When I was training to be a journo, the Sri Lankan Embassy wrote an official complaint about one of my articles on the human rights abuses of Tamil people in Sri Lanka. I’ve visited Sri Lanka, and though there was much to enjoy, the Tamil ghettos which every Sinhalese person I spoke to could not even see feel burned in my mind.
So on the surface, Canadian complaints about Sri Lanka hosting a Commonwealth event because of their ongoing and recent human rights abuses of Tamil people makes sense to me.
Until you think about the Commonwealth. The countries colonised by England. Leaving aside Africa, divided up by Europeans drawing lines on a map to make stealing resources easier, and British behaviour in India and surrounding countries, let’s focus on Canada and white settler behaviour just for a moment.
Canada is the home of ongoing alienation of indigenous Canadians’ rights. Here are a list of the current bills which First Nations Canadians object to:
- Bill C-38 Budget Omnibus #1;
- Bill C-45 Budget Omnibus Bill #2;
- Bill C-27 First Nations Financial Transparency Act;
- The First Nations Private Property Ownership Act (Proposed);
- Bill S-2 Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act;
- Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act;
- Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act;
- Bill C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act;
- Bill S-207 An Act to amend the Interpretation Act; and
- Bill S-212 First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill.
Then there are the residential schools in Canada, boarding schools for kidnapped children. The last one closed in 1996, and you can see how many existed around the country here. More than 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and fed into an educational system which told them everything about them was inferior.
The schools were hotbeds for physical, mental and sexual abuse. Children killed themselves, or died trying to escape. After going through these schools themselves, First Nations parents then had to watch while the same thing was done to their children.
This is not a radical interpretation. This is how the members of parliament in Canada described these schools, in 2008, when a cross party apology described this racism of trying to “stamp the Indian out of the child.”
So Canada, quite frankly, fuck off. The arrogance of white supremacy, our colonial inheritance for those of us of British descent, makes me feel sick. Aotearoa has this too, of course, in spades. What happened and is happening to Tamil people in Sri Lanka is obscene. But the impacts of colonisation on Maori, on First Nations Canadians, on Aboriginal peoples in Australia are no less a scar on humanity. News articles which position us white folk as arbiters of justice, fairness and human rights – ignoring colonisation – just perpetuate that white arrogance and invisibilise that white privilege.
We can’t really afford that, if we want to live in a world which respects the human rights of others. White privilege is so damn slippery anyway.