Tag Archives: Indigenous Peoples

The Scream of Canadian Colonialism

           The title of Kent Monkman’s painting, “The Scream,” is appropriate to the experiences of First Nations people across Canada who continue to suffer from ethnic cleansing, the erasure of cultural identity, and ecological and economic disenfranchisement. The painting depicts the forced removal and displacement of indigenous children from their homes by the Church with the assistance of the federal government. For decades First Nations children were abducted from their homes and placed in residential schools where they were compelled to reject their culture and language and suffered horrific physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Monkman, who is of Irish and Cree ancestry, was able to capture this horror in living colour on canvas. He said of this and related works:
          “Canada’s 150 years old—what does that mean for the First People? When I thought about it, I thought it includes the worst period, because it goes all the way back to the signing of the treaties, the beginning of the reserve system, this legacy of incarceration, residential schools, sickness, the removal of children in the ’60s, missing and murdered women.”

            The tragic history of colonialism in Canada is, arguably, a vastly under studied and addressed atrocity. But its legacy endures to this day even under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who has been slow to address abysmal access to clean drinking water, crushing poverty, suicide, substance abuse and violence against Aboriginal girls and women. His government has also greenlighted ecologically destructive pipeline projects over indigenous lands. Kent Monkman’s paintings implore us to shine a light of truth on this veiled history, understanding that if we do not do this the crime of colonialism will only continue.

Kenn Orphan  2017

For more information on Kent Monkman’s paintings please visit his web page:  http://www.kentmonkman.com/

The Murder of Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland, like countless others, was murdered by the State. She was dehumanized, brutalized and tortured. And regardless of whether she or someone else physically hanged her in that jail cell, her life was taken, nonetheless, by an entrenched system of White supremacy.  Pulled over by a police officer for failing to signal, Sandra was subjected to the casual humiliation meted out by a system drenched in arrogant impunity. She may have been spared much of what came next had she groveled to his abusive conceit; but she had probably had enough. Sandra asserted her rights by asking questions about her detainment. When she was asked by the officer what was wrong, she calmly explained her exasperation. When she asserted her right to smoke inside her own vehicle, and defy an unwarranted demand, she was violated, threatened with a taser that can be, and often is, lethal, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Her pleas for mercy and compassion were summarily ignored or ridiculed as she lay helpless on the warm, Texas grass. She was found dead three days later in her jail cell.

Sandra Bland  Photo  K HoustonSystemic racism exacts a high price. To the victimizer, that price involves the gutting of the soul. It requires the wholesale rejection of empathy, and a willful ignorance of the long lasting ramifications of centuries of injustice and crimes against humanity. The victims of racism are, as in so many other instances of persecution, often driven to numb the excruciating pain inflicted on them by such a system through drugs or alcohol, or extinguish it completely though the ending of their lives. This is a phenomenon rarely, if ever, understood by the oppressor. The constant humiliation, threats and violence that are meted out by a racist society each day dehumanize and alienate; and there is only so much a human being can take before they break. This same scenario is played out time and time again in any group that is oppressed, from the spate of suicides among LGBTQ teens, to the self-medication that many women are driven too, or the spike in alcoholism in Native American and First Nations communities.

Alcoholism among the Oglala Sioux  Photo  GettyIn America, the machine of institutionalized racism grinds on unabated since slavery. It has morphed into a new kind of barbarity in the form of the prison and criminal justice system. It is a police/surveillance/prison industry that has effected poor Whites as well, especially since 9/11.  But much of White society has decided that racism is a thing of the past. This lie is agonizingly etched into the bodies of Black and Brown people, who are disproportionately cut down daily by State violence, both seen and unseen. The mountains of corpses are not captured through the lens of a war photographer on a battlefield in one of America’s many wars of imperialistic domination. They are not easily spotted as in one of the countless, archived pictures of lynchings throughout this country just decades ago. But they are there if one takes a moment to see beyond the lens of their own privilege.

Suicide is, in the end, the final respite of the tortured. It is the tragic punctuation to a litany of cruelty and humiliation. And for the oppressed it often feels like the only escape from the daily misery inflicted by a callous and merciless society. Sandra Bland was arrested for “driving while Black.”  She was brutalized for daring to assert her rights.  She may have taken her life in that jail cell.  We still do not know.  But regardless, she is the latest, most visible, victim of execution (murder by the State); and, sadly, she will not be the last. The only way to truly honor her life is to remember that there are countless Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Natasha McKennas, Freddie Grays and Eric Garners, that we will never hear about because they have not yet fallen; and to continue to defy the monstrous system that perpetuates this savagery and carnage.

Kenn Orphan 2015

12 year old Tamir Rice murdered by Cleveland Police.  via AP

Natasha McKenna  via AP

Freddie Gray  Source ABCNews

Eric Garner  Photo Source  Black Star News