In this short video and recent article - http://linkis.com/nationalpost.com/36W4R- dated January 15, 2016, professor Akhavan offers a narrow understanding of what is genocide and then he proceeds to argue Indigenous people of Turtle Island don’t really understand the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. I have a few issues with his reasoning as it is presented.
First, a professor of law as he is, Akhavan roots genocide in intent with this statement: “provided the specific genocidal intent was in place”. Intent is too narrow a place to locate the practice of genocide. Placing knowledge, and consequently genocide, in the mind or in one’s intent is a myopic understanding of what knowledge is and where knowledge is located.
It is well understood that proponents of western positivism of law and science must awaken to the limitations of their own knowledge paradigm. Clearly it is not working, especially so for the water and the trees and the other beings, never mind what it is doing to humans. This should come as no surprize in that western positivism is manmade law.
Second, a professor of law as he is, Akhavan is unable to perceive the cultural aspects of genocide as it is written in the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment for the Crime of Genocide. While subsection (a) discusses direct killing, the UN definition moves on to talk about cultural aspects of genocide, thus expanding the definition beyond that of direct killing: (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. While the word “culture” may not be in the text, cultural elements of genocide are inherent.
Culture is all that humans are. Culture is much more than icons and books as the news article suggests. Culture includes the laws, policies, and institutions that humans create. Without cultural teachings, knowledge, and structures we are not human at all. Cultural genocide is genocide in that it is culture that makes us human.
Cultural genocide, as it is placed within Canadian laws and policies, such as the land claims policy which forces Indigenous Nations to extinguish our jurisdiction and rights, and Aboriginal Affairs’ unstated paternity policy which assumes unstated fathers are non-Indians, are much more insidious and devious forms of genocide. They are more insidious and devious in that many people are unable to perceive them for the genocide they are where, as such, the genocide is able to go on and on and on.
Third, in making the argument that the recent use of the concept “cultural genocide” was more about a need for recognition and mourning is offensive and incorrect. Akhavan is incredibly assumptive in his analysis. Akhavan assumes Indigenous thinkers, ceremonialists, traditionalists, scholars, and philosophers are unable to really understand what they mean when they use the concept “cultural genocide”. This assumption in itself is an act of colonialism.
Law is not a science that seeks to understand the nature of the human condition and as such law, as it is defined by western positivism, needs to move over and allow other knowledge systems the space required in the discussion of what is genocide.
For more of my thoughts on genocide and cultural genocide: http://www.lynngehl.com/black-face-blogging/the-insidious-nature-of-cultural-genocide
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Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.