Tag Archives: working class

The Myth of the Non-Existent Aboriginal Working Class in Canada

kahnawake iron workers

By El Machetero

“Native people focusing on settler colonialism sometimes don’t see how it intersects with capitalism and white supremacy. Consequently, things get articulated as sovereignty projects that really are not that great. Your sovereignty comes to be defined as economic development by any means necessary – let’s exploit the resources, let’s build a class structure within Native communities – and that ends up destroying the land as much as multinational corporations are doing. That goes against the principle of having a radical relationship with the land. And it’s self-defeating ultimately, because multinational corporations are not going to let you do what you want to do with the land because they want the resources. It ends up hurting your communities. So I think it’s critical to see where Native struggles and class struggles intersect.”

-Andrea Smith (1)

The role which Aboriginal workers have played in the building of Canada is one which is seldom acknowledged or recognized. During the rare instances when this long-minimized role and largely untold history is engaged, it brings to the light a complex dialectic concerning some of the immense contradictions inherent to any colonial situation. In these contexts, it can be reasonably argued to be in direct contravention to the survival of any subjugated peoples in question to actively contribute to the building of an empire-society which effectively requires their wholesale displacement and “removal” in order to establish and expand itself in the cancerous manner which such systems typically tend to do.

At the same time, there is no way that this paradoxical reality can diminish or remove the basic fact that such societies have also been historically most dependent on those who they oppress with the most vigor and the least remorse, nor does it even begin to resolve the simple economic fact that even those with the least to be gained from contributing to such an ongoing colonial project still have to find the means to survive within it, greatly magnifying the basic dilemma faced by all peoples living on the receiving end of predatory capitalism, where we have come to be dependent on the very things which destroy us all in order to stay alive.

Often when the subject of Aboriginal participation in Canada’s work force comes up in the mainstream, a barrage of myths of a highly racist character comes up, conjuring up essentialist notions that Aboriginal people “don’t pay their own way or pay any taxes” and are supposedly beneficiaries of all these supposed “special rights and privileges”(2), which then typically are countered by the highlighting of the greater disadvantages faced by Aboriginal peoples as a whole in Canadian society.

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