We hear a great deal nowadays about third-world conditions on our Native reserves in Canada, and how, for example, there is no incentive for the inhabitants to repair their houses because they don’t own them. We hear that there are no jobs for them, and their teenage children are suicidal. Yet whenever anyone suggests they leave their remote reserves and join the rest of us where there are jobs and decent housing, we are accused of advocating cultural genocide. But haven’t we been down this path before?
About three thousand years ago my remote ancestors were peacefully living in an unspoilt landscape in Britain, doubtless in a culturally sensitive, gender neutral, eco-friendly manner. Suddenly, without warning they were brutally invaded by a bunch of red-headed yahoos from central Europe called Celts. They took our land, they raped our women, they even forced their language upon us. It was cultural genocide in its most blatant form.
We endured this colonial oppression for a thousand years, and then were subjected to invasion from a fascist military empire based in Rome. The Romans took our land, they raped our women, and once again they forced their language upon us. It was cultural genocide all over again. For nearly five hundred years we suffered under this military occupation until the Romans got tired of it and left. But no sooner had they left when a horde of thugs from Northern Europe calling themselves Angles and Saxons descended upon us. Once more they took our land, they raped our women, they forced their language upon us, and all in all, they had themselves an orgy of cultural genocide.
We were just getting used to the Anglo-Saxon invaders when a swarm of homicidal Scandinavian maniacs called Vikings descended upon us. Using the, by now standard procedure, they took our land our women, our language, and generally went the whole hog with the cultural genocide thing.
Meanwhile, their Vikings cousins had been sailing their longboats up the River Seine from the English Channel all the way to Paris, where they enjoyed themselves sacking the city. In the year 911, the French King, Charles the Simple, made a treaty with the Vikings whereby, in return for leaving Paris alone, the Vikings got all the land around the lower Seine (with a name like Charles the Simple, what did you expect?). They called this the Northmen’s Land, or as we call it today, Normandy. In less than a generation the Norman Vikings changed from seafarers to horsemen.
Fast forward one-and-a-half centuries, when the Norman leader of the day, one William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, decided to invade Britain. Perhaps he felt he had a claim to the English throne, but more likely he was just a bloody-minded adventurer who was happy to grab what he could, when he could. Whatever, in 1066 the Normans, descendants of Vikings, invaded us. Guess what. They took our land, they raped our women, they forced their language (French, by now) upon us, and generally had a good time with the cultural genocide thing.
My people, those of us that are left by now, have been brutally oppressed by a series of colonial invaders over a period of two thousand years. I demand a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or rather a whole series of them, whose purpose will be to extract apologies, and fat cheques, from the Celts, the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans!
Hang on a moment – didn’t we do rather well for ourselves in the centuries after the last invasion? Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this. Instead of dwelling on our misfortunes and asking for sympathy, we picked ourselves up and got on with it. Could the same principle be applied to our First Nations?
The term cultural genocide is meant to elicit a sympathetic response from us, with its obvious reference to actual genocide and mass slaughter. But all it means is that you end up living your life somewhat differently than you did before – no dead bodies necessary. The phrase is overused. Most of us live our lives somewhat differently than our grandparents did – is this cultural genocide? If you emigrate to Canada from a country where neither English nor French is spoken, in a generation or two you will probably have lost your original language, together with your ethnic cultural practices such as female circumcision, or whatever it was you did over there. Is this cultural genocide?
Life changes. The world changes. If you insist on living as you think your ancestors lived (apart from having snowmobiles and cell phones), then you are doomed to live in poverty at the edges of society. If this is what you want, then so be it, but don’t expect much sympathy from the rest of us. However, I suspect that many of you living on your reserves with no hope of a good job, or of half-decent housing, or any of the amenities of life that the rest of us take for granted, would really like to join us. Try it, you might like it.