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Experiencing Colonization and Decolonization Efforts

By Tami Starlight, Two Spirit, low income, able bodied (with invisible disabilities), Cree elder from the Peguis Nation with some Norwegian ancestry due to mother marrying outside the nation

by Tami Starlight

Experiencing Colonization and Decolonization Efforts

I am originally from Treaty 6 territory and have been living on unceded Coast Salish territory (Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh nations) for 30 years. This article draws from my personal experience with colonization and decolonization.

I grew up without the benefit of my Cree ancestral heritage and I regularly experienced oppression from my family and community: racism, classism, homophobia, and misogyny. For the most part, I knew only my mother’s side of my family since she divorced my father when I was one year old; however, most of my mother’s family in Edmonton did not practice many of our historical Indigenous teachings and ceremony. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I started to connect with more of my Indigenous heritage. For all intents and purposes, I grew up colonized.

I've decided to begin by situating my story in the context of my personal experiences. I'd like to believe that my personal experience helps expand and connect the narratives that currently exist regarding land defense, colonization, decolonization, and perhaps even anti-oppression.

A brief history of the creation of “Canada” (Kanata):
1455: Terra nullius (nobody’s land) is proclaimed by papal bull, giving authority to Spain and Portugal to conquer “The New World.”

1763: King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, in which the

Crown was tasked with the creation of treaties with Indigenous populations.

1867: “The Dominion of Canada” was officially created and modelled upon an English parliamentary monarchy.

1870: The Crown purchased the “North-Western Territory” and “Rupert’s Land” from the Hudson’s Bay Company and transferred it to “Canada.”

1873: The North-West Mounted Police was created to facilitate “Canada’s” westward expansion, and was an instrumental tool for colonization and the subjugation of Indigenous people. In 1920 it became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  

We have a young country. Only since the completion of the Canadian Charter in 1982 has “Canada” existed as a country mostly (but not entirely) free from control of the “Crown.” I believe the “Crown” to be a farce and a remnant of “Canada’s” dark past of oppression, violence, and tyranny.

My experiences with the left, social justice activism, community organizing, and non-profit and academic industrial complexes, has shown me that there is a strong tendency to fight against every new, trendy, and awful happening in the country. Few focus on creating healthy organizations structured in decolonization and anti-oppression principles.

After travelling across northern Turtle Island (“Canada”) a number of times in the past five years, I have experienced much love, hope, anger, dysfunction, and oppression. I've found that challenging moments, whether they be oppressive or not, are opportunities for growth. As communities, we tend to throw those who make mistakes under the bus too quickly, replicating the spirit of the same punitive justice system the Left opposes.

My experience with land defense in the past five years is that there is a strange, mostly unknown, connection or comradery between Indigenous nations and the settler population. Some of this connection takes an oppressive form. Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is a classic example of settler-allies who connect with Indigenous land struggles in ways that are terrible and oppressive.

Among its many oppressive ideologies, DGR is outspoken in their anti-trans ideology and policies. Over the past couple of years, while DGR was being publically called out for this and banned from speaking at or attending conferences, I have witnessed DGR connect, support, and organize with a local Indigenous land resistance group in BC. Attempts to shed light on DGR’s problematic and divisive nature were minimized, dismissed, or outright denied.

An important foundation of decolonization and anti-oppression work is the understanding that colonization has brought more than the racism, displacement, resource extraction, and environmental destruction that we witness and experience (and which our ancestors have witnessed and experienced). Colonization is also responsible for the enforcement of the gender binary, trans antagonism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, classism, speciesism, and a plethora of complex and contradictory forms of oppression that play out in our lives in different ways.

We all participate in colonization every day, in one way or another, perpetuating oppression through the choices we are often forced and/or trained to make. Sometimes, however, we have the power to choose differently. We have the choice to unlearn oppression and learn something else. This is why DGR’s choice to remain trans antagonist, despite calls for accountability, while working in our communities is an issue.  

Two Spirit and trans Indigenous people exist and have existed before Columbus got lost at sea and eventually, apparently, “discovered America.” Ignoring or denying the issue of trans antagonism within the movement is an exclusion of Two Spirit and trans people from meaningful participation in the land defense struggle. It also perpetuates the discrimination of Two Spirit and trans folks who face much adversity and violence elsewhere in life.

The same can be said for any form of oppression that goes unacknowledged and unaddressed within any movement, including land defense struggles. A motto that sums up the essence of anti-oppression practice is: We either get there together or we don’t get there at all. This is oppression: the use of power to marginalize, silence, disempower, or otherwise subordinate one social group or category, often in order to further empower and/or privilege the oppressor.

Many people will go on about white supremacy while supporting other supremacist ideologies in various ways, whether those be male supremacy, able-bodied supremacy, heterosexual /cisgender supremacy, or others. With regards to land defence, we must remain vigilant against oppression. No one is without fault, though the government of Canada and the Crown have the most to answer for.

For me, this is about learning from our mistakes. This is not just about focusing on what is wrong, but also what is right. This is about solutions, patience, integrity, responsibility, inclusion, and humility. If you shine the light bright enough, you can see the things that keep us separated and prevent us from moving forward in an amazing way. Ideas like these are transferable to any situation, anywhere on our tiny, amazing, biodiverse planet. We are the problem we have been waiting for, and we can be part of the solution too. AHO!

"Until all of us are free, the few who think they are, remain tainted with enslavement."

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