Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger and El Jones on #CancelCanadaDay

Migrants Rights Network hosted an online teach-in for "so called Canada Day" with two revolutionaries: Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a Dënesųłiné (ts'ékui) member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, from Treaty 8 land, and El Jones, a spoken word poet, educator, journalist, co-founder of the Black Power Hour radio show, living in African Nova Scotia.

The idea of #CancelCanadaDay is forming roots now in a way I haven't seen before. I feel like many of us are beginning to turn a corner on what it means to live on stolen land. This video might help with that turn. (And it was really well moderated, with excellent sound, which is starting to matter a lot more to me in these days of online everything!) This is a general summary of the main points of discussion, an abridged transcript of their words:

A Basic History of Canadian Colonialism:

Eriel discussed the erasure of people who have lived in North America for thousands of years. She says, we had well established trade routes, agriculture, and economics from Alaska to South America, with a bounty of people, education, sanitation, and governance for millennia. Then, after 1491, came the denigration of the original peoples. Canada tells a fairy tale about making deals to share the land, but great wars were fought for the land, and we were dehumanized for centuries as we were pulled between the French and British and later the Americans. Treaty making didn't start for hundreds of years later, in 1763. In the Royal Proclamation, Britain said they wouldn't take up any land in the rest of the country, beyond the bays around the St. Lawrence, without a treaty agreement. The eleven numbered treaties were supposed to be fair deals. Treaty 8 land is the largest with over 800,000 square km of land in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. Many have no running water, electricity, health care, education, or control over the land. We were coerced and intimidated into signing agreements. Instead of partners, we were degraded as humans: listed under flora and fauna and immigrants until the 1950s. The reality is the only thing under our control are designated reserve land, which makes up just 0.02% of the land mass. UNDRIP recognizes the collective rights of interrelated relationships as human beings with nature in the natural world. The aims to expropriate our resources, technology, and knowledge without reciprocal relationships, forced the marginalization and invisibility of the original people.

El described an early memory of her white dad being able to travel easily, but having to wait for her mom, from Trinidad, to get through the visa office in England. She said, Black people cannot move around freely even within their own countries. There's a control and disciplining of Black bodies, which are seen as a threat at borders and in prisons. In Canada, there's a dream of the great white north, the empty spaces and settlers tamed the land, and newcomers are to be grateful and not be critical of it. People think the problems are only in the US, the lynchings and slavery. Part of the psychology is that these things happen over there and not here, but they do happen in Canada. Enslavement lasted longer here. It was abolished in 1807, but we had it longer. In old Montreal, there were more Indigenous and Blacks enslaved than there were white people, and a slave home was burned down by a Black woman in 1734. We watch Heritage Minutes about the Underground Railroad, but there was a reverse one too. There was Black migration into Canada, and we closed the borders to them until 1960s when the point system was introduced. We think we take in everyone, but Canada is one of the hardest places to migrate to in the world. There are people crossing the borders losing fingers and toes to frostbite recently. There's a myth of public safety, but migrant workers are surveilled and policed. If they let us be free, then we're dangerous, so they control and lockdown with cameras and patrols.

Ways Immigration Policies Impact Indigenous and Black Workers

Eriel: Borders are causing disruption and displacement, fracturing family systems. At the core of this is, if you're not a white settler, you weren't granted the same liberties. I'm Dene, part of the Northern Alberta Navajo from Arizona and Mexico. Think about the depth of the trade routes there. Communities are divided by colonial imposed border systems that separated nations. The same happens in Alaska and the Yukon. Natives can't take a moose from one side of the border to their community on the other side. Borders interrupted the indigenous livelihood and trade. It's a history of systems imposed on us, a long history of government creating boundaries of how we were to freely move in our own home. My grandfather was born in 1898, and the treaty in my territory was signed in 1899. This is recent history. My father was in residential schools because of systems imposed on us to create concentration camps and then the pass system. There was an Indian Agent on each reserve monitoring movement because white people were afraid of us, that we would come to steal their children. But they stole our children. To control our activities, the government took away our machinery so we couldn't farm as well. Still we had a better yield, so they banned us from selling in the market. That history was enforced by the RCMP and the police services. There are laws to lock us in. If we step out of line, we are punished.

El: Blacks are labourers transported from Africa to North America, Europe, and Britain for labour. It's still happening today. Black bodies are exploitable. There's no free childcare? Bring in a nanny to your home without papers and you don't have to pay her properly. Bring in Haitians or Jamaicans. Cram them in a room. They can be kicked out at any minute. It's a continuation of the slavery system. That never ended. We still see movement of people from south to north. Canada depends on this. It exploits workers to bring us food. It extracted resources and labour forever. Abdoul Abdi was going to be deported. As a child, he came to Canada at 6. He was born in a refugee camp in Nova Scotia, where they separate children from their families, not from abuse, but from neglect or poverty. They question the food you're feeding them. Indigenous and Black kids end up in the child foster system. Youth prisons are 98% Indigenous in Saskatchewan. Abdoul had a grade six education. He was to be deported to Somalia with no family or language. We came together as a team to help him. The immigration system lets people in conditionally and is ready to deport us. You never truly belong here. The education system doesn't properly educate children. They're put in ESL for their accent. They're in the most dangerous jobs and the criminal justice system. Canada was in Somalia in the 90s and troops raped children. We destabilized the area, and then they came here as refugees. Blacks are less than human here: just animals or cheap disposable labour.

How to Reconcile Wanting Citizenship in an Illegitimate Colony

Eriel: Recognize the true history of the country. There are a lot of struggles of migrants, immigrants, refugees and Indigenous. People tell me to go back to my own country as if this is a white country. Citizenship is given by a state that robbed history, language and conservation for centuries. We can't deny the system we're in. Colonization came with the violence against millions of Indigenous. We need BIPOC brothers and sisters to come here. Things people are escaping elsewhere are recent lived histories of the people here. We must come to struggle together and see liberation as tied to one. A system that grants temporary rights and took those away originally from refugees from South America and Africa? Our Indigenous peoples are escaping the same persecution at the hands of colonizers in other countries. If we are truly looking for liberation as people, we need to be seeing each other, speaking together, looking to work together across challenges. I cannot say there's no anti-Black or xenophobia in some Indigenous, but there's anti-Indigenous in other communities too. We're all struggling under the same system of oppression. We're supposed to be the foundation of the country, looking to find harmony with each other and with the land and the planet.

El: The colonialist narrative fed us. We're not expected to know Indigenous history to pass the citizenship test. We buy into the notion of citizenship and become contingent Canadians. In Nova Scotia, the oldest black arrival in Canada, Mathieu De Costa, was here in 1608 as a translator. There's a long history of us here. There's a narrative around immigrants, but people have been here for hundreds of years. People say of immigrants, "Why are they getting things and not us?" We're told we have to work our way up. We need to deconstruct this. Upward from where? On whose backs? And who's left behind? Until Black lives matter, nobody's lives matters. It's not enough to have a Black president; a high position doesn't give liberation when neighbours call the cops on you. We need to find liberation another way: collectively. We can't believe the myth of escape and removal. We need liberation and freedom for all. Clean water by 2030? That's ridiculous! If the condition of many Indigenous is that they can't get water, it doesn't matter what else we have, it's not freedom. We shouldn't have to leave to be safe. Colonizers created wars, stripped resources, and made it unliveable. It's not free until everyone's labour is valued. The very people who they said don't matter, became essential workers. We must challenge the mindsets given to us that say, "I made it; now close the doors." There's no individual solution, but only a collective solution to get a transformative world where all are safe and free.

Lessons and Inspirations from the Struggles

Eriel: Colonization is brutal anywhere. There's a frenzy to eliminate people for land and power. What's most beautiful is the resurgence of Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty. What it means to give land back, to put it back in our care, not our control. Talks about the relationship with the land, not that it's our and no-one else's, but building intersectional conversations with Blacks, refugees, sex workers, health care workers, with everything. It's not just what it means with identity, but that we're mixed and we're in this together, literally, and finding intersectional ways and seeing people show up for each other in ways I think the state hoped we never would. With the MMIW, we feel the brutality. This moment is about holding up the history of Black people whose house is on fire right now. Not just holding a sign, but putting your body on the land, sharing resources, wealth, feeding each others. We're developing communities of care that are about collective liberation. We have to respect we're all in our own processes of healing. We're starting to see a reckoning. Young people are not buying the garbage and propaganda. They're building a future that is just, not just for their own people, but for collective liberation of all of us, and the collective healing of the planet. Covid is due to the unjust imbalance in our relationships with mother earth. Now we're healing and undoing what's happening. It's a de-colonization, a return of and connection to the land.

El: It's important that every person has the capacity to help liberate others. In the Abdoul case, it was led by his sister, who didn't have status herself, but she stood in front of Trudeau and asked, "Would you deport your own child?" It inspired a movement within Canada. To see the fight no matter the risk. She's not a trained activist; she just wants to protest, and she knows how valuable her voice is. The first time organizers and protesters are growing and blossoming. We're organizing because it's a life and death matter for all of us. It's frustrating and hard and there are moments of despiar that we have to fight through: interpersonal relationships, our own ego and desires. But movements clarify where we can move forward. It was my greatest joy. We were told you can't stop deportation once it's started, and we won! It taught me that we can win. We have the power to liberate. We can show up at the hospital and make sure a child isn't taken. We have the possibility to do it now. I get inspiration from workers, tenants, grocery workers, bus drivers, everyone who speaks out or does something in a small way. We believe another world is possible. It's a lot of hard work and healing in ourselves, but we can. If we always know that, then we can win.


Since the beginning of the protests, in order to get my head around the Canadian history of people with African Heritage relative to the States, I started making this timeline. It's a work in progress, though.

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