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SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State

New book batters Canadian denial, launches in Vancouver this week

by Kerry Coast

Also posted by Kerry Coast:

Suffer the Little Children – Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State
By Tamara Starblanket

Clarity Press, 2018
Foreword by Ward Churchill
Afterword by Sharon H. Venne

Official launch this Thursday, June 7, 6pm at the Vancouver Native Education Center.


This much-anticipated book places Canada’s Indian Residential School programme among the world’s leading crimes against humanity: genocide. From the Introduction: This book is meant to serve as a battering ram to hammer through the wall of denial. 

         Advance remarks on this book by Noam Chomsky, Steven Newcomb and Irene Watson indicate its importance to leading thinkers today. The Foreword by Ward Churchill and Afterword by Sharon Venne, an international legal expert on the rights of INdigenous Peoples, lend even more credibility to the work. It’s a subject of pivotal importance in Canada, and yet few have had the fortitude to approach it. Far fewer have had the endurance to complete such a painful analysis.

One of the most important things about this book is its refusal to allow Canada to be considered a “post-colonial” state. The evidence against Canada’s genocidal “forcible removal of children” during the Indian Residential School era is connected to the present-day foster care system, which targets young Aboriginal families in particular: still forcibly removing children from the genocidally-targeted group and placing them with members of another group. With the colonizing group: be they white, yellow, beige, or brown families. And still removing those Indigenous children with the same genocidal objective of “bringing about the destruction of the group, in whole or in part,” in order to continue colonizing and absorbing the yet-unceded Indigenous homelands.

Starblanket’s thesis, on which the book is based, was argued successfully for a Master of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

​         Another of the book’s most important accomplishments is Starblanket’s assessment of Canada’s official federal treatment of the Indian Residential School fallout as having only to do with individuals. Individual survivors were compensated under the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Survivors’ Settlement Agreement. In fact, the intended and effective result of the “schools” was a series of national crises among the Indigenous Nations whose lands Canada tries to claim. With their children gone, and their languages and systems of culture and governance uncertain, the crime was against nations – not individuals. Starblanket breaks down the very different legal implications.

​         The crime of removing the children was against nations and peoples with the right to self-determination, land, language, history and future: individuals do not have such rights.

​         But it is Canada’s special reservation to deny the nationhood and national characters of some fifty nations. This is in keeping with Canada’s posture that the state has the ability to absorb various Indigenous “minorities” within its stolen borders, and award them various “Aboriginal rights” in place of their internationally-recognized rights as nations and peoples.

Canada’s assault on these nations is justiciable – for all the reasons Starblanket puts forward - under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969; under the Geneva Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948; and, in some ways, under more recent international norms, such as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. These latter two are equipped by the United Nations with Treaty Bodies – with Committees which have repeatedly reviewed and severely criticized Canada for its denial of the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples. Starblanket concludes that self-determination is the answer. Not “reconciliation,” which she debunks as a public relations scam.

​         Information does not make change, however. There is no Committee to receive reports on, or review violations of the Geneva or the Vienna Conventions. Only states can take other states to the International Court of Justice for that. And, so far, no other state has been willing to intervene in what is known as the “domestic judicial complicity in genocide,” such as it is within Canada. This book may help with that.

If there must be a shortcoming in Suffer the Little Children, it is the absence of international legal prescriptions for justice. Genocide is not a crime which a state can be allowed to rule on domestically when its own government is one of the parties to the crime. There is an important precedent. In 2007, Menchu v. Montt was heard by the Constitutional Court of Spain. That case concerned Guatemala’s genocide against the Mayan people, and it found General Rios Montt guilty of genocide. Unfortunately, the presiding Spanish judge, Justice Garçon, died suddenly and unexpectedly shortly thereafter. And the ruling was reversed.

​         The importance of this book is that it makes available, to the people of Canada and to the people of the world, the trial of Canada – if not the actual court room. These things take time, and this book keeps the clock ticking.

​         If the empires and invading nations cannot be relied on to deliver justice, even when their Constitutional Courts decide a fairly obvious matter, perhaps the people of the world can do better. If not the colonizing people of Canada, who have a vested interest in the displacement, denial and dispossession of the original nations; then perhaps the people of the world – as the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa was achieved, in part, by outside groups.

​         And if the example of Menchu v. Montt could be brought to bear in the case of Canada, might we get the next chapter of this story? Something like Starblanket v. The Director of Child and Family Services? The case has certainly been laid out: the Ministry has been advised, time and again, over decades, of the effects its actions are having – and it keeps doing them.

The book will be officially launched this Thursday, June 7, at the Vancouver Native Education Center. Event starts at 6pm.

Follow this link to the Book: Suffer the Little Children

Quotes from the book:

“While other aspects of Canada’s “Indian policies” can be seen to fit the definition of genocide, specifically at issue in this book is its century-long program of forcibly removing indigenous children from their families, communities, societies—in sum, from their Nations—and placing them for sustained periods in “residential schools” where the stated goal was to strip them of their cultural identities and “remake” them into “end products” deemed useful to Canada’s colonizing and ever-growing settler population.”

“I am the sole member of my birth family still alive. My grandparents, maternal and paternal, as well as my late mother and her siblings, were all forced to spend their formative years in the schools, an experience from which none of them would ever recover.”

About TamaraStarblanket:

Tamara Starblanket is Spider Woman, a Nehiyaw iskwew (Cree Woman) from Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Treaty Six Territory.  Tamara holds an LLM (Master of Laws) from the University of Saskatchewan, and an LLB from the University of British Columbia. She is the Co-Chair of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus (NAIPC) at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She presently coordinates and teaches in the criminology program at Native Education College in Vancouver, BC.

Early Reviews:

"Settler-colonialism reveals the brutal face of imperialism in 
some of its most vicious forms.  This carefully researched and 
penetrating study focuses on one of its ugliest manifestations, 
the forcible transferring of indigenous children, and makes a 
strong case for Canadian complicity in a form of 'cultural 
genocide' – with implications that reach to the Anglosphere 
generally, and to some of the worst crimes of the 'civilized 
world' in the modern era."  
Noam Chomsky

"Tamara Starblanket's work is confident, clear and succinct; 
her work is ground-breaking and provides us with new ways of 
looking at how the states treatment of First Nations Peoples 
has gone unrecognised for its genocidal affect. This work 
provides an excellent critique on the exclusion of cultural 
genocide from how genocide is defined in international law."
Professor Irene Watson,
Research Professor of Law, University of South Australia

"Tamara Starblanket's book provides a much needed 
examination and critique of the 'residential school' system that 
forcibly transferred Indigenous children from their families, 
communities, and nations into institutions run by the colonizer 
state—in this case, Canada. Despite the fact that the United 
Nations 1948 Convention on Genocide explicitly includes 
'forcibly transferring children of the group to another group' in 
its definition of 'genocide,' there are those who deny that the 
colonial 'civilizing' project amounted to genocide. Starblanket 
demonstrates that the residential schools in fact aimed at 
destroying the most intimate level of Indigenous life—the child-
parent relation—employing brutal beatings, solitary 
confinement and other horrible punishments, often resulting in 
children's deaths. The goal of the schools was to prevent 
Indigenous societies from perpetuating themselves. Though 
officially repudiated, the residential schools produced a 
continuing social and institutional legacy. Starblanket's work 
brings this history and its legacy effects to our awareness and 
shows that 'the road home' requires an emphasis on 
Indigenous self-determination."
Peter d’Errico,
Professor of Law, University of Massachusetts

“Tamara Starblanket has skillfully taken on one of the most 
difficult and contentious issues, genocide. With intellectual 
courage and determination, she has approached the issue 
from the perspective of a Cree woman, scholar, and attorney 
who has first-hand knowledge of the deadly and destructive 
intergenerational impacts of Canada’s domination and 
dehumanization of Original Nations and Peoples.”
Steven T. Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape),
author, Pagans in the Promised Land Decoding the 
Christian Doctrine of Discovery

"This is heavy stuff, about which much more should be said, 
and Starblanket is unsparing in saying it...I am proud to call 
her sister, and to thank her."
from the Preface by Ward Churchill,
author, A Little Matter of Genocide


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