Shawn Atleo criticizes Stephen Harper over "no history of colonialism" remark

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      Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has criticized a remark by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada does not have a colonial past.

      Harper made the comment on September 25 at a press conference during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

      “We also have no history of colonialism,” the Conservative prime minister said. “So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them.”

      Yesterday (October 1), Atleo released the following statement:

      The Prime Minister must be held to the highest standard especially when speaking to the international community. There is no room for error. The current line of response from federal officials that the Prime Minister’s remarks were taken ”˜out of context’ is simply not good enough for someone in his position.

      I have spoken with the Minister of Indian Affairs and urged him and the Prime Minister to meet with First Nations in good faith to address this matter and, equally important, begin the work of reconciliation that lies ahead. The Prime Minister stated in his apology to students of residential schools that, ”˜There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again.’ The Prime Minister must ensure that such commitments inform every statement and action.

      The effects of colonialism remain today. It is the attitude that fueled the residential schools; the colonial Indian Act that displaces traditional forms of First Nations governance; the theft of Indian lands and forced relocations of First Nations communities; the criminalization and suppression of First Nations languages and cultural practices; the chronic under-funding of First Nations communities and programs; and the denial of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, even though they are recognized in Canada’s Constitution.

      Internationally, Canada has been scrutinized and harshly criticized for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and failure to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Canada is increasingly isolated as one of only three nations in the world that has refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that rejects the doctrine of colonialism.

      The Prime Minister’s statement speaks to the need for greater public education about First Nations and Canadian history. It may be possible to use this moment to begin bridging this gulf of misunderstanding. The future cannot be built without due regard to the past, without reconciling the incredible harm and injustice with a genuine commitment to move forward in truth and respect.

      First Nations leaders and Canadians call on the Prime Minister to honour the apology and to make clear the path to reconciliation.

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at




      Oct 2, 2009 at 1:08pm

      Shawn Atleo is a hypocrite. Colonialism is defined as the practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. Aboriginal people practiced colonialism of their own before Canada was colonized. There was intertribal warfare and territorial expansion through war. Tribes were either subjugated and had to give up their former identity, or they were swallowed whole and wiped out. Atelo is right, there is no room for error, and being a hypocrite simply is not good enough for someone in his position.


      Oct 2, 2009 at 3:24pm

      You don't sound very happy there Salty. Maybe someone with your sensibilities would be more comfortable if we re established Residential Scools, took away First Nations right to vote and started excavating huge cemetaries for the next round of deliberate immune system compromising. I think your good buddy Harper has already got a leg up on that initiative seeing as how he had the foresight to provide the bodybags in advance.


      Oct 2, 2009 at 8:04pm

      Yo Salty, where did you learn your Native History, from Steven Harper? Get a life and get your facts staight


      Oct 2, 2009 at 8:19pm

      Canada's Prime Minister denies the colonialism that resulted in apartheid in this country. Finally, the truth is out there. There is a very powerful group in Canada who deny history, deny that our settler ancestors participated in the destruction of the social, political, and economic institutions of the original peoples of this land. I knew Harper's participation in the apology was all pageantry. I am ashamed to be Canadian today.


      Oct 3, 2009 at 11:52am

      Since the beginning there has been the same denial. The war on the Indian has not ended.

      Jill Cartsull

      Oct 3, 2009 at 2:06pm

      As much as I detest Harper, to be fair, this is really an ambiguity that rests on one's interpretation of the word "We":

      If, by "We" you think he meant Canada (as a sovereign nation defined in part by its territorial boundaries), then he's correct - Canada has not colonized any land masses outside of its territory.

      However, if by "We", you think he meant "The British and French", then yes, we colonized this country. That is, the land mass of Canada, inhabited by particular groups, was colonized by those nations, both of which were in the practice of claiming other territories as their own.

      As he is the PM of Canada, my guess is that he meant the former: the nation known as Canada has never colonized any other nations - maps don't designate any countries as "Canadian X" (like, say, "French Guyana"). Do we still view ourselves as British or French? No (other than superficial ties to the British Crown).

      He should have been smart enough to be careful and avoid such an ambiguity - it's bound to cause confusion, and guaranteed to result in a particular interpretation among those who don't like him (it's rare to give the benefit of the doubt in interpreting the words of politicians we don't like).

      You are an idiot.

      Oct 3, 2009 at 9:22pm

      To be fair, this is really an ambiguity that rests on one's interpretation of the word "You":

      If, by "You" you think it means "U" (as the last official vowel excluding the fickle Y). Then you are seeing things in the best possible light conceivable.

      However, if by "You", you think it means the conventional (obvious?) definition "The person to whom one is speaking or writing: a personal pronoun in the second person", then yes, we colonized this country. That is, the land mass of Canada, inhabited by particular groups, is colonized by nations, claiming other territories as their own.

      Jill Cartsull

      Oct 4, 2009 at 1:19am

      To the people who've hit "Disagree" to my above post:

      Fair enough, but would you care to let me know why you disagree? I'm assuming that you are clicking 'Disagree' because you've a better and / or more informed point of view, and if so, you must be capable of articulating it (otherwise you cannot justify calling it 'better', because you'd effectively be saying "I don't like what she wrote because I don't like it" - and I'm certain you're all more intelligent than that).

      Surely, spending a few moments to explain why I'm wrong would be worth it - I'm not dogmatic, and I'm open to learning to think differently. Surely if I am wrong, then the world would be a tiny bit better if I were corrected, as if I agree, then I'm not likely to continue sharing the above viewpoint - I'd start sharing yours.
      Thanks :)


      Oct 4, 2009 at 11:32am

      Re comment by Salty: Reminds me of the Racist South African regime (Apartheid). They proclaimed that the democratic (only for whites) government was essential to keep peace among the "native" tribes, who would constantly live at war with each other (The racists would later support the rivalry between the Zulu and Xhosa people to support this claim). Also: Do you really think, Salty, that the First Nations people in Canada where "colonializing" (as you put it) among themselves more than Europeans did among themselves during centuries?

      Comment to Jill: You have a fair comment, but I strongly disagree. Canada was established by the colonial powers Britain and France and as such Canada must take full responsibility of this Colonial past. Even today Canada's head of State is the Queen of England, representing a lomg history of Colonial rule. Harper could have said that we have a colonial past, but we are trying our best to overcome it or something like it. The new German Federal Reuplic of Germany (as did the East German communist regime) - for example - could say, we have nothing to do with the Holocast. The Federal Republic - correctly - has taking full responsibility of a regime, with which they have nothing to do and where the head of state (Hitler) was an Austrian foreigner. They are educating the people of Germany about the horrors of the Holocast, there are numerous Holocast memorials in Germany (including the world's largest one in the centre of Berlin), they have supported Israel in many ways (may be they should be more critical in view of the Palestinian question) and are helping financially Holocast survivors and do their best to revive Jewish Life, particularly in Berlin - with success. They try to make up for it - the least that can be done. What is Canada doing to come to grips with the horrible colonial past in Canada? Certainly not enough!

      No, no, my name isn't needed

      Oct 4, 2009 at 3:55pm

      Ok, so there are some great points by all...with the exception of Salty. Dude? Where exactly is your head?.
      There are some great points in Jill's 1st writing, but if it was taken out of context, in its entirety, why has Harper not just manned up and signed the UN's Delclaration on Indiginous Peoples Rights?