Sunday, December 12, 2021

If we are all settlers, who "owns" Canada?

I was listening to a documentary on the radio about who really "owns" Canada, and specific parts of it. The most recent arrivals, the British/Europeans, are widely considered to only possess the land by a legal construct known as "de facto possession" which is essentially the same as squatters rights.

The Indigenous population does not recognize the colonial powers' ownership of the land at all. In fact, one Indigenous spokesman on the programme was at pains to point our that there is no concept of ownership of the land at all in Indigenous culture, and that the land is actually owned by future generations. That sounds all very laudable, but it struck me as a bit theoretical and disingenuous, and I would bet that, if you asked ten Indigenous people, nine of them would say that they owned it.

Anyway, what I found myself thinking was that very few places in the world are peopled and administered by their original population, and maybe that is just the way of the world, the way of history. The "native" population of the British Isles, for example, is actually made up of invading peoples from various European sources, from Vikings to Germanic tribes to French-Norman peoples. Even the "original" Celtic tribes actually emigrated there from Europe in the first place.

So, are the Iroquois the rightful owners of Quebec and Ontario, for example? The Iroquois/Haudenosaunee were "an imperialist expansionist culture" which took much of modern-day Eastern Canada and the USA by force during bloody wars over many centuries. Further east, the war-like Mi'kmaq people pushed out the "original" Iroquois settlers from much of the Maritimes. Do they have a better "right" to the land than the later invading Europeans? It seems to me that we are all settlers, all colonists, if we go back far enough. Who, then, is to say who can lay claim to a particular piece of land.

The same problem of how far back into history you want to go is at the root of many other intractable conflicts throughout the world - whether it be Palestine, Taiwan or Nagorno-Karabakh - and there is no real solution to it.

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