Long-Term Consequences

By Grace Li Xiu Woo

This is the final chapter in an article written by that originally appeared in the electronic law journal Law, Social Justice & Global Development in April 2003. It is a resume of research conducted for a Masters in International Law at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

What are we to make of this story of simultaneous colonization and decolonization? Would a hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada or at the League of Nations have made any real difference? Perhaps not. British imperial pride was at a peak in the 1920s when the Empire was still celebrating victory in the first Great War. We have become so accustomed to the uniform coloration of the map north of the American border that the current format of Canada seems incontestable. However, a mere 10 years later Britain’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reversed the seemingly entrenched orthodoxy saying women were not legal persons. What would they have said about the Indian Act that said the same of Indigenous peoples?

The archival evidence and legal authorities that the Six Nations Haudenosaunee had to offer in support of their arguments were impeccable. If they had been allowed equal access to British imperial courts, perhaps they would have won. And then, who knows? Perhaps the reasoning would have been confined to that particular case, dependent on the unique terms of Haldimand’s declaration. Or perhaps Haudenosaunee from other reserves would have found a way to expand their rights producing a very different type of legal and political order — one in which Indigenous nations had a real say. And this might, in turn, have inspired us all. Perhaps we would have developed a society in which no one was held hostage by the shadowy maneuvers of unelected officials — in the department of Indian Affairs or elsewhere in the dark recesses of the federal bureaucracy.

On the other hand, if the Six Nations had been allowed to present their case at the League of Nations or in the newly formed international court, perhaps the whole history of the twentieth century would have been different. Perhaps polities would have been defined according to relational rather than territorial criteria. Perhaps the boundaries of territorial resources would have been decided through rational grassroots legal consultation, formed on the basis of agreements reached among all those affected instead of on the basis of colonial precedent backed by the use of brute force. We might have developed institutions designed to assist consensus formation. We might have found the means to address social problems before they degenerate to the point that they elicit responses founded on anger and blind rage. Perhaps the need to define the crime of genocide would never have arisen. We can only wonder as we head into the 21st century with new, and similarly undefined challenges before us. We can only wonder, though surely, if we want to decolonize the future we must first decolonize our understanding of the past.

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