Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The federal government has just set aside a large sum – $ 40 billion – to compensate the victims and family members of a system of cruel racial exploitation that has existed for much of the country’s history. This news is not about the United States, where debate over compensation for slavery has stalled in Congress for decades. No, this news comes from US neighbor in northern Canada.

The National Government of Canada has agreed to set aside this amount, the equivalent of $ 31 billion, for indigenous Canadians who are subject to Canadian “residences”. These institutions, which are generally run by the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, forcibly removed First Nations, Inuit and Métis children from their parents and communities and systematically stripped them of their cultural identities while English and French, Christian religious practices and whites imposed on them. Canadian culture.

This program of state-sanctioned kidnapping and indoctrination officially lasted from 1883 until the last school was closed in 1996, despite a long and well-known record of abuse. The stories that have emerged over the decades about these schools are appalling. Sexual abuse of children was common, and many of the schools had terrible death rates, as children died of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, malnutrition, violence and even infanticide. The recent revelations of hundreds of newly discovered unmarked graves on the grounds of the now-closed boarding schools have created public outrage across Canada in recent months. These public scandals, combined with a 2016 tribunal ruling that survivors should be compensated, as well as some pending lawsuits, ultimately prompted the Canadian government to take action.

In contrast, the debate over repairs continues to ebb and flow in the US without any solution. Legislation in the House of Representatives to create a national commission to investigate the issue, symbolically titled House Resolution 40 (HR 40) after the famous “Forty Acres and a Mule” promise to compensate freed slaves after the American Civil War, instituted by Black legislators every year since 1989, in vain. The racial reckoning that took place after the deaths of George Floyd and others in 2020 apparently created newfound momentum for the recovery talks. HR 40 moved out of the committee for the first time in 2021, but has yet to be fully voted on.

Unlike Canada, where the unveiling of indigenous children’s cemeteries has helped fuel moral outrage and government action, the evils of American slavery have been extremely well documented in academic and popular discourse for some time. And efforts such as the 1619 project to highlight the centrality of slavery and its aftermath to American history have led to setbacks and laws designed to specifically diminish and diminish the scale and horror of American slavery and racial oppression. disguise. Such laws point to a renewed opposition to calls for compensation. And so attempts to invoke moral outrage are likely to be counterproductive in light of defensive conservatives and state policies designed to whiten history.

Despite these setbacks in the United States, the U.S. case for repair can draw encouragement and examples from Canada. The multibillion-dollar amount awarded in Canada comes after years of increasingly large grants and settlements across the country. An earlier settlement reached in 2006 forced the federal government and the Catholic Church to pay compensation to victims of the residential school system. In recent years, the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have agreed to settlements with specific First Nations worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each, based on improper allocation of land based on treaties that are decades or even centuries old. A court in Ontario recently ruled that the government significantly undercompensated members of several First Nations under the terms of an 1850 treaty, which required the repayment of potential billions.

The first lesson to be drawn from these Canadian examples is that localized action can have a significant effect. This is encouraging for the US where, without federal legislation, local jurisdictions have taken on the task of repairs. Evanston, Illinois, recently became the first U.S. city to implement a repair policy for its African-American residents. The city has inspired other municipalities to look at similar programs; capitals such as Detroit and Boston have taken steps to implement repairs. Evanston even recently hosted a meeting of the National African American Repairs Commission, which seeks to “create a national network among attorneys working on repairs locally.” California, the country’s most populous state, created a task force in 2020 that examined the details of how to implement repairs across the state. Even private institutions began implementing programs to benefit descendants of American slaves, including Georgetown University and several other colleges and universities with a history of benefiting from slavery.

Furthermore, compensation was made or considered for more specific cities and state-wide programs that victimized black people. North Carolina paid out millions to victims of forced sterilization during a state-wide eugenics program that ran until 1976. The city of Chicago paid millions of dollars to compensate victims of police torture under the now-deceased police commander Jon Burge. The city government of Tulsa, Oklahoma has begun deliberating on the compensation of any survivors as well as descendants of those victimized by the Tulsa massacre in 1921, who came to general awareness about the 100th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing against the city’s Blacks. residents.

In each of these examples, at least some of the recipients of compensation are living survivors of the policies involved, as is the case for the Canadian program. However, these programs have also established that families of immediate victims are eligible for compensation. Furthermore, while slavery in the United States ended far too long ago for any of its immediate victims to survive, there is a strong case that slavery represented only one phase in an unbroken chain of anti-Black policies that Jim Crow segregation includes, “Red Line” policies that discriminated against black homeowners, and biased policing and criminal justice systems, all of which still affect black people today. Indeed, learned and prominent lawyer for damages, Ta-Nehisi Coates, made just such an argument, including in his landmark 2014 essay: The Case for Repairs.

If the Canadian example is to be followed, the focus on these specific and localized cases – redlining in American cities, the Tulsa massacre, police torture in Chicago, repairs in specific cities or states – may lay the foundation for larger and more general compensation plans. for the larger system of racial oppression. This type of bottom-up approach to repairs can actually support and complement the top-down approach followed by HR 40 in Congress.

The last lesson that comes from Canada is that, until legislation is passed to recognize and compensate for previous injustices, the court system can be an effective way to obtain redress. The United States has seen the judiciary move before the legislature in other areas, from desegregation in the 1950s with Brown vs. Board of Education to LGBTQ rights in the recent cases of Obergefell vs. Hodges and Bostock vs. Clayton County. One such lawsuit for damages in the U.S. was dismissed “without prejudice” in 2004, meaning it could be revived. As local, state, and corporate repair efforts become more widespread, such changes could add momentum to a renewed lawsuit for damages. A legal victory, or simply a strong court case, could in turn prompt lawmakers to finally move on to HR 40, to seek legislative redress for the evils of slavery and subsequent racial oppression.

The Canadian process to redress the injustices that are still being inflicted on indigenous peoples has a long way to go. As the head of the First Nations Advocacy Organization openly points out behind one of the recent lawsuits, no final agreement has been reached for the $ 40 billion set aside by the Canadian government and “promises do not actually end child discrimination if they are not implemented. . ” The U.S. repair case has even more to go on, as it has not even revived the “40 Acre” promise of 1865. But the progress made in select U.S. territories, and the recent progress in Canada, offers new hope and new strategies to finally achieve some racial justice and repair some of the damage that has accumulated over generations and centuries.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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