Canada Day and Systemic Colonialism

Another Canada Day has passed, and another chance to reflect on the challenges that remain if we are to become a truly vibrant, inclusive democracy that takes responsibility for its treatment of all its citizens. Many of my news sources featured opinion pieces arguing that while Canada Day is intended to be a day of celebrating our country’s virtues, the country’s continuing faults threaten to make a lie of our virtues.

Most of the commentaries (for example, this post in The Conversation) emphasize the persistent colonial relationship with Indigenous peoples and our failure to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and to live up to the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which Canada has signed. All true and reprehensible. And, of course, writers point to systemic racism as a major causal factor. True again.

My beef with these analyses is that they don’t go far enough in recognizing the underlying reasons for the persistent failure to reconcile with the original inhabitants of this country. They talk about colonialism as typical of the relationship between the state and Indigenous nations, without recognizing that, like racism, colonialism is also systemic. We are the state, and it is our own colonization that stands in the way of a relationship that truly recognizes the sovereignty of Indigenous nations.

A brief aside: Too many of the analyses I have read play fast and loose with the notion of sovereignty. Like the phrase in the UNDRIP that requires “free and informed consent” to major projects that infringe on Indigenous jurisdictions, sovereignty can mean nothing less than the right to decide, yes or no. It is clear from the examples of the TMX and Coastal Gas Link pipelines, not to mention the construction of the Site C dam on the Peace River, that UNDRIP is only honoured in the breach these days. Sovereignty is indeed called for, but it is a long way from being recognized and it will be costly when that day comes. It is also hard to see how it will be achieved without further constitutional change firmly establishing an Indigenous order of government with the authority of founder status.

So, back to colonialism as systemic. The references to colonialism are too often still stuck in earlier versions of state-driven subjugation, buttressed by myths of racial, cultural and economic inevitability. Capitalism has always been happy to exploit such myths to its own ends and, indeed, modern colonialism is a key feature of late corporate capitalist development. We are its subjects. Just as racism prevents a society from accessing the manifold benefits of diversity, so corporate colonialism stands in the way of both social and individual development, self-determination and healthy democracy.

Decolonization involves challenging that corporate hegemony in all spheres of our lives, from early childhood education to the modern workplace, from our social relationships to our political institutions, insisting on the right to self-determination, equality and social responsibility.

Focusing, as non-Indigenous Canadians, on our own decolonization could be one of the strongest contributions we could make to reconciliation with Indigenous nations in our midst. Only the colonized would accept the continuation of a colonial relationship with Indigenous nations. The benefits of decolonization at home, benefits that entail our own empowerment and development as autonomous citizens, must be elucidated and then sought if this country is to rebuild itself without relying on the racist myth of the rights of discovery.

The fact that we still elect and tolerate governments that ignore the majority will and govern on behalf of the influential few underlines how far we have to go. Let’s get at it.

By Peter Puxley

Hi, I'm Peter Puxley, an economist, geographer and urban planner by academic training, and a political organizer/activist, development educator, journalist, policy wonk, researcher and political staffer by practice. I have tried my hand at poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, some of which has been published.

1 comment

  1. A tall order though, I can’t see the first steps…. Btw, what does “UNDRIP is only honoured in the breach” mean?

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