By Sharon O Nyangweso
I am a guest in a stolen house. I can sympathize with the victims because a long time ago my house was the scene of a crime as well.
Indigenous people in North America have suffered an unprecedented amount of discrimination, violence, silencing and long-reaching emotional and psychological damage. This violence has continually been denied by the white majority and protest has been stifled by governments and civilians alike.
My childhood in Kenya had introduced me to the first occupants of this land form playing “cowboys and Indians,” which I later realized was quite racist.
My first encounter with Indigenous people in Canada was in Grade 7. Until then I had thought Canada was made of white people only.
So really, Indigenous people didn’t exist in my psyche until I was 14 years old. That may sound funny to some Africans in the Diaspora but I think of it as truly tragic, if only because my continent had been under colonial domination for centuries.
However, that Grade 7 introduction wasn’t any better than the racist game I once played. It was a quick introduction, a candy-coated story of “settlers’ and natives” having mutual trade agreements and skipping off into the sunset together. I am now well aware of the indignities Indigenous people face in this continent at the hands of the Canadian and American governments and its peoples.
Even so I came to Canada as a student to reap the benefits that came with it. But I most definitely did not apply for a student visa with the Algonquin Nation or the Grand Council of the Crees; instead my visa was granted by the government of Canada, which proudly states that the country gladly welcomes immigrants and acknowledges their economic value to the country. Such sentiments are not extended to Indigenous people.
What part then do I as an immigrant play in the colonial structure that is Canada? Am I participating in the continued oppression of Indigenous people?
The complex relationship between immigrant, occupied and occupier is not one that has been discussed in depth in this country. Even within discussions of race, either race is not discussed among immigrants because “we should just be glad to be here” and not create any trouble. Racial issues pertaining to immigrants of colour and Indigenous peoples are very rarely discussed at the same time.
Although it sounds a little crass, I believe this is the Canadian equivalent of “house slave” and “field slave” because we as immigrants are given the proverbial nod from white Canada while indigenous people are seen as less than.
We are defined as “hard-working” while they are seen as trouble-makers. Why is it that no relationship between us new-comers and the original Canadians has ever been fostered? Why is there no comradeship when many of us have been victims of the colonial domination? Why aren’t we eager to join in the Indigenous fight for self-governance and self-determination?
We are not innocent bystanders in the formation of Indigenous relations in Canada. We as immigrants buy into the dangerous belief about the rightful owners of this land. We are quick to internalize the idea that Indigenous people are this country’s sore spot, and that we should, like our white counterparts, ignore them.
By doing this, we subscribe to the racist narratives about our Indigenous and African brothers and sisters. We allow stereotypes that dehumanize and belittle all of us.
We have failed to extend a hand to our rightful hosts on this continent. We must take to task the education our Canadian children receive regarding Indigenous people and we much ensure they respect this nation’s first people to the same degree as they respect their own ancestors.
We cannot walk down the long road of freedom at home and abroad if we refuse to march on the streets of Ferguson with our hands up or refuse to stand at Parliament’s steps demanding answers to questions like the pipelines ravaging indigenous lands.
We are guests in a stolen house and it’s time to acknowledge the owners.
Sharon O Nyangweso, 24, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and African Pre-Colonial History. This column was first published on rabble.ca, a progressive Canadian online magazine.