Given this painful and recent history, the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, promoted by the government as Canada 150, felt more like Colonisation 150 for many of my indigenous students and colleagues. The story of the resilience of indigenous communities across Canada over the last 150 years is one of local endurance and immense perseverance against the very objectives of the nation itself.
Yet, over the last few years, Canada has been experiencing an ‘indigenous moment’. Many are asking how long it will last and whether the pivot is a temporary and expedient response to an emerging political necessity or whether it will lead to lasting change.
Since becoming prime minister in 2015, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal federal government have pledged to develop nation-to-nation relationships with the elected governments of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities (formerly referred to by the unwelcome collective term ‘Aboriginal’) and to implement each of the 94 Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
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Lessons from India’s Patel movement, Om Astha Rai
Canada is receiving international media attention for newly proposed national legislation officialising indigenous languages, and renaming public buildings that carry problematic colonial names with more inclusive designations. Across the country, programs that honour indigenous history and understandings are being rolled out at elementary, secondary and university levels.
Overall, Canada’s indigenous communities are in the limelight, albeit in sometimes uncomfortably instrumentalised ways. The bitter irony of the current context is inescapable: colonial governments have for centuries marshalled their economic, military and administrative might to extinguish indigenous peoples. Now, in the eleventh hour, they are looking to strengthen and celebrate the very diversity that they set out to destroy.
Why is this happening? The simple answer is that much land and many resources are still legally owned and controlled by indigenous peoples in Canada — land and resources that the Canadian state is eagerly eyeing to exploit, expropriate and monetise. A series of ground-breaking rulings by the Supreme Court over the last few decades have confirmed that indigenous title involves a real and tangible interest in the land, and provides the owner with the right to choose what the land can be used for.
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Mother tongue, Mukta Singh Tamang
While Nepal has not had the misfortune of being colonised by European settlers, some have suggested that the historical oppression of indigenous and other marginalised communities has operated like colonisation. If Nepal has never been colonised, can it ever be, or does it need to be, de-colonised? This discussion is gathering momentum in the scholarly community. A well-attended panel entitled ‘Decolonising Research in the Himalayas’ at the Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies Conference hosted by the University of Colorado, Boulder, in September 2017 generated heated, if necessary debate.
For most of my indigenous colleagues in Canada, decolonisation is not a metaphor. Rather, it involves implementing tangible, measurable and structural changes in who controls, creates and administers knowledge. Decolonising education and research are about substance not symbol, and necessarily involving a sincere commitment to promoting indigenous voices in the academy and in society.
Nepal’s federal restructuring provides a unique opportunity for the state to engage deeply with the needs, goals and dreams of the hundreds of indigenous communities who contribute to this richly diverse nation. Celebrating and promoting inspiring indigenous voices (whether in Canada, Nepal or in other multi-cultural federal democracies) helps make a country stronger, more representative and more just. It is a chance not to be squandered.
Mark Turin is a linguist and anthropologist who teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver
ILO 169, Nepal as a model
Nepal’s multi-ethnic future, Shyam Shrestha