Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua

[A similar version of this article was published as: Lawrence, B. and E. Dua (2005). Decolonizing Antiracism. Social Justice 32(4):120–143. This was a special issue entitled “Race, Racism and Empire: Reflections from Canada.” Guest Editors: Narda Razack, Enakshi Dua, and Jody Warner. Content has been reproduced in its entirety but formatted in the style of this publication.]1


In continuous conversations over the years, we have discussed our discomfort with the manner in which Aboriginal people and perspectives are excluded within anti-racism. We have been surprised and disturbed by how rarely this exclusion has been taken up, or indeed, even noticed. As a result of this exclusion, Aboriginal people cannot see themselves in anti-racism contexts, and Aboriginal activism against settler domination takes place without people of colour as allies. While anti-racist theorists may ignore contemporary Indigenous presence, Canada certainly does not. Police surveillance is a reality that all racialized people face, and yet Native communities are at risk of direct military intervention in ways that no other racialized community in Canada faces.2

This paper represents a call to post-colonial and anti-racism theorists to begin to take Indigenous decolonization seriously. Because we are situated differently in relation to decolonization and anti-racism, we are beginning with our own locations.

Bonita: I first encountered anti-racism and postcolonial theory when I began attending university, in my early thirties. While I have looked to anti-racism, as I earlier looked to feminism, to “explain” the circumstances that my family has struggled with, both sets of perspectives have, ultimately, simply been part and parcel of an education system that has addressed male and white privilege but ignored my family’s Indigeneity.

To say this is to also acknowledge that a number of factors—notably immigration and urbanization—have already been at work in delineating relations between Aboriginal people and people of colour. Back in the sixties, when Canada was overwhelmingly white, my mother, who was Mi’kmaq and Acadian, clearly felt marginalized and inferiorized by Anglo-Canadians and ostracized by many French-Canadians. In the city, she welcomed the new presence of people of colour as potential friends and allies, and saw our struggles for survival and adaptation to the dominant culture in common. At the time there were not many of us, Aboriginal people or people of colour, brown islands in a white sea.

Fast forward to 2005. For many Native people in Eastern Canada, the urbanization and assimilation pressures of the 50s and 60s meant that our parents married white people. This same interval featured large-scale immigration of people of colour. So now, as urban Native people, we are tiny paler islands floating in a darker “multicultural” sea. Over the past 15 years or so since Oka, in common with many urban mixed-bloods, I’ve struggled to learn about my own Indigeneity. In this context, my light skin separates me from the people of colour that my mother would have viewed as allies. There is nothing new about racial ambiguity among mixed-bloods of any background. But for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, something else is at work here—the generations of policies specifically formulated with the goal of destroying our communities and fragmenting our identities.

For years, I have witnessed the result of these policies, as my family, my friends, and many of my Aboriginal students struggle with our lack of knowledge of heritage brought about by our parents’ silence, the fact that our languages were beaten out of our grandparents’ generation, that we may have been cut off from access to the land for generations, that we may know little of our own ceremonies, and that ultimately our Indigeneity is either validated or denied by government cards that certify “Indian” status. None of these policies or their repercussions are topics for discussion at anti-racism conferences. It is difficult not to conclude that there is something deeply wrong with the manner in which, in our own lands, anti-racism does not begin with, and reflect, the totality of Native peoples’ lived experience—that is, with the genocide that established and maintains all of the settler states within the Americas.

And yet, to even begin to address decolonizing anti-racism, I have to acknowledge first of all that I am one of only a handful of Aboriginal scholars within academia; as such, I am routinely asked to “speak for” and represent Indigeneity to outsiders in a manner that is inherently problematic. Because of this, I must always begin by referencing the traditional elders and community people—and other Indigenous scholars—for whom Indigenous rather than academic knowledge is most central and who would begin by asking “what does post-coloniality and anti-racism theory have to do with us?” An academic paper addressing these issues is therefore aimed primarily at anti-racism scholars and activists, who for the most part are not Indigenous. More problematically, it uses the rhythms and assumptions of academic discourse, without cultural resonance or reference to Mi’kmaw or other specific Indigenous frameworks. As such, my fear is that this paper will continue to homogenize Indigenous peoples in all their diversity into a singular and meaningless entity known as “First Nations people” to outsiders, in exactly the manner that is currently common within anti-racism discourse. These tensions, between who I can make claims to speak for, how I am speaking in arguing academic theory, and to whom I am speaking, in this paper, remain ongoing.

Ena: I came to Canada as a sixteen year old. I was born in India, and en route to Canada we resided in the United States. In all three contexts, I came across references to Aboriginal peoples. In India, people wondered of another place where people were also called Indian. Growing up in the United States and Canada I was bombarded with colonialist history. From school curriculum to television programmes to vacation spots, a colonialist history of conquer and erasure was continually reenacted. I resided in a city in which the main streets were named after Aboriginal leaders and communities. As the houses that we resided in exited onto these streets, such naming of space was important as it inserted us as settlers into the geography of colonialism. Much of this made me uncomfortable. I was given similar history of India and other Indians, and I knew that this history was not accurate. I was vaguely conscious that the lives of Aboriginal people and people of color were being shaped by the same processes. I saw myself as allied with Aboriginal people. However, what I did not see was how I may be part of the on-going project of colonization. I did not place myself in the processes which produced such representations, nor relations.

My experiences with racism, sexism and imperialism led me, as a young women, to become engaged in a project of developing anti-racist feminism, a site in which I hoped we could look at the ways in which different kinds of oppressions intersected. However, in looking back I realize that we failed to integrate on-going colonization into this emerging body of knowledge. For example, I edited a collaborative book project, in which a number of anti-racist feminist scholars explored the intersections of “race” and gender. At the time, I felt that we were doing a good task of centering Aboriginal issues. We began the anthology by examining the ways in which Aboriginal women had been historically racialized and gendered. There was another article that examined questions of Aboriginal self-government. In looking back I would suggest that we failed to make Aboriginality foundational. We did not ask those who wrote on work, trade unions, immigration, citizenship, family, etc., to examine how these institutions/relationships were influenced by Canada’s on-going colonisation of Aboriginal peoples. While more recently I have turned to cultural theory, critical race theory, and post-colonial studies, my fear is that, as I did in my earlier work, these approaches also fail to center the on-going colonisation of Aboriginal peoples.

Where do I come to this paper? As an attempt, as someone committed to anti-racist feminist struggles, to examine my complicity in the on-going project of colonization. My complicity is complex. First as an inhabitant of Canada, I live in and own land that has been appropriated from Aboriginal peoples. As a citizen of Canada, I have rights and privileges that are not only denied to Aboriginal peoples collectively, but have been deployed to deny Aboriginal rights to self government. Second, as someone involved in anti-racist and progressive struggles, I am wondering about the ways in which the bodies of knowledge that I have worked to build have been framed in ways that contribute to the active colonization of Aboriginal peoples. I need to read, write, teach, and be politically active differently.

Despite our different positioning, experiences and concerns, we have reached a common conclusion—that anti-racism is premised on an ongoing colonial project. As a result we fear that rather than challenging the on-going colonization of Aboriginal peoples, Canadian anti-racism is furthering contemporary colonial agendas. We will argue that anti-racism theory participates in colonial agendas in two ways; first by ignoring the on-going colonization of Aboriginal peoples in the Americas, and second by failing to integrate an understanding of Canada as a colonialist state into anti-racist frameworks. In this paper, we are seeking ways to decolonize anti-racism theory. Our goal, in writing this, is to begin to lay the groundwork which might make dialogue possible among anti-racist and Aboriginal activists.

What does it mean to look at Canada as Colonized Space?
What does it mean to ignore Indigenous sovereignty?

We will be arguing that anti-racist and post-colonial theorists have not integrated an understanding of Canada as a colonialist state into their frameworks. It is therefore important to begin by elaborating on the actual means through which colonization in Canada as a settler society has been implemented and is being maintained. We also need to reference how Indigenous peoples resist this ongoing colonization.

Settler states in the Americas are founded on and maintained through policies of direct extermination, displacement, or assimilation, all premised to ensure that Indigenous peoples ultimately disappear as peoples, so that settler nations can seamlessly take their place. Because of the intensity of genocidal3 policies that Indigenous people have faced and continue to face, a common error on the part of anti-racist and post-colonial theorists is to assume that genocide has been virtually complete, that Indigenous peoples, however unfortunately, have been “consigned to the dustbin of history”4 and no longer need to be taken into account. And yet such assumptions are scarcely different from settler nation-building myths, whereby “Indians” become unreal figures, rooted in the nation’s pre-history, who died out and no longer have to be taken seriously.

Being consigned to a mythic past or “the dustbin of history” means being not allowed to change and exist as real people in the present. It also means being denied even the possibility of regenerating nationhood. If Indigenous nationhood is seen as something of the past, the present becomes a site where Indigenous peoples are reduced to small groups of racially and culturally defined and marginalized individuals drowning in a sea of settlers—who do not have to be taken seriously. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ realities, then, is nationhood. Their very survival depends on it.

To speak of Indigenous nationhood is to speak of land as Indigenous, in ways that are neither rhetorical nor metaphorical. Neither Canada nor the United States—nor the settler states of “Latin” America for that matter-which claim sovereignty over the territory they occupy have any legitimate basis at all to anchor their absorption of huge portions of that territory.5 Indeed, Indigenous peoples’ nationhood is acknowledged in current international law as the right of inherent sovereignty—the notion that peoples who have been known to occupy specific territories who have shared a common language, a means of subsistence, forms of governance, legal systems, and means of deciding citizenship are, in fact, nations—particularly if they have entered into treaties, since, as Churchill notes, treaty relationships are only entered into between nations.6

In contrast, as a settler state, the legal system in Canada has been premised on the need to pre-empt Indigenous sovereignty. The legal system does this through the assertion of a “rule of law” that is daily deployed to deny possibilities of sovereignty and to criminalize Indigenous dissent. Because this rule of law violates the premises on which treaties were signed with Aboriginal people, the Supreme Court occasionally is forced to acknowledge the larger framework of treaty agreements that pre-date assertions of Canadian sovereignty.7 For the most part, however, court decisions have historically been a chief instrument of disenfranchisement of Aboriginal peoples. In recent times they have served both to enlarge the scope of the potential for a renewed relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples and to drastically curtail those possibilities.

It is important to understand the manner in which Native rights to land were legally nullifed in Canada, and when this changed. In 1888, because of a court decision known as St. Catherines Milling and Lumber,8 Aboriginal peoples’ rights to the land were ruled as being so vague and general that they were held to be incapable of remedy. This legal decision codified in law that Aboriginal peoples were on a path to extinction; the only way that “Indians” could acquire legal rights was to assimilate into Canadian society.

The relationship between Canada and Aboriginal peoples was redefined by the Calder decision9 in 1973, which clarified that Canada had a legal obligation to recognize the rights that Aboriginal peoples have to their traditional lands, to redress where these rights had been violated, and to enter, belatedly, negotiations with Aboriginal nations in regions where no treaties had been historically signed. Canada’s response to this obligation, however, was to deliberately maintain a colonialist stance. Instead of seriously entering into new relationships with Indigenous peoples based on equal stature, Canada unilaterally created a policy whereby Aboriginal peoples have to formally submit a “land claim” in order to redress land theft. The land claims process, then, far from being “progressive,” involves Canada refusing to negotiate with Indigenous peoples as equals, and instead asserting the right to control how their own land theft from Indigenous peoples should be redressed. The fundamentally colonial nature of the process is masked by liberal pluralist notions that Native peoples are an “interest group” whose “claims” must be measured against the needs of other “groups” of citizens.

After the Calder decision, other important developments had potentially huge consequences for Indigenous nations’ relations with Canada. Most notably, in 1982, Section 35 of the Constitution Act recognized and affirmed existing Aboriginal and treaty rights, as originating prior to colonization, and which included future rights that may be recognized in land claims or other agreements. From the start, however, there was little clarity about what this would mean. Jurisdiction over the land in the Constitution Act remained divided up between Canada and the Provinces under Sections 91 and 92, as they had since Confederation. Given this pre-emptive division of power, where could space be made for Aboriginal jurisdiction over lands?

The courts could have addressed these changes in positive ways. Instead, in the 1990?s, a number of important court decisions were instrumental in drastically curtailing the promises of Calder and Section 35. For example, Van der Peet10 clarified that Aboriginal rights were not general and universal, and therefore would have to be proven by each band specifically for their own territories; these rights would also be restricted to pre-contact practices.11 Meanwhile, Delgamuuk12 began the process of defining the content of Aboriginal title, in highly restrictive ways.13 Because of these and other recent decisions, Aboriginal rights are being delineated without the political and cultural framework of an Aboriginal government,14 and without the cultural/spiritual framework at the heart of Indigenous societies.

Large portions of territory, particularly in British Columbia, but also in Quebec and the Maritimes, are currently claimed by Canada without formal land-based treaties ever having been signed. Since Calder, Canada should have been formally negotiating new treaties; however, instead it has been consolidating its hold on these territories through the comprehensive claims policy. Given the inherent colonial nature of the land “claims” process, it is perhaps not surprising that land claims settlements are exercises in “municipalization.” Returning any land is never on the agenda. Instead, cash awards are offered to “sweeten” the status quo, in exchange for Nations formally assuming the status of municipalities. The cash settlements may enable communities to have some resources to repair some of the worse excesses of colonialism; it does not, however, enable them to recreate a new future. As Taiaiake Alfred succinctly sets out, Canada’s basic policies of assimilation and destruction remain unchanged. The government continues to divest responsibility for the effects of colonialism on Aboriginal peoples while holding tight to their land base and resources, redefining without reforming, and further entrenching in law and practice the real basis of its power.15

The immediacy of the problem facing Aboriginal peoples in Canada is that the status quo of a colonial order continues to target them for legal and cultural extinction, while continuing to undermine the viability of communities through theft of remaining lands and resources.16 Aboriginal people need to re-establish control over their own communities, which means that land must be returned to them, to render communities viable and to rebuild nationhood, and a legal framework be reached whereby Aboriginal peoples’ existing and returned lands come under their own authority. This means a total re-thinking of Canada, where sovereignty/self-determination is on the table, not as a concept to pay lip service to, but as fundamental to Indigenous survival. Anti-racist theorists, if they are truly progressive, must begin to think about what their personal stake is in this struggle, and about where they are going to situate themselves.

We also need a better understanding of the ways in which Aboriginal peoples resist ongoing colonization. At the core of Indigenous survival and resistance is reclaiming a relationship to land. And yet, within anti-racism theory and practice, the question of land as contested space is seldom taken up. From Indigenous perspectives, it speaks to a reluctance, on the part of non-Natives of any background, to acknowledge that there is more to this land than being settlers on it, that there are deeper, older stories and knowledge connected to the very landscapes around us. To acknowledge that we all share the same land base and yet to question the differential terms on which that land base is occupied is to become aware of the colonial project that is taking place around us.

Indigenous stories of the land are both spiritual and political, and encompass tremendous longevity. For example, Mi’kmaki, the “land of friendship.” which encompasses what is now called the Atlantic provinces, was viewed by the Mi’kmaq as a sacred order, flowing from the Creation story which moves seamlessly from mythical time into historical time around the end of the last ice age.17 Mi’kmaki is “owned” in a formal sense only by unborn children in the invisible sacred realm;18 however, its seven regions are also traditionally governed by a Grand Council or Mawiomi, and it has historically been part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a larger geopolitical unit extending into what is now the northeastern United States. At still another level, in an effort to resist invasion, in 1610 the Mawiomi negotiated a Concordat which consolidated Mi’kmaki formally as a Catholic republic under Rome.19 All of these spiritual and geopolitical relations, past and present, connect Mi’kmaq people with Mi’kmaki.

It is not just the imprint of ancient and contemporary Indigenous presence that these lands carry. Focusing on the land also reveals important gaps between western and traditional knowledges that shape how we see these relationships to land. For example, for many Native peoples, land is connected to language in deep and profound ways. As Jeannette Armstrong explains, from her own people’s perspective:

As I understand it from my Okanagan ancestors, language was given to us by the land we live within?… . The Okanagan language, called N’silxchn by us, is one of the Salishan languages. My ancestors say that N’silxchn is formed out of an older language, some words of which are still retained in our origin stories. I have heard elders explain that the language changed as we moved and spread over the land through time. My own father told me that it was the land that changed the language because there is a special knowledge in each different place. All my elders say that it is land that holds all knowledge of life and eath and is a constant teacher. It is said in Okanagan that the land constantly speaks. It is constantly communicating. Not to learn its language is to die. We survived and thrived by listening intently to its teachings-to its language-and then inventing human words to retell its stories to our succeeding generations?… . In this sense, all Indigenous peoples’ languages are generated by a precise geography and arise from it.20

There are implications to this linking of land and language and memory and history, both for Indigenous peoples and settlers. For Indigenous peoples, part of their profound strength that has helped them to maintain their identity despite five centuries of colonization is the fact that they have maintained knowledge of who they are because of longstanding relationship to the land. On the other hand, for settlers, Indigenous peoples re-mapping traditional territories to earlier names, earlier boundaries, and earlier stories, has a profoundly unsettling effect. It reveals the Canadian nation as still foreign to this land base. It clarifies that even after five century of colonization, the names that the colonizer has bestowed on the land remain irrelevant to its history. It calls notions of settler belonging-as whites OR as peoples of colour, based simply on notions of Canadian citizenship, into question.

Cherokee theologian Jace Weaver has asserted that until postcolonial theory takes seriously both the collective character of Native traditional life, and the importance of specific lands to the cultural identities of different Native peoples, they will have little meaning for Native peoples.21 In the next section, we will begin to examine more succinctly how post-colonial and anti-racist theory fails to address Aboriginal people’s presence and concerns.

How has Anti-Racism/Post-colonial theory been constructed
on a colonising framework?

We would like to start by pointing out that in our discussion we will refer to a vast body of literature – critical race theory, post-colonial theory and theories of nationalism. Notably this is a diverse body of literature, with many different arguments. And notably it has been subject to many critiques.22 However, in our reading, this diverse body of literature shares crucial ontological underpinnings—all of these writers fail to make Indigenous presence and ongoing colonization, particularly in the Americas, foundational to their analyses of race and racism. As a result, we fear that there is a body of work that is not only implicitly constructed on a colonising framework, but also participates in the on-going colonisation of Aboriginal peoples.

We would like to elaborate on this argument by exploring five areas where international critical race and post-colonial theory has failed to make Indigenous presence and colonization foundational. First of all are the ways in which Native existence is erased through theories of race and racism which exclude them. Secondly there are the ways in which theories of Atlantic diasporic identities fail to take into account that these identities are situated in multiple projects of colonization and settlement on Indigenous lands. Thirdly, there are the ways in which histories of colonization are erased through the writings of the history of slavery. Fourth, there are the ways in which decolonization politics are equated with anti-racist politics. Finally, there are the ways in which theories of nationalism contribute to the ongoing delegitimization of Indigenous nationhood. While often theorising the British context, these writings have been important for shaping anti-racist/post-colonial thinking throughout the West.

Let us begin by looking at the ways in which critical race theorists often erase the presence of Aboriginal peoples. We have chosen Stuart Hall’s essay “The West and the Rest.” In this essay, Hall introduces a post-colonial approach to “race,” racialised identities and racism. He locates the emergence of “race” and racism in the historical emergence of the constructs of “the West and the Rest.” In doing so he points to the ways in which the inhabitants of the Americas figure centrally in the construction of notions of the West. He also makes the connections between the colonisation of the Americas and Orientalism. Moreover, the strength of Hall’s chapter is that in elaborating a theory of “race,” he makes the links between colonialism and knowledge production, between the historical construction of the idea of “race” and the present articulations of “race.”

Despite these strengths, Hall fails to examine the ways in which colonialism continues for Aboriginal peoples in settler nations. Indeed he posits colonialism as something that existed in the past, and as something that is restructured as “post-colonial.” For example, in commenting on the last of five main phases of expansion, Hall defines “the present, when much of the world is economically dependent on the West, even when formally independent and decolonized.”23 There is a surprisingly lack of any mention of the parts of the world that have not been decolonised. As a result, Aboriginal peoples become relegated to a mythic past, whereby their contemporary existence and their struggles for decolonisation are not only erased from view, but through such erasure denied legitimacy. Moreover, there is no exploration of how the on-going colonization of Aboriginal peoples shapes contemporary modes of “race” and racism in settler nations (including those settler nations located in the Caribbean where those of African and Asian descent have established political authority). Rather, the relationship between colonialism and the articulation of “race” is limited to the ways in which the colonial past is rearticulated in the present. We would ask what are the consequences of such omissions, for Aboriginal peoples in settler societies, and their struggles for nationhood. In what ways do such omissions distort our understanding of the processes of “race” and racism?

We can see a similar ontological assumption about colonialism and Indigenous peoples in theories of Atlantic diasporic identities. In exploring diasporic identities in the Americas, most theorists fail to ask, let alone explore, the ways in which these identities have been articulated through the colonisation of Aboriginal peoples, or the ways in which the project of appropriating land shaped the emergence of black/Asian/hispanic settler formations. We have chosen Paul Gilroy’s influential text, The Black Atlantic, to illustrate this.

In The Black Atlantic, Gilroy sets out to explicate two interrelated projects; first to rethink modernity via the history of the black Atlantic and the African diaspora , and second to examine the ways in which diasporic discourses have shaped the political and cultural history of black Americans and black people in Europe.24 However, in exploring the history of the Black transatlantic, Gilroy does not make any significant reference to Indigenous peoples of the Americas or Indigenous nationhood. Similar to Hall, when Gilroy does make reference to Indigenous peoples or colonisation it is to locate them in the past. For example, in one of the few references to Indigenous peoples, Gilroy states “Striving to be both European and Black requires some specific forms of double consciousness… If this appears to be little more than a roundabout way of saying that the reflexive cultures and consciousness of the European settlers and those of the Africans they enslaved, the “Indians” they slaughtered, and the Asians that they indentured were not, even in situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed hermeneutically from each other, then so be it.25 Referencing Indigenous peoples solely as those who were slaughtered not only suggests that Indigenous people in the Americas no longer exist, it renders invisible the contemporary situation and struggles of Indigenous peoples, and perpetuates the myths of the Americas as an empty land.

In contrast, James Clifford, in Routes, extends Gilroy’s work on diasporic identities. Importantly, Clifford opens up the possibilities of exploring the ways in which Indigenous leaders/theorists have shaped Black counterculture, as well as the ways in which black counterculture may be premised on a colonising project. He suggests that “for the purposes of writing a counter history in some depth… one can imagine intersecting histories.” In addition, Clifford acknowledges the presence of Indigenous peoples, and their struggle for decolonisation. As he points out, “Tribal or Fourth World assertions of sovereignty and ‘first nationhood’ do not feature in histories of travel and settlement, though these may be part of the Indigenous historical experience.”26

However, a closer examination of Clifford’s treatment of both of these issues is disappointing. In dealing with the question of how diasporic claims intersect with other histories, Clifford fails to make any significant reference to Indigenous writers, leaders, or resistance movements. Rather he references Jewish, Islamic, and South Asian histories in the making and critique of modernity.27 Thus, while Clifford makes the important argument that diasporic visions cannot be studied in isolation from each other, he does not ask how these diasporic visions, the processes of constructing home away from home, are premised on the on-going colonization of Indigenous peoples.

Moreover, when it comes to integrating issues of Indigenous sovereignty, we find a curious ambiguity. On one hand Clifford notes that “it is clear that the claims made by peoples who have inhabited the territory since before recorded history and those who arrived by steamboat or airplane will be founded on very different principles.”28 But rather than elaborating such principles, Clifford’s attention is much more focused on asserting that Aboriginal peoples are also diasporic, an investigation that leads him to raises what he see as ambiguities in Indigenous nationhood. For example, in contrasting Indigenous and “diasporic” claims to identity, Clifford suggests that Indigenous claims are primordial. As he stated, Indigenous claims “stress continuity of habitation, Indigeneity, and often a ‘natural’ connection to the land” while “diaspora cultures, constituted by displacement, may resist such appeals on political principle.”29 Such a characterisation of Indigenous claims not only ignores the contemporary political, social and economic realities of Indigenous peoples, but also fails to address the ways in which diasporic claims are premised on a colonising social formation. Thus, despite opening up the possibility of asking how diasporic identities articulate with or resist colonization projects, Clifford fails to take into account that these identities are situated in multiple projects of colonization and settlement on Indigenous lands.

We can see a similar erasure of colonialism and Indigenous peoples in writings on slavery. Writers such as Gilroy, Clifford and others have emphasized the ways in which the enslavement of Africans has shaped European discourses of modernity, European identity, and contemporary articulations of racism. As Toni Morrison powerfully states, “Modern life begins with slavery.”30 While we do not contest this importance of slavery, we wonder about the claim that modernity began with slavery, given the significance of colonialism and Orientalism in constructing Europe’s sense of itself as modern. As importantly, the claim that modernity began with slavery rather than the genocide and colonisation of Indigenous peoples in the Americas that of necessity preceded it again erases Indigenous presence. The vision that is evoked is one where the history of racism begins with the bringing of African peoples to the United States and Canada as slaves.

We also ask how such theorising about slavery fails to address the ways in which modes of slavery, and the anti-slavery movement in the United States, were premised on earlier and continuing modes of colonisation of Indigenous peoples. For examples, whose land was the “40 acres” to be carved out of? How do we take account of the fact that President Lincoln signed the order for the largest mass hanging in US history, of thirty-eight Dakota men, because of an uprising in Minnesota, during the same week that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation?31 Such events not only suggest connections between the anti-slavery movement and the on-going theft of Indigenous land and forced relocation or extermination of its original inhabitants, but also points to a resounding silence among anti-slavery activists, women’s suffragists, labour leaders and ex-slaves such as Frederick Douglas about land theft and Indigenous genocide. Such silences suggest that these diverse activists may have had something in common—an apparent consensus that the insertion of workers, white women, and blacks into American (and Canadian) nation-building was to continue to take place on Indigenous land, regardless of the cost to Indigenous peoples. We would suggest that the relationship between slavery, anti-slavery, and colonialism is obscured when slavery is presented as the defining moment in North American racism.

Thus, as we can see, critical race and post-colonial scholars have fairly systematically written on-going colonisation out of the ways in which racism is articulated. This has erased the presence of Aboriginal peoples and their on-going struggles for decolonisation, as well as not allowing for a more sophisticated analysis of migration, diasporic identities, and diasporic countercultures. What is equally disturbing is that when we look at the few scholars who do include Aboriginal peoples and decolonization into their theoretical frameworks, decolonization politics are equated with anti-racist politics. We would like to suggest that such an ontological approach places decolonisation and anti-racism within a liberal-pluralist framework, a framework that decenters decolonisation.

An example of this is Frankenberg and Mani in their classic article on the possibilities and limits of post-colonial theory. Notably, these authors attempt to analyse slavery, racialisation, and identity in conjunction with colonization. Importantly they acknowledge the limits of applying the term post-colonial to white settler societies. In particular, Frankenberg and Mani note that the term is unable to take in to account the forms of anti-racist and Aboriginal struggles in the United States: “the serious calling into questions of white/Western dominance by the groundswell of movements of resistance, and the emergence of struggles for collective self-determination most frequently articulated in nationalist terms.”32 In contrast they suggest the term post-civil rights may be more applicable. As they state, “Let us emphasis that we use the term ‘post-Civil Rights’ broadly to refer to the impact of struggles by African Americans, American Indian, La Raza and Asian-American communities?… collectively producing a ‘great transformation’ of racial awareness, racial meaning, racial subjectivity.”33

While Frankenberg and Mani clearly take seriously the need to bring on-going colonisation into anti-racist and post-colonial theory, our concern is that they place de-colonisation struggles within a pluralistic framework. As a result, decolonization struggles become one component of a larger anti-racist struggle. Such pluralism, while utopian in its intentions, both marginalises decolonisation struggles, and continues to obscure the complex ways in which people of colour have participated in projects of settlement. In contrast, we would suggest that on-going colonisation and decolonisation struggles need to be foundational in our understandings of racism, racial subjectivities, and anti-racism.

The final issue that we will address is the manner in which theories of nationalism render Indigenous nationhood unviable, which has serious ramifications in a colonial context. For nations that have for centuries been targetted for physical and cultural extermination, and have faced further fragmentation through identity legislation, the post-colonial emphasis on deconstructing nationhood34 simply furthers Indigenous de-nationalisation. Such deconstructions can ignore settler state colonization35 or theorize, from the outside, about how communities “become” Indigenous solely because of interactions with colonialist nationalist projects,36 which evaluates Indigeneity through social construction theory if Indigenous nations’ own epistemologies and ontologies do not count. More problematic still are works which denigrate nationalism as representing only technologies of violence37 or a reification of categories that can result in a degeneration into fundamentalism and “ethnic cleansing.”38 Or there is the simple dismissal of so-called “ethnic absolutism” as increasingly untenable cultural strategy39 which calls into question the very notion of national identity. None of these perspectives enable Indigenous peoples in the Americas to envision any future that does not involve continuous engulfment by the most powerful colonial order in the world, and their continuous erasure, since Columbus, from global international political relations.40 In this respect, postcolonial deconstructions of nationalism appear to be premised on what Cree scholar Lorraine Le Camp calls “terranullism,” the erasure of ongoing post-contact Indigenous presence.41 Perhaps it is not surprising that from these perspectives, decolonization, nationhood, and sovereignty begins to appear ridiculous and irrelevant, impossible and futile.42

For Aboriginal peoples, postcolonial deconstructions of nationalism simply do not manifest any understanding of how Aboriginal peoples actualize nationhood and sovereignty despite the colonial framework enveloping them. As Oneida scholar Lina Sunseri notes, Indigenous nationhood existed prior to Columbus, and when contemporary Indigenous theorists on nationalism explicate traditional Indigenous concepts of nationhood, they re-define the concept of nation itself, by moving beyond a linkage of nation to state and/or modernity and other European-based ideas and values. 43

In summary, then, critical race and post-colonial theory sytematically erases Aboriginal peoples and decolonisation from the construction of knowledge about “race,” racism, racial subjectivities, and anti-racism. We have argued that such erasure has profound consequences. It distorts our understanding of “race” and racism. It distorts our understanding of the relationship that people of colour have to multiple projects of settlement. It posits people of colour as innocent44 in the colonization of Aboriginal peoples. As a result, the way in which people of colour in settler formations are also settlers, who have settled on lands that has been stolen, is not addressed. It ignores the way in which people of colour have complex relationships to settler projects. While on one hand they are marginalized, on the other hand they may have at particular historical moments been complicit with ongoing land theft and colonial domination of Aboriginal peoples. It distorts our writing of history. And this erasure is important because it excludes Aboriginal people from the project of anti-racism—and indeed, from history.

Beyond Innocence: The Failure of Canadian Anti-Racism
to Make Colonialism Foundational

While it is problematic that international scholarship refuses to address settler state colonization and Indigenous decolonization, it is even more problematic that the same epistemological and ontological frameworks are reproduced in Canadian anti-racism theory, which is written on land that is still colonized.

The failure of Canadian anti-racism to make colonization foundational has meant that Aboriginal peoples’ histories, resistance, and current realities have been segregated from anti-racism. In this section, we would first of all like to explore how this segregation is reflected in theory, and its implications for how we understand Canada and Canadian history. Secondly, we would like to complicate our understandings of how people of colour are located in the settler society.

The segregation of Aboriginal peoples’ knowledge and histories of resistance from anti-racism is manifested in a number of ways. In most anti-racism conferences, Aboriginal organizations are not invited to participate in organizing and shaping the focus of these conferences. As a result, Indigeneity is given only token recognition. Aboriginal ceremonies are deployed in a performative manner to open the conference (regardless of the meaning of these ceremonies for the elders involved). One Aboriginal speaker is usually invited as a plenary speaker. A few scattered sessions may address Indigeneity, but these sessions are attended primarily by the families and friends of Aboriginal presenters; they are not seen as intrinsic to understanding race and racism. Aboriginal presenters at these sessions are sometimes challenged to re-shape their presentations to “critical race” frameworks; failure to do so means that the work is seen as “simplistic”. In our classes on anti-racism, token attention–normally one week–is given to Aboriginal peoples, and rarely is the exploration of racism placed in a context of ongoing colonization. In anti-racist political groups, Aboriginal issues are placed within a liberal pluralist framework where not only are they marginalized, but furthermore, they are juxtaposed to other, often contradictory struggles, such as that of Quebec sovereignty.

These practices reflect the theoretical segregation that underpins them. Our understandings of Canada and Canadian history are currently fundamentally flawed by the widespread practice within anti-racism scholarship of ignoring Indigenous presence at every stage of Canadian history. The picture that is drawn, then, is of Canadian history replete with white settler racism against immigrants of colour. If Aboriginal peoples are mentioned at all it is only at the point of contact, and then only as generic “First Nations.” a term bearing exactly the degree of specificity and historical meaning as “people of colour.” The “vanishing Indian” then, is as alive in anti-racism scholarship as it is in mainstream Canada.

A classic example of this is James Walker’s 1997 text “Race,” Rights and the Law in the Supreme Court of Canada,45 which considers four historic Supreme Court rulings that were instrumental in maintaining racial discrimination and anti-semitism in Canada. Disturbingly, legal decisions affecting Native peoples are ignored in this text. By comparison, Constance Backhouse’s 1999 work Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950,46 goes a long way towards filling this gap. In this text, Backhouse addresses crucial cases such as the legal prohibition of Aboriginal Dance, the Re: Eskimos case which ruled on whether “Eskimos” were legally “Indians,” and other instances of colonial and racial discrimination in the law, against Aboriginal peoples and people of colour. The picture that develops from Backhouse’s approach is a much more in-depth view of the embeddedness of racism in a regime that is frankly colonial. Unfortunately, this kind of inclusive perspective is all too rare.

These practices of exclusion and segregation reflect the contradictory ways in which peoples of colour are situated within the nation-state. On the one hand, they are marginalized by a white settler nationalist project, and yet on the other hand, as citizens, they are invited to take part in ongoing colonialism. Because of this, people of colour have a complex relationship to Indigeneity. In this section we explore the dynamic interaction between people of colour, Indigeneity, and colonialism.

We will argue that people of colour are settlers. While there are broad differences between those who were taken here as slaves, those who are currently migrant workers, those who are refugees without legal documentation, and those who have emigrated and obtained citizenship, people of colour live on land that is appropriated and contested, and where Aboriginal peoples are denied both nationhood and access to their own lands. In this section, we want to examine three different ways in which in which, as settlers, people of colour participate in or are complicit in the ongoing colonization of Aboriginal peoples. First, there are the ways in which the histories of settlement of people of colour have been framed by racist exclusion. Missing in these accounts are the ways in which the settlement of people of colour has taken place on Indigenous land. Secondly, there are the ways in which, as citizens, peoples of colour have been implicated in colonial actions. And finally, there are current and ongoing tensions, between Aboriginal peoples and people of colour, notably around areas of multiculturalism policy and immigration.

Let us begin by looking at the history of settler formation in Canada and the ways in which people of colour have been situated and participated in the colonial project. Certainly the project of the Canadian nation state was one of white settlement, which displaced Aboriginal peoples and targetted them for physical and cultural extermination to open land for settlers, while marginalizing and restricting the entry into Canada of people of colour. Much of Canadian anti-racist scholarship has attempted to document the exclusions and marginalizations of people of colour from the emerging nation. However, this work does not examine the ways in which the entry of people of colour into Canada put them in colonial relationships with Aboriginal peoples.

For example, to speak of Black loyalists in Nova Scotia being denied the lands they were promised, or being awarded poor lands that whites did not want47 without referencing who was being forced off the territories they were attempting to settle is to entirely erase the bloodiest interval of genocide in Canadian history.48 The Black settler population in Nova Scotia, ex-slaves with few options, were largely denied the opportunity to appropriate Native land, so that many eventually left for Sierra Leone.49 However, to speak of the loss of Black land rights without referencing who was being exterminated in order to “free up” the land for settlement is to be complicit in erasing genocide.

Another example is how the “head tax” and other legislation and policies which restricted non-European immigration in Western Canada are decontextualized from the suppression of Cree and Blackfoot peoples after the 1885 rebellion.50 It was not until Native peoples on the plains were militarily subjugated that settlement of newcomers became possible, and only then were restrictions needed to ensure that the settler population that replaced Native peoples would be white. To efface this history of bloody repression and focus solely on those whose presence eclipsed Native realities, no matter what the levels of discrimination they faced, is not only segregationist—it is highly inaccurate in the history it tells.

Native eyes were always present, watching each wave of newcomers—white, Black, or Asian—establish themselves on their homelands. Their removal needs to be written into the histories of racist exclusion that peoples of colour faced—not in a cursory way, as in a meaningless generic statement that “First Nations were here before the settlers”—but with a least some specific information as to how the lands where people of colour settled were removed from the control of specific Indigenous nations.

Further complicating the ways in which people of colour have participated in colonial projects is through their understanding of themselves as colonists. For example, in challenging the early twentieth century discourse of whiteness and nation, South Asian male migrants constructed a parallel discourse in which they referred to themselves as colonists and defined their project in Canada as one of constructing an Indian colony.51 Other groups, such as Japanese Canadians and Jewish Canadians, also deployed the discourse of colonization to situate themselves within a white settler formation.52

There are also recent ways in which, as citizens, peoples of colour have been implicated in colonial actions. An example is the ways in which people of colour who had citizenship rights participated in constitutional reform which denied Aboriginal peoples’ efforts to fundamentally reshape Canada in ways that would have addressed aspects of decolonization. The Charlottetown Accord proposed constitutional changes that included a number of important features for Aboriginal peoples, including the recognition of Aboriginal governments as a third order of government in Canada; a definition of self-government in relation to land, environment, language, and culture; and representation in the Senate. While the Accord was the result of years of negotiations between Aboriginal leaders and the Canadian government, the government proposed that it be ratified through a national referendum. In essence, all Canadian citizens, including people of colour, were invited to decide on whether the Canadian government should honour its commitments to Aboriginal peoples.53 We do not know how, or even whether, people of colour voted with respect to the Charlottetown Accord. However, this example serves to illustrate the complex relationship that people of colour have to a settler society. Those that had citizenship rights in Canada were in the position to make decisions on Aboriginal sovereignty, decisions which should have been made by Aboriginal peoples. Notably, anti-racist groups failed to note this contradiction.

Perhaps the most difficult and contentious area where Aboriginal realities are effaced by the interests of people of colour is with respect to immigration and multiculturalism. Aboriginal theorists and activists, particularly in Canada, have largely been silent about this issue, which reflects the discomfort and ambivalence that many Aboriginal people feel when official policies and discourses of multiculturalism and immigration obscure Native presence and divert attention from their realities, and when communities of colour resist their marginalization in ways that centre their realities and render Aboriginal communities invisible. Canadian language policy is a classic example where multiculturalism policy outweighs redressing assaults on Indigenous languages. Funding is provided first for “official” languages and then for “heritage” languages; only then are the remaining dregs divided up among the fifty-odd Indigenous languages in Canada currently at risk of extinction in the face of ongoing cultural genocide.

The reality is that ongoing settlement of Indigenous lands, whether by white people or people of colour, is still part of Canada’s nation-building project, and is still premised on the displacement of Indigenous peoples. At present, with respect to immigration, Aboriginal peoples are caught between a rock and a hard place: either get implicated in the anti-immigrant racism of white Canadians that has always targeted Native peoples for extinction, or support the struggles of people of colour that fail to take seriously the reality of ongoing colonization. What is often overlooked by anti-racist activists is that Delgamuukw clearly set out instances where Aboriginal title could be infringed (in other words, limited or invalidated) by continuing immigration.54 Canada’s immigration goals, then, can be used to restrict Aboriginal rights. Anti-racist activists need to think through how their campaigns can pre-empt Aboriginal communities establishing title to their traditional lands. This is particularly important with recent tendencies to advocate for open borders. The borders in the Americas are European fictions, restricting Native peoples’ passage as well as that of peoples of colour. However, to speak of opening borders without addressing Indigenous land loss and ongoing struggles to reclaim territories is to divide communities that are already marginalized from one another. The question which needs to be asked is how opening borders would impact on Indigenous struggles to reclaim land and nationhood.

There is a need for scholarship that ends practices of segregation, and attempts to explore the complex histories of interactions between peoples of colour and Aboriginal peoples. How did the passing of the …[Official Languages Act] in 1969 connect with Canada’s attempt, in the same year, to pass the White Paper to do away with “Indian” status and Canada’s fiduciary responsibility to status Indians? To what extent did Black-Mi’kmaq intermarriage in Nova Scotia represent a resistance both to extermination policies against Mi’kmaw people and the marginalizing of Black loyalists? What were the interactions between Chinese men and Native communities during the building of the Canadian railroad? Are there policies that connect the denial of west coast Native fishing rights with the confiscation of Japanese fishing boats during the internment? In what ways did people of colour support or challenge the various policies used to colonise Aboriginal peoples? What were the moments of conflict, and moments of collaboration?

In asking these questions, we are asking that anti-racism theory examine the ways in which people of colour have contributed to the settler formation. Note that we are not asking that every anti-racism writer will become an “Indian expert.” This is not desirable. It is also not expected that books on Black, or South Asian, or East Asian histories in Canada would extensively focus on Aboriginal peoples. But in speaking of histories of settlement, there is a need for an explicit awareness and articulation of the intersection of specific settlement policies with policies controlling “Indians”. What is needed is to recognize on-going colonisation as foundational. What is sacrificed, of course, in such clear rendition of the bigger picture, is any notion of the innocence of people of colour in projects of settlement and colonial relations.

Summary: Taking on Decolonization

This paper has addressed the multiple ways in which post-colonial and anti-racist theory has maintained a colonial framework. In summary, we would like to suggest the following areas as topics to be taken up.

  1. Aboriginal sovereignty is a reality that is on the table. Anti-racist theorists need to begin talking about how they are going to place anti-racist agendas within the context of sovereignty and restoration of land.

  2. Taking colonization seriously changes anti-racism in powerful ways. Within academia, anti-racist theorists need to begin to make ongoing colonization central as to how knowledge is constructed about race and racism. They need to learn how to write, research, and teach in ways that account for Indigenous realities as foundational.

  3. While we have focussed this paper on anti-racism theory, it is also important to discuss the ways in which anti-racist activists have failed to make the on-going colonization of Indigenous peoples foundational to their agendas. We would suggest that most anti-racist groups fail to include Indigenous concerns, and when they do so, they too employ a pluralist framework. There is a strong need to begin discussions, between anti-racist and Aboriginal activists, around how to frame claims for anti-racism in ways that do not disempower Aboriginal peoples.

This paper has been written in the hopes of facilitating dialogue between anti-racism theorists and activists and Indigenous scholars and communities. In reflecting on what it means to have such a dialogue, we need to think through the process of how we wrote this paper. We chose to write it in one voice, rather than coming from our different perspectives (Bonita rooted in Indigenous perspectives, Ena in anti-racism and post-colonial theory) because we wanted to go beyond a pluralistic method of simply presenting our different views without attempting a synthesis. For Ena, working in a collective voice meant attempting to take on Indigenous epistemological frameworks and values, a process that was difficult and incomplete. For Bonita, working in a collective voice enabled Indigenous concerns to be placed front and centre within anti-racism, instead of attempting to critique anti-racism from the outside. However, because we framed the dialogue as a critique of existing trends in posti-colonial and anti-racism theory, this meant that centring issues within Indigenous frameworks was sacrificed. As we worked within the framework of anti-racism and post-colonial theory, we continually struggled over the fact that Indigenous ontological approaches to anti-racism, and the relationship between Indigenous epistemologies and post-colonial theory could not be addressed.

In reflection, we have learned that engaging in a dialogue between anti-racism theorists/activists and Indigenous scholars/communities requires talking on Indigenous terms. Aboriginal people may find little relevance in continuing to debate anti-racism and post-colonial theory which not only excludes them but lacks relevance to the ongoing crises which Aboriginal communities face. They may, rather, wish to begin with the realities of contemporary colonization and resistance. They may wish the conversation to take place within Indigenous epistemological frameworks and values—addressing culture, traditional values, spirituality—as central to any real sharing of concerns. For true dialogue to take place, anti-racist theorists cannot insist on privileging and insisting on the primacy of post-colonial or critical race theory as ultimate “truths.”

A final word must be said about anti-racism within Native communities. While Aboriginal peoples have fought long and bitterly to resist the racism shaping Canada’s colonial project, colonial legislation of Native identity has had profound implications for how Aboriginal communities have been racialized and the forms that racism can take within Native communities. This paper has focused on addressing the ways in which anti-racism as we now know it needs to be decolonized. For Aboriginal peoples, a further direction may be to ask how Aboriginal communities would shape an anti-racism project in ways that are relevant to the violence that colonization has done to Indigenous identity. The legacy of cultural genocide and legal classification by “blood” and descent means that Aboriginal peoples must work to find their way through a morass of “racial thinking” about very basic issues relating to Native identity and nationhood. Their ways of doing this may move between retraditionalization and deconstruction, between Indigenous and western ways of addressing how Indigenous identity has been reduced to biology. Most of all, it means finding ways of working “with a good heart.”

Wel’alieq!/Thank you.


Bonita Lawrence (Mi’kmaw) is Associate Professor in the Department of Equity Studies, York University, where she coordinates the Undergraduate Program in Race, Ethnicity and Indigenous Studies. Her research and publications have focused primarily on federally unrecognized Aboriginal communities and urban, non-status, and Métis identities, as well as exploring the complex relations between Native peoples and racialized settlers. She has published “Real” Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood (University of Nebraska Press and UBC Press, 2004). With Kim Anderson, she has co-edited a collection of Native women’s scholarly and activist writing entitled Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival (Sumach Press, 2003) as well as guest-editing “Indigenous Women: The State of Our Nations” (Atlantis: A Women’s Studies Journal 29(2), Spring, 2005). Other publications include “Reclaiming Ktaqumkuk: Land and Mi’kmaq Identity in Newfoundland” in Speaking for Ourselves: Environmental justice in Canada (UBC Press, in press); “Indigenous Peoples and Black People in Canada: Settlers Or Allies?” (with Zainab Amadahy) in Breaching the Colonial Contract: Anti-Colonialism in the US and Canada (Springer Publishing, 2009); “Indigenous And Restorative Justice: Reclaiming Humanity And Community” (with John Usher) in International Perspectives on Restorative Justice in Education (Centre for the Study of Crime, Restorative Justice and Community Safety, in press); and “Decolonizing Antiracism” (with Enakshi Dua) in (Social Justice 32(4), 2005). Her upcoming work, Fractured Homeland: Land and Identity in Federally-Unrecognized Algonquin Communities in Ontario, examines Algonquin identity and struggles to protect the land in the face of a comprehensive claims process. Bonita is a traditional singer who continues to sing with groups in Kingston and Toronto at Native social and political gatherings.

Enakshi Dua is Associate Professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York University, Toronto. She teaches feminist theory, anti-racist feminist theory, post-colonial studies, development studies, and globalization. She is the co-editor of Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-racist Feminist Thought (Women’s Press, 1999). Her research includes projects that focus on the historical construction of the categories of nation, race, and gender in Canada. Other research includes immigration processes, women and health, equity policies, criminalization, and the racialization of masculinity and femininity, globalization, and biodiversity. She has over twenty years of experience in anti-racist feminist organizing at the community level, and has held administrative positions that deal with feminist, anti-racist, and equity issues within the academy.

  1. This project represents an equal collaboration between both authors, but the choice to put Bonita Lawrence’s name forward first was explicitly political. Because this paper names anti-racism as part of a colonial project, and challenges the positioning of peoples of colour as innocent of colonizing relationships, both authors struggled with a sense that Bonita Lawrence would face greater criticism and marginalizing from anti-racism circles if her name was put in first place, than Enakshi Dua would, as a woman of colour with a long history of anti-racism theory and activism. We decided to challenge these practices by situating the Aboriginal person first in the title.
  2. Razack, Sherene (2004:147). Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. The spectre of “Native unrest” appears to have haunted the Canadian government since the 1885 uprising, so that the military is usually on the alert whenever Native activism appears to be spreading. As Sherene Razack has noted, the Canadian government, in sending the Airborne Regiment to Somalia in 1993, was highly aware that they might not have enough military power left at home in the event that the country was faced with another Oka.
  3. Lemkin, Raphael, in Ward Churchill (1994:12–13). Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America. Toronto, ON: Between the Lines Press. The meaning of the term “genocide”, as coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, during the discussions leading to the United Nations Genocide Convention, was given as follows: “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killing of all the members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objective of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and the lives of individuals belonging to such groups . . . Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group: the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”
  4. Spivak, Gayatri (1994, May). Presentation at University of Toronto.
  5. Churchill, Ward (1992:411). Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America. Toronto, ON: Between the Lines Press.
  6. Churchill (1992:19–20).
  7. Coates, Ken (2000:7). The Marshall Decision and Native Rights. McGill-Queen’s University Press. In the 1999 Marshall decision, for example, concerning the rights of Mi’kmaw people in the Maritimes to fish, the courts upheld the integrity of 18th century treaties between Britain and the Mi’kmaw nation as superceding the authority that Canada had vested in such institutions as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
  8. The St. Catherines Milling and Lumber case involved a dispute between Canada and the Province of Ontario over timber revenues. Canada, in its defence, invoked the federal government’s relationship to Aboriginal peoples; however, the decision, in Ontario’s favour, defined Aboriginal rights virtually out of existence, stating that Indigenous people merely had a right to use their land, and that legally this right was no more than a “burden” on absolute Crown title, like a lien that must be discharged before land can be legally acquired. For over a century after this case, every Native litigator was forced to argue against this ruling, drastically limiting the possibilities for asserting Indigenous peoples’ rights to their territories.
  9. With Calder, the Nisga’a people took British Columbia to court for recognition of their rights to their traditional lands which they had petitioned about for over a century. The Supreme Court, on appeal, denied their title on narrow procedural grounds, but ruled that there is a pre-existing Aboriginal right and title to the land that does not flow from any rules enacted by a non-Aboriginal government.
  10. Mainville, Robert (2001:26). An Overview of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and Compensation for their Breach. Saskatoon, SK: Purich Publishing Ltd. When Dorothy Van der Peet, a member of the Sto:lo Nation charged with violating the Fisheries Act, asserted that these restrictions violated her Aboriginal rights as defined by Section 35, the Supreme Court decision began the process of defining how Aboriginal rights would be interpreted in the courts.
  11. Mainville (2001:29).
  12. Mainville (2001:32). The original case involved the claim by the Gitksan and Wetsowe’ten Houses to ownership and jurisdiction over the entire 58,000 square kilometres of their traditional landbase in central British Columbia. Their tireless attempt to have elders address the courts on their own terms, using oral traditions as “proof,” was summarily dismissed by the B.C. court. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, however, the court decision, without actually addressing Gitksan/Wetsowe’ten self-government, defined Aboriginal title simply as the right to exclusive use and occupancy of the land rather than outright political contro.
  13. Persky, Stan (1998:19). Delgamuukw: The Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Aboriginal Title. Vancouver/Toronto: Greystone Books (Douglas & McIntyre); Macklem, Patrick (2001:103–104). Indigenous Difference and the Constitution of Canada. University of Toronto Press. As part of the ruling, a stringent set of criteria were developed which had to be met to prove title The court also demanded that land covered by Aboriginal title could only be used for land-based activities that were part of the court’s vision of a “distinct” relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the land. For example, any form of resource development in ways that the courts deem to be contrary to the nation’s “traditional” activities was prohibited; finding new ways to survive in the face of ongoing colonization is not “permitted” under Delgamuukw. Finally, Aboriginal title has been conceptualized within a narrow frame of collective ownership/use that is not constitutive of an Indigenenous nation’s identity such as Canadians enjoy with Canada.
  14. Monture-Angus, Patricia (1999:120). Journeying Forward: Dreaming First Nations Independence. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
  15. Alfred, Gerald Taiaiake (1999:xiii). Peace Power and Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto. Oxford University Press.
  16. St. Germain, Jill (2001). Indian Treaty-Making Policy in the United States and Canada, 1867–1877. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. At present, all existing Indian reserves in Canada combined are still less than the acreage of one-half of the Navajo reservation in Arizona.
  17. Henderson, James (Sa’ke’j) Youngblood (1997:16). The Mi’kmaw Concordat. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
  18. Henderson (1997:32).
  19. Henderson (1997:87).
  20. Armstrong, Jeannette (1998:175–6, 178). Land speaking. In Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
  21. Weaver, Jace (1998:20–21). From I-hermeutics to we-hermeneutics: Native Americans and the postcolonial. In Jace Weaver (ed.). Native American Religious Identity: Unforgotten Gods. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books: 1–25.
  22. See for example: Ahmad, Aijaz (1992). In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso; Chambers, Ian and Lidia Curti (eds.). (1996). The Post-Colonial Question. London: Routledge Press; Frankenberg, Ruth and Lata Mani (1992). Cross-currents, crosstalk: Race, ‘post-coloniality’ and the politics of location. Cultural Studies 7(2):292–310; McClintock, Anne (1997). No Longer in a Future Heaven: Gender, Race, and Nationalism. In Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (eds.). Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota: 89–112; Parry, Benita (1987). Problems in current theories of colonial discourse. Oxford Literary Review 9(1–2):27–58.
  23. Hall, Stuart (1996:191). The West and the rest: Discourse and power. In Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert, and Kenneth Thompson (eds.). Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies. London: Open University: 184–224.
  24. Gilroy, Paul (1993:17). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  25. Gilroy (1993:2–3).
  26. Clifford, James (1997:252). Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  27. Clifford (1997:267).
  28. Clifford (1997:253).
  29. Clifford (1997:252).
  30. Gilroy (1993:308).
  31. Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth (1996:63). Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
  32. Frankenberg and Mani (1992:480).
  33. Frankenberg and Mani (1992:480–481).
  34. Grewal, Inderpal and Caren Kaplan (1994). Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press; Penrose, Jan (1993). Reification in the name of change: the impact of nationalism on social constructions of nation, people and place in Scotland and the United Kingdom. In Peter Jackson and Jan Penrose (eds.). Constructions of Race, Place and Nation. London: UCL Press: 27–49; Anderson, Benedict (1991). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso; Hall, Stuart (1994). Cultural identity and diaspora. In P. Williams and L. Chrisman (eds.). Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory. New York, NY: Columbia University Press: 392–403.
  35. Anderson (1991).
  36. Anderson (1991); Warren, Kay (1992:189–219). Transforming memories and histories: The meanings of ethnic resurgence for Mayan Indians. In Alfred Stepan (ed.). Americas: New Interpretive Essays. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  37. Nixon, Rob (1997:69–88). Of Balkans and Bantustans: Ethnic cleansing and the crisis in national legitimation. In Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (eds.). Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
  38. Penrose (1993); Nixon (1997).
  39. Hall, Stuart (1996). When was ‘the post-colonial?’ Thinking at the limit. In Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti (eds.). The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons. London: Routledge, quoted in Weaver (1998:14).
  40. Venne, Sharon (1998). Our Elders Understand Our Rights: Evolving International Law Regarding Indigenous Rights. Theytus Press.
  41. Le Camp, Lorraine (1998). Terra Nullius/Theoria Nullius—Empty Lands/Empty Theory: A Literature Review of Critical Theory from an Aboriginal Perspective. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Sociology and Equity Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
  42. Cook-Lynn (1996:88).
  43. Sunseri (2005).
  44. Razack (2004:10, 14). Sherene Razack has theorized that a critical way in which power relations can be ignored is when individuals assume that they can stand outside of hierarchical social relations, and therefore are innocent of complicity in structures of domination. She has also noted that individuals are often involved in a “race to innocence,” where they emphasize only their own subordination and disregard how they may simultaneously be complicit in other systems of domination. When we disregard how systems of oppression interlock, it is relatively easy to focus on our own oppression and disregard where we are privileged over others.
  45. Walker, James W. St. G. (1997). “Race,” Rights and the Law in the Supreme Court of Canada: Historical Case Studies. Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and Wilfred Laurier University Press.
  46. Backhouse, Constance (1999). Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950. Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and University of Toronto Press.
  47. Hill, Daniel G. (1981:10, 63–64). The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada. Toronto, ON: Stoddart Publishing; Walcott, Rinaldo (1997:35–36). Black Like Who? Writing/Black/Canada. Toronto, ON: Insomniac Press; Mensah, Joseph (2002:46). Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.
  48. Paul, Daniel N. (2000:182–184). We Were Not the Savages: A Mi’kmaq Perspective on the Collision between European and Native American Civilizations. 21st Century edition. Halifax, NS: Fernwood. Mi’kmaw people fought the English for over a century, up and down the eastern seaboard in conjunction with other allied nations of the Wabanaki confederacy. With the eighteenth century peace treaties came a concentrated campaign of extermination efforts by the British Crown, including the posting of bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children in 1744, 1749, and 1756 and accompanying “scorched earth” policies to starve out the survivors, the absolute denial of land for reserves for most of a century after asserting military control in 1763, and finally, the accompanying spread of epidemics which brought the Mi’kmaq people, to near-extinction. Daniel Paul notes that by 1843, only 1300 were left of a people whose numbers had been estimated as between 30,000 and 200,000. The most concentrated interval of extermination efforts were those that immediately preceded the settling of loyalists, white and Black, in Nova Scotia.
  49. Mensah (2002:47).
  50. Miller, J. R. (1989:190-194). Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada. University of Toronto Press; (Stonechild and Waiser, 214–237); Carter, Sarah (1997:186–193). Capturing Women: The Manipulation of Cultural Imagery in Canada’s Prairie West. McGill-Queen’s University Press. The implementation of pass laws, the policing of reserves by the Northwest Mounted Police, the outlawing of spiritual ceremonies, and other policies which strengthened the heavy hand of the “Indian Agent,” the erroneous labelling of twenty-eight Cree bands as traitorous and the starvation policies implemented against them, the mass hanging of eight Cree men and the imprisonment of approximately 50 other Crees that accompanied the hanging of Louis Riel and the crushing of the Metis, the denial of matrimonial rights and the labelling of Aboriginal women as prostitutes in efforts to drive Native women out of white settlements—all these actions were necessary to subjugate the Indigenous people of the prairies.
  51. Dua, Enakshi (2002). ‘Race’ and Governmentality: The Racialization of Canadian Citizenship Practices. In Debi Brock (ed.). Making Normal: Social Regulation in Canada. Harcourt Brace.
  52. For Jewish Canadians see Canadian Jewish Alliance, Annual Report, 1917. For Japanese Canadians see Winnipeg Free Standard, p1, June, 1916.
  53. The Accord was subject to intense debate, particularly the sections on Aboriginal self government. These sections were questioned first by Aboriginal women’s organizations and then by national feminist groups, as they were seen to potentially prevent gender rights within Aboriginal communities through the potential the Accord granted to Aboriginal governments to opt out of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since the Charter was seen as a protector of Aboriginal women’s rights, granting government powers to Aboriginal communities was seen as a potential threat to Aboriginal women. An argument was made that self government was present in the accord as a new right rather than a recogition and affirmation of an existing right, and therefore should be challenged. The platform of the national feminist organization, the National Action Committee, therefore stated that the “Charlottetown Accord is a bad deal for Aboriginal women.” Notably, NAC failed to address the significance of the accord with respect to Aboriginal decolonization. Rather, gender rights were seen as paramount, even in relationship to Aboriginal self-government. In 1992, Canadians voted against the accord. Nationally, fifty-four percent of the votes cast opposed the Accord.
  54. Persky (1998:20).