Colonialism: Then & Now

IMG_9210In Canadian History, we have begun to look at why Europeans came to North America and how they interacted with indigenous people. As part of this exploration, we have started to watch the classic film Black Robe.


Based on your initial reaction to the film, in what way were Chomina’s people colonized? Also, how does colonialism manifest itself today in Canada? Does it exist? Stephen Harper in 2009 suggested that Canada has no history of colonialism. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

The photos you see are from a project we worked on in Canadian History a few years ago. Artist Leah Decter created this piece made up of old Hudson Bay blankets as a reaction to Stephen Harper’s denial of colonialism. Why would she use these blankets?

30 thoughts on “Colonialism: Then & Now

  1. Colonization was evident in the first part of the film. At this point the French have not been taking too many major steps in their attempt to colonize the first nations. The French are progressively showing the first nations various things about their culture, such as various tools, books, and most importantly their religion. The French want the first nations to believe in one god. Once the French have established various settlements they send out Jesuit missionaries across the land in an attempt to colonize the first peoples.
    When Stephen Harper said that Canada has no history of colonization, it is obvious he may have overlooked major events in Canada’s history. The word ‘colonization’ has various definitions throughout many different sources, but no matter how you look at it, Canada has colonized various minority groups. Since Canada is such a multicultural country, the colonization may have not had the intended effect, but one can not deny that colonization has never occurred in what we now know as Canada.

  2. Yes Chomina’s people were colonialized. Not only were there colonies being placed on their land, the Europeans were taking control over the aboriginals and exploiting them and their land for their own gain. Colonialism is apparent everywhere in Canada and all over the world. Corporations and businesses have settled in and colonialized us all. Just by wearing a specific brand shows that you have been colonialized. No one can deny the fact that colonialism is found everywhere in the world; every day we chose colonialism because of the comfort and predictability factor it brings to our lives.

  3. Chomina’s people were indeed colonized. In the beginnings of the film it’s clear that the French are exploiting the native people for there land and beginning to introduce the to European ideals through books, tool, concepts and most importantly God. Along with this introduction to European life, Jesuit priests are being sent across New France to tame the savages and make them more European. Colonialism definitely exists today. The way that corporate culture is ruling our lives and arguably governments show how, like in years past, the rich are exploiting all they can to gain further riches.

  4. Just to add some things, i found this in an article from 2009. “We also have no history of colonialism. 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. After Stephen Harper made this off-the-cuff remark at a news conference in Pittsburgh in 2009, he was given a quick history lesson by Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Not only does Canada have a history of colonialism in its dealings with the original inhabitants of what is now Canadian territory, said Atleo in a public statement, but its effects are still being felt today.” I think that the aboriginal Chief had a good point. How else could you describe the theft of Indian lands and forced relocations. Many people don’t realize this, but pretty much every single person is invloved in some sort of colonization. Like Francesca mentioned, when people wear a brand of clothing the are colonized. Just like a group of people that speak one language may be “colonized” from a group that may speak a different language.

    • In the movie “Black Robe”, Chomina’s people are being colonized consistently. The French have changed the way they live. Samuel de Champlain and other French men have colonized Chomina and his people by changing their religion, entertainment, and communication methods. I agree with Marko that the French are trying to make the indigenous people believe in one god. The French have also introduced the indigenous people to new tools, musical instruments, writing, the clock, and many other useful ideas which the indigenous have accepted to follow and use.

      In Canada today, colonization is always happening. Recently people had an argument that new citizens should not have to swear to the queen. All citizens so far who have become citizens of Canada have sworn to the Queen, and have been colonized to be under the Queen. Smaller things are colonized into every citizen through media. Things from what to eat and what to wear, all have been colonized into the people of Canada. Steven Harper and other government officials might not think of Canada as being colonized as it is a multicultural country.

      Quebec currently is trying to colonize all ethic groups by not letting them wear their religious symbols. Canada and the rest of the world is a society based on colonization. I believe that colonization is what drives the lives of a majority of people in Canada, and around the world.

  5. Chomina and his tribe, along with the countless other bands of indigenous people across Canada, were definitely colonized. In fact, the Jesuit missionaries’ main goal was to colonize the Aboriginal people, even if they didn’t use that word exactly (they preferred “convert”). A new religion, along with a new way of life, was brought overseas and presented to the indigenous people, while they were told that the lives they had been living up to that point were not “correct.” And once a community looses its culture, it has a very hard time regaining its footing. We can still see effects of this today, as well as throughout Canada’s history; for example, young adults have trouble securing their identities.

  6. In the movie “Black Robe”, Chomina’s people are being colonized consistently. The French have changed the way they live. Samuel de Champlain and other French men have colonized Chomina and his people by changing their religion, entertainment, and communication methods. I agree with Marko that the French are trying to make the indigenous people believe in one god. The French have also introduced the indigenous people to new tools, musical instruments, writing, the clock, and many other useful ideas which the indigenous have accepted to follow and use.

    In Canada today, colonization is always happening. Recently people had an argument that new citizens should not have to swear to the queen. All citizens so far who have become citizens of Canada have sworn to the Queen, and have been colonized to be under the Queen. Smaller things are colonized into every citizen through media. Things from what to eat and what to wear, all have been colonized into the people of Canada. Steven Harper and other government officials might not think of Canada as being colonized as it is a multicultural country.

    Quebec currently is trying to colonize all ethic groups by not letting them wear their religious symbols. Canada and the rest of the world is a society based on colonization. I believe that colonization is what drives the lives of a majority of people in Canada, and around the world.

  7. The blankets created by Leah Dector should be used because they symbolize Canada’s history through art. Hudson’s Bay Company and the fur trade in North America was originally dominated by the French. HBC had a major cultural impact on North America especially because they had a monopoly over Canada; specifically Rupert’s Land for many years. This made the company the only major choice for retail for immigrants and natives alike. These blankets are significant because they represent the assimilation and colonization of the indigenous people in North America to the European lifestyle. The aboriginal people were forced to live like the Europeans who claimed America as their own. Without the presence of art with historically meaning in modern society, much will be forgotten about the past. Leah Dector’s piece forces her audience to contemplate Stephen Harper’s statement and it’s absurdity as well as the often neglected colonial past of Canada.

    • The online Oxford dictionary defines colonization as the act of “sending settlers to (a place) and establishing control over it”. If the history of modern-day “Canada”, could be summed up in one sentence, that would describe it perfectly. Stephen Harper cannot argue that Canada has no history of colonization, because it is simply not true. Our country is founded on the concept of colonization, and, throughout our brief history, some of us have thrived off of it. However, other people, such as Chimona’s people, did not benefit greatly from it. The French brought with them a more capitalistic version of society, preaching to the aboriginals about “one true god”, and imposing themselves on traditional native lands. They exploited Chimona’s people for a higher position of power and control in the fur trade, attempted to convert them to Christianity, and sent settlers to establish control over their territory. This is almost word for the word the online Oxford definition of colonialism. This proves that there was a history of colonialism in Canada, and shows how it has shaped our society today.

  8. It is definitely obvious that in the movie “Black Robe” the goal of the Jesuits were to colonize Chemina and his tribe, or more broadly, the aboriginal peoples. They deemed them as savages, people of no mannerisms, were disgusted by them and looked down on the indigenous peoples. Thus the Jesuits enforced that the aboriginal way of life is wrong and colonized them by spreading the european tools and culture. By trading with the aboriginal people, who had insufficient resources, tools such as iron hammers were made better than what they original used, they used the european tools and eventually became dependant on them. Throughout the world and in Canada, colonization is a normality. An recent example of colonization is the proposal of Quebec’s new Charter of Rights stating that government officials and such should not be allowed to wear crosses, turbans, etc. This is an example as people are restricted in wearing symbols of different religions and expressing their cultural and religious values, much like the aboriginal people were in residential schools and the first arrival of the French.

  9. Chomina’s people have been colonized in numerous ways in the film. The Jesuits have been continually indoctrinating the Aboriginals. The Europeans are trying to take away the aboriginal culture and slowly replace it with their own. This is even seen early on in the film when the Aboriginals are fascinated by some of the European technology, such as the clock. Throughout the early part of Father LaForgue and Daniel’s journey to the Catholic mission in the Huron village, Father LaForgue continually tries to convince Chomina and his men of heaven and the great paradise that awaits them in the afterlife if they adopt Catholicism. However, the Aboriginals remain sceptical about this. Chomina’s people also view the fact that Father LaForgue can read and write as the work of a demon. These early interactions however are indicative of the relationship that is starting to develop between the missionaries and the Aboriginals. Colonialism also continues to manifest itself today in society today; people are continually ‘colonized’ by various institutions, whether large corporations or even people they know. In its most abstract sense colonization occurs on a day to day basis and that’s something that won’t change. With regards to Stephen Harper’s comment, it’s just wrong. Canada was a British and French colony. Canada also ‘colonized’ the Aboriginals of the area. Additionally, Canadians continue to be colonized on a day to day basis. The colonization of Canada and the colonization of people in what has become Canada is well articulated by Leah Decter in her blanket collage. The earliest colonization of Canada was driver by the fur trade which was dominated by corporations like the Hudson’s Bay Company. HBC was an active part of colonization in the past (and in the abstract view of colonization continues to play a role in the present), and shows that Canada indeed has a history of colonization.

  10. The reason of Father Laforgue’s travel to New France – as indicated by the Old Priest with numerous scars, is to convert the ‘savages’ and civilize their behavior to what would be accepted by Roman Catholic standards. This conversion manifests itself in subtle ways; for instance, the scene near the opening of the film where the natives gather in awe around the clock demonstrates some degree of colonization. The fact they are being exposed to products of European civilization, even if it is just a clock, displays that a different sort of lifestyle is being imposed onto the indigenous people. The signs of colonization become even clearer when the French offer Chomina’s people French tools that evidently entice them, in exchange to have the natives to do their bidding. Without Chomina’s people even noticing, they are being exploited and covertly colonized as they slowly begin to adopt a lifestyle that includes a degree of French influence. Currently in Canada, the essence of colonization manifests itself in areas of society we would not even suspect. For instance, anyone who has ever voted for a political party since they agreed with what they were representing has essentially been colonized; the same can be said to those that use products from certain companies or have agreed with an advertisement played on the television. What is consistent among these three scenarios is that people are either becoming extensions of a representative entity, or are being channeled information from a different group of people which they are agreeing to. Clearly, the act of colonization, though quite different from what it was centuries ago, occurs frequently and surrounds us in multiple forms. Stephen Harper’s comment completely false, Canada has been surely been colonized in its history and some may even argue that colonization is taking place even now due to the countries policy of multiculturalism. Ultimately, Canada is a British colony; we have adopted their metric system of measurement and immigrants must swear an oath to the ‘Queen of Canada’ in order to gain citizenship. Clearly Canada possesses a history of colonialism, seen by the fact that British customs riddle our society. With respects to Leah Decter’s display of blankets, it too debunks Harpers earlier claim as the use of blankets demonstrate how the fur trade was in itself a colonization by controlling corporations.

  11. Right from the beginning of the movie, the colonization of Chomina’s people is evident. The Europeans are essentially trying to rid the First Nations entirely of their culture. They can be seen attempting to slowly assimilate the indigenous culture into that of their own. This is shown in multiple ways throughout the film. The Jesuit priests seen in the movie are constantly attempting to convert the First Nations into adopting Catholicism. They consistently try to educate Chomina and his people in the way of their religion and its customs. Colonization is also shown when the tribe members demonstrate an interest in modern European technology, such as the clock, and trade the Europeans their services for steel tools and tobacco. It is in this way that the Europeans exploited the First Nations for economic gain and higher positions of power in the fur trade. Colonization is still seen manifested in society today through the struggle of many people with indigenous descent. Many aboriginal youth today are not fully aware of their heritage and the culture of their ancestors. Colonization stripped the First Nations of their culture and this still affects people in the present day. Not only have the people in past generations of indigenous people suffered from the loss of culture, but the youth today also suffer from the very same issue.

  12. Colonization, and its role in Canadian history, is better understood not in general terms but viewed from the perspective of the parties involved.

    From the perspective of the aboriginals in Canada prior to the European arrival, Canada most certainly had a colonial past – Aboriginal peoples inhabited the land now known as Canada and became subject to the will of a foreign sovereign, specifically the French and the British. This is the classic definition of colonization and viewed from the perspective of the aboriginal peoples as a population inhabiting a territory, colonial rule is central to Canadian history.

    From the perspective of the Europeans, Canadian history is a story of settlement of an unsettled land. Canadian history does not bear many of the traditional characteristics of a colonial country – conquer, oppression, and a struggle for independence; nor does Canada’s remaining ties to Britain indicate that Canada emerged from a colonial past. This line of reasoning is likely what Stephen Harper was drawing on in his remarks that Canada has no history of colonialism.

    Whichever historical perspective one takes, the current political treatment of aboriginals in Canada has a distinctly colonial feel. The federal system of governance and refusal to grand outright autonomy has left the aboriginal peoples in Canada in a subordinated position. Looking at the situation today may be the strongest evidence for proving colonialism in Canadian history.

  13. The act of colonialism was evident in the first short scenes of the film “Black Robe” when Chomina’s people were transfixed by the mechanism of a clock. Colonization was portrayed in the film in this simple way indicating Chomina’s people are not aware of the fact that they are indeed being colonized. The French offer the indigenous peoples tools and items that are foreign to them which is again a form of colonizing. This is not only the act of colonizing, but of exploitation as well since the French are forcing their influence upon the Aboriginals and taking advantage of their vulnerability. The naïve indigenous people do not understand that the French do in fact carry ulterior motives. Presently in Canada, there are numerous examples of evidence proving Canada was subject to colonialism. Stephen Harper is quite ignorant in stating Canada was not colonized. The artist Leah Decter cleverly demonstrated how Canada is colonized through her blanket piece. The British and French colonized Canada bringing with them the idea of the Fur Trade and of course the Hudson’s Bay Company. The fact that Quebec is a French-speaking province is probably the most sufficient proof of colonialism in Canada. Through the sports we watch, the food we eat, and the tongue we speak, proof of colonialism surrounds Canada.

  14. It was very clear in the film that Chomina’s people were colonized. The French are exploiting the native people, we can see this right from the start of the film. The French are trying to introduce their way of life into the native culture. They are introducing books, tools and God. The Europeans are going as far as sending Priests across to what was known at the time as “New France” to introduce their God to the native people. We are still colonized to this day.

  15. Chomina’s people were definitely colonized by the French explorers. In the movie we saw Father LaForgue show the First Nations the ways of the French. He told Chomina that he could teach them how to write and frequently asserts his religion upon them. By taking the journey together, the French are exploiting the tribe’s knowledge of the land. Furthermore, when the two groups trade it is evident that the First Nations have began to rely on European goods, proving that European culture is beginning to spread to the Indigenous people.

  16. Chomina’s people were colonized. In the film, it shows that the French are using the Indigenous people to gain access to more land. The French are showing them the ways of the European society, by introducing them to God. The French are sending priests to (what is known today as) Canada. The reason for this is to make the Indigenous people more like Europeans. I do think that Colonialism does exist in todays world. We can look at Quebec as a perfect example. They’re currently trying to ban all government officials of wearing religious symbols. That’s exactly what colonization is, trying to change people.

  17. In the movie Black Robe, Chomina’s people were colonized by the French. They were exposed to the Catholic religion and were shown metal objects, like knives, that were brought over by the French from Europe. Even though Stephen Harper begs to differ, there is colonialism present in Canada and all over the world today. I think that the First Nations people in Canada are still being colonized today. The definition of colonialism, according to is the governing influence of a nation over a dependent country, territory, or people. The Canadian government is still governing and controlling the First Nations people. In a way, I think we have all been colonized by the government because they’re governing us and telling us what we can and cannot do. Many companies and corporations have colonized us, as well as even pop bands, in a way, by compelling their fans to buy their music and their merchandise.

  18. Stephen Harper clearly does not know his Canadian history, Canada was built from the europeans colonization of Canada. From the film “Black Robe” it is early evident that Chomina’s people were colonized. Chomina saw the french as allies, as for the french they saw them as business and money (the fur trade). Evidence in the film of Chomina’s people be colonized unknowingly was the trade between the french and Chomina’s people. The french give Chomina tools and items that they do not posses in return for their help. With these tools they ended up becoming dependent on them, as a result they were becoming colonized unknowingly. In present day Canada many of us use cars to get places, even if we do not know it, many of us are colonized by being dependent on cars for transportation. This is much like how Chomina’s people have become reliant on the tools given to them by the french. The europeans knew once the aboriginals were colonized, they could begin the colonialism, (the political take over) of Canada.

  19. Chomina’s people were definitely colonized. In the film “Black Robe”, they become exploited and subjugated by the Jesuit priest Father LaForgue, who actively demonstrates the ways of the French to the Algonquin. He teaches them about reading and writing, and tries compelling them to practice Christianity by telling them there is only one God who they must serve. All of this is completely foreign to Chomina’s people and they don’t understand who the ways of the priest. The discomfort gets even worse when Chomina’s daughter and Daniel, the Jesuit apprentice, fall in love. Both Chomina and Father LaForgue don’t approve of this relationship, showing their bitterness for each other. However, the modern-day effects of this incongruous mix show that the Europeans were successful in fully colonizing the aboriginal people in Canada. Today, the indigenous people’s land has been reduced to small rural reserves with all kinds of negative connotations because of the colonization of Europeans.
    Colonization also exists today as propaganda, as it influences people towards one opinion by showing repeated advertisements all over the media. The messages of propaganda can easily take over or “colonize” a population because of its immense power.

  20. In the movie, Black Robe, the French are trying to colonize the native people of the land. They introduce their ways of living to the natives and they deceive them so that the natives rely on the Europeans to survive. We see this in the way that the natives rely on the French to bring them metal tools, as they cannot acquire these tools themselves. The natives are then reliant on the French as they have adapted to a lifestyle with these metal tools. Therefore, the French have a great influence on them as they are the only source for the natives to get metal. As well, the French take advantage of the native people by making them accompany them on their missions. They know that the natives rely on the metal that only they can provide and they exploit their advantage in every way possible. The Jesuit priest also shows that natives how to write, proving that it is an effective form of communication. They are trying to get the natives to conform to their European ways. Our current society tries to make us conform as well, as it is a way of controlling us. Just like the French take advantage of the native people by making them reliant on metal, our society manipulates us in very similar ways. The Canadian government has a lot of power, control and influence on our country. It has the ability to influence the economy (controlling inflation rates, how many money is going into the economy…etc), impose laws upon its people…etc. Their decisions affect our decisions every day. This is our government’s way of colonizing and maintaining control of its people.

  21. In the film Black Robe, Chomina’s people are definitely being colonized. The French are accomplishing this in a few ways. Firstly, they introduce new ways of living and an improved lifestyle via the material goods such as improved metal tools and better supplies, which the native people become accustomed to and eventually reliant on. With the native people becoming so reliant on the French, they can be more easily manipulated and taken advantage of. Later we see the natives being taught skills such as reading and writing; the French are once again trying to change their ways. Finally, we see the native people being exploited by being forced to take the “black robe” on their trips, with only a few tools as compensation. Today our government is getting similar results of colonization, just with different ways of achieving these results. Our government has a great amount of power and they often misuse that power, telling society lies and hiding or simply ignoring the truth (such as the Canadian government when dealing with global warming). With these lies they are attempting to conform us to their ways and make us ignore important facts that civilians deserve to know. That is how colonization happens in modern society.

  22. The existence of colonization is evident in the film “Black Robe” as well as within present-day societies. The French attempt at integrating their culture and religion to Chomina’s peoples’ ways by trading various tools and techniques for their help in colonizing their very community. Although initially the Aboriginals are hesitant to display their trust for the French, they soon become subject to colonialism and rely more and more on the supplies of the French. Unaware of their disadvantage, the Aboriginals were slowly being assimilated into the European culture and lifestyle. This is proof that colonialism did in fact exist in Canadian History, and still does today. People are constantly becoming colonized in their everyday lives; from work, groups of friends and by the government. The exploitation of power and technology of Europeans led to the colonization of the indigenous people in the 17th century, and ultimately influenced the unequal distribution of power and wealth which exists among the indigenous people and the rest of society today.

  23. Chomina’s people were one hundred percent colonized by the French travelers. Colonialism was distinctly shown in the movie Black Robe. In the movie we had seen Father LaForgue show the First Nations people about French lifestyle and religion. The First Nations soon began to realize the importance of “god” and metal tools, which was shown to them by Father LaForgue. The French could easily manipulate the First Nations at this point because they were so reliant on them. The French had a great idea; to colonialize the First Nations without them even knowing. This eventually happened when the First Nations had been mesmerized by the tools and reading and writing skills that the French had. This movie shows that colonialism in fact did exist in Canada.

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