Monday, June 22, 2015

'Cultural Genocide' - The Phrase As A Whipping Post


The latest Canadian manifestation of the international rise in pressure on Caucasians to atone for the wrongs of colonization is the report of a federal Truth and Reconciliation commission for the study of the past treatment of native children at church-run schools and orphanages. One conundrum that arises from its appeal that we as our institutions apologize for the behaviour of mostly now-deceased individuals, is in finding a way to do that which also recognizes that the minorities persecuted by government in the past are not only our ‘first peoples’. The Acadian expulsion from the Maritimes has not benefited from government atonement, and probably should not. Displacement of the weaker by the stronger civilization is one of the forces that have shaped who we are throughout human history.

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If every national government was required to atone for the many sins of previous generations, most older societies in the world would be thrown into chaos. American blacks descended from slaves, Ulster Gaels displaced by Protestant Lowland Scots and West Country English, Metis whose territory in Manitoba was removed from their management – the list of grievance is endless. How far back to we go? The Welsh were expelled from most of England and parts of Scotland when the Anglo-Saxons arrived.

As a New World society we in Canada are today confronting a persistent imbalance between the living circumstances of most post-Settlement incomers and a majority of our first peoples. However those of us who do belong in the non-first people group yet arrived here after active discrimination against indigenous culture largely ceased, cannot truly feel guilt about what others who were not our own personal ancestors did to those whose own ancestors arrived here long before them. The plight aboriginals find themselves in is not of the making of an large and increasing percentage of the non-indigenous population, so, while we can be sympathetic and support polices that assist pride of identity and self-esteem amongst first peoples, we cannot feel the need to apologize without a reciprocal recognition by aboriginals that many, many non-aboriginals came here leaving uncertainty, deprivation and prejudice.

Affirmative action has not proved to work in many places in our world, especially where ‘e pluribus unum’ seems to be the actual fact on the ground. Fostering circumstances where all citizens can aspire to a reasonable quality of life is laudable.  Frequent pandering to a senior minority's sense of grievances past too often does little for its sense of commitment to and willingness to engage in positive ways with the larger civilization that it now forms part of.

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