Nov 16, 2018: Trudeau’s Indigenous Rights Framework ≠ Reconciliation
It’s more than oil.
Extraction, beyond being an environmental concern, materially reinforces and deepens colonization. And extraction is a form of production that extends far beyond industrial projects like the oil sands. Extraction, around the globe, is required for the continuation of modern life; whether it is through oil or other energy forms, or wireless communication, or deforestation, or mining, or damming, extraction foregrounds how modern life itself is a material issue. I can best speak to the situation here in Canada, where (like in many but not all other countries) this reaping of rewards or raping of the land, depending on your perspective, not only causes environmental devastation but is carried out on stolen territory. This means that the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples and their territories is not only a matter of power and politics but is a material problem. Thereby, so too is decolonization a material problem.
This is why, I believe, we need to organize our energy transition around decolonization. And, to my mind, decolonization requires the undoing of those structures of power that have materially allowed for colonization: mainly patriarchy and capitalism. I therefore advocate for anti-capitalist feminist politics as a strategy around which to organize for new futures, powered by new energy systems. Because energy transition is material, and decolonization, likewise, is material. Reconciliation or decolonization—buzzwords in Canada at the moment—are not simply matters of re-narrating history or re-educating the population about the past. They are about making material changes in the present and into the future. And, it is safe to say that such changes are not happening, despite the fact that more and more Canadians are buying into the notion of reconciliation. However, I would suggest that it is another chimera of Canada’s national(ist) rhetoric, much like multiculturalism, that tells us a story of “our”selves that is so much easier to swallow and rally around than the harsh truth that this country is (and not simply “was”) built on stolen lands, broken international legal agreements, not to mention racist legislation, all intended to create wealth for an elite few “white” Canadians. As my colleague Kim Tallbear explains so well, where whiteness might have been a physical attribute at one time, it now functions as a signifier for all those who have been trained into whiteness (see Tallbear @ justpowers iDoc: https://vimeo.com/299067314). In other words, whiteness now denotes a particular worldview and way of being and doing that mobilizes patriarchal, capitalist, and colonial tools to claim power regardless of skin colour. This worldview privileges Western patriarchal rationale, while erasing other knowledge systems (see Wilson 2017 for more detail). And these practices work in the interest of those best able to wield whiteness to their advantage—the flip side of which is the disadvantage and oppression of those unable or unwilling to adhere to the parameters of whiteness.
It is here that I see distinct parallels between Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s concept of multiculturalism as it has been mobilized over the last 50 years, and the young Prime Minister Trudeau’s current policies around reconciliation. Multiculturalism was the bailiwick of the First Prime Minister Trudeau (1974-1979 and 1980-1984). It was and continues to be a rhetorical trope to narrate injustices in Canada as part of a “historical” past and to declare present day Canada to be an equitable and harmonious plural society. Multicultural discourse, as I’ve explained and written about at length elsewhere, says one thing while multiculturalism as policy does another: reinforcing an idea of Canada as an officially bilingual and largely white country (see Wilson 2003, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2015). Reconciliation, likewise, narrates the violences and atrocities of colonialism, with a particular focus on the residential school system, into the historical past. It thereby functions to absolve the Canadian and provincial governments of responsibility for their ongoing colonial policies, perpetuated in alliance with the extractive industries and their multi-national corporate stakeholders.
Currently, I’m thinking about this most seriously in regards to Indigenous Rights Framework. It is being sold as an act of reconciliation. However, many Indigenous groups and friends see the Framework as a means of deepening colonization. Just this week, on Wednesday November 14th, Ermineskin Cree Nation released this news item, “Treaty Nations Reject Indigenous Rights Recognition and Implementation Framework“. None of us, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, should be too easily convinced by the rhetoric of reconciliation and justice being touted by the federal government, and by Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett in particular. The first draft of the Indigenous Framework will be presented to the House of Commons this coming December. It threatens to further undermine the rights of Indigenous peoples while strengthening the ability of the Canadian government to continue serving the interests of extractive corporations and honouring the agreements it has with them: agreements that undermine and make upholding its much older international treaties with Indigenous peoples impossible. It seems clear to me that if Canadians want to do more than succumb to the pandering rhetoric of reconciliation, and if they want to materially decolonize in genuine ways, one first and critical step is to oppose this legislation.
For more information on the Trudeau’s Indigenous Framework from the perspective of a range of Indigenous experts and community leaders, see the following articles and sources:
Wilson, Sheena. “Obāchan’s Garden: Maternal Genealogies as Resistance in Canadian Experimental Documentary.” Screening Motherhood in Contemporary World Cinema, edited by Asma Sayed, Demeter Press, 2015, Bradford, Ontario, 25-54.
—. “Recuperating Oblivion in The Displaced View (1988): Midi Onodera’s Intercultural Feminist Cinematic Experiment.” Regenerations/Régénérations: Canadian Women’s Writing/Écriture des femmes au Canada, edited by Marie Carrière and Patricia Demers, University of Alberta Press, 2014, Edmonton, Alberta, pp. 199-227.
—. “Introduction: The Multiple Voices of Poiesis and Praxis—The Work of Joy Kogawa.” Joy Kogawa: Essays on Her Works. Ed. Sheena Wilson. Montreal: Guernica, 2011. 9–42. Print.
—. “Paradigms Lost and Re-membered: The Case of Japanese Canadian Experience in Canadian Media, Cinema, and Literature.” Diss. University of Alberta, 2006. Print.
—. “It’s Telling: What Barbed Wire and Mandolins Does Not Say About Italian Canadian Internment.” Borderlines: Studies in Literature and Film, edited by Waclaw M. Osadnik and Andrezej Pitrus, Rabid Press, 2003, Krakow, Poland, pp. 177-200.