Welcome to Colonialism Is Us (from Aisinaipi to Hell Bay)

Why “Colonialism Is Us”? 

From my earliest encounter with colonialism in Canada’s North, I have come to understand that only a society, thoroughly colonized itself, could tolerate our exploitative relationship with Indigenous Peoples. To resolve that relationship demands nothing less than addressing the pervasive colonialism in our own lives.

We start by recognizing that this country is based on a racist myth – that we have the right to dispose of this land and its resources without reference to those who were here first and whose home it remains. 

“Land settlements” and other forms of compensatory property transfers, while important aids to reconciliation, are only part of the answer. Change demands much more of us. How did we get here? What does our racist present say about us, the state of our democracy, our political and moral maturity? Radical change is in store for non-Indigenous Canadians if true reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is to be achieved. The rewards, I argue, far outweigh the apparent sacrifices.

Why the sub-head: “From Aisinaipi To Hell Bay”?

Aisinaipi is the Blackfoot name for a hauntingly beautiful Indigenous spiritual site down along the Milk River in southern Alberta, with petroglyphs dating back 3,000 years or more and evidence of occupation thousands of years older. Hell Bay, on the other hand, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, faces the open North Atlantic not far from where the Vikings and other Europeans began the invasion and seizure of Indigenous lands on the East Coast.

Depending on the season, I blog from either my Western home near Edmonton or from my perch on a drumlin overlooking Hell Bay.  Though the Atlantic Ocean is in my blood, I live much of the year in Alberta, a province whose politicians cultivate a primitive settler parochialism to whip up anti-federal sentiments. It’s a narrative embarrassing to any thinking person, but it still works in this thoroughly colonized society of ours.

I am a Canadian who lives in Alberta and not vice versa. I am shamelessly federalist, mixing eastern and western perspectives in the search for common ground, inspired by a vision of what Canada might be should it address its Indigenous and multi-racial reality, its Quebec reality, and its democratic deficit.

I have no patience for the nonsense of western separatism (see my chapter in Western Separatism: The Myths, Realities and Dangers, edited by Larry Pratt and Garth Stevenson). My antidote is electoral reform and a system of proportional representation. Only the latter will give us a Parliament and provincial legislatures reflective of the true political texture of the country. And it will lead to a more mature democracy with a fresh politics of negotiation, compromise and coalitions of shared interest. Those who, like the current Trudeau Liberals, continue to opt for “first past the post” elections are motivated by a dream of majority freedom of action with a mere minority of support. Their preference, sadly, is for less democracy when the country desperately needs more.

Peter Puxley