I’ve heard a lot of Canadians get indignant over the years about charges that this has always been, and continues to be, a fundamentally racist and colonial society.
They were indignant when Maclean’s published a piece asserting that Winnipeg was perhaps the most racist city in the country.
They were happy to retweet Stephen Harper’s absurd claim that Canada had no history of colonialism.
They are always happy with smug comparisons to the U.S., as if being marginally less hateful and violent in absolute (or even relative) terms was some kind of achievement.
And when Colten Boushie was shot and killed by a white farmer in Saskatchewan, there were many voices (including many I know personally) more than happy to put the alleged ‘property rights’ of European settlers ahead of the lives of indigenous folks. They insisted ‘race’ and racism had nothing to do with the case. And they were happy to spout off a lot of nonsense about the sanctity of property, ‘law and order’, and the supposedly inalienable ‘rights of self-defence’, a concoction of fantasies that helped lead to Gerald Stanley’s acquittal.
When First Nations across the country and continent take a stand to defend their own lands and waterways, or to assert or exercise their own treaty rights — and sometimes engage in blockades to do so (often against the encroachment of resource extraction corporations backed by this or that provincial or federal government) — we hear a lot of talk about “law and order” from the usual suspects, from people who are so woefully ignorant of their own colonial history that they don’t realize it is First Nations who are standing up to a criminal state-corporate gang hellbent on further land and resource thefts, not the other way around.
When someone topples the statue of a racist colonial figure, there is a lot of hand-wringing about the sanctity of property and the sanctity of capital-H History.
But let’s pretend for one second that some of these people actually do care about property, about building a non-racist society, about ‘law and order’ prevailing over its alleged antithesis, about a world where all lives do supposedly matter in any way that is not just a rhetorical device to justify the taking of *black* and *indigenous* lives?
Where were these voices when Joyce Echaquan was murdered by racist neglect in a hospital in Joliette, Quebec less than a month ago? They were silent. Total crickets.
Where are all the voices about the sanctity of property and the sacredness of “law” now that white settler fishermen in Nova Scotia are terrorizing Mi’kmaw fishers, burning their boats, stealing their traps, and engaged in what can only be described as racist settler pogroms?
Suddenly, the inalienable rights of property, and the alleged right to shoot and kill to defend it, are forgotten when it is First Nations defending themselves from white vigilantes. This has always been the case, from Oka to Gustafsen Lake, from Wounded Knee to Standing Rock.
There is, however, a consistency to these stories that runs below the contradictions of the colonial imagination: it is the consistency of white supremacy and presumed settler rights to *dispossess* indigenous peoples of their lands, their resources, their historical treaty rights, and their very lives.
That is the only explanation for why a broken or vandalized statue of John A. Macdonald, or a burned out police station in Minneapolis, inspires greater indignation amongst settler society than the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan, or Colten Boushie, or 16-year old Eishia Hudson (summarily executed by Winnipeg police over a liquor store theft), or for that matter, the vigilante terrorism and pogroms of Nova Scotian commercial lobster fishers.