By Oscar Wailoo
In order to walk into a place, elbow people aside and take it over, you must believe you have a right to do so and that the people are inferior beings or worse, not human beings at all; God is always useful to bring in the toolkit.
Black people, Africans, understand the idea of not being considered human. So much so that those whose ancestors were captured, shipped to the “New World” and worked as slaves for centuries, were required to shout and rage and die to prove their humanity, and are still doing so just to be treated with respect in and by countries that claim to be civilized and fair.
The “civilized and civilizing” countries that for centuries combed the globe in search of labour, cheap or better still, free, natural resources and land, have salved their consciences by creating myths to explain what was in fact theft and genocide. It was, they say, to save the souls of ungodly savages; that millions of the ungodly died is mere collateral damage in service of the greater good of Christian civilization and the greater material riches for all.
They will be grateful once they get a taste of liberty, equality, justice, peace, order and good government.
Time has allowed settler countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia and others to build a history describing themselves as beacons of freedom and justice, ready to bring democracy to those who have not yet received their benevolence.
That settler history became entrenched through sheer repetition. For us in Canada, it’s been a wonderful thing to live by and to boast about. But “… most history,” according to Ronald Wright in his book Stolen Continents, “when it has been digested by the people, becomes myth.”
But myths are tricky things. If they stray too far from reality they become virtual lies. That happens when events contradict the central meaning of a country’s well-arranged, universally accepted past. In Canada, the problem occurred because the First Nations of the country survived and – worst of all – their memory survived.
That jumped up and bit us when Justice Murray Sinclair, after hearing more than 7,000 victims of Canada’s residential school system, published the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The report tells of the forced removal of aboriginal children from their parents to be schooled in Christian church schools to, according to founding father Sir John A. Macdonald, “acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
When the last residential school was closed in 1996, 150,000 children (a third of the aboriginal population) were raised without access to their families. After being subject to abuses ranging from rape to sterilization, approximately 4,000 died; most buried in unmarked graves. Thousands of aboriginals spanning several generations attest to the destructive effects of an institution that operated for more than 100.
The report describes “cultural genocide.”
Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail wrote “… the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which Canada ratified and has been an enthusiastic supporter of – does not have a separate category called “cultural genocide.”
It defines genocide itself as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical or religious group” by, among other things, “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” (Canada’s indigenous population declined to record lows during the century of residential schools) and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Settler mythology never allowed facts to get in the way but now we have proof of cultural genocide, contrived and undeniable.
Author and philosopher John Ralston Saul said, “There are good and bad things in our society, successes and failures. But there is only one fundamental reality that remains unaddressed. That is the situation of the aboriginal people … This is the single most important issue before us, whether we are recently arrived in Canada or have been here for centuries.”
It is the last chance to get it right.