Indigenous Erasure: Past and Present
When we talk about racism against Indigenous people, we have to think beyond racism as seeing and treating people differently…because sometimes racism includes not seeing people at all.
Indigenous erasure in Canada is a form of racism that asks us to overlook, suppress or ignore the reality and experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples’ historical presence on the land is overlooked because colonial cartographers created new maps, renamed locations and declared the land “empty” on arrival.
Throughout history, Indigenous cultures have been suppressed through both formal laws and informal cultural restrictions and norms. This suppression also continues today with a persistent lack of honest, humanizing representation of Indigenous people in mainstream media.
Our education systems often downplay the impact of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous children were taken from their homes by government institutions and placed in white families, usually with little to no connection to their birth communities or culture. And even as the long-term effects of these events continue to contribute to higher foster care and incarceration rates for Indigenous populations, our legal systems sidestep Indigenous rights to self-governance, making it harder for Indigenous communities to reclaim power and heal.
But even as Indigenous erasure is ongoing – so is Indigenous resistance.
The fight for truth and reconciliation is a call to reject attempts to forget the past, and to embrace the possibility of a future where Indigenous Peoples are recognized and respected as people who matter and belong. And it’s a call we each have the responsibility to answer.
Canadian Allyship: How to Stay Engaged
Truth and reconciliation starts with education, but many Canadians are unfamiliar with contemporary Indigenous issues—often because our cultural systems rarely expose us to the reality of Indigenous discrimination. And sometimes, we (consciously or unconsciously) close ourselves off from new perspectives because we don’t want to think of ourselves as “bad”.
Learning about Indigenous issues means diving into the past and present of colonialism, genocide, residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit, the deprivation of clean water and the ongoing seizure of land. And when conversations start to name Canadians as settlers and highlight how we contribute to systems of oppression, it can bring up feelings of guilt or defensiveness that limit our capacity to stay engaged.
All nations are built on stories. And settler colonial societies like Canada tell stories that encourage us to forget the more painful parts of our origin story. Allyship looks like actively making the effort to remember – even when it’s hard.
As we engage with Indigenous issues, remember that it’s normal to feel affected by the struggle of others where we see and care for them. This isn’t a sign to step away when things feel scary—instead, it might be a reminder to learn to stay open and vulnerable with difficult material.
Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel vulnerable. Take time to process and unpack big feelings and engage in practices that allow you to care for yourself so you feel empowered to continue to care for others.
Indigenous Resistance: Present and Future
Sometimes the stories we tell (or don’t tell) about Indigenous Peoples erase not just their struggle – but also their resistance. Indigenous resistance is about reclaiming land, language and cultural practices that have been (and are still being) stolen or suppressed. The Land Back movement is about acknowledging treaties by returning Crown Lands to Indigenous Peoples, while honouring the rights of Indigenous Peoples to determine their own futures outside of a colonial context.
Today, Indigenous resistance looks like reclaiming our understanding of the land, with groups like The Indigenous Mapping Collective using cartography skills to reclaim lost knowledge and prevent further disasters like the flood in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. Resistance looks like land defenders fighting for the environment and refusing to cede stolen lands, like the members of Six Nations of the Grand River at 1492 Land Back Lane. Resistance looks like The Settler Colonial City Project coming together to investigate the history of Turtle Island.
And resistance also looks like embracing joy and healing through dance and music that allow Indigenous Peoples to come together to learn, find community and reclaim their land and cultures.
The movement to find truth and reconciliation is Indigenous-led, but all of us have a part in creating an equitable future for all. If you want to learn more about Indigenous resistance but aren’t sure where to start, here are some resources to guide your research:
- Reports from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
- What is Land Back?
- The Settler Colonial City Project
- The Indigenous Mapping Collective
- How the Canadian Justice System Works Against Indigenous Peoples
- How Singing, Drumming and Dancing Help Bolster Resistance Movements
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