Tag Archives: Settler Colonialism

COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset

“American Progress” by John Gast

By Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, Macska Moksha Press

COVID denialism in the US is problematic to say the least. The nation is facing a public health crisis that’s far worse than it needs to be, as shown by the examples of countless other nations around the world that have largely suppressed the first wave. In fact, the US is one of the most dangerous places to be for this pandemic.

We have failed to pursue common sense policies and collective action here due to the ignorant attitudes not only of our leadership but of a significant share of our population.

Three recent interviews I did for my podcast, “Voices for Nature & Peace,” highlighted the connection between this unfortunate state of affairs and our status as a settler-colonial state. These three guests were Margaret Kimberley, a columnist at the Black Agenda Report and member of the Black Alliance for Peace; Joanna Pocock, the Canadian-born, London-residing author of “Surrender,” a memoir about living in the western US; and Alley Valkyrie, a US American activist, writer and artist in France.

What is “settler colonialism”? A method of expanding a nation’s area in which ordinary citizens take the lead by physically occupying un-ceded land themselves, using violence or the threat of violence, often for resource extraction activities like mining, ranching, logging or farming. Spreading religion is another justification. When the area’s original inhabitants defend themselves—or even when they don’t, and just try to negotiate peacefully—they are moved or massacred by the nation’s military. (Hence the term, “calling in the cavalry.”)

The United States of America was founded this way, as waves of European colonists moved from east to west, dispossessing Native Americans of their home territories as they went. In fact, one of the two main reasons for seeking independence from the British was because they forbade colonists from stealing land west of the Appalachians. The other main reason was to preserve and spread the institution of slavery.

Though “the frontier” was officially declared closed in 1890, and the so-called “Indian Wars” are said to have ended by 1924, the US remains a settler colonial state. The physical occupation is ongoing, as well as the mindsets that motivate it.

Click here to read the full article…

Comeback as Re-Settlement: Detroit, Anti-Blackness, and Settler Colonialism

As cities are gentrified by developers and new residents, their work is often cast as saving the city and repopulating an empty city in crisis, despite the fact that those spaces are occupied by longtime residents and workers. This is not a race-neutral discourse. Jessi Quizar’s research on Detroit shows the connection between the discourse around “urban pioneers” to Detroit and settler colonialism. And while Quizar’s work makes this connection eminently clear about white gentrifiers in a majority–African American Detroit, her work forces us to consider the language around gentrification more broadly: who is made visible and who is erased in policies about and discussions of urban development?

As cities are gentrified by developers and new residents, their work is often cast as saving the city and repopulating an empty city in crisis, despite the fact that those spaces are occupied by longtime residents and workers. This is not a race-neutral discourse. Jessi Quizar’s research on Detroit shows the connection between the discourse around “urban pioneers” to Detroit and settler colonialism. And while Quizar’s work makes this connection eminently clear about white gentrifiers in a majority–African American Detroit, her work forces us to consider the language around gentrification more broadly: who is made visible and who is erased in policies about and discussions of urban development?

By , Social Science Research Council

Land in the Americas was categorized by the British Crown as terra nullius—nobody’s land—thereby discursively erasing Indigenous people themselves and legally eliminating their claims to land and territory. And Indigenous people themselves were continually literally made to disappear through displacement and genocidal campaigns, which were driven by white settler desire for land. Since colonization, Native Americans’ racialization has largely been geared toward disappearance, which has been crucial for both the justification and logistics of white occupation of Native land. By contrast, Black Americans historically have been racialized as hypervisible.

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Are You a Settler?

Settler-colonialism, Capitalism and Marxism on Turtle Island

By Brian Ward, New Politics

Everything in U.S. history is about the land. Who oversaw and cultivated it, fished its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity (“real estate”) broken into pieces, to be bought and sold on the market.

—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

The politics of solidarity on display during the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline have raised the issue of Indigenous liberation more and more sharply to people on the left. Activists have started to recognize that their struggles against ecological destruction, imperialism, and colonization are linked to the fight for Native self-determination that has gone on now for decades, even centuries. The recent struggles Standing Rock and Keystone XL stand in the tradition of organizations like Black Hills Alliance in the 1980s that brought together Natives and non-natives in the Black Hills in South Dakota to try to stop uranium mining.

A whole new generation of activists has learned the long history of the United States continually breaking treaties with the Indigenous Nations—stomping upon their self-determination any time the government and corporations demand access to Native lands to extract energy and raw materials. The climate justice movement is coming to an understanding that treaties must be upheld and extended, as demanded by Indigenous Nations, based on their traditional territories. We have an urgent need to bring the fight against Native oppression into all the economic and social struggles of today. And that means grasping, as clearly and firmly as possible, that the struggle for Native liberation means keeping the question of land rights central.

In this essay I will demonstrate how settler-colonialism was and is vital to the development and maintenance of capitalism by using historical examples. Understanding the history and ongoing process of Settler-colonialism adds to our understanding of capitalism, while ignoring it perpetuates the erasure from history of Native peoples and their resistance to that process. I will do my best to use actual Indigenous Nation names such as the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota (Oceti Sakowin) or Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) or the Dine (Navajo) but will also use the words “Indigenous,” “Native,” “Native American,” “American Indian,” and “Indian” when appropriate, such as in quotations. I will often lump the United States and Canada together because their experience with Indigenous people are very similar.

Among Indigenous people, the common name for the continent of North America—and the one I will use accordingly—is Turtle Island.

Hundreds of different social organizations existed on Turtle Island prior to the arrival of capitalist markets, but one common feature was that most Indigenous Nations treated the land as something held in common. The idea of nonhuman life being someone’s “private property” was almost literally unthinkable. Many Indigenous theorists now consider “modes of relationship” a more useful concept than “modes of production” when talking about what Winona LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, has called the co-evolution of Indigenous peoples and their environment and surroundings. Material conditions required Nations to develop relationships with human and nonhuman life in order to thrive. Indigenous people didn’t pursue a sustainable existence out of some mystical nobility but because reality demanded it.

Writing in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, Karl Marx said, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” From an Indigenous perspective, that expanding market transformed abundance into scarcity.

Exploitation, expropriation, and extraction of the land’s riches created wealth for those colonizing land and enforcing their claim to it by violence. Marx’s term for this process as it had occurred in Europe is usually called “primitive accumulation,” although it might be better translated as “primary” or “original” accumulation.

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Settler Sexuality

Resistance to State-Sanctioned Violence, Reclamation of Anti-Colonial Knowledges & Liberation for All – An Indigenous Feminist Zine

From K’É Infoshop
(download PDF in booklet format)

Created with the knowledge shared at the K’é Infoshop in Tségháhoodzání, Dinétah (Window Rock, AZ) and among the indigenous students living in Quinnipiac, Mashpee Wampanoag, Pokonoket Wampanoag, and Narragansett territories.

“Indigenous feminisms transcend the general fight for rights and recognition within a nation-state — indigenous feminisms speak to the responsibilities we have to one another and to our relationship to the physical and non-physical world.”

Key Terms and Definitions

  • settler-colonialism — the ongoing process of non-Native settlers occupying Native land, demanding their world views, morals, and economies be followed, while attempting to erase and assimilate the original inhabitants
  • heteropatriarchy — the societal structure in which heterosexual men possess the most amount of control and power compared to womxn and queer people, who are disempowered by the system
  • imperialism — policy, action, and ongoing process of extending power over foreign land and people often with the violent intent to control their affairs
  • capitalism — an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state/by the people, exchange relies on currency, overall system relies on individualistic thought and competition
  • subjectivity — ideas, perspectives, feelings, experiences, and desires of an individual/collective expressed with agency and consciousness
  • queer — unspecific non-heterosexual identity/subjectivity, cannot fully describe Indigenous perspectives of gender/sexuality
  • Two-Spirit — contemporary pan-Indigenous term for non-binary/queer individuals, unspecific.
  • globalization — the process of international interaction and integration between people, goods, technology, governments, and economies
  • neoliberalism — hyper-capitalism; deregulation of the market, free-market capitalism alongside liberal agendas to erase race and homogenize queerness
  • decolonization — the action and practice of dismantling harmful structures of power, reclaiming previous subjectivities, and envisioning a future built on previous and current understandings of compassion, relation, and accountability
  • Indigenous feminisms — intersectional theory and practice of decolonial feminism, directly challenges settler-colonialism, capitalism, and western conceptions of “gender” and “sexuality.”

The policing of indigenous genders and sexualities as a means to further the larger settler-colonial project led to the development of a “settler sexuality.” Scott Morgensen (settler scholar) defines settler sexuality as “a white national heteronormativity that regulates Indigenous sexuality and gender by supplanting them with the sexual modernity of settler subjects.” In non-academic speak, settler sexuality can be described as an “exceptional” form of sexual expression enforced by the settler-state. The setter-state deems heterosexual monogamy as “exceptional” and “normal,” and anything beyond those confines as “primitive” and “unexceptional.”

Beginning with the early violence inflicted upon indigenous people in North America and the origins of settler sexuality, the zine goes onto to describe how such regimes were used to further the larger settler-colonial project to pillage Native land and eradicate Native populations. Indigenous feminisms are then presented in order to illuminate paths toward decolonization. Radically different from mainstream conceptions of feminism, the zine highlights the need for Indigenous feminisms in the larger aims to eliminate structures of power harmful to indigenous existence, such as heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. Indigenous feminisms act as a way to challenge settler sexuality and settler colonialism on the whole.

The language used throughout, such as “gender” and “sexuality,” do not and cannot fully describe and communicate the ways in which our ancestors understood them. Western interpretations of gender and sexuality have, from the time they have been articulated and policed, been used to define each other. For instance, “homosexuality” focuses on the “act” of “same-sex” relations. Indigenous gender and sexuality extend beyond such definitions. Gender encapsulates the mental, emotional, and social experience and expression of an individual; Gender has never been about the biological or physical.

“Queer” is also used minimally throughout the zine to loosely refer to sexual subjectivities generally not accepted or embraced by settler-colonial heteropatriarchy. The broadness of the term can be violent, but the English language can’t really describe something so complicated and abstract. Most recently, the pan-tribal term “Two-Spirit,” a translated Anishinaabe word, has been used to reclaim Indigenous trans subjectivities. However, there is pushback both within and beyond academia due to the broadness, the perpetuation of the gender binary and colonial understandings of gender. “Queerness” as we understand it today differs largely from the way our ancestors understood gender and sexuality. The term “indigenous,” as used in this zine refers to the native inhabitants of so-called North America.

So much more could also be added to this final product, this only does a fraction of the work grassroots organizers throughout the world manage.

SETTLER SEXUALITY ON STOLEN LAND

Capitalism, Imperialism, and Race

Indigenous womxn, “queer,” transgender, and non-binary people endure unspeakable violence at the hands of non-native settlers and even their own community members, however they continue to resist and pave a path toward brighter tomorrows. Indigenous womxn, trans folk, queers stand at the forefront of the larger decolonial movement to reclaim previous subjectivities and to build bright collective futures. Decolonization is often mistaken as an effort to “go back” to precolonial ways, but the active process of such carries much more gravity than that. Indigenous people not only demand the total repatriation of land, but we continually envision and push for a world void of structures such as settler-colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, racism, fascism, and heteropatriarchy. Decolonization involves reclaiming previous ways of living – horizontal leadership, collectivism, and recognition of universal relations — and pushing such lifeways into practice and action in order to develop a sustainable future. It’s not all about the past, it’s about what we want for our communities in the years to come. Indigenous womxn and queers lead the larger movement for such futures despite the violence they experience under settler-colonialism, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.

Click here to read the full text…

Settler Fragility: Why Settler Privilege Is So Hard to Talk About

From “Our colonial history from the discovery of America to the close of the revolution,” 1915. French trading with Native Americans.

From “Our colonial history from the discovery of America to the close of the revolution,” 1915. French trading with Native Americans.

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Beacon Broadside

Robin DiAngelo’s brilliant 2018 manifesto on white fragility was a much-needed truth bomb at a time when it’s more clear than ever that we are light years away from the “post-racial state.” Perhaps most important about the book was its clarity that racism is systemic and structural, that no white people are immune from it, and that their fragility about it is based on a belief that they are being judged as bad people (the good-bad binary). In this second part of a two-part series (see part one here), I take on the similar but very different concept we in Indian country call settler privilege and its companion, settler fragility.

Settler fragility stems from settler privilege, which is similar to white privilege in that it is systemic, structural, and based on white supremacy, making it difficult to identify. Only in some ways, settler privilege is far more covert and cunning. The reason is because of the ubiquitous ways the US is normalized; that is, the US settler state is the “water we swim in.” US citizens of all races and ethnic groups have been indoctrinated their entire lives with messages designed to foster a sense of national pride and belonging in the making of what has been called an “imagined community,” which always occurs on Indigenous lands. Their citizenship and their very identity are taken for granted without critical consciousness about the US’s contradictory foundational structures and narratives.

Settler colonialism is said to be a structure, not an historic event, whose endgame is always the elimination of the Natives in order to acquire their land, which it does in countless seen and unseen ways. These techniques are woven throughout the US’s national discourse at all levels of society. Manifest Destiny—that is, the US’s divinely sanctioned inevitability—is like a computer program always operating unnoticeably in the background. In this program, genocide and land dispossession are continually both justified and denied.

Like white fragility, settler fragility is the inability to talk about unearned privilege—in this case, the privilege of living on lands that were taken in the name of democracy through profound violence and injustice. Like white privilege, white supremacy is also at the root of settler fragility. The difference is that foreign invasion, dispossession of Indigenous lands, and genocide were based on (white) European religious and cultural supremacy as encoded in the doctrine of discovery, not racial supremacy. And, unlike for other people of color who have made significant legal gains in the US legal system, the nearly two-centuries-old doctrine of discovery is at the foundation of the legal system that still paternalistically determines Native lives and lands.

Settler privilege thus simultaneously implicates and is beyond racism, which is one reason why, paradoxically, even non-Native people of color can experience a type of privilege and fragility. Fragility stems from the need to distance oneself from complicity in settler colonialism, in what some scholars have called “settler moves to innocence.” The good-bad binary is part of this distancing impulse, because like racism, nobody wants to be associated with genocide and injustice, especially in a country that touts its democracy and equality, and especially for people who have been oppressed by it in other ways. But compared to white privilege, this is what makes settler privilege so much more beguiling and difficult: it cuts to the core of American identity in all its iterations, subtly calling into question the legitimacy of the US and the sense of belonging on the land.

Click here to read the full article…

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos, and a consultant and educator in environmental justice policy planning. Her research interests focus on Indigenous nationalism, self-determination, environmental justice, and education. She also works within the field of critical sports studies, examining the intersections of indigeneity and the sport of surfing. She is co-author with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of Beacon Press’s “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, and her forthcoming book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock, is scheduled for release by Beacon Press in April 2019. Follow her on Twitter at @DinaGWhit and visit her website.

Decolonization is a global project: From Palestine to the Americas

Editorial by Linda Tabar & Chandni Desa, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, Vol. 6, No. 1

This special issue brings Palestine into conversation with Settler Colonial Studies, Critical Indigenous Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, other critical scholarship and political practices. In doing so, we write in opposition to the way in which Palestine is often taken up and framed in the mainstream media and academic scholarship. In 1948, the Zionist settler colonization of Palestine culminated in the mass eviction of the overwhelming majority of the indigenous Palestinian people (over 800,000 people) who were expelled from their homes and forcefully dispossessed from their lands. They were unable to return and became refugees as Zionist militias attacked and destroyed villages, towns and cities across Palestine. Palestinians have termed this the al-Nakba (catastrophe) which signifies the theft and loss of their land and the establishment of the Israeli settler colonial state. During the 1967 war, what was left of historic Palestine (Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza) became occupied by Israel. Palestine remains colonized as the Israeli state continues to militarily occupy and confiscate Palestinian land to build colonies for Jewish settlers, while exercising routine violence through massacres, bombings, mass incarceration, targeted assassinations, restricted movement, home demolitions, sexual violence, and implementing racist apartheid policies that fragments the Palestinian population into Bantustans.

In writing about the ongoing settler colonization of Palestine, we start by recognizing our locations on the traditional territories of the Huron Wendat, Haudenosaunee, the Seneca and most recently the Mississaugas of the Credit River, and the waters that sustain life on these stolen lands. In contending with this positionality, we recognize that our locations are required by the Canadian settler state to maintain its settler project and as such it actively solicits our identification and participation in the ongoing colonization and erasure of Indigenous people. In this issue we also draw attention to some of the histories of forced movement and displacement that underlie our presence on these lands, and the ways our location in this settler state can be disrupted and transformed through alliances and relations of solidarity. Specifically, these traditional territories have been a central site in which Palestinians and their allies have advanced global solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian struggle, while simultaneously expressing solidarity and building ties with Indigenous peoples from Six Nations, Tyendinaga, and across Turtle Island (Krebs and Olwan, 2012, Juma’ 2007). Mike Krebs and Dana Olwan (2012) and others document this distinct local history of connecting the struggles against the settler colonial states of Canada and Israel, which we and some of the contributors in this special issue have been part of building for over a decade. This history is significant because Palestinians and their allies on these territories were building these relationships at a time when both of these Indigenous struggles were hardly recognized, well before the time of reconciliation (in Canada), and the popularization of the global solidarity movement with Palestine. This history of connection has produced its own conversations, political analysis, critiques, tensions, and praxis, which this issue is both informed by and seeks to consolidate and take forward.

These ongoing political relationships center and are rooted in a responsibility to decolonial struggles on these lands, what Steven Salaita in his contribution in this special issue calls an “ethical imperative” which he reissues to the Palestine solidarity movement. Political intimacies (Lowe, 2015) between the Palestinian liberation struggle, Indigenous movements and other struggles are not new. Salaita reminds us that “dialogue between Natives and Palestinians goes back at least half a century” and suggests “the first substantive interchange occurred during the heyday of the American Indian Movement [AIM], when Native activists, like their Black Panther peers, looked to global liberation struggles for inspiration and solidarity, proffering both to anti-colonial movements in return” (2017, para 25). What is significant here is the way that such past and present relationships have disrupted and work against settler categories and imaginaries that have configured the native as always ‘disappeared’ or ‘defeated’, which has at times precluded solidarity across these geographies. This is not to deny that solidarity is difficult and that at times there have been tensions when forging ties between struggles (which have been written about by Amadahy, 2013; Bhandar & Ziadah, 2016; Kelley, 2016; Krebs & Olwan, 2012; Tabar, 2016), but we want to stress that by coming together through ethical responsibilities these movements also rupture the ideological structures, racial hierarchies and discourses of settler colonial states. Moreover, these settler colonial ideologies rationalize and sustain settler projects of land theft, ongoing genocide, and anti-black racism (rooted in the history of transatlantic slavery), and coercive labour regimes in a global geography, in which similar racial categories enable capitalist accumulation, exploitation, dispossession and white supremacy across different territories. Thus we and our contributors in this special issue emphasize and expand upon how creating ways of seeing across colonial ideologies and the racialized, sexualized logics that sanction dominance and state terror, is part of a necessary internationalist decolonial project to transform systems of power.

Click here to read more…

Poems for Palestine

Decolonize Palestine: End the Violence, End the War, End the Occupation. Solidarity from Turtle Island. #GazaUnderAttack

Decolonize Palestine: End the Violence, End the War, End the Occupation.

By Anne Champion

The Tent of Nations is an educational and ecological farm run by Christian Palestinian brothers in the mountains of Palestine.  They run a peace project that invites people from around the world to interact.  Despite the land being awarded to the family by the Supreme Court, they are not allowed to build and must live in caves.  The caves are painted in bright colors by Palestinian children who paint over their own shadows. Their guest tents have demolition orders on them, as they are considered a form of building, and their trees are routinely destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces. 10,000 trees were destroyed and buried a few days before I arrived.

THE TENT OF NATIONS

If they won’t let us build,
we’ll live in caves
and if our children are merely
shadows, our children
will paint over their shadows
in vibrant primary colors
on the stoic rocks underground.
If our children die, they’ll frolic
on these rocks, embossed
on the earth, bound only to freedom.
If they say the land isn’t ours,
we’ll keep going to court.  If they cut
down 10,000 olive trees in a day
and bury them in a mass grave
like bodies, then we’ll mourn
like bodies. If trees take patience
and nurture, then peace takes
patience and nurture, and if we keep
holding out our hands?
If you block the road to us
with your tanks, the internationals
will climb the mountain to plant
and break bread, to trace
the children’s silhouettes, to gaze
over all of Palestine, to remember.

———

Military raids happen approximately once a week in Bi’lin.  This village has been targeted because its use of creative, nonviolent resistance has endured and captured the attention of people from all over the world.  American presidents, celebrities, and other world leaders have visited, and a documentary about the village, *Five Broken Cameras, *garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination.  Raids are a common tactic of occupation, as it produces anxiety and inhibits sleep, thus giving Palestinians difficulty in everything from routine chores and schoolwork to demonstration planning and participation.

RAIDS
Bil’in, West Bank

Once a week, the soldiers rouse us,
alarm clock of rifle butts on midnight doors.
We pull the children from their beds.
They point their guns at our heads,
but there’s nothing like the bullet
of panic as they aim
at the children’s hearts.
Iyad’s daughter’s first raid
was at one week old. Now she’s six
and she’s learned to raise her arms,
half dreaming still, marching
like an automaton towards the moon.
She always looks at the sky,
never meets a soldier in the eye
as they tear apart her room,
her beads scattering on the floor
like the bullets shot into the night
air.  Someone falls down, someone’s
been hit.  A rubber bullet lodged in a throat
on the side of the road. I watch
the smoke hover above his head
before he slumps over; in seconds,
his neck blooms and pushes aside his face.
The men prop him up, the women call
to the soldiers for an ambulance.
The teenage soldiers high five each other
before calling for help.  And then
the tear gas canisters hiss
and the air strangles with its serpent snare.
Someone wraps a keffiyah
over my face and pulls me inside,
and I can’t see a thing. Even when my vision
returns, I can’t see anything anymore.

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Special decolonization issue of Geez magazine

Issue 39The Decolonization Issue
Issue 39, Fall 2015

“There are good and bad things in our society, successes and failures. But there is only one fundamental reality that remains unaddressed. That is the situation of indigenous peoples. This is the single most important issue before us, whether we are recently arrived in Canada or have been here for centuries.” – John Ralston Saul

In the midst of production for this issue of Geez, editor Aiden Enns sat down with guest editors Leah Gazan and Steve Heinrichs to get a sense of what readers could expect from an issue on decolonization. What follows is a brief excerpt based on their conversation.

Aiden Enns: What does decolonization mean to you?

Leah Gazan: For me, decolonization is about reconnecting back to land and place and an identity that was defined prior to colonization. We very often talk about building communities through economic development but there’s no greater poverty than poverty of the spirit. So I think decolonization means rejuvenating the spirit that’s rooted in land and ceremony and identity and relationships and an understanding of everybody’s role in that.

Steve Heinrichs: A simple metaphor many folks bring up is the guest-host relationship. It’s a bit simplistic but it rings true. You have people coming into another family’s home and occupying the space, with the original owners in the attic while the guests have the run of the house and dictate the rules.

Most of us non-native folks in Canada have not recognized our connection to host peoples and our obligation to honour our relationships with them. Decolonization is not just a fancy umbrella word for undoing sexism, undoing racism – the oppressions list. It is specifically talking about settler colonialism.

Patrick Wolfe says settler colonialism is not an event, it is a structure. It’s not simply a history which we’re trying to become aware of and lament and then move toward respectful relationships. It is a structure, so that means this relationship continues. It means fundamentally reworking our relationship into a place of mutuality and respect.

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Sage Against the Machine: Being Truth to Power

Hwy401 Blockade

By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

In the wake of two horrific world wars, American Quakers coined the phrase “speak truth to power” as part of a campaign for peace. The truth they wished to voice to the American public, its leaders, and to power itself was a familiar one: “love endures and overcomes.” Speaking truth to power stood in contrast to the silence of cold obedience as exemplified by the professional soldier. Here, the Quakers follow a long-standing tradition in western political thought of identifying speech with agency and disobedience.

This view of politics extends back to the ancient Greeks and reflects the guiding intuition behind contemporary democratic institutions. Throughout that long history, the disruptive potential of speech has been a mainstay of emancipatory movements, struggles for the full inclusion of the marginalized, and the fight for basic equalities that have been historically denied. Dominant communities have accordingly sought to protect their privilege by limiting the ‘voice’ of groups who seek to speak their truths.

But a very different strategy of power is deployed when contending with groups who seek collective autonomy as opposed to equality and inclusion. In the past half-century, settler colonial society has come to realize that excluding Indigenous peoples and their perspectives from public discourse has not stopped them from speaking to one another or from strengthening their nations. These nations are, of course, rooted in the very lands over which dominant society unilaterally asserts its claim of sovereignty. Formal exclusion has proven a limited strategy. And so Indigenous nationhood movements have inspired a distinctive and seemingly counter-intuitive response from dominant society: an invitation (sometimes even a demand) that Indigenous peoples speak truth to power.

Why would colonial institutions accommodate and in some cases encourage the voices of Indigenous peoples? Because at its core, what settler society fears more than the disruptive potential of Indigenous speech is the inevitability that Indigenous peoples, once released from an imposed duty to justify themselves to the colonizer, will turn that massive investment of energy back into being truth to power. Being truth to power is reflected in those embodied practices of love for community and for the land, diverse practices that undermine the homogenizing violence that sustains colonial privilege. Accordingly, colonial power increasingly works through sites of dialogue designed to sap the vitality from these embodied practices of autonomy. The goal is to lift Indigenous peoples out of communities and off the land and drop them into a permanent state of explanation, a limbo wherein they are compelled to talk endlessly to settlers about community and about land.

When Indigenous peoples are not engaged in being truth to power, then, it is often because they have been induced to explain and justify themselves to a colonial audience. They have been tireless and resilient at the podium, these elders, activists, advocates, academics, lawyers, artists, teachers, and children. They have tapped every shared register and common understanding available in the hopes that genuine reciprocity might drip, however slowly, into the rusted tin can of colonial institutions. They have argued for nationhood through the abstract lens of high philosophy, through the concrete immediacy of violence against women, and from every location in between. They have deployed the arcane legal language that colonial courts revere as authoritative and they have attempted to transpose Indigenous perspectives into every idiom that the general public might understand. They have been repeating the message at every opportunity and in every institution be it the media, grade schools, universities, courts, legislatures, international governance bodies, conferences, committees, commissions, corporate boardrooms and negotiating tables.

Indigenous peoples are prompted to reach across the colonial abyss by the urgency and immediacy of threats to health and well-being. Despite the fact that these efforts have led to some important gains, from the perspective of settler colonial power there are advantages to promoting still more dialogue. For one, such exchanges are an important method of maintaining surveillance and control. As mentioned, they also sap and divert vital energy. But there is another, less obvious reason why settlers champion more robust discourse: Indigenous ‘voice’ is the primary source of narcissistic settler redemption.

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Where are the Settlers of Colour?

By Shaista Patel, from Upping the Anti:

Dear UTA,

Thank you for your critical and thought-provoking journal. I would like to address Kate Milley’s article, “Where is John Wayne when you need him? Anti-native organizing and the Caledonia Crisis” (UTA 9). I learned a lot about mobilizations of white settlers against Six Nations from her article. However, what remained with me was her very important claim that “ordinary” white settlers are actively engaged in ongoing colonialism and that “the moral distance is uncomfortably narrow between those who are easily cast in the category of white supremacists and those who comprise the majority of white Canadians.” In other words, there is no race to innocence, and the are no good white settlers for Milley.

Milley’s article has made me once again question the binary of white settlers versus the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Where do I, a settler of colour, and other settlers of colour like myself, fit into this equation of white settlers versus Aboriginal peoples? Are we innocent just because we are people of colour and do not have a relationship of conquest to this land? Is our relationship to First Peoples colonial? I recently conducted a workshop for people of colour on how we see ourselves in relation to this land. While the enthusiasm of the people present at the workshop was wonderful, one of the questions that generated the most debate and discussion was whether or not people of colour are indeed settlers, or if whiteness is a precondition for being considered a settler. Some of the questions that came up included whether we were being too “academic” in using this vocabulary. How would we tell poor, racialized women of colour, for instance, that they were settlers here? My purpose in mentioning these questions is not to somehow claim that I am better than those who do not see themselves as complicit in routinized violence against Aboriginal peoples. Rather, I write these questions because these are important discussions that settlers of colour need to engage in.

The narrow moral distance that Milley discusses in her article has made me ask myself what that distance is between people of colour here and white settlers. I have often heard people of colour with left politics claim that “our relation to this land is different.” How is this difference lived differently by bodies of colour? On one hand, people like me fight for justice in the name of being Canadians. We often stand in various anti-racist rallies to claim our rights as Canadians, and some of us – especially those born here – feel offended when we are asked where we are “really” from. On the other hand, we also claim innocence. We say that we are coming from other post-colonies, and that we too are victims of direct or indirect European colonization. Even when we recognize that we are settlers, there is no sense of urgency for most of us to organize with the Indigenous peoples and nations here.

I think that we not only need to question where we are coming from but more importantly, also consider the place we have come to. What does citizenship mean for racialized people in a white settler-colony? What does it mean when we demand these citizenship rights, which are rights based in white supremacy, dispossession, and genocide of Aboriginal peoples? For instance, when Muslims today (and I include myself here) write and organize against legislation like the AntiTerrorism Act or against acts of racial profiling, do we look at what the Indian Act is still doing to continue genocide against Indigenous peoples here? Do we look at how Indigenous activists have a long history of being labelled as terrorists? Do we ask ourselves why Aboriginality and urbanity are still framed as mutually exclusive? If we think that we people of colour have a right to be here, then where do we think people of native nations belong?

There are a few clarifications I would like to make here: I am not saying that we share the same power as white settlers, or that race, class, gender, and citizenship do not define where and how bodies are organized in Canada. Milley stresses the significance of white settlers mobilizing for Indigenous sovereignty in a white settler colony; I recognize that in such mobilizations the risks for people of colour are far greater than they are for white people. But we still need to discuss what our organizing against racism and colonialism looks like and carefully map out strategies for doing this work. So, what I am saying is that people like me who have the privilege of mobility, and have the resources, and whose status here is not as tenuous as that of refugees, should definitely engage in serious political action. Whether we first came to this land as freed slaves, refugees, or under the racist policies of the Immigration Act, we are all here now, and we benefit from the settlement process. We need to re-imagine and re-work our anti-racist efforts in ways that do not continue the erasure of Aboriginals. We need to stop paying mere lip-service to Indigenous sovereignty and recognize that the forces that dehumanize us as racialized people are the same forces that continue the genocide of First Peoples. We need to stop being defensive when we are told by Aboriginals or other people in or outside our activist groups that perhaps we need to be more critical of how we are working for Indigenous sovereignty in our organizing.

Having said this, I do want to say that bodies of colour are marginalized in most activist settings, with white people claiming the centre for themselves. Women of colour have time and again written about how white women and especially white men appropriate various anti-racist/colonial struggles to talk on behalf of people of colour. So, white people need to listen to the First Peoples as well as to us non-Aboriginal people of colour. White settlers need to stop and listen every time an Indigenous person or a person of colour tells them that they are being racist or self-congratulatory. If these important negotiations and discussions do not happen in the organizing of all settlers here, then there can be no real fight against the racial and colonial violence that this country was built on.

I am, once again, sincerely grateful to Kate Milley for her brilliant and thought-provoking work.

In complicity and solidarity,

Shaista Patel, Toronto

Unsettling America note: Also see the article “Privilege vs. Complicity: People of Colour and Settler Colonialism”