Reconciliation, what reconciliation?

“It’s bullshit,” is Amy George’s take on what the government of British Columbia in Canada has proclaimed as Reconciliation Week.

The week runs from September 16-22 and is that government’s insipid attempt at healing the scars of the genocide European settlers perpetrated on indigenous Americans.

Amy George is 71 years old, and she has that very English name because indigenous names were – and in many cases still are – considered not sophisticated enough for a “modern” world.

Her particular gripe stems from an abominable system that ran until 1996, yes as recently as 1996, called the Indian Residential Schools programme.

It was an attempt to get the Indian-ness out of indigenous Americans; to dislocate them from their culture and dehumanise their history.

Apart from its geographical location, it was not much different from Bantu education in South Africa and Namibia, settler policies in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and French and Portuguese “assimilation” in many other parts of Africa.

Amy George, quoted by the Vancouver Observer, says, “The government said we’re sorry for what happened to you. They didn’t say we’re sorry we built these schools so you would die.  Every apology they make, I say, 'that’s bullshit’.”

Amy George was sexually abused at these schools.

“I wonder what kind of major sin I could have committed as a six-year-old to be so severely punished day in and day out.

“The Canadian government built those schools… They said, ‘we’ll build these schools. We’ll take their children away.  We’ll kill their language. Then their spirits. And they will die.’ That was the whole reason they built these schools. There was murder in them.”

Like the story of everyone who has come into contact with the sheer feral nature of Empire past and present, Amy George’s story is both heart-rending and angering.

“At the end, I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. They fed me a daily diet of ‘dumb Indians’ ‘thick-headed Indians’ ‘stinking Indians.’ They’d say, ‘you stink to high heaven’…

“They said hell is where there is no God and no love and that’s exactly where I was.”

David Tindall, Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, writing in the Vancouver Sun, said: “Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.

“These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child’.”

That is the story of education by Empire over the world and through the centuries.

Remember Okot p’Bitek’s “Song of Lawino/Song of Ocol”?

The great poet wrote: “For all our young men/ Were finished in the forest/ Their manhood was finished/ in the classrooms,/ Their testicles/ were smashed/ with large books!”

But back to Amy George and the indigenous Americans of Canada who rightly call it “bullshit” when their governments talk of “reconciliation”.

To such people, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in British Columbia, John Rustad, says the government is “committed to creating a new path to move forward with dignity and in the true spirit of reconciliation”.

It reminds me of something I read back in 1999.

It was a series of articles in Moto magazine about racism and “reconciliation” in Zimbabwe after independence. The series was carried by the magazine in the mid-1990s, but I only came across it towards the end of the century.

In one of the articles, a young man – white – said something to the effect that there could be no reconciliation between blacks and whites in Zimbabwe.

To be more accurate, he said Africans were stupid for even mentioning “reconciliation”.

He pointed out that “reconciliation” was a process involving parties who were once friends, went separate ways, and then decided to come back together.

Africans and Europeans had never been friends, he said. We had worked at cross-purposes for centuries. And so there could be no “re-conciling”.

What we needed to do, he said rather haughtily but with chillingly accuracy, was to first become friends.

We had never been friends.

That is why, as documented by Harvard’s Prof Caroline Elkins in “Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya”, those civilised Britons – who today tell us to forget the past – anally raped our men with “knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions”.

“A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted.

“The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. 

They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. 

They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound,” Elkins says.

“Reconciliation” cannot exist after being subjected to massacres at Nyadzonya, Chimoio, Setif, the Malagasy, the Herero, the Nama, Hanoi, My Lai and dozens of other instances of Empire building.

And don’t blame the victims for being angry about these realities and seeking to re-assert their rights over their territories and their bodies.

We will take our lands, we will take our minerals, we will take back our minds and our cultures. Nothing less.

No, right now there can be no reconciliation. First we must learn to become friends.

Anything else, to quote Amy George, is “bullshit”. 

September 2013
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