Wiesenthal Education Newsletter: June 19, 2020

June 19, 2020


Wiesenthal Education Weekly

For Educators, Parents & Students

June 19, 2020


June is Indigenous History Month!

Every June, people living in Canada celebrate the enduring legacy and strength of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples. This year, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center is marking National Indigenous History Month with a series of articles, interviews, and activities with which parents, teachers, and students can engage and learn. The content we have chosen to share balances the rich cultural heritage and ongoing traditions of Indigenous Peoples while acknowledging the devastating toll colonial and genocidal practices have taken on all aspects of Indigenous life.

Throughout the month, FSWC's Education Team will provide you with articles, resources and activity ideas. Please visit the Government of Canada website for additional information.

4 Questions With..

Shelley Essaunce | Member of Beausoleil First Nation and March of Remembrance and Hope 2018 Alumni

When did you originally become interested in learning more about the Holocaust? Can you remember the first time you heard about this part of history?

As a child in elementary school, I remember reading Anne Frank, perhaps it was grade 4, I'm not exactly sure. We had a book club and I was so happy to get that book. Anne felt like a friend, I felt a connection to her while reading the book. My ten-year-old brain did not fully grasp the horror of the Holocaust and never could I even have imagined it. In grade eight, I read another book about a woman, who hid Jewish children in her home and saved them from probable death. I really liked the story of doing what was right, doing good by the children. I kept it for a long time. Again, I did not comprehend the magnitude of Nazi Germany.  

My Indigenous grandfather fought in WWII, and he talked about it, but I didn't understand well enough to ask the important questions and hear what he was really saying. That Canada sent soldiers overseas to help stop Hitler and free the Jewish people, truly did not impact me and neither did I have an understanding of that significance until after the March for Remembrance and Hope journey. It was only then, that I realized the enormity of what happened, and the importance of global intervention and the unity needed to stop the killing force of the Nazis, who were clearly out of their minds and disconnected from their humanity. As I reflect back now, I am so appreciative of my Grandfather leaving his family, with five children to feed, to join the resistance and stop Hitler, end the Holocaust and save the Jewish people from further decimation.

In what ways has your heritage/Indigeneity shaped your Holocaust Education journey?

As an Indigenous woman, with a history of purposeful biological warfare targeted Indigenous People to remove us from the land, so settlers could populate the land, extract, exploit and contaminate the land and waters for the sake of wealth, I would say that I could relate. Indigenous people were starved, were removed from our territories and relocated many times, we were introduced to diseases we had no immunity to, we were subjected to killings and abuse when we couldn't understand the foreign language that was spoken to us by the newcomers, and children were torn from their families and placed in residential schools, that were funded by the federal government and administered by churches, for over 100 years.

There is no doubt that combined efforts were being made to snuff out Indigenous People as well as assimilate the remaining into the general public. In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott who was the Department of Indian Affairs Deputy Superintendent from 1913-1932 declared, "I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone . . . Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill." Residential Schools were so successful, that when Hitler investigated ways to deal with eliminating Jewish people, he used the example of residential schools and morphed it into concentration camps, structures that would hide, abuse, exploit and kill Jewish people under the noses of the masses. This marks a clear link between the Indigenous People of Canada, and the United States, to Nazi Germany.

My mother has German heritage from when her family came across the ocean 7 generations ago and my father was Indigenous, from this land now called Canada. I felt a duality about my heritage, being connected to the people who inflicted such inhuman actions, to being the subject of cruel leadership and abusive power and being the granddaughter of a Residential School survivor. I understood being rounded up, having no power or voice over your life, and facing daily abuse. I would say that my heritage and Indigeneity enhanced my experience during and after the Holocaust Education journey. It has given me a broader view of the abuse of power, the impact that resisters can make and when people say nothing, they are effectively allowing the abuse to continue. It has taught me that rising and resisting is even more important than I believed before. Many voices are needed to speak up to abuse and lose of human rights and I continue to lend my voice to that almost on a daily basis.

What did it mean to you when the Canadian government formally acknowledged the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis as genocide?

Canada has a history of completing inquiries and then not following through on the recommendations. For example, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, was an inquiry across the country which resulted in four volumes with 444 recommendations in documents called, Gathering Strength. Indigenous people in Ottawa referred to these volumes as, "Gathering Dust", meaning that the recommendations have not been implemented and they are simply sitting on book shelves across the nation. Then there was a 2008 Residential School Apology in the House of Commons.  "The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. We are sorry," Harper says..." It was a big event, Elders and Residential School survivors were invited, they did ceremony, there were tears and many felt that they finally got to hear the words they deserved decades ago. However, an apology is not enough. Here's an analogy that was shared with me, If I steal your truck and everyday drive by you and say sorry, while driving your truck, it's not really an apology. If nothing changes, an apology is empty and a mockery of the abuse. An apology needs actions, not just words. There were 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2015 report. The current Prime Minister promised to enact all those recommendations stating, "meaningful reconciliation will only come when we live up to our past promises and ensure the equality of opportunity required to create a fair and prosperous shared future”  So far 8 of the 94 recommendations have been realized.

And now, in 2020, we have an inquiry into MMIWG and the outcome came with 200 recommendations. Looking to the past, and how Canada, as a nation, responds to the needs and human rights abuses of Indigenous Peoples, I do not hold a lot of hope. I really want the reports to have meaning and to be implemented at all levels, in communities, in provinces, in the nation at the federal level and in the hearts and minds of individuals and families. My granddaughter's mother was murdered. My granddaughter no longer has a mother, because of the conditions that Canada has allowed to fester, while turning a blind eye, while allowing our communities to wallow in poverty, without potable water, without the healthcare needed, while thousands of children are still removed from their homes and are placed in foster care, where they are often physically and sexually abused. Foster care has become the new Residential Schools. I want change, I live change, I want my granddaughter to grow up without the fear of being the target of abuse and murder. I want her to live a good life without fear, with appropriate housing, in safety, with universal income, with food security, while settlers treat her with respect and a in an environment with a governing system, a police system, an education system and health system that does not target, penalize, marginalize or minimize her experience, because of the colour of her skin. I want my granddaughter's human rights to be upheld, but also in a kind way. I want her to have what her mother did not have. She deserves it.

What did it mean for you to meet, work, and travel with Holocaust survivors and how has that helped you to reflect on the survivors in your own community?

It is hard to put into words the mutuality of being the victim of careless, brutal, cruel, inhuman people in decision making power positions. The damage is generational and every day we are aware of what was lost and what there is to regain. I truly appreciated meeting Pinchas Gutter and Elly Gotz and his lovely wife Esme. I felt that I was in the company of my grandfather and grandmother, lives filled with horrific experiences and yet they remained gentle and kind. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Holocaust Education journey. It not only has given me a sense of place being there in Germany and Poland where the exterminations occurred, it also gave me a sense of the profound spirit of those places, places that made me stop in my tracks, made me cry and encouraged me to sing to those that were massacred. Meeting, working and traveling with Holocaust survivors taught me to never give up especially when things seem their bleakest, to dig inside and remember and find my own spirit and feed it however you can, whether it means stealing books from the book burning pile as Elly's father did, and secretly reading in the garage attic as Elly did or continuing to use the few words in my Indigenous language that I know, having it brutishly removed from the children in Residential Schools. The survivors gave us a clear message of hope, hope when there was nothing but darkness and pain, courage to carry on, and that this creates a legacy for others. We have a long journey to recovery and it is exciting to see the decolonizing projects becoming more abundant. I am forever grateful. Thank you. Miigwech.

Spotlight on..

Dr. Nadine Caron

Dr. Nadine Caron, a member of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, is Canada's first female First Nations general surgeon. She is also a faculty member in the University of British Columbia's (UBC) Faculty of Medicine and is leading an innovative biobank project located at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia.

Caron was born and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia. Her Anishnaabe mother grew up on a reserve in Ontario, attended residential school and became a teacher. Inspired by her example, Caron was an excellent student. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology at Simon Fraser University in 1993, where she was a star basketball player and a top undergraduate student. She was also a top student as she studied medicine at UBC. Caron earned a Masters degree in public health from Harvard while completing both her surgical residency as well as a postgraduate fellowship at the University of California specializing in endocrine surgical oncology.

She returned to British Columbia in 2005 and began her practice as a general and endocrine surgeon at the Prince George Regional Hospital. Caron is an associate professor in UBC's Northern Medical Program and founding co-director of the UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health. She is also an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins Centre for American Indian Health.

At the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia Caron is spearheading the Northern Biobank Initiative. This initiative will bank tissue from medical procedures to enable northern British Columbians, including members of rural, remote First Nations communities, to have more equitable access to genomic research into diseases such as colorectal, breast and thyroid cancer. Among other partners in the Northern Biobank Initiative is the British Columbia First Nations Health Authority. Caron received the Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health award from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 2016.

Courtesy of the Government of Canada website. Find out more about Dr. Caron and other Indigenous history-makers here

Activity: Storytelling through Song: “Universal Solider” Lyric Analysis

Buffy Sainte-Marie (born February 20, 1941) is a world-renowned Indigenous musician, songwriter, educator, and political activist. Born in Saskatchewan to Cree parents, she was orphaned as a baby and adopted by an American family of Mi’kmaq descent. In her twenties, she toured around the US and Canada as a folk musician and came to prominence in the mid-1960s with her famous anti-war anthem “Universal Soldier.” Over the course of her successful career, she remained a strong advocate for peace, education, and Indigenous Rights. Today, Buffy regularly tours across North America and continues to be vocal about the pressing social issues of the day.

Watch Buffy Sainte-Marie sing "Universal Soldier" here (song starts at 1:50)


He's five feet two and he's six feet four

He fights with missiles and with spears

He's all of 31 and he's only 17

He's been a soldier for a thousand years

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an athiest, a Jain,

a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew

and he knows he shouldn't kill

and he knows he always will

kill you for me my friend and me for you

And he's fighting for Canada,

he's fighting for France,

he's fighting for the USA,

and he's fighting for the Russians

and he's fighting for Japan,

and he thinks we'll put an end to war this way

And he's fighting for Democracy

and fighting for the Reds

He says it's for the peace of all

He's the one who must decide

who's to live and who's to die

and he never sees the writing on the walls

But without him how would Hitler have

condemned him at Dachau

Without him Caesar would have stood alone

He's the one who gives his body

as a weapon to a war

and without him all this killing can't go on

He's the universal soldier and he

really is to blame

His orders come from far away no more

They come from him, and you, and me

and brothers can't you see

this is not the way we put an end to war


Individually or in small groups, have students analyze the lyrics to Indigenous musician Buffy Sainte Marie’s world-famous anthem for pacifism. While it was initially blacklisted from the radios, it gained popularity through word of mouth in student-led peace movements. Originally written in protest to the Vietnam War, this song continues to hold resonance for those advocating for peace around the world. In 2005, this song was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why do you think song became so popular among anti-Vietnam activists during the 1960s and the 1970s?

2. Which lyrics stand out the most to you? Why? Are there any that feel out of place?

3. Historically as well as today, Indigenous Peoples in Canada are known for their storytelling abilities. Do you think music such as the “Universal Soldier” is an effective way of conveying a story or a message? Why or why not?

4. In what ways do you think Buffy’s Indigeneity informed her lyrical choices?

5. Write an additional verse to this song using causes or conflicts that are relevant to today. Be ready to defend your choices and explain why you felt they fit with the structure and theme of the original piece.

6. Have students discuss with their parents, grandparents, older siblings, or family friends about the various generational anthems that gained prominence in their era. Compare and contrast those meaningful anthems with those that have been produced more recently. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Western Expansion and the Connection to Hitler’s Lebensraum

We frequently hear about pervasive effect that Nazism has had on discussions of race and hate-motivated crimes in our culture since the close of the Second World War, but most people are unaware that Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leadership were themselves influenced by pre-existing racial theories and their ideology of German supremacy did not develop in a intellectual vacuum; for decades, scholars across Europe and North America had sought to develop scientific explanations that would prove the biological and cultural superiority of Europeans, much of which would classified today as “scientific racism”. This concept is used as an umbrella term to describe pseudoscientific efforts of white supremacists to explain and justify imperial conquest and the displacement of Indigenous communities across the globe from Africa to New Zealand. Conquest and the right to domination were themes that Adolf Hitler himself took great interest in. As Hitler developed the framework of the national socialist ideology, he took an interest in the United State’s policy of “Manifest Destiny”, the idea that white people of European descent had the right to dominate the North American landscape and force assimilation and extermination upon the Indigenous Peoples across the continent. America’s long history of racism and violence towards indigenous people could become a part of how the Nazis justified expansion and conquest in the East.

North American “Indians” were a fascination in Germany and other European territories between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. As the American and Canadian governments pursued policies of assimilation and violent displacement, the image of the “Vanishing Indian” came to dominate public perception. Indigenous Peoples were almost always portrayed in a romanticized, idealized, and stereotypical manner; “noble” but doomed to be rightfully displaced by more advanced European civilizations. Theories about the rise and fall of human "races" had grown very popular in the late 19th century and a particularly popular movement that sought to establish a scientific basis for the superiority of European people and cultures grew out of the popularity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This “Social Darwinism” and broader trends in science and the eugenics movement were widespread throughout the Western intellectual and scientific communities in the decades before the First World War Indigenous ways of life could be admired and idealized, while at the same time framing this way of life as naturally disappearing in the face of modernity and “progress”.

The popularity of Social Darwinism and scientific racism in this period had direct implications for how Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders would develop and justify their own racial policies. The conquest and exploitation of foreign lands by Europeans formed the literary imagination of Europeans of Hitler’s generation and Hitler was a noted lover of classic cowboy western novels as a young man. In his infamous book Mein Kampf, Hitler specifically pointed at American laws and policies towards Native Americans and stated that the USA’s project of western expansion would be a model for how the German Empire could expand in Europe. Through imagining a vast, blank lebensraum to Germany’s East, just as native peoples were routinely erased in America’s ideology of Manifest Destiny, Germany could forge a new future as Europe’s dominant empire. Hitler repeatedly made this equivocation both in writing and in speeches in the 1920s and 30s.

As we commemorate Indigenous History Month during a time of turmoil and renewed attention towards structural racism in Canadian institutions, we are reminded that Canadian history connects with the history of the National Socialist era in surprising ways and we must understand the way that prejudice translates to policies if we want to do better in our future.

Human Rights @ Home

FSWC educators will facilitate one-hour programs via Zoom. Public workshops take place from 3:00pm - 4:00pm EST Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Contact education@fswc.ca to register today.

Zoom invitations will be sent out prior to each workshop.

What Our Education Team is Reading & Watching

FSWC's Education Team is constantly working to broaden their collective knowledge. Here's what we've recently been reading and watching:

Stay in Touch

Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at education@fswc.ca
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