“Canada 150 is just a year of revictimization. Like it wasn’t enough to colonize once, now we are going to shove it down your throat.” Romeo Saganash
Today on Turtle Island July 1 is a day that marks 150 years of the imposition of the colonial state known as Canada, and has been promoted as Canada150 with a range of ‘celebrations’ across the country. But Canada150 is not a celebration for First Nations, and as Māori we know that these colonial activities merely serve to further entrench the racism and imperialist views of colonisers on Indigenous lands. These events are constructed to do exactly that. To reinforce the hegemonic view that colonial states are on our lands legitimately, when they are not. The colonisation of Canada reflects the colonisation of other Indigenous nations including Aotearoa.
In the article “Untethering colonial rule for Canada’s 150th birthday”
Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel writes:
“Canada’s sovereignty is based on legal fictions like the Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius and the Doctrine of Conquest, which have been used to justify the forceful occupation of land that has not been subject to the conqueror’s narrow definition of ‘sovereignty.’
But today, hundreds of years after some of these documents were written, Canada remains steadfast in its insistence of sovereignty over Indigenous peoples’ lands. The preamble of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — adopted unreservedly by Canada in spring 2016 — states:
“Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust…”
Canada must today repudiate these racist doctrines instead playing a waiting game that will leave it to another generation of politicians.”
The celebration of colonial days such as Canada150 work to conceal this history, not to reveal it, and in doing so the ongoing oppression of Indigenous Peoples remains at the center of the colonial project. The obsession with having a national party to celebrate colonial oppression is well entrenched across the world. They are parties that we are invited to as Indigenous nations, only if we play the party game, which means leaving any unresolved issues of colonial oppression outside the gate. We are constantly reminded that this is a party to celebrate “how far we have come” and “to look forward to the future with hope”, based on 150 years of “progress”. We know these kind of parties, because we are about to have one thrown here as well, Cook250, where we, as Māori, will also be told that if we want to be invited then we will need to behave. That is the colonial paternalism that is Canada150 and it will be Cook250. It is an oppressive, imperialistic, misogynist, racist paternalism that remains unchanged over 150 years.
For Indigenous peoples these are parties we should not be attending, and that we must respond to when the invitations are sent, as Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel and Romeo Saganash state clearly;
“For many of us, our refusal to celebrate is not a disdain for Canadians, but rather to send a message that we as a distinct peoples, indigenous to these lands, also have a right to control our destiny through the enjoyment of our right to self-determination. From our elders who endured the terrible and horrific conditions brought on by colonial-rooted poverty, to the present generation speaking out in attempts to decolonize Canada and our communities, there are countless urgent crises signifying that we can no longer tolerate colonial and racist laws, nor the exploitation of our lands, resources and peoples.” Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel
“The real problem with Canada 150 celebrations are the stories that the state is attempting to tell itself and everyone else. Specifically, that it has legitimate authority to make laws and policies, or even imagine a future, without Indigenous partnership. Any celebration of the state, the nation with its assumed sovereignty, stories of expansion and settlement or nation-building in general, replicate settler colonial narratives and are an insult to my ancestors, to my people, to me.” Romeo Saganash
Having recently visited Vancouver I am thankful for the powerful critique and discussions that we were invited in to as Indigenous scholars. It was clearly stated that reconciliation will never take place until such time as the colonial government deal directly with the fundamental issues of the denial of First Nations sovereignty and that the lands stolen are return to enable nations to return to full self-determination. In Aotearoa we are also thankful to the powerhouse women who founded the Idle No More movement, in particular our Indigenous sister Sylvia McAdam who spent time and shared so generously with our people here in Aotearoa. (https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/being-idle-no-more-women-behind-movement)
The dominant articulation of ‘reconciliation’ within Canada is linked directly to the Canada150 party and functions to marginalise any meaningful engagement related to sovereignty and self-determination for Indigenous nations. The construct of reconciliation will always be problematic for Indigenous nations when defined, controlled and determined by the colonial state. Even if the underpinning of the concept of reconciliation is to restore relationships, to bring together groups in disagreement to a place of agreement., that can not, and never will, be accomplished in a context where the group in power, the oppressor, determines what reconciliation is, and controls the process. If reconciliation was truly a process of restoration within a colonial context then it would be defined, determined and controlled by Indigenous peoples, and the colonial state would be held accountable and would return what was stolen. Clearly in the context of Canada150 that is not the case and was never the intention.
In an article that reflects on the powerful work of Sylvia McAdam in reoccupying the land, Steve Newcomb writes on the terms reconciliation and colonization in the context of Canada150.
“Reconciliation is a false-word that makes it appear as if something positive is being done without once addressing the persistent and ongoing process that is causing the problems experienced by Original Nations of Great Turtle Island in the place now commonly called “Canada.” The question of causation leads us to the issue of the language system which has created and continues to create such horrifying and traumatic experiences for our Original Nations.
More than 60 percent of English is derived from the Roman Empire’s language of Latin. War was the raisón d’etre of the Roman Empire to expand the geographical reach of its domination, and its Latin language was designed for that purpose. The British Empire and its Crown system has followed in that very same tradition, and the history of the British Empire’s “possessions” and “provinces” on Great Turtle Island follows in that grand tradition of imperialism.
This is made clear by the fact that until the late 1960’s it was a place officially known as “The Dominion of Canada.” Drop the ‘n’ on the end and you get dominio, which indicates a place that has been “subjected” (dominated) by some power such as an empire. The word dominio is part of a large family of Latin words for domination. Together those words and the ideas that go with them constitute an overall idea-system of domination. Take for example the word domo: “to subjugate,” “to subdue,” “to force into subservience,” “to tame,” “to domesticate,” “to cultivate,” and “to till.” The Latin word for “cultivate” is colere, which also means “to colonize” and “design.”
The root of the word “colonize” is “colon” which is “a digestive tract.” Colo means “to filter out impurities in the process of mining.” Colonization is a digestive process. The invader body politic seizes, consumes, and digests. Ironically, Christopher Columbus’s Latin name was Cristobal Colón (Christ Carrier Colonizer). To colonize involves “the digestive tract of the invader body politic,” such as the British Empire, well-symbolized as a lion with the globe (Mother Earth) under its paw.” (https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/opinions/reconciliation-and-sylvia-mcadams-efforts-to-protect-the-land/)
The amazing Arthur Manuel wrote of reconciliation as a flawed notion in January 2017:
“The first step is to repudiate the concepts behind the Colonial Doctrines of Discovery and recognize that every Indigenous nation in Canada has underlying title to their entire territory. Plus recognize we have exclusive rights to a land base starting from 3-to-5 million acres so we can protect our language, culture, laws and economy…
I believe that under the existing colonial system in Canada, Indigenous Peoples are not Canadian because of the systemic impoverishment we are forced live in because we are alienated from our traditional territories. If we accept colonization as a foundation of our relationship to Canada we are endorsing our own impoverishment. You cannot have reconciliation under the colonial 0.2 per cent Indian Reserve System. It is impossible. Nothing can justify that kind of human degradation. The land issue must be addressed before reconciliation can begin.”
Our connection to our lands, is our connection to ourselves and to each other. Until such time as our lands and our fundamental rights to be Indigenous are fully restored there can never be reconciliation. The return of stolen lands is central to Indigenous self-determination, sovereignty, mana motuhake, tino rangatiratanga.
“Development has been at the expense of the way of life of Indigenous peoples whose languages cultures, stories and traditional forms of governance are land based designed to strengthen our relationship with the land. Land dispossession remains a key issue as it disrupts the relationship we have with Mother Earth and all our relations. The pillars of our identity— our languages, customs, health, ceremonies, and traditional forms of governance — are all inter-related and interdependent upon the health of our environment. Our languages teach us how we approach our relations like the four-legged, the fish, the waters, our medicines, and our celestial relations in the sky. “ Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel
There is no celebration for Canada when First Nations remain the most impoverished people on their own lands, where colonial governments continue to deny the impact of historical and intergenerational trauma imposed by their genocidal and ethnocidal acts upon Indigenous nations, when First Nations peoples hold only 0.2% of traditional homelands, where successive governments continue to devastate the environment with clear cutting forests and laying pipelines, where racism in the police and associated agencies culminates in the murder of Indigenous Peoples, where thousands of Indigenous women are missing and murdered and they and their families are denied justice, where First Nations children continue to be forcibly removed by the state, where the survivors of the Residential schooling system, and their descendants, continue to be faced with the impact of that oppressive and genocidal system.
As an Indigenous woman of Aotearoa who stands with many of our people in our struggle for the return of our lands and to stand as self-determining in our own territories, this is a message of solidarity with our Indigenous relations in the call for the return of your lands and your rights as sovereign nations. We are here. We are watching. We continue to bear witness. We stand in solidarity with you, our relations.
Me whawhai tonu mātou, ake ake ake.
This year Canada is commemorating it’s 150th anniversary. But for indigenous people there’s nothing to celebrate. In honour of Art Manuel and the integrity with which he always began with the land and honoured the grassroots people, the #Unsettling150 crew are proud to launch this video filled with Art’s words, read by his daughter Kanahus Manuel, to launch the final lead-up to the national day of action, education, and reflection.