Posts Tagged ‘colonialism’

Talk about appropriate timing: my friend Rweba created this fantastic send-up of the usual stereotypes about Africa and Africans.

The video is inspired by Binyavanga Wainana’s article “How to write about Africa,” which is well worth reading (backstory on the article here) and which also inspired the video below.  I’ll try to get transcripts of both up soon.

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We are a very large country, with… one of the longest-standing democratic regimes, unbroken democratic regimes, in history. We are one of the most stabile regimes in history. There are very few countries that can say for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers, but none of the things that threaten or bother them about the great powers.

-Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Speaking at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA
September 25, 2009

Sara MacIntyre, spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said, “[The comment] was really focused on the international financial scene.”

Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, the former head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, also said the statement had been taken out of context: “It is important to consider the context of [Harper’s] comments last week. The prime minister sought to differentiate Canada’s history with that of past global empires with histories of colonialism. [Harper’s] apology for the tragedy of Indian residential schools last year clearly acknowledge the wrong doings and racist policies of Canada’s past.”

Not everyone is convinced. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said, “I am just shocked that someone would say something like that knowing the history of their own country. They tried to destroy a race of people.”

Michael Cachagee, executive director of National Residential School Survivors Society, said the prime minister’s statement undercut last year’s seminal residential school apology. “This man speaks with a forked tongue,” said Cachagee. “He has mud on his face on this one. Colonial pie.”

Ghislain Picard, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, said, “Denying the history of colonialism in Canada is like denying the holocaust.”

National Chief Shawn Atleo of Canada’s leading native organization, the Assembly of First Nations, said:

The current line of response from federal officials that the Prime Minister’s remarks were taken ‘out of context’ is simply not good enough for someone in his position…. The effects of colonialism remain today. It is the attitude that fueled the residential schools; the colonial Indian Act that displaces traditional forms of First Nations governance; the theft of Indian lands and forced relocations of First Nations communities; the criminalization and suppression of First Nations languages and cultural practices; the chronic under-funding of First Nations communities and programs; and the denial of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, even though they are recognized in Canada’s Constitution.

Internationally, Canada has been scrutinized and harshly criticized for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and failure to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Canada is increasingly isolated as one of only three nations in the world that has refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that rejects the doctrine of colonialism.

The Prime Minister’s statement speaks to the need for greater public education about First Nations and Canadian history. It may be possible to use this moment to begin bridging this gulf of misunderstanding. The future cannot be built without due regard to the past, without reconciling the incredible harm and injustice with a genuine commitment to move forward in truth and respect.

First Nations leaders and Canadians call on the Prime Minister to honour [last year’s] apology and to make clear the path to reconciliation.

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Bartolomé de las Casas was not yet a teenager when Christopher Columbus returned from his first voyage to the “Indies” with seven native Tainos. “I saw them,” he wrote, “in Seville where they stayed near the arch to St. Nicholas.” His father and uncles joined Columbus’ second voyage, and Bartolomé soon moved to Hispaniola with his father in 1502, becoming a merchant and owner of land and Indian slaves. He was ordained a priest in 1507.

Here the story begins to change. Fr. Bartolomé became increasingly disturbed by his fellow Spaniards’ treatment of the native Tainos—the brutal torture, the massacres. “I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see.”

In 1511 a Dominican priest, Fray Antonio de Montesinos, preached, “Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands?”

Around the same time Fr. Bartolomé read in his Bible, “Tainted are the gifts of one who offers in sacrifice ill-gotten goods! Mock presents from the lawless do not win God’s favor. The Most High approves not the gifts of the godless, nor for their many sacrifices does he forgive their sins. Like the man who slays a son in his father’s presence is he who offers sacrifice from the possessions of the poor.  The bread of charity is life itself for the needy; he who withholds it is a man of blood. He slays his neighbor who deprives him of his living, he sheds blood who denies the laborer his wages,” (Sirach 34:18-22).

The colonists’ treatment of the native peoples, Fr. Bartolomé began to realize, could not be reconciled with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He resolved to give up his slaves and land grant (encomienda), and preached that other colonists should do the same. Against those who claimed that native peoples should be subdued and even converted by force, he argued that the only acceptable way of evangelization was through reasonable appeal. He argued that Europeans had no right to enslave the Indians, and that according to natural law the Indians were entitled to live as free men, under their own rulers and their own laws.

Fr. Bartolomé was by no means perfect, and he made some terrible mistakes in the gradual course of his own conversion. When he first began to seek relief and emancipation for Indian slaves, he proposed that “black slaves” and “slaves both black and white” could be imported to take their place in the mines and sugar industry. He did not yet fully understand that the means by which these people entered servitude was also unjust. But when he learned about the Portuguese slave trade firsthand, his heart was changed again. Again he meditated on Sirach 34:18-22. “I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery.” Thereafter Fr. Bartolomé defended the rights of black slaves in the same way he defended Indian slaves, condemning slavery altogether and calling for the repentance of all who participated in the abominable trade.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, in Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, writes:

White people must seek new ways of thinking about Whiteness, ways that take them beyond the role of victimizer. In fact, another role does exist. There is a history of Whites who have resisted the role of oppressor and who have been allies to people of color. Unfortunately these Whites are often invisible to us…. the names of White allies are often unknown…. There is a need to know about White allies who spoke up, who worked for social change, who resisted racism and lived to tell about it. How did these White allies break free from the confines of the racist socialization they surely experienced to claim this identity for themselves? These are the voices that many White people… are hungry to hear…. having access to these stories makes a difference to those Whites who are looking for ways to be agents of change…. “allies need allies,” others who will support their efforts to swim against the tide of cultural and institutional racism.

In Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas we find a white anti-racist ally whose life we can celebrate on Columbus Day.

This is not just history. Please get involved.

Lessons of humanism, spirituality and effort to raise man’s dignity, are taught to us by Antonio Montesinos, Córdoba, Bartolomé de las Casas, echoed also in other parts by Juan de Zumárraga, Motolinia, Vasco de Quiroga, José de Anchieta, Toribio de Mogrovejo, Nóbrega and so many others. They are men in whom pulsates concern for the weak, for the defenseless, for the natives; subjects worthy of all respect as persons and as bearers of the image of God, destined for a transcendent vocation.

(Pope John Paul II, homily in Independence Square, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1979)

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Much of the blogosphere is buzzing today about President Obama’s unexpected Nobel Peace Prize win.  Many of the President’s detractors (and some of his supporters, even. Read: aides in shock) are asking if Obama deserves the prize.  While I’ll refrain from rendering an opinion on that, I’d like us to spend this weekend considering/commenting relentlessly on another [un?]deserved honoree whose celebration is affording a few of us Monday off:

And, just to give you guys a little sneak peek into what’s in store next week, Kate and I will be going to see Chris Rock’s Good Hair on our day off Monday.  If you get a chance to do the same, join us here in a few days for a conversation about what we all learn.  Take that, Mister Columbus.

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