CW: Violence against Indigenous people
Indigenous Peoples continue to experience trauma caused by ongoing colonial violence in the present day. Canada’s deep, dark rooted history of forced assimilation and genocide against Indigenous communities continues to reverberate through Indigenous communities after learning of the remains of 215 children found at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C a few weeks ago.
While Canada outwardly portrays itself as a multicultural country, this obscures the power dynamics at play even among the diverse communities that call this place home, a home that belongs to Indigenous peoples.
Deeply rooted stigma and outright discrimination by some immigrants against Indigenous people seems to be due to a sense of pride and nationalism that is engrained in the fabric of Canada.
Racialized people and immigrants are complicit in the colonization of Indigenous people in Canada through our presence on this land as uninvited guests.
In Canada, as well as other “white settler societies,” there is a separation between Indigenous people and immigrants based on “significance of descent, culture and sense of belonging” or even pride.
While both Indigenous peoples and immigrants are affected by overlapping forms of oppression embedded within Canada, it differs in that many immigrants benefit directly from settler colonialism.
Settler colonialism refers to the distinct form of colonialism faced by Indigenous people in which they were systematically displaced through violence and assimilation in order to “privilege settlers who came to Canada,” which includes immigrants.
In addition, when immigrants arrive, they are integrated or rather assimilated into Canadian society and engrained to follow the nationalistic ways of Canadian society, that is rooted in pride about being in Canadian, and obscures the country’s history.
It is important to recognize that racialized immigrants benefit from settler colonialism by ignoring the history of colonization and developing negative preconceived notions, thereby further oppressing Indigenous people.
Some studies have shown that newcomers are often misinformed about Indigenous histories and issues, as they have few opportunities to learn about the communities whose land they reside on. Due to being under-informed, some newcomers develop specific attitudes and preconceived biases towards Indigenous peoples.
For this reason, many immigrants do not regard themselves as responsible for the struggle of Indigenous people and even fail to support them.
A poll conducted on 2,000 Canadians by Environics Institute for Survey Research found a noticeable difference in general impressions and knowledge of Indigenous people. About a third of participants recall the ongoing mistreatment and violence inflicted on Indigenous populations, including the loss of culture, assimilation and the residential schools.
Approximately 13% express negative perceptions regarding Indigenous peoples “pertaining to tax breaks, special treatment, government handouts and reliance on welfare.” The number of non-Indigenous people having heard of residential schools have increased since 2009, with 28 percent of urban Canadians having more positive views about Aboriginal culture and issues.
There is a need for a system that ends these practices of segregation and that address the ways in which racism and colonialism shape the lives of Aboriginals in Canada as well as other “white settler-societies.”
Dialogues between First Nation, Urban Aboriginal and Immigrant Communities in Vancouver is a project by the City of Vancouver and community partners “to promote increased understanding and stronger relations between Indigenous and immigrant communities within the City.”
Prior to this project, which started in 2011, there has been little to no attempt by the Canadian government to educate newcomers on the devastating impact and history of colonialism, nor of the continued discriminatory notions against them.
Newcomers must also recognize their privilege of residing on stolen land, and end the stigma and discrimination against Indigenous peoples.
This can happen through things as simple as a conversation. Speak to your parents and your families about this country’s history, about the history of colonialism and the ways in which immigrants are uninvited guests on this land.
Understanding the ways that we as immigrants and settlers are implicated in harms against Indigenous people, and also may hold unchecked biases, are very important to addressing the continued harm against these communities in the present day.
Check your bias, check your privilege, and stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities today and always.
Navneet holds a bachelor’s degree focused in Health Science - Population and Quantitative Studies from Simon Fraser University, cultivating a passion for health promotion, policy and social justice. She has recently found a passion in writing about pop-culture, mental health and living in a South Asian diaspora. Her passion for feminism, diversity and progress lights a fire beneath everything she does. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, travelling and baking.