The Settler Colonial State

Week 10:
The Settler Colonial State

Indigenous peoples have lived on Turtle Island, what is known to settlers as North America, for over 20 000
years. To put this into perspective Cochrane, et al., writes
“Imagine a calendar year that encompasses 20 000 years instead of just one year. Imagine, for example, that the current
time in this imaginary year is 11:59 p.m. on December 31st, and that the preceding New Year’s day, on January 1st,
was 20 000 years ago instead of one year ago. One minute in this imaginary year is about 14 days in the real world. An
hour lasts more than two years in the real world. And each day takes up nearly 55 years in the real world. On this
imaginary calendar, Canada’s Indigenous peoples would have arrived in North America nearly 365 days ago, on
January 1st. By comparison, the first European settlers did not arrive until just last week; Canada was not created until
two-and-a-half days ago; and the Second World War finished yesterday evening. This is all to say that Indigenous
peoples have been here for a very long time. There is more human history in the New World than in the histories of
Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam combined. For all intents and purposes, Indigenous peoples
have been here since “time immemorial.””

Three official categories of Indigenous peoples exist in Canada: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.
There are nearly 1.7 million Indigenous people’s—including Métis and Inuit peoples, in what is now
called Canada.
There are 630 First Nation communities in Canada. These communities represent 50+ Nations
and 50 Indigenous languages. Though similarities between each Nation exists, they are each separate
and sovereign.
These languages are categorized into 12 major linguistic families. There is great concern today about the
decreasing number of Indigenous people speaking their native languages. Languages are more than
systems of communication, they are complex systems of knowledge, they are central to our identities,
and they determine how we come to see the world. Indigenous languages are particularly unique as they
are predominately verb-based.
Because our cultures are so tied to our language systems, a crucial step in the cultural genocide of
Indigenous peoples was the elimination of Indigenous languages.

Colonialism refers to the dispossession, domination, and/or subjugation of an independent nation or group of
people by a foreign nation. This is done for economic gain and to overtake land for settlement purposes.
The British and the French acted as colonial powers in Canada, claiming sovereignty over “newly discovered
territories,” though these territories were not “new” but already occupied lands.
Acts of colonization are typically placed into three categories, though it is important to keep in mind that two
instances of colonization are exactly the same and each case must be looked at on its own, and 2. these terms are
Eurocentric constructs
These three categories or types of colonization include
1. Colonies of occupation
2. Plantation colonies
3. Settler colonies

Colonies of Occupation & Plantation Colonies
In her paper “Settler Colonialism” Melissa Free distinguishes between, and provides examples, of
colonies of occupation and plantation colonies. She writes,
“British residents of colonies of occupation (like India and Hong Kong) were temporary and largely male.
These merchants, missionaries, soldiers, and administrators (who, particularly in the latter two cases,
sometimes moved between colonies) formed a “thin white line” of control over indigenous populations.
British residents of planation colonies (like those in the Caribbean) were only somewhat more permanent.
These mostly upper-class plantation owners often spent months or even years in Britain, where their wives
and children, if they had them, were as likely as not to reside. Because the Caribbean’s indigenous
population had been all but destroyed through contact with earlier European settlers, the British generated
a labor force by importing Africans as slaves and Indians as indentured servants. Though non-whites
outnumbered whites significantly, resistance—to poor working conditions, slavery (pre-1833), and other
forms of inequality—was met with brutal reprisal. As in colonies of occupation, resources flowed out.”

Settler Colonialism
Settler colonies differ from colonies of occupation and plantation colonies in one major way: these settler colonials come to stay,
Settler colonialism: a term used to describe historical and ongoing structures in which one group of people (referred to as settlers) come
to replace the existing population (Indigenous) as part of larger imperial projects.
Settler colonialism has three distinct features:
1. Transformative Dispossession: Settlers permanently occupy colonized lands. They steal, transform, and assert their sovereignty over
these lands.
2. Structural Nature: settler colonial invasion is a structural process rather than a single event. It is designed to eliminate Indigenous
populations (through assimilation and/or physical eradication) and gain control of their lands by imposing new governments, legal
systems, and social order.
3. Population Replacement: The goal of settler colonialism is to eliminate colonial difference by eliminating Indigenous peoples,
thereby establishing settler’s right to Indigenous lands.
Canada, Australia, the United States, and South Africa are some examples of Settler colonial states.
Though settler colonialism is often assumed to be of the past, these colonial projects are always unfinished, in-progress, and
represent an ongoing phenomena.

Settler Colonialism Cont.
Settler colonial states like Canada, rely on particular historical narratives, Eurocentric philosophies, and
acts of mis-remembering in order to uphold their claim of legitimacy.
All of these are used to reinforce the idea that the lands of now called Canada belong to Settlers, and
that colonialism was a “sad chapter in history” rather than an ongoing phenomena.

The Doctrine of Discovery
The doctrine of discovery was a legal and moral principle used by European countries to justify their takeover of foreign lands.
The doctrine allowed colonizers to declare ownership of land they deemed terra nullius (vacant land/land without a master).
This doctrine was used to justify European colonization of the Americas, including Canada.
Though the British and the French acknowledge that the territory of what is now Canada was not vacant, the principle of terra
nullius was still applied. The doctrine of discovery claimed that the existence of Indigenous Peoples did not prevent the land from
terra nullius because Indigenous Peoples did not own land. They did not believe in European ideas of land ownership and
private property, but rather lived in sacred relation with the land.
Europeans also felt Indigenous peoples did not use the land “to its full potential,” meaning that Indigenous peoples were not
engaging in for-profit resource extraction or commercial farming. By not engaging in the depletion of natural
resources Indigenous lands were seen as being “wasted” and “without a true master,” and so Europeans felt justified in taking the
land and “making something of it.”
The doctrine of discovery, the principle of terra nullius, the myth of emptiness, and the Euro-centric belief that Indigenous
peoples were “wasting” the land all contributed to Europeans sense of entitlement.
These concepts continue to fuel Settler’s feelings of land entitlement. As Eve Mackey writes in Unsettled Expectations:
Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, “
people I interviewed in North America consistently referred to the threats and
dangers of land rights to the nation and to a deep sense of entitlement and a supposedly natural right (even a responsibility) to
own and develop property/land, even if it may have been taken from Indigenous people. They felt they had laboured and
improved the land and helped build the nation and that they were entitled to their private property.”

Settlers & the Need to be Unsettled
The term “Settler” is used to describe a group of non-Indigenous people who have, or are the descendants of those
that have, settled into lands that had already been inhabited by Indigenous peoples. This term, though previously
used by some academics, came into prominence following the rise of Idle No More in 2012.
Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker write, in Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada, the
“construction of “Settler” as an identity mirrors the construction of “Indigenous” in contemporary terms: a broad
collective of peoples with commonalities through particular connections to land and place. For Settler
people, however, those connections are forged through violence and displacement of Indigenous communities and
Though it is an uncomfortable term, which stirs up strong emotions in many, it is not a derogatory term.
The term is meant to make us, and here I speak from the position of a Settler, feel uncomfortable. It is meant
unsettle and push us to think deeply about “our relationships with systems of power, land, and the peoples on
whose territory our country exists (Lowman., & Barker. 2015. P1).
All non-Indigenous peoples living in Canada benefit from power structures that disenfranchise Indigenous peoples,
and we cannot begin the process of decolonizing Canada until we (Settlers) face some uncomfortable realities,
including our potential complicity in systems of violence.

Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
The Indian Act of 1876
As is detailed in the course text, the Indian Act of 1876 aimed to assimilate Indigenous people into the white majority. The act has been
labeled genocidal by many Indigenous scholars.
“The Act provided for federal government control of almost every aspect of indigenous life. In addition, one of the provisions of the
Indian Act allowed for “enfranchisement,” which encouraged indigenous people to give up their status as “Indians.” Thus began the
distinction between Status Indians, those registered with the federal government according to the terms of the Indian Act, and nonstatus Indians, those no longer registered.”
“Under the Act and its enforcement, indigenous Canadians suffered discrimination and indignities. Reflecting a colonial mentality,
the Indian Act treated indigenous peoples paternalistically by requiring bureaucratic approval for almost any band decision.
Traditional indigenous forms of government and medicine were outlawed. Indigenous people living on reserves were denied the
right to vote in federal elections until 1960. And between 1927 and 1951, the Indian Act made it an offence for a band to hire a
lawyer to bring a claim against Canada without government consent. Indigenous babies were frequently removed from the reserves
to be adopted by non-indigenous parents, and some 150 000 indigenous children were forced into residential schools set up by the
government, where they were forced to renounce their identities and were punished, sometimes to the point of assault, for speaking
their mother tongue or engaging in their own cultural and spiritual traditions.”
Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse were common in these schools and more than 4,000 Indigenous children are confirmed to have
died in residential schools across Canada, though the number of victims is estimated to be higher.
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
The Indian Act of 1876
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
1969 White Paper
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
“The 1969 White Paper on Indians: argued that indigenous people should be treated exactly the same as other
Canadians and that reserves should be dismantled, and treaties and the Indian Act should be repealed. In other words,
it called for their complete integration into the wider Canadian society. Many indigenous people were infuriated by
this policy, and more than any other single factor, the White Paper was the spark that ignited the indigenous movement
in Canada and the beginning of changes in the issue of indigenous governance.”
“Because they could hardly be expected to support the apparatus that created their existing problems, indigenous
Canadians began to argue that they should be able to choose their own decision-making processes, at least on reserves.
Before the passage of the Indian Act, they had sophisticated and distinctive forms of government, and many wanted to
return to such traditional ways.”
Though some argue that there had been good intentions behind the White Papers, the adoption of such assimilationist
policies, which attempted to integrate Indigenous peoples into mainstream society was equated to cultural genocide
and was seen by many as a bid to destroy any prospects of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
Land Claims
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
“In much of the country, First Nations signed treaties with the Crown under which they ceded the land to the government in return for
protected reserves. Especially in British Columbia and the North, however, few such treaties were signed, leaving First Nations and Inuit in
these regions without a recognized land base. Adding in the Métis, the result is that only about one-third of indigenous peoples have a land
base on which to rely. This gives rise to the issue of indigenous title; that is, a claim to land on the basis of traditional occupancy and use
rather than treaty.”
“When indigenous peoples began making such land claims in 1885, governments did not take them seriously. Indeed, as mentioned, between
1927 and 1951, the Indian Act made it an offence to raise funds or hire a lawyer to advance a land claim without the government’s permission.
In the wake of the reaction to the 1969 White Paper, however, the existence of such indigenous title was finally recognized in the
Calder case
in 1973 in connection with the Nisga’a band in British Columbia. While the Supreme Court of Canada was split on the question of whether
such title had been subsequently extinguished, the Trudeau government soon announced its intention to begin to negotiate indigenous title.”
“A great variety of indigenous land claims have, therefore, been launched in the past 40 years. They fall into two categories: comprehensive
claims based on indigenous title (that is, traditional use and occupancy of land) that have not been dealt with by treaty or other legal means,
and specific claims arising from alleged non-fulfillment of treaties and other lawful obligations.”
Many of these land claims have not been fulfilled satisfactorily.
Canada’s Colonial Past & Present :
The Meech Lake Accord
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
The Meech Lake Accord refers to a set of Constitutional amendments.
The Accord was primarily concerned with strengthening provincial powers, particularly the provincial powers of Quebec, there were however
two important clauses pertaining to Indigenous relations.
Section 25 guaranteed that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would “not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal,
treaty or other rights or freedoms pertaining to the aboriginal peoples of Canada,” including any rights recognized by the Royal Proclamation
of 1763, and any rights or freedoms “that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.”
Section 35 recognized and affirmed the existing indigenous and treaty rights of all indigenous peoples of Canada. Partly to conform with the
equality rights clause in the Charter and partly to respond to a ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in the Sandra Lovelace
case, the Indian Act was amended to remove the clause that had previously taken indigenous status away from indigenous women who
married non-indigenous men but granted such status to non-indigenous women who married indigenous men. Bill C-31 (1985) led to the
reinstatement of nearly 100 000 indigenous women and their children, but since bands were allowed to control their own membership, a high
proportion of those reinstated in status had difficulty in returning to the reserve.
Neither of these clauses however adequately addressed the issue of Indigenous self-governance. As such, constitutional talks broke down and
Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper refused to ratify the Accord.

Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
The Canadian Justice System
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
The Canadian Justice System has come under immense scrutiny for the ways in which it has interacted with Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples make up a disproportionately high percentage of jail populations.
“Troubling criminal cases raised the question of whether they are treated fairly in the justice system: in the case of Donald Marshall, a Nova
Scotia Mi’kmaq who was imprisoned for more than 10 years for a crime he did not commit; in the rape and murder of Helen Betty Osborne, a
First Nations girl in The Pas, by four white men; in the shooting of an indigenous leader, J.J. Harper, by a Winnipeg police officer; and in the
Stonechild case, where an inebriated indigenous youth was left by the police to freeze to death outside the city limits of Saskatoon [police
were known to do this on multiple occasions in Saskatoon. They called these drop-offs “Starlight tours”].”
“Inquiries into these tragedies have documented the discrimination against and brutalization of indigenous people by every aspect of the
criminal justice system.”
“A 2006 report from the federal ombudsman for prisons admitted that indigenous people are still subject to systemic discrimination once

Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008.
The commission set out to document the historical and lasting
impacts of the residential school system.
In 2015 the commission published a review of its findings, which
concluded that the residential school systemamounted to cultural
The commission issued 94 “calls to action” covering a wide range of
areas, including child welfare, education, health, language and
culture, justice, and reconciliation, more generally. Prime Minister
Trudeau promised to implement all of these calls to action.
This promise has not been fulfilled.
Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
Missing and Murdered Indigenous
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
As reported by Stats Canada, Indigenous women and girls are overrepresented victims of femicide. While Indigenous women make up
only about 4% of the population, they made up about 24% of homicide victims in 2015.
Sisters in Spirit was the first organization in Canada to begin collecting data on MMIWG. Within five years, the group identified nearly 580
missing or murdered Indigenous women.
Police were found to be inadequately investigating these cases, with no convictions or charges laid in nearly 40% of these cases.
A National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), launched in 2015, led to the conclusion that,
“The violence the National Inquiry heard about amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and
Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced
notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current
increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”
– Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry Into Missing
and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Canada’s Colonial Past & Present:
Copyright © 2021 by Nelson Education Ltd.
The legacy of colonialism is still alive today. We see this in everyday acts of racism, in the continued denial of Indigenous sovereignty,
in the continued femicide of Indigenous women, in acts of police and state sanctioned violence, in continual land grabs and in acts of
environmental racism.
We also see the living legacy of colonialism in the differing living standards between Indigenous communities and Settler communities. As
Cochrane, et al., highlights on-reserve Indigenous communities ranked 68th on the United Nations Human Development Index, on par with
Lebanon and Venezuela, while Canada, as a whole, ranked third overall.
Despite Canada’s self-image as a caring, fair, and peaceful country, the United Nations has continuously condemned Canada’s treatment of
Indigenous peoples and have accused the Canadian state of multiple human rights violations.
Unfortunately, we do not have the breath of space needed to examine all of these nuanced issues, but we can begin to acknowledge them and
interrogate our own relationship with the land we are living on.