[Marxism] Cruel experiment on aboriginal children

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 22 10:03:22 MST 2013

On 12/22/13 11:49 AM, Ken Hiebert wrote:

> Hungry. I'll always remember having been so hungry
> http://www.albernivalleynews.com/news/234683481.html Tseshaht tribe
> member Randy Fred finished eating an orange and was about to dispose
> of the peelings when the pangs of an old experience struck him.
> Fred paused after eating his orange then bit into the peel, just as
> he had done so many times in 1956 while a student at the Alberni
> Indian Residential School (AIRS). “It brought tears to my eyes not
> because of the acidity of the orange, but because of the memory of
> eating leftover orange peels and apple cores when I was a kid,” he
> said.

"The Circle Game": a review

The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School 
Experience in Canada
Roland Chrisjohn and Sherri Young, with Michael Maraun
Theytus Books Ltd., Penticton, BC, Canada; 1997
ISBN 0-919441-85-8
327 pages, C$ 16.95

Combining scholarly prowess and Swiftian irony, "The Circle Game" makes 
the case that Canadian residential schools were not just an unfortunate 
accident. Rather they were elements of a calculated policy of cultural 
and physical genocide. To destroy the Indians as a people was a 
precondition to gaining control of their land.

Since the authors have solid academic credentials, they are in a 
position to recognize and refute apologies for genocide sprouting from 
the academy as well as the church. Roland Chrisjohn, a Haudenausaunee, 
received a doctorate in Personality and Measurement from the University 
of Western Ontario in 1981. Co-author Sherri Young and contributor 
Michael Maraun are specialists in the fields of Applied Social 
Psychology and Statistics respectively. Dispensing with the "value-free" 
stance found in academia, the authors join a long tradition of advocacy 
made proud by scholars such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Ward Churchill.

Canada has a reputation of being more civilized than the United States. 
Images of smallpox blankets, forced marches to Oklahoma and outright 
massacre are as prominent a part of the US's historical memory as gas 
chambers are of Germany's. So is the term genocide appropriate to bland, 
polite Canada?

Keeping in mind that United Nations Genocide Convention--to which Canada 
became a signatory on November 28, 1949--defines "Forcibly transferring 
children of the group to another group" as constituting a form of 
genocide, there can be no doubt that Canadian residential schools fall 
into this category. Canadian leaders like Duncan Scott spoke openly 
about the "Indian problem" in terms similar to Hitler's "Jewish problem":

"I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of 
fact, that this country ought to continuously protect a class of people 
who are able to stand alone. That is my whole point. Our objective is to 
continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been 
absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question..."

Whether or not violence was used "to get rid of the Indian problem" is 
immaterial. As the authors state, "We repeat: the Nazis could have 
carried out the Holocaust politely; their crime wasn't simply that they 
implemented it in a cruel and disagreeable fashion".

That being said, there was plenty of violence. The authors recount some 
of the findings of the First National Conference on Residential Schools 
in Vancouver, June 1991:

--Sticking needles through the tongues of children, often leaving them 
in place for extended periods of time;

--Inserting needles into other regions of children’s anatomy;

--Burning or scalding children;

--Beating children into unconsciousness;

--Beating children to the point of drawing blood;

--Beating children to the point of inflicting serious permanent or 
semi-permanent injuries, including broken arms, broken legs, broken 
ribs, fractured skulls, shattered eardrums, and the like;

--Using electrical shock devices on physically restrained children;

--Forcing sick children to eat their own vomit.

The response of the Canadian government and churches has been one of 
damage control. That is why "The Circle Game" is so important. It 
demolishes the foundation of lies upon which the Canadian establishment 
and its stolen land rests.

Canadian apologists for genocide, especially those in academic circles, 
have a defense that sounds a bit like that of hate radio personality 
Rush Limbaugh, who is tired of complaints about what happened to African 
slaves or American Indians one hundreds years ago or more. The more 
sophisticated version says that actions in the past should only be 
judged by values and standards that existed 'back then'. Unless the 
actions were judged as evil in the past, they can be forgiven. This is 
the same kind of forgive and forget attitude that was on display when 
Reagan put flowers on the graves of Nazi officers at Bitburg.

The authors slash this defense to ribbons by pointing out that the 
people being wronged, whether slaves or Indians, had no way of providing 
input into the marketplace of values and standards. Referring to a study 
by Michael Parenti on crimes against African-Americans, they write, 
"That they [the slaves] didn't have access to the forums of debate and 
policy-making back then doesn't mean that they (and non-slaves 
sympathetic to them) accepted their lot; it simply means that their 
oppression precluded any effective means of protest." When dealing with 
the genocide against the Indian, it is simply impermissible to argue 
that the malefactors were conforming to social standards of the period. 
If anything, the only proper behavior would have been that of Huck Finn, 
who defied conventional values and standards by making common cause with 
a runaway slave.

What explains the cruelty of Canada's colonists? As is so often the 
case, greed is a sufficient explanation. In order to gain access to 
grazing land, timber and mineral riches, it was necessary to get rid of 
the native population. Legal indigenous ownership of the land was 
undeniable. The only way to break their control was through war, treaty 
or termination of the legal line of descendants. In Canada, due to the 
peculiarities of established British policy, it became necessary to end 
Indian control without violating British laws through outright warfare.

Genocide by cultural obliteration was geared to this need. As a program, 
it consisted of four elements:

1. Reduce the number of indigenous people who could make a legal claim 
as descendants of a tribe or nation. Through forced assimilation, 
residential schools would reduce the number of people who would be 
thinking of themselves as Indians and consequently demanding ownership 
of what belongs to them. In effect, the goal was to lobotomize an entire 

2. Eliminate the economic and social relations that constitute the basis 
of Indian life. By turning a hunter or a fisher into a shoemaker or a 
seamstress, it would make it more difficult to defend traditional social 

3. Make life as difficult as possible for those who assert Aboriginal 
identity. If you are beaten at a residential school for speaking an 
Indian tongue or wearing your hair long, you will get the lesson soon. 
Stop being an Indian. When you are no longer an Indian, then you might 
forget about the land that legally belongs to you.

4. Make integration into white society as easy and safe as possible. The 
residential schools prepare the Indian for a meager existence in the 
cities of Canada. Also, by pumping ideas of an Afterlife into the heads 
of pupils in church-run institutions, suffering in this world might 
become tolerable.

The authors define the residential schools in terms of Erving Goffman's 
'total institutions'. Goffman, a Canadian himself, developed this 
analysis in the 1961 "Asylums". Even though Goffman's study does not 
include residential schools, it is clear that they fall within his 
purview, which includes institutions such as homes for the aged, 
asylums, monasteries, prisons and concentration camps. The authors write:

"He called such places total institutions, defined (in 'family 
resemblance' terms) as social institutions which were 'walled off' in 
some way from the world at large; which 'broke down' the barriers that 
existed in greater society between places of work, sleep, and play; and 
which enforced and maintained an extreme power disparity between a large 
inmate population and a smaller supervisory staff (which continued to be 
integrated with the outside world.)"

The goal of such institutions is to 'unmake' the people over they gain 
control. More importantly, the goal is not to create a new self, but no 
self at all. For this goal to be realized, it is often necessary to 
intern people at an early age, when the true self has not had a chance 
to assert itself. This is why Indian children were taken from their 
parents at the earliest possible age.

Such a process could not fail to produce deeply traumatized individuals 
with problems such as alcoholism or sexual dysfunction. The Canadian 
political and religious establishment has tried to address the human 
consequences of their genocidal operations as a 'therapeutic' problem. 
Victims of these 'total institutions' are supposed to receive treatment 
for 'Residential School Syndrome'.

This proposal receives a bitterly ironic commentary from the authors, 
who feel that there is a 'Residential School Syndrome', but of a 
somewhat different character than that defined by their establishment 
foes. They describe it in part as follows and recommend that it be 
included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV:


301.82 Residential School Syndrome

Diagnostic Features

Residential School Syndrome is a personality disorder manifested in an 
individual’s specific behavioral action of (1) obliterating another 
people’s way of life by taking the children of the group away from their 
parents and having them raised in ignorance of, and/or with contempt 
for, their heritage; while (2) helping himself/herself to the property 
of the target group. The behaviors are closely related, and indeed, some 
theorists have suggested that the "theft" of the target group’s children 
should be seen as merely another manifestation of the overwhelming urge 
to steal everything belonging to the target group. People with this 
disorder have a grandiose sense of self-importance and unjustified 
feelings of moral superiority, and, while they seldom bother to actually 
respond to protests of the aggrieved group, they are sometimes heard 
repeatedly to mutter empty platitudes like "It’s for your own good," or 
"I’m the expert, I know what I’m doing."


"The Circle Game" includes seven appendices revolving around legal and 
psychological issues related to residential schools that make an already 
essential book that much more worth owning. Portions of it can be read 
online at: http://www.treaty7.org/document/document.htm. The print 
version may be ordered from U. of Toronto Press at 1-800-565-9523.

(Louis Proyect is the moderator of an Internet mailing list at 
www.marxmail.org. He has written on indigenous issues for "Organization 
and Environment", "Canadian Dimensions" and "Review of Radical Political 

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