Mea culpa ad infinitum

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Of all the culture clashes throughout history that have left wounds festering for decades and even centuries, few come close to the perpetual grievance of North American indigenous people against European settlers.

How much longer must the apologies continue?

I'm not talking about recent events. The famed residential school system that plucked thousands of native youngsters from their native homes was still in place as recently as the 1960s.

Of all the culture clashes throughout history that have left wounds festering for decades and even centuries, few come close to the perpetual grievance of North American indigenous people against European settlers.

How much longer must the apologies continue?

I'm not talking about recent events. The famed residential school system that plucked thousands of native youngsters from their native homes was still in place as recently as the 1960s.

The forced resettlement of the Inuit community of Hebron in Labrador took place merely 50 years ago.

But the irreversible events of five centuries ago should, by now, be water under the bridge.

Which is why I think the U.S. Episcopal Church may have lost touch with reality.

Last month, the church - U.S. counterpart of Canada's Anglican Church - decided to formally renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. That's the "finders keepers" policy adopted by European monarchies in the 15th century whereby new territories could be claimed by those who discover them first.

Here's how U.S. Archbishop Fred Hiltz put it in his 2009 New Year's address, as quoted by CanWest News: "Through the Doctrine of Discovery and the arrogance of our colonialism, we robbed people of their God-given dignity. It is time to make amends."

We? What "we" is he referring to? I'm an Anglican, too, but I don't think I have a colonialist bone in my body.

Seriously, how much longer do "we" have to apologize for the actions of explorers who lived half a millennium ago? This is genuinely silly. But it gets sillier.

The church is requesting that Queen Elizabeth II "disavow and repudiate publicly" the doctrine. The implication, apparently, is that the monarchy still tacitly endorses the actions of its 500-year-old predecessors.

Somehow, I don't think the Queen covets any secret desire to finance the "discovery" of new territories. In fact, I doubt if the thought has even crossed her mind.

As for old laws or doctrines still being on the books, I'm reminded of the mischievous Oxford student who reportedly demanded his traditional pint of ale while writing an exam. When he complained about it afterwards, the professor replied, "And I assume you were wearing your ceremonial sword at the time?"

Asking modern leaders and figure-head monarchs to hang their heads for centuries-old transgressions is like asking barbers to apologize for the blood-letting ways of their medieval counterparts.

We don't need to distance ourselves from it; Old Man Time has already done the distancing for us.

Meanwhile, in Canada, natives may be facing a new era of leadership with the election last month of Shawn Atleo as Assembly of First Nations chief.

Atleo, a well-educated 42-year-old businessman from B.C., has vowed to make aboriginal youth his main focus. In particular, he wants to improve the pathetic state of native schooling.

It's a tall order, but it is definitely where the future of First Nations people lies. It signals a shift away from the stagnant grievance mentality and a step towards a more informed, independent population.

Looking forward, rather than wallowing in the past.

Now there's a doctrine worth following.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: North American, U.S. Episcopal Church, Anglican Church CanWest News Assembly of First Nations The Telegram

Geographic location: U.S., Canada, Hebron Labrador Oxford

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