Colonists write the rules on how we are governed and how we are supposed to resist their control is outlined within these rules: rules that provide a misdirected sense of security and certainty by permitting us to launch our grievances according to these rules.
While we get caught in political debates or debate the finer points of each party leader, the scale of colonialism becomes confined to “Left to Right”, and we end up articulating our debate along those lines. The problem is, as we articulate our grievances and proposals along those lines, we are misled into believing one side of that spectrum is on our side, and the other is our sole enemy worthy of our organized opposition.
What happens when we misplace our anti-colonial rage towards a symptom of colonialism?
Colonialism is not homogeneous or monolithic. Just like the Indigenous peoples it kills or seeks to control are not homogeneous or monolithic. Over time, as colonist subjugation transformed, so did colonialism.
Since their arrival, the colonists took, commanded, restrained, and imposed. And with them, they brought their way of thinking, their beliefs and ideas. One of their concepts, is the concept of “capital”, defined as ‘wealth in the form of money or other assets owned by a person or organization.’ As Indigenous Peoples, they have imposed their belief on us that the lands of our ancestors (and the life that exists on those lands) is capital, and that it is theirs to take and or ruin as they wish. And taken they have – for centuries.
Colonialism in the form of promoting this concept of gaining ‘capital’ exists today among the powerful classes who either despise the last of our remaining pre-colonial way of life, and/or feel no true responsibility to the ecological life that exists here. They are willing to become rich at the expense of ecological or community destruction.
When Stephen Harper entered the political arena, the Alberta-based tactical politician unified political forces on the right side of the colonist political spectrum and slowly took power and control within the colonial system, one established long ago by the colonist ancestors of today’s ruling class. He expanded and implemented more rigorous forms of authority than colonists before him. He has deregulated industry to further the flow of capital and accumulation of capital. He has expanded the military budget of his colonist country to the highest its been since WWII. He has portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative and believes wholeheartedly in “economic based solutions”.
I wouldn’t go far as to say that Stephen Harper and the Conservative government have a total disregard for Indigenous people. It may not always be outright contempt or even hate. It could possibly very well be as simple as “economics.” I choose not to assume.
Economically, Indigenous people still stand in the way of capital
To access the land capital the colonists have to go through our cultures, our customs, our spiritual ways, our teachings, our sacred responsibilities. And they will. They will take what they believe is theirs. They will give no thought to Indigenous rights, responsibilities, or deals signed by predecessors when their predecessors came for the exact same things. Economic arguments have no time for nostalgia. No — they will and are coming for the last pieces of capital found in our ancestral homelands, be in the form of metals, minerals, fossil fuels, or power-generating projects to extract the former things.
Harper’s brand of colonist government has used a particularly aggressive approach to come for the capital. That have re-written laws. Disallowed debate or discussion by combining groups of laws into single omnibus bills. This has happened more frequently with this government than with any other government in Canadian history. They have actively sought to reduce the effectiveness of organizing abilities of political enemies like climate justice organizations and Indigenous warriors and land defenders by labeling them as foreign agents or terrorists.
Whereas previous colonist governments would give some thought and support to social programs, this government has reduced, redefined, or re-purposed what they can into those that support their ideological and economic beliefs. They are changing Canada and they are aggressive.
In response, Indigneous communities, organizations, leaders, families and allies have begun mobilizing in an attempt to stop, dissuade, or pressure the government to do something different. For the most part unsuccessfully.
Stephen Harper and his inner circle may be more aggressive than their predecessors in the way which they seek to take the capital from our homelands, but they are not the architect of the ideology that has existed in Canada since their colonist forefathers came here. The ecological destruction of our lands and the life on them, and the dismantling of our pre-colonist way of life has been happening for centuries. The only difference is the way in which this government is attempting to do it.
Stephen Harper is not the enemy. He is a symptom of the enemy. Colonialism is still the enemy.
If we place our movement in opposition to the symptom, what happens when the symptom goes away? We know what will happen.
Another, albeit different, symptom will emerge.
Perhaps a new government who will be slightly different in their treatment of Indigenous peoples. Perhaps they give concessions that the Harper government would not. Perhaps they sit down for actual “high level talks” with Indian Act politicians and our political groups. Perhaps they make bold statements about relationships, and support those bold statements with kind gestures of increased funding levels, or long called-for inquiries into the systemic violence against Indigenous women. Perhaps these non-Conservative governments will treat us ‘nicer.’
And the people who thought Harper or the Conservative government were the enemy celebrate the change in approach. They may even laud the direction of the new governments because they appear to rule us in a kinder, gentler, more respectful way.
You know what happens then? The movement goes back to sleep because its leaders and thinkers placed it in opposition to Stephen Harper.
To be ruled by any colonist that continues the dismantling of our pre-contact Indigenous way of being, or the destruction of ecological systems, or benefiting from the continued injustice by their predecessors, is still to be ruled and not free. The political spectrum of left to right needs to be replaced by a spectrum of control to freedom, and oppression to justice. No legitimate political party has placed itself in opposition to the colonist way of life, or the colonist way of being. They are shades of the same rule.
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Khelsilem Rivers is a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw community organizer from Vancouver, British Columbia. Khelsilem was born in North Vancouver, BC in 1989 and recently given the names Sxwchálten and X̱elsílem by his paternal grandmother, Audrey Rivers (Tiyáltelut) of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh. Khelsilem is also honoured to uphold the ‘Na̱mg̱is T̓sit̓sa̱ł’walag̱a̱me’ name of Tłaḵwasik̓a̱n. Influenced heavily by his grandmother, he believes in the importance of building ways to promote the traditional culture and works from a framework of decolonization and the restoration of indigenous land-based culture. He has worked for a number of years on decolonization and language reclamation supporting the resurgence of Indigenous peoples around principles of justice, freedom, and liberation.