With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, I have seen some interesting commentary about the symbolism of her death. For so many of us, we’ve never had to evaluate our thoughts or feelings on the death of an English monarch. Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, and that predates my birth by 30 years.
While many are lamenting the death of a monarch who – though ceremonially and by virtue of pure nepotism – was the head of state for her government, I, instead stand with the Indigenous peoples around the globe, who experienced her death with simultaneous apathy and anger. She was, for many Indigenous people, such as myself, the modern face of colonization.
The monarchy has reveled in the privilege of power, title and wealth resulting from lands that forces acting on its behalf have colonized over many centuries. The systems of oppression for Indigenous peoples and, more broadly, people of color that have resulted from colonization by the English, remain today.
I had to do a bit of research, but it appears Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for 14 countries and the United Kingdom, according to the Council on Foreign Relations website. These constitute the Commonwealth realms and include the following countries:
3. Solomon Islands
4. Papua New Guinea
5. Saint Kitts and Nevis
9. Antigua and Barbuda
12. New Zealand
13. Saint Lucia
14. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
“Together, there are some 150 million people in the Commonwealth realms, the most populous of which are the UK, Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand,” the Council on Foreign Relations website states.
Oof. That’s a lot of human beings, Indigenous people, to claim in the name of the English Empire.
According to the Royal Family website, it is a point of pride for the monarchy: “As Head of State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over one thousand years of history…The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognises success and excellence.”
I don’t see much of which to be proud.
Although one of my biggest focuses with this column is to shine a light on the experience of modern Indigenous people, while reminding the non-Native population that we are still here, let’s take a moment to reflect on history. Specifically, let’s consider what the present-day United States looked like before European contact.
There are various estimates on the pre-1492 population of Native people within the confines of today’s United States. That is not what I want to focus on here. There are plenty of scholars who have debated the actual number of Indigenous people there were before European contact on Turtle Island, which is what some Native people call this continent. There are also many non-Indigenous writings about where Indigenous people originate from, namely in support of the theory that Indigenous people crossed the Bering Strait. Many Native people reject that narrative, as we maintain the position that we have always been here. But as the adage goes — history is written by the victors or, in this case, the colonizers’ vantage point.
I want to focus on the diversity of tribes with their own governments, their own trades, their own technologies and their own economies. Some of the technologies developed by Indigenous peoples were so advanced that, through the cruel lens of the oppressors, they must surely have been created by someone else and not the Indigenous people they encountered and regarded as “primitive savages.” Some of those advancements exist in the space of medicine, hunting and gathering, agriculture and structural works. In Ohio, for example, the earthworks created by the “Mound builders” around the state are said by some scholars to be the work of a race that has since gone extinct, though many modern Native people would contest that these people are our ancestors.
The bottom line is that Indigenous people thrived here since time immemorial, before European contact. And we would have continued to thrive, if not for the arrival of non-Indigenous white colonizers.
So, I do not feel any sadness about the passing of the queen more than I would about the death of any other stranger. In fact, the collective bereavement of so many in the world at her death is surprising to me. She represented to me, as the monarchy generally does, the greedy and inhumane legacy of English expansion.
This is not to say that I don’t think there is hope for today’s Indigenous peoples and the ancestors of European settlers to live harmoniously in a modern world. I have and continue to do this every single day of my life. My wish, though, is that we do not accept the whitewashing of history, as it was taught to us through a white-centric lens. There are other equally important viewpoints to consider that we aren’t taught.
But mostly I hope that the non-Indigenous understand that the passing of Queen Elizabeth II may hit differently for those among us who view the monarchy as representative of the cruel and destructive colonization that resulted in the enslavement, displacement and dispossession of Indigenous peoples.
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