Canada is a strange country these days, even going by the “weirder and weirder” contortions most Western nations perform to “correct” their history in our revisionist mania in the recording and (re)writing of our history. Before the last 70 years, the Roman formula for recording history was followed for centuries all across Europe and its offspring across Terra Gaia. This formula stated quite simply, “History is written by the victors,” like a corollary to another of their pithy adages, “To the victors go the spoils.”
Sympathy for the losers? Certainly not! Victims’ rights? Victims have no rights; they lost! They can submit or die. As one of the great Roman historians sardonically expressed his final assessment of the genocide of the Carthaginians, “They [we] created a desert and called it peace.”
The typical 21st-Century perspective on Euro-imperialism and colonialism is that the Europeans were (and largely remain) evil and guilty of enormous crimes all across the world. We anachronistically judge our Euro ancestors for not having known better, as we now do, than to use their 300-year-long global military and economic hegemony to subdue most of the rest of the world’s population to their empires. Those Euro conquerors called themselves “Christian states”. Their imperial and colonial conquests were patently violent and totally contrary to the dictates of Jesus’ teaching about compassion and love. By rights, they should have had the wisdom and will to act contrary to the thrust of history’s imperial ideology from the time of Sargon 1 of Akkad to Wilhelm II of Germany.
“The white man’s burden” to civilize the world according to the mixture of Christian and Enlightenment ideology the 19th Century imperial European states had concocted was a delusional rationalization to cover blatant exploitation. Sadly, thousands of utterly sincere missionaries aided and abetted in the effort. By the grace of Providence, some good even crept into some of what happened.
A thousand “if only” scenarios raise their heads. Passing to the Great Beyond, many of those imperialist ancestors may well have stood quaking before Jesus in great repentance and bitter remorse for failing so miserably to represent Him and His Kingdom and inflicting untold misery on vast multitudes of people they had taken little account of as also being fully and equally made in His image and called to be His sisters and brothers. Fortunately, He is merciful and all-wise. “There but for the grace of God…” as the saying goes.
In our new enlightenment about the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, we accept our (as the children and heirs of their actions) guilt and shame. We profess the need and duty to somehow compensate the descendants of the victims, somehow find a road to reconciliation. Here in Canada this means most especially finding resolution with our indigenous peoples while not forgetting the descendants of Africans transported as slaves from their homes.
We cannot undo what was done. A million ongoing acknowledgements of Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal, and even ecclesiastical) and private entities and individuals that we are on unceded indigenous territory will not be enough. Countless billions of dollars of compensation cannot restore what was taken, stolen, wrecked and ruined by both deliberate and unheeding seizures, removals, kidnappings of children to assimilate them, and occupations of lands once promised in perpetuity. Some lands can probably be at least partially restored, but far too much is simply not restorable – having become the sites of major cities and towns, or having been ravaged beyond repair by industrial and commercial exploitation.
And enormous swaths of territory have been overrun and occupied by “settlers” and their descendants who now regard these lands as their home. To dispossess these millions is unthinkable and undoable.
Vocabulary is a two-edged sword. It is certainly offensive to our indigenous brothers and sisters to continue to call them “Indians” (although some of them still call themselves that in conversations among themselves, or with more trusted non-indigenous friends, as I have seen firsthand among my own indigenous friends). No one of any discernment would call Métis “half-breeds” any more. Neither is “Eskimo” an acceptable term for Inuit (although some Inuit still call themselves that!) Such terms are rightfully banished from proper communication.
On the other side, I do not find the term “Settler” to refer to “everyone else” now living on Turtle Island (an indigenous name for North America) at all helpful. If “Indian” is a loaded pejorative on the one side, “Settler” is equally loaded and pejorative on the other. I am not a settler. My ancestors came to Canada over 350 years ago. I too am now “indigenous” to Canada, although I will not use that term out of respect for my First Nations neighbours.
“Neighbours”. As a wise local Algonquin Elder says, we will go much farther in accepting and being reconciled to one another as neighbours now, rather than continuing to perpetuate the old wounds with unnecessarily divisive language.
This is also deep spiritual wisdom. It accords with both Indigenous and Christian spirituality. We are all children of the Great Spirit, wherever we were born and our ancestors came from. It is as true for the newest immigrant as for the aboriginal person whose first ancestors crossed from Asia to Turtle Island ten, twenty, or thirty thousand years ago – also as immigrants, even if very long ago. To recognize one another as neighbours is the language of respect and equality, not of division and animosity. Neighbours can have their differences, but they have to learn to get along and live together.
Being a neighbour means having an ongoing relationship with mutually recognized rights, privileges, duties, and obligations. It means communicating and negotiating, setting out parameters by mutual agreement. It means resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, deceit, aggression, intimidation, or exploitation – on both sides. Not all the aggression, violence, and intimidation in recent years has been from the “Settlers”. Justification of it through calling on the old wrongs of history is no better or higher than, let’s say, a “Settler” reverting to the old Roman principles referred to at the beginning of this discussion. As Jesus said with universal application to all the children of the Great Spirit, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”
Two hundred or so years ago, our “settler” ancestors lost sight of all that, although these kinds of notions had not been entirely absent when Canada was New France and Acadia.
It is well past the time for us to begin to truly remember how to learn to live together. Reconciliation is many-sided. It includes at least the following aspects:
- Reconciliation in our own hearts and minds with our own part in the wrongs of the past and the present;
- Reconciliation of Indigenous with one another for wrongs done to one another, and a real desire to make amends as can be done;
- Reconciliation of Euro neighbours with one another for wrongs done to one another here in Turtle Island;
- Reconciliation of Euro-neighbours with more recent arrivals whom they have wronged in a variety of ways;
- Reconciliation of Indigenous and Euro-people first by accepting one another as neighbours and then as partners in caring for Turtle Island;
- Inclusion of all other neighbours in #5.
Perhaps #6 appears as if it should be part of #5, but the most recently arrived neighbours do not carry the guilt and shame of the earlier Euro-immigrants. That is why they are separated.
There is very much more about this subject that has been said and will be said than these few comments. The interested reader can seek out a rapidly growing body of Canadian input of all kinds from a wide variety of reputable sources – academic, institutional, judicial, governmental, ecclesiastical, Indigenous.
The greatest wish we can have for this process of reconciliation is that it will bring true Shalom[i] to the northern half of Turtle Island now called Canada.
[i] Shalom is a Hebrew word usually translated as “peace”. It means a great deal more – as the kind of peace coming from God in His intention for all things being set in order according to his Good Will. As in the Christmas story “Peace on earth to people of good will” – Shalom on earth…