A thief by any other name is still a “Damn” thief


In 1492 (519 years ago), a tiny group of Europeans in three small ships were lost at sea. They came upon a small “inhabited” island in the Caribbean and the first thing they did was to “rename” the island and claim it in the name of Queen Isabella of Spain.

Subsequent groups of Europeans later came across the Atlantic Ocean and also “discovered” other inhabited lands and rewarded themselves and their sponsors by “stealing” both the land and the resources from those whom they met living there peacefully and subjugating them to forced labour.

Other groups of European explorers ventured further west and came to the Americas where they found highly advanced civilizations and decided to “entertain” the inhabitants. On the entertainment agenda they included renaming the land, plundering, raping the women, trading valueless “trinkets” for fur, gold and silver, introducing alcoholism, destroying evidence of advancement, referring to the inhabitants as “savages”, relegating the indigenous people to live restrictedly on areas called “reservations” and then signing “bogus” treaties they had no intention of honouring.

Another group of unsavory European characters, otherwise known as common English criminals, were banished to Australia as punishment for their crimes against society. Those criminals met the Aboriginals, “stole” their land and drove them to live in remote un-inhabitable areas known as the “outback”. They also introduced alcoholism.

Not to be outdone, another group of Europeans – Dutch religious zealots – who claimed to be fleeing “religious persecution” landed in South Africa where they were welcomed by the natives. True to form, it did not take them very long to “steal” the gold, diamonds, copper and other natural resources of the country, impose restrictions on where the people whom they met in South Africa could live and then force the inhabitants into a system of servitude and “forced” labour and a life of abject poverty which they called “apartheid”. (This system, in part, was based on the Canadian model of isolating the “First Nations people” on reservations. A plaque at the intersection of Queen St. and University Ave. is an expression of the South African government’s appreciation of and gratitude for Canada’s help in creating their segregated society.)

Remember when Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, had as its leader a nutcase named Ian Smith who unilaterally declared the country independent from Britain? And how about Sri Lanka? Remember when that country was called Ceylon? Can you see the pattern here? First they “steal it and then rename it” (or “rename it first and then steal it”; the end result is the same).

Seems like this propensity towards “stealing and renaming” is a uniquely European characteristic – and it does not matter whether we are talking about Northern, Southern, Western or Eastern Europe.

Fast forward to 1967, the year that Canada celebrated its 100th birthday as an independent sovereign nation. The Caribbean community contributed to this celebration by displaying in all its creative splendour our culture in music, art, food and dance. This “one time” event grew to become a global phenomenon and the biggest summer festival in North America. As an income generator, CARIBANATM surpasses the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Gay Pride Parade – all three combined.

I remember only too well when a White woman called in to a CBC radio show and characterized CARIBANATM as a national display of “West Indian vulgarity”. That poor soul was so blinded by her entrenched ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and racism that she was incapable of appreciating what has become a shining beacon in the mosaic we call Canada.

Through perseverance, volunteerism and at great physical and financial sacrifices, we nurtured, cultivated, supported and kept alive “we ting” until it became a virtual cash cow for the city of Toronto. Now the corporate thieves, led by an individual with no connection to CARIBANATM, are at work again.

Now that CARIBANATM has been renamed, to whom does it belong? I have always believed that “sponsorship is not synonymous with ownership” but I am willing to concede that I could be wrong. However, there are two things about which I have no doubts, namely:

a) The city of Toronto would not try to hijack the CHIN Picnic and rename it nor would they even in their wildest imaginings conceive the idea of tampering with the Chinese “Dragon Boat” or “Chinese Lantern Festival” or the Greek “Taste of Danforth” events.

b) “You ain’t see nothing yet” if they think this fight is over. You can repaint and rename a zebra but it still remains what it is – a zebra underneath the disguise.

We the people of the Caribbean will be setting precedence and doing the greatest disservice to our heritage and our children to let what is unquestionably ours be “stolen” in broad daylight from us.

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