Dr. Robert Alexander Innes
Neither historians nor the Canadian government have acknowledged the existence of the genocide that occurred in the early 1880s in Treaty 4 territory that killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of First Nations and Métis people. Many historians have detailed how the Canadian government implemented a starvation policy in the Cypress Hills as a means to exert control over the First Nations people in the region and force them to move to other regions. It is difficult to understand why historians have not categorized the deaths caused by the starvation policy as a genocide when they all have agreed that the government knew prior to cutting off food rations many people were dying of starvation and have all said that the policy killed a large number of people. Some historians may have been reluctant, as Andrew Woolford states, “to impose a rigid Holocaust analogy onto the Canadian context.” Some may not want to call it a genocide because, as James Daschuk mentioned in an interview, there is no way to determine the number of deaths that occurred exactly as a result of the starvation policy.
This paper will show that in fact there is a way to ascertain the number of deaths and that the procedure to determine the number is actually just straightforward history. In outlining the context of the genocide and detailing how one Saskatchewan First Nation determined how many of their band members died as a result, this paper asks, considering the number of historians who have looked at the starvation policy, why is it that none have done the work to determine the number of deaths the Canadian government caused from this policy and whether the actual number that were killed determines whether genocide occurred?
Dr. Robert Alexander Innes is a member of Cowessess First Nation and an Associate Professor in the department to Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. He is the author of Elder Brother and the Law of the People: Contemporary Kinship and Cowessess First Nation (University of Manitoba Press, 2013) and co-editor along with Kim Anderson of Indigenous Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, Regeneration (University of Manitoba Press, 2015).
For more information, please contact ZoeS.Todd@carleton.ca.