Thursday, January 10, 2013

Short Idle No More musings

I have some issues with the position of some players within the movement.

I abhor the term "settler-Canadian" when it is applied to individuals and think it is a divisive, counterproductive frame. Why? Because I am not not my ancestors. I am not a coloniser. I am not a settler. I have only one country of origin and I am aware of my privilege. Regardless of the past, how many generations must I descend from before I am considered native to this land?

I think radical scholars like Taiaiake Alfred are ultimately ethnocentric Indigenous separatists who preach an essentialist notion of indigeneity. I find them to be populists, dismissive of anyone regardless of ethnicity, who hold perspectives outside of their limited worldview. When they spend hours on Twitter indulging in macho posturing, they appear ridiculous. When they post images like this, they imply support for violence and can inspire terrorism.

I find disgusting the way this has turned into a pissing contest of authenticity between different groups of Aboriginal people. My M├ętis friend and Indigenous scholar, heavily involved in Indigenous issues, is in tears after being dismissed by "full-blood" Aboriginal people as inauthentic, some "white" pretender who is not allowed to have a voice. Straight out of Fanon, and later, Said.

However, none of this messiness, which should be expected in any such resurgence, should detract from the desperately needed conversation that Idle No More is forcing.  A radical change in the relationship between Canada as a state and Indigenous people is in order to finally resolve the issue. Canada is a colonial state with a perverse relationship between the descendents of the original inhabitants and the original colonisers. We, all of us, still think act and think through regressive institutions and understandings.

This must change, and it could get very messy before it gets better.


motorcycleguy said...

I have asked this very same question and agree the term “Settler Canadian” is divisive.

In a 2010 letter to West Coast Environmental Law I mentioned “We are very lucky to have been born to this part of the world. No matter how many generations of our own families happen to precede our existence here, those of us that reside here now have the ability to empower a considerable portion of the world’s population to value and respect undisturbed natural surroundings. This is difficult to do with words or teachings..........but easy by physical experience.”

In a 2012 comment on Harvey Oberfeld’s Keeping it Real I asked “Is there a quantitative description for how many years one has to be part of our BC eco-system to be deemed a good steward of our lands and waters? Could you have just moved here? Did you have to be born here? One generation? 10 generations? Nevermind not getting paid, we are actually paying ….. taxes and high living costs just to live where we are so lucky to have wilderness areas to visit. We learned a lot of what we know about the outdoors from FN teachings….but an equal amount is from our own personal experiences in our own lifetimes. Any man can gain spirituality laying in the eelgrass of a pristine fjord. He can relay these experiences by way of photos, drawings and bedtime stories to his nieces and nephews so they too can continue this respect of our surroundings. He does not necessarily need the FN moniker.”

The back alleys of East Van are a part of my cultural heritage yet one could say new “Settlers” have invoked economic sanctions such that I can not afford to live where I was born. Where is my retribution? As you say, the argument can become silly and rapidly turn into a pissing match of authenticity for all of us, not just aboriginal. Some things just can’t be quantified and commonsense and balance must prevail. White people don’t hold a monopoly on questionable development of our environment for the short term monetary gain of a few…. and FN don’t hold a monopoly on having a connection to the part of the world one was born in. Balance and respect are big words, everyone needs to learn how to spell them.

RossK said...

Heckuva post Boris and heckuva comment mcg.

Thanks very much to you both.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't born here and recently became a citizen. But I have noticed that the tendency to value those who've been here longer is apparent amongst long time non-FN people as well as some FN people.
I hear a lot of anti-immigrant crap from non-FN folk all the time; so the irony of Canadians with a long family history of residence here complaining about being called settlers is not lost on me.

A lot of the long timers want to separate themselves from the recent arrivals but also from the FNs too. I think the confusion this engenders in those for whom this difference is important is the cause of a lot of problems today. The division comes from people insisting that being here first is important in the pecking order, but not if you were here too early. It is a real crisis of identity among those who want to feel special yet also wish to exclude anybody they don't feel is like them; but they have no real way of making that distinction.

Dissonance as an accurate way of describing this doesn't quite cut it, but it's something like that and it is based on the insecurity one feels about ones legitimacy in existing. It's the flip side of the repatriation debates taking place in Europe, where do third generation citizens of Asian descent belong? Except of course those of Asian descent do not run the country as those of "settler" descent do here.

Boris said...

Identity is at the core of the problem. It's very hard to talk about identity, especially in cultural or ethnic terms, without essentialising or excluding others in some way, and especially when these essentialisations have emotional and legal significance.

The meta-picture is also interesting. Whether its third generation Asians in Europe or people like me here in Canada, we're dealing with a world of states and borders, often constructed around ethnic and cultural geographies, meeting a globalisation where people move across borders, and identities are layered. Simple distinctions are increasingly less valid. I tend to embrace this movement and like the cultural syncretism that comes from it.

Anonymous said...

Just have to express my disappointment with you folks at The Galloping Beaver over this one. Let us focus on coming together and better ways of working together instead of magnifying our differences, especially now. And I find it interesting that I'm not hearing any of this divisiveness here in SK.

Anonymous said...

I think only good will come out of this movement too, but before that good happens I really do see a whole host of ugliness as those who feel they are being denied something somehow go through every possible method they can think of to hold onto it.
It's like watching those opposed to same sex marriage complain because if that's allowed somehow they feel devalued.