Primers on Power: On Colonialism

What is settler colonialism?

What we typically and unproblematically are taught to think of as Canada is none other than a settler colonial culture. Canada is a political formation built through the forced displacement of indigenous people from their land, primarily through settlement and the imposition of a foreign culture. A key result of this displacement is that settlers have benefitted from the suffering of indigenous people and the degradation of their original territories.

Whose land are we on?

The University of Victoria is situated on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen people. The City of Victoria, however, is situated on both Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ territories. The colonial settlement of Victoria has displaced indigenous survivors to reserves that represent a miniscule fraction of their original territories, and critically compromised the ecology of these lands.

What does it mean to take responsibility as a settler?

Being in solidarity, or being an ally, is not an identity that we can claim for ourselves. We need to remember that it’s the people we’re aspiring to be in solidarity or allyship with that decide whether we’re actually being helpful.

Working towards allyship means taking leadership from indigenous people. This is based on the understanding that people experiencing oppression are in the best position to assess what they need to struggle against it most effectively. Taking leadership includes beginning from yourself, taking responsibility for your fellow settlers, and building relationships with indigenous people.

Working towards allyship means being in a position to actually hear what indigenous people are saying. This means beginning from ourselves and unlearning what we’ve been taught about indigenous peoples and becoming educated about their worldviews and histories of defending the land and resisting colonialism. Go to events that discuss the local history of indigenous peoples, and do a lot more listening than talking when you are in indigenous spaces.

Once you’ve unlearned colonial assumptions that, for example, settlers are benevolent and indigenous peoples are dysfunctional, start taking responsibility for other settlers who have been socialized into these beliefs. Talk to your family and your friends. Respectfully engage people who are perpetuating colonial myths like asserting that indigenous peoples need to be assimilated into Canadian culture. When you’re in indigenous spaces make sure your fellow settlers aren’t taking up too much of it. Organize events that raise consciousness about the history of colonialism. Finally, resist the ongoing process of displacing and colonizing indigenous peoples that we settlers are complicit in.

In the long run, we cannot have allyship without relationships. Entering into long-term relationships with indigenous peoples lies at the foundation of allyship. If we are going to do effective solidarity work, if we’re going to build the capacity of our movements to work across difference, these goals are going to depend on the time, intention and work that we put into building relationships with indigenous people over the long haul.

What’s in it for settlers?

The genocide of indigenous people, the deliberate destruction of their traditional culture, and forced assimilation into dominant settler culture has hurt and continues to hurt settlers. Unlearning the dominant, racist settler narratives we are socialized into, and the psychological traits and social practices that accompany them, stands to benefit settlers too.

Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of movements to defend the earth from capitalist colonialism. All across Turtle Island and beyond indigenous people are resisting expanding waves of resource extraction that come in the form of fracking, mining, fishing, logging, tar sand development and more. As settlers we can learn from this leadership and come to also care for the land and each other in ways that shed the egotistical, individualistic, instrumental and objectifying manners of thinking and behaving that we have been socialized into.

Embodying a relationship to the earth that sees it as the source of life, rather than a resource to be mined, may be indispensable to maintaining any semblance of the natural world that allowed humans to flourish. And practicing relationships with each other centred in care, mutual nurturing, and respect for each other’s autonomy, rather than egotistical calculation, may be vital preconditions towards the mutual liberation of indigenous people and ourselves.