The following is a speech by Natalie Knight delivered at “Decolonization 101,” a panel organized by Streams of Justice on June 2, 2014. The panel took place at Grandview Baptist Church, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.
I want to acknowledge that we are on occupied and unceded Coast Salish territories which are Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and Skxwú7mesh-ulh Úxwumixw lands.
On February 26 of this year, an Inuk woman named Loretta Saunders was found murdered and dumped on the side of the road in Salisbury, New Brunswick. Her death raised a national conversation about violence against Indigenous women. It is a deeply sad loss, and an acute effect of colonialism. And I also wonder about the reasons why Loretta received a more mainstream response than others or those that can’t even be reported, those deaths that are basically sanctioned by the police. Loretta was in university and maybe it was easier for Canada’s white-dominated society to recognize her and her violent absence. Maybe an Inuk woman who goes to university is more comprehensible than the over 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women who have been documented in the recent RCMP report, and the many Indigenous women still in certain shadows, including those missing and murdered below the colonial border.
In a series of online articles, Indigenous activists and writers expressed outrage, love, and wrote to contextualize Loretta Saunders within a much larger web of daily assault against Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, that goes unseen. Siku Allooloo wrote a piece called “From Outrage to Radical Love,” which starts by saying: “I’ve been in a building rage. I am outraged at the status quo, at the overwhelming rate of gender violence and murder suffered by Indigenous women and girls in this country. I am disgusted with the lived experience of that; of gender violence as a pervasive experience that the majority of Indigenous women and young girls face in various forms throughout our lifetimes.”
Siku Allooloo goes on to argue for the power of love to bind Indigenous people together in the face of horrific violence. And we definitely need more love. But I want to linger on this “building rage” that she had because I feel it and I don’t actually want to transform that rage into anything other than a decolonized class war that finds its power in leadership by militant Indigenous and racialized women.
But looking for Indigenous and racialized women leadership is not ultimately about identity. It’s not about just centring some voices who don’t get heard and asking others to be quiet and listen. It’s not about making adjustments in representational democracy or ensuring that we have the right ratios of identities in our spaces, it’s not just about breaking the visible signs of white supremacy by assimilating some racialized people into spaces that haven’t actually changed. Decolonization is instead about breaking the entire system that creates and maintains identity categories that act to severely limit class solidarity. It is also about refusal, dissonance, and an unrelenting commitment to remaking myself, my relationships, and politics along lines that I can’t really predict and that won’t be recognized by whatever dominant social structures are around. For me this is the power of decolonization, and in the settler colonial state of Canada, it might be the only way to revitalize class politics that reflect our real lived lives and are relevant to a much larger international class war.
I think that the political impulse of decolonization means coming to understand that we have a shared enemy; but, needing to understand who and what that enemy is — and that it is a big part of many of us.
However, the word “decolonization” can stand in for all kinds of politics and interpretations. For me, decolonization is not about treaty processes and forms of self-management that strike a deal with the colonial and capitalist state. It’s not about emulating private property and heteropatriarchal government systems that cede the core of the dangerous difference and threat posed by Indigenous people to the state.
Decolonization is also not about rights; it’s not about civil rights for Indigenous people. Decolonization isn’t about civil rights because civil rights have only ever applied to intra-settler disputes and sometimes to settler resistance to state oppression. They leave out Indigenous people; they have always been defined against Indigenous people. Huanani-Kay Trask writes about this situation in Hawaii and says that it’s not so much “a struggle for civil rights, but a struggle against our planned disappearance.”  This isn’t an exaggeration. What connects the conditions of Indigenous people in Hawaii, in the U.S. mainland, and in Canada, are struggles over land. Dispossession of land means trying to disappear a whole people. I don’t think this can be said enough because this centrality of land seems to slide off the sophisticated rhetoric we can develop about class struggle, the working class, and the exploitation of wage labour.