Saturday, February 5, 2011

Colonization. There, I said it.

Colonization is probably one of the most loaded words in Canada.

I think it makes Canadians uncomfortable. Actually - let me try that again. It makes Canadians who who understand the true history of this country uncomfortable. Which, arguably, is probably a smaller percentage of Canadians. Most think colonization is a thing of the past, reinforced by "post-colonial theory" and lack of use of the term in popular culture.

But, Canada's history of colonization makes some Canadians uncomfortable because it demands that they come to terms with the genocide and various other levels of atrocities wrought against our people by their Canadian/European ancestors. And people can get pretty fired up about their ancestors. I remember two friends in high school whose friendship quickly ended after an argument over what "her ancestors did to my ancestors" - and they were both of European descent.

But wait - what about those Canadians who don't connect with their ancestors? In other words, the Canadians who don't realize that they may have had the same values and beliefs that necessitate(d) colonization that their ancestors did, and instead distance themselves from family who didn't walk to earth in their lifetime. I would venture to guess that those Canadians think this comic is racist towards Canadians:

(I got this here)

And yes, those Canadians are out there.

But of course, I can't leave out the number of Canadians who would find this comic hilarious. Those Canadians are the allies. The ones who understand Canada's history of colonization, but it doesn't make them uncomfortable. Rather, they feel the the impulse to attend rallies for Indigenous rights, major in "Aboriginal Studies" and sometimes even dedicate their lives to educating their fellow Canadians about colonization.


I didn't begin this post to try classify Canadians into various groups related to how they feel about colonization. But I believe that everything happens for a reason, so there you have it.

I meant to talk about my feelings about colonization. (For now at least, because it changes, and I think that's a good thing.)

I never gave much thought to colonization until, well, around 2007 when I started my M.A. I mean, before that I knew about the devastating impacts that residential schools have had on our people and I witnessed some of those effects first hand, but I never named it as 'colonization' or thought about the intersectionality of all of the issues in our communities.

After I was able to put the term 'colonization' to all of this, I felt *so* empowered. I threw the term around in essays and in speaking to friends at pubs. (I didn't so much throw it in the face of Canadians - despite my above 'manifesto' on Canadians and colonization, I actually have a pretty non-confrontational nature and it takes a lot for me to tell people things I know they don't want to hear.)

But then something changed.

Yesterday, on my drive to work, I tuned in to CBC Radio in the middle of an interview with someone who works in security for the City of Ottawa. It sounded as though he was travelling to a "third world" country to do "humanitarian" aid.

"How do you think you'll experience culture shock?" the interviewer asked.

"Well, due to the effects of colonialism," the dude began, ''the people have become very formal. They address each other using 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' and wear full suits to work."

In my experience, the purpose of discussing colonization is to provide context. But with little to no context in his statement, I found the evocation of colonization to remove the self-determination of the people - whoever they were he spoke of.

So, my question is: when does a so-called effect of colonization, in this example the dress or fashion of a people, belong to the people?

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