caused.
Go to the streets and look around at the people who are there. Consider the prison system. Remember the missing and murdered women and girls. Pay attention as more and more gravesites are found. This is the residue of genocide.
Look around again, however, and see that Indigenous peoples, through a just and holy God, have begun to reclaim their humanity and will continue to do that whatever the rest of Canada decides to do, whether the broader culture wishes to face this or not. I see it every day: people who are finding new life. Whether the rest of Canada finds that new life depends on its willingness to face truth.
Remembering the one who is the way, the truth, and the life, I am hopeful that a renewal and a discovery of truth will happen. Truth is a force that moves through history and Creation. It is saving people now, and the quality and health of our life on the land demand it for all. Truth will not be quiet until its mercies bring new life to all.