ABSTRACT

During a 2009 speech to the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the now-famous statement that Canada has ‘no history of colonialism’. In the days following the G20 meeting, Harper’s representatives retracted his statement, claiming the use of ‘colonialism’ was taken out of context (Wherry 2009). The statement still infuriated Indigenous communities in Canada and illuminated a growing trend in Canada’s national memory. The Prime Minister’s remarks reminded Canadians that publicly or privately, national memories have blind spots when it comes to the real costs of building a nation. Ultimately, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Canada1 are still paying an enormous price. Settler colonial crimes committed in the pursuit of ‘civilizing’ the ‘Canadian wilderness’ and establishing a powerful, economically viable nation are often erased or ignored, and Indigenous peoples are often instructed to ‘just get over it’ (Mahoney 2013). This chapter argues that revisions to national memory in Canada are not only long overdue, but could potentially aid in altering colonial mindsets. Misunderstood or misconceived definitions of settler colonial genocide in

Canada and settler colonial genocide overall contribute to the lack of engagement by the non-Indigenous Canadian public. Settler colonial genocide is best known as a phenomenon that occurred in the United States or Australia (see Levene 2005: 69; Bloxham 2009: 283; Docker 2008: 94-96; Stannard 1993), and Canada is rarely mentioned. In Canada, Canadian historiography is critically flawed when it discusses genocide. Non-Indigenous Canadian historians regrettably use narrow definitions based on the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNGC). Narrow definitions of genocide as a singular event (rather than as

multiple events occurring over centuries) or based purely on ‘killing’ (rather than, for example, on the forcible removal of children) limit examination of Indigenous histories (McDonnell and Moses 2005). Settler colonial genocide is not addressed in Canadian museums, and it is

rarely addressed in Canadian mainstream historical narratives. Canada has created a mythology of nation-building and a national narrative that does not correspond to the realities of Indigenous peoples’ experiences. The obtrusive omission of settler colonial genocide in Canadian museums speaks to the wider omissions of genocide in Canadian history. Public histories in Canada and institutions like museums have a considerable distance to bridge in order for an agreement between Indigenous peoples’ accounts of history and public accounts of history to be reached. In museums like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), due

to open in Winnipeg in 2014, there exists a dominant narrative on genocide and human rights that features genocides perpetrated outside of Canada and the Americas. As the curator of Indigenous content at the CMHR, I was asked in July 2013 to remove the term genocide from the small exhibit on settler colonial genocide in Canada. While the museum itself relies heavily on a genocide narrative to build ‘encounters with human rights’, the dominant examples are the Holocaust and the Holodomor (the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933). Atrocities against Indigenous peoples would remain in the museum, but I was no longer permitted to name them as genocide. Later in the chapter, I will draw on my own experience as the curator for Indigenous content at the CMHR to consider the way in which the experiences of Indigenous peoples are remembered in museums in Canada. I will first consider the question of settler colonial genocide.