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Disorientation 150: Thoughts on Canada Day

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Disorientation 150: Thoughts on Canada Day

I've been feeling a disorientation the last few years. A state of mental confusion.

It's about this place. Canada I guess.

Here's the thing. From a small amount of investigation, it's obvious this is stolen land. Taken through deceit, bad-faith agreements, and just plain theft. Indigenous communities didn't give up their beautiful, bountiful lands through treaties; they allowed newcomers to use some specific parts for some purposes, with the understanding that Indigenous ways of life would be undisturbed and major changes wouldn't happen without their consent.*

Flash forward to today, and here we are. Broken agreements litter the land. And Indigenous communities were / are being brutalized by settler governments against their clearly-stated desires.

Meanwhile, some of the most extreme wealth the world has ever seen has been amassed. On the exact same land. From precisely that same land - this land - which settler governments falsely lay claim to 99.8% of.

'The 2nd largest country by land mass.' 'One of the wealthiest nations per capita.'
A colonial project of accumulation by dispossession.

I definitely saw Canada as the nice big nation up until the last few years. The divided perception of what this place is was termed the "buckskin curtain" by Harold Cardinal in 1969, and it’s still an apt term. The disconnect is largely due to white peoples' dismissal of and indifference to Indigenous peoples’ reality. And it's definitely disorienting.

But what I'm feeling is something a bit different. I sense lots of people on this planet ask themselves, "What am I doing here?" Us humans, we get philosophical sometimes and wonder about our place in the universe. I've heard people draw purpose from the land and culture and language and ceremony their communities have long been connected to. But what happens when the question is, "What am I doing here on this planet, at this specific location on stolen land?"

I've been trying to find an answer for a few years. Inheriting this situation is a sort of double disorientation because the first question, I think, is hard enough, and then it's multiplied by why *specifically here*, an occupied land that my culture has a weakly fabricated connection to.

There are a few ways settlers choose to ground ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously.

I remember driving in 2011 with a couple other white guys who went to private school, and we were talking about Indigenous people. Probably something about funding. After some prying, the conversation uncovered one guy's underlying logic. "So," I said then, "you basically think we [Canadians] are at war with Indigenous people?" His response: "Yes."

Or take an encounter at a downtown Toronto bar in 2016 about the land a well-known summer camp is on. "It's beautiful land. But that was stolen from Indigenous people and given to a government officer who then sold it for a piano and piano lessons, so..." I said. This white person I know, between sips of beer, replied, "Ya, but you gotta steal that land if you wanna make money though."

This thief or conqueror or conniving liar mentality, whatever you want to call it, is undeniably a part of the Canadian psyche. And it has been since the time of contact (eg. missionaries doing spiritual battle, businessmen encroaching on lands for resources and breaking agreements, etc), though it almost never has been official policy. Only in backroom discussions. Nevertheless, some people are able to orient themselves here by saying settlers took the land by whatever means necessary, and it is now Canada's.

The policy of multiculturalism has in part normalized this view by bringing in people from many parts of the world and saying "Welcome to Canada!" but not adding that this is nearly all stolen land (and not mentioning the white supremacist racism). It’s not a fair introduction at all, and it leaves people to put the pieces together on their own.

I think a decent number of settlers are now wanting to reject the thief/conqueror/liar narrative, not feeling good living out that philosophy.

But many of us just ignore the issue, pushing it down and away. Which lets things continue as they are. And what is happening is essentially a war with many fronts, many outposts: an armed occupation of Indigenous lands.

So what grounding can we find, those of us settlers who don't want to continue this theft, those who want genuine reconciliation?

The only possible answer I can see is to work in support of Indigenous communities to resist Canada's dispossession agenda. I try sometimes, but ultimately struggle to feel I'm doing this well.

My perhaps-naive hope for settlers this Canada Day, Dominion Day 150, is that people will have taken notice of the abundant facts available and will get a little disoriented, get uneasy about what's happening here. And be moved to learn and to act, and to approach the situation with a good mind.

Metis artist Christi Belcourt said on APTN a month ago, "I don't think Canada is learning. I don't think Canadians even believe they're on stolen land. I think that the learning curve for them is too high."

I guess we'll see.

In the meantime, Indigenous people aren't waiting, and that's the most inspiring thing. There's lots happening #Unsettling150. They know their land is theirs, that their culture is theirs, that their language is theirs. As Belcourt says, "I think it's time that we really start to think about alternatives to this country that is called Canada, and how we can begin to think about having what is rightfully ours."

It's going to be interesting to see what happens. Maybe good things. I don't have much faith Canada will be cooperative though.

So, that's the disorientation I'm feeling. Sending it out there on offer with equal measures love and, of course, rage


*Some modern treaties go further, but those cover a very small part of the population, and were also arguably done in coercive circumstances.


Belcourt on APTN (about 6 mins in, but the whole thing's great)
Accumulation by dispossession, in Briarpatch Magazine
Talking back to citizenship oath, in Briarpatch Magazine
Unsettling150 on Facebook

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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
montreal and toronto
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