The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, recently made a throne speech, in which he spoke of the settlers who founded the country: “They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers … reached a vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”
This genocidal logic finds its companion image in the photos released last week, of 700 heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in a stand-off in New Brunswick with the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation and their allies, who are currently defending their lands from the predatory activities of a Houston-based company conducting shale gas explorations. Over the past days, peaceful protesters have been pepper-sprayed, shot at with rubber bullets, and more than 40 people have been arrested.
Earlier this month, a group of First Nations elders travelled to London to mark the 250th anniversary of the royal proclamation of 1763. They did so, in part, as a reminder of the existence of promises made by the British crown to the First Nations of Canada. Issued by King George III at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, the proclamation recognised that all unceded lands of Indians would be left as such until they were ceded by way of treaty with the British crown. The document thus recognised indigenous rights to their land and, at the same time, asserted the underlying crown title to all of Britain’s colonial possessions in what was to become Canada. The proclamation emerged at a time when the British crown and First Nations were negotiating treaties on a nation-to-nation basis. And in this paradox lies the heart of settler colonialism today: the recognition of indigenous rights on the basis of their prior occupation of the land, now enshrined in section 35 of the Canadian constitution, along with the ongoing assertion of colonial sovereignty. Continue reading