Tag Archives: Canada

We need decolonization before reconciliation, argues Ryan McMahon

From CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown:

“I would argue that before reconciliation, we really need to look at decolonization,” he says. “Decolonization starts with land. It starts with the question of land. Do indigenous people have the ability to live freely on and with relationship to the land, as we did prior to confederation? And the answer right now is no.”

Read more and listen to the interview…


Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention

By Jaskiran Dhillon, University of Toronto Press

In 2016, Canada’s newly elected federal government publically committed to reconciling the social and material deprivation of Indigenous communities across the country. Does this outward shift in the Canadian state’s approach to longstanding injustices facing Indigenous peoples reflect a “transformation with teeth,” or is it merely a reconstructed attempt at colonial Indigenous-settler relations?

Prairie Rising provides a series of critical reflections about the changing face of settler colonialism in Canada through an ethnographic investigation of Indigenous-state relations in the city of Saskatoon.  Jaskiran Dhillon uncovers how various groups including state agents, youth workers, and community organizations utilize participatory politics in order to intervene in the lives of Indigenous youth living under conditions of colonial occupation and marginality. In doing so, this accessibly written book sheds light on the changing forms of settler governance and the interlocking systems of education, child welfare, and criminal justice that sustain it. Dhillon’s nuanced and fine-grained analysis exposes how the push for inclusionary governance ultimately reinstates colonial settler authority and raises startling questions about the federal government’s commitment to justice and political empowerment for Indigenous Nations, particularly within the context of the everyday realities facing Indigenous youth.

>Purchase here<

Book Review – Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations, by Douglas Bland

Book Review - Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations, by Douglas BlandA frank discussion of Canada’s vulnerabilities

By Jamie Scout, Media Co-op

For radicals, part of taking our struggle seriously is committing to understanding ourselves, the context we’re operating within, and the perspectives of our enemies. Time Bomb is a good example of an enemy text which can prove useful to us. The author, Douglas Bland, spent thirty years in threat assessment with the Canadian Armed Forces. Time Bomb is his second book, essentially a long essay that broadly discusses the Canada-First Nations relationship, examines the possibility of an indigenous insurgency, and proposes a counter-insurgency strategy to preventatively ‘disarm’ the time bomb.

The most interesting section of this book is Bland’s study of so-called feasibility theory that seeks to explain the origins of contemporary insurgencies. Proponents of feasibility theory are less interested in what motivates insurgents and instead how feasible an insurgency is in a given context. They argue that if conditions exist that make an insurgency feasible and they aren’t ‘corrected,’ an insurgency will inevitably occur. The prevention and/or suppression of insurgencies is achieved not by resolving grievances but by shifting the conditions that make insurgency feasible in the first place.

Feasibility theorists did a statistical analysis of civil conflicts and came up with five major determinants that significantly increase the risk of an insurgency:

1) A society divided by ethnic or religious cleavages;
2) A high proportion of men aged 15-29;
3) A more mountainous, and less flat, terrain;
4) A weak security apparatus; and
5) An economy heavily dependent on exporting natural resources.

Bland applies these determinants to the Canadian situation and finds that overall, Canada is at risk:

1) Indigenous people are sharply separated from Canadian society, especially on reserves.
2) There is a very high proportion of young men in the population.1
3) Canada has both mountainous and flat terrain, but is vulnerable because of its enormous territory.
4) While Canadian security forces are effective at containing ‘localized incidents’ they simply can’t defend hundreds of kilometres of transportation and energy infrastructure.
5) The Canadian economy is largely dependent on natural resource export, which relies on this same infrastructure to get to market.

Bland follows his feasibility study with a thought experiment: what would an indigenous rebellion that managed to successfully threaten Canada actually look like? Assuming that the overall strategic objective would be for First Nations to become recognized as fully sovereign entities within Canada, and noting the growing frustration activists are expressing at Idle No More’s inability to force the federal government to meaningfully change course, he argues that a strategic shift is already happening within grassroots indigenous movements away from convincing the Canadian public and towards threatening the economy. Bland fears that a strategy of gradually escalating disruptions to railway and highway bottlenecks across the country, if coordinated and prolonged, could directly threaten the economy:

Continual widespread and unpredictable minor disruptions … could be effective without the use of sophisticated skills and guns and explosives simply because the foundation of the economy is vulnerable to very simple techniques of interference – burning cars on railway tracks would suffice.

In the final chapters of Time Bomb, Bland proposes a sophisticated counter-insurgency strategy for the federal government that reads like a neocolonial playbook. First, he argues for a number of political solutions: building stronger alliances with moderate Native leaders, integrating Native communities into the resource economy through profit-sharing and preferential hiring programs, education and training programs targeted towards the 15-24 year old ‘warrior cohort’ on reserves, and increased funding for on-reserve police forces. This is coupled with a number of repressive tactics, including disrupting illegal indigenous organizations,2 encouraging migration from reserves into cities, withholding government funding for reserves that refuse to marginalize radical leaders, and quietly threatening potential insurgents.

For those of us who want to see Canada decolonized, what lessons can be drawn from Time Bomb? Obviously it would be a mistake to take all of Bland’s warnings at face value, as his career directly benefits from fear-mongering. I’m inclined to agree with his acknowledgment that presently, a level of coordination simply doesn’t exist across the country to actually threaten the economy. Most disruption until now has been relatively localized, and when it has spread it has been through more spontaneous expressions of solidarity, such as the #ShutDownCanada response to the police attack in Elsipogtog, or the Idle No More Days of Action.

Still, I find his assessment of Canada’s vulnerabilities compelling. His paranoid thought experiment does offer an interesting toolbox of tactics for economic disruption by relatively small groups of people. If we can identify economic bottlenecks close to where we live, build our capacity to target those bottlenecks, and prioritize well-timed actions when the calls for solidarity go out, we can affirm our power and put Canada’s vulnerability on display. If these acts are effective they would inspire others to join us or take action themselves; if that momentum continues to grow we really could find ourselves in a situation where we pose a threat equal to the fears of Douglas Bland. Of course, such a path would mean escalating repressive consequences, coupled with efforts to delegitimize and isolate our movements. We need to consider those consequences and be prepared to minimize, avoid or counter them. Those of us who desire a life free from Canadian control should develop visions of how that life might look in the areas we live now, and build the skills, relationships and autonomous communities today that could help shape a decolonized future tomorrow.

A Settler’s Guide to Understanding the First Nations Education Act

Bones for War

You may not be aware of this, but there is a important and heated debate going on among Indigenous communities right now. The issue at hand is a federal bill designed, ostensibly, to return control of First Nations education to the First Nations themselves.

But there’s a larger issue at play—one that those of us who are non-Indigenous would do well to pay attention to. The debate is a uniquely colonial one, the kind that is provoked when one nation refuses to give up control over what is rightfully the jurisdiction of another nation (or in this case, 633 nations). It’s impossible to understand the debate around the First Nation Education Act without an understanding of Indigenous people’s inherent and treaty rights.

What do inherent rights have to do with it?

Inherent rights are the fundamental and existing rights of Indigenous peoples, based on their original and long-standing occupation of…

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Enemies: Left and Right

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 5.15.26 PMBy , DividedNoMore

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.

$20 Dollar Bank Note "Colonial Bank of Canada" photo: Canadian Coin & CurrencySince 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.

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Defining decolonization: an interview with Gord Hill

Contrary to Prime Minister Harper’s statements at the G20 in Pittsburgh, 2009, Canada does indeed have a history of colonialism–it is built on colonization and genocide.  Let them know what time it is with this bold t-shirt: No Justice on Stolen Land!On so-called “Canada day”, Defining what is decolonization, an interview with Gord Hill by Media Research Action in collaboration with CKUT

From Média Recherche Action (M.R.A.):

Gord Hill, from the Kwakwaka’wakw nation, is the editor of Warrior Publications and the author of a decolonization manual, Colonization and Decolonization : A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century

An interview on defining what is decolonization, actual indigenous struggles working toward decolonization, an history of the idea and the process of decolonization, basis for an understanding of the indigenous liberation movement here in so-called  “Canada”, about the role of non-indigenous people and much more with a selected bibliography on the topic of decolonization

You can listen more of Decolonizing the Airwaves here.

Building a “Canadian” Decolonization Movement

Fighting the Occupation at “Home”

By Nora Butler Burke
From The Anarchist Library

The following address was delivered by Nora Butler Burke, a member of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement (IPSM) in Montreal, on August 20, 2004, as part of an evening of speakers, film and music in support of the Kanehsatake Mohawk community. In his speech, Devin explores the idea of active “decolonization”, and the practice of self-determination by non-native individuals and communities. His views outline eloquently many of the principles that the No One Is Illegal Campaign in Montreal have tried to assert in the past two years, undertaking our work within migrant and refugee communities while maintaining active solidarity with indigenous struggles in the Canadian state.

If you’ve been following the news, it would appear that the current situation in Kanehsatake has been unraveling over the past 7 months, from the time when James Gabriel, unannounced to the community, first attempted to establish his own personal police force, with the stated purpose of “cracking down on organized crime”. However, if you speak to a Kanehsatake community member and ask when this problem began, you will likely be told that it’s a situation rooted much more deeply in the history of Mohawk-Canadian relations, that it dates back well before the time when Jimmy Gabriel came into power, and even long before the 1990 uprising known as the “Oka Crisis”. Many would likely say that the current conflict is merely symptomatic of a greater problem, that being Canadian colonialism.

The current “crisis” in Kanehsatake is in fact a new front in the war which Canada has been waging against Indigenous peoples since its very inception as a settler state in 1867. It is a battle of the Canadian state to seize Indigenous lands and to stifle the threat of strong and defiant Indigenous nations capable of mounting resistance to colonialism. The strategy of the Canadian occupation forces has been a long and drawn out process of assimilation and extermination, primarily carried out through means of a low-intensity warfare. In Canada, this war has often been waged by institutions, through the bureaucracy of Indian Affairs, in residential schools, through the imposition of band councils, and more recently by notorious multinational corporations and the likes of global trade regimes, such as the World Trade Organization. But this war is also being fought on the ground. As native nations, such as the west coast Secwepemc Nation, known by settlers as the Shushwap Nation, and the Anishnabek of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) stand up to corporate and state colonialism, time and again the repressive arm of Canadian colonialism threatens to be unleashed — whether it be the RCMP, the provincial police, the Canadian army [1]. While these struggles have explicitly been kept out of the news, or are portrayed according to racist, colonialist stereotypes of native peoples, they are one of the greatest threats to the Canadian state, as they call into question its legitimacy and expose the truth that Canada, like other settler-colonial states, is founded upon stolen land which was expropriated from Indigenous nations through the act of genocide [2].

It is not particularly challenging to describe at length the damage done during the 510 plus years of colonial conquest on Turtle Island. Similarly, it is rather easy to provide a long list of the various fronts on which this battle is being fought today — from the demands for justice for over 500 missing Aboriginal women across Canada, to the protection of burial grounds of the Huron Wendat Nation; from the assertion of Métis rights as Aboriginal peoples, to the fight against the 2010 Olympics, for which developments threaten to further settle unceded territory in what is known as British Columbia [3]. What is perhaps more daunting, especially for those of us who are non-native, settlers and immigrants, is to articulate the means by which we can take part in building a decolonisation movement — a movement of ultimate respect for the land on which we are living and the people to whom it inherently belongs.

Perhaps the first step that we can take in allying ourselves with Indigenous peoples is to face up to our colonial past and present. And here I’d like to assert that Canada is not a post-colonial state, nor is it neo-colonial, as is the case in other parts of the world. In Canada, colonialism dominates [4]. While Aboriginal peoples continue to be forced or excluded from their lands, capitalist interests rush to invade their territories in attempts to seize resources from it. Indigenous nations remain culturally, economically and politically under attack within this colonial apparatus — a distinct experience which undoubtedly shares parallels with the experiences of other racialized and oppressed communities in Canada.

Beyond facing up to the past, as a means of owning our history, we must take responsibility for that history. While many of us are excluded from and denied much of the wealth of the Canadian state ourselves, those of us who are Canadian citizens none the less benefit from that wealth to some degree. What we can not take for granted is the fact that much of that wealth was accumulated at the expense of Aboriginal peoples. Therefore, any movement which seeks to address the injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples must also take into account the positioning of non-native people within this colonial state.

Decolonisation is not a process which entails solely the Indigenous nations of this continent. All people living in Canada have been distorted by colonialism. It effects us all, not only those whom it most severely oppresses. Therefore, a decolonisation movement cannot be comprised solely of solidarity and support for Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self-determination. If we are in support of self-determination, we too need to be self-determining. Unless we exercise our own self-determination and fight our own governments, then we risk reinforcing the isolation of Indigenous communities and their resistance. A movement for decolonisation must be premised on a parallel process of self-determination. While Indigenous nations continue to assert their autonomy and nationhood, we, as non-native settlers, must also assert our own autonomy within our respective communities, and resist our governments’ attempts to further consolidate its control over all communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

I think it is clear from what I am saying here, but I want to take a second to address a common misperception held by non-native people that decolonisation would require a mass departure of all non-Indigenous peoples from the continent. While I can’t speak for any Indigenous people or communities, my understanding, based on conversations with and readings by many Indigenous activists, has been that the fundamental change which North American decolonisation would bring about would be a change in the nature of the relationship between immigrants and Aboriginal peoples. It would be to bring an end to our imperialist relationship, and an end to the colonial imposition of foreign systems, be they governmental, ideological, religious, or otherwise, on the many hundreds of nations which exist on this continent. Rather than attempting to re-establish the conditions of a pre-colonial North America, many see it as being much more realistic to abandon the current relationship between native and non-native peoples. The state has long defined that relationship, one which has been characterized foremost by oppression. It is time to cut the state out of this relationship, and to replace it with a new relationship, one which is mutually negotiated, and premised on a core respect for autonomy and freedom. Furthermore, decolonisation means ridding ourselves of the super-states of Canada and the United States. They only serve an elite few while maintaining a liberal system of economic and social apartheid.

There exist within Canada pockets of self-determining Indigenous communities who are perhaps at the forefront of the decolonisation movement. In Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community 4 hours south-west of Montreal, we have seen the establishment of the Mid-Winter Harvest Program. According to a statement from the community, “The Midwinter Harvest Food Program will provide healthy, culturally appropriate foods to First Nations, poor and homeless people; will defend our Territories against environmental destruction; will be on the land and appreciate its natural power and will seek to raise the fighting spirit of our people and give direction and purpose to the generations who will come after us” [5] Elsewhere, on the Grassy Narrows reserve in western Ontario, youth from the community have been spending time at a road blockade where they have been learning about various aspects of their land and their culture. The blockade, erected over one and a half years ago, originated in direct resistance to the clear-cutting of their forests, and has evolved into a site of renewal of traditions and community strength, in particular for the youth of the community [6]. These are just a few examples of Aboriginal communities taking control and moving forward autonomously, on their own accord, without the involvement of the colonial state.

Closer to Montreal we find Kanehsatake — a community which, despite limited resources and a relatively small population, has held off a federally backed militarized incursion into their territory for more than 5 months. The Mohawks of Kanehsatake have been up against a slew of well-funded politicians, cops, lawyers, and colonial masterminds yet they have maintained the defence of their territory. This community, like many throughout Turtle Island, is standing up and fighting back to continued foreign aggression. It is crucial that we learn from these examples as they provide strong models for self-determination and resistance to colonialism. It is also important that we not lose sight of our colonial reality, that we take aim at those very institutions within our society which perpetuate that reality. For it is not only in solidarity with Indigenous peoples that we are fighting to decolonise Canada, it is in solidarity with all peoples that we are building a movement for decolonisation now!

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What is Radical Imagination?

Indigenous Struggles in Canada

By Taiaiake Alfred, Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Vol 4, No 2 (2010)


Radical imagination is reenvisioning your existence on this land without the inherited privileges of conquest and empire. It is accepting the fact of a meaningful prior Indigenous presence, and taking action to support struggles not only of social and economic justice, but political justice for Indigenous nations as well.

In order to answer the question of what is a radical imagination, I am going to have to back up a bit. About 500 years. This longer-term, bigger picture view of the Indigenous struggle is quite consistent among Indigenous people across the continent. I am going to boil it down theoretically, and put the explanation right in front of you: we have never really resolved the problem of colonizations theft of our lands, its imposition of foreign sovereignties and laws on our nations, and its forced acculturation of our people to European ways of life. We have not resolved the problem of the European imagination of this continent as terra nullius, a land empty of civilization, culture, law, governance, and empty of people worthy of respect. And today, this imperative of conquest has been transformed semantically into the assumption of development and a variety of state programs to that effect. The principles of international and inter-species respect and co-existence that governed this land for millennia have, since the arrival of Europeans, been obliterated in the newcomers drive to remake this place and its inhabitants in the image of their bible and the other founding texts of imperialism.

It is this image, and the unending commitment of Euroamericans to the vision of their ancestors which is at the root of the problem we face. Radical imagination? In todays North America this would mean rejecting the image of this land and everything on and in it as mere resources for capitalist enterprise. Would it be possible for people cultured in the North American mainstream to reimagine themselves in relation to the land and others and start to see this place as a real, sacred homeland, instead of an encountered commodity destined to be used and abused to satisfy impulses and desires implanted in their heads by European imperial texts? I am not the one to answer this question. All I know is what I see happening around me; and the actions of the newcomers today do not look much different from what I imagine my ancestors saw when they confronted earlier generations of biblically- and economically-inspired Europeans.

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