Decolonizing Antiracism

In a time when Native nationalism and anti-colonial efforts are on the rise in North America, Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua ask, "why hasn't anti-racist theory caught up?"

This is an important, if somewhat academic, article by Canadian Native activist-scholar Bonita Lawrence and Canadian-Indian scholar of race and gender Enakshi Dua examining the ways in which indigenous people, indigeneity and the fact of ongoing settler colonialism and anti-colonial struggles has been conspicuously absent or put in a secondary position in Canadian (and U.S.) anti-racist theorizing and activism. They set out to put racism and anti-racist struggles and theories within the context of ongoing colonialism in North America

While I may not be in total 100% agreement with all of their analysis, they ask a number of important questions, especially concerning the often ignored question of the contradictions beween indigenous people and people of colour (as opposed to the always examined contradictions between settlers and indigenous people and whites and people of colour). These are questions that I think we as indigenous people and people of colour, both “native” born and immigrant, need to confront and answer if we are to work together in alliance to combat, and eventually overthrow, imperialist white power and parasitic capitalism.

It’s with this in mind that I have decided to post this article, and I hope we can spark a discussion around it and the ideas presented by its authors.

About the Authors

Bonita Lawrence (Mi’kmaw) is an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3 (, where she teaches Native Studies and anti-racism. Her research and publications have focused primarily on gender and colonization, federally unrecognized Aboriginal communities,and urban, non-status, and Métis identities. She is a traditional singer who sings with groups in Kingston And Toronto at Native social and political gatherings. She recently published “Real” Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native People and Indigenous Nationhood (University of Nebraska Pressand UBC Press, 2004). With Kim Anderson, she co-edited a collection of Native women’s scholarly and activist writing entitled Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival (Toronto:Sumach Press, 2003) and guest-edited an edition of Atlantis, entitled Indigenous Women: The State of Our Nations.

Enakshi Dua is an associate professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3 (e-mail: She teaches feminist theory, antiracist feminist theory, post-colonial studies, development studies, and globalization. She is the co-editor of Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought. One of her current research projects focuses 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 20 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.


In continuous conversations over the years, we have discussed our discomfort with the manner in which Aboriginal people and perspectives are excluded within antiracism. We have been surprised and disturbed by how rarely this exclusion has been taken up, or even noticed. Due to this exclusion, Aboriginal People cannot see themselves in antiracism contexts, and Aboriginal activism against settler domination takes place without people of color as allies. Though antiracist theorists may ignore the 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 article represents a call to postcolonial and antiracism theorists to begin to take Indigenous decolonization seriously. Because we are situated differently in relation to decolonization and antiracism, we are beginning with our own locations.

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

To say this is to acknowledge that several factors—notably immigration and urbanization—have already been at work in delineating relations between Aboriginal people and people of color. In the 1960s, when Canada was overwhelmingly white, my mother, who was Mi’kmaq and Acadian, clearly felt marginalized and inferiorized byAnglo-Canadians and ostracized by many French-Canadians. In the city, she welcomed the new presence of people of color as potential friends and allies, and a saw a common struggle for survival and adaptation to the dominant culture. There were not many of us, Aboriginal people or people of color, brown islands in a white sea

Fast forward to 2005. For many Native people in Eastern Canada, the urbanization and assimilation pressures of the 1950s and 1960s meant that our parents married white people. This interval also featured large-scale immigration of people of color, so that today urban Native people form tiny, paler islands floating in a darker“multicultural” sea. Over the past 15 years or so since the Oka Crisis, in common with many urban mixed-bloods, I have struggled to learn about my own Indigeneity. In this context, my light skin separates me from the people of color that my mother would have viewed as allies. There is nothing new about racial ambiguity among mixed-bloods of any background. For Aboriginal peoples in Canada,though, something else is at work: 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, friends,and many of my Aboriginal students have struggled with our lack of knowledge about our heritage due to 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 our Indigeneity is ultimately validated or denied by government cards that certify “Indian” status. Neither these policies nor their repercussions are topics for discussion at antiracism conferences. It is difficult not to conclude that there is something deeply wrong with the manner in which, in our own lands, antiracism 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.

Yet, even to begin to address decolonizing antiracism, I must first acknowledge that I am one of 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. They would begin by asking: What does postcoloniality and antiracism theory have to do with us? An academic article addressing these issues is therefore aimed primarily at antiracism scholars and activists, who for the most part are not Indigenous. More Problematically, it would use 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 article 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 antiracism discourse. The tensions between who I can claim to speak for, how I speak in arguing academic theory, and to whom I am speaking in this article thus remain ongoing

Ena: I came to Canada as a 16 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 programs 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 a similar history of India and other Indians, and I knew that this history was not accurate. I was vaguely conscious that the same processes were shaping the lives of Aboriginal people andpeople of color. I saw myself as allied with Aboriginal people. However, what I did not see was how I might be part of the ongoing project of colonization. I did not place myself in the processes that produced such representations, or relations.

As a young woman, my experiences with racism, sexism, and imperialism led me to become engaged in a project of developing antiracist feminism. This site, I hoped, would enable us to look at the ways in which different kinds of oppression intersected. Looking back, I realize that we failed to integrate ongoing colonization into this emerging body of knowledge. For example, in a collaborative book project I edited, antiracist 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. The anthology first examined the ways in which Aboriginal women had been racialized and gendered historically. Another article investigated questions of Aboriginal self-government. I now think 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 and relationships were influencedby Canada’s ongoing colonization of Aboriginal peoples. More recently, I turnedto cultural theory, critical race theory, and postcolonial studies, but I fear that theseapproaches, like my earlier work, also fail to center the ongoing colonization ofAboriginal peoples.

My approach in this article, as someone committed to antiracist feminist struggles, is to examine my complicity in the ongoing project of colonization. My complicityis 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 denied to Aboriginal peoples collectively, and that are deployed to deny Aboriginal rights to self-government. Second, as someone involved in antiracist and progressive struggles, I wonder about the ways in which the bodies of knowledge that I have worked to build have been framed so as to contribute tothe 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 acommon conclusion: that antiracism is premised on an ongoing colonial project.Asa result, we fear that rather than challenging the ongoing colonization ofAboriginalpeoples, Canadian antiracism is furthering contemporary colonial agendas.We willargue that antiracism theory participates in colonial agendas in two ways. First, itignores the ongoing colonization of Aboriginal peoples in the Americas; second,it fails to integrate an understanding of Canada as a colonialist state into antiracistframeworks. In this article, we seek ways to decolonize antiracism theory. Our goalin writing this is to begin to lay the groundwork that might make dialogue possibleamong antiracist and Aboriginal activists.

What Does It Mean to Look at Canada as Colonized Space? What Does It Mean to Ignore Indigenous Sovereignty?

Antiracist and postcolonial 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 means through which colonization in Canada as a settler society has been implemented and is being maintained. We also need to referencehow Indigenous peoples resist this ongoing colonization.

Settler states in the Americas are founded on, and maintained through, policiesof direct extermination, displacement, or assimilation. The premise of each is toensure that Indigenous peoples ultimately disappear as peoples, so that settler nationscan seamlessly take their place. Because of the intensity of genocidal3policies thatIndigenous people have faced and continue to face, a common error on the part of antiracist and postcolonial theorists is to assume that genocide has been virtuallycomplete,that Indigenous peoples, however unfortunately, have been “consigned tothe dustbin of history” (Spivak, 1994) and no longer need to be taken into account.Yet such assumptions are scarcely different from settler nation-building myths,whereby “Indians” become unreal figures, rooted in the nation’s prehistory, whodied out and no longer need to be taken seriously.

Being consigned to a mythic past or “the dustbin of history” means beingprecluded from changing and existing as real people in the present. It also meansbeing denied even the possibility of regenerating nationhood. If Indigenous nationhood is seen as something of the past, the present becomes a site in whichIndigenous peoples are reduced to small groups of racially and culturally definedand marginalized individuals drowning in a sea of settlers—who needn’t 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 thatare neither rhetorical nor metaphorical. Neither Canada nor the United States—orthe settler states of “Latin” America for that matter—which claim sovereigntyover the territory they occupy, have a legitimate basis to anchor their absorptionof huge portions of that territory (Churchill, 1992: 411). Indeed, nationhood forIndigenous peoples is acknowledged in current international law as the right ofinherent sovereignty: the notion that peoples known to have occupied specificterritories, who have a common language, a means of subsistence, forms of governance, legal systems, and means of deciding citizenship, are nations—particularlyif they have entered into treaties. As Churchill notes (Ibid.: 19–20), only nationsenter into treaty relationships.

In contrast, the legal system in Canada, a settler state, is premised on the needto preempt Indigenous sovereignty. The legal system does this through the assertionof a “rule of law” that is daily deployed to deny possibilities of sovereignty and tocriminalize Indigenous dissent. Because this rule of law violates the premises onwhich treaties were signed withAboriginal people, the Supreme Court occasionallyis forced to acknowledge the larger framework of treaty agreements that predateassertions of Canadian sovereignty.4Historically, however, court decisions havebeen a chief instrument of the disenfranchisement of Aboriginal peoples. Recently, they have alternated between enlarging the scope of the potential for a renewedrelationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples and drastically curtailingthose possibilities.

It is important to understand how Native rights to land were legally nullified inCanada, and when this changed. In 1888, the ruling in the St. Catherines Millingand Lumber5court decision was that Aboriginal peoples’ rights to the land wereso vague and general that they were incapable of remedy. This decision codified inlaw thatAboriginal peoples were on a path to extinction; the only way for “Indians”to acquire legal rights was to assimilate into Canadian society.

The Calder decision6of 1973 redefined the relationship between Canada andAboriginal peoples. It clarified that Canada had a legal obligation to recognize therights of Aboriginal peoples to their traditional lands, to redress where these rightshad been violated, and to enter, belatedly, negotiations with Aboriginal nations inregions where no treaties had been historically signed. Canada’s response to thisobligation, however, was to deliberately maintain a colonialist stance. Instead ofseriously entering into new relationships with Indigenous peoples based on equalstature,Canada issued a unilateral policy wherebyAboriginal peoplesmust formallysubmit a “land claim” to redress land theft. Far from being “progressive,” the landclaims process involves Canada’s refusal to negotiate with Indigenous peoples asequals and instead asserts the right to control how their own land theft from Indigenous peoples should be redressed. The 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.

Other important developments after the Calder decision had potentially hugeconsequences for the relations of Indigenous nations with Canada. In 1982, Section35 of the Constitution Act recognized and affirmed existing Aboriginal and treatyrights as originating before colonization; it included future rights that may be recognized in land claims or other agreements. From the start, however, there was littleclarity about what this would mean. In Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act,jurisdiction over the land remained divided between Canada and the Provinces, ashad been the case since Confederation. Given this preemptive 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 the1990s, several important court decisions were instrumental in drastically curtailingthe promises of Calder and Section 35 of the Constitution Act. For example, Vander Peet7clarified that Aboriginal rights were not general and universal, and therefore would have to be proved by each band specifically for their own territories;these rights would also be restricted to pre-contact practices (Mainville, 2001: 29).Meanwhile, the Delgamuuk’w decision8began the process of defining the contentof Aboriginal title, in highly restrictive ways.9Because of these and other recentdecisions, Aboriginal rights are being delineated without the political and culturalframework of anAboriginal government (Monture-Angus, 1999: 120), and withoutthe cultural/spiritual framework at the heart of Indigenous societies.

Large portions of territory, particularly in British Columbia, but also in Quebecand the Maritimes, are currently claimed by Canada without formal land-basedtreaties ever having been signed. Since Calder, Canada should have been formallynegotiating new treaties; instead, it has consolidated its hold on these territoriesthrough the comprehensive claims policy. Given the inherently colonial nature ofthe land “claims” process, it is perhaps not surprising that land claims settlementsare exercises in “municipalization.” Returning land is never on the agenda. Rather,cash awards are offered to “sweeten” the status quo, if Nations formally assume thestatus of municipalities. Cash settlements may provide communities with resourcesto repair some of the worst excesses of colonialism; this route does not, however,enable them to re-create a new future. As Taiaiake Alfred (1999) succinctly states,Canada’s basic policies of assimilation and destruction remain unchanged. Thegovernment continues to divest responsibility for the effects of colonialism onAboriginal peoples, while holding onto their land base and resources, redefiningwithout reforming, and further entrenching in law and practice the real basis ofits power.

The immediate problem facing Aboriginal peoples in Canada is that the statusquo of a colonial order continues to target them for legal and cultural extinction,while undermining the viability of communities through theft of their remaininglands and resources.10Aboriginal people need to reestablish control over their own communities: have their land returned to them, making communities viable andrebuilding nationhood, with a legal framework that brings Aboriginal peoples’ existing and returned lands under their own authority. This requires a total rethinkingof Canada; sovereignty and self-determination must be genuinely on the table asfundamental to Indigenous survival, not as lip service. If they are truly progressive,antiracist theorists must begin to think about their personal stake in this struggle,and about where they are going to situate themselves.

We also need a better understanding of the ways in which Aboriginal peoplesresist ongoing colonization. At the core of Indigenous survival and resistance isreclaiming a relationship to land. Yet, within antiracism theory and practice, thequestion 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 toacknowledge that there is more to this land than being settlers on it, that thereare deeper, older stories and knowledge connected to the landscapes around us.To acknowledge that we all share the same land base and yet to question the differential terms on which it is occupied is to become aware of the colonial projectthat is taking place around us.

Indigenous stories of the land are spiritual and political, and have tremendouslongevity. For example, Mi’kmaki, the “land of friendship,” which encompasseswhat is now called the Atlantic provinces, was viewed by the Mi’kmaq as a sacredorder, flowing from a creation story that moves seamlessly from mythical time intohistorical time around the end of the last ice age (Henderson, 1997: 16). Mi’kmakiis “owned” in a formal sense only by unborn children in the invisible sacred realm(Ibid.: 32); however, its seven regions are also traditionally governed by a GrandCouncil, orMawiomi, and it has historically been part of theWabanakiConfederacy,a larger geopolitical unit that extends into what is now the northeastern UnitedStates. At another level, to resist invasion the Mawiomi negotiated a Concordatin 1610 that consolidated Mi’kmaki formally as a Catholic republic under Rome(Ibid.: 87). All of these spiritual and geopolitical relations, past and present, connect Mi’kmaq people with Mi’kmaki.

These lands carry more than the imprint of an ancient and contemporary Indigenous presence. Focusing on the land reveals important gaps between Westernand traditional knowledges that shape how we see these relationships to land.For example, land for many Native peoples is profoundly connected to language.Jeannette Armstrong (1997: 175–176; 178) explains this from her own people’sperspective:

As I understand it from my Okanagan ancestors, language was given tous by the land we live within…. The Okanagan language, called N’silxchnby us, is one of the Salishan languages. My ancestors say that N’silxchn isformed out of an older language, some words of which are still retained inour 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 methat it was the land that changed the language because there is a specialknowledge in each different place. All my elders say that it is land thatholds all knowledge of life and earth and is a constant teacher. It is said inOkanagan that the land constantly speaks. It is constantly communicating.Not to learn its language is to die. We survived and thrived by listeningintently to its teachings—to its language—and then inventing humanwords to retell its stories to our succeeding generations…. In this sense,all Indigenous peoples’ languages are generated by a precise geographyand arise from it.

This linking of land and language, of memory and history, has implicationsfor Indigenous peoples and settlers. Part of the profound strength that has helpedIndigenous peoples to maintain their identity despite five centuries of colonization derives from the fact that they have retained knowledge of who they are dueto their longstanding relationship to the land. Settlers find a remapping of traditional territories to earlier names, boundaries, and stories by Indigenous peoplesto be profoundly unsettling. It reveals the Canadian nation as still foreign to thisland base. Even after five centuries of colonization, the names the colonizer hasbestowed on the land remain irrelevant to its history. It calls into question notionsof settler belonging-as-whites or as peoples of color, based simply on Canadiancitizenship.

Cherokee theologian Jace Weaver (1998: 20–21) has asserted that until postcolonial theory takes seriously both the collective character of Native traditional lifeand the importance of specific lands to the cultural identities of different Nativepeoples, it will have little meaning for Native peoples. In the next section, we willbegin to examine how postcolonial and antiracist theory fails to address Aboriginalpeople’s presence and concerns.

How Has Antiracism/Postcolonial Theory Been Constructed on a Colonizing Framework?

Our discussion will refer to a vast body of literature: critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and theories of nationalism. This diverse literature has many differentarguments and has been subject to many critiques (see, for example, Ahmad, 1992;Chambers and Curti, 1996; Frankenberg and Mani, 1992; McClintock, 1997; Parry,1987). In our reading, this literature shares crucial ontological underpinnings.All ofthese 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 implicitly constructed on a colonizingframework and participates in the ongoing colonization of Aboriginal peoples.

International critical race and postcolonial theory has failed to make Indigenouspresence and colonization foundational in five areas. First, Native existence is erased through theories of race and racism that exclude them. Second, theoriesof Atlantic diasporic identities fail to take into account that these identities aresituated in multiple projects of colonization and settlement on Indigenous lands.Third, histories of colonization are erased through writings on the history of slavery.Fourth, decolonization politics are equated with antiracist politics. Finally, theoriesof nationalismcontribute to the ongoing delegitimization of Indigenous nationhood.Though often theorizing the British context, these writings have been importantfor shaping antiracist/postcolonial thinking throughout the West.

To illustrate the ways in which critical race theorists erase the presence ofAboriginal peoples, we have chosen Stuart Hall’s essay, “The West and the Rest”(1996a). Hall introduces a postcolonial approach to “race,” racialized identities,and racism. For him, the emergence of “race” and racism is located in the historical appearance of the constructs of “the West and the Rest.” Thus, the inhabitantsof the Americas are central to the construction of notions of the West. He links thecolonization of the Americas with Orientalism. Moreover, the strength of Hall’schapter is that in elaborating a theory of “race,” he makes the connection betweencolonialism and knowledge production, between the historical construction of theidea of “race” and the present articulations of “race.”

Despite these strengths, Hall fails to examine the ways in which colonialismcontinues for Aboriginal peoples in settler nations. Indeed, he posits colonialism ashaving existed in the past, only to be restructured as “postcolonial.” 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 whenformally independent and decolonised” (Ibid.: 191). No mention is made of partsof the world that have not been decolonized. As a result, Aboriginal peoples arerelegated to a mythic past, whereby their contemporary existence and struggles fordecolonization are erased from view and thus denied legitimacy. Moreover, he failsto explore how the ongoing colonization ofAboriginal peoples shapes contemporarymodes of “race” and racism in settler nations (including those in the Caribbean,where people of African and Asian descent have established political authority).Rather,the relationship between colonialism and the articulation of “race” is limitedto the ways in which the colonial past is rearticulated in the present. What are theconsequences of such omissions for Aboriginal peoples in settler societies and fortheir struggles for nationhood? How do such omissions distort our understandingof the processes of “race” and racism?

A similar ontological assumption about colonialism and Indigenous peoplesexists in theories ofAtlantic diasporic identities. Most of these works on theAmericas fail to raise, let alone explore, the ways in which such identities have beenarticulated through the colonization of Aboriginal peoples, or the ways in whichthe project of appropriating land shaped the emergence of black/Asian/Hispanicsettler formations. Paul Gilroy’s (1993: 17) influential text, The Black Atlantic,illustrates this. In it, Gilroy explicates two interrelated projects. The first is to rethink modernity via the history of the black Atlantic and the African diaspora,and the second is to examine the ways in which diasporic discourses have shapedthe political and cultural history of black Americans and black people in Europe.However, Gilroy’s history of the black transatlantic does not make any significantreference to Indigenous peoples of theAmericas or Indigenous nationhood. Similarto Hall, when Gilroy mentions Indigenous peoples or colonization, it is to locatethem in the past. In one of the few references to Indigenous peoples, Gilroy states,“striving to be both European and black requires some specific forms of doubleconsciousness…. If this appears to be little more than a roundabout way of sayingthat the reflexive cultures and consciousness of the European settlers and thoseof the Africans they enslaved, the ‘Indians’ they slaughtered, and the Asians thatthey indentured were not, even in situations of the most extreme brutality, sealedhermeneutically from each other, then so be it” (Ibid.: 2–3). Reducing Indigenouspeoples to those slaughtered suggests that Indigenous people in the Americas nolonger exist, renders invisible their contemporary situation and struggles, andperpetuates myths of the Americas as an empty land.

In Routes, James Clifford (1997) extends Gilroy’s work on diasporic identities. Importantly, Clifford opens up the possibilities for exploring how Indigenousleaders/theorists have shaped black counterculture and how black counterculturemay be premised on a colonizing project. “For the purposes of writing a counterhistory in some depth,” he suggests, “one can imagine intersecting histories.”Clifford also acknowledges the presence of Indigenous peoples and their strugglefor decolonization: “Tribal or Fourth World assertions of sovereignty and ‘firstnationhood’do not feature in histories of travel and settlement, though these may bepart of the Indigenous historical experience” (Ibid.: 252).Acloser look at Clifford’streatment of these issues is disappointing, however. Concerning how diasporicclaims intersect with other histories, Clifford’s work lacks significant references toIndigenous writers, leaders, or resistance movements. Rather, he references Jewish,Islamic, and South Asian histories in the making and critique of modernity (Ibid.:267). Despite the importance of Clifford’s insight that diasporic visions cannot bestudied in isolation from one another, he does not ask how these diasporic visions,the processes of constructing home away from home, are premised on the ongoingcolonization of Indigenous peoples.

There is also a curious ambiguity in terms of integrating issues of Indigenoussovereignty. “The claims made by peoples who have inhabited the territory sincebefore recorded history and those who arrived by steamboat or airplane,” Cliffordnotes, “will be founded on very different principles” (Ibid.: 253). Rather thanelaborate on such principles, Clifford focuses more on assertions that Aboriginalpeoples are also diasporic, which leads him to raise what he sees as ambiguities inIndigenous nationhood. For example, in contrasting Indigenous and “diasporic”claims to identity, Clifford suggests that Indigenous claims are primordial. For him,Indigenous claims “stress continuity of habitation, Indigeneity, and often a ‘natural’ connection to the land,” while “diaspora cultures, constituted by displacement, mayresist such appeals on political principle” (Ibid.: 252). Such a characterization ofIndigenous claims ignores the contemporary political, social, and economic realitiesof Indigenous peoples, and fails to address the ways in which diasporic claims arepremised on a colonizing social formation. Thus, despite exploring how diasporicidentities articulate with or resist colonization projects, Clifford fails to take intoaccount that these identities are situated in multiple projects of colonization andsettlement on Indigenous lands.

We can see a similar erasure of colonialism and Indigenous peoples in writingson slavery. Writers such as Gilroy, Clifford, and others have emphasized the waysin which the enslavement ofAfricans has shaped European discourses of modernity,European identity, and contemporary articulations of racism. As Toni Morrisonpowerfully states, “modern life begins with slavery” (cited in Gilroy, 1993b: 308).We do not contest the importance of slavery, but we wonder about the claim thatmodernity began with slavery, given the significance of colonialism and Orientalismin constructing Europe’s sense of itself as modern. Equally important, the claimthat modernity began with slavery, rather than with the genocide and colonizationof Indigenous peoples in theAmericas that preceded it, erases Indigenous presence.The vision evoked is one in which the history of racism begins with the bringingof African peoples as slaves to what became the United States and Canada.

How does such theorizing about slavery fail to address the ways in which modesof slavery, and the anti-slavery movement in the United States, were premised onearlier and continuing modes of colonization of Indigenous peoples? For example,out of whose land would the “40 acres” be carved? How do we account for the factthat the same week President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, heapproved the order for the largest mass hanging in U.S. history, of 38 Dakota menaccused of participating in an uprising in Minnesota (Cook-Lynn, 1996: 63)? Suchevents suggest connections between the anti-slaverymovement,the ongoing theft ofIndigenous land, and the forced relocation or extermination of its original inhabitants. There was also a resounding silence among anti-slavery activists, women’ssuffragists, labor leaders, and ex-slaves such as Frederick Douglas concerning landtheft and Indigenous genocide. Such silences reveal an apparent consensus amongthese diverse activists that the insertion of workers, white women, and blacks intoU.S. (and Canadian) nation-building was to continue to take place on Indigenousland, regardless of the cost to Indigenous peoples. In short, the relationship betweenslavery, anti-slavery, and colonialism is obscured when slavery is presented as thedefining moment in North American racism.

racismandnationalconsciousnessresoThus, critical race and postcolonial scholars have systematically excluded ongoing colonization from the ways in which racism is articulated. This has erasedthe presence of Aboriginal peoples and their ongoing struggles for decolonization,precluding a more sophisticated analysis of migration, diasporic identities, anddiasporic countercultures. Equally disturbing, when we look at the few scholars who includeAboriginal peoples and decolonization in their theoretical frameworks,decolonization politics are equated with antiracist politics. Such an ontological approach places decolonization and antiracism within a liberal-pluralist framework,which decenters decolonization.

Frankenberg and Mani’s (1992) classic article on the possibilities and limitsof postcolonial theory is an example of this. Notably, these authors attempt toanalyze slavery, racialization, and identity in conjunction with colonization. Importantly, they acknowledge the limits of applying the term postcolonial to whitesettler societies. In their view, the term cannot account for the forms of antiracistand Aboriginal struggles in the United States: “the serious calling into question ofwhite/Western dominance by the groundswell of movements of resistance, and theemergence of struggles for collective self-determinationmost frequently articulatedin nationalist terms” (Ibid.: 480). For them, the term “post-civil rights” may be moreapplicable. “Let us emphasize that we use the term ‘post-Civil Rights’ broadly torefer to the impact of struggles by African Americans, American Indian, La Raza,and Asian-American communities,” which, they argue, collectively produce “a‘great transformation’ of racial awareness, racial meaning, racial subjectivity”(Ibid.: 480–481).

Frankenberg andManitake seriously the need to bring ongoing colonization intoantiracist and postcolonial theory, yet our concern is that they place decolonizationstruggleswithin a pluralisticframework.Asaresult, decolonization struggles becomeone component of a larger antiracist struggle. Such pluralism,while utopian in intent,marginalizes decolonization struggles and continues to obscure the complex waysin which people of color have participated in projects of settlement. In contrast, webelieve ongoing colonization and decolonization struggles must be foundational inour understandings of racism, racial subjectivities, and antiracism.

Finally, theories of nationalism render Indigenous nationhood unviable, whichhas serious ramifications in a colonial context. The postcolonial emphasis on deconstructing nationhood furthers Indigenous denationalization for those targetedfor centuries for physical and cultural extermination, and facing added fragmentation through identity legislation (Grewal and Kaplan, 1994; Jackson and Penrose,1993; Anderson, 1991; Hall, 1994). Such deconstructions can ignore settler statecolonization (Anderson, 1991). Or they theorize, from the outside, about howcommunities “become” Indigenous solely because of interactions with colonialistnationalist projects (Anderson, 2003; Warren, 1992). If the epistemologies and ontologies of Indigenous nations do not count, Indigeneity is evaluated through socialconstruction theory. More problematic still are works that denigrate nationalism asrepresenting only technologies of violence (McClintock, 1997), or a reification ofcategories that can degenerate into fundamentalismand “ethnic cleansing” (Penrose,1993; Nixon, 1997). There is also the simple dismissal of “ethnic absolutism” asan increasingly untenable cultural strategy (Hall, 1996b: 250, quoted in Weaver,1998: 14), which calls into question the very notion of national identity. None of these perspectives enable Indigenous peoples in the Americas to envision a futureseparate from continuous engulfment by the most powerful colonial order in theworld, or their continuous erasure, startingwithColumbus, fromglobalinternationalpolitical relations (Venne, 1998). In this respect, postcolonial deconstructions ofnationalism appear to be premised on what Cree scholar Lorraine Le Camp calls“terranullism,” the erasure of an ongoing post-contact Indigenous presence (LeCamp, 1995). Perhaps it is not surprising that from these perspectives, decolonization, nationhood, and sovereignty begin to appear ridiculous and irrelevant,impossible and futile (Cook-Lynn, 1996: 88).

For Aboriginal peoples, postcolonial deconstructions of nationalism simply donotmanifest any understanding of howAboriginal peoples actualize nationhood andsovereignty given the colonial framework enveloping them. According to OneidascholarLina Sunseri (2005), Indigenous nationhood existed beforeColumbus;whencontemporary Indigenous theorists on nationalism explicate traditional Indigenousconcepts of nationhood, they redefine the concept of a nation by moving beyond alinkage of a nation to the state and/or modernity and other European-based ideasand values.

In summary, critical race and postcolonial theory systematically erasesAboriginal peoples and decolonization from the construction of knowledge about “race,”racism, racial subjectivities, and antiracism. This has profound consequences. Itdistorts our understanding of “race” and racism, and of the relationship of peopleof color to multiple projects of settlement. It posits people of color as innocent11inthe colonization ofAboriginal peoples. Left unaddressed is the way in which peopleof color in settler formations are settlers on stolen lands. It ignores the complexrelationships people of color have with settler projects. Although marginalized, atparticular historical moments they may have been complicit with ongoing land theftand colonial domination of Aboriginal peoples. It distorts our writing of history;indeed, the exclusion of Aboriginal people from the project of antiracism erasesthem from history.

Beyond Innocence: The Failure of Canadian Antiracism to Make Colonialism Foundational

The refusal of international scholarship to address settler state colonization andIndigenous decolonization is problematic, especially since the same epistemologicaland ontological frameworks are reproduced in Canadian antiracism theory, whichis written on land that is still colonized. The failure of Canadian antiracism to makecolonization foundational has meant that Aboriginal peoples’ histories, resistance,and current realities have been segregated from antiracism. In this section, we willexplore how this segregation is reflected in theory, as well as its implications forhow we understand Canada and Canadian history. Second, we shall complicate ourunderstandings of how people of color are located in the settler society.

Antiracism’s segregation from the knowledge and histories of resistance of Aboriginal peoples is manifested in various ways. Aboriginal organizations arenot invited to participate in organizing and shaping the focus of most antiracismconferences. Indigeneity thus receives only token recognition. Their ceremoniesfeature as performances to open the conference (regardless of the meaning of theseceremonies for the elders involved). Usually, one Aboriginal person is invited as aplenary speaker. A few scattered sessions, attended primarily by the families andfriends of Aboriginal presenters, may address Indigeneity, but they are not seen asintrinsic to understanding race and racism. At these sessions, Aboriginal presentersmay be challenged to reshape their presentations to fit into a “critical race” framework; failure to do so means that the work is seen as “simplistic.” In our classes onantiracism, 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 antiracist political groups, Aboriginal issues are placed within a liberal pluralistframework, where they are marginalized and juxtaposed to other, often-contradictory struggles, such as that of Quebec sovereignty.

These practices reflect the theoretical segregation that underpins them. Withinantiracism scholarship, the widespread practice of ignoring Indigenous presence atevery stage of Canadian history fundamentally flaws our understandings of Canadaand Canadian history. In this view, Canadian history is replete with white settlerracism against immigrants of color. If Aboriginal peoples are mentioned at all, itis 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 color.”The “vanishing Indian” is as alive in antiracism scholarship as it is in mainstreamCanada.

A classic example is James Walker’s 1997 text, “Race,” Rights and the Law inthe Supreme Court of Canada, which considers four historic Supreme Court rulings that were instrumental in maintaining racial discrimination and anti-Semitismin Canada. Disturbingly, legal decisions affecting Native peoples are ignored inthis text. By comparison, Constance Backhouse’s 1999 work, Colour-Coded: ALegal History of Racism in Canada, 1900–1950, goes a long way toward fillingthis gap. In this text, Backhouse addresses crucial cases such as the legal prohibition of Aboriginal Dance, Re: Eskimos, which ruled on whether “Eskimos” werelegally “Indians,” as well as other instances of colonial and racial discriminationin the law against Aboriginal peoples and people of color. Backhouse’s approachreveals a more in-depth view of the embeddedness of racism in a colonial regime.Unfortunately, this kind of inclusive perspective is rare.

These practices of exclusion and segregation reflect the contradictory waysin which peoples of color are situated within the nation-state. Marginalized bya white settler nationalist project, as citizens they are nonetheless invited to takepart in ongoing colonialism. The relationship of people of color to Indigeneity isthus complex. We turn now to the dynamic interaction between people of color,Indigeneity, and colonialism.

People of color are settlers. Broad differences exist between those brought asslaves, currently work as migrant laborers, are refugees without legal documentation, or émigrés who have obtained citizenship. Yet people of color live on landthat is appropriated and contested, whereAboriginal peoples are denied nationhoodand access to their own lands. This section will examine how people of color, assettlers, participate in, or are complicit in, the ongoing colonization of Aboriginalpeoples. Histories of the settlement of people of color have been framed by racistexclusion and fail to account for the ways in which their settlement has taken placeon Indigenous land. As citizens, they have been implicated in colonial actions.Moreover, there are current, ongoing tensions between Aboriginal peoples andpeople of color, notably in terms of multiculturalism policy and immigration.

Let us turn to the history of settler formation in Canada and the role of peopleof color in the colonial project. The Canadian nation-state project was one of whitesettlement. It displaced Aboriginal peoples and targeted them for physical andcultural extermination to open land for settlers, while marginalizing and restrictingthe entry into Canada of people of color. Much of Canadian antiracist scholarshiphas attempted to document the exclusion and marginalization of people of colorfrom the emerging nation. However, this work does not examine the ways in whichthe entry of people of color into Canada put them in colonial relationships withAboriginal peoples.

Take, for example, the discussion of black loyalists in Nova Scotia who weredenied lands promised to them, or awarded poor lands that whites did not want (Hill,1981: 10; 63–64; Walcott, 1997: 35–36; Mensah, 2002: 46). Failure to referencewho was being forced off the territories being settled erases the bloodiest intervalof genocide in Canadian history.12The black settler population in Nova Scotia, exslaves with few options, was largely denied the opportunity to appropriate Nativeland, so that many eventually left for Sierra Leone (Mensah, 2002: 47). However, tospeak of the loss of black land rights without referencing those being exterminatedto “free up” the land for settlement is to be complicit in erasing genocide.

Another example is how the “head tax” and other legislation and policiesrestricting non-European immigration in Western Canada are decontextualizedfrom the suppression of the Cree and Blackfoot peoples after the 1885 rebellion.13Military subjugation of Native peoples on the plains made possible the settlementof newcomers and was the precondition for restrictions that ensured that the settler population replacing Native peoples would be white. To efface this historyof bloody repression and focus solely on those whose presence eclipsed Nativerealities, regardless of the levels of discrimination they faced, is segregationist andhighly inaccurate. Always present, Native eyes watched each wave of newcomers—white, black, orAsian—establish themselves on their homelands. Histories ofracist exclusion facing peoples of color must detail the removal of Native peoples.This cannot be a meaningless generic statement such as “First Nations were here before the settlers.” Exact information is needed on how the lands settled by peopleof color were removed from the control of specific Indigenous nations.

The way people of color understand themselves as colonists further complicateshow they have participated in colonial projects. For example, in challenging theearly 20th-century discourse of whiteness and nation, South Asian male migrantsconstructed a parallel discourse in which they referred to themselves as colonistsand defined their project in Canada as one of constructing an Indian colony (seeDua, 2003). Other groups, such as Japanese Canadians and Jewish Canadians,deployed the discourse of colonization to situate themselves within a white settlerformation (for Jewish Canadians, see Canadian Jewish Alliance, Annual Report,1917; for Japanese Canadians, see Winnipeg Free Standard, June 1916: 1).

Recently, people of color have been implicated as citizens in colonial actions.For example, those with citizenship rights participated in constitutional reform thatdenied efforts on the part ofAboriginal peoples to fundamentally reshape Canada’sapproach to decolonization. The Charlottetown Accord proposed constitutionalchanges that contained important features for Aboriginal peoples: recognition ofAboriginal governments as a third order of government in Canada, a definitionof self-government in relation to land, the environment, language, and culture, aswell as representation in the Senate. Although the Accord was the result of yearsof negotiations between Aboriginal leaders and the Canadian government, thegovernment proposed that it be ratified through a national referendum. In essence,all Canadian citizens, including people of color, were invited to decide on whetherthe Canadian government should honor its commitments to Aboriginal peoples.14We do not know how, or even whether, people of color voted with respect to theAccord. However, this illustrates the complexities for people of color living in asettler society. Those with citizenship rights in Canada were in a position to makedecisions on Aboriginal sovereignty, which should have been made by Aboriginalpeoples. Antiracist groups failed to note this contradiction.

Perhaps the most difficult and contentious area in which Aboriginal realities conflict with the interests of people of color regards immigration and multiculturalism.Aboriginal theorists and activists, particularly in Canada, have largely been silenton these issues. This reflects the discomfort and ambivalence of many Aboriginalpeople when official policies and discourses of multiculturalism and immigrationobscure Native presence and divert attention from their realities, and when communities of color resist their marginalization in ways that render Aboriginal communities invisible. Canadian language policy is a classic example.Multiculturalismpolicy overrides the redressing of assaults on Indigenous languages, with fundingprovided first for “official” languages and then for “heritage” languages. Onlythen are the dregs divided up among the 50-odd Indigenous languages in Canadacurrently at risk of extinction given ongoing cultural genocide.

Ongoing settlement of Indigenous lands, whether by white people or peopleof color, remains part of Canada’s nation-building project and is premised on displacing Indigenous peoples. Regarding immigration, Aboriginal peoples arecaught between a rock and a hard place. Either they are implicated in the anti-immigrant racism of white Canadians, or they support struggles of people of colorthat fail to take seriously the reality of ongoing colonization. Often overlooked byantiracist activists is that the Delgamuuk’w decision clearly set out instances inwhichAboriginal title could be infringed (i.e., limited or invalidated) by continuingimmigration (Persky, 1998: 20). Canada’s immigration goals, then, can be usedto restrict Aboriginal rights. Antiracist activists need to think through how theircampaigns can preempt the ability of Aboriginal communities to establish title totheir traditional lands. Recent tendencies to advocate for open borders make thisparticularly important. Borders in the Americas are European fictions, restrictingNative peoples’ passage and that of peoples of color. However, to speak of openingborders without addressing Indigenous land loss and ongoing struggles to reclaimterritories is to divide communities that are already marginalized from one another.The question that must be asked is how opening borders would affect Indigenousstruggles aimed at reclaiming land and nationhood.

Scholarship is needed on ending segregation practices and on the complexhistories of interactions between peoples of color and Aboriginal peoples. Howdid passage of the Multiculturalism Act in 1969 connect with Canada’s attempt, inthe same year, to pass the White Paper to eliminate “Indian” status and Canada’sfiduciary responsibility to status Indians? To what extent did black-Mi’kmaq intermarriage in Nova Scotia represent resistance to extermination policies againstMi’kmaw people and the marginalization of black loyalists? How did Chinese menand Native communities interact during the building of the Canadian railroad? Isthere a connection at the policy level between the denial of West Coast Native fishingrights and the confiscation of Japanese fishing boats during the internment? In whatways did people of color support or challenge policies used to colonize Aboriginalpeoples? What were the moments of conflict and of collaboration?

With these questions, we are asking antiracism theory to examine how people ofcolor have contributed to the settler formation. We are not asking every antiracismwriter to become an “Indian expert.” This is not desirable. Nor should histories ofblacks, South Asians, or East Asians in Canada focus extensively on Aboriginalpeoples. Yet, when speaking of histories of settlement, an explicit awareness andarticulation of the intersection of specific settlement policies with policies controlling“Indians” is needed. This requires recognition of ongoing colonization as foundational. Such a clear rendition of the bigger picture naturally sacrifices any notion ofthe innocence of people of color in projects of settlement and colonial relations

Summary: Taking on Decolonization

This article has addressed the multiple ways in which postcolonial and antiracisttheory has maintained a colonial framework. 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. Antiracist theoristsmust begin to talk about how they are going to place antiracist agendaswithin the context of sovereignty and restoration of land.

2. Taking colonization seriously changes antiracism in powerful ways.Within academia, antiracist theorists need to begin to make ongoingcolonization central to the construction of knowledge about race andracism. They must learn how to write, research, and teach in ways thataccount for Indigenous realities as foundational.

3. This article has focused on antiracism theory, but the failure of antiracistactivists to make the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoplesfoundational to their agendas is also important. Most antiracist groupshave not included Indigenous concerns; when they do, they employ apluralist framework. There is a strong need to begin discussions betweenantiracist and Aboriginal activists on how to frame claims for antiracismin ways that do not disempower Aboriginal peoples.

The aim of this article was to facilitate dialogue between antiracism theoristsand activists and Indigenous scholars and communities. We chose to write it in onevoice, rather than coming from our different perspectives (with Bonita Lawrencerooted in Indigenous perspectives, and Ena Dua in antiracism and postcolonialtheory) because we sought to go beyond a pluralistic method of presenting diverseviews without attempting a synthesis. For Ena, working in a collective voice meantattempting to take on Indigenous epistemological frameworks and values, a process that was difficult and incomplete. For Bonita, working in a collective voicemeant viewing Indigenous concerns from within antiracism, instead of attemptingto critique of it from the outside. However, because our dialogue was a critique ofexisting trends in postcolonial and antiracism theory, a centering of issues withinIndigenous frameworks was sacrificed. As we worked within the framework ofantiracism and postcolonial theory, we continually struggled over the fact thatIndigenous ontological approaches to antiracism, and the relationship betweenIndigenous epistemologies and postcolonial theory, could not be addressed.

We have learned that dialogue between antiracism theorists/activists and Indigenous scholars/communities requires talking on Indigenous terms. Aboriginalpeople may find little relevance in debating antiracism and postcolonial theory,which excludes them and lacks relevance to the ongoing crises facing Aboriginalcommunities. They may prefer to speak to the realities of contemporary colonization and resistance. The conversation they may wish for would take place withinIndigenous epistemological frameworks and values—addressing culture, traditional values, and spirituality—as central to any real sharing of concerns. For truedialogue to occur, antiracist theorists cannot privilege or insist on the primacy ofpostcolonial or critical race theory as ultimate “truths.”

A final word must be said about antiracism withinNativecommunities.Aboriginal peoples have long and bitterly resisted the racism shaping Canada’s colonial project, yet colonial legislation on Native identity has profound implications in termsof racialization, and the forms that racism can take, within Native communities.This article has focused on the need to decolonize antiracism as we now know it.Aboriginal peoples may also wish to ask how their communities would shape anantiracism project to address the violence colonization has inflicted on Indigenousidentity. The legacy of cultural genocide and legal classification by “blood” anddescent means that Aboriginal peoples must find their way through a morass of“racial thinking” about basic issues relating to Native identity and nationhood.Their ways of doing this may move between re-traditionalization and deconstruction, between Indigenous and Western ways of addressing how Indigenous identityhas been reduced to biology. Most of all, it means finding ways of working “witha good heart.”

Wel’alieq!—Thank you


1. This project represents an equal collaboration by both authors. The choice to put BonitaLawrence’s name first was explicitly political. Because antiracism is named here as part of a colonialproject, and the positioning of peoples of color as innocent of colonizing relationships is challenged,both authors struggled with a sense that Bonita Lawrence would face greater criticism and marginalization from antiracism circles if her name came first, than Enakshi Dua would, as a woman of color witha long history of antiracism theory and activism. We decided to challenge these practices by situatingthe Aboriginal person first in the byline

2. The specter of “Native unrest” appears to have haunted theCanadian government since the 1885uprising, 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 Somaliain 1993, was highly aware that they might not have enough military power left at home in the eventthat the country was faced with another Oka (Razack, 2004: 147).

3. 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 accomplishedby mass killing of all the members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan ofdifferent actions aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, withthe aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objective of such a plan would be disintegration ofthe political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economicexistence of national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and thelives 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”(Lemkin, 1944, quoted in Churchill, 1994: 12–13).

4. In the 1999 Marshall decision, for example, concerning the rights of Mi’kmaw people inthe Maritimes to fish, the courts upheld the integrity of 18th-century treaties between Britain and theMi’kmaw nation (Coates, 2000: 7) as superceding the authority that Canada had vested in institutionssuch as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

5. The St.CatherinesMilling and Lumber case involved a dispute betweenCanada and the Province of Ontario over timber revenues. Canada, in its defense, invoked the federal government’s relationshipto Aboriginal peoples; however, the decision, in Ontario’s favor, defined Aboriginal rights virtually outof existence, stating that Indigenous people merely had a right to use their land, and that legally thisright was no more than a “burden” on absolute Crown title, like a lien that must be discharged beforeland can be legally acquired. For over a century after this case, every Native litigator was forced toargue against this ruling, drastically limiting the possibilities for asserting Indigenous peoples’ rightsto their territories.

6. With Calder, the Nisgaa people took British Columbia to court for recognition of their rightsto their traditional lands, which they had petitioned about for over a century. The Supreme Court, onappeal, denied their title on narrow procedural grounds, but ruled that there is a preexisting Aboriginalright and title to the land that does not flow from any rules enacted by a non-Aboriginal government.

7. When Dorothy Van der Peet, a member of the Sto:lo Nation charged with violating the FisheriesAct, asserted that these restrictions violated her Aboriginal rights as defined by Section 35, the SupremeCourt decision began the process of defining how Aboriginal rights would be interpreted in the courts(Mainville, 2001: 26).

8. The original case involved the claim by the Gitksan and Wet’sowet’en Houses to ownershipand jurisdiction over the entire 58,000 square kilometers of their traditional land base in central British Columbia. Their tireless attempt to have elders address the courts on their own terms, using oraltraditions as “proof,” was summarily dismissed by the B.C. court. When the case was appealed to theSupreme Court, however, the court decision, without actually addressing Gitksan/Wet’sowet’en selfgovernment, defined Aboriginal title simply as the right to exclusive use and occupancy of the land,rather than outright political control (Mainville, 2001: 32).

9. As part of the ruling, a stringent set of criteria were developed that had to be met to provetitle (Persky, 1998: 19). The court also demanded that land covered by Aboriginal title could only beused for land-based activities that were part of the court’s vision of a “distinct” relationship betweenAboriginal peoples and the land. For example, any form of resource development in ways that thecourts deem to be contrary to the nation’s “traditional” activities was prohibited; finding new ways tosurvive in the face of ongoing colonization is not “permitted” under Delgamuuk’w. Finally, Aboriginaltitle has been conceptualized within a narrow frame of collective ownership/use that is not constitutiveof an Indigenous nation’s identity (Macklem, 2001: 103–104), such as Canadians enjoy with Canada.10. The combined acreage of all existing Indian reserves in Canada is less than one-half the amountin the Navajo reservation in Arizona (St. Germain, 2001).

11. Sherene Razack (2004: 10; 14) states that a critical way in which power relations can be ignoredis when individuals assume that they can stand outside hierarchical social relations, and thereforeare innocent of complicity in structures of domination. Individuals are often involved in a “race toinnocence,” in which they emphasize only their own subordination and disregard how they maysimultaneously be complicit in other systems of domination. When we disregard how systems ofoppression interlock, it is relatively easy to focus on our own oppression and disregard how we areprivileged over others.

12. 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 18th-century peacetreaties, the British Crown unleashed a concentrated campaign of extermination efforts, including theposting of a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children in 1744, 1749, and 1756,“scorched earth” policies to starve out survivors (Paul, 2000: 182–184), the absolute denial of land forreserves for most of a century after asserting military control in 1763, and the accompanying spreadof epidemics that brought the Mi’kmaq people to near extinction. Daniel Paul notes that by 1843, only1,300 were left of a people whose numbers had been estimated at 30,000 to 200,000. Exterminationefforts were most concentrated in periods immediately preceding the settling of loyalists, white andblack, in Nova Scotia.

13. Among the actions needed to subjugate the Indigenous people of the prairies were the implementation of pass laws, the policing of reserves by the Northwest Mounted Police, the outlawingof spiritual ceremonies and other policies that strengthened the heavy hand of the “Indian Agent”(Miller, 1989: 190–194), the erroneous labeling of 28 Cree bands as traitorous and the starvationpolicies implemented against them, the mass hanging of eight Cree men and the imprisonment ofapproximately 50 other Crees that accompanied the hanging of Louis Riel and the crushing of theMétis (Stonechild and Waiser, 1997: 214–237), as well as the denial of matrimonial rights and thelabeling of Aboriginal women as prostitutes in efforts to drive Native women out of white settlements(Carter, 1997: 186–193).

14. The Accord was subject to intense debate, particularly the sections on Aboriginal selfgovernment. These sections were questioned first by Aboriginal women’s organizations and then bynational feminist groups, as they were seen to potentially prevent gender rights within Aboriginalcommunities because the Accord might allow Aboriginal governments to opt out of the Charterof Rights and Freedoms. Since the Charter was seen as a protector of Aboriginal women’s rights,granting government powers to Aboriginal communities could potentially threaten Aboriginal women(NWAC, n.d.: 2–7). It was argued that self-government in the Accord was presented as a new right,rather than as a recognition and affirmation of an existing right, and therefore should be challenged.The platform of the national feminist organization, the National Action Committee, therefore statedthat the “Charlottetown Accord is a bad deal for Aboriginal women” (NAC, n.d.). Notably, NAC failedto address the significance of the Accord with respect to Aboriginal decolonization. Rather, genderrights were seen as paramount, even in relation to Aboriginal self-government. In 1992, Canadiansvoted against the Accord. Nationally, 54% of the votes cast opposed the Accord.

Racism and National Consciousness


Posted on April 27, 2011, in Immigrant Struggles, Imperialism & Colonialism, Indigenous Struggles, Revolutionary Theory and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Decolonizing Antiracism.

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