Colonial Realities: Exposing the mystery of “It” (Part 1)
This salient question has existed for many years and yet still manages to perplex and confuse. A satisfactory solution seems unavailable to those who are seeking an answer.
“Why don’t they just get over It?”
Part of the difficulty surrounding this question lies in the fact that “It” is shrouded in mystery for many Canadians.
What is “It”? Where did “It” come from? And why won’t “It” just leave us alone?
It’s time to expose the truth behind “It”. Because before we can say, “Get outta here, It,” we’re gonna need to know what we’re up against.
Backgrounder: “It’s” criminal history
“It’s” rap sheet is pretty long. “It” has committed too many crimes, in too many countries, to list them all in a short summary. So, we’ll only go over a selection of a few far-reaching crimes attributed to “It”, with a particular focus on Canada.
At the beginning of “It”, there were an estimated 40 – 100 million Indigenous Peoples in North and South America. (1)
Denevan (1), who is on the low end of this scale with his 53.9 million estimate, calculates that between “It’s” arrival in the year 1492 and “It’s” continued presence until 1650, the population of the Americas dropped by 89%, to a mere 5.6 million.
Too often such numbers are read but not equated with real people, so let’s pause and consider this before moving on.
Almost 9 out of 10 Indigenous People, over two continents, died between 1492 and 1650.
If such a devastating population collapse happened in Canada today, we would fall from 34 to 3.7 million.
This is approximately the population of urban Montreal. (2)
Justifying theft of land
Now, shrewd readers will point out that 1650 is not 2013, and a lot of time has passed in between.
But “It” did not stop in 1650.
As more Europeans came to live in what would become Canada, “It” determined that more land needed to be cleared for settlement and economic development. (3) This led to a departure from the previous treaties of peace and friendship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers and towards a new relationship characterized by the lust for land.
Several excuses were created to cover up “It’s” lust for land. One of “It’s” first schemes was the Doctrine of Discovery. This clever Doctrine stated that European settlers of pre-Canada had a right to land because they were Christian. They were simply following Divine law, so they were blameless in stealing the homeland of another.
A second clever vindication that “It” created was the still-popular notion of terra nullius (‘no-man’s land’ in Latin). The theory of terra nullius has been very effectively spread and maintained in Canada.
Terra nullius is the rather perplexing assertion that since Indigenous Peoples did not have political organizations similar to those of Europeans, they could not exclude others from the areas that they owned – because according to European politics, they didn’t own anyarea. (Don’t worry if this bends your mind a little – it’s not supposed to make any logical sense.) The vast array of Indigenous laws were not similar enough to the laws of Europe to be of any value to anyone, and certainly not to the settlers who wished to trespass these laws.
Alongside this artful bit of paradox, “It” points out that according to terra nullius, the land was not even used by Indigenous Peoples. If they were simply on the land but not doing much with it, why should anyone consider the land to be theirs?
Now, “It” has done a canny cover-up here, hoping that “It’s” listeners will not look up the many ways that Indigenous Peoples transformed their landscapes to increase population size of animals and plants of a certain species, including through the act of intensive agriculture. I know that I do not need to list examples such as controlled burns, the growing of maize and tobacco, and the propagation of wild plants for you, because you’re inquisitive and ready to research this so that you get to the bottom of it.
However, unfortunately for us, “It” has made a trap for many people. “It” established a deep racism against Indigenous Peoples so that non-Indigenous Peoples would be more apt to believe discriminatory things about them, including that they – miraculously – did not use the land they lived and died on.
“It” started to spread propaganda that convinced many people that there existed a binary between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
This binary was Civilized and Savage.
(1) Denevan, W. M. “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82 (1992): 385-397. Web.
(2) “Census Profile.” Statistics Canada. 24 Oct, 2012. Web. 3 Feb 2013. <http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=POPC&Code1=0547&Geo2=PR&Code2=01&Data=Count&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All>.
(3) Harris, Cole. “How did Colonialism Dispossess? Comments from an Edge of Empire.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94.1 (2004): 165-182. Print.