Why the term ‘settler’ needs to stick

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This semester, I’ve heard at least one person express their love for this land and their discomfort with the term “settler.” This individual did not see how the term applied to their situation and found it divisive and hurtful. They chalked up conflicts within indigenous-settler solidarity efforts to simple differences in cultures and worldviews.

The latter statement is fundamentally connected to the speaker’s discomfort with the term “settler.”

Simplifying these conflicts ignores and hides the ongoing colonial power dynamics that shape indigenous-settler relationships. This logic frames colonialism as historic, rather than an ongoing structure.

This is why the term “settler” is used: to denaturalize our — that is, all non-indigenous peoples’ — status on this land, to force colonialism into the forefront of our consciousness, to cause discomfort and force a reckoning with our inherited colonial status, to create the understanding and desire to embrace, demand and effect change.

“Settler” is a political and relational term describing our contemporary relationship to colonialism. It is not a racial signifier. Rather, it is a non-homogenous, spatial term signifying the fact that colonial settlement has never ceased. Colonial settlement is ongoing and it will remain so as long as we continue our implicit consent by remaining willfully oblivious to, or worse, actively and consciously defending, colonial power relations.

Dispossession, disconnection and destruction is the story of Canada. But it doesn’t have to be our future.

If we don’t acknowledge and understand our settler status, how will we work together, in solidarity and in practice, for a better future?

Of course, being called a settler or self-identifying as a settler doesn’t mean we understand this relationship — perhaps we never will fully understand the extent of it. Nor is it an end in itself. Unsettling is a longer and larger-than-life process involving the emotional, psychological and mental, but more importantly, the material.

We have inherited “settler” status because the structures of colonial domination remain to benefit us, whether you are first or eleventh generation on these lands (though these benefits flow unequally amongst us). Understanding this is the first step in creating new relationships based on peace and mutual respect — the first move towards producing the conditions for solidarity.

But this is only the first step.

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