Chapter 3

Colonialism

Colonialism, and the effects of colonialism on Canada's Indigenous peoples, is a topic that has not been covered in any great detail in schools, although it is improving. Neither has whiteness and privilege, primarily because these constructs are invisible, thus taken for granted and coupled with a social mentality of 'this is the way it's always been'. Going into all the different facets of colonialism is beyond the scope of this module. However, along with the terminology and examples presented in the previous section, concrete examples as they relate to Indigenous peoples locally and nationally will be presented. The intent is that the information presented will provide a solid foundational base, from which point the process of self-awareness and the seeking of further knowledge will continue.

Fanon (1963) stated there are 4 phases of colonialism:

  1. Colonizer's forced entry into territory to exploit natural resources and inhabitants
  2. Colonizer imposes its culture, disintegrates the Indigenous culture
  3. Colonizer is portrayed as more civilized, the colonized as wild, savage, and uncivilized and it is the colonizer's responsibility to monitor, tame and civilize
  4. Establishment of a society where the political, social and economic institutions are designed to benefit and maintain the superiority of the colonizer while continuing to subjugate the colonized(1)

 

Albert Memmi, another well-known author in the field of post-colonial theory, published his book The Colonizer and The Colonized in 1957. Memmi discusses the long standing effects of colonialism on both the colonized and the colonizer. The following video does a good job of explaining the psychology of colonialism.

 

Colonialism is inextricably linked with oppression. The Oxford Dictionary defines oppression as the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority. Oppression often begins with violence, but there are other forms of oppression. Similar to power and privilege, oppression can be invisible as it has become the norm. Oppression creates injustice in many circumstances and comes in many forms. Iris Marion Young is probably most well known for her work on creating the 5 Faces of Oppression (1):

1. Exploitation is the act of using peoples' labour to produce profit while not compensating them fairly (e.g. the early fur trade where a trapper had to pile up beaver pelts to the height of a gun in order to trade for it). Exploitation uses capitalism to oppress.

2. Marginalization is when a group of people are relegated or confined to a lower socioeconomic standing or to the edges of society. This form of oppression includes the aspect of the dominant society not using this group for labour (e.g. First Nations not being hired for reasons such as stereotypes that they are lazy or can't be trusted or they steal). This is oppression by exclusion.

3. Powerlessness is when a group of people are dominated by the ruling class and are situated to take orders and very rarely have the right to give them. Other facets of this form of oppression include the dominant gender, the dominant culture and the dominant race (e.g. women not earning the same salary as men doing the same job and Chinese people only being allowed to operate restaurants or laundromats in Canada [see Chinese Exclusion Act, 1923]). Deeper manifestations of powerlessness is when the powerless group turn against each other (e.g. internal oppression).

4. Cultural Imperialism involves establishing the culture of the ruling class as the norm. The dominant society's values, norms and mores express the experiences of everyone and are judged by those values (e.g. Judeo-Christian calendar means everyone gets Christian holidays off whether they are Christian or not, but other faith's holidays are not legalized to be work free). Other examples is the dominant group in society is heterosexual, so all other types are grouped as 'other' and viewed as inferior or abnormal. Language is another example, where Canada's 2 official languages are those of the colonizers.

5. Violence is when members of some group live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their person or property, simply because of who they are and that they represent something to be feared by the perpetrator/s (e.g. the killing of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan). Xenophobia is the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or anything that is strange or foreign. Oppression by fear and violence is probably the most obvious and visible form of oppression.

The above information provides a framework that helps in understanding the many forms of oppression that many members of society experience, not only as part of their historical identity but as a part of their everyday lived experience.

The next section will show how Fanon’s 4 phases have manifested in Canadian history.


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(1). I. M. Young. (2009). Five faces of oppression. In Geographic Thought: A praxis perspective, G. Henderson & M. Waterstone (eds). New York, NY: Routledge.

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