In Defence of Indigenous Space: Problems of braided unity in theory and practice

The Volcano is publishing a series of excerpts from documents prepared for Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism‘s 2021 Winter Assembly, where we reflected on our successes and failures in 2020 and articulated visions and strategies for the coming year. Among the strategy documents, there are a number of theoretical pieces that expand on Red Braid’s vision of multiplicity. Find them all here.

Anti-colonialism: Defending Indigenous space

Colonialism can be fought by both Indigenous and non-Native fighters alike. The difficult part is defining what colonialism is. Colonialism is a multifaceted and mostly violent power over Indigenous nations. Colonialism is the foundation which capitalism and imperialism is built upon. Colonialism is active in every aspect and structure of power over Indigenous bodies and nations. 

In homeless communities, because the fight is often for survival, it is easy to unknowingly knit together Indigenous struggle within a non-Native class-only framework. But on top of struggles against poverty, which Indigenous and non-Native low-income people share, homeless and low-income Indigenous people face the added violence of colonialism and imperialism.

Tent cities that Red Braid helped found in 2016, Anita Place and Sugar Mountain, were the easiest for me to access and, as an Indigenous organizer, to “make” space organically by the mere presence of my Indigenous body. I formed relationships of trust almost immediately with people who shared their lived narratives of being ostracized, and the violent treatment and denial of medical treatment they have experienced. Unfortunately I was not at the level of organizational maturity as an Indigenous sovereignty fighter so I was not able to politicize these narratives and basebuild the way I am able to today. 

The biggest lesson from many missed opportunities is that we must intentionally make and fight for Indigenous-only space.

The biggest lesson from many missed opportunities is that we must intentionally make and fight for Indigenous-only space. This is especially true in low-income communities of Indigenous street kin, which we call our social base communities. Indigenous councils and talking circles are a very clear and intentional strategy for the politics of ensuring Indigenous sovereignty fights do not get erased from mixed community struggles.

The Indigenous Leadership Council is an explicitly Indigenous space in all respects. It is Indigenous space in physicality by protecting gatherings as Indigenous-only. It is Indigenous space in theory by centring Indigenous politics as our concern. Spiritually, it is space to gather Indigenous collective voices and lived narratives. When ceremony is being exercised, it is sacred space. This space of sovereignty and political framing, development of political position and articulation is by Indigenous people only.

Outside of internal organizational space, anti-colonial work can be taken on by non-Native organizers, for example, by defending Indigenous homes from eviction and fighting against colonial powers of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). However, for this work to be anti-colonial and not flatten Indigenous people into the majority non-Native low-income community in these struggles against evictions and the MCFD, the decolonial framing, political articulation, and self-activity needs to be done by Indigenous sovereignty fighters. Non-Native organizers and supporters can fight colonialism by defending Indigenous space. And Indigenous struggle in Indigenous space is decolonial work.

I will explain the interaction between anti-colonial and decolonial action by defining two structural powers that illustrate and articulate how colonialism is an ever present and violent oppression: defending and fighting for Indigenous homes on stolen land, and fighting against Ministry of Child and Family Development attacks on Indigenous families.

Defending and fighting for Indigenous homes: Anti-colonial work, example one

Homelessness is a form of colonialism that encompasses the entirety of the Indigenous body through stolen land. A home physically protects Indigenous bodies from violence and death at the hands of the elements, white supremacists, from becoming a missing and murdered Indigenous woman, from child apprehension, and cops. 

The home is a safe place to heal, nourish families, and keep Indigenous kin patterns alive and active, and it is one part of sovereignty for Indigenous people. Dividing up and breaking kin patterns from the home, coercing colonial nuclear family paradigms through residential schools, and trying to encode individualism of capitalism are all by design for the colonial project. Since Indigenous kinship patterns and connection to the land and ancestors are expressed in the Indigenous home pre-colonization, it is no accident that nuclear family homes and homelessness were imposed on Indigenous peoples as part of colonialism.

Beyond land theft, landlords that rent to Indigenous people are yet another expression of colonial power. Colonial laws that protect private property support individual land ownership that capitalizes and expands resource extraction into real estate and gentrification economies. These colonial laws are enforceable by by-law, police, courts, and the land owners themselves. Indigenous lives are further displaced by eviction and lives are violently lost.

Low-income Indigenous people whose survival and lives depend on housing, who reside in supportive housing, temporary modular housing, shelters, and safe houses, also survive the surveillance and criminalization of their bodies. Since about half of all Indigenous people do not live in their territories, and about half of all homeless people are Indigenous, homelessness is a direct and continued process of colonization and theft of land. The dividing-up of kinship patterns furthers the breaking-up of Indigenous nations. 

Fighting for permanent non-market housing can therefore be an anti-colonial fight…

Therefore, in tent cities Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents unify in resistance against three threats, some of them specific to Indigenous people and some of them shared with non-Indigenous low-income people: one, against private property; two, against homelessness as a form of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples on stolen land; and three, a collective struggle for survival against dying alone.

Fighting for permanent non-market housing can therefore be an anti-colonial fight where both working class non-Natives and Indigenous sovereignty fighters unify our survival struggles as one fight. Non-Native organizers can defend Indigenous homes, which, under Indigenous leadership and political framing, is an anti-colonial fight. From fighting against evictions to fighting for non-market housing for Indigenous people and working class people, non-Native home defenders can fight this specific form of colonialism. 

Abolish Ministry of Child and Family Development: Anti-colonial work, example two

Child apprehension is a tool of colonialism that breaks up Indigenous kinship patterns and Indigenous nations. Severing children from their Indigenous families also severs them from their Indigenous connection through their family, communities, nations of shared ancestry, land, and identity. Colonialism first came for the land through genocide, and when the erasure project failed then colonialism came for Indigenous identity with another highly strategic power that operates along with land theft to break up kinship patterns, community, and nationhood. Child apprehension is the continuation of colonialism, as it tries to destroy Indigenous people for capitalism and imperialism.

Indigenous children that have been apprehended into foster homes and who have lost connections to their Indigenous family are pushed to either assimilate into individualistic, capitalist paradigms and lose their identity, or become homeless when they age out of eligibility for foster housing. Of course simply disappearing into individualistic society as a Canadian citizen displaced from kinship can be as violent as homelessness. Both homelessness and assimilation are violent results of the continued erasure project. Even if the children are sheltered and clothed in safe foster homes, aging out at the young age of eighteen, without kinship patterns where sacred knowledge is passed down, is an all-encompassing oppression for a once-sovereign person. 

When children are apprehended from Indigenous families because of intergenerational results of colonialism like residential school, it is often because the parent does not receive tangible support from the systems that harmed them. Foster parents receive financial stipends that are more than the parent receives if they are on welfare. Instead of redistributing this money back to the Indigenous parent, the foster system gives money to the foster guardians of apprehended children. Other service providers receive funding to “support” the Indigenous children and youth. But the actual parent, kin, and children apprehended do not receive the same material support or tangible resources to keep the Indigenous child at home. 

Fighting for Indigenous homes is an anti-colonial fight to keep Indigenous families and kin together.

Colonialism cannot be reformed out of the Ministry by hiring Indigenous social workers. There are Indigenous social workers who become the actors of the colonial state. Removal of a child or children by Indigenous social workers is when assimilation is on its way to being complete. The Indigenous people who act on behalf of the state also benefit financially. They become the Indigenous middle and regulatory class by apprehending the children of low-income Indigenous subaltern people. Apprehension from our own people brings this colonial act into a whole sharpened structure of power.

Abolishing the apprehension of Indigenous children is an anti-colonial fight where Indigenous sovereignty fighters and non-Indigenous liberty fighters can unify. Standing with Indigenous parents who are fighting to have their children returned to their Indigenous home is an anti-colonial fight. Fighting for Indigenous homes is an anti-colonial fight to keep Indigenous families and kin together. Fighting for higher wages and higher welfare wages is an anti-colonial fight for resources for the self-activity of healing, which is also decolonizing work. When an Indigenous child is returned home it is a moment of decolonization, where healing can begin for Indigenous generations to come.

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