On Reconciliation: Colonialism, Systemic Racism, and the Canadian Tradition of Denial.

Chief Michael Sack at the opening of a fishery in Nova Scotia. Source: APTN News, 2020.
Confrontation between commercial fishermen and Mi’kmaq fishermen in New Edinburgh, Nova Scotia. Source: Toronto Star, 2020
Lobster pound used by the Mi’kmaq fishermen is set ablaze in Middle West Pubnico, Nova Scotia. Source: Global News, 2020

At midnight on the 17th of October, a lobster pound being used by Mi’kmaq fishermen was burned to the ground. This unfortunate event came after escalating tensions between Mi’kmaq fishermen and commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia over their legal rights to fish in the region during the off-season. This legal right for the Mi’kmaq was enshrined in a 1999 Supreme Court decision so those of you wanting the “rule of law” for white fishermen should maybe read a goddamn book. Not to mention their traditional right for thousands of years in that territory (also the Peace and Friendship Treaties), but hey we’ve long since forgotten about respecting those rights because colonialism. These tensions, which have been brewing for decades, led to the assault on Mi’kmaq lobster fisheries by “protesters” who ruined lobster stock, shot flares at Mi’kmaq boats, destroyed traps, threatened to burn a man alive, and trashed vehicles all under the guise of “conservation”. The RCMP put their thumbs up their asses and watched everything go down because no shit they did. Why would they stop their fellow settlers in a gentle bout of domestic terrorism? They said that “events escalated” and they were unable to control it despite that being their one fucking job on the scene. Tensions continued to escalate and the cops made nice with the commercial fishermen even though things would play out a lot differently if the roles were reversed. More police brutality/arrests and less slaps on the wrist. This treatment of Indigenous peoples is utterly disgraceful, but anti-Indigenous racism also happens to be quintessentially Canadian.

The Scream by Kent Monkman (2017)

A gentle reminder that our nation is built on stolen land. Our current prosperity comes at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives and the continued destruction and exploitation of unceded land, homes, and livelihoods. These are not controversial statements despite our unwillingness to acknowledge both historical and present-day facts. It’s just that we Canadians love to make up our own history when it comes to imperialism, racism, and genocide. We can’t maintain our reputation as the most polite and multicultural nation if we’re tossing Indigenous children into mass graves, placing head taxes on Asian immigrants, or allowing our cherished Mounties to kill BIPOC individuals during mental breakdowns. We’ll preach from the rooftops that Canada is all about reconciliation so long as you ignore the growing prison population (roughly 27% Indigenous even though they’re around 5% of the population), the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women (estimates as high as 4,000 missing in the past 30 years), ignoring staggering suicide rates in communities, not guaranteeing clean water access (constant boil-water advisories on reserves), increased racial profiling from police and businesses, and let’s not forget that the last freakin’ residential school only closed its doors in November of 1996. I mean we’re supposed to be the polite, liberal little brother to the racist and blood-soaked United States, right? In the Great WHITE North we’re all about Timmies, hockey, strong beer, saying “sorry” and “aboot” and everything else that’s hokey and manufactured. Sure we had troubles in the past, but remember how Indigenous peoples helped us during the War of 1812? That was something. Residential schools? Stephen “Inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women isn’t really high on the radar” Harper apologized for those in 2008 so it’s done now. We can let bygones be bygones and go build pipelines together! That’s certainly the dream scenario for our government and red and white blooded patriots, but it’s not even close to reality.

Examples from Perception: A Photo Series by KC Adams and Cathy Mattes (2019) https://www.portageandmainpress.com/product/perception/

I wanted to make this post to discuss the common racist tropes and present-day ills that plague Canadian society, why we need to abandon them, and what we can do as settler accomplices to help. The assault on Mi’kmaq fishing rights is barely scratching the surface of Canada’s neglect and cruelty towards Indigenous communities. Our governments deny them safe communities, mental health support, land rights, drinking water, sovereignty, bodily rights, unbiased policing and they do all of this while we settlers stand by and watch. Why are we complacent? It’s because we have been inundated with propaganda since childhood that tells us that Indigenous peoples are inferior and that we should be proud of our colonial history. We are told that they complain all the time and are stuck in the past. They are unappreciative of everything Canada does. They are alcoholics, sex workers, and more prone to mental illness, addiction, and homelessness than white people. They can’t take care of their own communities and take all of MY tax dollars. They get more rights and everything given to them (unlike us hardworking white people) despite all of these issues. These bigoted ideas are false, but a colonial nation’s stability depends on settler loyalty and Indigenous subjugation and discrimination. Our willingness to hate is a boon for the State.

Access to safe and clean water continues to threaten Indigenous communities all over Canada. Source: Globe and Mail, 2017

Let’s start with the vague notion that Indigenous communities get more than settler communities. The tensions we’re seeing between Mi’kmaq fishermen and commercial fishermen are not new. Treaty rights, land rights, and meagre reparations are scary for privileged settlers to consider. The frankly stupid idea that Indigenous peoples “get more rights than us” is a myth perpetuated by our right wing and centrist media, hearsay anecdotes, and longstanding racist beliefs. I used to hear the same horseshit growing up where family would bemoan Indigenous scholarships, for instance, as if they somehow took something away from me. Similarly, I had to engage with a centrist-right acquaintance a few months back regarding the Wet’suwet’en crisis where they attacked reserve lands and sovereignty as if it was unfair to the rest of Canada. “Why do they get benefits from the government if they are a sovereign nation? Why should my taxes pay for that?” “They should have a place at OUR table” Their arguments were puerile and lacked any basic knowledge of the 1997 Delgamuukw¬†decision, the Indian Act, hereditary rights, and our clear methods of assimilation. Anyway, Indigenous peoples have it easy and have more rights though, huh? Tell the folks up north paying exorbitant prices for necessities at the grocery store how great they have it. Cry about your utility bill while reserves are still waiting for safe water to use. Tell little Billy how unfair it is for Indigenous kids to get educational grants while ignoring our historical idea of “education” that led to the deaths of thousands of children and traumatic memories for survivors. Sure WE stole all of this land, but that small section that THEY own is really unfair and Indigenous peoples should be part of OUR Canada and share. We toss them our scraps, expect them to be grateful, and still want them to split those morsels with us or else we’ll be indignant about it. Equality!

“Get over residential schools” is the same racist minimization

The common settler complaint that “Indigenous peoples are stuck in the past” or “blaming me for things my ancestors did” is another one we rely on to assuage our guilt. This is one I hear often and in some of the most unfortunate places and from people who should know better. I’ll start with a story. A year ago, I was subjected to a painful Pro D session in my school where they wanted to discuss reconciliation. This could have been beneficial for a mostly white faculty, but it turned into a fucking white guilt, blame-shifting seminar. Many of my colleagues, educators who should be the most ardent defenders of safe classrooms and truthful lessons, spent the time moaning about land acknowledgements, residential school lessons, and what they are “allowed” to appropriate. I heard such gems as “when can we stop doing land acknowledgements?” “why are we still talking about residential schools?” “I didn’t build residential schools so why am I being blamed?” “when am I allowed to sell Native art?” and I was appalled. I argued against these backward ideas and said my piece, but I ended up going home right after and angrily crying to my partner. I guess I had my own settler tear moment, but I was frustrated with the sheer ignorance and the complete disrespect. We stole their land, but a 1 minute land acknowledgement is too much trouble. We sent their children to be sexually assaulted, berated, re-educated, and sometimes killed in residential schools, but Orange Shirt Day clogs up my curriculum. Emily Carr perpetuated the “disappearing Indian” myth with her Native art so why can’t I do my own and earn a profit? I want to set one thing straight when it comes to reconciliation. Reconciliation is not done until Canada’s Indigenous nations say it is and even then it won’t be enough to absolve our sins. This country was built on theft, blood, tears, and broken promises so a simple sorry ain’t gonna cut it here. We’ll apologize forever and make things right forever if that’s what it takes because NEWSFLASH people can’t just move on from genocide.

Joyce Echaquan suffered under racist hospital staff before her death. Source: BBC, 2020
Tina Fontaine was a victim of a neglectful state of social workers, police, and medical professionals even before she was murdered in 2014. Source: Global News, 2019.
A survivor of the Saskatoon Freezing Deaths in the early 2000s. Just a continuing trend of anti-Indigenous work by the RCMP. Source: Washington Post, 2003.

In September, we witnessed the disgusting treatment of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw mother and grandmother, by hospital staff in Quebec. She was belittled and discriminated against even while lying on her death bed and crying out in pain. The so-called nurses laughed while claiming that she was only “good for sex” and “stupid as hell” and that “employees were the ones paying for this” even as she suffered in front of them. The footage shocked Canadians, but this is not an anomalous event. Indigenous lives have always mattered less than white lives in our colonial system and our laws, carceral system, politicians, police, and sadly even some of our medical professionals are quick to remind us of that fact. If Indigenous lives mattered to our politicians, don’t you think they’d have clean drinking water or reliable health care? Do you think they’d make up more than half of our unhoused population in many urban centers if leaders gave a shit? If Indigenous rights mattered in the courts, do you think they’d make up over a quarter of our prison population? Would Indigenous women still be getting forcefully sterilized if their bodies mattered to us? Would they still go missing at a disproportional rate compared to other populations? The Saskatoon Freezing Deaths serve as concrete examples of what Indigenous lives are worth to cops, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg for these guard dogs of the Canadian State. As of 2017, an Indigenous person is 10 times more likely to be shot by a cop than a white person (1.5 out of 100,000 compared to 0.15 out of 100,000 since 2017). Out of 61 people shot by police between 2007 and 2017, 22 of them were Indigenous. Heck, even earlier this year an RCMP report referred to the removal of unarmed Wet’suwet’en land defenders as “sterilizing the site” and made mention that “lethal overwatch” may be required (cause murder for a fucking pipeline seems reasonable). Systemic racism, unjust deaths, and neglect are tolerated because we’ve been conditioned to accept our superiority over Indigenous peoples while also proclaiming their equality under the State. Our settler privilege and rights over our bodies, freedom, and general safety come from our loyalty to Canada so certainly they’d have the same if they just complied. It’s probably got nothing to do with assimilation or genocide so y’all need to stop worrying about forced sterilization, prison, land theft, or murder.

The time for action was hundreds of years ago, but we might as well start now. Decolonizing our own minds is the first step towards at least some form of reconciliation. You and I need to acknowledge our own privilege and rights that are born from colonialism. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t build residential schools with your own two hands or you’re not the one denying reserves safe drinking water because your access to clean water and safe education is the result of inequity. However, we love to deny inequity and claim that our prosperity is all the result of hard work and good choices. The fact that you’re not being torn from your ancestral land and watching a pipeline go through your house isn’t because you made the right decisions in real estate. The fact that you aren’t being racially profiled in stores or shot by the RCMP isn’t because you always follow the law and respect the cops. Your family members not going missing at an alarming rate isn’t because of your strong family values. You are a settler and are assured a certain level of comfort in the Canadian system which is not offered to others. We need to stop pretending as if we don’t have an advantage in this society. I know this comment is coming so yes I’m aware that settlers can have hard lives too. However, lamenting our misfortune in the face of those experiencing hundreds of years of injustice and pain is pitiful. Use your sadness and rage to fight for liberty instead of wasting your time arguing about how oppressed you feel.

True decolonization depends on actions and cannot be achieved through acknowledgement alone. What are you doing to raise awareness of or benefit Indigenous issues? This isn’t some white guilt or white saviour nonsense nor am I claiming that our contributions will save the day or reverse hundreds of years of oppression. Accomplices act with honesty and solidarity in their hearts giving no thought towards personal gain or praise. We’re in this fight for our Indigenous brothers, sisters, and non-binary comrades and will use our privilege to benefit them instead of the settler State. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Spread news of Indigenous struggles so that they aren’t lost in or tainted by the mainstream media
  2. Call out politicians, pundits, faulty news sources, corporations, and police for their abuses
  3. Attend rallies or marches (or better yet offer your services if they are accepting volunteers)
  4. Openly discuss Indigenous issues with friends or family especially if you can use the time to dismantle prejudicial views and misconceptions
  5. Donate time or money to BIPOC (specifically Indigenous) charities and businesses (I’ve listed a few below for your consideration)
  6. https://unistoten.camp/support-us/donate/
  7. http://mfcsns.ca/
  8. https://www.sniwwoc.ca/
  9. https://www.nwac.ca/
  10. http://legacyofhope.ca/en/
  11. https://idlenomore.ca/
  12. https://shopfirstnations.com/
  13. Also Don’t Shut Up
Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en outside the BC Legislature. Photo Source: CTV News, 2020

Reconciliation will remain something to fight for until the end of Canada at this rate. Why? Cause people somehow still need to protest and fight for some fucking respect on their own land in 2020 and so many of us are quiet about it. The facts are clear as day. Our governments will continue to ignore the pleas of Indigenous communities for land rights, safe loved ones, a healthy environment, and equal opportunities as long as the majority of people stay silent on these topics. We’ve allowed our minds to be clouded by white supremacist narratives and nationalist propaganda and this is the result. I have been complacent in the past and am most definitely not free from sin, but I’m also not content to sit around and watch domestic terrorism, police abuses, major corporations, and political corruption take advantage of Indigenous nations. Speak out against injustice, stand in solidarity, support Indigenous-led charities/businesses, shut down bigoted and divisive language and events, and prioritize Indigenous voices and leadership in these actions. Finally, remember that there is no revolution without reconciliation.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again. Solidarity, my friends.

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