Guest in a stolen house: On immigration, colonialism and Canada

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I am a guest in a stolen house. I can sympathize with the victims, because a long time ago, my house was the scene of a crime as well.

Indigenous people in North America (and for that matter, Oceania) have suffered an unprecedented amount of discrimination, violence, silencing and long-reaching emotional and psychological damage. This violence has continually been denied by the white majority and protest has been stifled by governments and civilians alike.

My first encounter with Indigenous people in Canada was in grade 7. Up until that point, I had thought that Canada was just made of white people since time in memorial.

My childhood in Kenya had introduced me to the first occupants of this land only in the effect of playing "Cowboys and Indians," which I later realized the racist context in which it was created.

So really, Indigenous people in my psyche didn't exist until I was 14 years old. That may make for a funny story for some Africans in the Diaspora, but I think of it as truly tragic. If only because my continent went through a colonial struggle for decades, and clawed its way out to some degree.

Why then, didn't I know about my brothers and sisters who were under the very same regime, for much longer, and without the victory of self governance and independence?

However that grade 7 introduction wasn't any better than the racist game before it because it was a quick, candy-coated story of 'Settlers' and 'Natives' having mutual trade agreements, and skipping off into the sunset together.

It's worth noting that this grade 7 lesson happened in 2003.

It's now 2015 and I am well aware of the indignities that Indigenous people face in this continent, and not at the hands of some big, bad, masked villain, but by the Canadian and American governments and its people. Regardless of that knowledge, I still chose to become a student in Canada and reap any real (or imagined) benefits that came with it.

I most definitely did not apply for a Student Visa with the Algonquin Nation or the Grand Council of the Crees. I came here through a long, painful process with the Government of Canada.

Canada has made it a point to amplify the fact that it is made up of immigrants and that they are welcomed. There is an undeniable economic value that has been placed on our existence here as immigrants, which Indigenous people have not had the pleasure of having.

This then makes me wonder: what part do I play as an immigrant, in the colonial structure that is Canada?

This is not a country in a post-colonial state that I have become a part with the consent of the Native land owners. So have I participated in the continued oppression of Indigenous country?

Just by virtue of complying with the current structure, am I truly an ally?

The complex, but distant, relationship between Immigrant, Occupied and Occupier is not one that has been discussed in depth in this country. Even within discussions of race, one of two things tends to happen: either race is not discussed among immigrants because "we should just be glad to be here" and not create any trouble, or, race is discussed in two sections, us (immigrants of colour) and them (Indigenous people), very rarely both at the same time.

Although it sounds a little crass, I believe this is the Canadian equivalent of 'house slave' and 'field slave' because we as immigrants are given the proverbial nod from White Canada while indigenous people are seen as less than.

We are defined as 'hard-working' while they are seen as trouble-makers on the street. Why is it that no relationship between us new-comers, and the original Canadians has ever been fostered? Why is there no comradeship, when many of us have been victims of the direct or indirect effects of colonialism back home? Why aren't we eager to join in the Indigenous fight for self governance and determination?

Canada has chosen a policy of assimilation for immigrants and Indigenous people alike since its conception. This has painted two very different pictures. For immigrants (specifically immigrants of colour), this has meant having days in school where we can bring in our "cultural foods," but having a silent agreement to carry peanut butter and jam sandwiches the rest of the year because the kids just cannot handle the strong scent of our jollof rice or curries.

For Indigenous people in Canada, this has meant residential schools, high suicide rates, murdered and missing women (that the government refuses to acknowledge).

Now this is not meant to delegitimize the very real social and economic struggles of new immigrants, but to illustrate the deeper, damaging, tunnel with no light reality that assimilation means for Indigenous people in this country. Even though the Multicultural Act of 1988 sought to eliminate assimilation, Canada still relegates foreign ethnic identity into a small box that can be whipped out only when it doesn't make the White population uncomfortable.

Not to mention, we are not innocent bystanders in the formation of Indigenous relations in Canada. We as immigrants buy into the dangerous, prevalent narrative of the rightful owners of this land. We are quick to assimilate into the idea that Indigenous people are this country's sore spot, and we should, like our White counterparts, ignore them.

In fact we do the same thing in the United States, separating ourselves from African-Americans, making sure we disassociate us "real Africans" from them. By doing this both at home and across the border, we essentially decide that the racist narratives about our Indigenous and African-American brothers and sisters is true. We allow stereotypes that have so often been used to dehumanize, belittle and ultimately execute all of us, to be the pervasive force in our relationships.

We as immigrants fight for our rights not to be seen as monolith. However we only extend our fight to those we acknowledge as acceptable other immigrants.

We have failed to extend a hand-out to our rightful hosts in this continent and we much be accountable for that. We must take to task the education our new Canadian children will have regarding Indigenous people, and we much ensure that what they understand about this nations ancestors is as respected and highly regarded as their own ancestors.

We cannot walk down the long road of complete and total freedom at home and abroad, if we refuse to march down the streets of Ferguson with our hands up, or refuse to stand in front of Parliament's steps demanding answers about the Pipelines ravaging indigenous lands.

We are guests in a stolen house; and is time to acknowledge the owners.  

 

Sharon is a freelance writer, event planner and lover of all things African History. She spends the majority of her time volunteering with local NGOs and keeping up with the Kardashians to a troubling degree. Sharon is a Feminist, Anti-Racist, Anti-Misogynistic, Anti-Homophobic, Anti-Transmisognistic and Aunty to Tyvus and Neavah. Sharon lives in Canada and is constantly trying to navigate the world with fierce pride for her people, but with no fear whatsoever, of critiquing those very same people. Sharon also realizes she has written all this in third person and feels a little strange about it.

Photo: flickr/vtgard

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