Why the term ‘settler’ needs to stick

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.


Avatar Jack Plant

You are wrong Tsi. I suggest you read the treaties. ALL land belongs to the government, even the reservations. At least try to get your facts straight.

Avatar Tsi Nikayen' Enonhne'

I have read all the treaties and the many Supreme Court rulings that essentially prove the British lied and cheated in them, and most are not what they say. The SCoC also says that aAboriginal Title exists after treaties since First Nations never gave up their interest in the land – a prerequisite for a full surrender to have occured. But since the FN retained hunting, harvesting & travel rights, under the Royal Proclamation 1763m the land stays with FN. You might want to keep up with the law and Aboriginal jurisprudence.

Avatar Tsi Nikayen' Enonhne'

“ALL land belongs to the government” That is a nother of the many settler myths. The government (and that includes the British) never made a claim to land, nor did they seek a bona fide surrender before coming here. Under the Royal Proclamation 1763 ~everyone~ was prohibted from entering upon, using leasing or settling on Indian territory. If you go back to the Mitchell Map 1757 and the Jeffreys Map 1776 (composites) you’ll find that southern Ontario was all Six Nations territory, and the rest of the country Indian lands of various nations. Six Nations has never surrendered or treatied for any lands – ever.

Avatar Jack Plant

Wow,..must be that prejudiced education you have. You are wrong on all counts. You are being taught fantasy Good luck with that.

Avatar Tsi Nikayen' Enonhne'

Unfortunately for your insensitivity, you are still a ‘settler’. All land in Canada remains under “Aboriginal title’ – even te land you live on. You see the Crown made treaty (and in many cases did not) to share land. If you are in a treaty area then the Crown borrowed the land so you can settle. If you are in a non-treaty area then you are living on land illegally in which case you might be called a squatter or occupier. In any case your deed is nothing more than a use permit issued by the Crown that allows you to use the land. Underlying all that First Nations still hold complete title.

Avatar Olive Hawk

Speaking from Australia, where the situation is similarly horrific (except we don’t even have any kind of treaty), some allies are disturbed by the term ‘settler’ for a different reason: It is a fairly benign term that doesn’t acknowledge the violence of invasion and continued colonisation, dispossession and genocide.

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