The Great White Father syndrome displayed by the governments of Canada and Australia toward indigenous peoples this week has deep roots. Rooted in European Christian colonialism, the edicts handed down in Ottawa and Canberra over federal education policy reek of nineteenth century imperial racism. Holding indigenous communities’ benefits for such things as decent housing hostage, by conditioning fulfillment of these federal obligations on indigenous peoples’ acquiescence to state coercion over education, is reminiscent of an earlier era when indigenous children were kidnapped by missionaries and state police in order to eradicate indigenous governance, religion and culture. The fact we still see this humanitarian drama playing out five years after the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicates how little modern states have learned from the colonial experience. Improving their relationship with indigenous nations in the future requires discarding the harmful attitudes of the past.
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