Thunder Bay Settlers in Solidarity, Part 2

Settlers in Thunder Bay have a very important role to play in challenging settler colonialism and racism in this city.  The nature of settler colonialism is to reassert itself in the form of backlash once challenged.  While Indigenous peoples speak for themselves and challenge settler colonialism on their own terms, settlers in solidarity can challenge it without the same kind of backlash.  So while Indigenous peoples may experience more physical violence than settlers when challenging settler colonialism on their own, there will be less physical violence directed at Anishinaabeg when settlers join in the work of directly challenging colonialism.  But so far, it has largely been Anishinaabeg who have been doing the work in this city.  That needs to change.

Judging by the responses I’ve been getting from settlers since my interview with CBC Superior Morning, there is indeed a willingness to establish an outspoken Thunder Bay solidarity group to support Anishinaabeg in challenging settler colonialism.  So, I wanted to share some ideas at the outset, should you folks decide to get together and take some of the weight off of Anishinaabeg in fighting the backlash so clearly evidenced under the #RelaxTamara Twitter hashtag.

What follows is a list of do’s and don’t’s that might help you set up a group in solidarity with Anishinaabeg resisting settler colonialism.  This list is by no means exhaustive, and by no means do I claim to be an expert on the issue.  I am, however receiving emails and direct messages from those wondering how to go about doing decolonization, so I thought I’d put you all in touch with some info in hand.  Here we go:

  1. Anishinaabeg speak for themselves.  The role of settlers in solidarity is to support Indigenous peoples, not speak for them. Again, this is not a racialized issue, as many non-Indigenous individuals have been taken in by Indigenous nations.  If you have not been taken in, don’t speak for Anishinaabeg.  Speak for yourselves as settlers working to undo settler colonialism.  Harsha Walia’s work, as well as Nora Burke’s piece may help you figure out the boundaries and responsibilities.
  2. De-center the state.  As mentioned in Part 1, trying to address settler colonialism by operating within the state’s “permitted” discourses will only lead to defanging your work.  The state rewards those who take the path of least resistance.  The work of dismantling settler colonialism is inherently related to dismantling the settler state because the Canadian state, as it is constructed today, is built on and perpetuates settler colonialism.  This does not mean that the goal is to destroy “Canada,” but rather to decolonize it.  De-centering the state in your work means entering into a direct relationship with Anishinaabe sovereignty.  On this point, Nora Burke’s words are salient: “A decolonisation movement cannot be comprised solely of solidarity and support for Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self-determination. If we are in support of self-determination, we too need to be self-determining. It is time to cut the state out of this relationship, and to replace it with a new relationship, one which is mutually negotiated, and premised on a core respect for autonomy and freedom.”  Michele Carey has said something similar in her dissertation based in Australia.
  3. Be ready to feel uncomfortable.  Your project is a matter of unsettling the settler within (see here).  If you’ve grown up comfortably in this settler society, you’ve probably gotten used to not having your ethnicity put on the table, or the ways in which you benefit from the historical genocide of Indigenous peoples questioned.  If you shut down discussions simply because you’re feeling uncomfortable about how you’re complicit with settler colonialism, you’re making it about you; you’re foreclosing the chance to decolonize; you’re making it “safe” for colonialism again.  Leonardo and Porter’s article is helpful in wrapping your head around feeling uncomfortable.
  4. Don’t make Anishinaabeg do the work for you.  It is totally unfair to rely on Anishinaabeg to tell you how to decolonize.  They are burdened enough with survival, restrengthening their intellectual, political and legal traditions in the face of intergenerational effects of colonial violence, and facing daily the reality of being marked for extermination.  Solidarity work is not about voyeurism.  This doesn’t mean Anishinaabeg can’t or shouldn’t remind you of basic facts like treaty responsibilities and Indigenous sovereignty.  But you need to get together with other settlers, do the research, and solve your own internal dynamics so that you can get to the front line with us when we need you most.
  5. Don’t “bliss out.”  Many Indigenous individuals are colonized, too, and will do/say things that don’t challenge settler colonialism.  This is indicative of a “colonial mentality”: the colonized may actually come to protect the colonial order.  Therefore, be critical.  Like any other human beings, Anishinaabeg can sell-out.  Work with Anishinaabeg that you feel have a handle on settler colonialism, whether they use that language or not.  Don’t let your energies be used by those who want to keep Thunder Bay safe for the status quo.
  6. Examine and undermine “complicity,” rather than “privilege.”  I really can’t describe this any clearer than Beenash Jafri, so just “Pass Go” and read her work directly.
  7. Contact other Settlers in Solidarity groups.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  These groups exist in one form or another in Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, and other locales.  Make those connections to learn from their successes and failures.  Google is like a singles bar for this stuff.
  8. Don’t start a Facebook group. As Jill Luke writes, “Liking, posting and commenting makes you feel like you’re doing something without actually making any difference whatsoever.”  What’s more, in Thunder Bay, making solidarity work a matter of a Facebook group will only drain your energies in trying to convince haters that racism even exists.  And while there is nothing wrong in using social media to communicate, educate and plan, settler solidarity work needs to be embodied.  Get together in person as much as possible.

There will be other issues for you to consider as well.  Being an ally is anything but easy work.  But that does not mean the work shouldn’t be done.  Tell each other the things you’ve been telling me over the past 48 hours.  You have a lot of potential to change the conversation in Thunder Bay.

Return to Part 1.


I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Jana-Rae Yerxa, for her rigourous critique on earlier drafts of this piece.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s