History shapes culture, but how?

Two people, one yawning and the other reaching out with a shocked face, are speaking. The yawning person is saying “Why can’t they just get over it already?”
Time heals some wounds; but, like a sliver versus a bullet wound, some take more to heal. MoteOo via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

A continuation of the culture series using Canada as a case study

Previously, the topic of abortions was used to explain the transition from religious or personal opinion to politics and the transition from politics to culture. Now it is time to consider how a history of racism has shaped cultural norms and persists even in today’s society.  

Canada as a country has been around for a while, being 156 years old, but in the grand scheme of things – and North American history alone – that’s not very long at all. Compared to the various Indigenous populations that span Turtle Island, there are a lot of families and settlements that have been here for a fraction of time. In that fraction of time, some families have seen the creation of provinces around them, the creation of a country and the colonization of Turtle Island.  

Canada is based on settler-colonial ideas. Denying that would be to deny fact, as the colonization of North and South America is based on the Doctrine of Discovery. According to The Indigenous Foundation, the Doctrine of Discovery is the claim that land is vacant if Christians do not occupy the land.  

The Indigenous Foundation proves Canada’s Supreme Court’s hypocrisy, as despite saying that Canada was not built off this doctrine, there are still court rulings, land disputes, and the conversion of wilderness to parks that are clearly influenced by the Doctrine of Discovery. As the land is deemed unoccupied, it is seized and used however the government deems fit.  

However, the land that is taken is almost always of great importance to Indigenous peoples. Some examples of court cases that have been influenced by this doctrine include St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v. The Queen and Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, according to The Indigenous Foundation.  

As the basis of Canada and other countries on Turtle Island are based on the Doctrine of Discovery, a racist and colonialist doctrine, it is no surprise that there has been a long history of anti-Indigenous laws and practices throughout Turtle Island. Canada alone has had its fair share of structural racism, where racist policies and practices are built into the system that continue to this day. 

Examples include the implementation of residential and day schools, the last of which closed in 1996 in Punnichy, Saskatchewan; the Sixties Scoop, which took place between 1951 and 1984, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia; the Indian Act; “Indian” hospitals, segregated hospitals which treated everything from the common cold to tuberculosis while operating with less support from the government since they only treated Indigenous people; and discriminatory voting policies meant to discourage Indigenous people from voting and to further assimilate Indigenous people who did wish to vote, which were in effect until 1960.  

These historical events concluded only very recently, but the effects are still being felt today. Add in starlight tours; the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit crisis; the use of excessive force on unceded lands to detain and quiet Indigenous protestors and land defenders; and the disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples within the criminal justice system and the foster care system, and it is clear there is an ongoing problem with structural racism in Canada. 

And not only is there structural racism left to be dealt with, but the normalization of racist language and beliefs persists as they have a historic basis that some use to justify them. Indigenous peoples are still referred to by many as “Indians,” and many Non-Indigenous Canadians are desensitized or ignorant to the experiences of Indigenous people.  

Non-Indigenous Canadians might ask, “Why can’t they just get over it? It’s in the past,” but cannot recognize that “the past” is a short one-to-four generations from the young Indigenous people of today, or that Indigenous people continue to experience racism in their everyday lives.  

Healing intergenerational trauma can take up to seven generations. Seven generations, if being extremely generous, is 126 years. To the question, “Why can’t they just get over it?” I ask: “has it been 126 years since 1951? 1996? Since yesterday?” 

Click here to read the previous article in this series: What is culture, and what influences it?


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