We have no history of colonialism

As I drove on my trip along the Trans-Canada highway I was thinking about colonization. That was partly because the country I drove through was particularly affected by it and also because I had recently been alerted to some new issues.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an astonishing statement on colonization:

“We are one of the most stable regimes in history. There are very few countries that can say, for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval, or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism.”


This is one of the most profoundly ignorant statements I have ever heard. It only made sense because he really believed—as do so many other Canadians—the colonization was benign or benevolent. Compared to other countries such as the USA there was much less violence.  But it was still deeply oppressive to the original inhabitants of this continent and their offspring.

As Haydong King said about Harper, he believed we had

“…peaceful colonization where very nice European settlers came and met with very nice but savage native people. And we helped them through Christianity and religion and we taught them how to farm, and we paid for their school. So that has been colonization and it has been a very benevolent one.”

It was certainly benevolent if you are the right side of the issue.

The Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister made a very similar remark about settler coming to Manitoba. They did not come to bring violence. They were builders not destroyers, he said. Pallister rightfully got in a lot of trouble for that wooden-headed remark.

When Canada’s political leaders make such comments, it is obvious that they don’t understand the relationship of indigenous people and the governments of Canada and the provinces. They are looking at that relationship through the lens of a descendants of those colonizers, or their successors.

This summer Christiane and I with our granddaughter Nasya spent a few days in Gimli.  I remember driving by Colonization Road.  It is always a bit shocking to see a road called that. Would Germany or Poland have a Holocaust Road?  I saw another such road later on my trip in Fort Frances. There are roads like that in many other towns in Canada including Kenora, Dryden, And Emo.  It shows how successful colonization has been. People see it as natural. Certainly not anything to be ashamed of or concerned about.

Patrick Wolfe one of the theorists who has studied settler colonialism, said, “settler colonialism is a structure not an event. It is something we reproduce every day through our actions.”

If we want to achieve reconciliation with indigenous people we must learn to understand colonization. Ignorance like that from our Prime Minister and Premier just won’t cut it.



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