On colonial holidays

This weekend marked celebrations of nationalism all across Turtle Island, with canada day on july 1st and independence day today. But while we enjoy a long weekend, bbqs and fireworks, we must recognize the expense that was paid by the Indigenous peoples of this continent for us to enjoy such revelries.

We must remember that these nations are invented, that their borders were drawn by white men without respect or consideration given to the existing Nations who lived here before the colonials’ violent arrival. We must remember that these borders are maintained by political and economic ideologies that benefit imperialist powers. We must remember that the lines drawn across Turtle Island have fractured Indigenous families and communities, and that the wall separating Mexico from america keeps Indigenous peoples out of their rightful home, calling them illegal immigrants.

We must remember genocide, the beginnings of biological warfare, the displacement from ancestral lands, the denial of culture, the sterilization of Indigenous women, the stolen children, the residential schools, the assimilation, the continued poverty within and isolation of Indigenous communities, the death of languages, the fetishization, commercialization and appropriation of Indigenous bodies, identities and cultures.

For those of us who are descendants of settlers, we must recognize and analyze our privileges and understand the historical context and complexities of our presence on this land. We must commit to being better allies, without dwelling in guilt. We must listen, and offer up our voices in support when we are asked. We must stop treating the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island as an afterthought in our organizing. We must commit to being more respectful, critical and loving in our diverse allied communities.

Most importantly we must remember and recognize that Indigenous peoples are not extinct, are resilient, are brave, are struggling and are brilliant.

For more thoughts on the pain of national holidays in Indigenous communities: this article is more particular to canada day.

And for a wonderful counter-narrative to colonial imagery of Indigenous peoples, take a look at this tongue in cheek tribute to Edward S Curtis.

Author: has written 16 posts for this blog.

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80 Responses

  1. Macha
    Macha July 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm |

    Great post. Husband and I aren’t doing anything for the 4th of July today, not in protest or anything, just because we don’t personally see it as much of a thing to celebrate. So a bunch of Euro-Americans conquered a patch of land and decided to run it on their own rather than as a colony. What about that should make me happy?

    The Declaration of Independence and US Constitution’s statements on human rights and dignity are admirable, especially after the revisions that acknowledged the rights of people who aren’t of European descent as well had taken effect. I just don’t feel like blowing things up to declare my own arbitrarily-claimed awesomeness.

  2. Jadey
    Jadey July 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm |

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Ever since I read the Indian Act, I stopped celebrating Canada Day. The creation of this country is based on the systematic de-legitimization and erasure of Indigenous claims to sovereignty, by any means possible, including physical and spiritual violence. It wasn’t an accident or an unfortunate mistake – the government of Canada set out to take care of “the Indian problem”, as they said in their own words. Although generally I tend to assume stupidity rather than malice where large conspiracies are concerned, the Canadian government has been very thorough in documenting the designs and consequences of their plans to eliminate the perceived competition of Indigenous nations and people to white European claims on this land (the 1969 White Paper created by the Trudeau government was at one point supposed to be the killing blow and is very clear in its ambition to eliminate any remaining legal Canadian recognition of Indigenous identity, as if they had any right to box it up in legislation in the first place). Thank god that their legislation alone has not been enough to erase Indigenous people in this land, although considerable damage has been done. My feelings toward the currently existing nation are ambivalent, but my feelings toward the founding of this country are purely negative.

  3. matlun
    matlun July 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm |

    Good post

    It’s a sad fact that virtually every nation on earth has been built on a foundation of blood. All nations were at one time or another “invented” by those with the power to do so.

    Nevertheless, I still think that the enlightenment ideals at the core of the US independence are worth celebration.

  4. LC
    LC July 4, 2011 at 5:58 pm |

    I don’t think most USians understand how poisonous the First Nations issue is in Canada. Much as the Slave Trade is the great cancer at the heart of the US, the Indian act is the cancer at the heart of Canada.

  5. The Flash
    The Flash July 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm |

    So… you know Independence day has nothing to do with American Indians /qua/ American Indians suffering, and it’s about the relationship between colonized people and colonizers, right? So it’s actually not a time to remember the suffering of the American Indians any more than any other day (except maybe Columbus Day and/or Thanksgiving), and perhaps a day to remember it *less*, since government without representation is kind of part of the suffering of the American Indians, and July 4th is about ending government without representation…

    Let’s try loving America, today huh? It’s a good country that’s done some bad things but has a better balance sheet than everyone else everywhere ever.

  6. Athenia
    Athenia July 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm |

    Right on. We should commemorate the sacrifice and contribution of *all* peoples that created the nations we know today.

  7. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage July 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm |

    Big heaping piles of this. The settler governments’ continuing failure to treat the various aboriginal nations as equals will poison relations as long as the policy of patronization lasts.

    I tossed nationalism and patriotism long ago. Worthy ideals and basic ethics have no borders, while oppression and fear often rely on the existence of borders imposed in the name of authority and pitiless abstractions.

  8. Mechelle
    Mechelle July 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm |

    The Flash:
    Let’s try loving America, today huh?It’s a good country that’s done some bad things but has a better balance sheet than everyone else everywhere ever.

    As a Black woman why should I love America?
    Why should LGBT people love America?
    Why should poor people love America?

    Lots those who do not identify as straight White middle/upper class Christian males would beg to differ.
    Historically, it begs to differ.

    America has a better balance sheet? I beg to differ. Even statistically the US tends to be lower on the list than many countries (especially Nordic countries) in terms of lifestyle, freedom, health care, poverty, etc.

    You might find this site interesting and stop being so delusional.

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/05/18/interesting-international-comparisons-website/

  9. Aelphaba
    Aelphaba July 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm |

    I love America because I can write I HATE AMERICA and not fear.

    I’m poor, queer, radical and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because I can hate America for all it isn’t and all it should be. I then can work to make it that way in anyway I see fit.

    I have history in my back pocket. I have the future at my fingertips. I chose to walk forward, into America, into its heart and listen to it.

    Let(s) go.

  10. Alex
    Alex July 4, 2011 at 9:00 pm |

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Anoushka, for this wonderful post! I see very little to be celebrated about where Canada Day is concerned given the historical colonization and ongoing oppression that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people face at the hands of the Canadian government (not to mention the racist and bigoted attitudes of many Canadians).

    And this, “(m)ost importantly we must remember and recognize that Indigenous peoples are not extinct, are resilient, are brave, are struggling and are brilliant” is a million kinds of perfect.

  11. Sara
    Sara July 4, 2011 at 9:06 pm |

    The Flash:
    It’s a good country that’s done some bad things but has a better balance sheet than everyone else everywhere ever.

    Umm… no. Not even close. Try losing the fuck-yeah-America bias and actually examine United States and North American history. You might be surprised. Seriously, more people in the US really need to recognize and treat our history as actual history and not as some whitewashed, overly romanticized, nationalist fable full of Jesus and Pocahontas. With that said, even if the US has a better track record than some countries (which I’d argue against, considering these things are, you know, relative), how does that justify any of the bullshit the US has committed or continues to perpetuate? It flat out doesn’t.

    I won’t celebrate this country until all of us who live here are fully respected as a human beings like we’re supposed to be. That might take awhile, but I try and remain optimistic.

  12. licious
    licious July 4, 2011 at 9:12 pm |

    Thanks for this. On Canada day, I was really struggling to find something to celebrate, and I truly thank you for putting this out there and reminding us all of the reality of the situation.

  13. bhuesca
    bhuesca July 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm |

    Ahem….hasn’t EVERY nation, EVER, began with a group of people establishing a nation through declaration (often including moving to new territory) and at the expense of the humans and animals and plants and insects that were already there? I think it’s good to remember in these types of discussions that homo sapiens evolved from Africa and spread outwards, and that ALL of us have ancestors, at one time or another, that are/were colonizers.

  14. Alison
    Alison July 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm |

    Sara: Umm… no. Not even close. Try losing the fuck-yeah-America bias and actually examine United States and North American history. You might be surprised. Seriously, more people in the US really need to recognize and treat our history as actual history and not as some whitewashed, overly romanticized, nationalist fable full of Jesus and Pocahontas.

    Seriously. It’s incredibly sad and frustrating that: 1) our school system teaches such a poor, inaccurate, prejudiced version of history, and 2) that so many people have that crappy instruction as their only knowledge of our country’s past, and never bother to delve further and learn a little truth here and there.

    Two glaring cases in point: Palin and Bachmann. And they are representative of a BIG portion of this country…and just as proud of their ignorance as the rest of them.

  15. April
    April July 4, 2011 at 10:52 pm |

    LC:
    I don’t think most USians understand how poisonous the First Nations issue is in Canada. Much as the Slave Trade is the great cancer at the heart of the US, the Indian act is the cancer at the heart of Canada.

    No, we don’t. This is very true. Something I’m planning to educate myself about more in the near future.

    USians, in my experience, tend to think one of two ways about Canada: either we make fun of them for… well, for simply being Canadians (kind of like how we Minnesotans make fun of Iowa and Wisconsin merely for existing near us), or the lefties of us idealize everything about it. I’m sure there’s a vast middle ground we that doesn’t quite fit in with our stereotypes…

  16. Fine
    Fine July 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm |

    In Australia, some of us call Australia Day, Invasion Day.

  17. Henry
    Henry July 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm |

    Europeans (mostly economic and religious refugees) moved to this land, spread out, and conquered / subjugated the indigenous inhabitants, just like every other nation that has ever existed. Or, in other words, to found this nation we killed a whole lot of native peoples. Recognizing that fact does not preclude celebrating the 4th. Ignorance of history doesn’t factor into it at all.

    If you’re an American (like me) who has lived his entire life enjoying the benefits of living in the nation that resulted from that conquest, it feels to me profoundly ungrateful to refuse to celebrate our Independence from Great Britain in some attempt to exculpate any sorrow or regret I might feel about our history in other regards. Whatever the history, I’m glad the United States exists, and I’m happy to live here. Any attempt on my part to claim otherwise would be moral posturing. You can recognize and regret the atrocities and injustices in our history and still celebrate the Enlightenment ideals that are represented in the founding.

  18. Mechelle
    Mechelle July 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm |

    Henry:
    Europeans (mostly economic and religious refugees) moved to this land, spread out, and conquered / subjugated the indigenous inhabitants, just like every other nation that has ever existed. Or, in other words, to found this nation we killed a whole lot of native peoples. Recognizing that fact does not preclude celebrating the 4th. Ignorance of history doesn’t factor into it at all.

    If you’re an American (like me) who has lived his entire life enjoying the benefits of living in the nation that resulted from that conquest, it feels to me profoundly ungrateful to refuse to celebrate our Independence from Great Britain in some attempt to exculpate any sorrow or regret I might feel about our history in other regards. Whatever the history, I’m glad the United States exists, and I’m happy to live here. Any attempt on my part to claim otherwise would be moral posturing. You can recognize and regret the atrocities and injustices in our history and still celebrate the Enlightenment ideals that are represented in the founding.

    That would still mean some USians wouldn’t have to celebrate this holiday, because even now, not everyone in the US has it so easy and not all of them have benefited from the conquest. Even if you look at reservations, because of what we as a people did to Native Americans, it still shows and many Native Americans live in abject poverty. I’m not sure why that is worth celebrating. Some of you all are forgetting what consequences of colonialism that still are prevalent today.

  19. Asinknits
    Asinknits July 5, 2011 at 12:14 am |

    I don’t celebrate Australia day, I am not sure that I want to celebrate the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands. Even though my ancestors clearly benefitted in their move from the UK to Australia.

    Also, the jingoism that goes with Australia day in the last few years pisses me off.

  20. Kaitlin
    Kaitlin July 5, 2011 at 12:55 am |

    “Celebrating” America goes on all the time, every day. July 4th is just a more formal and extravagant day for doing so. On the other hand, I hardly ever see anyone recognize indigenous Americans and their sacrifices. Considering that 99% of blogs will have celebratory posts, it seems ridiculous to criticize one for asking us to step back for a moment and think about some of the history behind it.

  21. sp
    sp July 5, 2011 at 1:06 am |

    Mechelle: As a Black woman why should I love America?
    Why should LGBT people love America?
    Why should poor people love America?

    Lots those who do not identify as straight White middle/upper class Christian males would beg to differ.
    Historically, it begs to differ.

    America has a better balance sheet? I beg to differ. Even statistically the US tends to be lower on the list than many countries (especially Nordic countries) in terms of lifestyle, freedom, health care, poverty, etc.

    as a woman of color, who comes from a family of colored immigrants, who came from a nation of colored peoples that is not america, and who are all now residing in america, let me state unequivocally that there is NOwhere in the world that we would rather be living. this is the country that gave my father, uncles, aunts, and countless cousins a chance to study here and have better opportunities for our family. this is the country where my mother was finally allowed to earn a high school education and then some. where she was allowed to move freely and speak freely as she wanted.

    let me assure you, in the not-so-small place where my parents hailed from, there is NO WAY i would have been been able to get the kind of education that i did, have the freedom that i do, drive a car wherever i want, listen to whatever music i want, have privacy when i want, cook and eat whatever food i want from all over the world, marry the person i want, and pursue the career that i want. here, in the us, i have done all of those things. maybe had we gone to some nordic country as you say i could have done better. but we didn’t. we came here, and we are very, very happy, and very grateful.

    we are not by our wildest dreams rich. but i’d MUCH, MUCH rather be poor in america than poor in my parent’s native land. all those immigrants you guys are always rooting for? those people are me and my family. and those people, like me, we love it here. and you know what? perhaps this hasn’t been your experience, but the vast vast majority of americans i have met – men, women, children, white, rich, poor, immigrants, black, and every other background you can think of – have been friendly and wonderful. yes, even most of the “evil” white rich men (that one’s for the liberals), and the “scary” poor black men (that one is for the conservatives), they’ve all got some good in their hearts.

    there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the dirty laundry of our nations past. of course that is important. but dirty laundry in and of itself does not invalidate all that is right about america today. that’s what we celebrate on independence day – what is right about america.

  22. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 1:33 am |

    Mechelle: That would still mean some USians wouldn’t have to celebrate this holiday, because even now, not everyone in the US has it so easy and not all of them have benefited from the conquest. Even if you look at reservations, because of what we as a people did to Native Americans, it still shows and many Native Americans live in abject poverty.

    The Native Americans living in the US today have far more life options and material wealth than those who were living before Columbus. You should not lose sight of the fact that the modern west is one of the best times and places to live in the history of the world.

    I would say that everyone living in the US has benefited from the conquest.

  23. Azeylea M.
    Azeylea M. July 5, 2011 at 1:38 am |

    matlun: The Native Americans living in the US today have far more life options and material wealth than those who were living before Columbus. You should not lose sight of the fact that the modern west is one of the best times and places to live in the history of the world.

    I would say that everyone living in the US has benefited from the conquest.

    Holy mother of fuck.

  24. Raja
    Raja July 5, 2011 at 1:50 am |

    I definitely wouldn’t say everyone has benefited from conquest…but yeah I’m glad to have grown up here on the west coast, i wouldnt pick anywhere else to live in this country. To me 4th of July just gives me an excuse to enjoy a good bbq and get very drunk, that’s about it.

  25. Medea
    Medea July 5, 2011 at 2:13 am |

    matlun: It’s a sad fact that virtually every nation on earth has been built on a foundation of blood. All nations were at one time or another “invented” by those with the power to do so.

    But some are worse than others because they were more recent and more violent–Norway the nation state was created by ethnic Norwegians, while the United States was founded by people who were alien to North America.

  26. Lisa A.
    Lisa A. July 5, 2011 at 2:17 am |

    Azeylea M.: Holy mother of fuck.

    Azeylea M.: Holy mother of fuck.

    Seconded.

  27. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 2:28 am |

    Azeylea M.: Holy mother of fuck.

    You don’t think so?
    The qualifier was those “living in the US”. That excludes everyone who was killed and those directly affected (as opposed as people today who live with the historical consequences).

    Who here would really prefer to live in pre-colonial society?

  28. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 2:34 am |

    Medea: Norway the nation state was created by ethnic Norwegians, while the United States was founded by people who were alien to North America.

    Norway may be a fairly good counter example. But Norway also has some problematic relationships with their indigenous people

    Also I am not convinced that the travel distance of the conquerors is that important.

  29. Shaun
    Shaun July 5, 2011 at 2:43 am |

    Who here would really prefer to live in pre-colonial society?

    I probably wouldn’t… but the qualifier is you’re comparing a 21st-century civilization with ones that, in some cases, are 15th-century. Sure, not every culture advances in a straight line technologically, but Native cultures weren’t static and there’s no reason to think without the European invasion they’d be living in the same state now they were 500 years ago. That’s actually pretty ridiculous.

    If we compare like to temporal like there are a number of places I’d choose to live over American society, then and now.

  30. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 3:37 am |

    Shaun: you’re comparing a 21st-century civilization with ones that, in some cases, are 15th-century.

    Well, counterfactual history is obviously speculative. I was assuming that without the the colonization there would not have been an industrial revolution and the Americas would have a similar society to the pre-colonial era.

    Obviously assuming that there would have been no significant interaction between the Americas and Europe by now is unrealistic, but assuming contact without some form of colonization and conquest is probably rather unrealistic too (or perhaps that is just me being cynical?)

    As for the current situation there are indeed countries I prefer to the US, but there are many more that I would classify as worse. In global and historical perspective life in the US and Canada is very good indeed.

  31. chava
    chava July 5, 2011 at 3:56 am |

    ….and Norway was able to become and persist as a nation state through rape and pillage of other nations. By and large there are no nations without blood on their hands.

    Medea: But some are worse than others because they were more recent and more violent–Norway the nation state was created by ethnic Norwegians, while the United States was founded by people who were alien to North America.

  32. chava
    chava July 5, 2011 at 4:04 am |

    Native people in the US have some of (if not THE) the worst rates of poverty, disease, infant mortality….any statistic you want to name. We’ve broken every treaty we ever made with them and taken the measly patches of land we left. The Havasupai used to live on a patch of land the size of Delaware, for God’s sake. Now it’s the Grand Canyon Nat’l Park.

    These are wrongs that exist in the present and need redress. So I find the “but they’re happier like this than they were in their backwards cultures” both offensive and ridiculous.

    matlun: You don’t think so?
    The qualifier was those “living in the US”. That excludes everyone who was killed and those directly affected (as opposed as people today who live with the historical consequences).

    Who here would really prefer to live in pre-colonial society?

  33. Mechelle
    Mechelle July 5, 2011 at 4:13 am |

    matlun: Well, counterfactual history is obviously speculative. I was assuming that without the the colonization there would not have been an industrial revolution and the Americas would have a similar society to the pre-colonial era.

    So, you’re saying you don’t think Native Americans were smart/knowledgeable enough to create an Industrial Revolution without European help? Nice. Very nice.

  34. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 4:29 am |

    chava: These are wrongs that exist in the present and need redress. So I find the “but they’re happier like this than they were in their backwards cultures” both offensive and ridiculous.

    I do not agree, but I guess it is a subjective judgment which type of society you want to live in.

    Now if you state that there are wrongs that have been done then obviously YES.

    * Pre-colonial population statistics are notoriously uncertain, but I think that the best current estimates of the population decrease caused by contact with the Europeans was about 80%. Mostly disease, true, but also due to direct violence and oppression.
    * For the US there was the whole “manifest destiny” plan to expand over the whole continent. The rights of the natives were just a problem to be overcome through genocide or assimilation.
    * We have (as you state) the treaties which were mostly unjust from the start (written by the stronger party) but were broken anyway as soon as this became expedient.
    * Then we have the historical systematic attempts to eradicate the indigenous cultures by forced assimilation which continued into modern times (for example in Canada).

    That is all historical truth, but I do not see this as in any way being in conflict with my above posts.

  35. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 4:35 am |

    Mechelle: So, you’re saying you don’t think Native Americans were smart/knowledgeable enough to create an Industrial Revolution without European help? Nice. Very nice.

    Within about 500 years?
    Possibly the mesoamericans who did have large and highly organized civilizations, but otherwise no. There was not enough population density or the type of specialization needed for that type of development.

  36. Ens
    Ens July 5, 2011 at 6:16 am |

    It’s not a choice between current history and never having contact between the so-called “Old World” and “New World”. Nor does it even mean that no Europeans could go live in what becomes the modern US or First Nations people could go stay in Europe.

    History could have played out such that the technology, flora, fauna, trade, and philosophy transfer still happened (and all of those things happened both ways, both for better and for worse in both ways). In the real world, Europe’s population density benefitted greatly just from getting the potato. You don’t have to be subjugated for centuries to see benefits.

  37. maruja de lujo
    maruja de lujo July 5, 2011 at 6:28 am |

    Let’s not assume that an industrial revolution is a really smart move on society’s part.
    In Britain, in combination with the Enclosures Act, it created an underclass in a permanent state of desperation and starvation, 50,000 of whom were shipped to North America as convicts. Britain only stopped using North America as a penal colony after the American revolution.
    Maybe native Americans were smart enough NOT to create an industrial revolution. Maybe life without electric irons and freeways and spray-on cheese wasn’t as bad as you’d think.

  38. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 6:57 am |

    @Ens: If that was supposed to be a counter argument to my posts I do not quite get it. I do not disagree with anything in your post.

  39. Natalia
    Natalia July 5, 2011 at 7:38 am |

    Every nation, kingdom, fiefdom, etc. is founded on violence and/or economic oppression. Some just turn out better than others – although for whom tends to be subjective.

    The U.S. hasn’t been invaded in a while, and it’s furthermore a very young country in its current incarnation, so I guess people don’t confront violence all of that often as it pertains to their own land – and neither do they recognize the violent context of certain celebrations. They don’t feel that they have to.

    The truth is, I think you can celebrate whatever it is that you want to celebrate (be in July 4th, or anything else) – while recognizing that hey, violence is a real part of my history.

    I don’t understand why so many people have a problem doing this, although I guess it’s a cultural thing. If your choice is often “I’m going to celebrate this and not give a crap about the context” vs. “zomg guilt,” then that’s kind of silly.

    I’m personally glad that my native city was invaded by the Varangians back in days of yore, because they wound up making it an important political center – although I’m sure that plenty of people who were around during that time would, *ahem*, disagree. The further you’re removed from conquest, the more nonchalant about it you become. Doesn’t make conquest any prettier, though.

    I’m glad I’m descended from Cossacks – though I know what the Cossacks were. I’m sure that if you’re Anglo-Saxon, you can always be aware of who it is that you’re relatives are. Plenty of advantages to be had from your bloodline, lots of them very much unfair. Wringing your hands over history is stupid – claiming said history doesn’t not exist, or is somehow unimportant is also pretty stupid. Nothing special about 4th of July in that context – though it can be plenty special in other contexts (I’m a naturalized U.S. citizen, I cannot take that for granted, for example – and I know plenty of people who feel the same).

  40. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage July 5, 2011 at 7:43 am |

    matlun:
    I would say that everyone living in the US has benefited from the conquest.

    So the ends justify the means?

    And that’s a rather presumptuous statement to claim that everyone on the continent has benefitted from the conquest. It completely rejects the aboriginal perspective, many of whom are excluded from the wealth, opportunities, and privilege afforded to people born to those who didn’t have their land and resources stolen out from under them.

    To those who argue “b-b-but Enlightenment ideals!” as a reason to celebrate, if the Fourth were about celebrating ideals that would be one kettle of fish. It’s not. It’s a celebration of a group of settler governments asserting their own authority, separate from the British monarchy, over a swath of territory claimed out from under the population that had already lived there for some thousands of years beforehand, who were given no say in the matter. How enlightened. This story repeated itself across practically the entire hemisphere, and all the shiny ideals and pretty words cannot obscure the bloody reality that took place.

    So, no, I will not show pride in being fortunate enough to have been born to people who were themselves lucky enough to be a member of the conquering culture, within a particular set of borders. Why should I be proud of sheer dumb luck? Should a person born in Syria, or China, or Russia be “proud” of where they live, who they were born to, or of the system of government they were born into? Why should I be proud of being associated with an entity I had no hand in creating, and have no practical say in changing, that continues to commit harmful acts while claiming to represent my interests, in the thrall of other entities that I have even less agency within? It’s certainly nice to be here, with widespread information, distribution, and medical technology, but I can have those things just as easily in any number of countries on this planet, and frankly I’m not sure how much longer our current resource use can be maintained.

    Those Enlightenment ideals would be nice if they were actually adhered to by the people waving them around like a flag. Admitting that history has been a rotten mess, that we’ve treated each other horribly, and that we can do better, is a good start.

  41. Brian
    Brian July 5, 2011 at 7:58 am |

    But some are worse than others because they were more recent and more violent–Norway the nation state was created by ethnic Norwegians, while the United States was founded by people who were alien to North America.

    The argument for “recentness” isn’t made anywhere I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know that it can be. The rest defines the identities of others in a way that’s inappropriate. I’m from an ethnic group that’s native to North America – I’m Anglo-Canadian. What little I know about my pre-Canadian ancestory suggests they probably came here as refugees – mostly from the Potato Famines and Highland Clearances.

    That the current state of First Nations is (varied, but often) quite bad is a problem. It’s an enormous problem. Racism is a substantial problem. That smallpox (& cholera & who knows what) killed ~90% of First Nations is something I can do nothing about but feel guilty. We all share the continent now (I don’t think we could seriously entertain deporting ~32 million Canadians), which is what we have. First Nations who live in poverty (or whatever other problem) deserve society’s help – though so do non-First Nations.

    Suggesting that there’s nothing worth celebrating about Canada day is suggesting there’s nothing worth celebrating about being Canadian. That Canadians have done a lot of ignorant, malicious, and downright evil things is atrocious – but that isn’t all there is to our identity, and it’s unsurprising that some of us’d get defensive when it’s suggested that it’s all there is.

  42. Lee
    Lee July 5, 2011 at 8:14 am |

    @matlun You seem to be forgetting the bit where a significant proportion of the population density of the Americas was destroyed by introduced European disease well before European people actually traveled to those places to even estimate that population density. Mortality rates in some places may have been in excess of 90%. That is the mortality rate of Ebola, for frak’s sake (actually, some Ebola is less virulent).

    Suggesting that North America was empty and devoid of technologically advanced populations, just because it was that way when Europeans saw it, ignores the very first, most devastating effects of the European conquest.

  43. Jadey
    Jadey July 5, 2011 at 8:36 am |

    Brian: Suggesting that there’s nothing worth celebrating about Canada day is suggesting there’s nothing worth celebrating about being Canadian.

    Personally, I wasn’t heaving with white settler guilt on Canada Day – I just don’t find anything worth celebrating about the founding of the country. I consider the nation existence to be unjust and flawed from a moral and legal standpoint. I’m well aware that this state of affairs is hardly uncommon from a global standpoint, but I will feel celebratory when Canada starts making true strides towards becoming an anti-racist, anti-colonial nation, rather than allowing the machinery of colonialism to grind onwards. I will celebrate our future when I feel there’s something worth lauding about it. The argument that we are a wealthy nation and therefore can provide many benefits to our citizens is problematic because currently our wealth is founded on our ability to control resources primarily and historically through colonial dominance. Sure, we’re still paying lip service to the idea that we partner with Indigenous nations for access, but somehow cooperation only seems to be an option when they say yes. So all that wealth is based on at-home colonialism as well as a handy helping of imperialism abroad – such a thing to be proud of!

    Social justice, amirite? Keep your coins, I want change. I’m not guilty to be a colonialist – I’m angry. Fuck you, Canada, that this is the legacy you’ve given us. Now we have to fix it.

    (I can’t speak to the USian situation – I don’t understand your country. I do find that “we’re number one at everything” attitude espoused by some USians extremely peculiar, but hey, cultural differences.)

  44. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |

    Lee: Suggesting that North America was empty and devoid of technologically advanced populations, [...]

    It is lucky I never did that then. (Even though the “technologically advanced” part could be argued)

    Re disease: When we are talking about a population decrease of 80-90%, this is an average. Compare this with the greatest European plague(s) in history – The black death in Europe killed an estimated 1/3 of the population.
    Even though the population decrease was not all due to disease, the effect of European diseases (mainly smallpox) on the American populations was simply horrific.

  45. L
    L July 5, 2011 at 8:58 am |

    matlun: Within about 500 years?
    Possibly the mesoamericans who did have large and highly organized civilizations, but otherwise no. There was not enough population density or the type of specialization needed for that type of development.

    But why does that even matter? Why are societies who have gone through the industrial revolution deemed better and more ‘advanced’ than societies who haven’t? Maybe living off the land and being resourceful and not trying to destroy the planet at every turn should be considered more advanced. Just because European colonial peoples decided first that they wanted to exploit everything around them doesn’t make them smarter or more advanced or less primitive.

    I don’t think everyone benefitted from conquest at all. Like, not even a little. Far more life options and material wealth? Doesn’t that kind of go without saying, since pre-Columbus First Nations people didn’t live in a monetatry-based economy? And what does material wealth matter when the First Nations community suffers from disease, alcoholism and drug addiction, incarceration rates, etc etc heads and tails above every other group? Not to mention they do not have access to the same material wealth, opportunities and privilege that descendants of colonialists do.

    Also, what Lee said. First nations people were largely wiped out before colonial peoples even had the chance to estimate population density.

  46. Bridget
    Bridget July 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |

    Jadey, I also find the “we’re number one!” business to be a bit odd. On a (really boring) date once, a guy was talking about politics and threw that in there, “of course, I think America is the greatest nation on Earth…” and I stopped him and said, “why is that?” He was completely thrown off and said he’d never really thought about it before. I then asked him what he was using as a basis for comparison, and had he ever even been to another country? He had not. Sigh.

  47. mephistephanies
    mephistephanies July 5, 2011 at 10:09 am |

    So, unless you think America is a terrible place to live, and lament about the fact that it’s not a social, educational and political Utopia…you’re a flag-wearing, Hummer-driving, America fetishist?

    (re: the comment thread, not the article.)

  48. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel July 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |

    I’m starting to get really tired of the fact that no one can post a somewhat divergent opinion on this website without getting reamed for it. I really vibe with what Anoushka is saying, but does that mean that I’m going to completely forget about all of the good this country has done for me and my family? No. That doesn’t erase or justify the wrongs committed against indigenous people in this country and this hemisphere.

    I acknowledge wholeheartedly that there are serious problems with the United States as it is at this current moment. That there were serious problems with its inception, with its creation. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to celebrate the fact that my family was able to emigrate here and create for themselves a life that would have been impossible in their native countries, that I *as a queer woman of color* have opportunities here that I would never have in other parts of the world.

    It really hurt me to see people so eager to write “I hate America” because it’s their right to do so. If you hate America, why are you here? If you hate it, go somewhere you *don’t* hate. I’m not saying that to be rude or dismissive; this is coming from a place of deep sorrow. If you hate you where you are, that type of deep-seated anger will slowly consume you. If you truly *hate* America, how can you be happy here? How can you ever be happy living in a nation that you hate? To have such a word thrown around with such fervor… And to have such a one-sided opinion of this issue be held up as the standard for this website, which I’ve always respected as trying to be informative while maintaining a feminist perspective… It really makes me sick.

  49. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 10:22 am |

    L: But why does that even matter? Why are societies who have gone through the industrial revolution deemed better

    That was a response to Mechelle. I have only discussed “better society” in the sense of “the society which is preferable to live in”. That kind of evaluation is obviously a somewhat subjective question and not very well defined. Even so, I would claim that modern, rich societies should rank very high on this scale in a global and historical comparison – regardless if you belong to a privileged group or not.

    L: Just because European colonial peoples decided first that they wanted to exploit everything around them doesn’t make them smarter or more advanced or less primitive.

    Yes, they were more advanced and less primitive (IMO). More advanced when it came to seafaring (so that they could go to the Americas) as well as in military technology (with obvious consequences). This has very little to do with the individual settlers being “smarter” though, and more to do with the knowledge and skills acquired through European history.

    Now, if we were talking about “morally advanced” that would be a different question.

    L: Far more life options and material wealth? Doesn’t that kind of go without saying, since pre-Columbus First Nations people didn’t live in a monetatry-based economy?

    That is irrelevant. Monetary values are not constant over time or space anyway, so if you were comparing the wealth you need to translate between different economical systems.

    Seriously, this is just not disputable.
    Today we have access to material wealth tribal and medieval societies could only dream about (even if you are classified as poor today). We have access to health care that trivially cures what previously was almost guaranteed to kill or maim. The opportunities and choices available to us are enormous compared to these older societies.

    Yes there are huge problems and injustices still today, but let us not over romanticize some kind of “noble savage” picture of pre colonial life. European or Native American, we are all humans and not stereotypes.

  50. Athenia
    Athenia July 5, 2011 at 10:28 am |

    I recommend the book “Lies my Teacher Told Me” for those who are interested in learning more about Native American history.

  51. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    Jessica Isabel: I’m starting to get really tired of the fact that no one can post a somewhat divergent opinion on this website without getting reamed for it.

    I think you have to accept that as the nature of internet debate. Many (most) people are much more likely to respond when the disagree. I myself tend to do that myself, so I can hardly complain without being a hypocrite.

  52. alessa
    alessa July 5, 2011 at 10:32 am |

    I agree with The Flash.

    For once, I would like to stand and say that, yes this place is far from perfect, but frankly I am GRATEFUL I was born here. My mother is someone who barely escaped the Castro regime in Cuba, and I am grateful that I have some of the freedoms I do.

    I would much rather live here, as an hispanic woman, than Saudi Arabia. White privilege, heternormative Christian bullshit privilege aside, for once.

    Seriously, it’s so easy to sit here and complain about everything that is wrong with our country, and I often do, but for one blessed day, please can we pay some respect to the sacrifices that the founding fathers made.

  53. Jadey
    Jadey July 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |

    Jadey: (I can’t speak to the USian situation – I don’t understand your country.

    On re-reading I realize this came off much harsher than I meant. I was aiming for something more along the lines of “I do not understand your country enough to make a judgement”, but I don’t think that’s how it reads. Sorry.

    @ Bridget

    Yeah, I get the “I personally like my country the best” even if the person isn’t terribly well travelled (not everyone gets the chance to do that), but not the “My country is objectively better than everyone else’s on every conceivable metric” – that one just seems absurd and logically flawed, but it does pop up.

  54. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel July 5, 2011 at 10:45 am |

    @alessa THIS!

    My mother also came here as a political refugee after my grandfather fought for democracy alongside Castro. It took them ten years to get out from the time they submitted their paperwork to the time they were on a plane to Miami. In that time, my family was under constant surveillance, their home was invaded on numerous occasions, and my grandmother was followed everywhere she went. She dealt with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from that decade for the rest of her life.

    When they came to this country, yeah times were really hard, they each worked three jobs to support their children, and my mother and uncle started working at age 13 to help their parents with bills – but you know what? Here there was the ability to move up. The only thing they looked forward to in Cuba was a black Rolls-Royce with tinted windows coming to take them away. My mother is the most fervent patriot I know, she’s got American flags hanging all over the house. So while I acknowledge the horrible and despicable things this country has done – past and present – I also am deeply grateful for the opportunities it gave to my family.

  55. Esti
    Esti July 5, 2011 at 11:36 am |

    I think this is an important reminder, and I do wish that both Canada and the United States were better about incorporating these discussions into their celebrations of nationhood.

    But as others have pointed out (and this is aimed at some commenters, not at Anoushka), you can both recognize the bad things about your country and love and celebrate it. Canada has a terrible history with its indigenous populations, and it continues to have real difficulty building collaborative and respectful relationships with many of those groups. But it is also a country that has two very different founding populations that have peacefully coexisted despite very serious disagreements, that has an enormous amount of dedication to its social welfare system, that has one of the best justice systems and most respected constitutional traditions in the world, and that has (at least in recent decades) been quite good at welcoming immigrants while respecting their cultural differences. It hasn’t been perfect in any of those areas, but I think it’s moved in the right direction (current government notwithstanding) on all of them. I’m immensely proud to call myself Canadian, and I celebrate Canada Day as a reminder of all of the things I love best about my country.

  56. V
    V July 5, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    matlun: The Native Americans living in the US today have far more life options and material wealth than those who were living before Columbus. You should not lose sight of the fact that the modern west is one of the best times and places to live in the history of the world.

    I would say that everyone living in the US has benefited from the conquest.

    wow. Absolutely so wrong. Monetary wealth as a signifier of better quality of life is only relevant in regards to a system which values capital. A system that First Nations people did not live in and had no need for. They have more wealth now (in comparison to none at all), but that does not mean they have a better quality of life. A vast number of First Nations people live below the poverty line, many are homeless, many suffer from substance addictions, a growing HIV rate, and, in Canada, they represent the #1 most frequently imprisoned population.
    Do not try to tell me that stripping an entire people of their land, their heritage, and their entire way of life has benefitted them because they have a couple of coins in their pockets now.

  57. Tony
    Tony July 5, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    @ Jessica, I completely understand what you mean. I, too, am glad I am here, I would in many ways be worse off in my home country. My parents came here too when they were piss poor (although they had educations) and they came from a pretty oppressive authoritarian country and managed to move up. America in general seems like a pretty welcoming place. There are so many places in the world (most actually) where I would rather not be.

    @matlun and @L, you are both confusing conquest and genocide with technology transfer. Three different things.

    What would have happened, without the genocide, is what happened to Africa in the 19th century. Europeans would have come, conquered but not displaced indigenous populations, exploited the natural resources for a few hundred years, and then there would have been a nationalistic consciousness arising, a revolution, and independence. Actually, that DID happen, arguably in places like Bolivia where the majority of the population is still indigenous. Would the indigenous Bolivians today be better off if their ancestors had been wiped out instead? Of course not.

    What would have happened, without genocide or conquest, is somewhere between what happened to China and Japan in the 19th century. The Europeans would have come, and supposing hypothetically that they did not want to conquer the natives or it wasn’t worth the cost, would have demanded the indigenous peoples to open themselves up to trade and capitalism so the Europeans could use their resources. Eventually, the indigenous peoples would have developed their own nations, and today they would be ruling over an industrial country or countries in North America. The per capita GDP probably would be a bit lower, but in terms of numbers, political power, and aggregate purchasing power, the indigenous peoples descandants would be far better off than the current indigenous peoples descendants in North America.

    I do feel this analysis is more appropos to Columbus Day than July 4, but I’m glad Anoushka brought it up.

  58. Medea
    Medea July 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |

    Brian: The argument for “recentness” isn’t made anywhere I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know that it can be.

    You see no difference between a genocide that took place within living memory, or an ongoing conquest–yes, I’m thinking of Israel–and the Roman invasion of northern Europe? The victims of the Romans are no longer suffering, no longer marginalized. Time does matter.

  59. L
    L July 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    Medea: You see no difference between a genocide that took place within living memory, or an ongoing conquest–yes, I’m thinking of Israel–and the Roman invasion of northern Europe? The victims of the Romans are no longer suffering, no longer marginalized. Time does matter.

    You’re spot on.

    This is like the people who claim that North American slavery doesn’t matter and isn’t relevant because people have always been enslaving each other. Like it or not, the horrible treatment that certain groups of people received during the founding of Canada and the US does still matter, and those groups still feel the effects.

  60. Brian
    Brian July 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm |

    @Medea – the difference is what’s happening today, not how recently something happened. If the victims of the Romans are still suffering/marginalised, then their plight is worth pursuing, if they are not, then it’s not. (And one could probably make an argument that the Roman invasions of Northern Africa lead to its desertification, so it’s not entirely academic.)

    The potato famine is living memory, but we more or less ignore whatever vestiges of anti-Irish sentiment exist because they’re so minor. This is mostly true of anti-Italian sentiment (maybe a bit less so).

    But whether the conquest that facilitated you living where you live took place two hundred, or four hundred, or ten thousand years ago doesn’t make it any more or less moral. All the peoples of Canada are peoples of Canada now, and all belong here. (The possibilities of separatism aside, which Canadians will know is many other long conversations.) Today’s problems (whether fresh, or legacies of past practices) need to be addressed, but because they exist today.

  61. Comrade Tebbit
    Comrade Tebbit July 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm |

    Without the expansion of West European civilisation, the colonies would of course be untouched by the evils of feminism! In that sense, I do actually have some sympathy for the authors absurd attempts to revive the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

    ‘Most importantly we must remember and recognize that Indigenous peoples are not extinct, are resilient, are brave, are struggling and are brilliant.’

    Well I think this is a moot point actually. If some people want to patronise an entire race of people by calling them ‘brilliant’ and ‘brave’, then that is ones choice. The rest of us don’t have to do anything.

    On another note, I have just read Dominion Day was the date the Miss Dominion of Canada beauty pageant, held at Niagara Falls, Ontario. I think that is quite brilliant!

  62. Alex
    Alex July 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |

    @Brian “Anglo-Canadian” is not native to North America.

    I live in Canada and I’m grateful for many aspects and privileges that that affords me, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t continue criticizing the brutal past and continuing discrimination that Aboriginal people face. I mean, fuck, the Canadian Human Rights Council declared that those living on reserves get the same human rights protections as the rest of Canadians only two weeks ago; just took them 30 years to decide First Nations are people too, impressive! Shit like that doesn’t really leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy for Canada. Sorry.

  63. Seisy
    Seisy July 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm |

    “@Brian “Anglo-Canadian” is not native to North America. ”

    I thought the original comment was a bit silly, but so is that one. If you’re not native to where you are born, where the hell are you supposed to be native to? And looking beyond simple definitions of the word ‘native’, which is doing double duty for ‘indigenous’… even that isn’t simple. Given enough time (by which I mean, a lot of time) and the changing fortunes of history, any group might one day be considered indigenous, because it’s all about context. Who was in place X when group Y showed up/invaded/whatever…and the power structures that are the consequences of that.

    Of course none of this has anything to do with what is just or right or the wrongs of the past, but pedantry can’t be denied.

  64. The Flash
    The Flash July 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm |

    Ugh, please, everyone thinks that when you say America is the best country ever and has given the world so much they think you’re just citing things that the founders came up with in the 1700s. Look, America beat the Nazis, America got us to the moon, America beat Polio, America stopped the Soviets. We did this a lot of ways, some of them bad, but no country, including Norway, has done as much good as the U.S. has done. Because we’re bigger, so we can do more. Socialist utopias can go ahead and congratulate themselves for their great social welfare states, and we’ll still stand there and be the punching bag for the non-Western world when They get upset that someone, somewhere, publishes advertisements with women who show their elbows. (Yah, yah, the U.S. does bad things around the world. And OBL’s original demands still included the U.S. getting out of Saudi Arabia, where everyone’s rich except the non-local workers, who OBL was not championing, so go ahead and say it’s all because of economic/military hegemony and be wrong.)

    NB: it was the government created by the independence gained on the fourth of July that ultimately established the reservations and granted the American Indian population some dispensations and reparations. The British seemed all too happy to keep subjugating their colonial native populations into the middle of the 20th century.

    And again, the fourth of July has nothing to do with American Indians specifically. It’s not about “discovering” America, it’s not about colonial cooperation with American Indians… it’s about people in the colonies standing up and saying they would not be governed from across the Atlantic without representation. And there’s nothing you need to wring your hands over in that statement.

  65. Alex
    Alex July 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |

    @Seisy Of course you can say that you are a native of where you were born but saying that x colonizing people are now native to x country/continent is a whole other ball game. The only ethnic groups (wtf ethnic group is Anglo-Canadian anyway?!) native to North America are Aboriginal peoples. Full stop. Saying otherwise acts as a tool of further colonization because it undermines the fight for treaty rights, land-claims and other broken promises made by the Canadian government.

  66. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster July 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    I guess I’m not native to anywhere, then? I’m an ethnic mutt whose ancestors came from three very different countries, two of which I don’t even speak the language of. And I’m pretty sure none of those countries accept “my grandma lived here when she was little!” as a serious reason for granting citizenship. (I mean, I guess “I had two grandparents from your culture!” would actually work for Israel, but that’s not a place to go to if you want to escape colonialist issues.) There’s also the minor detail that for several European countries, just because the people living in the country itself are native to the area, that doesn’t mean their history is free of ugly colonialism elsewhere in the world.

    I think the issues are a bit different for the US–I mean, we have a fairly substantial population that aren’t strictly native, but whose ancestors had absolutely zero choice in coming here, and who had to suffer some very severe racism, much like the racism outlined in this article: the displacement from ancestral lands, the denial of culture, the sterilization… the stolen children… the continued poverty within… communities, …the fetishization, commercialization and appropriation of… bodies, identities and cultures.

    I think, for me, it’s possible to acknowledge the very ugly parts of my country’s history, and the fact that it is still riddled with serious issues (my dad’s in a public sector union, this is way too easy to do), but also recognize it gave my ancestors opportunities and a better life than they would have had if they’d stayed where they were born, not to mention greater political freedom. Yeah, I suppose we did benefit from the colonization that had already happened, but unfortunately, by the time we came over here (which wasn’t until the 20th century for most of my family), it was a pretty foregone conclusion.

    I think there’s a reason so many people STILL try to immigrate to the US. And I’m certainly not going to act like my ancestors made the wrong decision in coming here.

  67. Jadey
    Jadey July 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm |

    The colonialism that works against Indigenous people in Canada (and presumably the US) also works against recent immigrants (particularly non-white immigrants) and the descendants of enslaved immigrants, because at its heart is the racist ideology that this land was promised to and meant for a particular group of White European settlers. A lot of colonialist rhetoric is based on the idea that the Indigenous people were not stewards of the land, but animals that lived on it, to be herded, tamed, and ‘cared’ for. The “empty land” mythos means that the White people who landed here got to call dibs, and everyone who comes after is an outsider and everyone who was here first is inconvenient and has to be justified away. Moreover, the set up is ripe for conflict between recent immigrants and Indigenous communities, something that’s becoming a problem in some schools and communities I know of, which plays right back into the kyriarchy of it all. Canada (and I guess the US) does poorly by its newer immigrants by not addressing its colonialist roots and contributing to the conflict.

    For interest’s sake because someone up-thread mentioned wanting to learn more, here’s a Coles notes version of the Indian Act and its various revisions.

    My (slightly) shorter summary: The Canadian government started by making up the rules in all appearance of the fairness and respect with which you would expect non-warring sovereign states to engage in, but they firmly shifted the power balance in their own favour by setting themselves up as sole rule-makers and excluding Indigenous nations from a parallel role because they were thought of as helpless and childlike.

    “Our Indian legislation generally rests on the principle, that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State. …the true interests of the aborigines and of the State alike require that every effort should be made to aid the Red man in lifting himself out of his condition of tutelage and dependence, and that is clearly our wisdom and our duty, through education and every other means, to prepare him for a higher civilization by encouraging him to assume the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.”

    They went on to use every trick in their own book (and some that were even illegal by that standard) to appropriate land (even things as crude as borrowing it and “forgetting” to give it back), created an abomination called “Indian status” and proceeded to make it untenable in order to force Indigenous people to assimilate (Tom King wrote an amazing short story about how the Canadian government is actually The Borg, but you could use an analogy of demons trying to get you to sell your soul too), and opened the door to as much bureaucratic complexity as possible in order to truly, deeply fuck things up (every time I hear someone complain about “big government”, I think, “Talk to the effin’ Natives and then tell me about big government” – provincial governments, the far distant federal government, endless re-jiggering of the imposed local governance structures called band councils, plus the discretion of the local Indian Agents). They also encouraged religious organizations to get in the mess, especially when it came to removing children from their homes.

    An aside: do you know what I think the one of the worst things about residential schools was? Not just the rampant physical and sexual abuse, not just the destruction of family and community relationships, the attacks on culture and language – it’s the fact that when they realized that the early schools were actually successfully teaching the kids marketable trade skills that could make them economically competitive with white settlers, they deliberately changed the curriculum to ensure that the kids would learn nothing remotely useful. That’s how fricking Machiavellian the whole thing was.

    Then in 1969, using the language of equality, unity, and multiculturalism, we tried to get rid of the Indian Act, the last bastion of Canadian acknowledgment of Indigenous sovereignty, in one fell swoop, by pointing out how flawed the document was (flaws of our own making), how much power Indigenous people lacked (because we took it away from them), how dependent they were on us (because we wanted them that way), and saying that the best way to handle it was to give up on the idea of Indigenous sovereignty as discriminatory (against Indigenous people!!) and recognize them as an ethnic group with a colourful heritage to contribute to our mosaic. And not only was this insulting, it was also lies – Indigenous people were not powerless and they fought back against the White Paper, shutting it down.

    We’ve since reversed a lot of the revisions to the Indian Act and removed some of the more offensive bits of legislation (like a woman who marries a non-status man automatically loses hers and her children’s status), but the whole thing is so clusterfucked already, it’s not gone far to fixing things, it’s just less actively damaging. Still, we take the approach, as with the 1969 White Paper, that we somehow just accidentally colonized whole nations of people by trying really hard to “help” them into the grave, and now there’s nothing we can do but let the job finish itself, rather than actually taking responsibility for what our forefathers set in motion and trying to genuinely rectify it. Which, yeah, would require sacrifice and a redefinition of how we understand nationhood, and I have no idea what exactly we need to do (anti-racism is clearly a key component) or if we can actually manage it, but if we did, I would celebrate Canada Day 24/7/365. I rather like the idea that Canada could be a leading nation in anti-colonialism, and it’s not like there aren’t still plenty of Indigenous people left who have been fighting this fight for centuries. It would be nice if we could stop working against them and actually give them a hand or get out of their way for once.

  68. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth July 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm |

    McSnarkster: And I’m pretty sure none of those countries accept “my grandma lived here when she was little!” as a serious reason for granting citizenship.

    Actually, at least pretty much every country in Europe will (I don’t know about citizenship laws elsewhere). In the case of almost every European country I know of, if you have a grandparent from a country, that country will grant you automatic citizenship (generally you have to learn the language or demonstrate an interest in actually residing in the country).

  69. JeanLouise
    JeanLouise July 5, 2011 at 10:38 pm |

    If we all came from Africa originally then we’re all emigrants including indigenous peoples. Native Americans in the USA took land from each other by violent means as did Europeans, Africans, etc. Perpetual guilt over a past that we had no part in seems like a peculiar kind of hubris to me. Of course, we have a responsiblity to do all we can to right the wrongs that continue to impact our citizens but that surely doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate Independence Day with clear consciences.

    When I was very young and on fire to change the world, I very much resented the people who said, “America, love it or leave it” but I have to agree with the poster who asked why people who so hate America stay here? Even when I was and still am doing my best to change America for the better, I love it and am grateful that I was born here.

    And to make it clear, I have traveled to two other continents and countless countries including Scandinavia and enjoyed experiencing those cultures very much. I still prefer to live in the USA and actually shed a tear or two when the Boston Pops played patriotic songs last night.

  70. Brian
    Brian July 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm |

    @Alex – should I say that I lack an ethnic group then? That’s usually pretty dodgy (white anglophone from North America claims nothing distinguishing about him, no affliation to groups doesn’t usually go over well in progressive circles.)

    Lots of ethnic groups are native to North America. Anishinabe, Cree, and Mohawk, but Jamaicans, Quebecois, Haitians, and Anglo-Canadians. Acknowledging this doesn’t impinge upon anything of the things you’ve suggested (except to claim that we have a right to live here too. If you’re going to suggest the mass depopulation of North (& South) America by deportation would be morally acceptable, we probably can’t find common ground, no).

  71. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster July 6, 2011 at 1:58 am |

    I didn’t know that about European immigration laws, possibly because I have no interest in actually immigrating back anywhere my family came from. I was agreeing with Seisy’s point about “native,” which at the time was the most recent comment showing up, so I didn’t see that the (quasi-ridiculous) argument had been pretty much settled.

  72. nobodyspecial
    nobodyspecial July 6, 2011 at 3:12 am |

    Aelphaba:
    I love America because I can write I HATE AMERICA and not fear.

    I’m poor, queer, radical and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because I can hate America for all it isn’t and all it should be. I then can work to make it that way in anyway I see fit.

    I have history in my back pocket. I have the future at my fingertips. I chose to walk forward, into America, into its heart and listen to it.

    Let(s) go.

    THIS!!!

  73. Alex
    Alex July 6, 2011 at 8:16 am |

    Sweet fancy Moses. I live in Ontario but I am not native to Ontario. I was born in Manitoba and I am native to Manitoba. I am Anglo-Canadian but Anglo-Canadians are not native to Canada. I’m not telling you, McSnarkster, or anyone else that you are not native to anywhere! You are! Where ever you were born, where ever you call home! What I’m saying is that Anglo-Canadians (are you talking about British/Scottish/Irish immigrants, Brian? Or just English speaking Canadians? I think that’s where our lines are crossing) on a whole are not, and never will be native to North America. How is this pedantic or quasi-ridiculous argument? Anyone who is born in Canada can be a fucking native of Canada but that doesn’t mean that their entire fucking ethnic group are suddenly native as well.

  74. Alex
    Alex July 6, 2011 at 8:50 am |

    @Jadey You are amazing and win the Internets! There is no single solution (despite what reading the comment section of the CBC or Globe will tell you — gah, those people make my skin crawl) but getting rid of the Indian Act would set things back to John A.’s days.

    I think that a huge long term goal needs to be education in all schools about the colonial history of Canada, fight some of the mythologies surrounding Aboriginal people through education. It is shameful how little Canadians actually know about the founding of Canada and the history of Aboriginal people. And, considering how deep and acceptable the racism towards Aboriginal people is in Canada, there needs to be a real shift in attitude and where better to start than with kids.

    “Indigenous people were not powerless and they fought back against the White Paper, shutting it down”

    This! What has always frustrated me so much about the attitude towards Aboriginal people here is that they were/are passive victims when in reality they fought like hell every step of the way. There have been so many successes like the James Bay Hydro project in Quebec, Nunavut and the Nisga’a in BC (and the White Paper of ’69). And there have been tragedies like Dudley George at Ipperwash and Caledonia. But they’ve always demanded better from the government and other Canadians.

  75. Brian
    Brian July 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |

    Alex – like any identity, I’d leave it up to people to self-identify. Roughly 1/3 of Canadians gave their ethnicity as “Canadian” on the 2006 census, and of those roughly half provided other qualifiers and have did not. Ethnicities in Canada About six million people identified as simply “Canadian”, (plus there’re probably some English Canadian, who’re using the language as an identifier that way.)

    The usual criteria for being Anglo-Canadian is (probably) being an anglophone who identifies as Canadian separate from other ethnic identities. Whatever external influences it might’ve had, my culture is from Canada (although bits have both foreign and domestic origins, like any culture). I don’t think your genetic background is a qualifier (although they’re certainly racial considerations in how much someone is likely to feel accepted by the culture, etc).

    I don’t know what criterion you’d use to decide if an ethnic group is native to somewhere. All came from populations that migrated to where they are now. I’d appeal to self-identification, but whatever else we chose would still find that the Canadian ethnicity is native to Canada. Wherever Canadians ancestors came from, building a new identity here is what made them Canadian.

  76. Hugo
    Hugo July 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |

    I like what the former poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, wrote:

    From all that has shamed us, what can we salvage?
    Be proud at least that we know we were wrong,
    That we need not lie, that our books are open.

    Praise to this land for our power to change it,
    To confess our misdoings, to mend what we can,
    To learn what we mean and make it the law,
    To become what we said we were going to be.
    Praise to our peoples, who came as strangers,
    Praise to this land that its most oppressed
    Have marched in peace from the dark of the past
    To speak in our time and in Washington’s shadow,
    Their invincible hope to be free at last.

  77. bhuesca
    bhuesca July 6, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    @Alex – even Aboriginal peoples are/were immigrants. (Unless of course you don’t believe in evolution and think that Aboriginal peoples didn’t come out of Africa at some point…) So – nobody is truly ‘native’ to anywhere AT ALL on North America, or South America, or Europe, or Asia, or Antarctica, or Australia. The Aboriginal peoples conquered each other and the land and animals they found there. Enough with the evolution deniers and the noble savage myth – it’s 2011 for crying out loud!!

  78. Elena
    Elena July 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm |

    Well I am a descendant of pre-revolutionary war people–colonists– (on my paternal grandfather’s side), late nineteenth century immigrants, and a good portion of my father’s family is Cheyenne. They’re all Americans…and yes, in all likelihood some of my ancestors were responsible for the oppression and horrific slaughter of other ancestors. But y’know what? It’s the melting pot. I still see the 4th of July as something worth celebrating. America has its problems, but what country doesn’t? At least I can be public about my grievances and not fear arrest. So yes, I am Scottish, Welsh, English, and Cheyenne, but I’m really an American.

    I’d like to think of my blood as the perfect American cocktail.

    okay, gross metaphor, but you get the point…Americans don’t have a definite appearance or belief system…we’re diverse. And it’s awesome.

  79. Angel H.
    Angel H. July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |

    O, let my land be a land where Liberty
    Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
    But opportunity is real, and life is free,
    Equality is in the air we breathe.

    (There’s never been equality for me,
    Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

    Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
    And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

    I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
    I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
    I am the red man driven from the land,
    I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
    And finding only the same old stupid plan
    Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

    O, yes,
    I say it plain,
    America never was America to me,
    And yet I swear this oath—
    America will be!

    ~ Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”

  80. RabbitGirl
    RabbitGirl July 9, 2011 at 9:38 am |

    matlun:
    I would say that everyone living in the US has benefited from the conquest.

    I think that comment is ridiculous, and wrong. The Indigenous people who are believed to be extinct disagree with you. The Native people were quite advanced. They had a government. Their women were equal citizens. Shocking, no?
    Read more at http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com .

    This is my first comment, so I’m not sure if the quote will work. Sorry if it doesn’t.

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