Imperialism

Start Free Trial

Do you think it is human nature for one group of people to try to take advantage of another? Do you think contact between European people and Canada’s First Nations and Inuit people had to be imperialist in nature? Did the European people have to control aboriginal people, or was there another way?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To argue that human nature is the only influence on group motivation to take advantage of another group does not leave room for other factors, such as the changeability of the environment that humans occupy and political ways of thinking. You can certainly argue that human nature is a facet of this issue. Humans share a fundamental instinct to survive, and in many cases, this involves furthering one group's motivations at the expense of another's. On the other hand, there are groups that never pursued anything remotely related to imperialism.

Consider the colonialist pursuits of Early modern Britain beginning in the sixteenth century. As the population of Britain grew and natural resources were depleted, the country sought to expand their commercial enterprises. They faced competition from France, one of the earliest countries to pursue colonization (eventually leading to imperialism). Additionally, Britain was motivated to expand their trade capabilities, as frequent wars within Europe presented an impediment to trade.

Aboriginal groups in North America experienced vastly different conditions. With an abundance of natural resources and living space, territorial disputes were not particularly frequent, as different tribes occupied their own lands. Aboriginals saw themselves as part of nature, respecting the land and taking only that which was needed. Due to their way of living and lack of technological pursuits, populations remained steady.

When Europeans arrived in the New World, cooperation with the Aboriginals for trading purposes was prioritized. There were obviously exceptions to this standard, for instance, during the Spanish Conquest in which Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire through mass murder. As the population of Europe continued to expand and countries sought to compete with one another, colonialism developed into imperialism. European colonialists observed the Aboriginal way of life, concluding that these foreign groups were "beasts." This perspective influenced the decision to force Aboriginals to assimilate in order to pursue the European imperialist drive. Europeans concluded that their way of life was superior to that of the Aboriginals, believing that assimilation by force would benefit these groups.

In the process of European colonization of North America, millions of Aboriginals died as a result of war and diseases brought from Europe. Peace and cooperation between groups could theoretically have been established, had Europeans been more receptive to the Aboriginal way of life and regard for them as equals.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team