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Divide-and-rule no longer an option

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We cannot avoid our diverse racial and cultural differences but we have to be able to look into our fellow rakyat’s eyes and see our shared destiny, says Teo Chuen Tick.

I first read the book Bury My Head At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown in the 1970s.

It was one of those life changing moments – brought up on a diet of those good old John Wayne cowboys and ‘Red Indians’ Hollywood movies, the ‘Red Indians’ had taken the place of the devil incarnate by that time of my teenage years.

But that book changed the landscape dramatically – because the book is based on the history of Native Americans in the American West in the 1860s and 1870s, focusing upon the transition from traditional ways of living to living on reservations and their treatment during that period.

Even to my young, naive mind then, it was obvious the Native Americans were the aggrieved parties; they were the ones who were oppressed and chased off their lands.

The film adaptation of it is going through the reruns in Cinemax over Astro.

Some reflections based on the film:

Charles Eastman né Ohiyesa, a young, mixed-race Sioux doctor educated at Dartmouth and Boston University, was held up as proof of the success of assimilation.

Yet, as the film goes on to depict, a man with a conscience and moral fibre cannot see the way the Native Americans were being treated and then sit back and do nothing – just because he was the recipient of the ‘White Man’s’ kindness and generosity.

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The Dawes Commission (held from 1893 to 1914) developed a proposal to break up the Great Sioux Reservation to allow for American demands for land while preserving enough land for the Sioux to live on.

[US Senator Henry L Dawes was an architect of government policy for the allotment of Indian lands to individual households in order to force them to adopt subsistence farming. During the 47 years of implementing the Act, Native Americans lost about 90m acres (360,000 km²) of treaty land, or about two-thirds of their 1887 land base. About 90,000 Indians were made landless.]

Dawes urged Eastman to help him convince the recalcitrant tribal leaders to accept the proposal. After witnessing conditions on the Sioux reservation, Eastman refused.

I see parallels in what Eastman did and our political scenario now. There are bumiputras who have risen to positions of affluence and/or influence because of the Umnoputras’ NEP policy over the years.

Yet, leaders like Pak Samad, Zaid, Zairil and Dyana are now speaking out against the continued discrimination of the non-bumiputras.

It is time this national dialogue is changed. Many non-bumiputras call Malaysia our motherland; it is our only home country. We were born here and we will be buried here. So, it is important leaders with this enlightened viewpoint assume positions of political leadership.

We know the position of the current political leadership. National unity will remain an illusion as long as the current beaten pathway is walked. Make no mistake about it, bumiputras and non-bumiputras alike will very likely support fully a needs-based affirmative action policy.

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Let’s not beat a dead horse: the history of our colonial past is a fact. The divide-and-rule policy of the British is no longer an option in our modern day Malaysia.

This must change. All Malaysians must be accorded fair, just and equitable treatment under the Malaysian sun.

Yes, I know we are still young as a nation. The United States that many, including me, look to as a bastion of democracy and meritocracy is about 240 years old. Many of the discriminatory practices against African Americans were only eliminated in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yes, attitudes die hard and we still read of discrimination against minority groups including the Native Americans. But, by and large, those are not institutional practices.

This is the point I am trying to put forth – we can learn from the experiences of others. We do not have to wait over 200 years before our nation is willing to end institutionalised discriminatory practices against its own citizens.

A start has to be made. We cannot point a finger at the private sector and insist that must change first. Let’s not forget there is indeed legislation in place in listed companies, but we can see where that has led us, with the Ali Baba syndrome the main culprit. It is my firm belief that when the government takes the lead, we will see the private sector following the example in a genuine and sincere way.

We cannot avoid our diverse racial and cultural differences but we have to be able to look into our fellow rakyat’s eyes and see our shared destiny. This is our homeland; we have to make it work.

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