Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Name Only?

Sometimes I think we've made so much progress... Then I'm reminded how far we have yet to go...

To the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, the continents of North and South America, Manifest Destiny has a terrible meaning. While Americans understood it to mean the divine right to rule over all of the continent, something that made Canada and British North America nervous, it is true, the term is the device used to connote the genocide of the Indigenous peoples, the massacres and murders of our children and women, the theft of our lands and the destruction of our cultures. Manifest Destiny meant that one people were imposing their will upon the other and saying that they were superior and deserved to be so.

While I am unaware whether Canada ever used the term explicitly, it was manifest destiny that delivered residential schools, reserves, assimilation and the current neo-colonial actions being carried out by Canada to control and assimilate Native people today.

The phrase has power and is filled with meaning. Dark meaning, representing hate and racism and superiority.

So it was an unpleasant feeling to see the phrase show up on a new shirt design from The Gap clothing store. It's hard not to take it personally, I live with colonialism. It's hard not to wonder why they decided that phrase was an appropriate one for this new line.

It's hard not to wonder what it means.

The designer will, of course, plead innocence, he didn't realize he was offending so many. Hopefully The Gap will pull the design. They will probably also do the same, if they even bother.

****Pause. Reboot. Restart. While writing this piece, The Gap announced that they were pulling the T-shirt, and that they were sorry that people were offended.

I'm sort of at a loss as to how to proceed at the moment. This is something we have been seeing a lot of lately, the appropriation of cultural tropes by the dominant, or the reassertion of language that marginalizes and divides, such as this example above.

It feels like it is getting worse.

The question of power arises and I am forced to ask : Are we Decolonizing? Are we indigenizing in name only, adding some token courses and support workers and a whole bunch of art to our schools to make the non-Native feel less guilty and the Native feel affirmed? Am I complicit in tokenizing my people and culture? I speak out and get angry about "Manifest Destiny" but am I doing enough to decolonize? How often have I been silenced? I've lost count. How often have I silenced myself out of fear that I can't stand up to the colonial system? I've lost count. How often have I silenced myself because I'm convinced that I'm not Indigenous enough to speak back to the colonial voice? I've lost count. How often have a failed First Nations? Too often.

Can I decolonize or speak to the need to transform the education system when I don't feel I deserve to be here anymore? What progress is being made when we shout and teach and then turn around to see Manifest Destiny, and sexy Pocahontas costumes, and team logos and the government speaking against us and being called cockroaches in the papers and hearing only silence where the outcry should be?

I see some hope in the empowered voices online that get angry and speak out against "Manifest Destiny". I see some hope in the empathy and outrage expressed by the grade two students I taught residential schools to last year. I fear that hope will be extinguished when they get more fully indoctrinated into the school system and the colonialism that is Canada.

I don't know where I'm going with this thought.

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