Indigenous blockade: decolonizing the settler colony
By Andy Kusi-Appiah, QE scholar
February 22, 2020
It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in Ottawa, and I had just settled in nicely at the Fallowfield Canadian National Railway (CN) station, waiting (im)patiently for the train to arrive and take me to Toronto — the ‘centre of the universe.’ Well, two hours went by and there was no sign of a train, and then the intercom went off, and a gentle voice announced the unthinkable — there would be no trains tonight due to a blockage on the tracks set up in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. They oppose Coastal GasLink’s construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory. What they are asking for is similar to what Quebec has been saying all along – Quebec does not want Alberta pipelines to pass through Quebec lands for environmental reasons. In addition, Wet’suwet’en is demanding that the federal government follow through and implement all the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Upon hearing this sad news, I grabbed my travelling bag and returned home. I was disappointed that I was unable to join my brother-from-another-mother, Meiz, and the Ghana High Commissioner to Canada in Toronto for a pre-arranged event at which I was supposed to play an important role. And I was not surprised to find out the following day that the blockade situation had sparked heated exchanges in the corridors of power in Canada – apparently, we settler colonialists have become inconvenienced by the blockade, and this is a big deal. Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer called on the government to enforce injunctions to end the blockade without alluding to the ongoing injustices done to the first peoples of this land. There is a long history of settler colonialist abuse of the original inhabitants of this place now called Canada. But, we forget that there wouldn’t have been a Canada like the one we all love and cherish had the original people of this place not held the hands of the new arrivals and shown them how to live here!
We settler colonialists have intermarried with Indigenous people. This union has produced the dynamic and forward-thinking Métis. In his refreshingly original vision of Canada, philosopher and forward-thinking author, John Raulston Saul, writing in his seminal book: “A Fair Country: Telling A Truth About Canada.” argues that Canada is not an European nation, rather, Canada is a Métis nation, heavily influenced and shaped by Indigenous/Aboriginal ideas such as egalitarianism — a proper balance between individual and group. John Raulston Saul, a Canadian of English descent, intimated that Canada’s “penchant for negotiation over violence” is an Indigenous value from millennia. He points out that an obstacle to our progress is our increasingly ineffective elite and colonial non-intellectual business elite who do not believe in Canada. He goes on to say that for this nation to survive we need to confront the hubristic and arrogant belief systems of those elite and debunk it with facts about how this country came to be in the first place – we are a Métis nation indeed!
But we hardly learn! On Wednesday February 19, 2020, a group of counter-protesters dismantled a barricade erected in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en on a CN railway just outside of Edmonton. This action parallels what happened during the Oka crisis of the late 20th century. During the Oka crisis, some elite Canadians (read: settler colonialists) took matters in their own hands and re-abused Indigenous people on stolen land. As Stéphane Leman-Langlois, co-director of the Observatory on Radicalization and Violent Extremism, recalled at the time of the Oka Crisis: “During the Oka crisis, there were many serious incidents before the army was called in. It really got out of hand….”. In a similar fashion, Pierre Trudel, an Oka Crisis expert is also on record as saying that the Ku Klux Klan was ready to crush the demonstrating Indigenous people for blocking the free flow of economic activity which is vital for the survival of the Canadian nation. At the time of the Oka Crisis in 1990, Pierre Trudel recalls that, settler colonialists were planning on arming themselves ‘to take back the bridge.”
Fast forward, 30 years later (the year 2020) and Indigenous people are still being treated badly. Settler colonialists are still invoking that little ‘law and order’ recipe to further crush Indigenous people who have been at the centre of all the hate/hurt/torture/marginalization and discrimination and blame for their underdevelopment. Apparently, the shameless looters and opportunists who signed treaties with our Indigenous counterparts in the past are unwilling to consider the core issues that Indigenous people are protesting. Instead, we hear platitudes about how Indigenous protests are creating economic problems for us. Indigenous people are protesting the usurpation of their way of life on this land.
I was struck by the language used by a front runner of one of our major political parties – a party that can boast of members with ancestry in Africa and India, two places where the colonialist caused mayhem to the social and economic fabric of the respective societies (from which they are yet to fully recover). Peter MacKay, a former federal justice minister and attorney general, took to Twitter on February 19, 2020 to laud counter-protesters who tried to remove parts of a blockade erected on a Canadian National rail line in Edmonton. He said in the Globe and Mail thus: “Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years,” Peter MacKay went on to accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of failing to “stand up for the rule of law” in the face of demonstrations that have shut down the CN rail network in central Canada. Of course, Peter MacKay did this to appeal to his base – like minded settler colonialists who are only interested in what they can get from Indigeneity but not vice versa. Peter MacKay doesn’t know any better. He is operating from the same old divide and conquer tactic that has been used effectively since the enlightenment.
We conveniently forget the failure of successive governments to recognize Indigenous self- determination and land rights. And so it remains that any time we are confronted with a crisis we as settler colonialists have created and nurtured, we invoke the ‘radical activist’ mantra in order not to do anything differently than lord it over the so-called inferior Indigenous people as prescribed by the colonial master who is still implementing the enlightenment agenda, even in faraway Africa – France and her dealings with her former colonies of West Africa on my mind!
I am still not angry with those who blocked the CN train tracks. I am asking that we all (i.e. all settler colonialists in Canada, including those of African ancestry) step back a moment to question our worldviews! Hopefully, we may begin to understand why Indigenous protests are legitimate and logical, and why we ought to embrace them!