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Maxed out

A brief history of conflict on the margins



The history of marginalized peoples is a relentless march towards, well, the margins. Many problems arise from the intractable fact that the margins - geographically, politically, economically - keep shifting.

When the Dutch arrived in the New World, they looked around at Manhattan Island - undoubtedly called something else then - and thought to themselves, "Wow. We could build the greatest city in the world here. And if that doesn't work, at least we can cut down these trees and grow tulips." Problem was, Manhattan was already inhabited by native American, First Nations peoples who, until that very moment, had absolutely no idea they were marginal. Like so many of their brethren, the Lenape simply considered themselves The People, ergo , the centre of the universe. As far as they knew, these hilariously-dressed foreigners could have been apparitions, figments of their imaginations.

The Dutch, of course, knew right away the Indians were marginal. They knew this because the Indians weren't Dutch and the Dutch were smugly confident in believing they were superior and occupied the centre of the universe. They were sure about this because they had superior ships, superior firepower, a superior god, Dutch Masters cigars and 60 guilders worth of beads, trinkets and assorted junk jewelry they were able to offload to the Lenape for what would become, at least in the latter half of the 20 th century, the centre of Earth's universe, New York City.

In keeping with their status, the Lenape were moved to, you guessed it, more marginal lands. Brooklyn if I'm not mistaken. Where they eventually formed the Brooklyn Dodgers and were ultimately moved to even more marginal lands, Los Angeles. But I digress.

North of the border, the scenario was much the same. The French and English battled on the Plains of Abraham. This was, of course, after they'd already booted the Indians out. The English, rumour has it, won the battle but with unaccustomed generosity, pretended they lost, leaving Quebec - who'd want it? - to the French and moving themselves to marginal lands: Toronto... where they booted the Indians to yet more marginal lands, Mississauga, where they elected a female elder, Hazel McCallion, Chief.  She still holds the job, though rumour has it she has an increasingly hideous painting of herself squirreled away in her attic.

And so it went. Rulers, conquerors and the monied classes rolled over the landscape like a relentless glacier, pushing less desirable classes ahead of them and scattering them over the more marginal edges of land like so many erratics. The displaced made things as homey as they could and frequently made them too homey. What was the margin became the border, became the mainstream and it was time for the undesirables to move on yet again.

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