Over the past few months, I have read several articles from first- and second-generation Canadians exploring their relationship to the Canadian state and how for most of their lives, they were ignorant to how deeply entrenched the Canadian government is in the oppression of Indigenous Peoples.
This is something I have deeply resonated with ever since taking my first Indigenous studies course in university, two years ago. Growing up, a central part of my education was learning about Canada as a living ethos of cosmopolitan and pluralistic existence. At home, I learned about Canada as a place where my grandparents and parents were able to escape insecurity and violence, offering them the chance to break generational traditions and progress in society. In school, I learned to some degree about Canada’s “dark chapter” and the oppression of Indigenous Peoples in this country’s history by both the initial European colonizers, and later, the Canadian state through the Residential School System. However, many aspects of Indigenous culture and history are neglected in our education system and after years of reflecting, it angers me that we were intentionally not taught how, to this very day, the Canadian state continues to oppress, marginalize, and inflict violence onto the Indigenous Peoples of this land. It was not until I took my very first Indigenous Studies course at Western University that I learned deeply about settler-colonialism, the genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2-Spirited peoples, intergenerational trauma, and the dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples by the state that continues to permeate their safety, security, and existence today. At this point, I had lived in Canada my whole life, but it took almost 18 years to have access to the knowledge I would need to help me with my own unlearning and re-understanding of the reality of Canada.
The complex role of migration and the global-colonial project when understanding and positioning immigrants within this framework is often left out of conversations and our learnings about Canada. Understandings of colonization and settler-colonialism often frame the colonizer and the colonized based on a binary interpretation – seeing only the settler (or colonizer) and the colonized. This dichotomy continues to empower settlers, either implicitly or explicitly, to re-invent ways in which they exercise control and subjugate those who have been colonized. However, I have struggled to position myself and my family within the category of settler. Coming from a family of immigrants, it can be difficult to reconcile the fact that while our families sought refuge in Canada to escape violence, insecurity, and/or persecution, we have become complicit in a state scheme that has been actively working against Indigenous Peoples. This is particularly more difficult when Canada has been painted as a unique country wherein different cultures are pushed to be celebrated and everyone can seek equal opportunity to thrive. Not only is this untrue, but it is also critical to unlearn.
Learning about settler-colonialism in the Canadian context, and my own journey of coming to understand myself and my families as settlers on this land, I was intrigued by how this extension of colonialism potentially operates in differing contexts. My roots being South Asian, I have immersed myself in research about settler-colonialism in this region. I have come to appreciate the notions of settler-colonialism put forth by Peter Wolfe, which in simplicity, is the act of destruction with the aim to replace. This definition of settler-colonialism has often been applied by scholars such as Zainab Ramahi and Azadeh Shahshahani in their work on Kashmir. Rather than attempt to explain this application myself, I have included resources at the end where you can read about settler-colonialism as a global project wherein state-policies and other means of institutional force have been used to replace and destroy ethno-religious and Indigenous communities across the globe. On a broader level, my biggest takeaway from these learnings is that colonialism has paved the way and made it possible for modern-day states in their “post-colonial” regimes to suppress and other Indigenous as well as autochthonous populations. This is why I believe that allyship can be strengthened through education as we learn to understand how the global colonial project operates and permeates across time and space.
Understanding and learning more about this global colonial project, I have reflected on the ways I interact with my own and family’s positionality as Canadians. Online discourse, especially around Canada Day this year, saw many – often white – non-immigrant folks, co-opt the immigrant experience to make claims that Canada Day is a day that should be continued to be celebrated. Thus, it can be difficult to want to pay homage to the journeys your families have made to be in this country while recognizing the responsibility of solidarity you hold to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. What I have learnt is that these two things are not mutually exclusive; the relationship, between those that immigrated to Canada and the way they choose to honour this experience, should not be used to create a false dichotomy of identities. Ultimately, I am grateful for the sacrifices and resilience of both my parents and grandparents as they navigated building a life in this country. Canada is not an easy place for immigrants and racialized people. That being said, being grateful to have been able to come to Canada does not mean that you cannot demand better of the state, for yourself and for all communities. By learning about global patterns of oppression, state-violence, and colonialism, we are not only able to better appreciate our own histories but we can also better understand the current settler-colonial state that is Canada. In a recent podcast episode, myself, and our guest Chenthoori Malankov, discuss the link between allyship and immigration, how our unlearning differs from our parents, and how we understand this global colonial project.
Give it a listen here:
Buzzsprout (with the transcript): https://ousaconversations.buzzsprout.com/1823943/9053590-community-care-expanding-the-scope-of-gender-based-violence
To learn more about how to exercise solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, here are two places to start:
1. Familiarize yourself with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
2. Learn more about whose land you are situated on here: https://geo.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/cippn-fnpim/index-eng.html
Resources to Learn More about Settler-Colonialism in a Global Context:
Bhambra, Gurminder. “Settler Colonialism.” GLOBAL SOCIAL THEORY, 4 Aug. 2015, globalsocialtheory.org/concepts/settler-colonialism/.
“Destroying to Replace: Settler Colonialism from Kashmir to Palestine.”
"Indias Settler Colonialism in Kashmir Is Not Starting Now, Eliminating the Natives Is a Process Long Underway." The Polis Project, Inc. June 28, 2020. https://www.thepolisproject.com/indias-settler-colonialism-in-kashmir-is-not-starting-now-eliminating-the-natives-is-a-process-long-underway/.
Special thanks to Irum Chorghay & Eddy Avila for their contributions to this piece.