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Why the Hell is Columbus Day still being celebrated? Settler Colonialism and ongoing Indigenous Resistance – Part II

October 10, 2022

“And the Biden administration is just sitting by and watching it happen. I mean, I’m watching river after river get frac-outs on them in northern Minnesota. These are pristine river systems. You know, I’m watching things get destroyed as Enbridge ravages through our country. And then I’m watching hundreds of people get arrested trying to protect our water and to stop the climate disaster that Enbridge’s Line 3 represents.”

Winona LaDuke on Democracy Now 7/23/2021

In Part I we looked a bit at the historical legacy of Settler Colonialism, particularly in West Michigan. In Part II, we will explore issues around contemporary Settler Colonialism, specifically oil pipelines, Climate Justice, the disappearance & murder of Indigenous women/girls, and the brutal legacy of so-called Boarding Schools.

Confronting the Black Snake

The real resistance to all the fossil fuel pipelines (what Native people refer to as the Black Snake) that are happening in North America, is being led by Indigenous communities and organizers. What we saw at Standing Rock, what we are seeing by the Wet’suwet’en Nation territory, and the Indigenous-led resistance to Enbridge pipelines in Minnesota (Line 3) and Michigan (Line 5) are the result of people having a direct relationship with the land that is being threatened by extractivist practices and multinational corporations. 

For those of us who are white, we need to 1) follow the lead of Indigenous communities when it comes to pipeline projects that directly impact their ancestral lands, and 2) we need to fully support – with financial contributions, with education/awareness, and by participating in direct action campaigns – to shut down any and all fossil fuel pipeline projects.

In a recent report entitled, Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon, it states:

Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. 

This is the meaningful and concrete types of resistance that we need to support, because it actually is making a difference. For white people, we need to stop wasting our time appealing to politicians and to support Indigenous-led campaigns opposing pipelines.

As we said early, much of this resistance has to do with Indigenous peoples relationship to the land. This gets back to our Part I posting, which talks about Settler Colonialism.

What Indigenous people are saying and writing about, is one simple fact. Decolonization of Indigenous lands is essential to the future of humanity. The authors of the book, The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth, make it clear that decolonization of Indigenous lands is a major part of future of Climate Justice. If white people are serious about fighting for Climate Justice, then we have to see that decolonization of Indigenous lands is absolutely necessary in that fight. And it must be stated that the current New Green Deal proposal does NOT include the decolonization of Indigenous land. As white people, we need to demand the decolonization of Indigenous land if we are serious about Climate Justice. See the GRIID interview with Joe Cadreau, a local Indigenous activist who was part of the resistance to Line 3.

Another major issue that plagues Indigenous people in this hemisphere, is the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women & girls. The U.S Department of Justice found that American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. These are alarming numbers, but Indigenous people are not content with leaving the data up to Settler Colonial entities like the DOJ. In fact, the group Data for Indigenous Justice states:

Our most important value is to do this work in a good way with and for our community. Our goal is to be self-determined and have sovereignty over our MMIWGS2 data in order to inform research, policy and systemic change at local, state, and federal levels and in solidarity with all Indigenous peoples. We are doing what we know is needed to strategically create change. Decolonizing data is having sovereignty over our own data. We are utilizing our data as a resource for true systemic change led by Indigenous people. We seek justice on every front.

It is instructive to note that one significant aspect of the assault and murder of Indigenous women/girls, is the relationship between fossil fuel pipeline workers and the violence against Indigenous women. An article in The Guardian from this past June states:

“Before Minnesota approved the pipeline, violence prevention advocates warned state officials of the proven link between employees working in extractive industries and increased sexual violence. Now their warnings have come true: two Line 3 contract workers were charged in a sex-trafficking sting, and crisis centers told the Guardian they are responding to reports of harassment and assault by Line 3 workers. Johnson said VIP, a crisis center for survivors of violence, has received more than 40 reports about Line 3 workers harassing and assaulting women and girls who live in north-western Minnesota.” 

The Indigenous-led resistance to Line 3 in Minnesota had documented this fact a few months before The Guardian, even including an Enbridge document that demonstrates the Canadian Corporation’s anticipation in pipeline workers assaulting Indigenous women, stating:

The assaults and reports of harassment were described in a request for reimbursement from Enbridge’s public safety fund, submitted last month by the anti-violence and anti-human trafficking nonprofit Violence Intervention Project. State permits for pipeline construction stipulated that Enbridge had to create the fund to cover some law enforcement costs and anti-human trafficking efforts associated with the project.

Just as corporations consider environmental degradation a form of collateral damage, the brutalization of Indigenous women is anticipated and expected while corporations engage in “resource extraction.”

For those of us who are white, we need to condemn the relationship to extractivism and the brutalization of Indigenous women/girls, then support whatever demands the Indigenous community has around this issue.

Boarding Schools as Genocide

When people think of genocide, they often think it means the outright slaughter of a group of people. While this does constitute genocide, there are numerous other things that can result in genocide. According to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The history of so-called Boarding Schools in the US and Canada was fundamentally about forcibly transferring Indigenous children to government run or christian schools. In other words, it was a form of genocide.

Governments and Christian churches are now scrambling in the face of newly uncovered evidence of the common practice of murdering Indigenous children while attending so-called Boarding Schools. In the fact of this, the Indigenous community is exposing and pressuring these institutions for the role or their complicity in such crimes, as was highlighted in the action that the local Indigenous community organized in 2021 to confront the role of the Catholic Church in Grand Rapids.

Unfortunately, the Missing & Murdered Indigenous People rally that was held in Grand Rapids in 2022, was less confrontational and even featured a Grand Rapids City Commissioner at their event. See our interview with two Indigenous activists responding to that event.

So what do White people do in this case? Again, we need to follow the lead of Indigenous communities and provide whatever support they are asking of us. In addition, we need to be challenging Christian Churches to come clean with their role in the history of so-called Boarding Schools, allow Indigenous people access to documentation and spaces where so-called Boarding Schools existed, pay reparations and put an end to any ongoing Christian-run schools for Indigenous children.

Lastly, if those of us who are White, are going to engage in this kind of work, then it is important for us to always grapple with our own privilege. An excellent resource for White people to read on this theme, is an Indigenous-created zine entitled, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex. This resource should be required reading, along with the fact that we, as White people, should always center the voices of Indigenous people and follow their lead when it comes to matters of doing anti-Settler Colonialism work. 

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