Canada: Decolonizing Anti-Racism

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 10 12:35:00 UTC 2008

Decolonizing Anti-Racism
Posted by apoc May 9, 2008

By Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua

From: Special issue of "Social Justice" entitled "Race, Racism and
Empire: Reflections from Canada". Guest Editors: Narda Razack, Enakshi
Dua and Jody Warner. In Press.


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.

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 50's and 60's 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 struggle 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 also fail to center the on-going colonisation of Aboriginal

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
knowledg 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 antiracism is
furthering contemporary colonial agendas. We will argue that
antiracism 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 genocidal 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"
(Spivak) 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 (Churchill, 1992, 411). 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 (1992:
19-20), treaty relationships are only entered into between nations.

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. 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, 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 decision 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 Peet 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 (Mainville, 29).
Meanwhile, Delgamuuk began the process of defining the content of
Aboriginal title, in highly restrictive ways. Because of these and
other recent decisions, Aboriginal rights are being delineated without
the political and cultural framework of an Aboriginal government
(Monture-Angus 120), 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 (Alfred, xiii).

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. 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 (Henderson, 16).
Mi'kmaki is "owned" in a formal sense only by unborn children in the
invisible sacred realm (Henderson, 32); 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 (Henderson 87). 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. (Armstrong, 175-6, 178).

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 (Weaver, 1998:20-21). 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 (see for example, Ahmad 1992;
Chambers and Curti, 1996; Frankenberg and Mani,1996; McClintock, 1995;
Parry, 1987). 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 decolonised" (191).
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 (p17). 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"
(2-3). 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" (252).

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 (267). 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"
(p253). 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" (p252). 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." (Cited in Gilroy, 1993a; 308). 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

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 was 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 U.S. history, of thirty-eight Dakota men because of an uprising in
Minnesota, during the same week that he signed the Emancipation
Proclamation (Cook-Lynn, 63)? 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 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 (480). 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" (p480-481).

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 nationhood (Grewal and
Kaplan, 1994; Jackson and Penrose, 1993; Anderson, 1991; Hall, 1994)
simply furthers Indigenous de-nationalisation. Such deconstructions
can ignore settler state colonization (Anderson, 1991) or theorize,
from the outside, about how communities "become" Indigenous solely
because of interactions with colonialist nationalist projects
(Anderson, 2003; Warren, 1992), 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 violence
(McLintock), or a reification of categories that can result in a
degeneration into fundamentalism and "ethnic cleansing (Penrose,
Nixon). Or there is the simple dismissal of so-called "ethnic
absolutism" as increasingly untenable cultural strategy (Hall,
1996:250, 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 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 (Venne, 1998). 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 (Le Camp,
1995). Perhaps it is not surprising that from these perspectives,
decolonization, nationhood and sovereignty begins to appear ridiculous
and irrelevant, impossible and futile (Cook-Lynn, 88).

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 (Sunseri, 2005)

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
innocent 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 exclude 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 antiracism. 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

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, 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, 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

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

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 want (Hill, 10, 63-64; Walcott 35-36; Mensah 46) 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. 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 (Mensah 47). 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

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. 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 (see Dua, 2002 ) Other groups, such as
Japanese Canadians and Jewish Canadians, also deployed the discourse
of colonization to situate themselves within a white settler
formation.(for Jewish Canadians see Canadian Jewish Alliance, Annual
Report, 1917. For Japanese Canadians see Winnipeg Free Standard, p1,
June, 1916).

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. 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 (Persky, 20). 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
Multiculturalism 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..


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.

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