Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Aboriginal authors for the past forty years have been writing about colonialism and its devastating effects on Aboriginals. Among the first books was one that profoundly impacted the way Aboriginals and Canadians see themselves and their condition: The Only Good Indian (Waubageshig, 1972).
This was a revolutionary book. Waubageshig, in an effort to force Canadian society to wake up to the terrible suffering of Aboriginals in Canada, wrote about the works of Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), which have become the “handbooks of revolutionaries throughout the third world.” Waubageshig explains Fanon’s theory of decolonization in stages.
According to Fanon, the first stage of colonization-decolonization is traditional Aboriginal culture. It is conservative, and innovation in both technology and society generally moves very slowly. Social values and norms are in accordance with the natural environment (Waubageshig, 1972, 65-66).
Stage two comes with the arrival of the settlers. Their arrival creates a very volatile social structure with the introduction of a “new breed of men” and technology. For the settlers and Natives, it is a time of great innovation although generally the Native loses out in any power struggles over the long term. These power struggles often involve violence between Natives and settlers, as Natives attempt to maintain their status and culture. Settlers attempt to impose their culture and create status for themselves in this new land. Over time, more and more of them arrive, giving more weight to their culture and military/economic power (Waubageshig, 1972, 66).
With stage three, there is a dichotomy in relations between Natives and settlers. The new economic and social power is in the hands of the settlers. Natives are often exploited legally, economically, and politically. They are not seen as being human, but as the “Other.” They have become rejected as inferior and forced to occupy low-status positions. Violence is less pronounced, but often takes verbal and socially structured forms. In the third stage, a Native bourgeoisie has also developed and is given multiple responsibilities in administering and controlling other Natives. This bourgeoisie assumes most of the outward appearances of the settlers, except for skin colour (Waubageshig, 1972, 67).
The fourth stage is the use of violence by the Natives. This stage is perhaps the most difficult to reach. According to Waubageshig, prior to decolonization, there is a noticeable increase in the crime rate and violence among Natives. The Native culture also enjoys a revival with traditional dances and songs, as rites of the Native’s religion are performed more. Eventually, this idea of the “Other” takes hold among the Natives, whereby the settler becomes the Other. It is not the Native bourgeoisie who is the prime instigator of decolonization, but rather the peasants. The peasants have almost nothing to lose through violence and much to gain. Eventually, the bourgeoisie’s intellectuals identify with the peasants, their own people. The latter will lead the revolution towards “its nationalistic outcome; which is stage five of the theory” (Waubageshig, 1972, 67).
Waubageshig then lays out how the Canadian situation meets many of the requirements of Fanon’s theory, thus providing a wake-up call to the 1970s system of treating Aboriginals. Waubageshig says: “Indians will have the opportunity to adequately gauge the limits of peaceful negotiations. Then it will be possible to discern if decolonization will occur and if so, whether or not it would be a violent process” (Waubageshig, 1972, 67). Under the Canadian system, many Aboriginals (but not all) have been unwilling to use excessive violence when demanding their rights over the past 40 years. Instead, very pragmatic Aboriginal leaders have used public desire for justice and fairness to make political and economic gains against colonialism. Many Aboriginals still believe this process has not gone fast enough and have advocated concrete action against the Canadian state (Chief Gilbert Whiteduck, personal communication, February 7, 2007). At the same time, Waubageshig does not believe that Canadian Aboriginals are willing to use any large-scale violence to achieve their ends (p. 83). Perhaps, this is due to their philosophy of life or because they see the benefits of negotiation and talking within an increasingly pluralistic society that is more and more willing to allow difference.
The need to decolonize Aboriginals and their communities is widely accepted by almost all Aboriginal philosophers and leaders. Battiste and Henderson have suggested that acceptance of Eurocentric thought process will eventually result in a single world centre (2000, 21). They feel, as do others such as Kennedy (1989) and Dimont (1962), that even North America wholly relies upon Europe for much of its knowledge and understanding. The problem for Battiste and Henderson is that “as a theory it [Western worldview] postulates the superiority of Europeans over non-Europeans. It is built on a set of assumptions and beliefs that educated and unusually unprejudiced Europeans and North Americans habitually accept as true, as supported by “the facts,” or as “reality” ”(Battiste & Henderson, 2000, 21). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights demands difference of opinion and life.