Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Is true decolonization possible if we are still a dominion?

The release of the report into missing and murdered Indigenous women raises broader questions about truly severing colonial ties, writes Prajwala Dixit.

Does Canada's head of state have to be the head of the Church of England?

Reading and watching statements by people in power made Prajwala Dixit wonder — how do we approach decolonization if we are still a self-governing colony headed by a monarch? (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Earlier this month, I woke up to international headlines that declared Canada is "complicit in race-based genocide" of Indigenous women.

I watched Qajaq Robinson, one of the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, eloquently deliver her feelings as a non-Indigenous Canadian.

"But it's the truth. It's my truth. It's your truth," she said, calling the country out on its denial with an uncomfortable reality.

Following this, I saw a series of tweets and statements by Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People's Party of Canada, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

I soon realized that not many people are like Qajaq Robinson. Accepting responsibility when complicity has been found to be — consciously or unconsciously — aiding or participating in abuse and violence takes enormous courage, as she exuded on June 3.

"Ending this genocide and rebuilding Canada into a decolonized nation requires a new relationship and an equal partnership between all Canadians and Indigenous Peoples," the national inquiry said in a statement as its report was released.

However, reading and watching statements by people in power, unashamedly in denial, made me wonder — how do we approach decolonization if we are still a self-governing colony headed by a monarch? Will true reconciliation be possible if the head of the state is the head of the Church of England?

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson, speaking at the opening ceremony of the hearings in Quebec City, on Sept. 17, 2018 (Julia Page/CBC)

Unshackling colonial mindsets

I grew up in India, a country that has a deep-rooted history with colonization. For more than 500 years, colonial forces controlled the Indian subcontinent. Of these, over 300 years can be attributed to the British. Naturally, through the years, race supremacy, oppression and second-class citizen treatment were entrenched into the fabric of colonial India.

After fighting valiantly and non-violently for our freedom, India in 1947 cut its ties with its oppressors, successfully establishing itself as the largest democratic republic with a parliamentary system whose head of state is a president.

However, this major turn in events didn't end colonial ideologies.

To this day, the thirst for fairer skin, fuelled by capitalistic businesses like British-Dutch Unilever, has succeeded in shaming darker skin tones, promoting and equating lighter tones to academic, societal and career success.

Further, societal status, intelligence, education and class continue to be found tied and limited to fluency in English, ironically, in a country oozing diversity and multiculturalism. This speaks volumes about how hard it can be to shake off a colonial outlook.

An expensive price to pay

Similar themes are present in our midst — nationally, provincially and locally.

Back in 2013, a public hearing was organized at St. John's city hall when the St. John's Native Friendship Centre pitched a daycare centre on Elizabeth Avenue. The proponents succeeded; it's now known as the First Light Childcare Centre.

Back then, there was opposition from neighbours. There were concerns about higher volumes of traffic and parking, amid a demonstration of NIMBY, or not in my backyard. 

David Penner, then the director of the Friendship Centre, told residents they needed to appreciate why the group wanted to open the childcare in the first place — and what Indigenous people needed from a centre that is centrally located and near bus stops.

"One thing I don't think you're not grasping is our clientele, to a large part, do not have cars. They use the bus," he said.

"They're here from Labrador to avail themselves of the better medical facilities or utilize the university to further their education. They don't come with cars."

While we work hard at the grassroots level to decolonize Canada, perhaps it is time to consider our status as a constitutional monarchy.

Other comments caused concerns. Statements such as "right project in the wrong location" — coupled with worries that parents would be jaywalking with their children — led Susan Onalik, a single Indigenous parent, to speak up.

"I don't know what you guys think. That I would put my own child at risk [by jaywalking] is beyond me," she told the meeting.

Meanwhile a little ways down the road on Rumboldt Place, a residential cul de sac, runs one of the branches of Little People's Workshop. There's no record that any such public information session was held.

Colonialism lingers on like an unwanted ghost

Undeniably, it is evident that decolonization and indigenization are vital to ensure that cohesiveness can exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

But skepticism creeps in when Indigenous and non-Indigenous taxpayer dollars are diverted towards paying for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration or are used to ship a portrait of the Queen from one Government House to another.

Despite this and the other millions of dollars being spent on the upkeep of relations with the monarchy, not a single apology has been issued for the treatment meted out to our Indigenous peoples.

While we work hard at the grassroots level to decolonize Canada, perhaps it is time to consider our status as a constitutional monarchy.

If countries like India, which physically severed its ties with its colonial powers (over 70 years ago, too), still feel the effects of colonization, then imagine the influence here where colonialism lingers on like an unwanted ghost, physically making its presence felt.

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Corrections

  • A prior version of this column incorrectly said that taxpayers' dollars were used for a grant to refurbish Buckingham Palace.
    Jun 24, 2019 9:42 AM NT

About the Author

Prajwala Dixit

Contributor

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian writer. An engineer, wife and mother, she resides in St. John's.