The (really good) hip hop trio A Tribe Called Red announced Friday that it won’t play a free concert to celebrate the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on Saturday night because the museum won’t acknowledge that aboriginals were the victims of genocide.“Until this is rectified, we’ll support the museum from a distance,” said the band.Aboriginal spiritual leaders blessed the opening of the beautiful new museum, but other aboriginals were outside, protesting, as politicians gave speeches taking credit for the $351 million project.
“We are successful if the museum can spark meaningful debate,” said museum CEO Stuart Murray.
It would be good if we could debate the specific question of whether aboriginals were the victims of genocide, but I wouldn’t expect Murray to say much.
The federal government, which appointed Murray, and which is footing most of the bill, recognizes five historical genocides — the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the Holodomor in Ukraine, the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica.
Likely because of concerns about legal liability, Ottawa does not want the human rights museum to acknowledge that what happened to aboriginals in this country was a genocide. It seems clear that it was, but so far the debate has consisted of aboriginals, historians and human rights activists making the case for genocide while Ottawa says nothing.
There likely exists some secret lawyerly counterargument turning on the United Nations definition of genocide, which is an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
In Canada, our ancestors definitely committed acts that destroyed native peoples. Nobody can argue that. Consider the Beothuk of Newfoundland who were exterminated. Federal lawyers likely secretly argue that it was not the intent of the Crown to destroy the Beothuk, much as Turks argue that the murder of thousands of Armenians was an incidental and unfortunate result of a civil war.
Mostly, though, we don’t argue with aboriginals about genocide. We ignore them.