Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Railways and Colonialism

CBC reports that CN Rail is jumping on the police bandwagon and targeting Shawn Brant and the rest of the residents of the Tyendinaga Territory of the Mohawk Nation: they are launching civil suits against Brant, against the Tyendinaga band council, and against others involved in the recent blockade of their rail line that was mounted in response to the foot-dragging by the Canadian state in settling a local land claim, part of the long-term settler state strategy of consolidating past theft by obstructing justice around land issues at every turn. Though rail blockades have been sporadically used by strategically placed First Nations in the past, this is the first time that CN has taken such a step.

As Brant is quoted as saying, "We've sort of looked at this as being a warning to other First Nations communities across the country as well as ourselves that they're quite willing to make our miserable lives more miserable." This is especially in light of that a national day of action has been called for June 29, and "many First Nations are already planning [blockades], with talk of a co-ordinated targeting of key infrastructure, from rails to roads," according to this column

There are a number of things worth noting about this. For one thing, it is yet another indicator of the fact that it both capital and the state are integral to colonialism. This seems to me to be kind of an obvious point, but I mention it because on more than one occasion I have heard ways of talking about colonial oppression that foreground the role of the settler state but have little critical to say about the class relations or relations of production with which it is integrated. This is one small sample of overlap between the drive of a segment of private capital to safeguard its profit and the drive of the nation state to eradicate anything it sees as competition for legitimacy and sovereignty within the boundaries it claims.

The second is the historical resonance of the entity choosing to contribute to the enforcement of colonial relations being a railroad, because railroads were central to the original colonization of much of Canada. The particular area where Tyendinaga is located was, as far as I understand it, initially colonized in an era before rail transportation played much of a role, but it was vital in the colonial transformation of the huge stretch of the country between northwestern Ontario and the already-existing small British colonies in the lower mainland of what is now British Columbia and on Vancouver Island. I actually haven't read much of this history recently or in any critical form, but anyone who has taken Grade 10 history in Ontario can probably remember the big deal made of railroads in the unit covering Canada in the late 19th century. A little strategic reframing can reveal a lot even from partially forgotten remnants of the completely uncritical mythology that is high school history. It was the promise of a rail connection that brought the colony of British Columbia into the Canadian confederation. The railroad cemented Canadian/British claims to the territory in the face of dreams of Manifest Destiny in Washington. After the first Riel Rebellion, in which Metis people with Cree allies rose up against the encroaching settler state, there was an additional imperative to be able to get troops out there easily. And of course it was railroads that transported land-hungry settlers -- a population carefully and deliberately kept almost entirely white by Canadian immigration policy -- that were integral to the state's plan to make their colonial control of the land a practical fact by transforming it from "the land" as understood by its indigenous inhabitants and into "property" as understood in the context of the common law and capitalist social relations. As a consequence, large sums of government money were used to subsidize private corporations in building and running several transcontinental railroads. I forget the details, but I know that it resulted in far more rail capacity than anyone had any use for, and one government fell because of a corruption scandal related to the process.

All of which is to say that the railroads were a BIG DEAL in that era because of their importance, both material and symbolic, in early Canadian state formation -- state formation that of course was entirely dependent on land theft and cultural genocide.

Incidentally, from what I understand the companies that eventually formed CN were not directly involved in creating the original transcontinental lines -- that was mostly Canadian Pacific -- but at least one element was central to creating the system of branch lines used to reinforce colonial control of the province of Manitoba and was heavily subsidized by the provincial government.

It is also worth understanding the history that lies underneath the naming of the band council in the lawsuit. Band council government was created by the racist federal legislation called the Indian Act and more or less forced on most First Nations, sometimes at the point of a gun, sometimes through deception, and sometimes through other forms of bullying. I don't know the specific history in Tyendinaga, but it seems clear that naming the band council (which had nothing to do with the blockade) in the lawsuit is a way of fostering the old colonial strategy of divide and rule -- push the segment of the colonized people over which you have some leverage to act as your enforcers against the segment of the population over which you have little and who are therefore more militant.

The final thing that occurs to me is to wonder about why now was chosen by CN to take this step. The obvious answer is the one given in the quotation above, as a warning against others planning similar actions on the upcoming day of action or at other times. But I also wonder if this is part of a larger tactical shift by the settler state, as part of the push by Harper and Co. to shift things from straight neoliberalism to a more blatantly Bush-like model. The state has been perfectly willing to use uniformed people with guns against indigenous resistance in the last few decades, but by and large it has preferred, when possible, to put a liberal face on cooptation and delay and keep it all as invisible as possible. One good example of this shift is the residential schools issue. The Liberal strategy seemed to be to hemm and haw and concede it was an awful situation but do the absolute minimum materially and symbolically to continue seeming progressive to a poorly-informed white-dominated liberal base. The Conservative Minister of Indian Affairs, Jim Prentice, seems to have opted for a reversion to a denial of the problem so blatant that it would be laughable were it not for its pro-genocide implcations.

He said,

I've said quite clearly that the residential school chapter of our history is one that was a difficult chapter. Many things happened that we need to close the door on as part of Canadian history, but fundamentally, the underlying objective had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children and I think the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or also from the Chinese head tax. [emphasis added]


A senior official from the Department of Indian Affairs in the early twentieth century was much more honest.

The department's purpose was clear enough: as enunciated by [long-time deputy superintendent-general Duncan Campbell] Scott, it was 'to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.' In other words, as one observer put it, the extinction of Indians as Indians. [Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, Third Edition. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 308]


That was specifically with reference to a short-lived power to deliberately remove "Indian status" from indigenous people at the Minister's discretion, but its matter-of-factness is telling of the department's historical orientation more broadly.

In any case...it makes me wonder if perhaps there is some backroom coordination going on. The shifts under Harper are certainly not fundamental, as the goals of the settler state have never really wavered when it comes to indigenous people. but it would not surprise me to learn at some point down the road that CN got a go-ahead or even a nudge on this point, given that the Canadian settler state seems to be resuffling its tactical options with open repression closer to the top of the deck.

This is just off the top of my own head, and does not come from an active solidarity group let alone from the people most directly affected, so act with caution. But I can't help but think that perhaps a good practical approach to solidarity for people living in cities that have CN corporate offices -- their national headquarters is in Montreal, and unfortunatley their northern Ontario office appears to be in Saul Ste. Marie rather than Sudbury -- might be to pay them a collective visit of some sort. They should hear from people, including and perhaps especially settlers, that they should drop the civil suits and that they are pressuring the wrong party around the blockades. If they want to avoid any future risk of lost revenue they should pressure their buddies on Parliament Hill to act quickly and decisively to create a just settlement of land claims in Tyendinaga and across the nation.

Personally, I think direct action is called for, but for those of us at a distance, letters can be sent to:

President's Office
CN Headquarters
935 de La Gauchetière Street West
Montreal, Quebec
H3B 2M9
Canada

7 comments:

Red Jenny said...

If anyone is interested, I made a banner for the Jun 29 day of action. You can scoop it here if you want to use it on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello Scott, I am not sure from your Blog where you stand on the issue of road blocks and the fine line between a political legal protest versus terrorism and treason. You are telling us a lot of stuff, but just what does it mean? I am personally interested in the relations of our First Nations and myself as a third generation Canadian. I will be the first to admit I really know nothing. I have to keep asking myself at what point is the mortgage / ransom paid? When will success of an individual become that person’s responsibility and not left in the hands the federal governments? I am an average income white guy from Saskatchewan. I got no breaks, no land, no free education just a lot of personal tax, and I certainly do not have any faith in our government providing me with a future. When will it be time to say “I will go forward and do this on my own, with what I have”? In my vision of Canada I see myself standing shoulder to shoulder with First Nation’s people, and landed immigrants with all the same rules and opportunities. We are all working together for ourselves, our families and our country. The average white guy here feels a reversed discrimination and a future of less opportunity as we are not minorities. I will never experience the opportunity of a tuition paid university course. I will never own and operate a legal casino because I am not Indian. I can not work with the federal government because I am not an Indian, nor am I French.
I take exception to the comment from Terrence Nelson of dealing with white people by taking up arms. At this point in my life I am ready for a good fight, so I say bring it on, let’s finish what was started by our ancestors then we can rewrite the treaties, divide up the land. Then again what kind of comments would you expect from a average white guy in Saskatchewan?
-Monty

Steven said...

Scott,

Monty said so much in so few words. I hope you listen to his comments with without prejudice. Armed conflict gets all of us no where.. But, blocking a road or highway or rail line for that matter, blocks the commerce that helps pay for your treaty settlements. These actions are not in anyones best interest and shows the true level of ignorance of this movement. Perhaps you should spend more time analyzing your own community and putting your energy into fixing the economic imbalances and social issues created by your own leaders rather than lashing out at average fellow Canadians (remember where you live) who are the real victims of these terrorist activities and not the Federal Government.

Stevo

Scott said...

Hi Monty and Steve, thanks for stopping by and thanks for commenting. You have stated your positions in a fair bit of detail, so I will try to be as thorough as I can in responding to you. In fact, this reply has gotten absurdly long, so as well as posting it as a comment here I am going to put it up as a post on its own.

I think I want to deal with some of the things that Steve said first.

Perhaps you should spend more time analyzing your own community and putting your energy into fixing the economic imbalances and social issues created by your own leaders...

Excellent advice. You seem to have assumed that I am an indigenous person, but I am not. I am a settler and I am white. I wouldn't necessarily be as quick to put all the blame on leaders, but the basic point that I should be focusing on addressing the injustices that are of most benefit to rich, powerful, mostly-white people is exactly right...that's a lot of what this site does, and it is one way to see the kinds of social change activities I'm involved with in real life.

In fact, this makes me think of something I once read from Tim Wise, a white anti-racist activist in the United States. He was talking about the tendency for many white people in the U.S. to react to African American demands for justice with exactly the sort of comment you have made, that they should take responsibility for their own communities and their own leaders and so on. Wise remarks that it is amazing how infrequently the white folk who say that take their own advice: what we as white people need to be doing is taking responsibility for what we, in particular but far from only our elites, have done historically and do in the present to create and maintain racial oppression and white privilege.

I would add to that by saying that in this case -- the ongoing indigenous struggle against colonization within the Canadian state -- that your 'take care of your own backyard' advice is so ill-informed as to be almost insulting. The vast, vast majority of indigenous struggle against the devastating impact of colonization does indeed happen within their own communities, at both individual and collective levels, and most of us who are not part of those communities never see it. The thing is, addressing colonization by confronting the colonizers is not instead of internal healing, it is part of exactly the same process -- an essential part.

And I would add that saying that these problems were "created" by indigenous leaders is very misleading and ignores a great deal of the history. Of course you'll find some indigenous leaders making bad choices -- you find some leaders of every background and in every community making bad choices. But to say that is the cause of all of the problems that indigenous people face is laughable. And even in many instances where leadership is part of the problem, I suspect a lot of that can be linked to the impact of mechanisms of colonization as well.

Anyway, I may come back to some of the other points you've raised -- calling hypothetical one-day blockades "terrorist" is pretty ridiculous, for example -- but now I want to move on to Monty's comments.

Monty: You pack a lot of stuff into a few words, as Steve says. I think I'll try to address the overall points and maybe not every individual question, and if there is anything crucial that I miss then feel free
to ask for clarification.

One of the things you seem to be asking is about where, in the minds of indigenous people and their allies, this struggle will be taking Canada and what it will be like once we get there. Obviously there is no single answer to this: indigenous peoples, just like any peoples, have many different visions for what the future might look like once this country has been decolonized. But the beginnings of arriving at an answer to this has to come from listening to what indigenous women and men themselves have to say. As just another "ordinary white guy" I have some things that I might like to see in that future, but I'm just one person, and even setting aside for a moment the inevitable resistance by settler elites and the ordinary settlers who support them, it will not only be a big process to figure out what that future is going to be but it will be one in which I/we have to engage respectfully and with care.

That said, I can probably make a few observations. Your use of words like "mortgage" and "ransom" makes me think that maybe you're thinking that large sums of cash are the primary goal of indigenous struggle,
and I'm not sure that's true. Certainly one common goal of indigenous peoples is for the settler state to actually keep the promises it has made over the years, and some of that would take some cash. But I think a big part of what many nations want is a big chunk of their land back: the land they never surrendered, the land they agreed in treaties to share in ways much different than the settler state has understood and enforced by violence. How much? Where? When? What are the practical details? Obviously all those have to be answered, but any just future involves recognizing the existing rights of indigenous nations to their own land. There are lots of other ways that colonization is an ongoing, present-day process doing violence to indigenous communities, and I think ending that violence would be pretty high on the agenda too...and if you want more information about the nuts and bolts of those things, I would suggest finding some books and articles and so on by First Nations authors and really listening to what they have to say. In fact, that's good advice for any settler who admist that they, as you say for yourself, "really know nothing" and that they "want to stand shoulder to shoulder with First Nation's people." In any case, getting the settler state and settler social relations more broadly to take the boot off the necks of indigenous peoples is also a key goal.

You also express some more individual-level concerns. On a certain level, I find these very understandable. Like I said, I too am an "ordinary white guy". I have a pre-school-aged kid, and the idyllic life of golden opportunity, of each generation doing better than the one before, that seemed to still be the promise for (white) Canadians when I was a kid no longer seems to be the case. The days of the eternally booming economy that, at least in the mythology, trickled down to everyone are long over...the post-World War II social democratic compromise is
long gone, the environment is in bad shape and getting worse, and good opportunities are harder and harder to find. Of course, for lots of people, including most indigenous people, they've always been hard to find and there are lots of other problems with that mythology too, but the sense of the world not doing ordinary working people too many favours and of declining opportunity is, I think, very real.

That said, I have to strenuously disagree with the notion that "an average income white guy from Saskatchewan" is someone who "got no breaks." Now, bear with me here...I'm not trying to say you've got nothing to complain about or to stop complaining...most of us ordinary people have real reason to complain, and we should do so vigorously, but I'll get back to talking about complaints in a few paragraphs. In the meantime, though, I have to say that I think that for us "average white guy[s]", white privilege is most certainly a "break". As a white guy, I don't have to face the same shit from police as I know that African Canadian and indigeous people often have to face. As a white guy, I know that the colour of my skin won't make it harder for me to find a job or an apartment. As a white guy, I didn't have to go through a school system that told lies about my people, my history, my culture, and systematically devalues my people and their ways of knowing and being in the world. Not to say that you or I are immune from having to deal with barriers of various kinds, limited choices, hard and exploitative work, and inadequate income, but in all of those areas we are likely to face much less than indigenous people and people of colour, especially from comparable class backgrounds, experience.

This makes me think of Tim Wise again. He writes: "I am not claiming, nor do I believe, that all whites are well-off, or even particularly powerful. We live not only in a racialized society, but also a class system, a patriarchal system, and one in which other forms of advantage and disadvantage exist. These other forms of privilege mediate, but nevery fully eradicate, something like white privilege... But despite the fact that white privilege plays out differently for different folks, depending on these other identities, the fact remains that when all other factors are equal, whiteness matters and carries with it great advantage" [Tim Wise, White Like Me, p. ix]

Search the net for "white privilege" along with names like Tim Wise, Inga Muscia, and Robert Jensen, if you want to read more about it.

Your sentence about the casinos is actually a good segue for me into my next point...I'm pretty sure that the "Indian casino" thing is in the U.S., not here, though I could be mistaken. Even there, it is of benefit to very, very few nations, so it creates this illusion that all indigenous people are now rich while leaving the lives of the overwhelming majority completely unchanged. And in terms of Canada, what I do know is that at least two casinos have opened up in Ontario in my memory. I'm pretty sure they aren't owned by indigenous people. In fact, from what I understand, they are officially under the banner of the provincial government's lottery corporation, but it's a large U.S.-based corporation that manages them and makes the big bucks from them. In other words, being inidigenous doesn't help, but being rich enough to own the right kind of major corporation could get you into the casino business.

And that's the thing: whatever barriers you face, whatever opportunities are being taken away from you, you are looking in the wrong place if you are blaming indigenous people and people of colour. It is a tiny minority of rich people, who are mostly white, that are benefiting the most from the changes in our economy that are making it harder and harder for ordinary people to make ends meet. They are the ones we should blame. They are the ones we should be pushing for change.

The issue of different social movements with different bases working together is a very tough one. Just because two different movements have the same chief opponent doesn't mean their interests automatically coincide. But with effort, they can. And the fact is it is that small grouping of elite, mostly-white people at the pinnacles of our economy, the state, and everything else that benefit both from the colonial oppression of indigenous nations in Canada, and the increasing exploitation of white working people. What we settlers, white and non-white, need to do is challenge those elites (even as we constantly challenge racism and other oppressions in our own communities and movements as well). Too few opportunities to make a decent living? Only collective struggle for social change can change that, to make the ways in which we all create wealth more responsive to the needs of ordinary people. Not enough spots in universities and university educations becoming too expensive for a lot of people? We need to struggle for more resources for higher education. And so on. And while we do those things we need to educate ourselves about indigenous struggle, challenge ourselves and each other around personal and systemic racism, and build links with their struggles and support them and work cooperatively where possible. It's not easy, but I see no other path. (And, I would add, the illusion that if the government would just butt out a little bit that all that would matter in this country is individual effort, and that there is no such thing as collective injustice against which we need to struggle, is one that can most easily be maintained as part of privilege, especially white privilege.)

The question of struggle brings me to the other major concern that you raised, and that is tactics -- how people might choose to struggle.

I can appreciate why that quote that appeared in the mainstream media about armed struggle gives you cause for concern. No matter where you approach it from, armed struggle is a path that inevitably comes with tragedy and destruction. Which shouldn't be taken as a blanket condemnation of how others have chosen to resist in different times and places, just a statement of fact about what it entails -- even renowned anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon, who saw no choice but armed struggle for decolonizing Africa in the mid 20th century, wrote at length about how awful it is for all concerned. I don't feel it is my place, particularly, to pass abstract judgment on how indigenous people in Canada choose to resist their colonization. I can say that I hope that armed struggle of the kind the quoted statement implied never has to happen, and given the facts on the ground, I seriously doubt it would be to the advantage of indigenous people to go that route. But it's not my decision.

What I think we as settlers need to do with that statement, however, is to think about where it must have come from. Going down that kind of path, even talking about going down that kind of path, is not something that anyone does lightly. How bad must conditions be for something like that to be said? Pretty bad, I think. And the fact that it got said, even in a heated moment and a context in which I wouldn't be surprised that the speaker now wishes he had kept his mouth shut, should be a cue for settlers to learn more, to listen more, and to figure out what kinds of changes we need to be pushing for on our end to move towards real justice.

As well, you need to look at how that statement has been used in the media. One guy said one thing from a place of understandable desperation and anger -- one thing that is, practically speaking, not connected
to what's actually going on on the ground -- and it is used by the dominant media and settlers of various political persuasions to demonize all indigenous peoples and all efforts to struggle against colonization. I can't help but think that the ease with which that statement was used to mobilized anti-native resentment is not only about a very real desire on the part of ordinary people to avoid acute violence but also a result of the lingering stereotype of "savage" that is still associated with indigenous people in the white settler imagination.

As for using direct action as one component of the overall struggle against colonial oppression in Canada, I'm all for it. Obviously how and when and by whom is complicated, but if direct actions of the sort I have heard talked and written about so far occur on June 29th, I will have no hesitation about talking, writing, and acting in support.

Both of you use the word "terrorism". As I said, I find it ridiculous in this context. In this context, that word functions to demonize resistance that is unlikely to do much more than cause some fairly minor inconveniences and cost a few big corporations a few dollars. Its use also distracts people from paying attention to the violence wreaked on indigenous communities by all the many nasty aspects of colonization day in and day out, which is not minor and not hypothetical. Why are you not writing about that violence? Why are you not calling it terrorism? Why are you not outraged and organizing to force the government which suposedly represents us to get its boot off of the necks of indigenous peoples?

At this point in my life I am ready for a good fight, so I say bring it on, let's finish what was started by our ancestors then we can rewrite the treaties, divide up the land.

Dialogue such as you have initiated and I have agreed to by responding is always a bit of a balancing act between engaging with it in ways that won't alienate people unnecessarily so that the dialogue can continue, versus the responsibility to name oppressive statements when they occur. And on this one I have to fall on the latter side, even if it risks alienating you: That statement is perfectly horrible, colonial, and racist. (Not to mention kind of inaccurate -- from what I understand it, and I am certainly not an expert, the settler state has largely already unilaterally rewritten the treaties to renege on its obligations, something it can do because it has most of the guns and because the settler majority lets it get away with it, and the vast majority of the land has already been unjustly stolen and divided.)

Then again what kind of comments would you expect from a average white guy in Saskatchewan?

And that -- which, for people reading this in the post rather than as a comment, was the very next sentence -- is a cop out. Sure, it's a pretty common sentiment, but nothing about being an "average white guy" requires you to openly embrace such colonial nonsense. It's a choice we make every day, to accept it or to work against it. Do you support the acute and structural violence wrought against indigenous people over centuries and still in the present, or do you oppose it? If you oppose it, what are you going to do about it? That's not an easy question; I find it almost paralyzingly difficult. But it is a critical question for those of us who are settlers to answer as we struggle towards the other world that we know is possible.

Anonymous said...

Hey Scott thanks for your reply. You chose your words well and obviously spent a lot of time thinking of your response. First I will admit that the comment about being ready for a good fight was a direct poke at you to prompt a response. It was meant to be horrible. However no one wants to be pushed and the reality of it is that most people will push back regardless of how well informed they may be about the issues at hand.
From your reply I can see we have some real different views and some of that comes from our different geographical regions of Canada. Things are simply different here.
If we were to start at the top and go over all statements to discuss in detail we would be typing until next November and our summer here is way too short. I would like to hit a few areas for you to reply. For the sake of clarification and not argument, why do you refer to third, fourth (your kids) generation Canadians as settlers? I view myself as Canadian period. Colonization is long over as I see it. “colonization is an ongoing, present-day process doing violence to indigenous communities” What??
I agree that not much was mentioned in school about how this country came to be, yet the ends result is the same as any conquering nation isn’t it? (Just with out the blood shed)
So I am asking you to tell me in your opinion (and please don’t write a book as I suspect you could!) What is the problem with the hold up to land claims? I know that is a big question, but what will really change once this is done?
What I see here is that an average Indian guy on a reservation gets very little income from the feds, yet the chief seems to live in the nicest of houses with a cool four wheel drive. So the average Indian leaves to find a life out side the reserve. Yes there are roadblock like all of us have. Some more challenging that others, but opportunity exists to better his self. So what are the lands claims going to do for this guy?
On the other hand we have some reservations that are doing extremely well. One place named “Thunder Child” has developed such a good business model and wealth sharing opportunities for members of this band that it makes me want to live there.
Sure they got help from the government and good for them. These people developed numerous business ventures that have made them a successful example of what good leadership can accomplish. Land claims never help this initiative, and they never had to take money from extorting a major corporation. (Railways)
All our casinos here are First Nations. I must admit when they stood up to our NDP government and said “screw you it’s our land and were opening a casino” I was proud of these guys. Now I see the double standard that me as a Canadian can not open a casino, in fact no bars in Saskatchewan allow patrons to smoke. It is simply now against the law; however you can smoke freely in any casino where ever you want.
I see Canada divided into three groups, each with the same type of problems you have mentioned in your reply as each has its own hierarchy; Indigenous, French and the rest of us.
Last I know what it is like to get hassled by the cops and those other issues. I have been riding motorcycles for over twenty years. Racism does exist, but most people my age will accept a person regardless of back ground at face value and base opinions simply on character and not color.
I appreciate your point of view and your efforts in writing this blog, so don’t take it personally if I call you a bleeding hearted tree hugging socialist with unrealistic views on life as it actually is, now go out there and get your hands dirty doing a real job……

(Yes that’s another poke!)

Scott said...

Hi again Monty.

Perhaps my views of where I wish the world to go are "unrealistic" -- only time can tell, one way or the other. But I'm afraid those views are based not on misunderstanding of how things are now but on far too close attention to "life as it actually is". To banish my desire for a better tomorrow I would have to blind myself to much of the present.

I think a basic difference in how we see the world in the present has to do with how we understand history and how history is relevant to today.

It makes me think of a quote from Dionne Brand that I posted on this site some time ago -- don't know if you know her, but she has written history (particularly of relevance ot Black women in Canad), essays, novels, and poetry (for which she has won a governor general's award).

She wrote: "Only the brazen can say, 'I was not here, I did not do this and feel that.' One hears that all the time in Canada; about what people feel they are and are not responsible for. People use these arguments as reasons for not doing what is right and just. It never occurs to them that they live on the cumulative hurt of others. They want to start the clock of social justice only when they arrived. But one is born into history, one isn't born into a void."

I agree with that. So part of identifying as a "settler" is acknowledging that the "clock of social justice" must take history into account, and acknowledging that I "live on the cumulative hurt of others." And the point of saying that is not to induce guilt in self or others, but to highlite what I said in the last comment about the need to make a choice about how to respond to it.

A post from another site that I think deals brilliantly with the choices that we as settlers must make, and that I have pointed people to many times before, says in part: "If we are ever to free ourselves from these delusions, Canadians must be taught certain hard truths. But instead we are lied to – and more often than not we lie to ourselves, for being addicted to parasitism makes a person scared to learn what’s real.

Canadians are not taught that we live on land which is still owned by First Nations. Canadians are not told that our society’s wealth – stored in its infrastructure, institutions and land – was just recently stolen from other nations. (Is still being stolen, even as i write these words!)

Most importantly, Canadians are not taught that colonialism did not “win” and the indigenous nations did not “lose”… how can we talk in such final terms when the war is not over and people are still resisting the colonial monster in communities across this continent and around the world?"


You question the ongoing nature of the violence. Certainly it only occasionally flares into settler troops with guns brandishing them against indigenous people, these days. More often it is structural violence. But the suffering and death are no less real because of that.

For example, this post on another site talks about how so many reserve communities in Canada have tainted water. This problem, which is one that can and does cause sickness and death, did not exist like this before colonization. The communities in question do not have the resources to fix things themselves, as dearly as they would love to, because the resources have been stolen from their people. The federal government has an obligation under treaties to deal with this, yet in that post above it shows that the main concern that the feds have around this issue is, believe it or not, not fixing the water systems but developing a better communications strategy. Most white-dominated communities in this country can assume their water systems will be maintained in good working order...the scandal that erupted in Walkerton in Ontario in the late '90s when that wasn't true showed the kind of concern and action that gets mobilized eventually when problems do occur. But any broader social outrage about these conditions in indigenous communities tends to be muted and fleeting.

Or another example is the epidemic of deaths and disappearances of indigenous women in Canada. Certainly violence against all women is epidemic, but in recent years it has come to light that indigenous women are particularly likely to disappear or be murdered (and disproportionately not, it should be added, by indigenous men, though of course that happens too) and the state to do very little about it. Many organizations of native women across the country have focused on this, and even bodies like Amnesty International have condemned the lack of response by the Canadian state to this ongoing violence. Yet it persists.

And an example of ongoing land theft that has been in the news in Ontario over the last few years is around the Six Nations and a large and very valuable chunk of land called the Haldimand Tract. It is Six Nations land. The majority of Six Nations people are very clear that it is a national priority for them to have their rights to that land recognized. And they are in ongoing struggle with the settler state over the status of that land...in the courts, in negotiations, and also through occupying chunks here and there to prevent it from being used for development by settlers in ways that would effectively confirm the historical theft in practical terms.

Like I said in my previous comment, if you really want to learn about this reality, read indigenous authors themselves.

As for what would change if the land question were settled in a just way across the country...I think that would vary from nation to nation. Again, I would say consult indigenous writings, but my sense is that it has a lot to do with providing opportunity for self-determination, whether that means a base for economic activity or a more sustainable protected place for traditional or neotraditional ways of doing and being. For some, though I understand this poorly, I think its value would have to do with the traditional spiritual relationship via which many indigenous peoples understand their relationship to the land and to its stewardship. I think it would also be important because it could only happen in the context of a larger shift in relations between the settler nation and the indigenous nations...a shift that is absolutely essential, as I've tried to illustrate with examples in this thread.

But in a lot of ways it comes down to the fact that many people of many indigenous nations want the land question settled, and their demands are historically just, so it is not up to us as settlers to criticize their motivation but to decide which side we are on -- for justice or against it.

Anonymous said...

Well said, and makes me think why I would not want to see the land issues settled. I suspect it is due to a fear that I personally may loose something. Even something that some one else may perceive as stolen, at this point it is mine. I am referring to the little piece of dirt I call my home, bought legally to our societies standards and like everyone else and paying taxes on. No one in the First Nations community gives a rip about my neighborhood. I understand, but I don’t get the problem at a federal level. I ask myself if it is crown land just simply sign it over. Crown land implies undeveloped, natural land as it always has been. Obviously more is going on that I know of and I wouldn’t place money on me being a source of info on this subject. Do most of these people want the land, or simply the value of the land divided equally among the members of the individual bands? -I know read about it…..
I do blind myself from the issues I can not control or that do not affect me. Everyday I need to deal with drama in my own world of work & family. I will be the first to say that while it is too bad that bad things happen around the world, it isn’t my problem until it happens here.
So to play devil’s advocate; if your tap water sucked you would be on the phone demanding your monies worth of quality water. Whose job was it to check the water supply? Was it a trained skilled individual who lived and worked in there community or was it the responsibility of a federal government worker? Where did this person or system fail? Either way some one is responsible, or what is worse is that the chief of the band let it go. I know a little about water treatment plants and like EVERYTHING else, if some one slacks off things start to deteriorate. Water quality must be checked at regular intervals and the quality must be recorded and reported to some one.
I agree it is sad that we have an unusually high number of missing aboriginal women. We both know what is happening. It’s like that crazy pig farmer in B.C. except he didn’t discriminate. The majority (and not all) of the missing women work the streets, and that in it’s self puts them in harms way. There are way too many sick-o’s out there and we Canadians are too forgiving to bring in a death sentence for guys like Pickerton.
Most people understand that the culture of the aboriginal is very nomadic in ways and it is not unusual to not have communication between a mother and daughter, child or any other relative for days on end. Some one is taking advantage of that, but to imply that the police don’t look hard enough when it is an Indian versus a white girl is wrong. Also out here Indians administer there own justice and do NOT co-operate with law enforcement.
Look at the Tamara Keepness case from Regina SK.
Do you go out at night to offer the average working girl any help?
Anyway you have made an excellent point about how our history is tied into our issues of today. Some one needs to give me a history lesson, me and the rest of us whities because the average white guy doesn’t know anything about what we promised or simply took from the Indians. This does beg the question, who did they take it from?
And while were on that subject, who was the idiot that offered Lower Canada the opportunity to join confederation?
We both know that history will repeat itself, and that not understanding history dooms us to make the same mistakes of our ancestors. People are creatures of habits and that I see this escalating into more violence. I suspect that is part of the drive over the gun registry.
Look at that famous picture from the OKA stand off. If that was me holding an A.K.47 I would have simply been shot. Had I survived I would have a guaranteed five year stay in a federal prison for possession of an illegal firearm.
I respect your position and opinion, but don’t be naïve to think this couldn’t all turn on you in a heartbeat!