Recently, I helped out at a No One Is Illegal event that was held last weekend in Toronto. There was an amazing line-up of speakers, and one in particular really clarified some things for me around the issues of immigration and Indigenous rights.
I've occasionally wondered whether there is a disconnect between advocating open immigration, and also advocating Indigenous rights in Canada, in particular, land claims. It seems to be contradictory: colonizers from outside Canada stole land from the First Peoples here, and are now treating them like unwanted guests on their own territories. The first invaders could be considered "immigrants" - so how is it that immigration wasn't okay then, but it is okay now?
Here is the line-up of speakers at the event that just passed in Toronto. But I want to particularly highlight Lee Maracle, who was the first speaker at the Friday evening event (the one I attended).
She's pretty amazing in general. I could listen to her talk for hours. But at this event in particular, I learned so much from her about reconciling "no one is illegal" with "no colonization".
She started out with a history lesson, about how the Europeans came to Canada, particularly the British, and decided to claim all the land in Canada. Vast tracts of land are now considered "crown land" in Canada. Vast tracts of land back then were also given to corporations like the Hudson Bay Company. Vast numbers of Indigenous people were killed by invasion and disease, and those who survived were subjected to cultural genocide.
This is what she described as the colonization. She then went on to talk about how colonization has continued through corporatization. Corporations owning huge amounts of land, running governments, and making the rules friendly to their pillage of Canada. And almost all of the people who run those corporations are - you guessed it - white men of European, many British, descent.
She said that there was an Indigenous custom of not owning land, and of welcoming anyone who wanted to build a home, and that they would not stop people who want to build a home then, and that tradition still holds. She said that the quarrel is not with newcomers who are trying to build a life here. The quarrel is with corporations and colonizers who are trying to take all of the land away, give it to "the crown" or to corporations to raze. The quarrel is with the original invaders, and their like-minded ancestors, who not only want to build their home here, but take everyone else's space and resources and possessions too.
It really clarified things for me. It seems to me that conflating the original colonizers with "immigrants" now is problematic. There is a difference between a colonizer and an immigrant.
It makes sense, too, because newcomers have so much more in common with Indigenous people than they do the colonizers. They are also treated like outsiders by the colonizers. They are made to feel unwanted. Their labour is exploited, when they aren't being denied jobs due to racism. (One thing Lee said is that one of the reasons our immigration system is the way it is, is because they need a way to let in just enough immigrants to exploit, since, she said, the Indigenous peoples didn't turn out so well as a cheap source of labour. I'd be interested in hearing more background on that, actually.)
Anyhow, I'm not sure I've seen this discussed on babble, beyond a couple of unfortunate exchanges that got heated in other threads, so maybe we can talk about it here. I wasn't sure whether to put this in the anti-racism forum or the Indigenous Issues forum, so I flipped a coin. :) Mods can move this if they like.