Decolonization was the first issue addressed at the first annual Indigenous Resurgence Week.
The week started on March 21 with Oil in Eden: The Battle to Protect Canada’s Pacific Coast, a short documentary by filmmaker Damien Gillis, being shown in the First Peoples House Ceremonial Hal, followed by an “Ask a Settler” speaker panel in Clearihue.
The video connected the dots between tar-sands oil, the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project and oil supertankers that would ship tar-sands oil to international markets. Gillis highlighted Pacific first nations that are unified in opposition against the Enbridge Pipeline and the coastal ecosystems that are at stake.
The UVic Native Students Union (NSU) welcomed indigenous people and settlers into the First Peoples House for a Food-Not-Bombs catered feast, the screening and a blessing shared by Mary Vickers, a First Nations woman from the northern coastal area that would be most affected by oil tankers.
Afterwards Indigenous Governance (IGOV) student Adam Gaudry politely solicited audience members who identified as First Nations to direct themselves to the Indigenous Grassroots Community Organizing panel, while those who identified as settlers were asked to go to the Ask a Settler Panel on decolonization.
A humble sense of propriety and respect is requested with regards to the First Peoples House, from both settler and First Nations people. This was exercised on March 21 by having settler people move to Clearihue building for the panel.
The panel provided a safe space where people were encouraged to ask uncomfortable and unsettling questions about the nature of cultural oppression, first nations-settler relations and the continued colonization and occupation of Indigenous people and cultures in the territory we now call Canada.
“In 2001 you would have been hard-pressed to get this many settler people in a room to talk about decolonizing,” said Angela Polifroni, IGOV Program Manager and facilitator of the group discussion.
“As settlers we’re all very different; we come from different backgrounds. But I hope we can find a way to move across those differences . . . to figure out how it is that we can work to decolonize these lands.”
Other panelists included Dr. Michael Asch from UVic’s department of anthropology, IGOV student and community organizer Kelsey Lavoie and Chris Johnson, an active concerned community member.
“I think decolonization starts from the inside and spirals out,” explained Johnson. “It starts with deconstructing what is in here, and then we can think about action.”
Between 30 and 40 settler-identified people attended the panel — though there were local First Nations people present as well — and had a wide range of perspectives sharing feelings and questions about a subject matter that is often difficult to traverse.
“I’ve been colonized and it ends with me,” said Lavoie, referring to the historical context of her Euro-Irish-Gaelic decent.
“I really go to painful places because that is where we can find strength.”
One audience member said “the legitimacy of the crown in British Columbia is based in an illegal fiction . . . For me there is two ways to go. You have a revolution because we don’t like the politics, or we change the politics.”
Asch reiterated that sentiment.
“What they offered us was an opportunity to settle on these lands, not to gain jurisdiction over these lands . . . we need to figure out how to honour treaty agreements,” he said.
“There is this legal fiction, and it is very powerful. So don’t think of it as fiction. Think of it as medicine. It’s medicine that allows you to comfortably pretend these people weren’t here before us.”
Asch emphasized the importance of having conversations like the Ask A Settler panel.
“The agents of the state will do anything to cover the exposure that shows illegitimacy of the state’s existence. We have to be thankful that we’re here. And continue to show that exposure,” he said. “What I’ve been able to hold on to is that we have fought People like Davy Crockett fought. People like you have fought. You’re not alone in thinking about this.”