So what is Fascism? In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton defines fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
While there is no doubt that Donald Trump and by implication the Republican Party have been flirting with White Supremacy, and thereby bringing the USA within the ambit of Paxton’s definition, as a Malaysian Tamil who has lived in the UK, I can not but think of the analogous forces that have given us Brexit, Ketuanan Melayu and Hindutva.
Further, as an immigrant to Canada and as a resident of British Columbia, I struggle to disentangle my new, welcoming and multicultural home from its White Supremacist provenance, and I wonder about the future.
In 2016, a spate of teenage suicides on the remote native reserve of Attawapiskat shocked the nation and, as the news spread widely, the world. This newsworthy spate of suicides must be set within what the Suicide among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit (2011-2016): Findings from the 2011 Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohort (CanCHEC) describes as the “historical and ongoing impacts of colonization.” This report highlights the following act of colonization – “forced placement of Indigenous children in residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries, removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities during the “Sixties scoop” and the forced relocation of communities” and links them causally to the resulting “breakdown of families, communities, political and economic structures; loss of language, culture and traditions; exposure to abuse; intergenerational transmission of trauma; and marginalization,” suggesting that these might indeed be linked to “the high rates of suicide.”
At the height of the crisis in 2016, a state of emergency was declared (the 6th since 2006) and this tragic phenomenon occupied news headlines next to an equally visible celebration Canada’s generosity to Syrian immigrants as exemplified in Kareem El-Assal’s article in The Conference Board of Canada website titled 2016: A Record-Setting Year for Refugee Resettlement in Canada? As an immigrant myself, I can vouch for this nation’s generosity to and inclusion of newcomers regardless of race, religion or any other aspect of difference, still, this juxtaposition of images – the picture of indigenous damnation, on the one hand, and that of immigrant salvation, on the other, strikes me like a freight train. It brings to the surface a deep sense of unease – the sense that I have made my Canadian home by displacing someone else form theirs. This deep awareness in me rises up to the surface, along with a vivid replay an impression from my youth – the opening of the Sex Pistols’ Holidays In The Sun where, Johnny Rotten slurs out “A cheap holiday in other people’s misery!”
I wonder if this is ultimately what it means to be a Canadian, on this here Turtle Island. Are we all building our good lives “in other people’s misery.” In seeking mitigation for this horrific remembrance, I reflect on the fact that the supplanting of some people by others is the the very stuff of nation, the historical reality of all nations. There is, however, a difference, an uncomfortably contemporaneous quality to this displacive aspect of nationhood, here, in Canada (as, I imagine, there is in all other settler states). As I contemplate this presence, a deep malaise comes over me, with respect to my own life and livelihood on this land. Returning to the aforementioned tragedy of teenage indigenous suicide in my new home, I cannot but conclude that it is a continuation of a founding genocide. The contemporary nation’s failure to mitigate this endemic and often epidemic condition seems, to me, to be a recurring trope of the original genocide. All Canadians are complicit in the travesty of disproportionate indigenous teenage suicide and we are all responsible for ensuring its abatement.
Tamara Starblanket has been awarded the 2020 Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for her book Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State. In this book, Tamara makes a legal analysis of genocide, and argues convincingly that, according to international law, Canada has committed and continues to commit genocide against Indigenous Peoples. She demands, as noted in the announcement of the award on the SFU website, that a “comprehensive dialogue on Canada’s history and present be opened recognizing its culpability for the crime of genocide.”
As I contemplate the disturbing idea of a Canadian Genocide, in terms of my own life and times, I am convinced that as human beings have an innate tendency to demonize and destroy each other. When we act this out collectively, against other collectives, this is when the what we mean by ‘genocide’. It seems to me that we are deluded as to our own actions and motivations of the moment. This is what enables us to disregard the sanctity and the inherent worth of others as we pursue our own group interests. Ultimately, given our common human being, this behaviour is self-destructive. In this series of posts, I will reflect on the the relationship between genocide and suicide from the perspective of an immigrant to Canada, who is domiciled in British Columbia.
On 13, 2020, it was reported on the UNIST’OT’EN website that, in what would be an escalation of the conflict over CGL pipeline, the RCMP (Police) have set up an “exclusion zone” at 27km and are blocking media, Wet’suwet’en people, and food from getting up to their territory. The report claims that this is a violation of the Wet’suwet’en’s human rights, of Wet’suwet’en law, and of their constitutionally protected rights as Indigenous people. The report also highlights the fact that the ‘last time RCMP set up an ‘exclusion zone,’ they had authorized lethal force against unarmed people.”
I am observing these developments as a Malaysian resident of British Columbia and I cant help thinking of our own Malaysian indignation at the Indian state’s mistreatment of Kashmiris with curfews and media black outs. Malaysians must be made aware that our premier Crown Corporation stands to benefit from these apparently analogous acts of the Canadian state. As I have noted before Malaysia’s PETRONAS’ investment in Kitimat is totally dependant on this CGL pipeline which will transport natural gas from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields. So once again, the interests of the exemplary Malaysian bumiputera (indigenous) led enterprise is contrary to the those of a group of indigenous people from British Columbia.
Of the 5 accounts (the woodcutter’s original account, the raped wife’s, the bandit’s, the murdered husband’s ghost’s, the woodcutters second account) of the truth of events in Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece, Rashomon, only the woodcutter’s secound account, the last version recountes, is preceded by ‘honest contrition’ (as film critic Ritchie has called it in his Criterion Collection commentary). This renders it, for me, the most believable of all the versions. In the ongoing SNC Lavalin affair, there has been, in the testimonies given so far to the House of Commons Justice Committee, no sign of any such contrition! In former principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Gary Butts’ nonchalant, “I am fully aware that two people can experience the same event differently,” we have an acerbic invocation of the multiplicity of realities that can accrue from one set of events, a multiplicity that has become known as the ‘Rashomon effect.’ If Gary Butts showed no contrition, the Privy Council Clerk (the most senior civil servant in the Canadian government) Michael Wernick was positively bristling with indignation as he revealed, amongst other titbits, how the Chairman of the Board at SNC-Lavalin, Kevin Lynch, from whom he took a phone call in the run-up to the crisis, was a former Clerk of the very same Privy Council! … O Canada!
On Friday, 20th October, a totem pole carved by Tsimshian artist Phil Gray of a wolf and an orca fin was ceremoniously erected on Lelu Island British Columbia to commemorate the victory of the resistance against the PETRONAS/ provincial government of British Columbia/ Federal government of Canada plans for a massive LNG terminal. According to Ian Gill in his article in the Tyee Gwishawaal Ken Lawson, a house leader of the Gitwilgyoots tribe said modestly, “It’s a small pole, but the wolf is here,” Ken Lawson jointly claims stewardship rights and responsibilities on Lelu Island with Simoyget Yahaan, Don Wesley for the Tsimshian First Nation. In the course of the proceedings, Don Wesley, who publically led the resistance to protect the island and the Skeena watershed, was presented with a copper shield by Guujaaw, the leader of the Haida Nation to acknowledge his resistance.
While the Pacific Northwest LNG logo belies its PETRONAS connections, the more established Progress Energy logo proudly wears the PETRONAS green. In his announcement on the termination of the Lelu Island development, Datuk Anuar Taib
who is Executive Vice-President & Chief Executive Officer of Upstream PETRONAS, Chairman of Pacific NorthWest LNG and Chairman of Progress Energy made it clear how deeply established in and committed to Canadian natural resource development this Malaysian crown corporation really is – “Over the years, Progress Energy and its North Montney joint venture partners have developed a reserves and contingent resource of around 52 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and resource in the North Montney assets. … we are positioning Progress Energy to be one of the top natural gas exporters in North America. That’s why we are moving our Unconventional Centre of Excellence from Kuala Lumpur to Calgary. The centre, which will house a network of technical experts with similar expertise, responsibilities and interests, will deliver operational innovations for PETRONAS worldwide unconventional gas plays with its core in Calgary.” Once again I find myself swelling with Malaysian Pride and, at the same time, shrinking fearfully at the realization that what we are talking about a monumental fracking operation in Canadian earth!
Simogyet Malii, the chief negotiator for the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, makes a powerful assertion that the recent cultural appropriation debate belies a deeper arrogation. First Peoples cultural forms are expressions of their relationship to their lands and waters and are inseparable from their traditional laws. He draws our attention to the fact that the significant ‘appropriation’ “isn’t happening in art galleries or on the pages of high-minded magazines. This is happening on our lands and in the courts and legislatures, and it has to stop.”
A case in point is how the Lax Kw’alaams Band Council is seeking to deny or, to extend the analogy, ‘appropriate’ the ancestral authority of hereditary chief Simogyet Yahaan, of the Gitwilgyoots in connection with and PETRONAS/ Pacific NorthWest LNG project on Lelu island. The Band Council has launched a legal challenge to Yahaan’s locus standi to repersent his tribe and protect its territory. Simogyet Malii notes that this assertion by the Council is unprecedented and that, “It challenges the respect for aboriginal law and authority, and undermines any possible reconciliation between Canada and aboriginal peoples.”
There is clear preceedant, in Federal Court of Appeal decions, that the Crown is obliged to properly consult First Nations in connection development projects on uceded lands under their jurisdiction and the technical question at stake here is quite simply, who should the Crown rightly consult – ancestral hereditary chiefs or the Band Council that derives its authority from colonial legislation. The Gitwilgyoots and the Gitanyow who believe they too have a right to be consulted do to impacts of this project on the Salmon ecology and consequently on their economy has brought a request for Jucial review in this matter to the Federal Court in Vancouver . Yahaan has said , “The … council deemed they could go out and take tribal territory and use it at their own discretion for oil and gas. Their only jurisdiction is on reserves. Outside that jurisdiction belongs to the tribes.”
The Band Council’s apolication to the courts to have Yahaan declared persona non grata in this manner is, rightly or wrongly, an attempt to circumvent this important questoin of jurisdiction and right adewuate consultation. Simogyet Malii’s explication of the depths of ‘cultural’ apprioriation seems briliant to me but it must be an obvious fact to the First Peoples with whom reconciliation is acknowledged in the formalities of state, but the continued aporopriation and exoloitation of whose sacred and material possesions is ongoing.
The determining factor, in this matter of appropriation, is the equity of the transaction. An equitable ‘appropriation’ would, more appropriately, be termed an ‘exchange’. Appropriation is an inequitable exchange under unequal power relations. From the perspective of the proprietors of the appropriated forms, who in fact experience barriers when trying to express these forms themselves in mainstream of the culture industries, such appropriation is felt as is a painful extraction. Of course, as the objects of such relations attain subjecthood and political agency, a more free and easy exchange might become tenable.
In Canada the majority of first peoples have been and remain objects of ongoing exploitative relations. On the cultural front, this legacy of occupation and extraction is epitomized by the national policy of assimilation. Systematic assimilation, deployed intentionally by way of the residential schools and then, at best, carelessly by way of inadequate reserve infrastructure and callous child welfare processes, are unquestionably a form of genocide – a cultural erasure.
For the first peoples of Canada, contemporary cultural appropriation, occurring as it does in this context of assimilation, must surely constitute a second erasure. It is an extraction of precious, newly recovered and barely reconstructed possessions – a double negation! Given the cumulative damage done by assimilation and appropriation, the question for participants of any inclusive community of cultural practice is – how can we begin to negotiate a meaningful exchange?