“First I have to tell you about the genocide”: Canadian Residential Schools, Social Services, and the Settler Colonial Present

Public lecture by Professor Andrew Woolford, Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba:
Thursday 5 March 2015 10:00-12:00. Room 22.0.11 (auditorium)

When conducting interviews on neoliberalism and the inner city, my project suddenly crashed into another area of research interest: genocide studies. As I sat down with the director of a Winnipeg-based inner-city Indigenous social service agency, I made it only halfway through my first question before she stopped me: “first I have to tell you about the genocide”. She could not discuss the plight of her agency, or the challenges they faced, until she was sure I understood the history of settler colonialism in Canada and its destructive consequences for Indigenous peoples. At the time, she did not know my status as a genocide scholar, or that I had just started a comparative study of assimilative Indigenous boarding schools in the United States and Canada, which would be the basis for my book “This Benevolent Experiment”: Indigenous Boarding Schools, Genocide and Redress in Canada and the United States (2015, University of Nebreaska Press and University of Nebraska Press).

In this talk, I will offer an introduction to how Indigenous boarding schools were used in Canada and the United States in an attempt to destroy Indigenous groups. However, I will also demonstrate why this history is a necessary starting point for understanding contemporary welfare practices in Winnipeg, which has the largest Indigenous population of any large Canadian city. Although the Canadian government has apologized and paid compensation to residential school survivors, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is currently reckoning with this dark chapter in Canadian history, Canadians still live in a world where Indigenous people are grossly overrepresented in prisons, dependent on social services, and have more of their children removed by government than was the case at the height of the residential schooling era. The genocidal past has mutated into the settler colonial present, meaning the current plight of inner city Indigenous social service agencies takes place in the shadows of the residential schools.

Andrew Woolford is professor of Sociology at the University of Manitoba. His forthcoming book titled ‘This Benevolent Experiment’: Indigenous Boarding Schools, Genocide and Redress in the United States and Canada will be co-published by University of Nebraska Press and University of Manitoba Press in 2015. He is author of The Politics of Restorative Justice: A Critical Introduction (2009, Fernwood) and Between Justice and Certainty: Treaty-Making in British Columbia (2005, University of British Columbia Press). He is also co-author of Informal Reckonings: Conflict Resolution in Mediation, Restorative Justice and Reparations (2007, Routledge, with R.S. Ratner).  He is co-editor of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America (2014, Duke University Press, with Jeff Benvenuto and Alexander Hinton) and The Idea of a Human Rights Museum (University of Manitoba Press, with Adam Muller and Karen Busby, 2015). He is currently preparing a manuscript titled Cold Cities: Care and Control in Inner City Edmonton and Winnipeg (with Bryan Hogeveen) for McGill-Queens University Press.