Saturday, September 3, 2022

A call to action for fellow French descendants in "North America"

While my Irish and Scottish ancestors came to this continent relatively recently (1800's, only 3-5 generations ago), my French ancestors have been on this continent for much longer. How much longer I don't know, as I have not yet done the more detailed genealogy work, but I'm told the family names of Hébert, De Rainville , Payette, Beauchere have been on this continent for quite some time.

As part of my antiracism learning I was led to anticolonialism, and from there became interested in the unique ways in which some settler groups see themselves and their relationship to this continent and its peoples. Some settlers go so far as to believe they are Indigenous, or victims of colonialism on this continent.

Distorted Descent:
White Claims to Indigenous Identity (2019)

I'm told that most of my ancestors, in one way or the other, saw themselves as victims of the British Empire.

For Ireland and Scotland, the reasoning is obvious, given part of Ireland and all of Scotland is offensively still considered part of the so-called "United Kingdom". I am strongly supportive of the reunification of Ireland, and for the sovereignty of Scotland, even though I do not have citizenship or other close kinship ties to either Nation.

With my French ancestors it is more complex. While Britain and France fought several wars against each other as well as on the same side against a third party, Britain does not control any part of France. What the feeling about the British Empire come from is the colony of New France, previously part of the French Empire.

(For a quick refresher on the history, see: What does being a Canadian mean to me?)


Darryl Leroux is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Justice and Community Studies at Saint Mary’s University. An area of focus has been the the dynamics of racism and colonialism among fellow French descendants. His 2019 book "Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity" puts together many of the dynamics I wanted to understand. He maintains to help educate people on these issues.

The last page contains what I feel to be a call to action to all fellow French descendants on this continent.

As French descendants, we have been told from a young age that we are the (only) victims of British colonialism, despite the fact that our ancestors colonized significant parts of what we generally call Canada and the United States for a century and a half prior to falling under British dominion. During this time, our forebears not only enslaved African and Indigenous peoples and actively displaced and dispossessed Indigenous peoples across a wide swatch of the continent, but benefited from broader French mercantilist policies that turned the French Antilles into one of the most brutally violent slave societies the world has ever known. Our belief that we are the only legitimate victims of (British) colonialism continues to be a major stumbling block to building meaningful social movements dedicated to combating French-descendant forms of racism and colonialism.


My wife's parents are Hindu Bengalis from India. I also believe it is incorrect for loyalists of the Mughal Empire to claim the eventual end of their occupation of India was an act of "colonialism" by the Swedish, Dutch, Danish, French, Portuguese or British colonialism. Indigenous India was the victim of all this colonialism, and all these empires were (some still are) perpetrators of colonialism. Which perpetrator "won" a given campaign/war/etc to claim to be the current colonial occupation does not make loyalists of any of the "losing" colonial powers a victim of colonialism.

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