Professor Richard Day is an autonomy-oriented practitioner and theorist who lives on Anishnaabe/Haudenosaunee land north of Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of Multiculturalism and The History of Canadian Diversity, and Gramsci is Dead.
“We’re so self-effacing as Canadians that we sometimes forget the assets we do have that other people see. We are one of the most stable regimes in history. We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them.”
– Stephen Harper, Pittsburgh G20 meeting, 2009.
This infamous quote is often invoked to make the argument that Stephen Harper is a dolt who doesn’t understand history. In fact, it demonstrates his ability as a wily strategist, subtly playing off of a flawed UN Resolution (Number 1541, 1960). In defining a colonial situation, this resolution invoked what has become known as the ‘salt-water thesis’, which holds that a colonial situation only occurs in a territory “which is geographically separate and is distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it” (Principle IV). On this definition, we in fact don’t have colonialism in Canada. What we have is settler colonialism, where the invader comes to stay and attempts to eradicate ethnic and cultural difference through policies like multiculturalism, extinguishment of Aboriginal title, and destruction of the land through resource extraction.
This latter move is by far the most important right now, as is made evident by the number and duration of indigenous struggles to defend their land against the Harper regime, the corporations it supports, and the hired thugs (army, police, CSIS) who actively and violently attempt to suppress any resistance. Destroy the land, force the indigenous people from it, and you remove ethnic difference. Hey presto, no settler colonialism, either!
Right now, it’s pipelines through Northern BC that are grabbing the headlines, with the Unist’ot’en and their allies gearing up for a major assault on their camp by Canadian forces to clear the way for Chevron engineers to start work on the hilariously named “Pacific Trails Pipeline.” (One slavers at the possibility of a cheaper and more available alternative to the West Coast Trail.)
But there have been many other conflicts and standoffs during the Harper Decade – Elsipogtog, Caledonia,Tyendinaga, the government’s refusal to take action on missing and murdered Aboriginal women – each of which seems driven by a desire on the part of the Canadian government to push things as far as they can be pushed, to use violence, trickery, and manipulation of a cowed (CBC) or friendly (National Post) mass media to portray the indigenous people who are defending the land as crazy, misguided criminals or terrorists. The roads must go in. The oil must come out. The water must be polluted forever. Capital must flow. Indigenous people must die… must disappear, to make way for the ever-increasing horde of Settlers seeking a new world for themselves, a ‘rich’ world, or at least, a world for the rich.
Of course, and again despite Harper’s sly readings and pronouncements, this sort of thing is also happening outside the territories claimed by the Canadian state. Young travellers in Latin America and Africa are learning that it’s not such a good idea to sew a Canadian flag onto their backpack, as we are becoming famous for exporting our homegrown style of death and destruction to the rest of the world, via the hundreds of mining corporations that are offered safe haven and a base of operations in our country. Among these are many of the world’s worst offenders against human rights, environmental regulations (such as they are), and of course, ‘good government’, such as Barrick Gold, Anvil Mining, TVI Pacific. The list goes on and on.
Proud Canadians on holiday find themselves confronted, blamed for what their governments and corporations are doing, when all they wanted was a zipline thrill-ride through the jungle. “Why do you send people to destroy our land?” they are asked by the local indigenous people who are struggling to defend their land. “Don’t you know that your companies working here are protected by killings, torture, and terror?” No, most of us don’t know. We live an ocean away. Thus, all of this effort on the part of Canadian corporations, which is heavily backed by the Canadian state, makes one thing clear: if Canada didn’t have a history of (salt-water) colonialism before the election of Stephen Harper, it certainly does now.
Obviously, it will take a huge amount of effort to change any of this, and much of that effort must happen at the level of individuals and communities. We mainstream settler Canadians are, ourselves, addicted to a large number of destructive behaviours, such as driving cars, eating food from California, thinking we own some land … this is our part in global colonialism — settler, salt-water — call it what you will. Since it is we relatively well-off denizens of the ‘developed’ countries who create the need for Harper-like creatures, it is up to us to render them redundant. Voting is a small first step in that direction, a step that occasionally has a chance to make a bit of a difference, as it does seem it might, right now.
No government is good, but some are worse than others. This one has definitely got to go!