Sunday, February 7, 2021

White settlers engaging in policy discussions around Indigenous issues.

I finished reading one of the articles for last week's coursework:  Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities, by Eve Tuck (  , PDF available for free). I have previously discussed Decolonization is not a metaphor which is co-authored by Eve Tuck.

This article caused me to realize something about my own activism around Indigenous political issues, including LandBack.

I'll offer some context first.  When I started my self-directed antiracism training, some key books helped give me the language and context of everything I've learned since. There are two key aspects of that reading that direct my activism:

  • Individuality as a form of white privilege.  Whites see themselves as individuals, but they see non-whites as representatives of entire groups. This leads to huge misunderstandings. One is the notion there is a pan-Indigenous perspective on any issue.
  • Individual prejudices vs systemic racism.


Turtle Island Diversity

It is useful for people to look at a map of what some call North America, and others call Turtle Island. This represents 24.7 million sq. km, or 16.5% of the Earth's total land area, vs. Europe's 10.2 million sq. km, which is 6.8% of the Earth's total land area.

Turtle Island and Europe have had human inhabitants for tens of thousands of years, and developed their own civilizations, including their own origin stories, religions, governments and nations.

One of the myths that Europeans spread was that when they visited Turtle Island they didn't find nations or civilizations.  In fact, the only thing they didn't find were subjects of Christian European Monarchs, and then declared (as demanded by their pope) anyone who wasn't a Christian or a subject of these Monarchs to somehow be lesser.

While something like the European Union didn't form until 1993 and with Brexit didn't survive a full 30 years before losing a member, the participatory democratic Haudenosaunee Confederacy became 6 nations in 1722, and was a confederacy of 5 nations possibly since 1142.

The Haudenosaunee is a matrilineal society where the responsibility for land falls to women.  Every time I hear Skyler Williams, spokesperson for the pro-democracy freedom fighters at 1492 Land Back Lane, talking about needing to get direction from the clan mothers I am in awe. I wish the governance systems I live within had comparable ways of making decisions and having spokespersons convey rather than having a person dictate from the the top of a hierarchy.

This is a strong democratic society that has existed for hundreds of years.  It should embarrass anyone who thinks of themselves as Canadian to know that Canada sent in the RCMP to depose this democratic government and install an "elected" band council bureaucracy that is responsible to the Canadian Crown and not Haudenosaunee citizens.  Every day that Canada refuses to recognize this democratic government, and doesn't fold the anti-democratic band council, is an additional stain on Canada.

While I often exhibit Haudenosaunee Confederacy envy, because I am closely following some pro-democracy Freedom Fighters from Six Nations of the Grand River, I was born and have always lived on land of one of the Anishinaabeg nations.

The Anishinaabe, like most Anishinaabemowin speaking (what historians/anthropologists call Algonquian) groups on Turtle Island, are patrilineal. This is not to be confused with the more western notion of the patriarchy, as women have much greater decision making roles in pretty much every Turtle Island nation I've become aware of than in European societies. As with the Haudenosaunee, attempts at consensus building is the preference over the more top-down decision making more familiar to Europeans. This grouping includes Ojibwa, Odawa, Potawatami, Chippewa, Mississauga, Algonquin, and Delaware nations.

This is 13 nations within the largest two confederacies/unions within what Europeans called the Province of Ontario, and that doesn't include all the nations within these arbitrary European-drawn lines.

Europeans easily think of there being huge differences between European nations, such as British compared to Serbians, or even between the British, French, Spanish and Dutch who set up colonies on Turtle Island. The historical connection to France that a subset of people in Quebec have causes them to think of themselves as a "distinct society".

The different histories of Europe and Turtle Island has actually allowed there to be greater diversity on Turtle Island.  While most Europeans share the same origin story as depicted in the book of Genesis that is common for Abrahamic religions (most known being Judaism, Christianity and Islam), there is a wider diversity of origin stories and derived worldviews on Turtle Island.

(See:  Is religious freedom camouflaging ongoing colonialism and empire building?)

Beyond Turtle Island diversity, which suggests a lack of their being a pan-Indigenous perspective, I have also noticed that most nations try to build consensus rather than use hierarchical authorities.  Indigenous governance tends to be more transparent than western governance, which has caused no end of confusion for westerners collaborating with Indigenous nations.

This means that settlers must engage in critical thinking and comparing a wider variety of perspectives. They should not try to look for a single authoritative source of a pan-Indigenous perspective even if a perspective appears to be from a respected group. If you don't know the governance process that was used to generate a document, you have no way of knowing how many people a given viewpoint represents, or if it had peer review or consensus building behind it.


Mistakes made by looking for (or believing in) an authority for a pan-Indigenous perspective commonly leads to the association fallacy type of "honor by association".

Individual prejudices vs systemic racism.

I think this is the hardest concept for people to come to terms with, given an ideology of individualism is pushed onto westerners from birth. My background as a systems administrator gave me an advantage in my reading that others may not have.

Earlier when writing about Systemic Canada I discussed how many Canadians can't understand systemic racism, because they believe this is the same thing as an individual racist or a group of racist individuals.  They know there is a difference between socialism (the system) and a socialist (a person), but have been hardwired to not understand the difference between racism (the system) and a racist (a person).

This leads to unfortunate confusion.  Whenever a systemic racist activity happens, people want to blame the individuals involved as if they had a choice. The systems which are racist include the law, and so if you are a law abiding Canadian citizen (or law enforcement) you will carry out racist activities -- not necessarily even being aware of it.
I firmly believe that if there wasn't a single racially prejudiced person in Canada, and yet the Canadian systems were kept intact, that racism would be intact and these "not racist" individuals would continue to carry out racist activities. That is what the systems of Canada direct them to do.

Only by changing the systems can we stop Canada from encouraging and/or forcing Canadians to carry out racist activities.

This confusion is not limited to white settlers, or even to settlers.  I have heard many accounts of a mistrust of individuals (A Prime Minister or Premier, caucus members, a political party, any party that forms government, etc) because they carry out racist activities.  They don't trust "the same people" to be capable of being involved with a positive change (IE: passing any bill, including C-15) because they believe it is the individual people, rather than the system, that is the source of the racist activities. They believe that if only different people were put into those positions of influence then the problem would go away.  Somehow we are to elect, for instance, a Prime Minister of Canada who would disobey the laws and other systems of Canada and thus not engage in racist activities.

We have had Prime Ministers from a series of parties:  Liberal-Conservative, Liberal, Conservative Party (historical), Unionist Party, National Liberal and Conservative Party, Progressive Conservative Party, Conservative Party (new).

Each of these governments have carried out racist activities, and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples.

The NDP party has formed provincial governments, and have carried out the same types of activities. Some of the most common critiques come from people who believe that the problem is unique to the Liberal and Conservative parties.  While I see individual members (including elected caucus members) doing great work, the Canadian federal and provincial parties all maintain foreign Eurocentric systems.

It is the system that is flawed, including the fact that Canadians seem to want to build top-down party-driven democratic institutions which itself is based on western worldviews.  The fact that so many people are focused on the person who becomes the Prime Minister is part of the systemic failure.

A focus on individuals rather than systems commonly leads to the other form of association fallacy: guilt by association.

Theories of Change...

This finally brings us to the Letter to Communities by Eve Tuck, which discusses theories of change. That article focused on research theories of change borrowed from litigation discourse for a damage-centered framework, compared to trying to capture desire instead of damage.

When I think of the pro-democracy freedom fighters at 1492 Land Back Lane, or other groups fighting for Indigenous self-governance and LandBack, I do not think of a damaged people that need my help to be protected.  I think of a peoples who have demonstrated resilience. This makes me in specific ways feel envious of their future potential, if only they were given back their ability to direct their own future that the systems of Canada has temporarily revoked.
I know part of my white privilege in not having the Canadian Government attacking me, but I think of the Canadian Government and the systems it upholds to be the thing that is broken to the detriment of everyone on this northern part of Turtle Island.

I believe that some of the ways of changing Canada may have to involve litigation, as the systems of Canada aren't going to change without being forced to do so.  This is going to involve domestic courts as well as international courts and tribunals.

This is going to involve education, but not about a damaged people but of a fundamentally flawed foreign system of governance which I personally believe has no place on Turtle Island.  The creation of the USA and Canada are in and of themselves acts of White Supremacy , and I personally believe the long-term goal should be Indigenous governance throughout Turtle Island. While sharing amongst nations has been possible with other nations, I believe the last few hundred years has firmly demonstrated the inability of systems built from European worldviews to share.

The only way I can think of to move forward is to incrementally change the systems of Canada to move away from its White Supremacy in parallel with Indigenous self-governance and LandBack such that there will be a point where residents no longer see the point in retaining any foreign governance systems.

My activism

I'm not going to assume any position presented by an Indigenous person to represent some pan-Indigenous perspective.  I know I need to engage critical thinking and access as many perspectives as I can, and ask questions of proponents of a position when it is not clear to me. Only once I have done my homework can I then engage in promotion or opposition to a given policy.

Warning: If you do that, you will have some white settlers telling you that you are not allowed to ask questions, and that you are only allowed to listen. Be prepared for discomfort, as there are additional dynamics in this type of activism beyond already uncomfortable heated political debates.
The most confusing response I've received is white people trying to "call me out" for allegedly believing in a pan-Indigenous viewpoint because I don't agree with a specific viewpoint which they appear to consider to be pan-Indigenous.

It is not the job of BIPOC peoples to alone fix problems observed in the Systems of Canada. They are already targeted by this fundamentally flawed system, so we must harness the privileges we have been granted by this white system in order to help dismantle it. One of the many privileges we have is that at the end of the day we get to just go home and rest -- as white people the racist systems of Canada do not follow us into every aspect of our lives, so we have the privilege to be able to rest between our chosen political engagement with these racist systems.

This is hard emotionally draining work that requires we be aware of the need for self-care.

Warning: If you do that, you will have both settlers and Indigenous people telling you that a given area of policy is none of your business to be involved.  If the discussion is about policies an Indigenous self-government is enacting then it is none of your business, as settlers should stay clear of any commentary on Indigenous government.
Some white settlers believe the only role they are allowed to have is to amplify indigenous voices, without any critical thinking about what those voices might be saying.
When discussing changes to the systems of Canada, it is our duty to be involved. Expect discomfort and confusions, as you will simultaneously have Indigenous people who agree with what you have learned applauding your harnessing your privilege, while you will have people (primarily white settlers so far in my experience) who disagree with you going as far as to suggest you are "whitesplaining" things.

I'm going to try to alert fellow white people to some of the mistakes we tend to make.  This will always be hard to do as most people have not yet done the reading to even be aware that there is a "white" perspective on politics. We have to learn how to engage, including learning about the above mentioned issues.  Nobody ever wants the way they are thinking to be questioned, even if some educational work is a critical prerequisite to being able to navigate these areas of policy.

Warning: If you do that, expect strong push-back.
I observed settlers writing letters to their MP based on a single perspective on an issue (in this case Bill C-15). As they were writing MPs without doing the research and critical thinking first, I have tried to intervene to suggest there are alternative perspectives. This launched one of the first times a white person accused me of "whitesplaining", which was something I hadn't prepared myself for and it threw me off.

Mistakes will be made...

I have made mistakes, and you will make mistakes. As white people we have had the privilege of being able to be oblivious of racism, so need to put in the work to learn how to be helpful in dismantling it.

I have 52 years of life experience to re-evaluate as I unlearn false notions and replace that with what I'm learning now. I'm not always going to be able to avoid those false notions taking temporary control.

The most common mistake I keep making is to express my excitement in what I am learning in a very wrong way.  I wrote earlier about My privileges, and my systems mental block around race in the hopes that other people can learn from my mistakes and avoid them.  I'll do the same here with one example:

This is a really foolish thing for me to have said, especially after having read many articles, and parts of books, explaining why it is stupid. And I said it in public, and it's up there for all to see (until Twitter fades away into nothing).  In the moment I went one further foolish to ask the author if they were being sarcastic?

Even if you don't want to read any of the books and articles I have, a quick web search for `"not all white" racist` will bring you to articles such as Yes My Dear, All White People Are Racists.  It is written by someone in the USA, but Canadians need to get over the myth that the systems of Canada aren't also built firmly upon racism and white supremacy.

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