History, Power, and justice

I’ve been spending most of my time reading for my thesis. Here is a rather astute quote from Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 

Decolonizing Methodologies“Indigenous attempts to reclaim land, language, knowledge and sovereignty have usually involved contested accounts of the past by colonizers and colonized. These have occurred in the courts, before various commissions, tribunals and official enquiries, in the media, in Parliament, in bars and on talkback radio. In these situations contested histories do not exist in the same cultural framework as they do when tribal or clan histories, for example, are being debated within the indigenous community itself. They are not simply struggles over ‘facts’ and ‘truth’; the rules by which these struggles take place are never clear (other than that we as the indigenous community know they are going to be stacked against us); and we are not the final arbiters of what really counts as truth.

It is because of these issues that I ask the question, ‘Is history in its modernist construction important or not important for indigenous peoples?’ For many people who are presently engaged in research on indigenous land claims the answer would appear to be self-evident. We assume that when ‘the truth comes out’ it will prove that what happened was wrong or illegal and that therefore the system (tribunals, the courts, the government) will set things right. We believe that history is also about justice, that understanding history will enlighten our decisions about the future. Wrong. History is also about power. In fact history is mostly about power. It is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue to dominate others. It is because of this relationship with power that we have been excluded, marginalized and ‘Othered’. In this sense history is not important for indigenous peoples because a thousand accounts of the ‘truth’ will not alter the ‘fact’ that indigenous peoples are still marginal and do not possess the power to transform history into justice.”

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