From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Canada's colonial project?

Whenever the subject of Canadian colonialism comes up invariably many react with indignation,We are ourselves a colony, how can we possibly be colonialists they say. Yet how else does one describe our treatment of Aboriginals and First Nations peoples.

Former Saskatchewan teacher Amanda Gebhard in her article titled Pipeline to Prison tackles the role schools play in what she calls Canada's colonial project, arguing" Canada’s education system, imposed upon Indigenous people for hundreds of years, plays a powerful role in constructing the notion of public enemies in need of discipline and containment."

One kilometre west of the city of Prince Albert, the federal Saskatchewan Penitentiary sits on the site of a former residential school run by the Anglican Church of Canada. As in other prisons across the Prairie provinces, the 20-acre facility houses inmates predominantly of Aboriginal descent. This situation is not unique: Indigenous people represent only three per cent of Canada’s population yet account for 17 per cent of its prison population. As the last of the residential schools have shut down, penitentiaries have become the new form of containment for Indigenous people in Canada. In a 1988 study prepared for the Canadian Bar Association, Aboriginal rights advocate Michael Jackson stated: “The prison has become for many young native people the contemporary equivalent of what the Indian residential school represented for their parents.” Almost 25 years later, young Aboriginal men in Saskatchewan are now more likely to go to prison than to finish high school.

There is something apt yet profoundly disturbing in situating a prison predominately populated by Aboriginals on the site of a former residential school.

 The construction of European settlers as benevolent saviours and of Native people as ungrateful degenerates was necessary to justify the theft of Indigenous land and resources. This is all too often forgotten, as are the continued privileges settlers secure from casting Aboriginal people as dangerous and unruly. It is time to shift the focus from the colonized to the colonizers, and to interrogate the interlocking systems that allow the over-incarceration of Indigenous people to continue.

I urge you to read this thought provoking piece and reflect on Canada's colonialist past and present.

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