Tag Archives: decolonization

Indigenous land-based education and embodied resurgence

Just listened to this interview with Leanne Simpson and Glen Coulthard about Dechinta, an indigenous land-based education course in Dene territory. The Decolonization journal has a whole issue out this month on land-based education, available here.

Here is an excerpt from the interview, where Coulthard points to the limits of Western education and analysis, and the transformative power of indigenous land-based learning: “We’re trying to make these reconnections with students and our traditional territories in order to formulate a critical analysis of our colonial present and its effects in Denendeh and in the North. And it’s through those practices that we come to understand what’s wrong with the forms of colonial economic and political development in the North, insofar as they obliterate those relationships of reciprocity that dictate our understanding of land.

You can get only so far teaching in a primarily cognitive sort of way through ‘traditional’ sources and literatures that you use in university. I found as an instructor – who also learns so much every time I go – that I didn’t really get, for example, the critique offered by the Dene of capitalism in the seventies, until I started that experiential kind of relationship with the land through these land-based practices. I had learned as much as I could in the archive, talking to people, and reading about that history, but it was only when I started to commit myself to re-learning those practices and re-embedding myself in those social relationships with place, that I understood in a more concrete and embodied way, what was wrong with the forms of economic development that have come to be dominant in the North and elsewhere.”

Decolonization

This is the edited transcript of a conversation that took place in Edmonton, AB on October 18, 2014. You can listen to the full conversation with the MP3 above, or read the transcript below!


View original post 5,340 more words

Kwetlal Against Colonialism: A Summary

This is Corey Snelgrove’s summary of his MA Thesis, drawing connections between environmentalism, colonization, and what he calls “settler stewardship”–settlers’ ways of knowing and relating to the land perpetuate and reify settler colonialism. All of this is grounded on Lekwungen Territory, in “Victoria” where he did his MA, and he also gestures towards productive alternatives where settlers are taking leadership from indigenous peoples and supporting indigenous relationships to land, worked through his participation in the Community Toolshed here:
“This orientation marks a difference between the Tool Shed and settler stewardship, and this difference is shared by many of those participating in the Tool Shed. For example, discussions with Community Tool Shed participants reveals a recognition of the entanglement between colonization and the environment. Participants also recognize the different role for non-Lekwungen peoples than Lekwungen peoples in engagements with the land, such as removal of invasive species versus the harvesting of camas. Additionally, participants do not seek to absolve themselves from colonization. Rather, they often trace their involvement to their implication in colonization.”

The following is a short summary of my Community Governance Project completed as partial fulfillment of an MA in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria under the supervision of Cheryl Bryce (Songhees) and Dr. Jeff Corntassel (Tsalagi)

I have never considered myself an environmentalist. And, to be clear, I still don’t.

Over the past two years though, I’ve found myself engaging in what are often referred to as environmental issues. Most specifically, I’ve been involved in the removal of invasive species from Garry oak ecosystems in Victoria, British Columbia. This work has mostly entailed the removal of scotch broom.

Introduced to these lands by the first independent settler on Vancouver Island, Broom is an invasive plant with deep, thick roots, and which produces up to 18,000 seeds that are in turn spread by human and non-human forces. Not only does removal require physical labour to uproot these plants, but it also requires…

View original post 2,990 more words

White Settlers and Indigenous Solidarity: Confronting White Supremacy, Answering Decolonial Alliances

“If white people who practice Indigenous solidarity miss, or never consider these nuances when invoking “settler” status, I am concerned that we then leave its whiteness normalized and unchallenged within our theories and activism.”

Decolonization

White settlers who seek solidarity with Indigenous challenges to settler colonialism must confront how white supremacy shapes settler colonialism, our solidarity, and our lives. As a white person working in Canada and the United States to challenge racism and colonialism (in queer / trans politics, and solidarity activism) I am concerned that white people might embrace Indigenous solidarity in ways that evade our responsibilities to people of color and to their calls upon us to challenge all forms of white supremacy. This essay presents my responsibilities to theories and practices of decolonization that connect Indigenous and racialized peoples. I highlight historical studies by Indigenous and critical race scholars — notably, those bridging black and Indigenous studies — as they illuminate deep interlockings of white supremacy and settler colonialism. I call white settlers to become responsible to these, and related projects, so as to challenge the authority we might claim, or…

View original post 2,778 more words

notes on a bioregional decolonization

Really thought-provoking and nuanced perspective on decolonizing bioregionalism: “For every thread in the fabric of colonialism, there is a story of resistance to be told. For every lie told by the civilizers, there is a truth to be told. For every place that has been decimated through industry and agriculture, there is still possible a good way to live there; and this way is kept alive in the stories of that particular place, the Indigenous Knowledge so viciously and systematically attacked by the colonizers. And each of us as an individual is a living story, connected to place(s) and ancestors, whose stories formed the world we live in today. Our identities are not static. Our stories evolve and our cultures evolve, as Cascadia herself rises in fire and falls into the sea. All of our stories need to be told, and in a way that empowers us in our responsibilities, not as a set of evasions or “settler moves to innocence5.” Telling our stories as our identities moves us beyond the dualism of guilt or innocence, denying neither, while illuminating our responsibilities as individuals and as Peoples in this life. (I reject the guilt-ridden associations of the word “responsibility” and embrace response-ability as the antidote to resignation and disempowerment)”

Míle Gaiscíoch

image-3

The lands and waters of the Northeast Pacific Rim are a colony.  This was not always so.  Colonization began in the late 18th century and has continued unabated to the present day, as the centralization of power continues to be concentrated into a disembodied abstraction called Capital.  Prior to colonization, power was balanced throughout the many Nations here, each with their own decentralized network of autonomous clans, bands, villages, and families.  At that time, the epistemological separation between the Land and the People was contradictory to the cultures here, and it was exactly this division that the colonizers came here to enact in order to replace laws of relationship and reciprocity with resource extraction to feed the growth of Capital.  This process has turned living communities into dead commodities through the imposition of a culture of occupation1, and despite the many successful acts of defense and restoration…

View original post 1,429 more words

Dear Rex: Colonialism exists, and you’re it.

Dear Rex Murphy,

When you write that Canadians are offended at the term ‘settler’ and ‘genocide,’ you don’t speak for all of us.  I’m a Canadian citizen, my ancestors came to Canada from Europe a few centuries ago, and I understand myself as a settler.  It’s not disrespectful for indigenous peoples to remind us of Canada’s legacy of genocide.  It’s not rude for indigenous peoples to label as ‘colonial’ the connections between the industries of resource extraction, the RCMP, and the corporate media you write for.  What’s insulting is your attempt to paint Canada as benevolent, open, and respectful of indigenous peoples, and your contempt for any understanding of present-day colonialism and oppression in Canada.

rex-murphy-picI’m not an expert on colonialism, but clearly neither are you.  In reading your vitriolic editorial, it struck me that you clearly hate the term ‘settler’ and ‘colonialism’; however, your writing also indicates that you probably don’t actually understand what these terms mean.  So I’m writing to you, one white settler to another, to explain to you what settler colonialism means to me, and why I think it’s important for understanding (and living in) present-day Canada.  With that said, I’m not convinced you’re really ignorant of these terms; I think you have a sense of their meaning and the implications, and it terrifies you, but that terror turns to anger before you can really feel it.  I think you—and many other Canadians—know that something is deeply wrong, even if you can’t admit it to yourself.  It’s something in the air, something we feel in our gut: we’re caught up in something horrible, and we can’t go on this way.

I think that’s why the truths spoken by indigenous people provoke so much resentment in people like you: because you know they’re speaking the truth.  It’s plain for everyone to see: Elsipogtog and other instances of indigenous resistance aren’t political stunts by over-educated ‘radicals’ as you’d like to portray them; they are principled stands by everyday people—grandmothers, fathers, mothers, and their children—against rampant and unending extraction, exploitation, and destruction.  These communities are not motivated by abstract ideologies or university jargon, but by deep responsibilities and commitments to protect land and people.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson puts it clearly:

The story here, the real story, is virtually the same story in every Indigenous nation:  Over the past several centuries we have been violently dispossessed of most of our land to make room for settlement and resource development. The very active system of settler colonialism maintains that dispossession and erases us from the consciousness of settler Canadians except in ways that is deemed acceptable and non-threatening to the state. We start out dissenting and registering our dissent through state sanctioned mechanisms like environmental impact assessments. Our dissent is ignored. Some of us explore Canadian legal strategies, even though the courts are stacked against us. Slowly but surely we get backed into a corner where the only thing left to do is to put our bodies on the land. The response is always the same – intimidation, force, violence, media smear campaigns, criminalization, silence, talk, negotiation, “new relationships”, promises, placated resistance and then more broken promises. Then the cycle repeats itself.

This is the structure of settler colonialism.  One of the basic assumptions of your editorial—and virtually all other mainstream media coverage of Elsipogtog—is that colonialism happened sometime in the past, and since then Canada has done a lot to “right our historical wrongs.”  When do you imagine colonialism stopped happening in Canada?  When the last piece of land was mapped, surveyed, and appropriated for the Crown?  When government officials first broke their treaties with indigenous nations so that settlement and resource exploitation could continue?  When the last residential school was closed?  When Stephen Harper issued an official apology five years ago?  When he declared that Canada has no history of colonialism a year later?  Of course, Canada has changed, and so have settler attitudes.  But the structure of settler colonialism is still very much intact.

You will likely dismiss my words as part of the “academically-generated ‘narratives’ of colonialism.”  Indeed, I first learned about colonialism in university, and I’m a student of some of the “colonial theory” you denounce.  But I only learned about colonialism in university because my public school education taught me that indigenous peoples had been wiped out in Canada, victims of the inevitable and noble march of progress.  Why do you suppose our public school system hides the history of residential schools, forced removal of indigenous people, ecological devastation, racist policies, theft of land, and broken treaties?  Could it be that we’re trying to cover up the fact that Canadian colonialism never ended—that it’s an ongoing process?

More and more Canadians are beginning to see that an ever-expanding economy based on exploitation of land and people can’t go on forever, and the impacts are also hitting home in more communities.  More Canadians are recognizing that voting for someone every four years isn’t real enfranchisement, and that this system is designed to foreclose popular participation, not encourage it.  More of us are seeing the need to take a stand to protect our families, the places we love, non-human life, and future generations.  More Canadians are beginning to see that this is what indigenous people have been saying (and doing) all along: defending their lands and communities against an ongoing colonial process.  With these recognitions comes one of the least comfortable: that we are caught up in this process—deeply enmeshed and complicit in it—as settlers.

Just as we feel the wrongness of colonialism in our gut, we can feel the emptiness of settler ways of life.  This isn’t just about “mentalities,” as you suggest, although the way we think is certainly part of it.  It’s most concretely about how we relate to each other and the land that sustains us (whether we recognize it or not).  Settler colonialism has produced a world where our food is industrialized and grown with chemicals, our political system is rigidly bureaucratic and exclusive, our culture promotes objectification and normalizes rape, our economic system is premised on exploitation and unending growth, our divisions of labour are racist and patriarchal, almost all forests and ecosystems have been pillaged and degraded, and our everyday lives are increasingly mediated through bureaucracies and commodities.  This is not to say that indigenous people are somehow outside these ways of life; however, they have consistently resisted our attempts at assimilation and resource exploitation.  They have maintained and revitalized their own ways of life, and have refused to be incorporated into the fold of settler colonialism.  Elsipogtog is only the latest conflict in a centuries-long struggle.

Our ways of life are predicated upon the continued subjugation of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of their lands.  For settlers, this is a terrifying thing to recognize: if our whole lives are based on this system, how could we be otherwise?  For many Canadians—and I think you’re part of this group, Rex—this uncertainty is quickly converted into a glib certainty that the problem is them: they’ve failed to integrate, or failed to govern themselves, or failed to obey the (our) law.  The settler problem gets converted into the age-old Indian problem.  But I think we know, deep down, even when we’re in denial, that it’s us: that we need to take action and change ourselves through the process.

We are living in the midst of indigenous resurgence.  All over the lands claimed by Canada, indigenous peoples are revitalizing their traditions and languages, reclaiming their lands and responsibilities, and refusing the colonial status quo.  We’re also in the midst of a decline of faith in the ways of life we’ve created, even among those most privileged by this system: the middle-class dream is evaporating, we’re hurtling towards ecological collapse, and the alliances between corporations and politicians are increasingly obvious.  Settlers—some of us—are learning to listen to that feeling of wrongness in our gut, unsettling ourselves, building solidarity, and finding new (and old) ways of relating.  None of us have figured it out, but more of us are recognizing that things need to change, and the problem is as much ‘in here’ as ‘out there’.  There is no neutral territory here, because doing nothing carries us along with the flow of colonialism.

We can’t wait for everyone.  Indigenous peoples can never afford to wait for support from settler society, and struggles in the future will continue to involve contention and conflict.  Settlers are learning how to take leadership from indigenous communities, and real alliances and solidarities are being forged.  As we learn to listen to our gut and shake off our colonial baggage, indigenous people defending their lands seem increasingly reasonable and admirable, and the supporters of colonialism, like you, Rex, seem pitiful and dangerous.

Sincerely,

Nick Montgomery

Here’s a link to Rex Murphy’s original editorial

Unist’ot’en Action Camp

The 4th annual Unist’ot’en Action Camp is coming up July 10-14th and will likely be the largest ever.

In their report on last year’s action camp, submedia.tv draws connections between the camp and its opposition to the PTP pipeline, the Tarsands, and industrial extraction more generally.  They discuss the Wet’suwet’en’s recovery of the free prior informed consent and other traditions and responsibilities, and the importance of direct action.

Also, check out this article about the Unist’ot’en Camp in Earth First!

In it, Crow Qu’appelle writes:

The support from allies across the country during the November 27th day of action, Raising Resistance, proved that grassroots networks working together can equal or surpass the efforts of large NGO coalitions. Having money but often lacking base support, the NGO model has shown itself capable of mobilizing, and often wasting, large amounts of resources towards sensationalist one-off actions, and incapable, or uninterested, of developing meaningful relationships with communities. That is why the Unist’ot’en and Grassroots Wet’suwet’en in 2011 made the decision to turn from unhealthy, non-reciprocal NGO partnerships, and to go the grassroots direction instead looking to long-term sustained relationships for the future. In this context of looking to genuine, long-term community building, collectivist and mutual aid principles brought forward by Anarchist allies at camp have meshed well with communal indigenous practices.

Now is a crucial time to develop that spontaneous outpouring of grassroots support into a sustained solidarity network. Straight up, community awareness creates increased security for the camp. The more people that know about us and actively show support, the harder it is for government and industry to move against us.

From the Indian Problem to the Settler Problem: reactionaries, multiculturalists and decolonization.

The recent controversy over former BC NDP candidate Dayleen Van Ryswyk’s racism is part of a longstanding pattern in Canada.  The mainstream media tends to frame these controversies as a debate between politically correct multiculturalists (like Adrian Dix) and reactionary racists (like Van Ryswyk).  Both sides present different solutions to the “Indian Problem,” by asking how the Canadian government should deal with indigenous peoples.  Forced out of this mainstream debate is the “Settler Problem:” the ongoing colonial present, and the possibilities of grassroots resistance, solidarity and decolonization.

Dayleen Van Ryswyk was recently forced to resign over comments she made about First Nations (and Quebecois) in an online discussion forum.  Some highlights from her online tirades:

“It’s not the status cards, it’s the fact that we have been paying out of the nose for generations for something that isn’t our doing. If their ancestors sold out too cheap it’s not my fault and i shouldn’t have to be paying for any mistake or whatever you want to call it from MY hard earned money.”

dryswyk“I don’t think anyone is saying that wrongs didn’t happen (incredible wrongs) you could have almost any race, group or ethnic people tell you horrible haunting stories of what happened to them. […] In my opinion, holding an entire group of people liable for something that happened hundreds of years ago, people who weren’t even alive yet for the wrongs of their ancestors is ridiculous.”

“I’m getting so sick of having french stuffed down my throat..this isn’t Quebec,,it’s western Canada…we speak english here…so does the majority of Canada. I’m offended that the french is spoken first. […] Why can’t we celebrate Canada’s diverse cultures..everyone..not just natives!”

Van Ryswyk was quickly forced to resign by BC NDP leader Adrian Dix, and she quickly received a flood of support from her constituents in Kelowna and others across Canada.  Now she’s running as an independent.  Recent polls by Castanet showed 73% of those polled didn’t think Van Ryswyk’s comments were inappropriate, and 49% will vote for her (against the runner-up Liberal candidate with 40%).

In short, Ryswyk’s comments may have made her more popular, and her comments clearly resonate with many Canadians.  Others (including the BC Liberals and NDPers) have insisted her comments were racist, offensive, and inappropriate.  Van Ryswyk and her supporters have insisted that Van Ryswyk was just saying what most politicians won’t, because of political correctness.  So is Van Ryswyk racist, or is she just cutting through the bullshit of Canadian political correctness?

Both.  The debate between Ryswyk and other, more ‘tolerant’ politicians repeats a pattern of debate in the mainstream media between reactionaries and multiculturalists.  Elsewhere, I’ve called them Upsettler zombies and Monarchist demons.  Both camps ultimately reinforce Canada’s colonial present by presenting different solutions to the same problem.

Reactionaries and the exploitation of indigenous lands

On Ryswyck’s side are the Canadian reactionaries: settlers who resent what they see as Canada’s “special treatment” of indigenous peoples.  They tend mobilize arguments about equality and fairness, claiming that indigenous peoples receive undue ‘handouts’ from federal and provincial governments.  Recently disgraced Canadian academic Tom Flanagan publicly held this view for decades (and still does).  His book First Nations, Second Thoughts basically calls for the end to Aboriginal status: indigenous peoples should be stripped of any special rights or entitlements, so that they are the same as other Canadians.  In the BC context, Mel Smith’s best-seller, Our Home Or Native Land famously attacks indigenous land claims:

Tiny communities are given enormous tracts of land while the majority of Canadians is not only ignored but kept in the dark. Incredible sums of money are spent–worse, even larger amounts are committed to be paid by future generations.

The views of Flanagan and Smith dovetail with Van Ryswyk’s and a flood of others who reacted to Idle No More with outrage and hatred, such Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, who likened indigenous communities to tiny, delusional, dysfunctional municipalities, entirely dependent on government subsidies.  A recent editorial in the Nanaimo Daily News by Don Olsen argued that indigenous societies are primitive peoples, devoid of technology and civilization, who now lack the ability to take care of themselves.  Michelle Tittler runs a facebook page entitled “End Race-Based Law,” calling for an end to any laws that distinguish First Nations people from settler Canadians.  Like other reactionaries, these tirades are often couched in the language of equality.  Olsen proclaims that the only solution is to “bring them into society as equals. They should be getting jobs and paying taxes like the rest of us.”

The idea that indigenous peoples are dependent on subsidies and so need to be “brought in” to Canadian society is one of the most prevalent myths in Canada.  For example, when Idle No More began, the Conservative government leaked documents about Attawapiskat, suggesting fiscal mismanagement and corruption by Chief Theresa Spence.  But as Drew Oja Jay explains,

Right now, DeBeers is constructing a $1 billion mine on the traditional territory of the Āhtawāpiskatowi ininiwak. Anticipated revenues will top $6.7 billion. Currently, the Conservative government is subjecting the budget of the Cree to extensive scrutiny. But the total amount transferred to the First Nation since 2006 — $90 million — is a little more than one per cent of the anticipated mine revenues. As a percentage, that’s a little over half of Harper’s cut to GST.
Royalties from the mine do not go to the First Nation, but straight to the provincial government. The community has received some temporary jobs in the mine, and future generations will have to deal with the consequences of a giant open pit mine in their back yard.
Attawapiskat is subsidizing DeBeers, Canada and Ontario.

Indigenous peoples are not economically dependent on Canada; Canada is economically dependent on the exploitation of indigenous lands (and on the subjugation of indigenous peoples who would protect those lands).  When indigenous peoples refuse to accept resource extraction on their lands, the reactionaries call for the ‘rule of law.’  Since the law allows for resource extraction and environmental destruction and criminalizes resistance, they are calling for the continuation of settler colonialism.  ‘Canada’ is made possible through this ongoing colonization, and it has consistently tried to assimilate and eliminate indigenous people so that land exploitation can continue.

These views aren’t just racist, radical outliers on the fringe of Canadian ideology.  They’re entirely in line with much of Canadian policy and practice.  For example, Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 White Paper aimed to wipe away any special relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples.  The White Paper sought to eliminate “Indian status” and treat indigenous peoples as citizens with the same rights as settler Canadians.  This was a final solution to the problem indigenous peoples posed to land exploitation and settlement, and the White Paper was only defeated because of a wave of mobilizations and resistance across indigenous communities and the lands claimed by Canada.  When reactionaries mobilize arguments about equality and fairness, they’re in line with past policies like the White Paper, which would assimilate indigenous peoples completely and immediately into settler society, at least under Canadian law.

Multiculturalists, benevolence, and land negotiations

On the opposing side of the mainstream debate are the Canadian multiculturalists. They advocate a more measured approach, supporting some combination of reform and recognition of the special status of First Nations.  BC leader Adrian Dix quickly denounced Ryswyk’s comments as “unacceptable” and forced her to resign.  He is likely to be the next Premier of BC, and the NDP is being billed as a party that is more sensitive to the concerns of environmentalists and indigenous peoples.  Multiculturalists are much more willing to negotiate with First Nations, as long as they don’t get in the way of the Canadian economy and its industries.  Multiculturalists support some version of limited self-government, the resolution of land claims, and special rights for First Nations.

Multiculturalists are experts at appearing benevolent and respectful.  A Dix government in BC will try to kill the Enbridge pipeline plan and invest in ‘green’ initiatives, but it will support other pipelines, logging of old growth forests, and other industries on unceded indigenous territories.  Indigenous communities will continue to be faced with blackmails framed as opportunities: collaborate with ecologically disastrous resource extraction and get a tiny portion of the revenue, or resist, receive nothing, and the project will likely go ahead anyway.  But multiculturalists would never put it in such stark terms.  They are always in favour of negotiations, reasonableness, and compromise.  For federal and provincial governments, this means negotiating with First Nations band councils on special rights, entitlements, forms of self-governance, and revenue-sharing agreements, without radically reshaping Canada or its relationship to indigenous peoples.

A prime example of this is the British Columbia Treaty Commission.  The BCTC is often celebrated as an example of decolonization and multiculturalism.  It is supposed to result in the return of unceded territories to indigenous peoples in BC and usher in a new relationship between settler governments and indigenous peoples.  But the process was designed by Canadian settlers, and indigenous peoples were then invited to negotiate for a tiny portion of their lands (around 5%) through their band councils.  If negotiations ever finish, the land is not returned to indigenous peoples allowing them to manage it and govern it autonomously; all land remains under federal and provincial authority, reclassified under the Land Title Act.  Taiaiake Alfred outlines the extreme limitations of the BCTC process:

  • No recovery of indigenous lands held by private individuals.
  • Municipalities retain present legal authorities in indigenous territories.
  • Non-indigenous people have access to indigenous lands.
  • Non-indigenous people not subject to indigenous laws.
  • No new budgetary allocations for agreements.
  • Federal government pays most of the costs of negotiations and agreements.
  • Non-indigenous companies on indigenous lands will be paid a settlement.
  • Province keeps control resource management and environmental protection.

Federal and provincial governments aren’t negotiating with indigenous peoples with the aim of returning any of their lands.  The intention is to change the way a small portion of these lands are classified under Canadian law, while ensuring complete control over the rest.  The government also loans First Nations the money required for the legal fees in this process, sending them into crippling debt, which forces them to follow through on the process so that they can use their settlements to pay it off.  The BCTC requires indigenous peoples to give up the capacity to advance any future assertions of rights or land claims as part of the agreement.  The federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development explains the economic imperative behind the BCTC:

Uncertainty about the existence and location of Aboriginal rights create uncertainty with respect to ownership, use and management of land and resources. That uncertainty has led to disruptions and delays to economic activity in BC. It has also discouraged investment.

The consequences of not concluding treaties are lost economic activity as well as escalating court costs and continued uncertainty. Key benefits of negotiated settlements are economic and legal certainty as well as harmonized arrangements between the different levels of government.

The overarching aim of the BCTC is to ensure that settler governments can have economic and political certainty over land and resources, so that resource extraction and industrialization can continue.  As Nuu-chah-nulth scholar Johnny Mack writes:

The conclusion seems unavoidable – the provisions [of the BCTC] ensure that we are still subject to a constitutional legal order that we did not create, and within that order, only 5 percent of the lands taken from us will be returned to us.  Rather than providing for a reincorporation of the colonial takings into our own story, this process acquires our consent to lock that plunder into the state structure, where it will be subject to state authority and exposed to the hungry forces of the global market.

This situation has led many indigenous people (and whole communities) to abandon the BCTC and other offers of reconciliation by colonial authorities.  These policies are the legacy of multiculturalism in Canada, which promise reconciliation and respectful relationships.  As an indigenous mentor once explained to me, this is like breaking into someone’s house, killing most of their family, and trying to force them into the closet for years while we ransack the place and make ourselves at home.  Indigenous peoples resisted the whole way along, and most forms of resistance are criminalized.  The reactionaries are angry that they still have to put up with people making noise in the closet, and they are especially outraged when the homeowners disrupt the goings-on in the rest of the house.  The multiculturalists announce that they want to negotiate and maybe indigenous peoples can have one more room in the house, under certain conditions.  Neither party ever considers the fact that they’re uninvited guests, living in a stolen house, and destroying it.

Reactionary and Multicultural solutions to the “Indian Problem”

Multiculturalists and reactionaries are often portrayed as polar opposites by the mainstream media.  The reactionaries like Van Rysywyk go on racist tirades, and the multiculturalists denounce this racism and call for respectful relationships with First Nations.  Each camp resonates with different segments of the Canadian population.  The reactionaries play on liberal notions of individual equality, mixed with the racist underpinnings of Canada and its attempts to eliminate indigenous peoples.  The multiculturalists play on a different version of liberal equality, combined with the fantasy of a Canada where indigenous peoples are a little bit different, and a few policy tweaks makes everyone get along.  To be clear, I’m not saying indigenous peoples shouldn’t negotiate with governments, or that they’re naive for doing so.  I’m talking about the way in which Canadian multiculturalism is framed as respectful negotiation, while continuing to impose colonial structures on indigenous peoples.

The reactionary and the multiculturalist are two different solutions to the “Indian Problem” in Canada.  The Indian Problem is a phrase made famous by Duncan Campbell Scott at the beginning of the 20th century, who sought to eliminate all indigenous peoples, either by outright extermination or forced assimilation:

“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian department.”

This was the explicit purpose of Canada’s Indian Act.  Some of its most heinous elements, such as residential schools, have since been abolished over the last half-century, but the Indian Problem continues to inform the way governments (and most Canadians) understand their relationship to indigenous peoples.  When the Indian Act failed to destroy indigenous communities and eliminate all indigenous ways of life, Trudeau and others attempted to use the language of equality to finally assimilate them.  In a different way, as Taiaiake Alfred explains, the BCLT is structured as a final solution to the Indian Problem:

In essence, the BCTC process is designed to solve the perceived problem of indigenous nationhood by extinguishing it and bringing indigenous peoples into Canada’s own domestic political and legal structures with certainty and finality […] the federal and provincial governments are evidently seeking to consolidate the assimilation and control they have gained over indigenous peoples and their lands since the collapse of indigenous social and political strength as a result of the mass dying by epidemic diseases – a tragedy that began to recede only in the early part of the 20th century.

Indigenous peoples are still prevented from accessing the vast amount of their traditional territories, and settler colonialism continues to occupy indigenous lands, extract resources from them, and subjugate indigenous peoples.  When colonialism is discussed at all, it is framed in terms of the Indian Problem: what do we do about them?  What do they want from us?  How can we finally ‘move on’?  The Canadian government still seeks to manage, assimilate, or eliminate indigenous peoples and their ways of life.  That is the endgame of colonialism.

Reactionaries want to solve the Indian Problem by getting rid of any special status and assimilating indigenous peoples as equal citizens under Canadian law.  The multiculturalist wants to allow some room for special rights and entitlements, and limited self-government, while ensuring that resource extraction and industrial development can continue.  Both views lead settlers to understand colonialism as an “Aboriginal issue” that happened in the past, to be resolved by governments, with no implications for the daily lives of settlers.  Settlers keep living in the house, arguing about whether indigenous peoples should be allowed a whole room, just a closet, or nothing at all.

The Settler Problem: complicity and decolonization

The problem is the Indian Problem itself.  It tries to deal with indigenous peoples from within a colonial framework, and leaves that framework intact while framing colonialism as something in the past.  As Adam Barker and others have argued in recent years, Canada actually has a ‘Settler Problem:’

“Settler people who are so immersed in colonial psychology that their political structures make co-existence with Indigenous peoples impossible.”

The Settler Problem invites settlers to focus the problem on ourselves, our institutions, and our inheritance of a colonial system that shapes the way we relate to indigenous peoples, each other, and the land we live on.  The Settler Problem is ongoing; it’s not a past wrong to remedy through reparations.  Settlers came, committed genocide, set up colonial institutions, occupied and pillaged the land, and we’ve inherited this situation.  The recognition of settler involvement in ongoing colonialism often provokes paralyzing guilt or denial.  A common reaction is that ‘we’ didn’t do anything; it was our ancestors (or other peoples’ ancestors).

Settlers are often eager to point out that they or their ancestors didn’t benefit from colonialism.  My great great grandfather was an Irish indentured servant who was forced to come here and work for nothing.  This implies colonialism is about individual blame or guilt, and we’re either guilty or we’re not.  But this individualistic response frames colonialism as part of the past, rather than an ongoing project.  As Lorenzo Veracini and Edward Cavanaugh write, in the definition of settler colonialism:

settler colonialism is a resilient formation that rarely ends. Not all migrants are settlers; […] settlers come to stay. They are founders of political orders who carry with them a distinct sovereign capacity. And settler colonialism is not colonialism: settlers want Indigenous people to vanish (but can make use of their labour before they are made to disappear).

The Settler Problem frames colonization as an ongoing phenomenon; it’s happening right now and we’re implicated in it, whether we like it or not.  White, middle-class settlers like me are the ones with enough privilege to ignore it if we choose to: settler colonialism can fade into the background for some of us, as a way of life that seems normal and natural.  Not all settlers have this option, and the settler/indigenous dichotomy can flatten out differences between settlers.  ‘Settlers’ are often implicitly white, European-descended people whose ancestors took part in conquest and slavery.  Depending on how it’s used, the term ‘settler’ can miss the ways that privileged white men like me are positioned differently from people who don’t benefit from the linked systems of capital accumulation, heteropatriarchy, and racism.  But acknowledging these differences, privileges, and positions in the structure of settler colonialism doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t affect the ways we live our everyday lives.  The concept of ‘complicity’ has been advanced as a way to move beyond individualistic discussions of privilege, towards the ways that people are positioned differently in the colonial structure, with implications for collective action.  As Beenash Jafri explains:

Complicity hasn’t been circulated in the same way as privilege. Nor are there many handy pedagogical tools or checklists for thinking about complicity. Complicity is a messy, complicated and entangled concept to think about; it is not as easy to grasp and, because of this, it requires a much deeper investment on our part. This would demand, for example, that we think about settlerhood not as an object that we possess, but as a field of operations into which we become socially positioned and implicated.

Complicity might offer a way out of individualistic, guilt-ridden discussions that often plague settlers’ coming-to-awareness of our roles in this process.  Complicity focuses our attention on relationships and institutions, rather than individual identities.  I don’t think this means that differences are flattened out, or oppression doesn’t matter; I will always have to keep unlearning my own heteropatriarchal, racist, colonial ways of thinking and being as a white guy; that unlearning is crucial for respectful relationships across difference.  As El Machetero explains, complicity helps frame oppression and resistance as a collective project:

It also focuses much less on individuals, and much more on this system and its accompanying parasitical lifestyles, understanding that this is an arrangement which is violent, genocidal and ecocidal (since it increasingly involves the actual destruction of the land itself) and which makes accomplices of us all. What matters more than where such a system would choose to locate us for its own ends is what we choose to do together with one another, the strength and quality of the relationships and communities we build, and our knowledge of the context in which we live and our foresight towards the consequences which emerge from the choices we make within it.

Towards collective decolonization

The solution to the Settler Problem is collective decolonization: moving towards non-dominating relationships between settlers, indigenous peoples, and ecosystems.  I have no idea what these decolonized relationships will look like, but I know it will take more than a multiculturalist yearning for a kinder Canada, or outraged denunciations of Van Ryswyk and other reactionaries, or a guilt-ridden ‘awareness’ of settler colonialism.  What would it mean for settlers to act like uninvited guests?  What are our responsibilities as settlers?  What happens when settlers give up on their certainty and sense of entitlement to indigenous lands?  How can settlers divest themselves from a faith in government and begin to build direct relationships with indigenous communities?  How can settlers build alliances with indigenous peoples and help stop the destruction and exploitation of their lands?  If settler colonialism is a ‘field of operations,’ how do we navigate this field?  How can we disrupt its operations and construct alternatives?  People are already asking and responding to these questions.  There are indigenous peoples and settlers across the territories claimed by Canada who are resisting settler colonialism and working towards decolonization.

Many of these efforts were galvanized by Idle No More, though INM is only the most recent and visible movement of resistance and decolonization amongst indigenous peoples.  From the perspective of the mainstream media, Idle No More seems to have vanished, but this is only because the mainstream media can only see things from the vantage point of the Indian Problem.  If indigenous peoples aren’t publicly protesting and presenting demands to governments, there’s nothing happening.  When Naomi Klein interviewed Nishnaabeg writer and activist Leanne Simpson, she asked Simpson what the next step was for Idle No More.  Simpson replied:

“I think within the movement, we’re in the next phase. There’s a lot of teaching that’s happening right now in our community and with public teach-ins, there’s a lot of that internal work, a lot of educating and planning happening right now. There is a lot of internal nation-building work. It’s difficult to say where the movement will go because it is so beautifully diverse. I see perhaps a second phase that is going to be on the land. It’s going to be local and it’s going to be people standing up and opposing these large-scale industrial development projects that threaten our existence as indigenous peoples—in the Ring of Fire [region in Northern Ontario], tar sands, fracking, mining, deforestation… But where they might have done that through policy or through the Environmental Assessment Act or through legal means in the past, now it may be through direct action. Time will tell.”

Beyond the gaze of the mainstream media, things are happening all the time.  In British Columbia for example, grassroots Wet’suwet’en peoples have erected a permanent camp and blockade on their lands to protect their territory from oil, gas, and bitumen pipelines from the Tar Sands and fracking projects.

They’ve been defending this camp for three years.  In the process, they’ve forged alliances with settlers and other indigenous nations across the province, including an upcoming teach-in organized on Lekwungen and WSANEC territories (Victoria) on April 28th, on settler solidarity and decolonization:

This Teach-In will provide settlers with an understanding of how the destruction of land as well as violence experienced by Indigenous peoples, who stand in assertion of their inherent sovereignty, can be located in both a historical and contemporary reality of colonialism. In preparing for resistance to the Pacific Trail Pipelines, this Teach-In will begin to prepare settler people to stand alongside Indigenous peoples in resisting the ongoing processes of colonialism – whether that be at the Unis’tot’en camp in the spring and summer, or elsewhere.

noptpAs the description implies, this isn’t just a one-off event; it’s designed to create the conditions for meaningful and lasting solidarity with indigenous struggles, and it holds open the possibility of decolonized relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples.  This is just one of hundreds of public events that focus on decolonizing the relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples on the lands claimed by Canada.  And these public events are only the most visible forms of decolonization in response to the Settler Problem.  The mainstream media won’t cover these efforts, and when they do, they’ll frame them as terrorism, because there is no place for them in the narrative of the Indian Problem.  Shifting to the Settler Problem asks us all to reflect on the ways we’re caught up in settler colonialism, whether we like it or not.

Matt Soltys interviewed by Kelly Reinhardt

Matt Soltys ran a radio show for a number of years called Healing the Earth Radio, which made connections between capitalism, settler colonialism, the prison industrial complex, patriarchy, and other political struggles that are often left out of ecological politics or environmentalism.  The interviews are archived on his website, and they are really great.  He recently published a book called Tangled Roots, which includes some of the most significant interviews he did over the course of his radio show.  I highly recommend this book; these interviews are really amazing and it’s rare to see such a wide diversity of voices and topics discussed, with lots of connections and resonances between them.  I think this is one of the most important resources for anyone thinking about ecology and environmentalism in North America.

In an interview with Kelly Reinhardt, Matt Soltys discusses how he became involved in struggles around ecology, indigenous solidarity, and decolonization, among other things.  He talks about how he draws strength and inspiration from nature and spends time listening to the land and conversing with other species, and he explains his efforts to unlearn Western, scientific ways of thinking and perceiving the world.  The interview is from 2008, but it’s still relevant today.  Check it out, and buy his book.

Below is the transcription:

(0:00 – 0:56) intro

(0:57 – 1:08) … You do good work with community radio… tell me a bit about that.

(1:09 – 1:49) … trying to make connections between ecological and political issues like power and colonialism… touching on issues of healing

(1:50 –  1:52) How did you come to that way of thinking?

(1:53 – 2:36) … not letting school beat it out of me… too many environmentalists not wanting to make connections between militaristic uses of the earth, weather warfare and genocide, stolen land… we’re not gonna be doing anything effective if we’re just talking about environmental issues or just talking about political issues

(2:37 – 2:46) … when you first started becoming concerned about things around you, what kind of effect did that have on you and your relationships…?

(2:47 – 3:30)  it’s a really good feeling to be connected to struggles that go back thousands of years and know that there is a long history of people being proud of resisting and standing up for something that really means something.

(3:31 – 3:37) … How are you able to maintain such a positive outlook…?

(3:38 – 5:57) … it’s overwhelming sometimes… the grief builds up… what’s kept me strongest and sane has been a strong connection with nature.

(5:58 – 6:41) you’ve identified a couple of key things… meaningful work and a connection to nature are very positive forces in ones life. What kind of advice would you give for people who just can’t access the positive work or a positive environment?

(6:42 – 7:45) … something as simple as feeling the pulse of our heart and breathing deep, knowing that each single breath connects us to each tree transpiring oxygen for us to breath

(7:46 – 8:12) … you came to these insights, whether it’s practical, intuitive, training… seems you are quite comfortable with your positions… feeling with the heart rather than thinking with (the brain)

(8:13 – 9:04) … most of my insights have come from spending a lot of time by myself outside…

(9:05 – 9:12) Where’s your secong favorite natural spot?

(9:13 – 9:23) … anywhere along a riverbank…

(9:24 – 9:32) when you’re communing with nature do you feel it’s reciprocal?

(9:33 – 10:53) certainly! … a river is happy to have someone sit by them or a tree would love to be touched just like a human loves to be touched.

(10:54 – 10:58) …tell us where people can plug in to some of your media work?

(10:59 – 11:22) resistanceisfertile.ca … and it is fertile, it certainly isn’t futile.

Monstrous Settlers: Zombies, Demons, and Angels

I am a monster (but I’m working on it).

With the birth and growth of Idle No More, now more than ever, lots of settlers are understanding colonialism as a problem, and trying to think through our relationships and obligations to Indigenous peoples, the history of colonization, and what all that means for us as settlers.  This shifts colonialism from an “Indian problem” to a “Settler problem.”  In spite of the mainstream media, many Canadian settlers are learning that they are implicated in an ongoing colonial relationship.  For me that’s encouraging, because I didn’t grow up in a context where colonialism is actually something discussed and debated, where settlers see colonialism as a problem that involves us.  I move through some spaces like this now, and they continue to challenge me.  This is about how settlers respond to these challenges.

I’m a white, male, educated, cis-gendered, able-bodied, hetero-sexual, middle-class settler, so I basically benefit from every major axis of oppression.  What follows is a reflection of my own experience with the politics of colonialism, decolonization, and settler solidarity efforts with Indigenous peoples, over the past few years.  I’m drawing on some feminist, queer, trans, and anti-racist writers and activists here too.  Even though dynamics are always different and complex, I think there are also some similarities in terms of the way privileged folks (like me) conduct ourselves across these struggles, especially when we’re trying to to prove that we’re good, in spite of our privilege.  When I use “we” and “us” I’m talking about other white settlers who benefit from ongoing white supremacy and settler colonialism in Canada.  I am glossing over lots of complexities and nuances of colonialism and decolonization.  I’m experimenting with monster metaphors in hopes of getting at some of these issues in a different way, but I recognize that this is serious shit.  And I want your feedback, critical or otherwise.

Upsettlers, Monarchists, and Manarchists are monsters that plague settlers in Canada, making it difficult for us to grapple with our colonial privilege, engage with other settlers, and effectively support Indigenous struggles.  I started out as a Monarchist, had stints as an Upsettler, became a Manarchist, and now I’m trying to avoid relapsing into all three monsters.

settlermonsters

Upsettler Zombies, Monarchist Demons, and Manarchist Angels

“Upsettler” is a recently coined term to designate settler attacks, disavowals, and denials provoked by Idle No More and Indigenous resurgence.  For example, from the Twitterverse:

#Upsettler walks into a bar. Literally acts like they own the place. Upset when informed they are not the original owners.

Most settler Canadians don’t like to be reminded of the legacy of genocide, theft, and enclosure upon which “Canada” was founded and settled.  And we especially don’t like to be reminded that this legacy never ended, and that Canada is an ongoing occupation of indigenous lands, working to assimilate indigenous peoples and destroy their communities, for the benefit of settler society.  These truths provoke the Upsettler zombies to rise up and shriek their fantasies: the Indians are lazy!  The Indians can’t manage their money!  The Indians are criminals!  Colonialism is in the past!  We’re all equals!  This issue has nothing to do with me!  Canada is a benevolent nation founded on peace and love and hockey and maple syrup!

Upsettlers have a strong immunity to understanding settler colonialism, and they subsist on a varied diet of rage, guilt, anxiety, denial, and racism.  Upsettler zombification is infectious, and corporate news media is a major vector for the spread of the Upsettler epidemic.  Upsettlers have denounced blockades as a form of “blackmail” that will “sabotage the national economy.”  Upsettler media pundits are calling for Idle No More protesters and blockaders to be arrested, demanding a return to settler colonial normalcy.  Others have lumped together Idle No More, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street as Lefty bullshit: “a great mass of conflicting emotions united only in their determination to have someone listen to them, dammit.”  When Canadian politicians become Upsettlers, police repression often follows.  Other Upsettlers subsist more on guilt and nationalist fantasies, and they are prone to deny their colonial privilege, insisting that “we’re all Canadian” or that “we’re not responsible for our ancestors.”

Not all settlers are Upsettled.  But those who haven’t caught the Upsettler zombie virus are usually possessed by demons.  Demons are a different kind of monster.  More “civilized” than zombies, they try to be measured, expressing benevolence and sympathy towards Idle No More and Indigenous peoples.  Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan insists that he had “been very much wanting to have a conversation with Chief Theresa Spence,” that he’d offered multiple times, and that he’s concerned about her health.  Before she chose to end it herself, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair called on Chief Spence to end her hunger strike: because “the government seems to be moving,” he thinks “the best thing would be to step back from that now.”  Father knows best.

This is the Monarchist response to colonialism: benevolence, paternalism, and sympathy.  Civilized political correctness.  Don’t call them Indians anymore; call them First Nations, aboriginals, or Indigenous peoples.  Feel sorry for Indigenous people, and maybe feel angry at Harper.  Police are often the ultimate Monarchists, framing themselves as impartial arbiters of peace, dispersing Indigenous people and Upsettlers alike, and restoring colonial public order.  Let’s all settle down.

Monarchists are settlers who want to “solve” the “Indian problem” so we can get back to our (settler colonial) lives.  They may advocate reform, as long as it preserves the colonial structure of Canada, and doesn’t actually affect settler privilege and occupation.  Monarchists and Upsettlers actually work together even when they seem to opposed each other: Upsettlers get upset and call for repression and reprisal; Monarchists call for reason and tolerance.  Mainstream news also helps disseminate Monarchist demons, and debates ensue about how much “we” should “tolerate” from Idle No More and Indigenous resistance.  Monarchist cops play the Upsettler zombies off against Indigenous peoples, so that the Monarchists can swoop in like impartial peacemakers when the time is right.

In radical circles, Monarchism is often rejected in favour of bright, shining, righteousness: proper anti-colonialism.  Denounce colonialism, express solidarity, and make sure everyone sees you doing it.  Condescend and correct people who aren’t aware.  This is the Manarchist response to colonialism: carve out a space of moral purity, command others to enter, bash those who don’t, instruct and condescend those who do.  The Manarchist loudly proclaims that he is against colonialism, he is an ally of Indigenous peoples, and he aggressively attacks Monarchists and Upsettlers, usually in an attempt to show Indigenous people that he’s a good guy.  Note: not all settlers expressing solidarity with Indigenous peoples are Manarchists.  Manarchists are the ones that have ascended to heaven through their self-righteousness, looking down on the rest.

The Upsettler, the Monarchist, and Manarchist aren’t people.  They’re positions that people take up, often unconsciously.  We become infected by colonial zombies, possessed by colonial demons and consumed by anti-colonial angels.  The Upsettler attacks Indigenous people head-on and denies colonialism, the Monarchist helps us brush past or “resolve” colonialism in a civilized way, and the Manarchist helps turn anti-colonialism into a badge of honour that raises us above ordinary settlers who don’t recognize the Truth.

As settlers, we all have some Upsettler and Monarchist in us, and the Manarchist is always waiting to take over and proclaim a revelation.  White, European-descended settlers are most prone to all these monsters.  The Manarchist possesses men more often than women.  I find myself possessed by each monster more times than I’d like to admit.

The Monarchist is the official demon of Canada, helping to ensure that we’re all respectful and civilized.  “Back then” we were uncivilized Upsettlers; we killed Indigenous people and put their children in residential schools… but now our Monarchist leader has apologized and we’re a multicultural nation; we just need to iron out a few kinks, the Monarchist assures us.

In contrast, the Manarchist proclaims that he’s been cured and exorcized: now he sees things clearly and he will force-feed you some Truth.  But if you’ve seen a Manarchist in action, you know he’s just as predictable as Monarchists and Upsettlers: a pious angel come to reveal our sins and show us The Way.  Usually a white man, always sure of himself.

These metaphors of angels, demons and zombies are a way of naming three, interconnected ways of relating to colonialism among settlers.  They seem opposed or antagonistic, but they actually reinforce each other.  They’ve become deeply ingrained habits, and they make it difficult to have meaningful and transformative conversations about colonialism, let alone take meaningful action.

Call-outs, Sledgehammers, and Toolkits

Monarchists and Upsettlers are pretty immune to Manarchists: they become ever-more convinced that colonialism is inevitable and people resisting it are ridiculous.  If the Upsettler thrives on the call for repression, and Monarchist thrives on the call for peace, then the Manarchist thrives on the “call-out.”  The call-out is: “a method for either revealing privileged, bigoted or problematic behaviors to others publicly or to attempt to reveal to an individual their own mistakes and hopefully trigger some accountability.”  It has roots in mass-movement-based, anti-racist, anti-oppressive contexts as a tactic to challenge Upsettlers and Monarchists who are being oppressive.  I am not saying that calling someone out makes you a Manarchist.  I’ve been called out, and it has been scary, unsettling, transformative, and effective.  But as Kinsey Hope explains:

Now, and let’s not forget this, calling out is a tool. Like any tool it can be abused. It can be overused. And it can become broken. And as the culture of activism becomes more and more dependent upon the call out, the anatomy of [the call out] has begun to evolve.

Manarchists don’t have a toolkit for engaging with Upsettlers and Monarchists: they only have the call-out, and the call-out is a sledgehammer.  Sometimes it can be effective, but if it’s the only tool in the arsenal, pretty soon people will get tired of being bashed, and they’ll probably get Upsettled.  It’s like throwing rocks at zombies: it may feel good, but it just riles them up, and remember: the Upsettler zombie disease is extremely contagious.

I’m doing my best to ward off the Manarchism as I write this, so I don’t have any solutions to this problem.  But I’ve been inspired by a few folks I’ve met who seem to have found different ways of relating to colonialism, who seem to have escaped the monsters, expanded their anti-colonial toolkit, and I think there are some common traits:

Vulnerability and accountability: these folks have cultivated a way of having conversations about colonialism where they don’t set themselves up as the ones with the Truth.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t challenge colonial attitudes; it means they try to do it in a way that opens conversation and questions, rather than shutting them down.  They make it clear that they’re questioning, they’re doing their own learning, and they haven’t figured it out.  They’re also open to being challenged, by Indigenous people and settlers, and they learn more because folks feel like it’s safe to challenge them.  This also makes them more effective allies of Indigenous peoples.  Anti-racist activist Michelle O’Brien encapsulates this pretty brilliantly:

People have to change in a much deeper way — change in the soul, in the, unconscious, in the Real, there are many names for this piece, this piece that is just outside of whatever we say about it. We have to find ways of being genuinely respectful, open, and loving to people, to actually let go of the bullshit that keeps us from doing that…

Actually figuring out how people really change — not just model that change, not just talk about it or properly perform it — is really hard. In some ways, it calls on the simplest things in the world – just listening to people, being open to what people actually have to say, looking honestly at whatever is going on, acting from a space of compassion and respect. But how do you get there, if talking about it (or writing about it in an essay) isn’t enough?

I don’t know.

Individual and collective education: they’ve dedicated time to learning about colonialism by themselves and with others.  They’ve tried to understand the history of colonialism, how it works, and what that means for us today.  But they don’t hold this knowledge over other people, and they’ve found ways of sharing it that are humble and unsettling, making colonialism into a massive open-ended problem rather than an issue of guilt and sledgehammers.

Patience and courage: they actively seek out conversations about colonialism in unlikely places, with their families, friends, workplaces, and other spaces where those conversations don’t normally happen.  And they approach new conversations with compassion, even if they’ve heard the same colonial responses  (“we can’t go back” – “it’s not my fault” – “it’s human nature”) a hundred times before.  The burden of engaging with Upsettlers and Monarchists shouldn’t fall to Indigenous peoples.  This means it’s up to us as settlers to educate ourselves and engage with others wherever we are.  If people are unreceptive or dismissive, the most effective settlers tend not to reject them as colonizers, at least not at the outset; they see the intervention as part of a longer process, and try to leave space for future conversations.

Those aren’t instructions or answers; just behaviours in others that have inspired me because they confront colonialism while avoiding Manarchist tendencies.  Manarchists are not more “radical” than settlers who try to meet people where they’re at, rather than shove truth down their throats.  The Manarchist often drowns out other voices, because settler Righteousness and Truth are a lot louder than uncertainty and vulnerability.  I think that’s a major reason why many people fall back into Upsettlement and Monarchism: when they engage with other settlers trying to work on colonialism, they encounter the manarchist, and they don’t want to be his disciple or get hit with a sledgehammer over and over.

Manarchism is simpler than vulnerability.  Manarchists can often become their own little cliques, in their own pious corner.  It’s easier to have a radical anti-colonial circle-jerk than to engage with Monarchists and Upsettlers who might be angry or dismissive.  Demons and zombies can be scary, and angels often like hanging out with each other (and hitting each other with hammers).

Colonialism relies on these monsters to perpetuate itself.  Willing settlers are required to work, to keep consuming, to own property, and to keep Canada’s colonial-capitalist engine chugging.  But settlers can get in the way of colonial propaganda and repression, in solidarity with Idle No More and Indigenous resurgence.  We can play a role in unsettling the Upsettler and the Monarchist (and ourselves), but we’ll be unlikely to succeed as Manarchist angels.  I’m not urging oppressed people to be nice to folks like me.  Indigenous peoples have every right to be pissed off at us, and that’s not what I mean by Manarchism.  This is about the way settlers treat settlers when we talk about colonialism.  Take the words of Fleetwood/Majestic Luxery-Legay:

this world kicks the shit out of our hearts every day. when we turn around and do that to each other we are fucking each other over just as our respective states would like us to. one of the most revolutionary things we can do is cultivate new ways to connect, to be gentle and tender with one another in a world that is trying constantly to divide and conquer us. we can’t be tough without also being tender.

The Manarchist possesses us, and we attack others to show that we’re good, that we know.  We bash people with sledgehammers without considering plyers, or a flash light, or a nail file.  Upsettlers and Monarchists shriek in horror, and we mistake this noise for transformation.  But upsettlement is not unsettlement.

I’m not saying that all anti-colonial settlers need to be engaged with Upsettlers and Manarchists, all of the time, in an oh-so-compassionate way.  Certain projects and alliances require keeping these monsters at a distance.  It takes a lot of emotional energy to engage with them, and sometimes a good bashing is entirely necessary and effective.  This is not a call to shower colonizers with peace and love, rather than speaking hard truths or radical ideas.  When I have become a Manarchist angel, it means I can’t be challenged or reproached: I’m holy.  Now I’m trying to be more real with people, which includes anger, but hopefully not the holy kind.

Avoiding Manarchism can be compatible with radical visions of indigenous-settler relations and decolonized futures.  Vancouver-based activist Harsha Walia writes:

Decolonization is as much a process as a goal. It requires a profound re-centring of Indigenous worldviews in our movements for political liberation, social transformation, renewed cultural kinships, and the development of an economic system that serves rather than threatens our collective life on this planet. As stated by Toronto-based activist Syed HussanDecolonization is a dramatic re-imagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study, it requires conversation, it is a practice, it is an unlearning.”

Unsettlement and unlearning colonialism requires a diverse toolkit (including a sledgehammer), and it depends upon our capacity to deal with the monsters within us and others.  Clear opposition and intense conflict are always part of struggles against colonialism.  Unsettling colonialism and decolonization also entails vulnerability and conversation.  No one can tell what this “dramatic re-imagining of relationships with land, people, and the state” will actually look like; we’ll have to figure it out together, in a struggle against zombies, demons, and angels.

An older version of this piece was originally published in No Fun City! and on Many Politics, before the Idle No More movement began.  This version has been expanded, changed and updated.  It was also published through the Dominion Media Co-op here.

Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. Spaces between us : queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

I skipped over a chapter in this summary and I found myself quoting Morgensen extensively as I tried to summarize, because so many of his claims were quite complicated and nuanced.  I’m still digesting this book; I might be able to say more about what I actually think about it later…

Morgensen’s book tracks what he calls “the biopolitics of settler colonialism” in queer movements.  He shows that the biopolitics of settler colonialism structures Native and non-Native queer movements, and their interrelationship.  Colonialism is always there; it structures desires and relationships, and it tends to remain naturalized in settler society: the targeting of indigenous communities for death seems natural, necessary, or already-accomplished.  In the intro, he advances three claims:

1)   “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society.

2)   Within broad transnational alliances (focused here in the United States), Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities.

3)   Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations (ix).

Thinking settler colonialism ‘biopolitically’ means “reading ‘modern sexuality’ as the array of discourses, procedures, and institutions that arose in metropolitan and colonial societies to distinguish and link primitive and civilized gender and sexuality, while defining racial, national, gendered, and sexual subjects and populations in biopolitical relationship.  The colonization of indigenous peoples was a “proviing ground for the biopolitics of settler colonialism,” which, he argues, “defines modern sexuality as ‘contact’ between queered indigeneity and its transcendence by settler sexuality” (23).  In short, settler colonial biopower affects all modern sexualities (32).  Heteropatriarchal settler colonialism sought “both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34).  He argues that the sovereign power of death and the relegation of indigenous people to a state of exception worked in tandem with “a modern and siciplinary education of desire that produced normative subjects of life” (34-5).  European sexualities fostered misogynist hierarchies and ‘queered’ indigenous peoples, interpreting transgressions of heteropatriarchy not only as abnormality in individuals, but as symptoms of a flawed society, requiring heteropatriarchal interventions and discipline (36-7).  This is part of a shift from the singling out of individuals (the regime of sovereignty) towards their subjection “with their communities to military attack, containment, or removal” (38).  Thus residential and reserve schools “used disciplinary education to try to break Native communities, languages, and cultural knowledges” without the need for “brute violence” (39).  This is part of the “deadly logic of regulation,” which never precluded overt and extreme violence, but nonetheless represents a distinct and pervasive aspect of colonialism (40-1)

So what are the implications of biopolitical settler colonialism for settlers?  Morgensen situates the subjugation of indigenous peoples as “proving ground” for the sexual regulation of settler societies and modern sexuality more generally.  Colonial settler subjectivity was still in formation, not yet naturalized: “far from reflecting the finality of conquest, this period was one of tense negotiations of active and contested settlement.  Any iteration of modern sexuality in this time that placed Native people in the past knew itself to be a contingent claim that remained open to challenge” (42).

Method and ‘conversations’

Morgensen combines metatheory, textual exegesis, ethnography, document analysis, and history to analyze non-Native and Native queer movements.  He interprets these movements as “conversations.”  These conversations aren’t (usually) literal; the term orients us to power-laden relationships produced in and through settler colonialism, so they aren’t necessarily unsettling or anticolonial; they can involve appropriations and other interactions that reproduce or naturalize settler colonialism.  This idea of conversation conditions the way Morgensen interprets narratives, “interpreting U.S. queer politics across the national differences of Native peoples and sovereignties” as a way to displace settler colonialism (xi).  He follows Andrea Smith in reading (Native) activists as theorists who challenge settler colonialism.  These conversations can also be about disruption or contestation, “where interlocutors’ competing claims tell more in their differences with one another than any single narrative can tell alone” (xi).  “This book explains non-Native queer modernities as forming within the friction of conversations with discrepant Native queer modernities denaturalizing settler colonialism.  Neither chosen nor denied, these conversations are not utopian; but they nevertheless form creative zones of contact and transformation whose outcomes are not preordained.  Interreferential moments in conversation show that the meaning of non-native or Native queer subjectivity appeared by engaging relational claims” (28).  In the end, more than a study of conversation, this book is a kind of conversation, as well as an effort to transform those in which it arose and that it examines” (28).

He aligns his work with settler colonial studies, which he positions alongside recent currents in Native studies that have focused on indigenous decolonization (2).  He explains that he interprets “non-Native and Native queer modernities as forming within the intimate relationships of conversation, in which their friction produced a multiplicity of narratives for textual and ethnographic interpretation, while mapping genealogies wherein their differences became interreferential amid the persistent and transforming power of settler colonialism.  M positions his book and his ethnographic method in relation to these conversations, by “shifting my ethnography of queer spaces where I lived to studying their formation in relation to the spaces they elided: those formed by Native queer and Two-Spirit activists” (13).  In the 1990s he encountered different, Native spaces “only by moving outside normatively white queer politics to attend to Native queer activists space, including women of colour feminist spaces where Native queer women were providing leadership” (14).  He is keen to point out that he is not framing Native activism and theory as a “discovery:” “Instead, I cite Native queer activist texts as a distinctive body of critical theory to which queer non-Natives already were intellectually and politically accountable, and to which my now-comparative and historical study of non-Native queer politics offered a response” (14).

Morgensen also engages with literary and theoretical texts to work through multiple interpretations, teasing out the political implications of competing interpretations, raising questions about how to read the intended audience of a piece and putting writing in historical context.  At several points in the book, this close attention to texts seemed tedious to me, as if Morgensen has spent a long time parsing these texts and so feels a need to write about them.  However, upon reviewing the book, I can see how he situates their importance in the book.  He explains that the book “explains narrative relationships among queer subjects by situating them within ethnographic and historical accounts of U.S. queer politics” (12).  So these close readings of narratives and identity are required, so that they can then be situated in the context of movements.  In his discussion of the Radical Faeries, for example, his reading of Native writing and activism allows him to show that the indigenous people begin answers in other places and arrive at different conclusions than dominant settler discourses (155), they tend to avoid generalizations or universalizations of their indigeneity, and when they do articulate transnational spiritualities, Morgensen insists that it is “neither primordial nor authenticating, but historicizing” (156).  This emphasis of history over and against autheniticity/primordiality is an important theme in Moregensen’s text; it could be read as a methodological (and ethical) axiom in this context.

In this way, he explains that his work is not really an ethnography of Native or non-Native peope, but rather “on the genealogies of settler colonialism that produce non-Native and Native queer modernities in relationship.  I examine non-Native tales of Native truth—anthropological or popular, romantic or objectivist, colonial or anticolonial—as claims conditioned by the persistent power of settler colonialism.  I comparate them to Native narratives that address non-Natives without beginning or ending in non-Native logics (16).

Settler colonialism

Morgensen’s analysis is based on the insight that settler colonialism is ongoing, and that it conditions and produces relations between settlers and indigenous peoples, even and especially when those relations seem absent: “Settler societies engender a normative relationality between the designations “Native” and “settler” that imbues histories of intermingling, interdependence, or the attempted erasure of indigeneity as a marker of national difference.  The distinction between “Native” and “settler” informs all power in settler societies and their relations with societies worldwide” (1).

Because settler colonialism is a ‘structure’ rather than an ‘event,’ it’s ongoing and it calls for “a sustained denaturalizing critique” (2).  He extends this to queer subjectivity, explaining that “queer will refer to statuses produced by the heteropatriarchal power of what supremacist settler colonialism” (2).  This isn’t a claim that all queer identities are equivalent (or equally conditioned by whiteness and colonialism) but he is arguing that “queer politics produces a settler homonationalism that will persist unless settler colonialism is challenged directly as a condition of queer modernity” (so settler colonialism is a condition—however differential and uneven—of all queer modernities).  Settler colonialism produces “non-Native queer modernities,” in which “modern queers appear definitively not Native—separated from, yet in perpetual (negative) relationship to, the original peoples of the lands where they live (3).  Settler colonialism “is naturalized whenever conquest or displacement of Native peoples is ignored or appears necessary or complete, and whenever subjects are defined by settler desires to possess Native land, history, or culture.  Settler colonialism thus must be denaturalized not only in social and political spaces but also in definitions and experiences of subjectivity” (16).  “Settler colonialism is present precisely when it appears not to be, given that its normative function is to appear inevitable and final.  Its naturalization follows both the seeming material finality of settler soecity and discourses that fram settlers as “those who come after” rather than as living in relationship to Native peoples in a colonial situation” (42).  This is why Morgensen is so focused on desire and narratives of settler subjects: because these give him some clues about the intentions and motivations of settlers, and he locates these spaces as important sites of intervention.  He says settler colonialism is naturalized in two ways here: (1) in the seeming disappearance of indigenous peoples from a settled landscape and (2) through the incorporation of indigeneity into and as settler subjectivity (18).

Non-white settlers?

Morgensen argues that settler colonialism produces non-white people “are located distinctly from the settler status inherited by the representatives of Anglo whiteness—even if they might accede to that status if the interpretation of their racialization changes” (18-9).  He cites Bonita Lawrence’s critique of antiracism as a call on non-Native people of colour in white settler societies “to ask themselves how their histories of racial subjugation and antiracist resistance might be compatible with settler colonial elimination of Native peoples and their sovereignty” (19).  He suggests that the differential positions of people of colour within settler colonialism can also be understood as an effect of settler colonialism: “the control of non-Native peoples of colour reproduced their collective subjection for economic and social roles within a normativiely non-Native multiracial and transnational settler society (43).  But people of colour and their struggles can also naturalize colonialism if “the experience of subjection or the struggle for liberation among non-Native people of colour naturalizes the erasure of Native people as inevitable, necessary, or complete or has Native people’s subjection as its effect” (43).

He points back to white settlers and the normalization of whiteness even in anti-colonial solidarity movements: “white radicals often fail to note the racial specificity of their settler colonial inheritance.  If they project their experience into theorizing the responsibility of non-Natives to demonstrate Indigenous solidarity, they may reproduce white supremacy by not considering how people of colour negotiate settler colonialism—perhaps within Indigenous solidarity that white people will not share (20).

He articulates a shift away from asking “who is a settler?” and instead asks “how subjects are produced by social processes: ‘who under what conditions, inherits the power to represent or enact settler colonialism?’” (20)… “the teleological binary Native/settler is perpetually complicated by the nonbinary relations of diverse non-Natives and Native peoples across commonalities and differences” (22).

Beyond identity politics and including diverse voices

Although he wants to challenge and unsettle queer theory and its whiteness and settler colonial heritage, he insists that “the problem is not that white, class-privileged, national inheritors of settler colonialism have been central to queer accounts.  The problem is that all conclusions drawn from such accounts fail to explain not only all who are excluded from them but also all who are included: because the only possible explanation of queerness under white-supremacist settler colonialism is one that also interrogates that condition.  Queer studies must examine settler colonialism as a condition of its own work” (25-6).

Primitivity and (queer) appropriations

A major argument in the book is that non-Native subjects [in this case, queer folks] appropriate indigeneity and reinforce settler colonialism: “white settlers adapt indigeneity’s putative opposition to civilization through “Indian impersonation,” which performs opposition to settler rule as well as the authority to claim it for themselves as settler subjects.  In both accounts, settlers supplant and incorporate indigeneity to attain settler subjectivity” (17).  He argues that the colonial demand on settlers to replace indigenous peoples “incites white settler desires to be intimate with the Native authenticity that their modernity presumably replaces.  Indigenity’s civilizational replacement thus is complementary to the settler pursuit of primitivism” (17).  “Settler citizens in the United States are at once civilizationists and primitivists” (27).  “Modern sexuality comes into existence when the heteropatriarchal advancement of white settlers appears to vanquish sexual primitivity, which white settlers nevertheless adopt as their own history” (1).  By this he means that white settler sexuality emerged in colonial relationship with indigenous sexualities, as more civilized and coming after.  Indigenous sexuality is something in the past and it is universalized as the past of ‘all of us;’ this is what he means by settlers adopting primitivism as their own history.  He points to “a settler colonial logic that disappears indigeneity so that it can be recalled by modern non-Natives as a relationship to Native culture and land that might reconcile them to inheriting conquest.  Thus ‘non-Native’ signifies not a racial or ethnic identity but a location within settler colonialism” (3).

In particular, Morgensen focuses on the way in which Native people are produced within settler discourses through the anthropological concept of ‘berdache,’ which anthropologists used to describe indigenous people who would now be understood as Two-Spirit.  By linking their own identities with berdache as a transhistorical form of sexuality, settlers position their identities as part of an eternal and sacred form of sexuality, and reconcile their position as settlers, Morgensen argues.  In the intro, he focuses on the writings of Judy Grahn, a lesbian feminist writer who was among the first to make this move.  He argues that “positing an indigenous embrace for queer exiles from a white settler society lets her imagine switching allegiances to play “Indians” against her own people… white Americans associate marginality and resistance with the Indian as an internal antagonist to settler society, which then lets them impersonate indigeneity when they launch social critiques that reconcile them to settler society.  He generalizes this through his ethnography: “I recurrently heard participants tell that Native American societies historically honored people like themselves with social esteem and spiritual gifts” (12).  Even though Grahn and other settlers readily admit that indigenous societies are still functioning and resisting settler colonialism, “her story displaces that intimacy with occupation by investing in emptied Native land as a past and present home” (6).  He is pointing to a pattern whereby settlers narrate their exile from white settler society and then take comfort in imagining their own “indigenized emplacement” (6).  Morgensen also points to distance as an important part of this relationship: settlers don’t have much actual interaction with indigenous peoples, but they often desire this interaction/appropriation/indigenization as a path towards cathartic healing and reconciliation.

If his critiques of particular groups or writings seem harsh, it’s because they can easily be read as a simple attack or critique of their complicity with colonialism.  But he repeatedly explains that he’s actually more intent on showing how all of these appropriations are more like symptoms of a broader problem: “if white sexual minorities traversed their primitivity in order to claim national whiteness, they followed a normative path to citizenship for white settler subjects” (45).  He links this to the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and other forms “when modern sexuality discourses taught white men to tap and control their inheritance of primitivity” (45).  It’s this ‘normative path’ that he wants to trace, and his ethnographies function more like examples of the way in which people get caught up in these paths, as ways to reconcile/erase their relation to colonialism (45).  In terms of settler appropriations of berdache in particular, M argues that it “allowed white subjects in a settler society, led by white men, to answer their settler colonial inheritance by accepting Native roots as theirs to possess and replace” (48).

The Radical Faeries

Morgensen has a full chapter on his ethnographic work on the Radical Faeries, and they’re woven into other chapters, as well.  This chapter was of particular interest to me because he’s focusing not only on the appropriation of berdache and indigenous ritual in white queer sexuality, but also on settler desires to possess and live on settled land.  He explains his longstanding links with them through queer networks, and his eventual acceptance of an invitation to engage with them as an ethnographer: “my ethical responsibility to experience and understand the situated practices in which I participated on their own terms complicated the relative simplicity of distanced criticism and generated, in its place, the critically reflexive account I provide here” (128).

He summarizes his ethnographic account:

“My ethnographic account portrays the way Radical Faeries produce queer subjects by creatively deploying rurality and mobility in the context of settlement.  Notably, this resolves racialized exclusions of white queers from sexual modernity by claiming roots in Native authenticity that appear to resolve contradictions in their non-Native inheritance of settlement” (129).

He locates the Radical Faeries within a broader genealogy of settlers who have sought to “enact self-exile from privilege” as part of a revolutionary opposition to racism, capitalism, and imperialism.  This rejection is materialized by “relocating to homes based in democratic socialism, anarchism, or counterculturalism” (131).  So what?  “Belief that removing U.S. gay men or lesbians to spaces coded as communal, antiauthoritarian, or premodern would interrupt their power was the very means by which such practices fostered modernist sexual politics animated by colonial discourses” (131).  Again, the problem here is not anarchism or antiauthoritarianism as such, but the way in which these ideas and practices are deployed to naturalize settler colonialism, in a way that is assumed to nullify privilege and/or oppose dominant systems (131).  They imagined themselves as “allies to people of colour and colonized people worldwide, but their desire to also emulate or even embody the oppressed whom they knew they were not translated into their ruralist, naturist, and primitivist projects” (132).  The Faeries’ founder emphasized “gay shamanism” and although Morgensen acknowledges critiques of normative whiteness, anti-intellectualism, and appropriation, he suggests that these were rare and failed to shift RF practice (133).  In particular, Morgensen is interested in the ways in which RF practices shape desires through enactment of their practices, creating a “performative map” that Radical Faeries can then take with them (134).

He’s not only critical of the appropriation of indigenous spirituality, but also of the reclamation of paganism and European spiritualities, a move that is often seen within anticolonial settler movements as a viable way to avoid colonial appropriation.  Again, this is because his prime concern isn’t with the unethical practice of appropriation as such, but with the way it function in the broader colonial context of settler colonialism: “neo-paganism itself is reinvented by them to gain a relationship to Native land and culture that does not feel like the conquest that they know they inherit” (136).  He locates the most thorough naturalization of Native culture in the practice of ‘heart circle,’ which foregrounds “emotional speech, deep listening, and collective conversation” as something central to Radical Faerie subjectivity (136).  These and other practices, such as memorialization of people who had died of aids, “created radical faerie community in an indigenized relation to settled land that simultaneously healed the trauma of epidemic and the inheritance of conquest for non-Native gay men” (139).  Unlike straight back-to-the-landers, Radical Faeries suggested that the land they acquired and their ties to indigeniety “were a birthright of being gay” (139).  He’s critical of the multicultural aspirations of the RFs, where they express desire to live in a multiracial space “while deflecting responsibility for forming a white space that produces the absence they regret” (147).

Reading indigenous people against settler narratives

Morgensen doesn’t just criticize settler narratives as colonial from his own position as a settler, he also narrates their unsettlement by interpreting indigenous writing and activism.  I think this is what he means by ‘conversations’ between Native and non-Native politics.  Whereas Judy Grahn looks to Native traditions to incorporate into her own identity, he points to narratives about indigenous queer subjectivity by Gay American Indians (GAI) as an alternative.  These narratives “do not divulge information about historical gender roles in Native societies, and non-Natives are not invited to identify with Native histories” (8).  Moreover, “No contributor argued that Native gays and lesbians represent the original nature of all sexual minorities” (8).

Morgensen argues that Radical Faerie encounters with Native Two-Spirit activists transformed some of their practices and ways of thinking.  First of all, he suggests that RFs initially had an appropriative mentality about this relationship: RFs tend to ask or assume that Native or Two Spirit people will “interact precisely as a difference that Radical Faeries desire” (152).  Instead, Native people invoked friendship as a way to affirm “how non-Nativeas have supported them while still holding them [non-Natives] accountable to work for indigenous decolonization” (153).  This interaction “brough Radical Faeries to admit their non-Native locations in a settler society and to hold themselves responsible to Native people as critics of colonialism” (153).  However, he’s careful to emphasize that these encounters did not fundamentally transform Radical Faerie culture.  Instead, these encounters “appear to be signs of a potential epistemic shift, in relation to which present and future accounts may ask to what extent a responsibility to Native work for decolonization leads to troubling colonial desires for queerness, modernity, or indigeneity or to denaturalizing the relationship of Radical Faeries to settlement” (159).  They are interpreted as “moments in larger conversations articulating non-Native and Native queer subjects within the power relations of ongoing settler colonialism” (159).

Transformation

Morgensen is also intent to show how the power of relations produced by settler colonialism can be and have been destabilized and unsettled, or ‘displaced.’  He follows Foucault and Butler in suggesting that “power is the very condition of agentive action—a transformative context for its repetition and potential destabilization” (3).  Analytically, the task of critique then requires “close reading to ascertain which forms of creativity might produce decolonizing ends” (3).

In terms of useful responses, he insists that “even antiracist and anticolonial work by queers of colour may become compatible with settler projects,” and suggests that “displacing any such effects can start by locating U.S. queer modernities in the biopolitics of settler colonialism that still impose non-Native, normatively white, and settler relationships on Native peoples, and by efforts of Native queer and Two-Spirit people to denaturalize settler colonialism” (49).

He thus locates the primary (perhaps the only) agency in unsettling colonialism in organizing efforts among indigenous people.  In terms of queer politics, he points to the recalling of “subjugated knwoeldges of embodiment, desire, kingship, and peoplehood in modes of language, memory, and reliatnality that were discrepant from colonial modern definitions of sexuality and gender” (51).  He insists here that indigenous activism is not simply reactive to or derivative from settler colonialism; on the contrary, “settler colonialism is a relationship between something that may attempt totalization and all that it attempts (forever incompletely) to suppress” (51).

Morgensen suggests that “non-Native queers can evaluate their work by the degree to which it troubles settler colonialism while being held accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit activists and allied critics” (226).  Here he implicitly positions himself as someone to whom non-Native queers might be accountable, since he repeatedly positions his work as an non-Native allied work in conversation with Native decolonization.  But is the reverse true?  Is Morgensen accountable to non-Native queer activists, who are trying to figure out their own relation to colonialism, or how to challenge it?  Has he interrogated the (often invisible) power relations accorded to him as an academic critic, and what it might mean to write in a way that’s relevant and accessible to non-academics?  I’m not invoking this as an imperative or an obligation, but as a question that seems to arise logically from his standpoint.  He says that he wants to challenge and unsettle non-Native queer activism, but it’s unclear whether the people he criticizes (like the Radical Faeries) are actually his audience in this book.  Instead, the book puts him more into conversation with other academics who are steeped in at least some of the literature related to queer theory, postcolonialism, Native studies, ethnography and post-structuralism.

In his conclusion, Morgensen briefly offers the notion of groundlessness as a way to unsettle settler desires for indigenous land: “critically engaging histories of colonial, national, and racist violence and their survival has engendered mobile and transformative modes of decolonization for queers of colour in diaspora.  Such work links to Indigenous queer decolonization of Indigenous nations by acting from within mobile alliances.  I invoke groundlessness to invite new theory to displace settler imaginaries among queer non-Natives.  By detaching from their colonial desires to belong to stolen land, the settler state, or their projections into global possibilities, queer non-Natives can release imaginaries of indigeneity that formed to resolve the contradictions of settlers possessing stolen land and Native peoples’ pasts and futures.” (227).  He returns here to the idea of “conversations as the spaces between non-Naïve and Native queer people that shift when made accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit people’s pursuit of decolonization for their nations (227).  He locates the problem in the distance produced by settler colonialism: “Queer non-Natives in the late-twentieth-century United States regularly found everyday speech, activist agendas, and historical and anthropological writing that invited them to form a relationship with indigeneity at a sustained distance” (229).  “Native history was easy to consume, prepackaged in settler narratives; yet no degree of consumption placed non_Natives in greater relationship with queer Native people, or indeed any Native people, across the distances of geography, community, and politics that already divided them (228).

He concludes by explaining that even though this book focuses on denaturalizing settler colonialism, that’s not an end in itself: “it would be all too easy for non-Natives to merely unthink their relationship to settler colonialism rather than act in relationship to others in struggle” (230).  At the same time, he worries that solidarity efforts will be conditioned by the colonial desires he names.  These are “desires of non-Native queers to find theselves in Native religion, to form multiracial, global movements that incorporate Native people, or to define Native truth: they desire to be even closer to Native people than adopting Native culture as their own history satisfies.  I fear that their desires will perform the coloniality that initiated them if they include, or join, Native people after being motivated to adopt Native culture as queer history” (229).

It follows that “all normative modes through which non-Native and Native queer people appear to be in onversation must be disrupted for dialogue to occur from the decolonizing stakes fo Native queer and Two-Pspirit activists.  My experience has taught me that if this disruption occurs, it might follow non-Native queers first critiquing settler colonialism in the power-laden conversations that already constrain them.  Their critical work will mark them as accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit activism, and they may be drawn into collaborations with Native people who work with them in the fraught spaces of a settler colonial society.  Such ollaborations must be sufficient for non-Native queers who wish to act as allies to Native decolonization struggles.  NO greater proximity to Native cultural space is necessary, nor necessarily helpful for them to desire” (229).