jeudi 10 janvier 2019

Deconstruction as Healing

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk


There are serious and dangerous consequences to giving platforms to proponents of white supremacist capitalist patriarchal systems of oppression and exploitation and packaging social and climate justice issues as a dichotomous showdown between two equal and equally legitimate parties – something the white helmed mainstream media in Canada has a hard time comprehending, perhaps because they too also participate in and benefit from these self-affirming systems. This false equivalence or the fallacy of inconsistency is a readily occurring phenomenon in modern day journalism that relies on oversimplification, generalization, dominant viewpoints and ignorance to make its points quickly in the blitzkrieg format it is forced to operate in. In this case, journalists would want you to consider the hand-wringing anxiety and rage of a couple of professional white wailers who represent, benefit from and perpetuate oppressive white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist systems that threaten Indigenous survival and well-being and who have un-ironically appointed themselves as beleaguered, as holding the same weight and as being worthy of the same consideration as the fight for justice and self-determination of historically disenfranchised Indigenous peoples standing against and protecting themselves from the unending violence of white supremacist systems. White journalists in Calgary were unable or unwilling to identify and call out a freely operating white supremacist troll in their ranks. When the spewing of toxic untruths and bias is left unaccompanied and unchecked by a critical frame through which they can be viewed and broken down, these words are left to resonate as legitimate, reasonable and accurate in the minds of many. So let’s do something Canadian media thinks we’re too stupid to do… grab your brains and your metaphorical scissors, we’re gonna deconstruct some of the egregious bile and bullshit, filmed, transmitted and left uncommented, that came out of the mouths of angry, white men at the indecent counter rally that took place in front of the glistening corporate beacon of colonial spoliation that is TransCanada HQ in the place white people stole and called Calgary.

A note also before beginning… This took me an evening to write and contains knowledge gleaned through years of study, unlearning and examination. I don’t take this burden lightly, it’s important and necessary work to do. But it is a choice that costs. A lifetime of writing and reading, some of it excruciating, a lifetime of learning how to decolonize, deconstruct, heal and build fresh, raw exposure to the pain and alienation caused by misogyny, white wrath, resentment and denial - this is my daily reality. White people, white men are allowed to contaminate and destroy, self-righteous and unimpeded as they have always done, as they have been taught is their historically and racially sanctioned right to do - this is their daily reality. Their pollution is immediate and hallowed in minute long news segments. Don’t you dare tell me that this is a just world.



“These people have to respect the rule of law.”

‘These people’ is textbook othering. Othering allows the speaker to keep the inherent humanity of those that he others at bay, making the deriding, the dismissal and the ultimate destruction of their persons and their demands that much easier to accomplish. Claims that 'others' should be respecting the rule of law is especially rich coming from representatives of white settler society – Canadian history is littered with broken treaty promises on the part of the white settler state and, as we have seen unfold, Canada and its provinces have repeatedly proven themselves incapable of respecting their own laws, Supreme Court rulings, undertakings and signed declarations (UNDRIP) where Indigenous title and rights and law are concerned. Furthermore, white men’s laws and injunctions have no bearing on unceded Indigenous territory and do not supersede Indigenous duty to stewardship and protection of the land, the water, their beings and for future generations. Claiming otherwise is a clear alignment with white racial and white cultural supremacy theories and views. The settler "legal" system has been wielded against Indigenous peoples and their territories time and time again and must therefore be systematically and critically scrutinized.


“You all came here in your cars. You all wear Gore-Tex and have phones in your pockets made from petroleum products. The indigenous heat their homes with natural gas.”

Speak for yourself colonizer! My entire wardrobe on that day, save for the elastic in my underwear, was made from plant, mineral and animal material and was made and bought within my fibershed. I have never owned a mobile phone. I took collective transportation to and from the rally. 

The white racial lens or the white racial frame of reference is universalism on white supremacist crack and posits that white consumer experience of the world is a centralized, universally shared experience, the only way anyone experiences the world. I wear Gore-Tex therefore you wear Gore-Tex. I take my SUV to the Costco and fill it full of shit I don’t need and so do you. I trash the Earth for profit therefore you must do the same. Not naming the power that implemented unsustainability as a forced lifestyle for everyone is not only bad faith argumentation, it serves to maintain the dominance and the interests of the speaker. Petroleum based products, fossil fuel energy sources and associated lifestyles are considered inevitable, inescapable and final whilst still being painted as a choice. If I truly had choices at my disposal, if ancestral knowledge hadn’t been hammered out of my lineage through slavery, displacement, colonization, assimilation and oppression, if life on this planet was not ruled by unequal access to capital, if I wasn’t obligated to live in the sterile concrete of cities, if cities were not built of sterile concrete, if the housing stock available to us wasn't systematically outfitted with unsustainable heating and cooling systems, I would not be heating my house with natural gas. 

By not naming industrialisation, forced assimilation and relocation, the stripping of agency away from everyone not identified as white, the foundational violence and politics of erasure of settler societies, Eurocentric notions of progress, globalization and urbanisation under white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal systems that ruptured and swept away older, small scale, local and harmonious land based modes of existence as the reasons behind our current unsustainable lifestyles, dominant white power and interests are never acknowledged and challenged, cowing us into submission and postponing effective exploration of better alternatives. This is something that I often repeat to myself in my textile practice as a mantra, and is inspired by Kate Fletcher’s work: Realize that things are the way they are now because dominant cultural conditions intentionally created and maintained the current set up, squeezing out alternatives or making them appear unattractive. We deserve better alternatives. The first step towards this is liberating ourselves from the imposition of unsustainable white capitalist power and narratives and their insistence that they be our only reality.


“TransCanada has the approval of First Nations’ along the pipeline route.”

Knowing that the so-called “negotiations” regularly carried out between Indigenous communities and representatives of the white settler state and corporate colonialists are never conducted on truly equal footing, the word “approval” rings with hyperbolic mendacity. Arthur Manuel, in his book, “Unsettling Canada: A National Wake Up Call” traces a history of capitulation through coercion, trickery and desperation as the regular modus operandi during these “termination” table talks. One also has to address the problems within Indigenous communities of internalized racism and the espousal of white settler values garnered through state sponsored impoverishment, forced assimilation, cultural genocide, inter-generational trauma, interrupted knowledge inheritance systems and flat out “extinguishment” schemes and the problems of compromised and out of touch Indigenous leadership warped by decades of government and corporate funding. 

One of the Indigenous organizers of the solidarity event in Calgary declared on camera that for her, consent was “working hard to get a yes”. When colonial governments and corporations control the outcomes of any negotiation with First Nations and refuse to change anything in policy or approach or ends, when the inevitability of capitulation is accepted as a given on both sides, when opportunistic and self-serving Indigenous leaders and “the professional Indian negotiating class (…) negotiate to create processes because processes ensure them jobs and money, since government processes come with government funding pots” (A. Manuel, “Unsettling Canada”)… we are no longer talking about negotiation, we are not talking about approval and we are certainly not talking about consent. This is a tragic vaudeville paid for by impoverished Indigenous communities punished on all sides. The white man and those allied to his power don’t get to define the terms of consent. As explained previously, white men’s laws and injunctions have no bearing on unceded Indigenous territory and do not supersede Indigenous duty to stewardship and protection of the land, the water, their beings and for future generations. White Canada does not have and has never had the free, prior and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and therefore has no claims to development on this land. The approval of elected band members who operate only within the confines of their individual jurisdictions does not supersede or challenge the refusal of the hereditary chiefs. White settler illiteracy in understanding Indigenous hierarchies and the terms of engagement of Indigenous leadership is here greatly apparent.


“We won’t be ruled by a minority.”

The historical silencing of oppositional and marginalized voices by those in dominant positionalities is nothing new. How does this claim work? Accustomed to being top dog, anything contravening what is deemed as the natural order, the unassailable status quo, is met with aggressive silencing tactics and rationalization of oppression. Here, the threat is clear – settler whiteness painted as the right kind of majority will put its righteous boot in the face of the wrong kind of minority brown-ness. The numbers game is used to legitimize certain views and dismiss those who do not share in these views and stand opposed to their unhindered continuation. A perceived white majority can bowl over the claims of a perceived brown minority and their unwashed hippie allies because this sort of oppression is seen as human nature and inescapable, reinforced by history told through a white racial frame of reference and white supremacist socialization. The perceived reversal of this status quo is considered heresy, unnatural and translates the terror of white men at losing their dominant positionalities. White men in power, white men with money will do whatever it takes to maintain that power and that money and the systems that produce that money and that power at the expense of those that they see as expendable. They will also not hesitate to be bad at math – a couple dozen corporate clowns and underlings and their political overlords vs. a country up in arms and a world discovering Canada’s true trappings does not a majority make.


“They use the courts when it suits their purpose and get angry when it doesn’t work.”

White settler society needs to understand that Indigenous peoples are not beholden to white legal frames. Colonial legal recourses are used, and often at great cost to Indigenous communities, when they are seen as beneficial to upholding Indigenous rights and title. This is illustration enough of the insidious ways in which white supremacy operates – that those whose responsibility is chiefly to the land and to future generations and to all life forms, must make their plight fit into short sighted, anthropocentric white legal and cultural frames of reference in the hopes of being heard, respected, understood and frankly, left the fuck alone by white settler society’s grubby, grabby, capitalist hands. The inability by the white settler state to respect the rulings of its own colonial courts – the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday'wa ruling that recognized continued Indigenous proprietorship over their territories and the Tsilhqot’in decision that recognized Aboriginal title on the ground to almost two thousand square kilometres of Tsilhqot’in territory by the Supreme Court of Canada and the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by Canada in 2016, is proof that white people’s words aren’t worth the paper they sully. Indigenous peoples are rightfully angry and tired of being repeatedly bullied and discounted by the hypocritical, ethnocentric white settler state. 

Article 40 of UNDRIP states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to access to and prompt decision through just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective remedies for all infringements of their individual and collective rights. Such a decision shall give due consideration to the customs, traditions, rules and legal systems of the indigenous peoples concerned and international human rights”. In short, Indigenous peoples have right of access to fair and just legal procedures. There is no downside to Indigenous peoples seeking justice and demanding that we respect their right to self-determination. We are all saved (often from our own damn selves) by this. Those who have been serving as stewards of the land for thousands of years, who have that knowledge and commitment woven into their cosmologies and cultures, the very things that we lack or have been divorced from, are the ones best suited to build a better, fairer, sustainable world for all of us. 

It is important to note the white victimhood at play in this statement – when white people don’t get their way, they lash out or start crying, and as any black or brown person knows, white tears are toxic and burdensome and potentially lethal. White victimization – the ability of dominant groups to swap the cloak of power for the one of persecution at will whenever their unending stream of privileges is interrupted or threatened - insulates white society from taking a hard and long look at itself and addressing the ugliness of its truth. Whiteness also has a history of whitewashing its crimes. The media has played a central role in the amplification and the justification of this, normalizing the white racial frame and pushing white perspectives and writers, racist ideology and the justification of racist animus to the fore. White settler interests paint themselves as benign, at worst, and usually beneficial and legitimate. Any challenge is therefore seen as an unforgivable attack, necessarily illegitimate that must be quashed at once. This statement invalidates Indigenous peoples seeking justice by reducing this quest to some sort of game stacked against self-appointed white victims. Relaying it, providing a platform for its free and unchallenged expression demonstrates complicity and vested interest in the racist status quo. The need to entertain the opinions of neon nazis and angry corporate colonizers should always be resisted.

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