We welcome Tony Kaye to provide some informed context to the Idle No More conversation that has permeated the Canadian landscape. From obscurity to relative prominence, Idle No More has forced many to formulate a perspective. For churches, ensuring we are creating informed response in the face of injustice remains crucial. This blog series is a first step in this process. Tony completed his Master of Arts in history at the University of Saskatchewan. His thesis focused on British colonialism in northern Ghana, and he also studied Treaty History in Canada. His ancestral background is a mixture of Métis, Chinese, and European.
It’s 2009, and world leaders are gathered together at the G20 Conference in Pittsburgh to lament the crushing effects of the depressed economy. Thrown into the rhetoric was a remarkable quip during a media scrum from Prime Minister Steven Harper. While highlighting the enviable economic position of Canada to his elite audience, Harper deviated off-topic to blurt out that Canada did not have a history of colonialism.
Fast forward four years to 2013 and the grassroots First Nations movement Idle No More has reached mainstream media and largely polarized the country’s thinking about native issues in Canada. Everyone has a particular opinion, most far from gracious, and our discussions about First Nations issues usually start with the same view as Harper about Canadian history. Contrary to this popular, but totally erroneous, image of Canada’s past is a colonial legacy not unlike other examples in the post-colonial world. Regardless of your political affinities to the right, left, or centre, unraveling our colonial past is key to an appropriate perspective on Idle No More and the relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations. What is at stake is appreciating how colonialism is responsible for almost eradicating the identity of Aboriginals in Canada. And with this in mind, we all should start seeing Idle No More as part of a contemporary reaction to the destructive policies of colonial rule instead of the annoying complaints of just another seeming special interest or lobbyist group.
An interesting trick in memory occurs in the public mind when we hear the words colonialism, Canada, and history in the same sentence. Here is a suggestion of how everyday Canadians define those words. Colonialism: an event perpetrated by Europeans that mostly destroyed non-European societies. Canada: “…Our home and native land…”. History: Anything we choose to remember about events that occurred in the past. Those are pretty familiar ideas. Interestingly, a deception of memory occurs after we combine those kinds of definitions to answer the question:
“Does Canada have a history of colonialism?”
The usual reply, the one uttered by Harper and missed by most of the Canadian public, is a fallacious image of the past that ignores how Canada emerged as a country by nearly destroying the native society that lived on the continent while Europeans were busy living their lives. Let me illustrate below how I see colonialism began and continues on into our present day, and how I see movements like Idle No More as part of a reactionary effort by native communities to ensure that their unique identities do not completely fade from existence.
Yes, this all about history—comparative history, actually. Let me explain.
Over the years I have noticed some similarities in the history of colonialism in the West African country of Ghana and its effect here in Canada. And I’ve always been intrigued by how Canadians are so easy to shake the finger at British colonialism over there, in West Africa, and elsewhere, but not recognize the similar events in our own backyards. I’ve also been curious to read in Graduate School the volumes of academic writing on the legacy of colonialism in West Africa, but have recently only read a few papers so far on Canadian history with the same view of the past. I’ll keep looking, maybe I’ll find it in part 2.