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History: We Need It, but Respectfully

History is very often, never just left in the past. It returns over and over again. Whether in the classrooms, in day-to-day conversations with family or friends, or on Twitter!

History is hardly ever just left in the past, especially when that history was extremely positive, revolutionary or extremely gruesome. People share such events of the past, so that memories will be cherished and so that the people of the present can learn a thing or more from such past events.

An example that relates very personally to me is the Biafran War of Nigeria. Last week Tuesday, May 30th, 2017, marked 50 years since Biafra was declared an independent nation, away from Nigeria. It was an attempt by the Igbos and some present-day Niger Delta tribes, to secede the rest of the nation, given the constant massacres and marginalization of the Igbos, that were happening. In inhumane reaction to South-Easterners attempting to form a nation outside of Nigeria (which was not giving them refuge), the then Nigerian government starved and bombed the Eastern parts of Nigeria. Millions of people were killed, several fled to neighbouring nations. It was a genocide. I am an Igbo woman from Anambra State in Nigeria, so the story of the Biafran War gives me very awful chills.

The story also teaches me lessons to remember. It teaches me that what may seem like the beginnings of a prejudiced nation can be furthered to an extreme called war. It also gives me a sense as to why so many Nigerians are still prejudiced, with regards to the Igbos. Such people never learned from the war or they inherited the prejudice from senior family members and perhaps, jealousy is involved – I mean, how smoothly a People (the South-Easterners) bounced back from genocide to be so influential.

The story of the Biafran War increases my admiration at the strength and triumph of South-Easterners. To the best of my knowledge, no federal government of Nigeria has ever apologized for the ethnic cleansing that was the Biafran War, yet, my people, you have moved on regardless. You have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the nation. You have greatly contributed to the intellectual vibrance of Nigeria – at home and abroad.

History teaches. Nevertheless, recounting bad events from history can be (and understandably so), traumatic for those that it directly affected. So when we share history that could create triggers, let’s be careful to share it in a way that honours people’s struggles and decries the actions of the oppressor(s) – and not the opposite.

Love & peace,
Chiamaka

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Forming in the present, shaping the future

History is of the past but not necessarily something that should be forgotten, unspoken of or left to wither away. History is the fabric of cultures and societies. It is accessible via story-telling, libraries, movies etc. History shapes the present and the future.

A week ago, together with some other social justice advocates, I was reflecting on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. I was thinking of ways that Canada could create a more respectful, just and inclusive society for the nation’s Aboriginal population who have long faced marginalization. In accordance with the theme of the conversation, I was asked what I thought reconciliation means with respect to Canada and Aboriginal peoples. So, I said: Reconciliation starts by recognizing the contributions that Aboriginal people have made to Canada and how there has also been a “cultural genocide” on Aboriginal peoples. In Canada, we do not talk about the issues. We talk about Canada being a multicultural and peaceful society but we do not talk about the issues. So, for reconciliation to happen – we must acknowledge the past, learn from it and develop ways to build a better present and future.

That is the summary of my contribution to the question asked. I also did allude to the fact that no matter how filthy the past has been, it has to be acknowledged and learned from not hidden. From articles I have read, conversations I have been engaged in, Aboriginal people in Canada want the racism that they and their ancestors have faced in the past to be recognized and they want a reconciliation. They want a better Canada that will not deny Aboriginal people of their human rights. To reconcile, Canadians have to see the issues in many treatments that were forcefully put upon Aboriginal people. Canadians have to see the issues with the past and realize that some actions of the present are merely but a less severe rendition of that past because Aboriginal people still live in disappointing economic and social conditions here in Canada.

I was born and raised in Nigeria but not until I left the country (for school) and certainly became more mature, did it begin to dawn on me that I did not know a lot about my history. Colonization swept away cultures and I ever since I realized that, I have made a conscious attempt to keep educating myself, to keep seeing value in what the colonizers may have deemed crude, to never cover up my identity, to never let anyone make me feel that my culture does not matter based on his/her ethnocentrism. History is shaping my strength, shaping my resistance and shaping my ability to encourage people from different cultures and nations, that they are good enough and their identity, accent and culture matters. If we dwell on imitation, we lose our identities and it becomes a loss to future generations.

History also gives people the ability to celebrate those who have shaped our present in a positive way – whether they are still living or no longer with us.

History forms from the present and is a vital reference for the future. Make a commitment to never let a part of your history (community, family history etc) die.

Love,

Chiamaka

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