…The plot thickens

1874coomassie

Comparative history is interesting because it connects stories that are usually separate along the similarities that have always been there.

I wonder if continuing the narrative of British imperialism in turn of the century Gold Coast with turn of the century imperialism in Western Canada would accomplish that same end? The issue is increasingly tricky since Canada and Ghana have quite a significant difference; namely that the colonizer left in Ghana while remaining in Canada. Nevertheless, did not the statesmen of the new Republican government in Ghana merely, or, maybe not so merely, inherit a European form of nationhood constructed by the British? The British origins to our Canadian federation is clear, and so I think there is some continuity there. I’m sure there is some problems with my thinking here. But what I am sure of is the shared attitudes and actions of the Anglo policy towards native populations in each area under foreign rule. Foreign rule ended in Ghana in 1957, but continues on to the present day here in Canada, and that is the key to everything in my efforts to construct any degree of comparative history in my work.

I’m thinking through the possibility of adding a string of Ghanaian colonial history that begins with the Wolseley expedition against Kumasi after the Red River Rebellion of 1870. Perhaps there is even a comparison to be made between the hinterland of the Northern Territories and the Canadian prairies in terms of a shared frontier landscape?

More later…

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The Gold Coast Connection

Sir Garnet

 

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And so i’ve often wondered, when thinking about how the same group of elite British officers galavanted about the Empire, how the experiences of Sir Garnet Wolseley during the Red River Rebellion in 1870 shaped his view of the British mission against Kumasi in 1874. The Dominion of Canada and the Gold Coast Colony in 1870 were just more outposts to the British Crown, whose agents were busy increasing their sphere of influence by “trade where they could, but by flag where they must”. The famous Robinson and Gallagher slogan is apt in both examples since the British began their involvement with trade on the brain, but ended it all with the bloody flag in their hearts.

In what few primary sources I’ve consulted about Wolseley and his activities in the late 18th C, he is the usual imperial soldier: career-oriented and perfectly sure of the manifest destiny his Queen and Country has across the world. His memoirs and such portray him even in terms of resurrecting any fears that Britain’s colonial rationale and reason d’être could ever fade.

So for me, I am considering a meaningful first chapter set in the Gold Coast just before the  man set out against the Ashanti in whatever Anglo-Ashanti War he led in 1874 that toppled Kumasi. His successes against Riel and the Metis undoubtedly shaped his confidence in his abilities in war based on logistics and manoeuvre. More so, both the Half-Breeds and the Ashanti were more savages in need of the treaty, the sword, the Bible, and the flag–usually in that order, but not necessarily.

I envision him maybe on his ship about to land on the coast, like in the painting abvove, or maybe he is in a expeditionary camp on the beach or further afield in the forest. He could be writing a letter to home; perhaps something intimate that could satisfy a deep look into the man’s personality and truest values. Interestingly, either situation could be symbolic of Britain’s feelings of poetic isolation while exercising their burden to civilize savages in the service of the Queen.

In his cabin, for instance, he could represent the technological master at the dawn of the Industrialized world. A man able to voyage great distances to prosecute any colonial war his handlers saw fit. He could reflect on the vast logistical achievement of the British Army; this as he faced a similar campaign but in wildly different physical environments. And in all this, I could show how the modern mindset is so satisfied and reliant upon expending wild amounts of energy to defeat nature: to carry all the great materiel of war along paths drawn on maps. Military strategies that do not reflect the human toll of a two month projection of power across an adverse landscape. The battle all soldiers face is first the field of war itself, then their own psychological determination, and then finally the other man who has defeated those already and is now able to kill you in earnest.

And then the natives, the aboriginals, the savages, and all the other nouns are able to fall into the same process of objectification, as things to control and master, describe and rule. People and the landscape all need to be measured, understood, and then controlled in Europe’s growing positivist imagination.

Wolseley could remember his campaign in Canada and see no difference between that place and its people and this new one in Africa. And with that clarity, the identity of Canada as just another imperial place on the map on the globe would have to surface. By seeing the arrogance and ultimate goals of the British through the eyes of this prototype British officer, a reader would have to admit the first and ongoing actions of the Crown in the prairies were the same as their mission in West Africa: to remove any resistance from local peoples by either the gun or diplomacy, and to create a new world at all costs.

Wolseley could imagine the expansion of a new society spreading across the globe. He could be offering premonitions about a industrialized, utopian society, and that proving the superiority of Britain on the imperial battlefield was the first step.

Then some continuity will emerge about the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginals in Canada. The Metis in my story could be both observers and agents to that relationship, as is historically accurate about their intermediary place between Settler and Indian society. And, because Metis culture descends matrilineally (largely Cree), I imagine many Metis shared in the impending and increasing loss of their way of life.

Hopefully, a reader would be able to relate somehow to the Metis people in my book and gain a stronger understanding of the existential hurt felt among First Nation people in Canada. More importantly, I hope the story would explain how many people see the Indian Act and the attitude of the government of Canada as a text-book colonial perspective towards non-European societies. I’m also hoping that because the Fleury’s in my story were not so harshly discriminated upon by the Residential School system, but instead ran from the Government in part to escape the ‘social services’, that their seeming affiliation to the rest of settler society would draw in non-Aboriginal readers into the story as well. After all, looking at a picture of the Fleury’s at RMH, they don’t look much different that the European migrants who struggled in the bush and in their poverty and social problems, too.

Thoughts on Idle No More and Theresa Spence

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Simply put, what appears to central to the FN position goes beyond defending the fiscal management issue. That’s low lying fruit that will trigger the proper legal response. But I’m not sure what is really stake here even has a legal/political framework at any level in Canada. When the rhetoric of the movement is “INM”, it says a statement that the whole FN-Settler relationship is sick and broken for a thousand reasons that goes back well beyond Confederation, etc. I’m 100% sure Spence et al would not put their lives on the line to play chicken with the GOC over whether or not FN leaders were or ‘corrupt’ in some way.

I see a real source of debate in all of this in that on one hand FNs want the IA destroyed because it is a classic paternal, legal instrument that the British used in the empire to assimilate an indigenous population. Yet, FNs don’t want the IA removed to the extent that it forever eliminates their identity as a totally distinct society (to accidentally borrow a phrase). The path both sides agreed upon in the treaties forever hurt the continuity of FNs yet it created a new country. Was it worth it? The difficulty as many FN scholars etc see it lies in trying to move forward in the present by somehow disconnecting the paternal agenda but maintain the country’s recognition of FN as other nations so they can participate in the industrial/capitalist system with 100%, FN to Canada autonomy . That should be easy, right? It’s a part of the Curse of Development, like Jim Handy says.

How do we actually solve these problems? I see this like a family that’s tiptoeing around someone’s decades long cycle of addiction. Surely each member of that family has issues that must change but only one person is responsible for cresting the problem. There are outside observers who see the roots of the problem, and might try to speak out. But the while family has to admit the real problem and want to change. In our case, I am growing more and more convinced there needs to be a radical reawakening about the folly of our country’s colonial past in a way that 100% allows FNs to set the agenda at a discussion table. I can’t see any way around that. I’m not meaning the GOC needs to capitulate, but the absolute one issue in all colonized societies is recovering a tangible sense of autonomy, agency, and cultural dignity.

I believe the tangible answers to the questions will and can come later, after a deeper change of mindset in the political/educational arenas. I think the last thing FNs need is more oversight, but not because i think FNs don’t value or need fiscal accountability (all bureaucracy rightly does) but because the nature of the “oversight” relationship since day one has been intentionally destructive to the existence of the FNs. In that way, FNs are not like provinces that don’t have a severe existential crisis every time the PMO passes some shady omnibus bill.

Indeed, the West does rest upon a projection of power, and thats been the source of the problem since c1500! Its fundamental to say the European West has displaced the folks living on other continents. We all know the history is clear (enough) that all the major systems comprising what we call globalization are the result of Western hegemony over everyone else they ‘discovered’. 

But in the current discussion, what good is our study of History if we don’t actually hear its lessons?

To wit:

A major change here in N/America in the relationship between the historically dominant and marginalized societies must reject the current neocolonial system of GOC handouts and unfair administrative constraints determined by cyclical amendments to the IA. Again: increasing accountability etc will not solve the problems so long as the status quo prevails. And stubbornly requiring FNs to admit to accounting failings is like what social workers call blaming the victim amid the learned helplessness of living on the government purse for a life that has zero easy explanations and blame. For example, if a homeless person steals from s grocery store, wouldn’t it awfully callous and uninformed of us to point our fingers and say, “well, if you want to succeed in this world, son, you have to play by the rules. Now heres a fine and some jail time. Get a job!”

Same same. 

The whole arrangement between GOC and FN is dirty and if we were to measure the dirt on each side since c1876, who do you think will be blushing the most?

For a constructive imagining of the future GOC-FN relationship? If anyone really knew that, in any post-colonial setting, we wouldn’t have these long conversations. But because the bulk of postcolonial theorists underline the loss of agency among indigenous societies as the number one negative effect of imperialism everywhere, most in that camp talk about restoring agency as the number one goal for the future. After that, we all admit, it becomes a big head scratch of how to proceed. The idea of changing land ownership to fee simple is currently a main move with interesting consequences to the communal vs individual ownership of land, like you mentioned. Ya, in that way, the lives of FNs are forever changed. They might (must) have to accept some alterations to their essential anthropology to move forward. This is already happening in the moves by FNs to operate like European Nation-states and not completely like their unaltered traditions. Again, this phenomenon occurs in all postcolonial settings: changes to identity in a variety of ways have created a host of contradictions. 

In my mind and from various experiences over the years on the front lines (non-profits) and overseas (tuition for Abdul), the first steps forward even then will not immediately solve the problems and paradoxes set in motion by the Atlantic Slave Trade, its do-gooder son Colonialism, and its demanding, self-centered spawn, Development. Haha! But doing whatever we can to on one hand heal the shame of FNs and healing the Eurocentric myopia of the West must be the first step. On a fairly local scale, didn’t the civil rights movement try to speak to the great masses at the center that thought they were doing the best for their world by segregation but really were just perpetuating a disturbing relationship inherited from a previous bygone age?

Same same.

Both sides (but for somewhat different reasons) are tired of the handouts and top down arrangements built so long ago. And, for INM, who really knows what will arise in the near to distant future… That is why the major AFN and similar organizations are so elated that INM is a ‘grassroots’ movement, the outcome of populous driven change is messy, democratic, uncontrollable, and likes to fall on other precedents of public dissent that to some have been “illegal” but to others “liberating” — perhaps its just the kind of force the FN-GOC situation needs? FNs think so!