Benefiting From The Fruits of Oppression

Why do I do it? Why, in the wee hours when I am weak and vulnerable and avoiding all kinds of overdue items, do I skulk back to that mossy pit of delusional hatred, the Western Standard Blogs? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a masochist lurking within me, so in turn I lurk in the online cesspits. An ongoing trope on that site is the open hatred of anything having to do with more rights and compensation for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, or indeed anything alluding to the mere possibility that Aboriginal peoples are suffering, or that –gasp!– bad things were done to them in the past. Here is a telling thread, punctuated by a comment by right wing regular Adam Yoshida, who wrote:

‘Frankly, I’d love for someone …to explain to me why I, the decendent of Japanese-Canadians, ought to pay for various forms of compensation for alleged “crimes” and “wrongs” which were committed not only long before I was born, but also at a time when my own ancestors were either in Japan or here being likewise oppressed.’

Well, Adam (and I know you’re reading this because we online folk are all narcissists who google our names and track references to ourselves), allow me, an immigrant with an even more tenuous connection to the crimes against Canadian aboriginals by European settlers, to offer an explanation: See, Adam, Canada is a prosperous nation. I know many among your political ilk, such as VD Hanson, would argue that we are prosperous because of characteristics innate to the Western ethic, specifically rationalism, democracy and the free market.

While those factors certainly contribute, there’s no denying that Canadian prosperity would not be at all possible if it were not for the great boon of our natural resources, which constitute the foundation of our economic strength. All the rationalism and democracy and free market in the world would be useless if we had nothing to sell. Land, Adam, it’s all about land; Canada’s high quality land, soil, minerals, water, timber and fauna are what allowed this country to rise to the near top, in terms of GDP. And why do we have all this land, Adam? It’s because some English and French settlers steadily pushed Native Peoples into marginalized areas. The Canadian forebears were not as brutal or as systematic as the American settlers were, but they were nonetheless focused on supplanting whatever land rights the indigenous peoples had.

This encroachment was likely effected by the unanticipated diseases brought by Europeans –an unintended vector that nonetheless resulted in an intended outcome, specifically the transfer of Native lands into European hands. So, to answer your question, Adam, we –you and I, whose forebears were nowhere near this place when all this happened– benefit today in a real, measurable way from the wrongs done to Aboriginals generations ago. In legal terms, we have received stolen goods, which makes us part of the crime. History does not begin with our births, you know; and claiming this nation as our home means that we also agree to be responsible for its past and its legacy.

As for your ancestors’ oppression, I’m truly sorry about that. Mine were, too. If you’d like support in railing against their oppressors, I’d be happy to add my voice to yours. But that in no way excuses our responsibility to consider our role in benefiting from the fruits of the oppression of others. This isn’t a victimhood competition –something your Western Standard friends don’t seem to get– rather, this is a matter of being responsible adults who are not afraid of being held accountable for the true cost of our prosperity. Beyond the very rational and defensible argument that I have presented to you, there is the simple ethical point that there exist large communities of people living in Canada –who have always lived in Canada– who live in destitute conditions typical of devastated sub-Saharan Africa.

Beyond what we owe these people historically, what kind of soulless monster could look upon the poverty endemic in some reservations, within the borders of our very nation, and not be moved to action? I’m sure you have a suitably smarmy and offensive response ready for me, if the tone of other “conservative” commenters on this blog are any indication. But I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing it so that there is at least one voice friendly to Native peoples in the Canadian blogosphere.