As we look at the ways in which North America was founded, we begin to unravel hundreds of years of atrocity. It is evident that the colonial based country of Canada is an example of how impactful and strong a systemic regime of colonialism is. Tuck and Yang bring to light the reality of colonization and argue that “decolonization is not a metaphor.” I will draw on my subject position knowledge and speak of my experiences from a First Nations perspective and highlight how Canada in particular, has metaphorized decolonization.
First Nations experiences with colonialism are still an on-going issue within in Canada. It is clear that “there is a long and bumbled history of non-Indigenous peoples making moves to alleviate the impacts of colonization” (Tuck and Yang 4). Scholars have emphasized the difference between colonialism and settler colonialism, and it is evident that Canada suffers the effects of settler colonialism. Tuck and Yang state that “settler colonialism is different from other forms of colonialism in that settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain” (Tuck and Yang 5). With that being said, the creation of violence motored by capitalist views allowed for settlers to disrupt the Indigenous way of life, specifically rupturing Indigenous people’s strong connection to the land. Colonialism in Canada was achieved by systemically oppressing Indigenous people by using fear to control the “inferior” society. Settlers strongly believed that “in order for [them] to make a place their home, they must destroy and disappear the Indigenous peoples that live there.” (Tick and Yang 5). “
“For the settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way and, in the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, and over time and through law and policy, Indigenous peoples’ claims to land under settler regimes, land is recast as property and as a resource. Indigenous peoples must be erased, must be made into ghosts”(Tuck and Yang, 6)
Erasure was achieved by disrupting familial values, and this was most emphatically accomplished by sending children to boarding school. Indigenous children were taught to neglect their language, cultural and customs which were viewed as backwards to settlers. Tuck and Yang recognize that in the process of setter-colonialism, “the settler positions himself as both superior and normal; the settler is natural, whereas the Indigenous inhabitant and the chattel slave are unnatural, even supernatural” (Tuck and Yang 6). Therefore, the Indigenous people were taken away from their traditional land and taught values through a supremacist perspective.
I come from a mixed family background. I was raised on a reservation in Skidegate BC; therefore, I have witnessed the struggles a First Nations person has to face on the daily. My father is an Indigenous man from the Haida Nation, and my mother is a Caucasian from the East Coast of Canada. I have experienced the best of both worlds. However, I identify as Haida because it is the only culture I know, and those practices make up a huge portion of my life. As I matured, I began to understand the tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies. Recognizing the differences and the way the two societies treated each other, particularly outside of the borders of Haida Gwaii, I decided not to advertise my cultural background. I became ashamed of my own ethnicity. My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family always spoke of his heritage ties to Scotland, and for most of my childhood I grew up believing that he identified as Scotish. However, when he noticed my attitude shift in regards to my Haida culture he then shared that his great-grandmother was from the Mi’kmaq Nation in Nova Scotia. This sudden reveal of his grandmother’s ethnic background was supposed to make me feel better about myself and where I came from. He wanted me to know that he too, had indigenous ties to the land and if he wanted, he could also identify as First Nations just like me. I remember at twelve years old feeling frustrated because yes, technically he has Mi’kmaq blood, however, he has no attachment to the culture, land or community. Haida culture is something I practiced my entire life. I speak the language, sing the songs, and practice the ceremonial beliefs and most of all I identify as Haida and only Haida because it’s all that I know. This was the first time I was introduced to metaphorized relationships in regards to Indigenous heritage.
My grandfather never mentioned his great-grandmother before my internal conflict. Tuck and Yang speak on this issue as well, and they state that this type of behavior is called settler nativism. To expand on this term it means that “settlers locate or invent a long-lost ancestor who is rumored to have had “Indian blood,” and they use this claim to mark themselves as blameless in the attempted eradications of Indigenous peoples” (Tuck and Yang 10). It is clear that my grandfather benefits from white privilege and he is an educated man who is aware of our colonial history. Therefore, by bringing into the conversation his grandmother, he attempted to soften the intense feelings of displacement I was experiencing in my adolescent years. Tuck and Yang state that those who suddenly create an Indigenous background are guilty of “settler moves to innocence because it is an attempt to deflect a settler identity while continuing to enjoy settler privilege and occupying stolen land” (Tuck and Yang 11). To clarify, I am not bashing my grandfather, he has been a significant role in my life. I am only stating how effective the colonial system has been to my family, on both my Indigenous and non-Indigenous sides.
Tuck and Yang bring forward the few non-Indigenous society members who recognize that our history was tragic and the system of colonization is on-going today. However, they say that “critical consciousness does not translate into action that disrupts settler colonialism” (Tuck and Yang 19). Instead, we Canadians obtain “a collective mindset that protects illusions from uncomfortable truths” (Regan 35). It is convenient to disregard the real impacts of settler-colonialism in Canada and Canadians are guilty of this by not acknowledging the past and current practices of the colonial government systems and tactics. Canada suppresses colonial experiences, and this “encourages passive empathy or a neutral distancing from the Other that is insufficient to effect social and political change” (Regan 51). Therefore, by ignoring the truth, we are allowing colonization to continue oppressing Indigenous people.
Settler colonialism constructed a system that caused the erasure of Indigenous customs, language, religion and culture, plus sparked the internalized toxic shame within Indigenous communities which are multigenerational. Erasure of indigineity and intergenerational impacts of colonial creations have made it difficult for Indigenous communities to revitalize their traditional way of life and regain true sovereignty over their traditional land. Regan beautifully states that “it is important for the Canadian public to understand the deconstructive impacts of colonial history on contemporary indigenous-settler conflicts” (Regan 30). It is convenient for our society to not recognize the legacy of settler colonialism and how the assimilation system promoted injustice. Our ignorance as a country and using metaphors to define decolonization has allowed colonialism to be an ongoing issue within Canada by ignoring the truth and not allowing Indigenous people to overcome the barriers of residential schools.
Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor | Tuck | Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.” Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor | Tuck | Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2016. <http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18630>.