Academic journal article Social Justice

Decolonizing Antiracism

Academic journal article Social Justice

Decolonizing Antiracism

Article excerpt


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, cleary felt marginalized and inferiorized by Anglo-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. …

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