Human rights are not about the rights of humans (II): Warren Cariou, ‘Indigenous Rights and the Undoomed Indian’, European Romantic Review, 27, 3, 2016, pp. 309-318
Abstract: This essay examines the rise of human rights discourses in the Romantic period as they are deployed in relation to colonial violence against North American Indigenous people in the same era. While Indigenous people become associated with freedom, human rights and liberal politics in much Romantic literature and philosophy, they are also at the same time portrayed as inevitably doomed to become extinct in the face of a putatively superior Western culture. I argue that this stereotype of the “doomed Indian” is not merely a discursive formation, but a reflection of the genocidal intent and actions of colonization. Through detailed examination of the genocide perpetrated against the Beothuk people of Newfoundland from the 1780s until 1827, this essay reveals how colonial culture utilizes the rhetoric of human rights as a way of performing what Daniel Coleman calls “White Civility,” thereby attempting to retain the moral authority to exert power throughout the colonies. Key in this rhetoric is the use of the Romantic-era museum as a venue to capture and preserve the culture of a disappearing people. Drawing on the work of Glen Coulthard, I argue that the discourse of human rights is thus of questionable value in struggles for Indigenous sovereignty.
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