Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada

By Zatzman, Julie | The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada


Zatzman, Julie, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies


Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker, Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 2V Century Canada. Winnipeg: Femwood Publishing, 2015.160 pages. ISBN 9781552667781. $18.95 paperback.

In Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21s1 Century Canada, Lowman and Barker have provided a richly-nuanced example of the importance of ontology and epistemology. Though this is not their aim, these difficult-to-teach concepts are at the core of this slim book and the difficult questions it raises for, as they write, "How we think about the world and our place in it must change as part of our efforts to change our material conditions and cultural conditioning" (p. 19). They argue that we are all settlers if we are not Indigenous, even those among us who are sympathetic to Indigenous positions. From the outset, the authors explain that they want non Indigenous Canadians to identify as "Settler Canadians" as the first step to beginning the transformative process needed to decolonize Canada and support Indigenous resurgence. They warn us, however, the process will be never ending and, at times, uncomfortable.

Though Canada has shown some acknowledgement of our colonial past and its painful consequences for Indigenous peoples, colonialism continues as evidenced by pressures on Indigenous nations' land base, racism, violence, discrimination by social services, political disempowerment and policies aimed at assimilation. Colonialism continues because "it is the country's land base itself that has been and continues to be the target of colonial power" (p. 3). Against a backdrop of Canada's questioned legal claims to sovereignty and political authority over land, Indigenous blockades, protests and acts of civil disobedience "must all be understood as acts of resistance against the ongoing efforts of Settler Canada... to eliminate Indigenous peoples' claims to the land and permanently settle the land question" (p. 3).

The authors maintain that all non Indigenous Canadians are complicit through the ideologies, discourses, and practices that we engage in. Traditional discourses present Indigenous tribes as primitive; their replacement by more advanced migrant cultures, inevitable. More liberal discourse presents Canada as a multicultural country in which Indigenous peoples deserve special rights because they were a founding nation of the state but who, ultimately must be subsumed within the Canadian state. These discourses allow us to engage in what the authors accept as "settler colonialism" - not the establishment of colonies in distant lands, but colonialism against peoples within its borders. Settler colonialism is expressed through the continuation of social, economic and political "structures of invasion" such as our notions of private property that, bolstered by racism, ultimately lead to laws that justify Indigenous peoples' loss of land. The authors argue that whether we are descended from early settlers or slaves, or whether we are newly arrived immigrants or refugees, we are settlers if we are not Indigenous - we all benefit from the colonial structures and practices that displace Indigenous peoples from their lands.

Particularly helpful is the authors' analysis of positions on Indigenous issues among the progressive left that the authors bring together. Even those who are anti-capitalist and sympathetic often miss the point. Racism, class, and neoliberalism unquestionably contribute to oppression of many groups, but the relationship of Indigenous peoples to their lands is unique and profound; it results in a particular world view or ontology that is place-based. …

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