The impossibility of undoing the past
I found the title of the article Decolonising Geoscience in the Spring 2021 issue to be problematic because you can’t decolonise the past! I also struggled with the article as a standalone piece. As a white Pakeha New Zealander living in Europe, I come from a country that is still tackling problems resulting from colonisation and I have worked in a number countries that have been colonised, dealing with indigenous and vulnerable people. My first thought on reading the article was ‘this is not enough, it can’t stop here’.
After discussion with Society staff, it seems to me that the intention of the article was well founded, but the project could have had more background planning and more context should have been provided for the reader.
The title appears to have come from an academic approach (Das, S. & Lowe, M., Decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections. Journal of Natural Science Collections 6, 4-14, 2018). But the article title and some of the main text gave me a different impression of what the Society was trying to do.
An equal opportunity society doesn’t often result in truly equal opportunities for minorities. For example, the average Maori child in New Zealand is poorer, less healthy and has a shorter life expectancy than the average white child in New Zealand. The poorer you are, or the less healthy your family is, the less likely you are to graduate from university. If you get to university, you are more likely, compared to someone from a wealthier background, to have to work part-time to survive and your grades will probably suffer. There are exceptions, but my understanding of the data shows this to be true.
Therefore, in addition to the ‘decolonial approach’ the Society is taking with regard to their collections, to help combat problems such as those mentioned above, perhaps the Geological Society could consider forming an educational scholarship of some type for indigenous students from colonised countries? Whilst being a small step in helping right a wrong, this in turn would help increase the diversity of geologists.
Bryce Lawrence is Managing Director of Global Risk Management