On several occasions, US President Barack Obama has stated, like many before him, that the United States/America is a “nation [sic] of immigrants“.
If he is talking about “Americans” as a nation of immigrants, then that suggests that Americans are those people whose ancestors came to the United States freely – that is, they immigrated. That would exclude most people of African and Indigenous descent, as well as a fair number of Hispanics and Latinos who lived in lands that the US took during its colonial expansion.
But I have a longstanding peeve against calling the United States a “nation” or “one nation” – it is a country made up of people from many nations, tribes, countries, peoples. Nowhere is this more clear than with the hundreds of Indigenous tribes and nations that live within the borders of the United States.
This raises difficult questions about nationality, identity, belonging, that I am only beginning to consider. More recently, I have heard President Obama speak of the country as one of immigrants and Native people, but this still does not address the history of forced migration of Africans, or the “involuntary minoritization” of Hispanics and Latinos.
What does it mean to be a “nation of immigrants”? Attention to only one slice of the American story.
Image published by the Miami Herald, July 24, 2014.
David Mayeda writes that the concept of Everyday Colonialism is to:
…describe the incessant ways that indigenous people are discriminated against regularly by majority group members, in particular those whose ancestry is tied to colonial powers. This is not to trivialize the seriousness of colonialism from yester-year, but rather to demonstrate how neocolonialism continues to operate today more stealthly on an everyday basis.
My approach to this comes from a different angle. My current place of residence in Ohio means that Indigenous peoples are not really on the radar for most American descendants of with colonial, immigrant, or enslaved ancestry. While Myaamia, Anishinaabe, Potawatomi and other nations continue to live in the southern Great Lakes region, for better or worse, settlers pay little attention paid to them outside of casinos, historical reenactments, or annual pow-wows. Some other groups claiming Indigenous status in that region are “remnant” groups of Shawnee, Cherokee, Delaware, and other tribes, whose authenticity is regularly questioned by other tribes with federal recognition and clear(er) historical lineages.
The politics and experiences of Native Americans, First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous peoples are, in my opinion, better discussed by the people themselves, or others with very close and longstanding connections to those communities. My interest is on the other side – how do colonial descendants claim their own identity as “Americans”, “Canadians”, or any other nationality – from French, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Russian, and so on, in ways that render those colonial pasts into oblivion? The “everydayness” of those claims are what I aim to explore here.
Here is an image shared through the Facebook Group, “Ainu Community” from Hokkaido, Japan. It hangs at the New Chitose International Airport, the main gateway to Hokkaido, and reads, “Hokkaido, Land of the Pioneers”. It advertises the Nippon Ham-Fighters, the only professional baseball team on the island.
The “pioneers’, kaitakusha, refers to the Japanese who colonized the island after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the island was unilaterally annexed by the Japanese government, and ‘developed’ by Japanese colonists with some guidance from American advisors, including Horace Capron, the US Commissioner of Agriculture in the Johnson and Grant Administrations. Hokkaido is at the center of the homelands of the Ainu people, whose lands stretch(ed) from northern Honshu, up the Kurile (Chishima) Islands, and into Sakhalin (Karafuto). Today, about 24,000 live in Hokkaido and around Japan. Representations of the Ainu have only lately began to surface in Hokkaido, where history seems to only begin when the Japanese arrive.
Image via 川上竜也 on Facebook.
A story on BBC this morning inquired into the Quebec independence movement, and opened with these passages about the ‘history’ of New France:
On a recent summer’s evening, along streets lined with onlookers waving the blue and white fleur-de-lis flag rather than the Canadian maple leaf, a parade was staged in Quebec City retelling the story of the settlement of New France.
Passing under the ramparts of the fortified old city were mock-ups of the sailing ships that arrived here in the early 17th Century to found a French colonial outpost.
Carrying muskets and swords, men marched dressed as combatants from the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain, remembered here as the War of Conquest.
Women wearing period costumes, resembling extras from Les Miserables, sang Frere Jacques, and other French songs.
The festival celebrated Quebec’s unique heritage – but doubtless many Quebecers would have gone home that night lamenting how, for all the French-speaking province’s distinctive traditions, mannerisms and laws, it has never achieved outright independence.
Like most ‘everyday colonialisms’, this story fails to even mention the Indigenous people in the area, and my gut says that the same standards of ‘cultural preservation’ would not justify the independence of any of Canada’s First Peoples.
Want your own ‘culture’ and political independence? Then head back to the homeland, folks, where it’s all waiting for you, and let the First Nations have their own country where you claim yours should be.
Bryant, N. (2014, September 7). “Neverendum Referendum: Voting on Independence, Quebec-style.” BBC News, Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29077213
Quotidian Colonialism, or ‘everyday colonialism’, inquires into the ways that settler colonial culture erases, coopts, and claims ownership over on Indigenous lands, sacred spaces, and ideas. The goal of this blog is to demystify, denaturalize and unsettle those processes, and illustrate competing and occluded Indigenous claims to that which has been recast as ‘settled’.