Genocide colonized Canada, they brought with them the

Genocide refers to “the deliberate
and systematic destruction of racial, political, or a cultural group” (genocide).  Throughout Canadian history, the genocide of Indigenous
culture has been an ongoing issue, as European colonization has resulted in the
destruction of the Indigenous way of life. 
The colonization of Canada drove Indigenous populations from their
lands, forcing them into communities where their cultural beliefs and
traditions are slowly lost replaced by Western culture.  Joseph Boyden’s novel, Three Day Road, explores the impacts of this cultural genocide through
two Cree narrators, Niska and her nephew Xavier, who both separately witness
the loss of culture and by extension, the loss of identity. The theme of
colonialism and the loss of cultural identity is evident throughout both
storylines in the novel; Niska’s stories about the destruction of her people and
the development of Xavier and Elijah during World War I.

To begin, when Europeans colonized
Canada, they brought with them the idea of residential schools: an “institutionalized
assimilation by stripp­­­­ing aboriginals of their language, culture, and
connection with family” (Patridge).  Niska
grew up during the early stages of this assimilation, born into one of the last
remaining bush communities in Northern Ontario; a community rich in tradition
and culture.  Her father, like Niska,
possesses the ability to see visions of the future, as well as communicate with
spirits.  Niska is destined to become a
hookimaw, or the shaman and spiritual leader of her clan.  However, colonialism deprives her of this life.
One of the largest factors contributing to colonialism resulting in the
genocide of Indigenous people is the lack of understanding between cultures. This
has further led to the forceful assimilation through dominance. Niska describes
the relationship between Indigenous people and Europeans: “Like forest ticks
the wemistikoshiw grabbed onto us, growing fatter by the season, until the day
came when suddenly it was we who answered to them” (Boyden 48). This quotation
highlights the lack of appreciation that Europeans have towards Indigenous culture.
They take and take until they enforce and demand. An example of this forceful
assimilation occurs when they impose their laws into Cree culture, arresting
Niska’s father for murder even though he was merely performing his traditional
duty of removing a windigo, or a cannibalistic being, from the tribe. Again,
this is a result of the lack of understanding between cultures. He is arrested
without any consideration of Cree culture, which sends the message that Europeans
do not care about the Indigenous way of life.  Not long after his arrest, her tribe is
assimilated through the dominance of European culture:

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the
Hudson’s Bay Company had instilled in the Cree a greed for furs that nearly
wiped out the animals, and because of this the time finally came when even the
most experienced of the bush men and women were faced with the decision to move
to the reserve or die of hunger. (Boyden 90)

Niska’s people are assimilated by greed. Suddenly, by
trading furs, they have access to goods such as guns, pots, iron, etc. However,
this barter system disregards the belief that everything in the environment is
sacred and they should only take from the environment what they need to
survive. This is the loss of Indigenous culture, chipped away by Eurocentric
views as Indigenous people move onto reserves and closer to civilization.

Additionally, the reluctance of
Europeans to understand Indigenous culture results in a very hostile attitude
towards Indigenous people:

For
over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to
eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the
Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to
cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial
entities in Canada. (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future)

The Canadian government has no interest in learning
about the Indigenous way of life. Their only concern is the abolishment of
Indigenous culture. This further contributes to the deterioration of their
culture and creates unneeded conflict as they try to put a stop to peaceful
traditions. A prime example of this is demonstrated when Niska tells Xavier how
the wemistikoshiw, or white man church attempted to suppress Indigenous people
from celebrating the summer season: “Your own people gathering in summer to
celebrate an easy season, a tradition they carried on despite the stern words
of the wemistikoshiw church” (Boyden 360). Cree culture puts great emphasis on
the importance of seasons in their lives’, however, the Europeans develop a very
hostile attitude towards a very peaceful part of Cree tradition, creating
pointless and unnecessary conflict because of their ignorance of Cree culture. For
Niska, the betrayal of the Frenchman is more than hostile:

He
Laughed. I fucked you in a church, he said, … I fucked the heathen Indian out
of you in the church he said, … I fucked your ahcahk, your spirit. … You
are nothing special, just another squaw whore. I took your power away in this
place and sent it to burn in hell where it belongs. (Boyden 174)

The tone of this passage expresses more than just
hostility towards Niska. It expresses pure hatred and the European desire to destroy
Indigenous identity. After this, Niska lives in isolation with Xavier, refusing
to conform to colonialism. However, she has already lost so much of her cultural
identity. As Niska admits to Xavier, “the world is a different place in this
new century, Nephew. And we are a different people” (Boyden 49).

            Similar
to how Niska is forced to witness the slow death of her culture, Xavier is
forced to witness the loss his friend’s identity throughout World War I.
Although Xavier and Elijah are both young Cree men and share many similarities,
they are acculturated very differently. Elijah is largely acculturated through
residential schools whereas Xavier spends very little time in residential
schools and is raised in isolation by his aunt Niska according to traditional
beliefs and customs. This results in Xavier having very strong morals and cultural
values while Elijah’s beliefs are diminished by residential schools. The
difference in culture between the boys is made evident early in the novel, as
the negative implications surrounding Indigenous people are already planted in
Elijah’s head. Prior to the war, when they are enlisting, Elijah instructs
Xavier to tell the officers that he is from Moose Factory because it is “better
to let them know you’re an angry warrior than some fucking bush Indian” (Boyden
59). Because of his acculturation, Elijah instinctively associates bush Indians
as being bad, and so he wants to avoid being classified as one. This shows that
Elijah is not proud of who he is, which is certainly understandable as he is
raised with various negative implications surrounding his culture. As the story
progresses, Xavier holds on to his traditional values. He never enjoys killing
and only comes to peace with it by praying to his god, Gitchi Manitou. By doing
this, he understands that what Xavier is doing is for survival. His cultural
identity is left intact. Elijah, on the other hand, develops an aptitude for
killing and becomes imprisoned by a desire to kill. He continues to downplay
his heritage, talking with a “better British accent than a Brit” (Boyden 137).  Elijah does this to make people laugh, to fit
in, and because “there’s a magic in it that protects him” (Boyden 137). Elijah
has been stripped of so much culture that he needs to become someone else, someone
he isn’t, to feel protected. As Xavier says, “No Indian religion for him. The
only Indian Elijah wants to be is the Indian that knows to hide and hunt”
(Boyden 137).  Inevitably, tension begins
to grow between the boys because of their colliding, differentiating beliefs. It
becomes a scenario that by extension, is a result of colonialism and Elijah’s
acculturation through residential schools.

            The
tension between the boys grows as Elijah loses more of his identity through
morphine addiction, bloodlust and the atrocities he performs on the
battlefield. Killing becomes a game to him and he even begins scalping his
victims so that he can collect trophies. Elijah’s bloodlust evolves from
killing Germans, to civilians/children, then lastly to his own comrades. Whether
it is the morphine, the war, or both, Elijah becomes unstable. As a result, Xavier
distances himself from Elijah to avoid the dangerous clash of their conflicting
cultures. However, distance only works for so long, as Xavier sees “a hunger in
Elijah that he can’t satisfy” (Boyden 326). Xavier realizes that Elijah has
gone too far, “you have gone mad” he says, “there is no coming back from where
you’ve travelled” (Boyden 370). Elijah has undergone the irreversible
transformation into the monster that his people fear, the windigo. Ironically, Niska
and Xavier come from a family whose obligation is to remove such a threat from
the community.  They are windigo hunters
by blood. Unfortunately, even now, Xavier sticks to his strong cultural values and
cannot turn his back on what Elijah has done. As a result, while Elijah
experiences the complete loss of his cultural identity, Xavier accepts his own cultural
destiny by stepping into his ancestors’ shoes and killing Elijah, the windigo,
just as his family has been trained to do for generations. Xavier’s strong,
untamed identity compared to Elijah’s weak identity, highlights the loss of Indigenous
culture and identity through European acculturation.

            In
summary, not only does colonialism result in the forceful assimilation of
Indigenous people, it also creates a divide within the Indigenous culture. This
is a divide that separates the civilized, educated Indigenous people from their
bush dwelling counterparts. Through the eyes of Niska and Xavier, Boyden
explores the intergenerational impacts of European colonialism on Indigenous people.
For Niska’s generation, she experiences the forceful assimilation and the
destruction of a way of life. For Xavier’s generation, the Indigenous way of
life has already been diminished, and so he and Elijah are deprived of Cree
life long before they are born. Instead, Boyden uses Xavier to explore the
divide within Indigenous culture, a ramification of the unsuccessful
assimilation of previous generations. Boyden’s use of different generations
bridges the timeless issue of Indigenous genocide in Canada, an issue that was
relevant well before World War I, and an issue that remains relevant today.