In Search of Truth: The Settler Colonial Genocide in Canada

History is not simply a narrative that brings to light the stories of peoples and countries. It is a powerful tool in the hands of those who win in battles and can glorify their own causes disregarding the conquered opponents. Hence, history may be biased considering who is writing it. As a tool, history can be applied by politicians or academic institutions for their own purposes. This is the reason why Tricia E. Logan criticizes genocide history in Canada that has been displayed for the public. In her essay “Memory, Erasure and National Myth”, the author condemns Canada for its disregard for indigenous history, specifically colonial genocide, through suppression of survivors and witnesses to prevent them from speaking out and preserve political superiority. Furthermore, the exhibit “Unsettling” displayed at the University of Toronto sheds light on the history of indigenous people, their legacy, and traditions. While Logan's essay claims that the hidden colonial narrative is a painful part of the nation’s history, the works collected in this exhibit are a representation of Canadian indigenous heritage. Therefore, an analysis of Logan’s “Memory, Erasure, and National Myth” and the exhibit “Unsettling” leads one to consider genocide denial, which is an integral part of Canadian history, and how it influences people's lives today.

In contemporary society, the relationship between national history and bureaucracy has always been peculiar. In this respect, public memory is mainly shaped by historical narratives and institutions. The denial of genocide in Canada discussed in “Memory, Erasure, and National Myth” is a perfect example of the disregard for indigenous history, showing how politics and the nature of history intertwine; the latter is frequently suppressed by the former. An unbiased Aboriginal history would be a consequence of decolonized study of Canadian history. Thus, Canadians have been deprived of the opportunity to learn about the genocidal crimes committed against First Nations (Logan 151). Moreover, the omission of the word genocide in the history of Canada prevents people from seeing the full picture today and leads to further abuse of the rights of Indigenous people. Logan affirms that “the prevailing assumption that the Holocaust is the example of genocide still blinds many observers to the fact that genocide occurred” (153). The denial of genocide in Canada encouraged the perpetuation of sexual violence on aboriginal women and destruction of their natural environment (Logan 154). In this respect, the omission of mass extermination as a crucial part of Canadian history and its horrible impact on the lives of indigenous people is crime committed against all citizens of the country. Hence, schools and institutions promoting assimilation harmfully affect children because they do not teach them full, factually based Canadian history.

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At the same time, government funding for libraries and archives has crucial importance for the quality of records storage. While it has a major influence on exhibits and records in museums, this may distort the history presented to the general public. Logan claims that “political and financial influence still draws certain dominant narratives into the center” (157). Whereas genocide as a historical event draws attention in museums and during exhibitions like “Unsettling”, the government mainly focuses on positive portrayal of the country rather than discusses the negative episodes of history, placing the blame someplace else. In this way, historical narratives related to Indigenous people are shaped to support the dominant image, impacting the record of historical memory about genocidal crimes that the public is offered (Logan 152). For example, “Aboriginal elimination and massive dispossession” (Logan 152) is excluded from most programs of study in historical institutions. Obviously, the history of certain nation shows its people as either heroes or victims, but seldom as oppressors. People do not want to hear negative opinions on themselves or their country. On the contrary, they want to believe they are honest and virtuous. Unfortunately, it cannot always be this way. The lack of acknowledgment and neglect of indigenous rights is a serious issue that has distressed Canadian people for centuries. Without appropriate financial support, the condition of historical institutions and the access to historical truth are quite vulnerable. As a result, the history of colonial genocide is recognized as “Aboriginal peoples’ histories” instead of a part of mainstream history (Logan 158). Thus, the general public is restricted from acknowledging the factual records of traumatic experience from witnesses and survivors of genocide.

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The lack of communication between ethnic groups interferes with the resolution of the colonial genocide issue and its outcome in Canada. Hence, communication between groups is one of the most urgent issues that must be dealt with because it will promote celebration of national diversity. Logan argues, “Inuit communities in Canada rely on collective knowledge and memories passed andally and through the use of tradition” (155). Thus, it is extremely important for authorities to realize that the time for inclusive and respectful attitude towards First Nations has come, so they can fill in the gap in Canadian history of colonial genocide. After studying the potential misinterpretation of First Peoples’ history as formed by politicians and academic institutions, Logan calls for recognition and inclusion of diverse narratives concerning the colonial history of Canada into mainstream discourse (159). In this respect, the suppression of memories of Canadian people can be regarded as not only a denial of experience, but also a concealment of the crimes committed against the indigenous populace. The cover-up of colonial genocide continues till present days and that affects the truth about past and present crimes (Logan 152). At the same time, not knowing the real aim of the government, indigenous populace has concerns about sharing their memories because of the possibility of misinterpretation of their words. While reports are mainly used in favor of the dominant ideologies, Indigenous citizens have little trust for the government.

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As compared to Logan's explanation of omitting colonial genocide in Canadian history, the exhibit “Unsettling” collects records and memories of indigenous people to make the history, legacy, and tenacity of First Nations visible. The exhibit’s purpose is to undermine the popular narrative using the uncomfortable information on Canadian indigenous history. In this respect, “Unsettling” displays memories through art, media, and different historical narratives, putting an emphasis on the information that Logan lacks. Considering those who have been left out of the country’s decorated history, the exhibition is focused on the strained relationship between Scarborough’s Indigenous past and present. Hence, “Unsettling” presents the art works of a number of Canadian artists, including Lori Blondeau, Lisa Myers, Duorama, and Terrance Houle. Each of the artists mentioned above focuses on Canadian history, specifically the misinterpretations of indigenous people's traditions and lives. “Unsettling” speaks to contemporary utopian society, showing the disturbing Indigenous history, which remain unabated by Canada’s violence within the scope of the dominant narrative presented by the state.

Furthermore, the exhibition attempts to challenge the official Canadian history that denies colonial genocide. For example, the Duorama exhibit is a work of two artists who live and work out of Toronto – Paul Couillard and Ed Johnson. In their works, the artists display their interest in gay culture and ideas of space and how they interact with each other. Their ideas are concentrated around bizzare urban culture, interconnecting the past and the present through the portrayal of violence in urban spaces, which are usually abandoned. Thus, one of Duorama's videos depicts them kissing at a train station. This video piece is a representation of the colonial train that transforms ordinary hetero-normative ideas of change. On another note, the work of art created by Blondeau attempts to reveal rhe mistaken beliefs about Indigenous women in Western culture. In her series 'Wild Rocks', the artist conveys the idea of colonization and experiences of indigenous people on a monumental scale. As a result, “Unsettling” forces the audience to reconsider the celebration of Canada’s 150th year. Similarly to Logan, the exhibition discusses the necessity of admitting important parts of Canadian history that have been hidden for many years.

Being informed about the past of the country makes a person not only educated, but also aware of their heritage. At the same time, it supports wise decision making when it comes to choosing a government that will manage the previously unresolved questions. Moreover, people must look at history critically because respecting the past in order to build a better future is one of their main concerns and responsibilities. In this respect, it is destructive for the country and its government to deny their heritage by rejecting certain events, which are crucial components of history. The denial of genocide as a key part of Canadian history causes poor relations between different ethnic groups. Hence, critical knowledge of history empowers people to comprehend their heritage, as well as take responsibility as Canadian citizens to govern their own life and make necessary decisions. Therefore, the government must stop avoiding particular parts of history and acknowledge public memory to make Canada and the entire world recognize the plight of the aboriginal people.

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