Colonial Legacies: Indigeneity in a Multicultural World

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This critique of multicultural democracy views it as a form of neocolonialism that subverts the rights of indigenous peoples. This slide show and others of a similar nature can be viewed and downloaded from my website at


<ul><li> 1. Tony Ward 2009 For extended versions of this document visit: COLONIAL LEGACIES INDIGNIEITY IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD </li></ul><p> 2. HISTORY Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. George Orwell, 1984. 3. MULTICULTURALISM, CULTURAL PLURANISM AND NEO- COLONIALISM Introduction Since British Prime Minister Harold McMillan delivered his famous Winds of Change speech to the Colonial South African Government in Cape Town in 1960, colonialism has been portrayed as a thing of the past. We now inhabit the Post-colonial Era, so it is said. Here, in the Post-colonial World, difference is good. Acceptance is Holy. And conversely, Exclusivity and Separatism are bad. That's the rule! Those are the commandments! Tolerance, Acceptance and Inclusivity. The Holy Trinity of Postmodern theorizing and cultural normativity. And all of this makes for a great and strong nationhood. A new kind of nationhood. One not based upon the color of a person's skin, or their spiritual belief system, but rather on an Ideology - the ideology of Democracy. What a lovely, cozy picture this all makes. How comforting to believe that (yet again?) the White Western Mind has been able to conceive of a transcendent concept that moves beyond conflict and difference towards the idealized goal of One Nation Indivisible, Under God.... Have we ever wondered what the colonized indigenous peoples of the world who have suffered such impositions for centuries think about the myth of our Great Inclusivity? Those whom we have historically displaced, dispossessed, oppressed, assimilated, murdered and subject to genocide? Those upon whom we have imposed Democracy, the Rule of (European) Law, Property Relations, Christianity, Capitalism? What do they think about all of this generosity on the part of the Western "Democracies"? Is it not strange to reflect that on Friday 13th September, 2007 at the United Nations in New York, it was precisely the great colonial powers who voted against the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (all 370 million of them) the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Declaration is non-binding text which sets out the individual and collective rights of the world's 370 million indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. It can be viewed in its entirety on my website at:,com_weblinks/catid,35/Itemid ,23/ The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (document A/61/L.67) was adopted by a recorded vote of 143 in favor to 4 against, with 11 abstentions. Now doesn't that tell a story! Even the United Kingdom - perhaps historically the most powerful of all colonizing countries voted in favor of the Declaration. The four nations who voted against it are precisely the ones in which the 4. dominant culture remains that of the colonizing white majority. Not surprisingly, these are the countries in which the indigenous peoples suffer the highest incidences of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, ill health, suicide, crime and arrest. So much for cultural inclusivity, equity and justice! So much for Democracy! It is in this context that it is important to interrogate the mythology of Cultural Pluralism and to challenge its implementation in the field of Education where notions of Nation and Patriotism are forged and nurtured. Perhaps because we believe that we have progressed too far down the road of "development" from colonial times that it is too late to right the wrongs perpetrated upon indigenous peoples; perhaps because we fear that these demands, if realised, would completely undermine our own positions of dominance; perhaps because of a deep and unspoken sense of shame or guilt about the prosperity which we of the dominant culture have built upon the foundation of this initial dispossession - for whatever reason, the plight of Maori, Saami, Lakota, Myaamia, remains relatively ignored in society at large. Yet it has much to tell us about possible futures in which we can live together harmoniously. The concept of cultural pluralism is itself currently a site of cultural struggle in which, on the one side, the dominant culture seeks to mask an ongoing logic of assimilation and colonisation behind mythologies of cultural equity and post-colonialism. On the other hand, marginalised groups - particularly First Nations of Fourth World status - have abandoned the notion of cultural pluralism for the more empowering notion of cultural autonomy and sovereignty, which they see as the only viable escape from the colonial past. They recognise, as Freire has so clearly indicated, that the notion of cultural pluralism shares with its earlier forms of assimilationism, a logic which seeks national unity through the elimination of actual cultural diversity - that is, of diversity which deals seriously with the issue of resource distribution and control. He notes that: "... the modern state, as a nation-state, has complied with the authoritarian demands of one social group which imposes unity on the nation by reducing or eliminating the cultural differences which could exist in the nation-state or state-nation. As I see it, since the creation of the modern state there has been a persistent tendency to achieve unity by eliminating diversity, rather than discovering the Other as an enriching element.... Unity through diversity is thus rejected."1 Colonisation as a Crime Against Humanity The single most important thing to grasp is that under the United Nations Charter, colonisation was and is defined in International law as a crime against humanity. The fact that by a process of population shifts many First Nations are now a minority in their own lands does not absolve the inhumanity and injustice of the original act of colonisation. Indeed, the continuing process 1 Freire, P. and Faundez, A., Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation, Continuum, New York, 1989, p. 72. 5. of colonisation - of cheap or assisted immigration, has undoubtedly been used as a weapon in the constitutional disempowerment of indigenous peoples - in Canada, in Australia, in New Zealand and in the United States. The process is well documented also in the French colonisation of Tahiti and New Caledonia. In these and similar instances where racial conflicts render the process more transparent, the existence of white majorities is not accidental but was an institutional policy of subjugation-by-immigration. The fact that this process has been successful does not change the fact that it was also criminal, and that it continues to be so to the extent that its criminality is ongoingly denied. The criminal injustice of the past therefore continues to operate as an ongoing form of colonisation in the present as long as it is not acknowledged and recognised. This recognition requires more than empty rhetoric. It requires the reinstatement of the cultural autonomy and self-determination of people which preceded the process of colonisation. It requires also that the indigenous communities in question be parties to the framing of any possible re- compensation for the original act. Critics of this idea often frame it as an act of potential retrogression - a going backwards. In answer to this, it is important first of all to recognise that it is grounded upon a discredited modernist notion of "progress" which was actually also an imposition - in the context of a liberatory ideology surely a contradiction. In this sense it is also important to distinguish between the "natural" process of cultural development which occurs when two cultures come together, and that which occurred through the colonial process of imposition through force or subterfuge. In the first instance, two cultures invariably learn from each other, exchanging technological information, and so on. What distinguishes colonisation is that it brought with it not only a regime of technological development, but also a culture of dispossession, initiated through force and supported by a culture of denial, all based upon an ethic of domination. The act of colonisation presumed the unchallengeable right of the coloniser to dispossess and dominate those who were "primitive". It mattered not that conceptions of human development aka Social Darwinism were developed specifically to legitimate such acts of "civilised" barbarism, or that the Church colluded in this process of dispossession and denial since it presumed Christianity to be a pre-requisite of civilisation. The notion that colonisation has been beneficial to indigenous peoples therefore seeks to mask and legitimate the original presumption of right-to-dispossess which was a criminal act, and to presume and legitimate continued colonisation in the name of de-legitimated conceptions of development and progress. The acquisition of televisions and refrigerators does not compensate indigenous communities for their loss of culture, language, identity and economic self- sustainability. The Ongoing Colonisation of First Nations The second thing that must be recognised is that issues of nationalism are extremely offensive to many colonised First Nations people. This is 6. particularly true in those colonies in which they now constitute minorities in their own land - Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska and French Polynesia. Unlike these previous colonies like India and most African States, the indigenous peoples of these lands have been absorbed into a Eurocentric constitutional formation and no longer have the numerical power to prevent or overturn their continuing colonisation. They are at the mercy of the dominant immigrant community. But numerical frailty does not erase the immorality of the act of forced repopulation by which it was achieved. Rather it serves to further legitimate the claims of the dispossessed. The numerical subordination a First Nations poses specific problems for these people which are important in theorising more general forms of cultural thinking. The institutions imposed upon the Fourth World have worked against their interests and well-being. In each instance, they suffer the worst statistics of dependency, suicide, imprisonment, insanity, ill health, infant and early mortality of any cultural group. This should tell us something. What it tells them, is that there is a real need to abandon imposed institutions and to re- establish their own forms of governance on the basis of their tradition which existed prior to colonisation - to acquire, in a word, a degree of sovereignty. Redefining Sovereignty As Maori lawyer Moana Jackson has pointed out, sovereignty is a Western constitutional concept which grew in the 19th century out of the positivist school of law which held that only "civilised" people had the right and ability to exercise constitutional power.2 What is clear from this is that the circular and self-serving definition of civilisation stands itself as a colonising metaphor. The concept of Sovereignty which is based upon it therefore contains inherent contradictions for colonised peoples. In New Zealand, the Maori use the term Rangatiratanga, which translates into the Right and the ability of Maori to make decisions for themselves, as they did before colonisation.3 The positivist legal perspective which legitimated colonisation presumed without justification that indigenous peoples were lawless prior to the laying-on of "civilisation". On the contrary, First Nations were not "lawless", but were governed in a different way. Such sovereign nations operated constitutionally much like 2 Jackson has theorised these issues extensively. This paper draws heavily on his analysis. See: Jackson, M., (Interview) "With Kim Hill", Radio New Zealand, Sept. 18th 1995. 3 The concept of sovereignty is itself an imposed and colonized term, derived from European hierarchical monarchic systems at the head of which sits single person, a sovereign. Foucault has shown how, embedded in modern institutional forms - even those of a Republican nature like France - the ethos of the sovereign is still pervasive. In particular he shows how the ethic of punishment was originally conceived as revenge for a crime against the body of the sovereign, since all laws were constituted historically by and through the monarch. This did not change until the eighteenth century, when crimes against the State replaced those against the monarch. The notion of punishment remains from the earlier era, however. See: Foucault, M., Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Pantheon, New York, 1977. 7. European States do today - exercising autonomous rights of self- determination and enacting their own laws, while at the same time engaging in processes of trade and political negotiation. The Maori, the Aborigines of Australia were cases in point. The Iroquois, were another, a prime and well- documented example upon which the French and American Constitutions themselves were based.4 These constitutional forms were not voluntarily exchanged for the "superior" forms of the colonising nations. They were surrendered at the point of a bayonet.5 It is important to remember that the hegemony of the culture of colonisation on indigenous peoples does not justify continued imposition. That is, it must be asked by what Right the colonising culture continues to proclaim its sovereignty over the colonised. Such a presumed right is not legitimable by virtue of the de facto reality of colonisation in the present. The Lakota have never ceded their political and constitutional autonomy to the Federal Government, nor have the Maori in New Zealand.6 The presumption of legitimate constitutional rights by virtue of institutionalised (ie. "legalised" through the imposition of colonising legalities) objectivation remains untenable unless it is based upon the unreserved and non-coerced support of the colonised themselves. This suggests that for the process of decolonisation to actually occur Nation States need to examine the legitimacy of their claims to constitutional authority on some other basis than the constitutional status quo which they acquired through force. Defining Democracy Through Sovereign Partnership It is important to recognise the need to develop new forms of understandings with First Nations about constitutional forms which are not threatened by notions of sovereignty and autonomy, but which view them as a springboard for a more just and equitable world in which difference is sacrosanct. If, for indigenous peoples, the constitutional forms of the coloniser must be abandoned in order that they might develop their own constitutional systems, 4 Morgan, L. H., The League of the Ho-d-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois, Rochester, 1851; Morgan, L. H., Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery, Through Barbarism to Civilisation,...</p>