Chapter 5

Colonization of Turtle Island

Colonization, in its most basic understanding is the process of establishing colonies in a new area, for the purpose of economic gain for the mother country. In the case of Canada, this was the fur trade. Colonialism, is the term applied to the complex history and current relationship between the newcomers and Indigenous peoples, where control and dominance over all areas of Indigenous peoples' lives has been in effect since the creation of Canada as a country. 

The 'new area' is a huge tract of land known by some of the inhabitants as Turtle Island. Most Indigenous groups have their own name for their specific geographical territory. Turtle Island is translated from an Ojibwe creation story, where the land was created and rests on the back of a turtle. The colonized name for the tract of land is Canada and the United States of America. Prior to the creation of the Dominion of Canada, sections of the land were known as New France, New England, and Rupert's Land. Colonizing a new land includes renaming land and waters in the language of the colonizer, as a way of claiming it; ignoring the Indigenous names for their territory.

Initially, Indigenous peoples overpowered the newcomers by sheer numbers and the newcomers relied on Indigenous peoples for their very survivial. Relations were built based on respect and equality. As more settlers, traders and missionaries arrived, the relationship shifted and the insidious aspects of colonialism began to show up. The newcomers brought their social norms, morals and values, their worldview and their Christianity, and used those values to pass judgment on Indigenous peoples. Colonialism has always been about creating dichotomies in order to gain the upper hand of dominance and superiority.

Here are some examples:

  • Indigenous peoples were savage and pagan because they did not believe in Jesus Christ and it was the moral responsibility of missionaries to save the Indigenous peoples from hell by converting them to Christianity.

  • Indigenous peoples were not civilized because they did not 'own' land, they did not farm the land, they did not have a written language nor a centralized government or a head of state. Hunters and gatherers were the bottom of the civilization heirarchy. The newcomers believed that since Indigenous peoples were uncivilized, it was their responsibility to civilize them.

  • Newcomers' social system of child rearing was based on the premise of corporal punishment and that children were to be seen but not heard. When they saw Indigenous children running around freely, they saw them as undisciplined and spoiled and therefore, Indigenous parents must not know how to parent.

  • Historically, Eurpoean women were treated as chattel, first by their fathers and then by their husbands. During the fur trade, the traders would not negotiate with Indigenous women so Indigenous women had to rely on their male relatives to trade their furs on their behalf. When in reality, many tribes were matriarchal and others were egalitarian, women had enormous responsibilities for family and community. However, this was not seen by the newcomers as this was not their worldview.

< Chapter 4 Table of Contents Chapter 6 >


Share this story