Over the past month or so I’ve read some disturbing articles and reports related to Indigenous children. Suzette Brewer’s ICTMN article on the continuing legal assaults being thrown at the Indian Child Welfare Act first raised my curiosity because of the involvement of the Goldwater Institute. Foundations and non-profits have long been used as “fronts” for mounting attacks on Indigenous ceremonies, families and our children.
Then I received a copy of Aboriginal Children in Care – Report to Canada’s Premiers, written by the Aboriginal Children in Care Working Group. In this report I came across this startling statistic, “The National Household Survey (2011) indicated that 48% of 30,000 children and youth in foster care across Canada are Aboriginal children, even though Aboriginal peoples account for only 4.3% of the Canadian population.” That’s a total of 14,400 Indigenous children who all too often spend years in the system. This number does not include the children and youth who are in treatment or incarcerated in disproportionate numbers.
The third trigger for my attention on this issue was when I read Peggy Cooper Davis’ article in Aljazeera America entitled, The Legal Erasure of Black Families. This article should resonate with Indigenous peoples because of the continuing circumstances we face in our communities. The title alone raises fears and concerns that have existed for so long in our families and communities they have become common place. Some of our civilizations have internalized these fears to the point where they now have words for aspects of the threat. For example, the Ojibwe word for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police means – “they will take you away”, because of their historic role of rounding up children to be sent to the residential schools.
The Haudenosaunee word for the American president means – “village destroyer”. This title was first given to George Washington because of his scorched earth campaigns against our nations. We have never had a reason to change that name/title because of the continuous attacks on our lands, communities, families and especially our children.
During the 60’s and 70’s Indigenous nations and peoples in North America were impacted by what we call the “60’s Scoops”, the mass removal of our children by provincial and state welfare agencies. Beyond just removal was the agenda to have our children adopted out to non-Indigenous families and to make this happen colluded with private sector agencies. First there was the Indian Adoption Project, administered by the Child Welfare League of America and funded by a federal contract from the B.I.A. and the U.S. Children’s Bureau from 1958 to 1967. Then comes Adoption Resource Exchange of North America (A.R.E.N.A.), founded in 1966, it was the immediate successor to the I.A.P., and worked with Canadian welfare agencies as well.
The final piece that I came across is the research of Ian Mosby entitled, Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952. The abstract of the paper tells us, “Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools…that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools.”
And once again we find the involvement of an American foundation: the Millbank Memorial Fund, which provided both funding and staffing to this research with the direct participation of Dr. H. D. Kruse, The Fund’s then associate director. According to their web site the Fund’s mission is: “The mission of the Fund since its inception has been to improve the health of individuals and populations by applying the findings of the best available research and relevant experiential learning to health policy and practice. “
Mosby states, “While the stated goal of these particular experiments was, in the long term, to improve the nutrition in residential schools around the country, they were clearly also designed to offer a range of possible solutions to the “Indian Problem” more generally.”
While organizing for the first UN/NGO conference on Indigenous peoples in 1977, I was approached by Ms. Rose Charlie who was then President of the Native Homemakers Association of British Columbia asking that they be part of the delegation so they could present their findings on Canada’s widespread sterilization of Indigenous women without their knowledge or their consent.
Shortly after her request Women of All Red Nations (W.A.R.N.) also began raising alarms about the sterilization of Indigenous women by the U.S.
In Indigenous law there is no more heinous crime than the killing or mistreatment of children. Our civilizations have long recognized that the resilience, growth and vibrancy of our Ways of Life depend on the strength, empowerment, positive development and spiritual foundations of our children. This is most commonly captured in the Seventh Generation Teachings.
The rest of world agreed with us in 1948, when the UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and declared “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
In 1942 the Nazis convened the Wannsee Conference which was called to find a “final solution” to the “Jewish Problem”. This conference brought about the industrialization of mass murder.
But the point I want to make here is that atrocities aimed at a nation or a people are not carried out by a “few bad apples” or “misguided individuals”. No, they are planned at the highest levels of a government. That government gives permission and protection for whatever actions are going to take place. So at some point, somewhere in each of the settler governments there were meetings held at which the experiments, sterilizations, mass removals and other atrocities were discussed, approved, planned, organized and then implemented.
Germany recently amended their war crimes laws to include for the prosecution of even the lowest level bureaucrat, soldier or functionary because it is understood that a state sanctioned and sponsored system of crimes against humanity cannot occur without the participation and enabling provided by all levels of the system.
And as so often is the case, it is not just the government who engages in these acts but they are assisted by the religious and private sectors as well, like the Goldwater Institute, the Millbank Memorial Fund, A.R.E.N.A. and the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families from Pineville, N.C.
We are not a “problem” that requires someone else’s “solution”. But someone does need to be held accountable for the planning and execution of these pogroms against Indigenous families and children. Keep in mind “..genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law..”
Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network’s mission is to support sustainable development and nation re-building through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.