Decolonizing the United States & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future, and against the alternative of no future at all

Review and recommendation by Charles Posa McFadden of

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014, Beacon Press) An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, 296pp; and 
Richard Sanders (2017) Fictive Canada: Indigenous slaves and the captivating narratives of a mythic nation, 52pp (available online at http://coat.ncf.ca or as Issue #69 of Press for Conversion from Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, 191 James St., Ottawa ON K1R 5M6)

Capitalist globalization has a long inglorious history, one based on the legal fiction of private property and other mythical constructions. Enclosure, dispossession, enslavement, colonization and, when all else fails, genocide, are among the forms of terrorism experienced by the victims of capitalism’s march towards its “manifest destiny.” The corresponding cultural weapons of capitalism include the claim of divine sanctioning and the presumption of the greater civility, intellectual capacity and moral authority of capitalism’s religious, economic and political representatives and the defamatory imputation of the barbarity and intellectual inferiority of this system’s victims, past and present.

In Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Richard Sanders’ respective accounts of US and Canadian history, capitalism’s mythology is exposed and the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of its representatives revealed. While these accounts address the past and present, the path to any kind of future for humanity is also clarified. Human rights, including decolonization, must take priority over the legal fictions which are the life blood of capitalism, including the sanctity of private property. The alternative to private property rights is a legal system based on the priority of stewardship responsibilities and usufruct rights.

One reason for reading these two accounts together is their overlapping content, particularly from the perspective of the First Nations. The political boundaries that divide Canada from the United States and the latter from Mexico cut across territories that are home to several First Nations. From their perspective, Canada, the United States and Mexico (and the states and provinces they contain) are legal fictions. Exclusion based on these political boundaries violate the human rights of these First Nations, including their usufruct and self-government rights, among other rights defined in part by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, in part, by other human rights and treaties to which both Canada and the United States are signatory.

In telling An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz begins with a short history of humankind, refuting historical claims by colonizing powers to “discovery” and “manifest destiny” over already occupied lands.

Humanoids existed on Earth for around four million years as hunters and gatherers living in small communal groups that through their movements found and populated every continent. Some two hundred thousand years ago, human societies, having originated in Sub-Saharan Africa, began migrating in all directions, and their descendants eventually populated the globe. Around twelve thousand years ago, some of these people began staying put and developed agriculture – mainly women who domesticated wild plants and began cultivating others.
   As a birthplace of agriculture and the towns and cities that followed, America is ancient, not a “new world.” Domestication of plants took place around the globe in seven locales during approximately the same period, around 8500 BC. Three of the seven were in the Americas, all based on corn: the Valley of Mexico and Central America (Mesoamerica); the South-Central Andes in South America; and eastern North America. … Only in the American continents was the parallel domestication of animals eschewed in favor of game management, a kind of animal husbandry different from that developed in Africa and Asia. In these seven areas, agriculture-based “civilized” societies developed in symbiosis with hunting, fishing, and gathering peoples on their peripheries, gradually enveloping many of the latter into the realms of their civilizations, except for those regions inhospitable to agriculture. (p.15-16)

The story of England’s and France’s historical claims of “discovery” and right to subjugation of what are today the contiguous territories of Canada and the United States is told in a series of articles published in the Fall 2017, Issue #9, of Press for Conversion. In these articles, the anti-militarist scholar-activist Richard Sanders begins by providing additional historical context, tracing the justification for European colonization of North America to a series of papal bulls (decrees, charters or letters patent issued by Popes). In particular:

Pope Nicholas V’s Dum Diversis bull of 1452, which authorized Portugal’s king to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue … enemies of Christ …, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods … and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and … appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, … possessions and goods, and to convert them to his … use and profit.” …
   With its self-righteous bulls, the Catholic Church gave European kings the religious cover stories needed to consecrate their holy wars against the so-called “enemies of Christ.” In so doing, Christianity sanctified a brutal renaissance in the spread of imperial culture. Long euphemized as the “Age of Discovery,” this glorification of invasion, mass captivity and armed robbery marked the beginning of our modern era. (p.19)

In some detail, Sanders addresses the claims to “discovery” and rights to occupation and appropriation by the English and French and the mythology surrounding the expeditions of John Cabot (for England) and Jacques Cartier (for France). Included here is this example of the purpose and mandate of Cabot’s expeditions:

In 1496, England’s last Catholic king, Henry VII, signed a contract or “Letters Patent” at Westminster, which was the centre of Catholicism in Britain. In this legal contract to take dominion over the riches of the “New Founde Land,” Henry declared that he did “give and grant … to our well-beloved John Cabot” the “license” to “conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered” … with an important caveat. Cabot’s license only applied to lands that “were unknown to all Christians.” With this imperial license to wage an unending, plunderous war against undiscovered nonChristians, Cabot and “his sons or their heirs and deputies” gained the exclusive right to rule as the King’s “governors, lieutenants and deputies.” In exchange they were “bounden and under obligation” to pay Henry “either in goods or money, the fifth part of the whole capital gained.”
   This royal charter stipulated that King Henry would acquire “dominion, title and jurisdiction” over all lands “discovered” by Cabot. Henry VII thus provided Cabot with legal paperwork later used to justify England’s extensive land claims over North America. (p.5)

Such claims of “discovery” and rights to expropriation and subjugation by European states had among their consequences the conquest, removal, enslavement, and, in some cases, the genocidal extermination of the First Nations of Canada and the United States. They also provided the “legal” framework for the actions of European soldiers, priests, traders, colonists and slaves, practices continued by the governments of Canada and the United States. Describing the latter in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes:

US history, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide that the United States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the twentieth century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, and removals of Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools. The absence of even the slightest note of regret or tragedy in the annual celebration of the US independence betrays a deep disconnect in the consciousness of US Americans.
   Settler colonialism is inherently genocidal in terms of the genocide convention. In the case of the British North American colonies and the United States, not only extermination and removal were practiced but also the disappearing of the prior existence of Indigenous peoples … (p.9)

For the complete historical reckoning, you are encouraged to read Dunbar-Ortiz’ and Sanders’ accounts in their entirety. A fitting conclusion to both is the following one by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz about a different kind of future for the First Nations, settlers and immigrants:

Indigenous peoples offer possibilities for life after empire, possibilities that neither erase the crimes of colonialism nor require the disappearance of the original peoples colonized under the guise of including them as individuals. That process rightfully starts by honoring the treaties the United States [and Canada – CM] made with Indigenous nations, by restoring all sacred sites … and by payment of sufficient reparations for the reconstruction and expansion of Native nations. … For the future to be realized, it will require extensive educational programs and the full support and active participation of the descendants of settlers, enslaved Africans, and colonized Mexicans, as well as immigrant populations. (p.235-6)

Putting these arguments into the context of Karen McFadden and my arguments for a (globalized) green social democratic alternative to (a now globalized) capitalism, we would add that the alternative to policies and practices of exclusion are policies and practices of inclusion. Making the land and other resources a universal commons to be sustained for future generations by our commitment to their stewardship, is the logical alternative to privatizing any part of the Earth. This means restoring equality of usufruct rights and stewardship responsibilities to all who have had these rights and responsibilities taken from them.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.