The following is a transcript of part 1/3 from a new audio documentary entitled Hoping Against Hope: The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada.
For details of the documentary or to download the full transcript, please see here – and, if you’d like to read a review of the documentary, please see this page on dominionpaper.ca
Part One – Colonization and the Killing of History
Welcome to Hoping Against Hope? The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada, a three-part series produced by Praxis Media Productions and the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group. This is the first installment, Colonization and the Killing of History Narrated by Ardath Whynaught
Narration: Aboriginal communities throughout Canada are beset with record levels of suicide, high infant mortality rates, rampant sexual exploitation, epidemic levels of gas-sniffing, and alcohol, drug and solvent abuse. Furthermore there is an over-representation of indigenous people in the prison system, and chronic levels of desperate poverty.
Exploring why this is happening is the theme of this piece. Throughout, we’ll be exploring the underbelly of our history to paint a picture of our humanity. We will challenge the myths that justify today’s reality of colonialism in Canada.
We are frequently given explanations that somehow locate the source of these problems within Aboriginal individuals themselves. Notice that most explanations blame Indians: genetic predispositions to alcoholism or suicide, lack of education, or even one’s personal lack of cultural identity. Others blame social or geographic isolation, cultural deprivation in the community, corrupt band councils or difficulties adjusting to a legacy of colonialism that may not have been pretty, but is now- somehow- behind us.
Dr. Roland Chrisjohn is Oneida from the Haudenaushaunee Confederacy and the Director of Native Studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. He disagrees with these explanations and summarizes the situation at the outset of his book ‘The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada.’
Roland Chrisjohn: What if the Holocaust had never stopped?
What if no liberating armies invaded the territory stormed over by the draconian State? No compassionate throng broke down the doors to dungeons to free those imprisoned within? No collective outcry of humanity arose as stories of the State’s abuses were recounted? And no Court of World Opinion seized the State’s leaders and held them in judgment as their misdeeds were chronicled? What if none of this happened?
What if, instead, with the passage of time the World came to accept the State’s actions as the rightful and lawful policies of a sovereign nation having to deal with creatures that were less than fully human?
What if the Holocaust had never stopped, so that, for the State’s victims, there was no vindication, no validation, no justice, but instead the dawning realization that this was how things were going to be? What if those who resisted were crushed, so that others, tired of resisting, simply prayed that the ‘next’ adjustment to what remained of their ways of life would be the one that, somehow, they would be able to learn to live with? What if some learned to hate who they were, or to deny it out of fear, while others embraced the State’s image of them, emulating as far as possible the State’s principles and accepting its judgment about their own families, friends, and neighbors? And what if others could find no option other than to accept the slow, lingering death the State had mapped out for them, or even to speed themselves along to their State-desired end?
Then, you would have Canada’s treatment of the North American Aboriginal population in general, and the Indian Residential School Experience in particular.
And here and now we are going to prove it to you.
Narration: In 1492, Christopher Columbus reached the Americas. He was not the first visitor to cross the ocean from faraway lands, such as the Norse or Chinese, but he did represent a new way of life that violently spread across the so-called New World.
Contrary to popular belief, the roots of European colonialism do not begin here, but rather in Europe itself. Michael Parenti is an outspoken scholar, activist and author.
Michael Parenti: The earliest regions in which the Western powers imposed economic underdeveloped were on Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe was European, Caucasian. That was in the 16th century. Britain’s oldest colony was a white colony. Its oldest most oppressed colony at least for any number of centuries; going back 700 years or more was populated entirely by white Europeans. I’m talking about Ireland. If the Imperialists exploited darker peoples, it was for economic gain. They didn’t care what race you were. If you’ve got a good farm, you got something going there that I want. I don’t care if you’re white, black, yellow, red, whatever.
Narration: The expansionist nature of European societies required the subjugation of peoples to feed the growing needs of burgeoning capitalism. As such, anybody who got in the way of the seizure of lands or other material wealth became the subjects of colonialism. Dr. Roland Chrisjohn-
Roland Chrisjohn: Residential schools for the Irish for the Welsh, for the Scottish during the development of what we now call Great Britain was exactly what they were doing to First Nations people, and that is stripping them of their language, stripping them of their tribal backgrounds and their cultures and substituting a series of invented traditions, so the picture today for example of the Scotsman with the tartan and kilt and the tam Shan is manufactured! Scottish people, Irish people and Welsh people were tribal societies and living as tribal societies, they rejected and resisted being forced into an industrialized,depersonalized system where they were supposed to treat themselves as more or less fodder for someone else’s industrial machine. They fought about it and they lost. It’s not a nice history, but there is a history there. Without that history, it seems, as Indian residential schools are something that fell fully formed out of the sky as something that the Canadians were trying to do to indigenous peoples. No! It happened to indigenous peoples all over the world. There are residential schools today!
Narration: Ward Churchill is a member of the Keetowah Cherokee nation and Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Boulder, Colorado. He has been involved with the American Indian Movement since 1972 and has authored numerous books on the topic of Indigenous people, colonialism and genocide.
Ward Churchill: Colonialism, in its legal definition, simply means the assertion of primacy by one nation over another, as indicated by a desire to benefit from the land and/or resources and/or labor, it can be any or all of the above, of the subject people by the colonizing people.
The classic colonial formation, of the countries of Europe exporting themselves literally in terms of their population, in terms of their technology, in terms of their ideology, in terms of what Adolf Hitler would eventually call their ‘belton-slaung’, and imposing themselves upon the rest of the planet.
There was a period of time in the 19th century, when at least four fifths of the planetary surface was claimed by one or another European power, parasitically draining them of their assets, of their vitality, in order to enrich and empower itself, to assert itself ultimately the cutting edge of advancement of the entire human project since day one and to entitle itself to a status of privilege and pre-preponderance in terms of politics, which remains essentially unabated to the present moment.
So you have the British empire, upon which the sun never set, of which Canada and previously the area now known as the United States was once a part, extended itself into the Caribbean, into small sectors of what’s known as Ibero-America, out across the pacific, expounded itself in India, wielded a certain hegemonic influence in its self-proclaimed sphere in China, which dominated sectors of Africa for a better of a century and so on and so on.
Narration: Colonialism is not just the theft of territory, and populating it with new settlers and their way of life. It also involves the destruction of the social, political, and economic institutions of the original inhabitants.
Many Indigenous nations were instrumental Allies to the crown during the colonial wars between the English and French. As a result, it became difficult for Canada to claim indigenous territory through right of conquest. When Canada became a country in 1867, the problem of how to steal Indigenous land took a new direction.
The solution to the Indian Problem became a reduction of those who were ‘officially’ considered ‘Indian’. The Indian Act came into existence in 1876, nine years after Canada morphed from a British colony into a country, superseding over 600 sovereign indigenous nations. The Indian Act of 1876 introduced initiatives, which were entirely consistent with the need to bureaucratically eliminate Indians. In essence, the motto; ‘The only good Indian is a Dead Indian’ became: ‘The Only Good Indian is a Non-Indian.’
The Indian Act involved the imposition of the band council system of government over pre-existing traditional forms of social and political organization. In some communities, Canadian band council democracy was literally introduced by force of arms.
Patricia Monture-Angus: I don’t have a perspective on being aboriginal. I am, period. I am a Mohawk woman. It’s not a perspective. It’s a way of being.
Narration: Patricia Monture-Angus is Professor of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.
Patricia Monture-Angus: Don’t tell me a Band Council is traditional Government, don’t tell me it’s Indian Government. Those are the government structures they forced on our people. They come out of the Indian Act. As far as I’m concerned I’m going toreject anything that comes out of the Indian act because of the pain it has caused our communities.
Narration: It isn’t surprising that most Canadians do not understand the legacy of colonialism, and its existence on these lands since this history is not properly taught in schools.
Andrea Bear Nicholas: Also we talk about history, at least from our perspectives as First Nations people that it distorts, it omits, it lies about our history.
Narration: Andrea Bear Nicholas is Maliseet from Tobique and Atlantic Chair in Native Studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. She describes some common misconceptions about treaties.
Andrea Bear Nicholas: For those of you who live in the Maritimes, you probably know what a big issue treaties have become, but I like to use this example because it shows that most Maritimers did not even hear of treaties until the last decade or decade and a half ago. Why? Because someone or some group of someone’s chose not to include it in what children learn; what people learn in school. And I’m pretty convinced that that’s been fairly deliberate. There has been an attempt to get rid of Aboriginal people since day one, to get rid of the truth about our past with the settler, the immigrant society, the details of that past, to forget that our relationship is not a relationship of simply an ethnic group, but that we actually are nations, we have a nationhood relationship with the Canadian state, the Canadian nation. And I would insist that this be the understanding of the reason why this has been left out of the textbooks. These treaties are not just Aboriginal treaties. These are treaties between Aboriginal people and the Canadian state, the Canadian people.
In the Maritimes, the only existing treaties were Peace and Friendship Treaties. They were nation-to-nation agreements, which promised to end the hostilities between the encroaching settlers and Aboriginal peoples. The Peace and Friendship Treaties, unlike most of the treaties across the country, are treaties between First Nations and the British. They were treaties signed at the end of six wars that spanned a period of about 100 years. Not one deals with the land question, not one is a land surrender of any kind.
Roland Chrisjohn: Nova Scotia is not surrendered territory. Canada has no right to write Canada across Nova Scotia, to collect taxes from the people who inhabit the land, cut down trees, to allocate natural resources, to pollute water in Nova Scotia. At least 90% of Quebec is not surrendered territory. About 75% of Ontario is not surrendered territory. The status of the Prairie treaties, which do appear to be surrenders, are questionable on two bases: One, The Indians have no memory of land surrender being raised’ And there is actually documented evidence of the people who were signing the treaties as saying: ‘Ha! Ha! We put one over on the Indians. We didn’t tell them what they were actually signing. We mistranslated it!’ Or John MacLean is a really great one for that, he says; ‘the people we wanted to sign the surrender wouldn’t, so we found some other people, liquored them up and declared them the Chief and tribal council and got them to sign it!’ In a fair court, how much would hold up? So the status of the REAL surrendered land is still questionable. 75% of British Columbia is not seeded territory; only the far Northeastern arm it’s covered by Treaty 8 in Alberta may be surrendered territory. The Yukon Territory is not ceded territory. Where did Canada get the right to write ‘Canada’ across that? When you add it all up, for about 90% of Canada, even under the best possible scenario, there is no legal transfer of title from the Aboriginal inhabitants to the Crown.
What that means is that the absence of such, according to European laws, it doesn’t matter if the Indians had a law about this, but according to European laws the legal inheritors of property- you get your legal inheritance! You don’t have to have a will. I get my share simply by the fact that, under European law, I am legal progeny of that person. The Aboriginal people in Canada today are the legal successors under European law of the unseeded territory. So- not only is all this land NOT Canada. But they owe for everything they’ve taken out. The trees have to come back, the lobsters have to come back, the gold, the nickel up in Voise’s bay, the trees up in Lubicon territory, the oil under the Stonechild reserve up in Edmonton. How many supposed transfers of possession were illegal?
When I talk to non-indigenous people they often say, well’ That was a long time ago and I didn’t have anything to do with that. Well, sorry- the receiver of a stolen good is also a criminal. The fact that you’ve got a deed from your Grandfather who stole it from the Indians doesn’t make it any more legal; it’s still a theft. You’re still the receiver of stolen goods. None of this is expiated. It’s expiated less than one circumstance; if the Indians are eliminated. If the land becomes literally uninhabited then it’s free. Free and clear. So, one of the problems of European political economics in terms of its expansion in the world has always been, terminating indigenous peoples.
Narration: A commonly held belief of European superiority holds that one ‘advanced’ society will inevitably replace another inferior or ‘primitive’ society. Michael Parenti challenges this notion:
Michael Parenti: If you look closely at the indigenous peoples of North Central and South America for instance. Compare them to what life was like in Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, they had agricultural skills that were as good as anything in Europe. They had horticultural skills, they had crafts, they had medicine and herbs and tribal democratic practices that were not in abundant supply in Europe. But these Indigenous, these Native people, these First Nation people, Native Americans, Indians, whatever the names we give them, they did lag behind Europe in a number of things: Hangings and murders, Europe had a much higher rate. Syphilis, gonorrhea, small pox, typhoid, bubonic plague, much higher in Europe, a fact unknown in North America. Slavery and prostitution. There was some African slavery, there were instances of African slavery to be sure but it was nothing like what you had in the Roman Empire or during serfdom and the like. Religious wars, witch hunts and inquisitions, Europe had them beat in all of these things.
Narration: The myth of European superiority masks the violence behind the implementation of colonialism, as if it was the necessary outcome of an evolutionary process. Of course, colonization in Canada was not as pretty as some want us to believe.
Andrea Bear Nicholas-
Andrea Bear Nicholas: The province of New Brunswick came out with a textbook last year. Their whole thing was that relations had always been ‘pretty good’ between Indigenous peoples and the invading peoples. When one looks at the details, the particular stories of those contacts, although these stories and accounts are sparse, we don’t have a lot for this area of the world.
Almost every last one of them has violence, has invasion, has arrogance, has ignorance, immediate oppression of the peoples who are being met. Immediate conflict, so it’s very difficult in my head for anybody to characterize that whole first contact or couple of centuries of first contacts as anything but violent and anything but oppressive. It was entirely an attempt to get at our land, our resources and if it meant being friendly to us for a while, it usually didn’t last.
Narration: Andrea Bear Nicholas describes one method of eradication that was used in the first wave of colonization. Bounties were paid by the crown for confirmed death of Indians, including women and children.
Andrea Bear Nicholas: One of the most obvious and perfect examples of the violence, the genocide that was practiced against us: the bounties were bounties on our scalps or our bodies, if a scalp could be produced in lieu of a whole body that was okay too.
They were issued quite often against particular First Nation groups at the time. For instance, the people on the Penobscot River and not the rest. Unfortunately, if you’ve selected out one indigenous group that has the physical characteristics of them all, then it becomes something against the whole people, not just the particular nation. Any bounty hunter could produce any scalp and get money for it and there would be no way to prove that it was the particular group of people that was named in the original bounty.
The other thing is that most of our textbooks have never included anything about bounties and of course when we first tried to get this into textbooks, we met with incredible opposition. Finally, people were saying, ‘The only way we’ll include it is if you can footnote it,’ thinking that we could never footnote it. But of course, the colonizers kept very good records of what they thought was just behaviour and those records are there, just that they’ve been left out of the history rather conveniently.
Narration: Andrea Bear Nicholas has coined the term ‘historicide’ when talking about colonialism in Canada.
Andrea Bear Nicholas: I very much fell in love with Frantz Fanon’s statement ‘One of the first things a colonizer does when faced with a people that they wish to colonize is to turn to the past of that colonized people and pervert, distort and destroy it.’
That’s the essence of it. That it’s very important to make the colonized people into the image of the colonizer to make them forget their past, which is their oral tradition, their history, their whole way of being in the world. If you’re going to manipulate them or use them to your own purposes to exploit their land or their labour, one must have that whole history erased, so historicide ‘ the killing of history ‘ becomes an essential part of the colonizers duty to his own goals in colonial efforts.
Andrea Bear Nicholas: And one example, just one example is the story of an attack on one of our villages, Kingsclear which is right near Fredericton, an attack on one of those villages in the middle of the night by virtually an army of woodsmen, primarily- from the perspective of the woman who told this story- primarily an attack on the women. And I couldn’t find anything anywhere other than this story from this woman in the Maliseet language to verify in any other way that it happened until recently with the help of some archivists, found the record that this actually did happen at 3 o’clock in the morning on June 17 in1861. A piece of history that is pretty important in a people’s history, but a piece of history, that were it not for the language and this storyteller in her language, we would not know this. So, I guess I’m just saying that that’s the tip of the iceberg that I’m talking out. Just imagine how many other stories will never be gathered because the speakers are dying with their languages.
Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Colonization and the Killing of History, Part One of Hoping Against Hope? The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada, a three-part series produced by Praxis Media Productions and the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group. A special thanks to the Department of Native Studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton
For more information, please check out our websites at praxismedia.ca and nspirg.org
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