Indigenous – overprivileged or underprivileged?

Reading this controversial article that flames a heated discussion on whether the governmental support to indigenous peoples is justified or not, I felt some things should be said.

Having been stripped of their natural strengths, they have been forced to survive in a strange culture and society – that, in their own land, having no choice to go somewhere else. They have had to cope, and they’re doing it as much as they can; only that up to 50 years ago they were pretty much treated like animals, and I’m quite certain that it is this attitude that has destroyed life and opportunities for many of them.

I can emotionally understand the feelings of the newcomers, Irish and of whatever descent, that they feel betrayed about the fact that there is no “special treatment” for them. But they have come to their conditions by choice – of their own or their ancestors.

There were many Estonians who emigrated during the WWII, and even before. Just like anyone else, they went to search for luck and happiness in a new land – Australia, Canada, USA and elsewhere. They probably didn’t receive any special treatment either, but just used their hands and wits to advance in the society and make themselves a living and a home.

Many of them were definitely blessed with skills for survival in an occidental society – it’s something that most Estonians did not yet possess in the beginning of the 19th century, for example, when they had been, for centuries, treated the same as the indigenous anywhere else in the world – as slaves and animals.
However, through occidental education (and that, by the way, in our own – Estonian – language) they acquired the skills necessary to manage in this different type of society, and even the skills necessary to cope in another country that doesn’t speak your language (which cannot really be said about the Irish or any anglosaxons in Australia or Canada).

But when they went out to other countries – those that had built their successful societies on the misery and exploitation of the not-so-technologically-advantaged local peoples, the Estonians eventually joined the exploiting culture – with its attitudes and fear towards the ‘natives’ – and of this I am ashamed. I know they probably didn’t have a choice, and couldn’t have possibly changed the attitudes of a foreign country as immigrants, but I am still ashamed.

“Don’t complain, put the past behind you and get on with your life like anyone else” is undoubtedly a good suggestion to any individual who wants to cope, but it has nothing to do with being fair and just. Getting slaughtered and discriminated in your own land without any options of escape is not fair. Getting deported to the other side of the globe is not fair, either. But what the occidental mindset still cannot own up to is the fact that it has destroyed and helped destroy hundreds of previously well-functioning societies, and instead of making an attempt to understand what there is to learn from the others, it has arrogantly decided that it knows the best what’s good for the humankind and has executed this knowledge in full force. And it just cannot stop and ask itself: what if we were wrong all along the way?

We could debate over who and what is responsible for the environmental conditions of the Earth today, for example, and probably still not get anywhere, because there’s just THAT MANY people saying “but I don’t want to go back to living in a cave”. Not wanting to imply anything specific here, but what if one day you just don’t have a choice any more? Because you know what, the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet are on this day living in conditions where a cave would be an upgrade, and that’s partly because of your lifestyle choices. Things cost way more than you think they do, and it cannot be counted in money.

Of course, we are all bricoleurs, and when given an opportunity, it’s not certain any of us would be any wiser to make a good decision for the benefit of all. — That’s what the occidentals like to say. It’s certainly comfortable to say that, and it’s also convenient to think everyone is equal and anyone’s perceived inequality is the problem of their own minds only.

Well, if you think like that, too, why don’t you watch Tim Wise speaking on “The Pathology of White Privilege” and see if your conviction of absolute equality still stands after that:

I don’t know too much about racism, but I’ve met cultural intolerance; and Kerryn Pholi seems a bit confused in using the terms ‘race’ and ‘culture’ as synonyms. She might have the ancestry, but I don’t see her speaking of being part of any Aboriginal culture, truly. It’s ‘them’ for her and she’s not sure whether she’s proud of it or not. She has a different kind of weight on her shoulders – the weight of globalisation and creolisation, the burden of not having a place to belong, perhaps. I cannot imagine what it’s like because I will always only belong to one little people and their land, even if I travel around or change location, my roots will only ever have been in one place on the globe and it makes me want to be rooted, in the end, and I understand others who wish the same. But after centuries of colonisation and deportation we now have a mass of people with no roots, or roots everywhere in the world, and with a culture that is a bit universal and a lot of an exploiting kind. I understand that they feel a bit lost, but I don’t really know how to help them, and I am truly sorry for that.

But should this be the reason to take any opportunities or support away from the rest, those who still more or less know where they belong, and need help in supporting their languages and cultures to survive? I don’t think so.