Allow me to express my gratitude to you for your openness to have conversations on this sensitive topic. I invite you to read what follows at your own pace, thinking about your own wellbeing first. Feel free to take a break, have a sip of water, go outside and resume this article later – the content of which might trigger unpleasant emotions and memories.
Here is a word of advice I’d like to give you before we start: shut up and listen, reach out and listen. In my experience, the most significant culture shocks between settlers and Indigenous folks happen in everyday conversations. Be receptive, because if someone decides to share a bit about themselves with you, there is certainly a reason behind it, the same way there is a reason why you came across this article today.
Read it again. “Colonialism”.
How does it make you feel to see such a brutal word written on a piece of paper?
Where do these feelings sit in your body?
I’ll tell you how I feel when I read it: I feel scared. I anticipate having to justify myself, my existence as an Indigenous person living in the 21st century, my decision not to blend in with settlers, but rather, to live my Indigeneity as I like to think my Ancestors would have wanted me to. I’m scared of what people will have to say about “colonialism”, that it’s just Canada’s ugly past and that we’ve achieved reconciliation. I’m scared of discussions about colonialism because I’m scared of settlers being scared. They just love using their fancy words and meters-long references to prove me wrong. They have an incessant need to comfort themselves in their own presumed superiority, because what settler in their right mind would question the basis of the colonial entity that has made their people thrive for generations?
Nevertheless, the sun is still shining, the birds still sing, and snow is just as cold and beautiful as it always has been. Indigenous peoples are still alive, and colonialism has failed. Although, not entirely. When I walk around the streets of Montreal, I am reminded everywhere I look that I don’t belong here.
I am not Kanien’kehá:ka and have not asked permission to be on this land. Oh, how I wish it were that simple.
Actually, I am reminded of my own lack of belonging when I look at all the symbols spread around the city. Statues, street names, metro stations, people speaking English and French, money. You read that right: money. I am crushed to see that because of the capitalist system imposed on us, human beings nowadays would rather preserve their materialistic way of life and intoxicate themselves with physical goods and wrinkly dollar bills until their loneliness becomes so unbearable it takes their last breath. To top it off, on the money we use and all around the city we find the names and faces of the people deemed to be worth remembering. (By whom, you might ask? That’s a really good question.) I wonder what’s worse: being haunted by the people who kidnapped, raped, murdered and erased my Ancestors, or the blatant apathy of settlers today towards the ongoing colonial project that will stop at nothing to complete its course. To be honest, both make me feel equally horrible. That’s what living in a colonial world feels like. Random people celebrating the homicidal maniacs who made my family members violent alcoholics, and then telling Indigenous persons to stop complaining. Being more familiar with streets and metro stations named after long-deceased slaughterers than with the names of the trees, flowers and birds that are still a significant part of our daily lives.
You might be thinking, “OK, I get it, you’re angry, but what can I do about it? I didn’t do anything to you.” My friend, you’re absolutely right: I am angry.
Do you know how messed up it is when your kindergarten teacher plays “Indian music” on the radio to calm you down during nap time, and a year later being forced to memorize and sing the national anthem between lessons on verbial agreement and math? The message is clear: no one is safe from colonialism, not even children.
Remember elementary school teachers raising awareness on bullying? I remember very well, because I went to a white school and was made fun of by both students and yard supervisors whenever I talked about my Indigenous Ancestry. Guess who always ended up at the principal’s office. I stopped counting how many times I heard the same old story of “if you’re not doing anything about it, you’re just as guilty as the bully”, and then seeing these same teachers turning their backs on what was going on in the schoolyard. Well, they were at least right about one thing: either you are a bully, or you’re standing up to a bully. Regardless of where you come from, whether you’re marginalized, privileged, an activist or just someone reading this article for fun, I invite you to stand up to the bully.
People call it different names - colonialism, capitalism, white fragility, government institutions, that racist uncle, and I’m omitting a few. To me, they’re all one big melting pot of human- made evil. There is no better time than now to do something about it. I notice that strong positions like the prison abolition movement, anti-capitalism, environmental activism, Indigenous activism and the desire to dismantle the colonial state tend to be too intimidating or deemed unrealistic by the general public, but I’m telling you, it’s not. In fact I believe it is the only solution if we want humanity to thrive for a little longer. Indigenous voices have been active but silenced since the 16th century; the generations since then tried every way possible to overthrow the colonial system that was slowly but surely being forced on them, and yet settlers today are saying that Indigenous activists are too radical. I’d say we aren’t radical enough. What will it take to get the settlers’ attention? There is so much information available to everyone that would be more than enough to charge the Canadian government with genocide, Indigenous peoples have already done the work for you! If time has proven anything, it’s that gently asking people to get off their high horses and read up on the Indian Act, UNDRIP, the TRC, as well as research and documentaries about the history of Indigenous peoples is simply not enough.
To my Indigenous siblings, make your presence known, get your bead game on, and don’t be afraid to talk back to let these settlers know that they haven’t won. To the awoken settlers reading this, know that your engagement is appreciated, continue to educate yourself and others, and remember that actions speak louder than words. Now get out there, drum to your heart’s content and let the colonial government know that their reign of terror is coming to an end!