Recently, Canada has once again been given a grim reminder of the country’s dark past. With the discovery of multiple mass graves at the sites of former residential schools across the nation, we have had to revisit the systemic racism, atrocities, and injustice the Indigenous population of Canada has been subject to. The Indian Residential School (IRS) system is one of the most egregious examples of this. Their role was “to kill the Indian in the child”, according to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). Aboriginal children were taught to be ashamed of their culture and heritage in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian culture. They were also victims of physical and sexual abuse and neglect at the hands of their “educators”, and yet there was little to no proper schooling involved. Such an experience at a young age is bound to have negative consequences on survivors’ mental and physical state. Sure enough, adults who were enrolled in the IRS are more likely to suffer from mental and physical health complications.
This is in addition to the historical oppression that the First Nations have faced since these lands were colonized by European settlers. The Aboriginals’ territories were slowly and methodically encroached on, and by the time the dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, the aboriginals had already seen their holdings greatly reduced. The Canadian government continued to break treaties and seized even more land while pushing the natives to places less suited for agriculture and economic development. Hate crimes, racism, and discrimination also endured for centuries in Canada, and unfortunately we cannot say that these issues are behind us.
Historical and Intergenerational Trauma
It has become apparent that the negative effects of the IRS and the historical trauma that the Aboriginals suffered through are not limited to the individuals who experienced them. Intergenerational trauma (or transgenerational trauma) is when the effects of one generation’s negative experiences is passed down to the next, and this phenomenon is present within Aboriginal communities across Canada. Family members of IRS survivors are more likely to suffer from mental health problems like their parents than the children of Aboriginals who did not attend the schools. The IRS robbed future mothers and fathers of parenting skills and proper human interaction. They were also removed from their cultures and tribal teachings, stripping away an integral part of their identities. These issues have been passed on to the next generation of Aboriginals, creating a cycle of dysfunctional mental health/ family dynamics.
Understanding the Issue
Awareness about the historical plight of First Nations peoples is incredibly important to understand what exactly they have been and are going through. Thankfully, the Canadian education system is improving when it comes to teaching about the plight of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, with the news and media crucially filling in holes left out by the curriculums that still need improvement. Canadians have a personal responsibility of learning about the people who we live with and, in many cases, whose land we live on. It is imperative as knowing more about them helps us empathize and understand the situation many of them are in now. When we see the epidemic nature of drugs and alcoholism within indigenous communities (at rates much higher than the national average) we must understand that these are symptoms of an issue spanning generations. Many communities have been stuck in a cycle of poverty for decades and so cannot pull themselves out of the socio-economic turmoil that comes with financial insecurity.
How To Move Forward
The First Nations aren’t the only group of people to suffer from historical and intergenerational trauma; however, they haven’t been given the opportunity to treat the effects of the injustice that has plagued them for centuries. Internally, the Aboriginals have started to come together as a group to reignite their culture and mend their social fabric. They know their situation better than anybody and several Indigenous organizations work towards these goals. Currently, it seems they struggle to reach many Indigenous communities outside of reserves.
The Canadian government has the greatest responsibility and ability to lift them out of this endless cycle of suffering. Ottawa needs to start atoning for its past actions by investing considerable sums of money into indigenous communities to try to improve the economic situation. The poverty that the Aboriginals were thrust into due to systemic racism and discrimination must be overcome so that they can heal from their past and current traumas. This brings us to the abysmal mental health coverage for Canadians in general. This needs to change as mental health issues run rampant within Indigenous communities and are both a symptom and cause of other socio-economic issues. Youth programs are also needed to help engage young aboriginals with school or in after school clubs to help them reconnect with their roots.
Hypocritical apologies will not change the situation hundreds of thousands of Canadians are in. The Canadian government needs to take ownership of its crimes and begin making amends. We can garner more support for our cause by allying with those who already campaign for policies that focus on mental health and investment in oppressed minority communities. Organizers, activists, and concerned citizens must outline to the government that deflecting blame onto the Catholic Church will not excuse it of its participation in tandem with said institution in causing many of the issues Aboriginals face today. To not only do this but go the other way and continue to force the Aboriginals off their land in the name of economic development (see the Trans Mountain Pipeline) is absurd. Voters need to make clear this is a priority for many Canadians so that politicians will address it seriously and cease their lip service. As usual, it is only through coming together as a united front will we be able to make meaningful change.
Taha Ghayyur is Executive Director and human rights advocate at Justice For All Canada.
Imagine being forced to evict your ancestral home by a man who is now the Prime Minister of your country.
I recently heard from a prominent member of the Sri Lankan Muslim community in Canada about his mother's traumatic ordeal with the hospitals in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She was falsely diagnosed by one hospital to have Covid-19, due to which they would force her to stay in the hospital for 14 days (and pay ridiculous amounts of money) before they would operate on her for a medical condition.
She was already traumatized, knowing that most of her Muslim friends who contracted COVID-19 ended up in ICUs and died in the same hospital. Many were cremated, against the Muslim tradition, despite an international outcry (Sri Lanka was the only country in the world that carried our mandatory cremations of Covid-19 deaths). Others had their Janazah (funeral prayers) done in faraway cities without family and friends.
This is a result of ongoing systemic Islamophobia campaigns in Sri Lanka. Muslims are targeted for material gains in the guise of following Covid-19 protocols, and their lives and even deaths are not respected and honoured like others.
This is yet another example of the medial inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic that impact racial and religious minorities around the world.
The last two years have been exhausting for his mother for another reason, physically, emotionally, and socially. She, along with many others, were forcefully evicted from their ancestral homes, when the current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the Defense Secretary of the country at the time, planned to sell their lands in the heart of Colombo to Chinese businesses. People being evicted were dumped into tiny, overpriced apartments.
His mother, being an active and a vocal member of the Muslim community in Colombo, resisted the eviction and refused to leave her ancestral land as their houses were being demolished. This prompted Mahinda Rajapaksa to visit his mother's house and personally threaten her to evict or be ready to face a gun on the head otherwise.
This is an orchestrated Islamophobic campaign at play in Sri Lanka. These are heartbreaking stories we don't hear about. These are not isolated stories. It sounds very similar to a playbook used by human rights violators and genociders of other Muslim minorities around the globe.
May God protect all the marginalized being evicted and targeted for their faith in their own indigenous lands, Ameen.
You can learn more about the Sri Lankan Muslim human rights situation here: https://www.justiceforallcanada.org/srilankataskforce.html
Author: Ayyoub Tayebi
In the past decade, the Chinese government has been quietly and methodically committing genocide against the ethnic Muslim-majority Uighur population of Xinjiang. It is no longer a discussion of whether this crime against humanity is occurring or not; there have been several reports and studies carried out by government bodies, independent thinktanks, and journalists that prove it, despite the best efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to conceal their actions. It is a testament to the vice-like grip it has on the country that an atrocity of such scale has been kept under wraps. Only relatively recently have the horrors that the Uighurs have been subject to come to light, which include mass forced sterilization, internment camps, sexual violence and forced labour. Within the camps and in their policies, the Chinese government also seeks to destroy the cultural and religious foundation of the Uighurs and their society.
This is an effort to homogenize the population of the Xinjiang region, which is being flooded with ethnic Han Chinese from other parts of China in order to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland. This process is called Sinicization: a strategy implemented by the rulers of China for millennia. The native tribes of southern China were subject to it and so were the Mongolians living within the borders of the ancient empire, and now the Uighurs see themselves becoming the next victim of this systematic eradication and forceful assimilation. However, this is the 21st century. Human rights should be respected, and cultural genocide will not stand. Countries must take a stand for the values they claim to uphold.
However, that is not a straightforward task, as the current situation is unique in terms of aggressor states. Most genocides in recent history have been committed by relatively poor or weak countries, such as Serbia, Rwanda, and Cambodia. On the other hand, China is an economic stronghold with a strong global trade influence. That does not mean we must stand by and watch like we did during the Rwandan genocide only to regret it later. We must find other methods to put an end to China’s actions.
One such method is economic sanctions. It is what most states use when they want to punish a nation for violating international law. They have been devastatingly effective against countries like Russia and Iran, but again, China is another animal. China’s economy is closely tied to that of the world, so any restrictions placed on major industries will be detrimental to many nations. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any will risk disrupting trade with the economic giant. This vested financial interest is also present within the U.N. as an organization, as China is one of its main sources of funding and therefore is less willing to bring the genocide to the member states’ attention. Like the United States, its superpower status allows it to flaunt international laws and regulations without facing much resistance. That does not mean they are invincible though, and economic sanctions can be useful if used effectively. One of the reasons the Chinese government is seeking to homogenize the Xinjiang region is because it has oil and gas resources they wish to exploit and don’t want the local population to get in the way of any endeavors they undergo in their homeland. Sanctioning Chinese companies and individuals (mainly energy corporations) investing/expanding into this region would slow the regime’s plans for the autonomous territory. If this underlying reason for the genocide is halted, then this could dissuade the government from continuing the costly and henceforth unnecessary genocide. Economic sanctions are slow to work and often impact the local population instead of the state, which is why this solution can prove to be problematic.
There are other major ways countries can demand action against the Uighur genocide, chief among them recognizing it as such—a genocide. Some countries like the United States and Canada have already taken the lead in this regard. While recognizing the genocide may seem a relatively small action that holds no weight, they inspire other nations to do the same. Presently, many countries are afraid of retaliation if they speak out against China on the world stage. Therefore, a strong international condemnation is needed. The Chinese government can’t impose punitive measures against the entire world, as that would make them lose the world standing they have worked for decades to attain. Once it is faced with insurmountable pressure from all sides, it will have to decide between continuing persecuting the Uighurs or international endeavors such as its Belt and Road Plan, which would be dead in the water without support from nations around the globe. Another potential method is confiscating China’s vote in the General Assembly (the main organ of the U.N. where important matters are discussed and legislation is written). This too will only be symbolic in nature if it is done as a standalone measure. This is due to China having leverage over many small states, who must vote in favour of China at the General assembly in order to protect their own national interests. The vote confiscation would have to come with replacing China as their economic and military benefactor. Admittedly, this would require a great amount of effort and resources, but it would be worth it, as not only could this be used to stop the genocide, it will isolate China internationally, making it easier to punish them for other human rights abuses and breaches of international law. The Chinese government is ruthlessly pragmatic; the world must show the CCP that continuing the genocide is not in their best interests when considering China’s other geopolitical objectives.
The direct pressure on China for its crimes will come from governments, but civilians also have a role to play in saving the Uighurs. The aforementioned potential solutions require various governments to make stopping the genocide a goal they are willing to fight for. Let’s not be naïve; they won’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Going against China is risky business, and states won’t do so unless they have reason to do so. Before the nations of the world put pressure on China, we citizens must put pressure on our governments to address the issue seriously. We must raise awareness and be outraged at the events occurring in Xinjiang and make it known that this cannot be happening in today’s world. Nowadays, we have many platforms on which to inform people of current events. Social media has risen recently as a considerably effective method of doing so. Seeing the buzz about these topics on social media, traditional media outlets will focus on these issues that have everyone so worked up, resulting in a positive feedback loop. From there, we can turn to petitions and peaceful protests. The genocide must be at the forefront of the popular conscience. The unrest is unlikely to force the governments’ hands, but they will not want to face domestic pressure for actions committed by another state.
Peacefully stopping a genocide being committed by a superpower is no easy feat. There is no precedent for it, but giving up would be abandoning the Uighurs to a dire fate. Fortunately, there are methods that can be pursued, and as millions of lives hang in the balance, we should not hesitate to exhaust each one. Help spread awareness about the Uighur genocide anyway you can.
Canada, G. A. (2021, April 23). Canadian Sanctions Related to People's Republic of China. GAC. https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/china-chine.aspx?lang=eng.
Carnegie Council. (n.d.). How Can We Prevent Genocide? Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/education/008/expertclips/026.
Kirgis, F. L. (1996, January 22). Enforcing International Law. ASIL. https://www.asil.org/insights/volume/1/issue/1/enforcing-international-law.
Koplow, D. A. (2013). Indisputable Violations: What Happens When the United States Unambiguously Breaches a Treaty. Georgetown; Georgetown University Law Center.
Samuel, S. (2021, March 10). China's genocide against the Uyghurs, in 4 disturbing charts. Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/22311356/china-uyghur-birthrate-sterilization-genocide.
United Nations. (n.d.). Uphold International Law. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/our-work/uphold-international-law.