Short piece in Rabble by Sarah Hunt: “Why are we so hesitant to name white male violence as a root cause, yet so comfortable naming all the “risk factors” associated with the lives of Indigenous girls who have died? Why are we not looking more closely at the “risk factors” that lead to violence in the lives of the perpetrators? Isn’t that truly where the responsibility for this epidemic lies? When Pickton was convicted, why didn’t we see national coverage of the root causes of his actions and that of other white male serial killers?”
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.”
“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.”
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…
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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)”
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…
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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.
I’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.
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.
Aragorn! – “Locating an Indigenous Anarchism” in Uncivilized: The Best of Green Anarchy (2012).
This is one of the first pieces of writing that attempted to bring anarchism and indigenism together (that I know of). It’s written in a non-academic style, without citations or jargon, and it’s pretty short. It engages brings together theory, practice, and political traditions in a nuanced way, and there’s a lot packed into a few pages.
The piece is framed as an imagined story, about what an indigenous anarchism would look like. It begins with the destruction of civilization, and the burning of cities. This is the precursor to an indigenous anarchism: “once we get beyond the flames we will have to craft a life together” (49).
“Indigenous” means “of the land we are actually on” and “anarchist” means “without authoritarian constraint” (49). The three main principles of anarchism, for Aragorn!, are direct action, mutual aid, and voluntary cooperation (50).
He is wary about setting down principles of indigenous anarchism: “If I believe in a value and then articulate that value as instrumental for an appropriate practice then what is the difference between my completely subjective (or self-serving) perspective and one that I could possibly share usefully? This question should continue to haunt us” (51).
But he cautiously states some first principles of indigenous anarchism:
- Everything is alive. There are no objects, and there are no dead things: “Alive may not be the best word for what is being talked about but we could say imbibed with spirit or filled with the Great Spirit and we would mean the same thing. We will assume that a secular audience understands life as complex, interesting, in motion, and valuable. This same secular person may not see the Great Spirit in things that they are capable of seeing life in” (51)
- The ascendance of memory. He means something very specific by “memory” here, and suggests that our society is characterized by forgetting, but doesn’t say much about what this memory is… (51-2)
- Place: similar to memory, he argues that contemporary civilization places us nowhere (suburbs, stripmalls and airports are the ultimate examples of non-places). An anarchism of place doesn’t necessarily mean living in one place; it might entail moving with the seasons, or “travelling every year as conditions, or desire, dictated” (52). These choices would be dictated by people, and not “the exigency of economic or political priorities” (52).
- Family: the extended family is an extension of the principle that everything is alive: “the connection between living things, which we would shorthand call family, is the way that we understand ourselves in the world. We are part of a family and we know ourselves through family” (52).
- Self-determination and radical decentralization: “Self determination should be read as the desire for people who are self-organized (whether by tradition, individual choice, or inclination) to decide how they want to live with each other” (53). Aragorn! argues that these principles are often adopted in anarchist discourse, but they aren’t lived up to in practice. Anarchists often refuse any conception of ‘race,’ and this entails a refusal to understand and deal with indigenous people and people of colour, for whom these categories are very real. He’s not saying that these categories are real (or that they aren’t); he’s saying that anarchists often fail “to apply the principles of self-determination to the fact that real living and breathing people do identify within racial and cultural categories and that this identification has consequences in terms of dealing with one another… the answer is that these anarchists do not expect to deal with anyone outside of their understanding of reality. They expect reality to conform to their subjective understanding of it” (53).
He is also critical of the anarchist tradition for what he calls “repetitive criticism”—this form of critique is useful for “getting every member of a political tendency on the same page,” but its effect is often to generate suspicions and detachment from anarchistic events, rather than affirmations of them: “the form that anarchist criticism has taken about events in the world is more useful in shaping an understanding of what anarchists believe than what the world is” (54). Anarchist criticism is often turned in on itself, comparing the world and peoples’ efforts to an Anarchist ideal, and the world is always found deficient.
Aragorn! articulates a paradox of indigenous anarchism (and other anarchisms): “Anarchists would like to have it both ways. They would like to see their tradition as being growing and vital, along with being uncompromising and deeply radical. Since an anarchist society would be such a deep break from what we experience in this world, it is impossible to perceive any scenario that leads from here to there. There is no path” (54).
In other words, the vision of indigenous anarchism is so radically different from the dominant order that there’s no way to invent a strategy that would bring those conditions into existence. You can’t get there from here: “I will not finish this story with a happy ending that will not come true. This is a sharing” (55). He seems to call for patience, in the end, recalling his teachings: “The reason that I sit here and drink is because I am waiting for the white man to finish his business. And when he is done we will return” (55).
In the final paragraphs, he notes that the only indigenous anarchists he’s met have been native people, not because it’s impossible for nonnative ppl to live this way, but “because there are few teachers and even fewer students” (among the settler population) (55). This is another reason why settlers need to engage with indigenous peoples: “If learning how to live with these values is worth anything it is worth making the compromises necessary to learn how people have been living with them for thousands of years” (55).