November 22, 2008

The Colonial Legacy In These Lands

The following below was a speech written for the 100 Years of South Asian Presence in Canada Celebration at a panel at the Vancouver Public Library.


mi chap uuys. siiyam, siiyay, s’ekwi7tel. nilh kwens spukwm-uystn nina7min sna. chen wa ten ens ta Skwxwu7mesh. Chen-t xway na tl’a xwmelch’stn uxwumixw. chen kwen men tumiyap tl’a itti.

My name is Dustin Rivers. I’m here to speak to about the myths of my peoples colonial legacy, especially in these lands. First of all, I would like to welcome you all to occupied Skwxwu7mesh territory. As guests in someone else's home, I welcome you on behalf of my people.

I also welcome you to occupied territory. I say occupied because that’s what my people live under. We never surrendered our lands, or our right to exist as a nation. We have an imposed form of government -- that of the Indian Band Council -- on my people, and we’ve been disposed from our ancestral lands. It is why I welcome to you occupied Skwxwu7mesh territory.

Perhaps some you didn’t realize that our view of colonization is still existent in our lives and memories. It’s one of the most prevalent myths in this country. That colonialism happened, has ended, and now we all live together as multi-cultural peace-loving Canadians. It is the strong myth taught in schools, in the media, and is shown in the current engagement of Canadian politics. I will say it: colonialism continues to this day in my peoples lands.

The intent of colonialism is to change our culture, to change our relationship to the land, and change our way of governing ourselves. Historically they had many ways to accomplish this. To undermine our culture by stripping us of our language and knowledge was Residential schools. By attempting to assimilate us into the dominant Canadian society, we would then be stripped of our connection to our land.

Land stewarded for generations by our grandparents, and their grand parents, and their grandparents. Laws were passed and vast resources were put in to installing reserves for my people. After that, a foreign form of government was placed and imposed on us. Whereas before we had our own laws to govern our communities, our resources, our laws, but it was felt that their form was better suited to control us.

From the beginning of our relationship with the Euro-Canadian society, we were always looked at something “in the way”. In the way of progress or expansion, but it was always held that indigenous people were the problem in the way of their progress.

Even to this day that view is maintained. A very deep example for me is the 2010 Olympics. The 2010 Olympics Organizing committee celebrates it’s accomplishment of Aboriginal involvement in the planning of the games, and subsequent benefits from the games.

Is there a connection between this and access to hectares of land for ski jumps or the appropriation of indigenous culture for profit? Is there a maintained view that by giving the First Nations, that is the band councils, some, largely insignificant benefits, they will agree to us doing the same things we’ve always done.

That with the 2010 Olympics games, we’ll have unparalleled opportunity for development of our lands and this will lead to some sort of salvation from the historical colonial legacies created by the last wave of colonizers. That we believe like they do: our lands are rich opportunity to exploit for greater resource and economic development. Business as usual in stealing the land, undermine culture, and change our relationship to the land.

The legacy of colonialism is one of myth. In the schools, Canadians are not taught that colonialism did not “win”, and the indigenous peoples did not “lose”. That we, the indigenous peoples, have been conquered, and thus the land belongs to them now. Can we really talk in terms like this when the colonialism is still not over and people are still resisting the colonial monster.

In the schools, they don’t teach you that we are indigenous nations, with our own laws of governing ourselves, with our own leadership, with our right to exist as nations. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Canada’s racist legacy creeps up saying we have received a lot from the government in past decades, and that we have “special rights” unequal with the Canadian society. What we are asking for is to be on equal level, on a collective level, to that of Canadian society. Nation to Nation as it was supposed to be.

When I was in high school, in the part of the history class where we learn about the racist policies against South Asian immigration to this country and this area of the country, the text book gives you examples of the views point of all the people at the time. The viewpoints of the racist White settlers, of the South Asian immigrants coming to this country. I remember my teacher, a White guy, saying he notices how sometime the text book will have some bias. He says how he noticed the book doesn’t give the view point of what the native people thought of the whole thing. Particularly with the climate Vancouver was in around the Komagata Maru. He asks me candidly if I had any thoughts about what my people may have thought of the whole thing. I laughed and said “Well, umm, you were all immigrants to us. You still kind of are.” He didn’t like that response that much.

Some say that the actions of their ancestors should not be reflective of their lives. It was not them who stole our lands, but people hundreds of years ago. It was not them who placed my grandparents in residential school, it was someone else.

But crimes like genocide, theft of land, and destruction of culture have not perished. In a legal sense, when criminals are brought to justice, neither they nor their families are permitted to continue to benefit from the profits of their criminal enterprises. Settlers continue to benefit from this crime.

And the actions of Canadians past has left us all with a legacy that all people from this land, both indigenous and non-indigenous, have a responsibility to make it right. So it stands that for non-indigenous to take root in this country legitimately, they would have to move beyond the Canadian myths and deal with the debt they have incurred and deal with indigenous peoples honorably.

We have a future ahead of us and our relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous does not have to be the same as it has been in the past. That this country Settlers want to be apart of, can change the connection my people have to the rest of Canadian society. That future generations of indigenous peoples will be born into a world where the legacy we have created is one where we’ve worked together in solidarity to rectify the sins of colonialism's past. This would mean supporting us in our fight for self-determination, for our journey to reclaim our culture, our language, our art, and our struggles.

Thank you all.


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