JREP (March 2016) | Re-Presenting Genocide: The Canadian Museum of Human Rights and Settler Colonial Power

AUTHORS: Rita Kaur Dhamoon (University of Victoria)

ABSTRACT: In settler societies like Canada, United States, and Australia, the bourgeoning discourse that frames colonial violence against Indigenous people as genocide has been controversial, specifically because there is much debate about the meaning and applicability of genocide. Through an analysis of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this paper analyzes what is revealed about settler colonialism in the nexus of difficult knowledge, curatorial decisions, and political debates about the label of genocide. I specifically examine competing definitions of genocide, the primacy of the Holocaust, the regulatory role of the settler state, and the limits of a human rights framework. My argument is that genocide debates related to Indigenous experiences operationalize a range of governing techniques that extend settler colonialism, even as Indigenous peoples confront existing hegemonies. These techniques include: interpretative denial; promoting an Oppression Olympics and a politics of distancing; regulating difference through state-based recognition and interference; and depoliticizing claims that overshadow continuing practices of assimilation, extermination, criminalization, containment, and forced movement of Indigenous peoples. By pinpointing these techniques, this paper seeks to build on Indigenous critiques of colonialism, challenge settler national narratives of peaceful and lawful origins, and foster ways to build more just relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.


The article provokes readers to think about how the state employs its power, and how the past continues to shape the present, especially the lives of indigenous peoples, as highlighted in the following excerpt:

“As a way to counter settler colonial depoliticization, my preference is to use ‘genocidal’ rather than ‘genocide,’ to signify enduring living violence against Indigenous peoples. In the same vein that Jacobs, Rifkin, and Wolfe conceptualize settler colonialism as ongoing systemic domination, my preference is to use the term ‘genocidal’ because it indicates that violence against Indigenous peoples is not bound by a beginning and end, or organized centrally and uniformly; instead it is ongoing and foundational to the settler nation-state.” (Dhamoon 2016, 23)

CITATION: Dhamoon, Rita Kaur. 2016. “Re-Presenting Genocide: The Canadian Museum of Human Rights and Settler Colonial Power.” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 1 (01): 5–30.