Confronting the truths of Canada’s Indian residential school system has been likened to waking a sleeping giant. In The Sleeping Giant Awakens, David B. MacDonald uses genocide as an analytical tool to better understand Canada’s past and present relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Starting with a discussion of how genocide is defined in domestic and international law, the book applies the concept to the forced transfer of Indigenous children to residential schools and the "Sixties Scoop," in which Indigenous children were taken from their communities and placed in foster homes or adopted.
Based on archival research, extensive interviews with residential school Survivors, and officials at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, among others, The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers a unique and timely perspective on the prospects for conciliation after genocide, exploring the difficulties in moving forward in a context where many settlers know little of the residential schools and ongoing legacies of colonization and need to have a better conception of Indigenous rights. It provides a detailed analysis of how the TRC approached genocide in its deliberations and in its Final Report.
Crucially, MacDonald engages critics who argue that the term genocide impedes understanding of the IRS system and imperils prospects for conciliation. By contrast, this book sees genocide recognition as an important basis for meaningful discussions of how to engage Indigenous-settler relations in respectful and proactive ways.
About the Author
David B. MacDonald is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph and Research Leadership Chair for the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences
Table of Contents
1. Understanding Genocide: Raphael Lemkin, the UN Genocide Convention, and International Law
2. Pluralists, Indigenous Peoples, and Colonial Genocide
3. Forcible Transfer as Genocide in the Indian Residential Schools
4. The Sixties and Seventies Scoop and the Genocide Convention
5. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the Question of Genocide
6. The TRC, Indigenous Death, Inside and Outside the Residential Schools
7. Indigenous Genocide: Remembering, Commemorating, Forgetting
8. Indigenous Peoples and Genocide: Challenges of Recognition and Remembering
9. Reconciliation, Resurgence, and Rollback in the Aftermath of Genocide
What People Are Saying
“In addition to residential school survivor memoirs, the superb The Sleeping Giant Awakens should be mandatory reading for all Canadians.”
"MacDonald’s argument that the harms of forcible transfer are genocidal is compelling and well made. As he also acknowledges, however, the settler state cannot resolve or fully address these harms unless it is prepared to enter into a new relationship with First Nations on profoundly different terms." Sarah Maddison
"The Sleeping Giant Awakens is a significant assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. It comes at a watershed time in Canadian history. While grounded firmly in the academic literature, MacDonald uses language that will be easily accessible to a general audience and draws upon the insights of Indigenous scholars and writers in making his argument. It will be an important resource in talking about historical truths that continue to resonate today and which need to be acknowledged if there is any hope for reconciliation in this country."
Robert Alexander Innes, Department Head of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan
"David B. MacDonald incites the reader to do some serious soul searching about the true nature of Canada. Canadians are called upon to engage in fresh thinking and create a new, right, and respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. It will involve deep questioning of the status quo, vision, and imagination to clear the new path. The Sleeping Giant Awakens is a catalyst for necessary change." Shelagh Rogers, OC, TRC Honorary Witness, Chancellor, University of Victoria
"The Sleeping Giant Awakens presents a thorough and forceful examination of Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples. By exploring the colonial, even genocidal, legacy of the Indian residential school system, This book represents a tough, timely, and thoughtful account. Our progress towards reconciliation depends on a true and unflinching acknowledgment of this dark chapter in Canadian history." Mike DeGagné, President and Vice-Chancellor, Nipissing University, and Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation
"The Sleeping Giant Awakens probes the decolonizing, transformative potential of (re)conciliation between Indigenous and settler peoples in Canada through the lens of settler colonial genocide. MacDonald argues that the United Nations Genocide Convention (UNGC) applies to Canada’s Indian residential school system and Sixties/Seventies Scoops, deepening our understanding of how genocidal systems and structures function over time in settler colonial states. Documenting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s work and challenging Canada’s settler colonial historical and multicultural narratives, he MacDonald makes a compelling case for why Canadians must confront a hard truth − that government actions to destroy Indigenous peoples’ cultures, governance systems, and laws through forcible child removals and land dispossession constitute genocide. Settler peoples must then accept responsibility for taking up the TRC’s calls to action in ways that roll back state rights to fully recognize Indigenous rights of self-determination and resurgence and ensure the return of Indigenous lands. A must-read for all those who care deeply about the ongoing journey of truth, justice, and reconciliation in post-TRC Canada and beyond." Paulette Regan, senior researcher and lead writer on the reconciliation volume of the TRC Final Report and author of Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada
"The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers the most robust consideration of the genocide question in Canada to date. It provides a clear view of the complex origins of the genocide concept, as well as its applicability to Indian residential school and scoop-related child transfers in Canada. MacDonald’s lengthy engagement with this topic and his keen, inquisitive mind are evident on every page of the book." He has travelled widely in Canada, read broadly, and, most importantly, listened carefully to Survivors and Elders. For this reason, he focuses not only on naming the harms of settler colonialism but also on what a deeper sense of conciliation might mean for Indigenous-settler relations." Andrew Woolford, Department of Sociology and Criminology, University of Manitoba, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars