Michael Walker and the British communist commentator Ash Sarkar discuss Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza in terms of Western geopolitical interests. They deconstruct the blatant media bias in covering the conflict, which they set in the context of Israel’s ongoing settler colonialism and apartheid. The critique is centered on Omar Badder’s analysis and questioning of the entry point for Western media reporting, which is as follows –
Status quo: occupation/ apartheid is violence against Palestinians
Then Israel escalates through evictions/beatings/ shootings
Then some Palestinians respond w/violence.
Then Israel “responds” w/massacres
“If you start reporting at #3. you are misleading your audience”
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.
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?