Archive | November, 2011

Colonialism is Racism

29 Nov

Canada’s educational system needs to get it together, especially when it comes to discussing colonialism.

Colonialism is an ideology of oppression that requires a hierarchical, dualistic view. When European explorers first “discovered” a world that other humans had long-since known to be there, these colonialists quickly divided humans into categories of “us” and “them,” making colonialism synonymous with racism, sexism, and homophobia.

European colonialism has always thought in binaries: god/devil, heaven/hell, man/woman, white/black, humans/nature…etc., with the former always “above” the latter. It is disappointing to me that from primary school up until post-secondary, us Canadian students are never taught to critique colonialism. Few history professors dare to expose this ideology for the white-heterosexual-male supremism that it represents. Perhaps they¬†are scared. Or perhaps they just don’t know. Some friends of mine have said that our curriculum is Eurocentric; that it only represents the history of one group. I would go even farther and say that it is no one’s history–it is non-history.

My first experience learning non-history was back in seventh grade. Our history class consisted of memorizing a series of names: Samuel de Champlain, John A MacDonald, Christopher Columbus, and a bunch of other dead white dudes. We learned about the battles over Canada between the British and the French; the Native population was non-existent. Or maybe they just didn’t matter enough to be mentioned in our textbooks. When they were mentioned, it was in passing, such as when one of my teachers told us, “there were some Native Canadians around who allied themselves with various white male “discovers,” “explorers,” or “heroes,” if you will, but they died on contact because “they did not have the vaccinations to protect themselves against European illnesses.” Something about that phrase always made me wonder what more went on that remained unsaid in our textbooks. The vaccinations could easily have been shipped along with the thousands of Europeans coming in, but they weren’t. They weren’t because the genocide was intentional, although no teacher would ever say this aloud, in fear of being politically incorrect. Positive Aboriginal role models like Louis Reil are either ignored by the educational system or mentioned with slight contempt. And one of Canada’s cruelest politicians, Duncan Campbell Scott, is having his name purged from our history.

Canadian history is taught as revolving around the British and the French despite that the true founding fathers arrived tens of thousands of years earlier, and we are taught useless tidbits about these two colonial groups, such as who attacked who, what battle strategies they used, the various treaties that were signed and the dates they were signed on (but not what they entailed), and more political jargon. Author Adam Hochschild says “treaties are a euphemism.”

The truth about history is that it is not a dry, apolitical, and impersonal non-history. History shapes the lives of real people, especially those that remain unmentioned in our textbooks.