Bev Sellars’ overview of West Coast colonization should be required reading in every Canadian high school. Drawing on her background as a law student, band council chief, BC Treaty Commission negotiator, and a member of a community impacted by over a century of racist paternalism, she has written a brilliant introduction to West Coast indigenous history.
If you’ve ever stumbled on a settler who blames first nations communities for their inadequate housing, clean water, education, mental health services (if you “read the comments”, you’ve stumbled on many), you need to read this book. Sellars begins by noting that indigenous guides chaperoned famous “explorers” like Simon Fraser on every step of their “adventures” and concludes with a discussion of Canada’s embarrassingly recent acknowledgment that indigenous people are entitled to basic human rights.
Despite twelve years of carefully curated historical schooling, I graduated in Alberta with an unbelievably fuzzy notion of the history of Canada. Sure, I know buckets about Greek mythology, the “Dark Ages”, the cotton gin, feudalism, the potato famine, the French revolution, Napoleon, Duke Ferdinand, Hitler and so forth. I can probably even name a few Canadian Prime Ministers who governed before I was born. But Alberta’s official curriculum took me in one end and spat me out the other thirteen years later without even being able to name the people who lived where my house now sits before my ancestors moved in.
I believe this profound, state-sponsored ignorance of Canada’s history creates fertile ground for the racism that permeates public discussion of indigenous issues. We plainly see that many native communities are impoverished and fraught with addiction and violence. Without historical context, it might seem as though there is no cause for the suffering but the character of the afflicted.
It is deeply uncomfortable for most social mammals to witness the suffering of others. We tend to choose the quickest route away from empathy to protect ourselves from that pain: blame the victim. Blame the rape survivor for her rape. Blame Palestinians for the brutal occupation of their homelands. Blame the homeless for their vulnerability. We are a flock of sheep that flees from a predator, but when a victim is brought down, turns to watch the bloodbath.
Reading Price Paid will immunize you from the temptation to blame the victims of colonization for the consequences of that genocidal enterprise. In this book, there is an answer to the questions asked by the Facebook racists you encounter every day. For example, you might have seen a variation of “Why don’t they get over it? They lost!”? You may not be aware that “they” are legally prohibited from “getting over it” based on the barf-inducingly racist Indian Act, which until 1951 made it illegal for more than three “Indians” to gather anywhere unless the purpose of the gathering was Christian, and specifically outlawed legal advocacy in Canadian courts.
And you may not be aware that they didn’t “lose”. They just believed our bullshit because they were generally unfamiliar with the concept of lying and cheating. No battle was ever fought, with decisive winners and losers, wherein a strong army won land from a weak. Our ancestors were welcomed as guests, fed and watered, shown how to survive here, treated with dignity and respect, and then proclaimed themselves masters of the house. It was not a valiant conquest of untamed lands. It was the Red Wedding. As Trump would argue, it was a great deal!
No wonder they don’t teach us about it.
Anyway. Read it. Share it. Pass it along. It’s a disgrace that we are not taught our own colonial history in Canada, and it’s up to us to rectify that travesty.