How is genocide defined, with an emphasis on cultural genocide?

Survivors of Canada’s ‘cultural genocide’ still healing

From 1840 to 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and placed in these schools, in order to “kill the Indian in the child”.

Genocide. Case closed. This isn’t a borderline case.

And the residential schools were just the tip of the genocide iceberg.

A term like genocide is often going to have subjective boundaries and meanings. How many, how much, what quality, what intent, what impact, what scope, what timeline, etc etc .

With that in mind, I would rarely if ever argue with someone about what “technically” qualifies as genocide or not. If you choose that word and I don’t, or vice versa, I don’t think it really matters as long as we’re both understanding of the facts that underlie what we’re describing. And, more importantly, arguing about whether an event meets the technical definitions of genocide detracts from more important conversations.

To me, it seems obvious that Native Americans/North Americans were subject to intentional genocide at the hands of the governments in the US and Canada (and probably other places, but I am less knowledgeable there), and that act of genocide never ended. For those of us not subject to this particular genocide it may feel like it’s over because its impact on us is minimal/invisible (a result of the success of the genocide thus far).

That said,

. . . there’s a huge challenge at the moment and intellectual . . . discrepancy (or maybe lack of self-reflection/understanding is a better way to put it) in our discussions/understanding about racial justice, racism, and how we talk about these things.

In the thread referenced in the OP, @IvoryTowerDenizen said:

I’m not asking you two to defend the other’s comments, but I just feel like these arguments all get messy. “It’s the intent of those trying to eradicate the targeted people that matters.” “for anyone who does this work intent doesn’t really matter, but rather impact.”

Just noting that none of this is quite as obvious as some folks seem to feel that it is.

Taking away the children of a culture in order that they not learn their culture but rather yours for 150 years is genocide. Just look at the results of this inter-generational trauma. The healing has barely even started.Most examples of physical genocides take place over a fairly short period of time, less than one generation. How many generations is 150 years?

You seem to be arguing that the end justifies the means, and that sincere ‘good intentions’ are an excuse for bad actions. They are not.

Who gets to decide which intentions are ‘good’, anyhow?

If you had asked the Nazis they would have told you that they had the best of intentions. They wanted to purify the human race by eugenics, eliminate inferior races, and create a superior human race. Is that not a ‘good intention’?

Heretics were tortured and burnt at the stake to save their immortal souls and the immortal souls of others. Is that not a sincere ‘good intention’?

No. ‘Good intentions’ NEVER justify wrong actions.

Forced removal of Native-American children from their families into an abusive environment, in order to destroy their culture, absolutely qualifies as genocide. It cannot be justified by misguided ‘good intentions’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Quite right.

And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was completed as of December 18 2015. One of the conclusions of this Commission was that the removal of children from the influence of their own culture with the intent of assimilating them into the dominant Canadian culture amounted to cultural genocide.

This is an official document from the Government of Canada concerning the removal of children from their parents and forcing them into these schools with the intent of destroying indigenous culture.

So if folks have a problem with that, take it up with the conclusions of the official documents. If folks think that by calling this abomination “cultural genocide” this somehow makes other genocides “less important”, I invite them to shove this opinion up their ass.

(from wikipedia) “From the 70,000 former IRS students still alive, there were 31,970 sexual or serious sexual assault cases resolved by Independent Assessment Process, and 5,995 claims were still in progress as of the report’s release”

These are the most recent of the residential school survivors. These numbers are atrocious. Assault and sexual abuse were not rare. They were not an anomaly. They were Standard Practice right up until the time the schools closed.

Young people today are STILL suffering from this, as this abuse to their parents generation trickles down today.


The discussion of the residential school catastrophe has in effect become a giant semantic fight over what “Genocide” and “cultural genocide” mean and has hopelessly screwed over any hope we ever had of discussing a real and pressing issue here in Canada (with obvious connections to any number of other former colonies.) Even in this thread on the topic - well, it’s the Pit, so I guess I should not have expected much.

There is a good discussion to be had here about what happened in Canada, and how it’s an absolute apex example of systemic racism and the real damage it does to actual human beings, and maybe we could even come up with a few hopeful ideas for how it could be in some way repaired (I would start with significant cash reparations) but it’s not to be.

This thread isn’t about the Canada genocide it’s about definitions. There’s at least one thread specifically about Canada where folks are arguing that cultural genocide isn’t real genocide . . . hence this thread.


That’s entirely on the mods.

Yes, and what really pisses me off there are the dumb-asses who chime in with statements that make it obvious that they have NOT A FUCKING CLUE about the subject under discussion. Yet in they pop to offer up their frankly STUPID opinions.

Like assholes who just suppose that these were like other boarding schools for orphans. Like fools who imagine that this whole thing took place in the 1800’s instead of persisting to modern days. Or the complete FUCKWIT who tried the “they were only doing their jobs (following orders)” ploy, as well as the “where was your outrage in the past” bullshit. I mean, if you’re going to comment in a thread, it would behoove you to AT LEAST HAVE SOME PASSING KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IT’S ABOUT.

Well, that’s not a boarding school, that’s an orphanage. Boarding schools are pretty much always for kids that actually have real homes.

The difference with residential schools and other boarding schools is that when some rich family sends Tiffany off to boarding school, they’re not being forced to do so by armed thugs, and Tiffany isn’t beaten if she speaks her own language when she gets there.

How do you know that? I wonder if you aren’t projecting. We all do it; when we hear about history, we put ourselves in the story, and our society REALLY pushes us to assume that if we’d been there, we’d have been the same race/gender/class as we are now. We consider those immutable. So when you hear about IRS, you see yourself as probably one of the educated white dudes who promoted them–it’s the only place in the story you can fit. And you feel attacked, and you look to justify. So the only reason you can imagine you would ever have done something so horrific is if you’d been deeply deeply idealistic enough to believe it was in these children’s best interests, and naïve enough to not realize how much abuse a group of children would be inevitably subject to, if there was nothing to stop it and their caretakers saw them as subhuman and disposable. But it wasn’t you who made this call, it wasn’t you who okayed this. So don’t assume they were starting with your moral compass and they must have been confused or mislead.

There’s also shades of this in that other thread when people are quick to make claims that the death rate was on par with what the children would have faced on the reservation because it was an era of high childhood mortality. They have fuck all to base that on: right now we don’t know what the death rate was at whatever time these children died, and we don’t know what it would have been at home. We sure as fuck know that it was much higher in times and places where people, children or adults, were abused, neglected, malnourished, beaten, and kept in overcrowded conditions. We sure as fuck know those conditions were true at the schools. We sure as hell know those deaths were actively covered up, and grieving parents presented as idiots who were somehow confused about what happened to the kids they claimed to have had. But people are lining up to say “just because they found a field full of dead kids whose deaths were actively concealed doesn’t mean anyone did anything wrong. Those kids could have all died in some other way”. Like, what the fuck?

The most economical possibility, both with the decision to steal the children and regarding the bodies is that the people in charge saw indigenous children as very, very Other and they didn’t care if they lived or died, so long as the cultural chains were broken. They had no empathy for parents who lost their children. Their children. They had no empathy for the pain and suffering and shame and death those children experienced. It be extraordinary for deeply empathic individuals to have somehow thought this was better for children and their families.

Another thing, somewhat off topic: a really subtle type of racism is the belief that non-white people don’t really love their kids. Which is funny, because by the standards of a lot of cultures, white Americans really don’t love their kids. For example, if you read slave narratives, family separation is always talked about more, and with more sadness, than the beatings, as horrific as they were. And that makes perfect sense: I’d take a beating every day and twice on Sundays before I’d lose my son, and I think that’s normal. But when we talk about slavery today, we focus on the lurid beatings. I think it’s because on some level, even now, we think that family separation wasn’t as bad for “them” as it would have been for white people. We have a vague idea that brown people are like cats. They have kittens, they love them, they get over it. When you start paying attention, this particular racist assumption is worked deep into a lot of racist stereotypes. The removal of native children was like that. They would never have done it if they thought Indigenous people loved their kids like “real” people do.

How often is it the case that the players in evil enterprises think of themselves as evil? Don’t they almost always think they’re on the side of right? It’s mostly just in movies that you have villains who want to be villains.

There is a rant here about religion inspiring evil. I’m an atheist so feel free to guess how that rant would go. You’ll likely be right.

I don’t think they do. Not towards people they have decided are subhuman. History is full of people who killed children. Children. Through outright violence and horrific neglect. It’s more common than not, historically. They didn’t think they were heroes, or evil. There wasn’t a moral element at all, because they didn’t see the other as fully human. And once that’s true, it’s a completely different moral calculus.

This is the whole story in a nutshell. Once the Other is not human, you’re just somebody who works at a cattle operation. Whether your job is feeding, raising, killing, or dismembering it’s all just cattle.

Which is why the RW propagandists are trying so hard to ensure their targets are seen as first off, not Americans, and second off, not real humans. The Chinese propaganda aimed at their citizens works the same way.

Is this the post that inspired this thread?

Not exactly. That post is, however, related to this one, the first quote in the OP here.

Now he’s pretending that nobody’s been harmed.

When we talk about genocide, we are talking about the destruction of “a people” (quoted for indirection, not for emphasis).

The definition of “a people” is complex, but it necessarily includes the bodies, social structure, and culture of a group.

The bright-line definition, the thing easiest to see, is the physical destruction of living bodies. That’s most direct path since it also destroys the culture and social structure.

A genocide doesn’t need to look like a mass murder. When a more powerful group amputates a person’s born social structure and culture, it’s genocide. Even if it’s a small number of people.

Theoretically it could be genocide even if this is only done to one person. But history suggests that once genocidal behavior starts, it never stops at one or two. That’s why it’s important to call it what is is, as soon as it becomes evident.

I disagree, I see many people use “cultural genocide” to refer to situations where groups in power attempt to destroy a culture when killing people of that ethnicity is not the primary means to achieve this end goal. Residential schools in Canada is one (see the article from Lance_Turbo’s post), but another more recent situation is China’s treatment of the Uighurs. Certainly there are people who call it regular genocide, but I think I’ve seen it referred to as cultural genocide in several places (eg. this article in the Atlantic being one of many from a quick Google search). I do think that even though both practices are ahborrent, the it is worth making the distinction between physical and non-physical genocides.