Indigenous Sovereignty or There’s Nothing to be “Proud” About Canadians

By papâmâstêw-otipêyimisiwiskwêw

Canada is a hostile occupying force that represses Indigenous nations. In spite of the national mythology that Canada promotes regarding its “peaceful,” “tolerant,” and “multicultural” history and character, its very existence is predicated on the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. Why? Because Canada does not have a legal claim to its territory.

According to its own laws, Canada is illegal. This colonial nation-state has never managed to completely justify its own sovereignty over Indigenous lands. The Doctrines of Discovery and Conquest have both been rejected. The Supreme Court of Canada contextualizes the state’s sovereignty as “asserted” or “assumed.” This is a stark contrast to the inherent sovereignty recognized and enjoyed by Indigenous peoples: sovereignty based on prior occupation on the land.

This is no secret. The highest legal body of this state and supposed ultimate arbiter of truth and justice, acknowledges Indigenous sovereignty and the state’s own illegitimacy, but refuses to take any concrete steps towards obtaining the most fundamental justice for Indigenous peoples. Instead, as Indigenous nations we are constantly expected to “prove” our use and occupancy of our traditional lands using settler criteria, through the settler court system, and to settler judges!

In the face of the widespread and brutal repression of Indigenous activism and self-imposed ignorance on the part of the Canadian government, its people, and the international community, what can those of us who care about Indigenous survival and justice do?

Because Canada can only exist through the ongoing dispossession of, and genocide against, Indigenous nations, solidarity with Indigenous struggle necessitates standing against Canada with resistance movements. This means respecting and supporting Indigenous resistance – even if you don’t necessarily agree with the goals or tactics that we may choose to use. This means decentring what you think you know about Indigenous people, our nations, or ‘Canadian’ history: Listen to Indigenous-made music, read Indigenous authors, watch Indigenous-made films, and pay attention to grassroots Indigenous leaders, especially our women and Two-Spirit leaders. Above all, this means listening to Indigenous people and working with us towards decolonization: the return of the lands that were illegally stolen from us and the reassertion of Indigenous life-ways, governments, and worldviews.

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, examine your own responsibilities to Indigenous peoples. As a visitor on Haudenosaunee land, what steps can you take to be a good guest? As a student who benefits from the violent dispossession of Indigenous land and knowledge, what can you do to Indigenize your school? As a settler, what can you do to resist racist narratives and actions within your own life and the lives of your family and friends?

The rejection of Canada in favour of Indigenous sovereignty is a large step towards restoring justice to the spaces you inhabit it is the first step on a long journey towards true decolonization and reciprocal and respectful engagement with this land and its Indigenous peoples.

• – a blog by Montréal-based Métis Chelsea Vowel on current issues in Indian Country
• – website of Haudenosaunee activist and filmmaker Amanda Lickers
• – the Native Youth Sexual Health Network is a by and for Indigenous youth organization that focuses on issues of sexual and reproductive health, justice, and reclamation.
• – Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit Harm Reduction Coalition
• – otipêyimisiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikohk Métis in Space is an Indigenous feminist science fiction podcast by Chelsea Vowel and Molly Swain.
• – a blog by Anishinaabe-kwe Naomi Sayers on sex work, Aboriginal law, and more.
• A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood – Kim Anderson • Métis: Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood – Chris Andersen
• Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition – Glen Coulthard
• Ravensong – Lee Maracle
• Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters – ed. Joseph Boyden • Native Punx Unite zine | Decolonization 101 zine