Defining Settler Colonialism

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Postcolonial studies (POCOS) has been established as a scholarly field for some time. There are many different historical, political, theoretical and practical definitions of colonialism but they share one key feature: hierarchical relations of power between two different populations (one from away and one Indigenous to the land) where the local population is subordinated. This subordination can take political, social, cultural and/or material forms. Colonialism differs according to where it takes place (geography), when it began and if/when it ended (temporality) and how the hierarchical power relations occur (methods of subordination). As Bonita Lawrence has argued (2003),  imposition of patriarchical gender relations, between and within ‘the master,’ or the imperial authority and ‘the subaltern,’ or Indigenous community, are regularly influential in securing male authority and female disadvantage in most (if not all) colonial contexts. Thus, colonized women are often doubly subordinated, as colonized and as women.

‘Settler colonial’ studies, as a subset of POCOS, has tended to focus on Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Different historic, political and structural relationships occur when the colonizers do not leave. Lorenzo Veracini compares the difference between settler colonial and colonial relations as the difference between a line and a circle. In colonial states, the colonizers go out to the colonies and then return home in a circular movement. In settler colonialism, there is no return home. Thus, the goal becomes the transformation of the new colony into “home” (Veracini, 2011, 2006). Indigenous populations are targetted in ways that differ from other colonial encounters. Rather than simply resource extraction and other forms of explotation, the emerging settler colonial state seeks to erase the Indigenous other, through assimilation, genocide, and/or appropriation.

Settler colonialism is an ongoing encounter rather than a single historic event (Wolfe, 1999). At the centre of this process is the erasure, elimination or assimilation of the Indigenous other to settlers.  In Canada, this has taken the form of institutional and legal policies aimed at eliminating over the short and long term the distinctive nature of First Nations and subordinating them legally, and/or culturally. In Canada, the federal Indian Act is the prime tool for the legal subordination, but the colonial project is far-reaching and includes events and policies such as the forced assimilation through residential schools and the attempt to eliminate Indian status (and its limited protection) through the imposition of the 1969 federal White Paper. Both Veracini and Tully argue that settler colonialism normalizes ongoing asymmetric power relations by erasing the  history of settler colonialism and “[obscuring] the conditions of its own production” (Veracini, 2010, 25). Many of the policies and practices of the settler colonial state are gendered, affecting women differently than men.

Thus, any consideration of 21st century political activism in settler colonial states must confront historic relations of oppression, and the particular, complex and varied situation of settler colonialism and both a historic and ongoing process of colonization. This requires a deeply complex and intersectional approach and analysis for those who aim for transformational or activist practices. For example, Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, like the earlier American Indian Movement, and comparable groups in other settler societies, has to struggle against longstanding forces of external domination originating with European (and indeed other) empires.  Unfortunately, that considerable task can sometimes become an explanation, or even a justification for ignoring the unique ways that women, girls and others have been deeply disadvantaged and exploited by settler colonial relations. Indigenous and other equality seekers must therefore seek an intersectional approach to understand that ways that gender exploitation is inextricably connected to the ongoing practices and structures of settler colonialism.




Works Cited:

Lutz, J. S. (2008). Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal White Relations. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Veracini, L. (2011). Telling the End of the Settler Colonial Story. In F. Bateman & L. Pilkington (Eds.), Studies in Settler Colonialism: Politics, Identity and Culture (pp. 204–219). Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wolfe, P. (1999). Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Peotics of an Ethnographic Event. London: Cassell.

Further Recommended Reading:

Alfred, T. (2005). Wasase. Ontario: Broadview Press, Ltd.

Alfred, T., & Corntassel, J. (2005). Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism. Government and Opposition, 597–614.

Barker, A. J. (2009). The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperialism Settler Colonialism and the Hybrid Colonial State The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperialism. Library, 33(3), 325–351. doi:10.1353/aiq.0.0054

Coulthard, G. S. (2007). Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the “Politics of Recognition” in Canada. Contemporary Political Theory, 6(4), 437–460. doi:10.1057/palgrave.cpt.9300307

Indigenous Foundations at UBC. (2009). Indigenous Foundations- The Indian Act. First Nations Studies.

Johnston, A., & Lawson, A. (2000). Settler Colonies. In H. Schwarz & R. Sangeeta (Eds.), A Companion to Postcolonial Studies (pp. 360–376). Boston: Blackwell.

Lawrence, B. (2003). Gender , Race , and the Regulation Native Identity in Canada and the United States : An Overview. Hypatia, 18(2), 3–31.

Regan, P. Y. L. (2006). Unsettling the Settler Within: Canada’s peacemaker myth, reconciliation and transformative pathways to decolonization. University of Victoria.

Smith, A. (2007). Native American Feminism, Sovereignty and Social Change. In J. Green (Ed.), Making Space for Indigenous Feminism (pp. 93–107). Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.

Stasiulis, D., & Yuval-Davis, N. eds. (1995). Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender Race Ethnicity and Class. (D. Stasiulis & N. Yuval-Davis, Eds.). London: SAGE Publications.

Stoler, A. L. (2010). Archival Dis-Ease: Thinking through Colonial Ontologies. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 7(2), 215–219. doi:10.1080/14791421003775741

Tully, J. (2000a). The struggles of indigenous peoples for and of freedom. Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (pp. 36– 59). Cambridge Univ Press.

Tully, J. (2000b). Struggles over Recognition and Distribution. Main, 7(4).

Tully, J. (2008). On Law, Democracy and Imperialism. Public Philosophy in a New Key (pp. 127–165). Cambridge Univ Press.

Veracini, L. (2010). Settler Colonialism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9780230299191

Diane M. Kelly

Map of the Area for the October 1873 Treaty via Natural Resources Canada.

Map of the Area for the October 1873 Treaty via Natural Resources Canada.

Diane M. Kelly of the Ojibway Onigaming First Nation was the first woman ever elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of Treaty #3, which encompasses parts of northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. She served in the capacity of Grand Chief from 2008 to 2012. Kelly was also the first Anishinaabe woman from Treaty #3 to become a lawyer. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1995 and the Ontario Bar in 1998.

In 2012, Kelly ran for the position of national chief in the Assembly of First Nations leadership race. As she explained, “I’m running because I think we need a really strong voice on treaties. There’s so many First Nation communities that are impacted and our treaties are our strength and we need to get that voice out there.” (source:
Kelly advanced to the second round of balloting, after receiving 39 votes on the first ballot. In the second round, she tied with longstanding leader Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief and AFN Regional Chief for the Northwest Territories, at 34 votes. She withdrew after the second round and released her supporters to vote for their preferred candidate. In an interview after the election with the Kenora Daily Miner and News, Kelly indicated that she was surprised at the outcome.

“I felt I had heard a lot of talk about chiefs who are upset about the First Nations Crown meetings. They were upset that there wasn’t a strong treaty presence at the AFN and then when the first ballot came out, it was like, ‘wow.’ We’ve been hearing this buzz but it didn’t seem to show in the results,” she said. (via Kenora Daily Miner and News)

Further  Reading & Resources
Grand Council of Treaty #3.
Treaty Guide to Treaty #3 (1873).

Joan Jack

Map of Manitoba.

Map of Manitoba.

Joan Jack (Aanishinaabe Ikwe) of Berens River First Nation is a lawyer and specialist in Aboriginal and treaty rights. Jack was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1996 and worked as Lands and Resources director with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. She taught business and native studies at the Northern Lights College in Atlin, BC. In 2003, Jack returned to Manitoba and opened the Joan Jack Law Office. In January 2012, she was elected councilor in Berens River. She is leading a class action lawsuit seeking $15 billion in damages on behalf of “Indian day school” survivors.

During the Assembly of First Nations 2012 leadership race, Jack was one of four women in the running for national chief. She was known for her use of social media, commenting frequently on Twitter and Facebook. On July 12, in an interview with the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), she decried sexist comments and jokes made by rival male candidates and their supporters. She did not, however, describe the comments, nor did she identify the offending candidates.

Jack received 20 votes in the first ballot, placing her second to last ahead of George Stanley, which caused her to be dropped from the second ballot. She did not continue into further rounds nor officially throw her support to any other candidate, though she did indicate support for Atleo and critiqued Palmater’s campaign for attacking the incumbent.

Further Reading & Resources

Joan Jack Website.

Day School Class Action.

Methodist Indian Day Schools and Indian Communities in Northern Manitoba, 1890-1925.