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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cultural Genocide: A Canadian Tradition

This week Stephen Harper apologized, on behalf of the government of Canada, to the 80,000 (surviving) Aboriginals forced to attend residential schools. Schools that, as the chief of the Assembly of First Nations says, “…served to disconnect them from their culture, families and communities and left them feeling "ashamed" of being born native”

“They tried to kill the Indian in the child, to eradicate any sense of Indian-ness from Canada. It was two cultures clashing, one dominant and imposing its will on the other, and the other suffered.”

"It was cultural genocide," said Ted Quewezance, a residential school alumni and director of the National Residential School Survivors' Society.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the era of residential schools, which ended around 1970, is a dark one in Canadian history. And while the program was one of the most violent and cold blooded examples of cultural destruction unfortunately it is not the only case practiced by a government that has claimed for decades to embrace multiculturalism.

Minus the kidnappings and beatings, Canada’s attack on unique cultures has been happening for decades in other communities as well and continues, though unrecognized, to this day.

A clear example of this fact is the systemic cultural attack on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador being waged in Canada. Thankfully it never reached the level of brutality experienced by aboriginal groups but never the less it is a clear case of two cultures clashing with the dominant one imposing its will on the other.

After losing its sovereignty and eventually becoming a part of Canada in 1949 Newfoundlanders (as they were known at the time) were encouraged, through a federally subsidized educational system, to forget their unique history in favor of the Canadian view of the world.

Nobody stopped to consider that Newfoundland’s history was not Canada’s history.

Nobody cared that Newfoundland’s music was not Canada’s music.

Nobody understood that Newfoundland’s art, cuisine, dialects, values and way of life were not the same as those experienced by Canadians.

In spite of the spirit of multiculturalism espoused by Canadians, for Newfoundland and Labrador, becoming a part of Canada meant giving up everything the people of the once proud Nation had ever known in favor of the Canadian way of life.

The “training” given to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador served to disconnect a people from their culture and leave them feeling ashamed of themselves for generations.

While the people of Newfoundland and Labrador were largely impoverished in 1949, over the years many opportunities to prosper where denied to them by Ottawa after Confederation. This, along with other government actions, prevented the people of Newfoundland and Labrador from achieving the progress they so desperately hoped to achieve and led directly to the high unemployment rates, poverty and desperation seen in many parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Indeed, in the case of Aboriginal communities, Ottawa tried to kill the Indian in the child, to eradicate any sense of Indian-ness from Canada, but the government of Canada is also guilty of trying to kill the Newfoundlander (and Labradorian) in the child and eradicate any sense of that culture from the Canadian landscape.

After 1949 the schools in Newfoundland and Labrador were encouraged, through political and monetary pressures, to dispense with offering meaningful historical information that might instill a sense of pride in a people being incorporated into a new culture.

Young minds were spoon fed Canadian history and the Canadian experience. The exception to this regime was the occasional dalliance into negative historical lessons. Dalliances intended to shame “Newfoundlanders” by reminding them the dark events in their past, such as the extinction of the native Beothuk, rather than the historically significant contributions they had made to the world before joining Canada.

For decades 500,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, like the the Aboriginal people identified in this week’s apology, have been led to believe that they are of less value than “ordinary Canadians”.

Newfie jokes are one example of the sort of abuse perpetrated against the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Though the jokes are not directly attributable to government agencies the slurs never the less became accepted across the Country, as have terms like “stupid newfie” and “goofy newfie” and have been encouraged in many circles, including among the Ottawa elite and the general population. Nothing was done to quell these verbal attacks.

Within the Canadian culture Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were, and still are, often seen as nothing more than a cheap labour pool with limited intelligence. A people who can be used to tackle the menial jobs others abhor, but who can be depended on for little else.

Incorrectly viewed in many parts of Canada as drunks, seal beaters, uncouth and uneducated louts, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have, understandably, been left with deep feelings of inadequacy that are a direct result of the action and, more often than not, the inaction of Canada’s government and Canadians themselves.

The Ottawa led dismantling of Newfoundland and Labrador’s railway system was one means by which Canada’s government stole away a cornerstone of a unique culture that is older than their own.

Witnessing the greatest food fishery in the world destroyed, after being greedily pulled into Ottawa’s death grip, served to help break down the resolve of many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Losing the ability to benefit from the massive power of the Upper Churchill hydro project, thanks to Ottawa’s support of Quebec, drove home the realization that, while there was a place for Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, it was not as an equal partner.

After having their means of financial survival stripped away from them, time after time, only to be repeatedly told they are a financial drain on Canada, is it any wonder many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, even the current generation, can’t wait to out-migrate rather leave than put their skills and abilities to work in a homeland they often perceive as sub par?

The actions of ordinary Canadians, and Ottawa specifically, since 1949 have left many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with a broken self image and a damaged culture that is only now beginning to repair itself.

In recent years Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have begun to recognize how unique their history and culture truly is. Thanks to their strength of character and the possession of a will that refused to be completely broken, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are now beginning to see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

A new appreciation of their unique music, art, cuisine and traditions has begun to slowly spread throughout a place long encouraged to view itself as insignificant and unworthy of anything but disdain within Canada.

There is no doubt that Aboriginal groups in Canada deserve far more than the apology being offered by the government of Canada this week. Nobody can reasonably argue otherwise, but without detracting from their moment in time, it would serve all Canadians well to recognize another case of cultural genocide that has been practiced in Canada for decades and is still going on.

Unfortunately, while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians rediscover their past and rediscover their self worth not one of the half million people living there, or the countless thousands who have migrated around the world but are no less affected, is holding out any hope that their plight will be recognized or in any way understood by the Canadian people, let alone the people’s government.


Anonymous said...

Myles - A very informative article. I wonder if the Globe and Mail or National Post would allow it to appear in their daily paper.

I know in the past they wouldn’t, but maybe now they just might. Things cannot be hidden any longer, everything is starting to leak out without their help. Maybe they will want to take some credit and will allow your article to be published.

I know, in the past, with the plight of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians not being able to get their message out there, as to what natural resources we possessed here and how those natural resources were not working for our province but creating economies in the other provinces of Canada, it was hard to get that information out there. As with the First Nations plight people remained silent.

The Federal Government was aided and abetted by the National News Media in keeping everything hidden; and they were quite successful in doing so. Maybe, just maybe they both now recognize that they can no longer do that any longer, since with the advent of mass communication people are not going to keep quiet any longer.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher I can say that our Newfoundland and Labrador students have no idea of what Newfoundland and Labrador history and culture are.As you mention in your article our young people have become completely assimilated into the Canadian cultural and historical mindset. We do have finally a grade 8 course on Newfoundland and Labrador history and a pilot course in the high schools on Newfoundland and Labrador Topics. This pilot course is only being taught presently in a few large schools with no guarantee of it eventually becoming a core subject that each and every student in the province will have to do.

I travel every year with students from my class to a major European country. We visit schools there and make presentations to the students of these schools. I stress to my students that as they come from such a distinct and unique culture they must make their presentations on Newfoundland and Labrador. We mention Canada but the main topic of the presentation is Newfoundland and Labrador. Months before our departure the students get to work and start researching their own culture and history so they are prepared. This usually proves to be a very difficult task for them as they are starting from scratch with very little knowledge of where they live. In the end they enjoy it very much and do a great job of presenting us to a major part of the world through song, dance,recitations and lecture. The directors of these schools are always so impressed how mature and educated our Newfoundland and Labrador students are. The people in this country and these schools have no preconceived notion of the 'stupid newfie' and this certainly is a breath of fresh air.

Now if we could only give each and every student in this province an opportunity to learn about where they are from this would be a major step in the right direction. Oil money will not do it. It must come from a discovery of history and culture that feeds the soul.

Anonymous said...

Federally subsidized education system? You're making stuff up again. education is PROVINCIAL my friend.

Anonymous said...

How do you distinguish between culture and the manufactured construct on "Newfoundland Culture" which emerged in the 60's?

Sounds to me like all your perceptions stem from a post centenial historiography.

Greg said...

Anon 11:41 and 1:04 obviously have been the recipients of much of the brainwashing undertaken by Canada's government.

All they (or he/she) needs to do is look at our history to see that a culture does exist and did long before the 60's. How blind can you be?

As for education being provincial, who do you think paid for the transfers to the province that paid for the education and as a result had clout when it came to what was taught? Sure, NL politicial elite are to blame a well in trying to make the population fit in rather than protecting the culture that already existed but that does not leave Ottawa off the hook.

Too bad some of the people who came through that system (likely the Anons) were so hoodwinked by the very thing this article talks about.

WJM said...

The curriculum in NL, as in all provinces, is set by the provincial government.

I just recently acquired a textbook that was commissioned and approved as recently as the mid-1980s for use in "cultural heritage" classes in NL, which had almost nothing in it about the L part of the province. It seems there's plenty of "cultural genocide" to go around.

Patriot said...

Good point WJM, both levels of government were responsible, Ottawa and St. John's. That doesn't change the fact that an apology, perhaps even from both levels of government, is in order to the people who have been affected in Labrador and Newfoundland.

Newfoundland and Labrador was led, if you recall, by Joey Smallwood and his Liberal party for an awfully long time after dragging everyone into Canada so it is no surprise that his mentality permeated the entire political process here. In fact it still does to some degree, especially in some circles.

The fact that Joey was a federalist explains a lot about why he was more than happy to have his people assimilated into the Canadian culture rather than celebrate their own and why those that came after are having such a hard time overcoming those decades and that mentality.

Anonymous said...

"After losing its sovereignty and eventually becoming a part of Canada in 1949 Newfoundlanders (as they were known at the time) were encouraged, through a federally subsidized educational system, to forget their unique history in favor of the Canadian view of the world."
No doubt that the Province, as other provinces, have control of their education systems, particularly curriculums. Some groups, in Labrador, have struggled to try and have some say in that curriculum to make it more relevent to their own case (aboriginals such as the Innu Nation).
In Grade Five, in the '60s, we had a History book named 'The History of Newfoundland'. On the frontispiece was a picture of George Cartwright - however, the book had no further information whatsoever on him. There was a page or so that mentioned Mountaineers/Nascaupi (todays Innu)and some reference to Eskimo (Inuit). Oddly enough, well ahead of its time was information on the visits of the Vikings Leif the Lucky, Eric the Red and so on and they places they (may) have named.
The rest of the little book focussed pretty well on settlement in (mostly southern) Newfoundland areas. Not til the following year was any Canadian history introduced and in fact we had only ONE year of that.
You know, here in Labrador, we don't feel as if we went into Confederation against our will. How could we with a vote of over 80% in favour? I suspect stronger than that now. Many people feel that it it THIS province (and before it was a province) that has been rather unfair to Labrador and Labradorians.

Calvin said...

I must say that this response took a little longer then normal Myles. As Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans we are guilty as hell for not supporting our own peoples, and our own cultural identity. I hope that one day Myles writers such as you get the recognition they truly deserve. There are not many that have the stomach or the courage to tackle the truth about the issues that have taken place in our Province. For that sir you should be commended.

Underneath is a letter that I have sent to a few Newfoundland and Labrador newspapers, including the independent. As well it has found its way to a few Papers in Ontario, including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and The National Post. Below is a letter to the independent. A local Newfoundland and Labrador paper that I have the pleasure of subscribing to via email.

Hello Mr Cleary:

First of all, I would like to say that it is very nice to see the Paper doing so very well since it's start-up. The reason I am writing you today is to bring your attention to a certain article writen by a local Newfoundlander by the name of Myles Higgons. I believe that you are familiar with his writtings.

Mr Higgons has a blog that I frequent often to get what I like to call " The truth behind the local news". Mr Higgons has just wriiten an article that I would like to bring to your attention. It is called “Cultural Genocide: A Canadian Tradition”.

The reason that I feel I have to bring this to your attention, Mr Cleary, is for the simple reason that we, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, are constantly guilty of not being able to see true talent when it is presented to us. Our beautful province is rich in people that are gifted and knowledgable in our history and cultural practises. I strongly believe that Mr Higgons and his writings will one day be recognized for bringing about a certain awarness of our cultral past, and that he will be aknowledged for creating a resurgance in our Newfoundland and Labrador identiity.

I hope that one day he shall receive the recognitain that he so justly deserves.

I trust that you will take the time to read this article that I have pointed out and that it affects you as it has me.

Thank you for reading my email.

Best regards,


PS the URL, http://freenewfoundlandlabrador.blogspot.com

I really hope that you don’t mind this Myles. As I read your article and how you presented the past. I think you touched a nerve in me that I thought had died. Seeing my own past and my own family in your writings truly lead me to see more then I wanted to.

Having a father that wanted nothing more then to be pure Canadian. Being sent away to school . The voice classes as they liked to call them. Being called “GoofyNewfie “and always being looked down upon because it was believed that we, were not capable of doing intellectual work.

It’s nice to know that someone has seen what has happened right there at home. Maybe one day Myles we will see how great it is to come from such a beautiful place as Labrador and Newfoundland.

Long live “Republic Of “

Proud. Strong. Determined. said...

"Maybe one day Myles we will see how great it is to come from such a beautiful place as Labrador and Newfoundland."

...It's too bad you people have to wait for that day. Some of us have always known how great it is to come from such a place. Some of us are already proud to come from Newfoundland, always have been and always will be. It's too bad you people are ashamed of Newfoundland. Really, too bad. Why are you so ashamed and hateful of Newfoundland? Why?

Calvin said...

I think you are taking my terminology out of text my friend. The point I was trying to get across is that for a very long time a lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans felt that they had to lose their dialect or change the way that they spoke because of the ridicule and taunts from their fellow Canadians.

A lot of students today in MUN feel that when hey leave the out ports they have to leave the dialect at home as well. What I was trying to get across in my letter was that there should be absolutely no shame felt by any person leaving our great province with such a beautiful dialect as they have.

It is unique and rare and has a beauty that is unto itself. It should be flaunted not hidden. It should be celebrated not wasted. It is what makes us the people that we are. No it is not what defines us, but were else in Canada “Proud. Strong Determined” Can you find a culture that speaks the English language such as us?

As for the statement you made here,

“Some of us have always known how great it is to come from such a place. Some of us are already proud to come from Newfoundland, always have been and always will be.”

I am very happy to hear that you are proud of your home. You should be very proud of who and what you are .I think that we as Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have a lot to be proud of.
And, I don’t think that in my rant I ever said that I wasn’t proud of were I come from.

(Gesh, I hate explaining myself)

I can give you a thousand Newfoundlanders right now, and maybe about a couple hundred Labradoreans that know full well what I was to saying. And, my friend I really hope you never have to go thru it

Celebrate your culture.

As far as hating Newfoundlanders, yeah there’s a couple I hate. Why do you think that I always come back to this Blog to bug them? Starting with Myles. ;)

By the way, could I talk you into a political membership for the NFfirst Party. Get yours now there going fast. I have mine.


Not as well put as what you would have done Myles, but I hope he/she has a better understanding of what point I was trying to get across. We all don’t have your talent my friend. ;)

"Republic of Forever"