Robinson Crusoe

When I was younger, I remember reading the children’s illustrated version of Robinson Crusoe and being so proud of myself. I was proud I was reading a “classic” tale, I was proud I enjoyed the story, I was proud of feeling like a grown up, reading grown up stories.

I felt such pride, when really I was only furthering colonial structures in current society. Maybe that sounds like dramatic announcement, so let me explain. I’m taking a class about Indigenous history (among many other things), and we’ve been reading a lot of works by Native scholars discussing their continued oppression because of the normalization of colonialism. With this in mind, I looked inward, and saw, that I too was part of this process. I felt pride at reading a “big girl” book, when I had no idea of the message – Crusoe “taming” the “savage” Friday by teaching him the language of civilization… And to think I wanted to BE Crusoe, going on wild adventures with his Native “side kick”!

Going beyond this book, one can start to question the school systems. Never was I taught in high school the impact of colonialism beyond, “it happened”.

We learned about being united from East to West, a multicultural, peaceful society. Nothing was said about how some might laugh at Canada’s claims to “multiculturalism”, saying how it forces a “Canadian” identity on different cultures.

What I’ve been taught my whole life is so Westernized, so (literally) white-washed, and I never thought to question it. Because it’s “normal” to us. Colonialism is a unconscious habit.

I of course am not single-handedly preserving colonial structures. Our class discussion then branched into one of non-Natives teaching on reserves. While some teachers may go into the job hoping to make a difference, many also go with the intention of simply HAVING a job until they can find something “better”. My friend is studying education at the University of Alberta and she says she knows a lot of people who plan to follow this route. In a struggling economy for new teachers, this seems like an ideal and fool proof idea. But it is this very thinking, this lack of concern for those we step on to raise ourselves, that is at the root of colonialism.

Colonialism is a hierarchy where one nation controls another because they believe themselves to be superior. With this in mind, is it not so far-fetched to suggest newly graduated teachers using Native students as a stepping stone towards a “better” education job has the lingering odour of colonialism?

What about the students? If teachers are only in Indigenous schools for a short amount of time before moving on to bigger and better, how are the students impacted? Having a new teacher every six months can’t be easy. It is no wonder non-Native teachers may be faced with hesitancy and distrust by Indigenous students.

Of course, from the teacher’s perspective, living up North, where you are lonely, isolated, a minority, and surrounded by a completely different culture, may not be a dream-come-true. So perhaps I can show a little empathy as to why they might want to leave. However. In these cases, where you are simply furthering a time-honoured tradition of abuse and oppression, I think it’s safe to say don’t go if you can’t handle it.

With that being said, I should point out that yes, MY eyes have been opened, but it’s reasonable to think these students, similar to me with Robinson Crusoe, don’t even consider the colonial impact of their actions. And why would they? We don’t question why we wear clothes, shake hands, eat with cutlery – why question a habit?