A population that might never recover; eugenics used against Indigenous people

Trigger Warning: this content could be harmful to sensitive viewers. Please proceed with caution.


Canada’s use of eugenics- the cleansing of society through the riddance of undesirable populations- has been detrimental to its history. While nearly every single country has partaken in eugenic values to a certain degree, primarily through segregation, massacres, sterilization and social isolation, Canada’s participation still affects a significant amount of its population today. In North America, eugenics is primarily targeted toward minorities, such as different ethnic and racial groups, as well as physically and mentally disabled individuals; our main concern right now is the Indigenous population. For centuries, Canada has been taking advantage of and punishing Indigenous peoples, namely by separating them onto reserves and sending them to residential schools.


When the Indian act was first established in the 1800s, Indigenous people were isolated from society and sent to unfit land reservations, representing their supposed worth. This social isolation and disconnect from the rest of society was the most concrete step that European Canadians implemented to define their differences in status. Even far away from civilization without medical aid, sufficient water supplies and acceptable living conditions, these measures implemented by the government further ostracized how the rest of society perceived the indigenous people. Not only were they not allowed to leave their reserve without specific permission, but leaving for certain reasons, such as attending university or working higher-paying jobs, could result in the revocation of their Indian status; even marrying a white individual would have the same consequence. This led to poverty in the indigenous community and extreme loss of connection to their culture. Perhaps the worse of it was that this was all calculated by the Canadian government to eliminate indigenous people from society and strip them of their cultural identity, simply for their differences.


Residential schools were one of the main ways Canada used the ideology of eugenics to abolish Indigenous people and their culture from Canadian society. They targeted young children- as the future generations- and did everything in their power to wipe culture from their identities. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse, isolation, and segregation- impacts that lasted their entire lives and- for those that survived these traumatic, abusive school years- were even passed on to their kids, causing intergenerational trauma. Furthermore, these residential school survivors often had trouble showing love to their own kids later on in life; since they grew up with beatings and derogatory language, hugs and loving words could be completely out of their nature. At the time, residential schools made settlers extremely successful in ridding Indigenous people of their culture and reforming them to be more “acceptably Canadian”. 


When the Sterilization Act was passed in British Columbia between 1933 and 1972, Indigenous women were forcibly sterilized, and are still being coerced into doing so today. While 74% of Indigenous women were sterilized, often without the knowledge of what the procedure entailed or even that it was happening, this stemmed the rise of eugenics in the 20th century. As stated in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, oftentimes women would go to their Indian hospital, think they were undergoing a different medical procedure, like for example a c-section or an appendectomy, and were taken advantage of in this medically vulnerable state. Thousands and thousands of Indigenous women were sterilized through the 1900s, which prevented their population from increasing as it should have been. Their fundamental right to have children was forcibly removed, without their permission or volition, all in order to make the First People of Canada feel less human. 


The Canadian government’s eugenics ideologies towards the Indigenous population were detrimental to our nation. Their “effective” tools of segregation and diminishing indigenous culture ruined the relationships we once had with the First People of Canada, the relationships we are trying so hard to rebuild today.