The trauma caused by colonization is intergenerational

Indigenous people who are fighting addiction. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Residential schools. When we see red dresses hanging in trees along the highway or hashtags that say “LAND BACK”, it’s all rooted in the cultural oppression First Nations have endured since first contact with white settlers.

Indigenous sovereignty begins with learning about whose land you are on. It’s about putting children in the middle of the circle. It’s about supporting Indigenous businesses, reading Indigenous authors and listening to stories, no matter how awkward and heart-wrenching they may be.

Colonialism then

Colonization happened all over the world, and in Canada, it has a long and violent history that many are only just waking up to. In simplest terms, the practice of colonialism occurred when European settlers assumed control of Indigenous lands and forced Indigenous communities to assimilate to settler culture, laws and religion.

Canada’s darkest colonial legacy is the Indian residential school system, which ran for nearly 100 years with the last one closing in 1997. Funded by the Canadian government, residential schools were run by Christian churches as a means to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society by forcing them to learn English and practice settler Canadian culture. An estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their homes.

Many children died while attending residential schools from malnutrition, abuse and disease. We may never know the exact number of deaths because of the schools’ poor burial records, and the trauma caused from these colonial institutions have had an impact on multiple generations of Indigenous peoples.

Other examples of colonization that took place in Canada were the smallpox epidemic that wiped out thousands of Indigenous people when a vaccine was available; as well as the near-extinction of species like the prairie buffalo, which forced Plains Indigenous peoples to give up their way of life and sign treaties with white settlers.

Colonialism now

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is Canadian genocide. In a 14-year period from 2001 to 2015, Statistics Canada reported the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly six times higher than that of non-indigenous women. Some databases say the number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is around 1,000, but others say it could be as high at 4,000 over the past 30 years.

Let’s be blunt: if white women were being stolen and killed at this rate, it would be a national uproar.

Canada’s economy is largely founded on resource extraction from land taken from First Nations Peoples. Colonial government bureaucracy dictates the terms of the land use with tenures and licences often forcing bands to cede their land and sign treaties.

Canadians are slowly waking up to the environmental injustice imposed by the government of Canada. Movements like the ongoing Fairy Creek logging blockades in Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territory on Vancouver Island and the many land defenders who stood in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen who opposed a pipeline going through their territory show there is growing collective desire to acknowledge and honour Indigenous sovereignty.

How do we decolonize the fabric of society?

In a 2019 TedX talk called ‘Decolonization is for Everyone’, Indigenous educator Nikki Sanchez eloquently describes what it will take to unravel the fabric of Canada’s colonial past and present.

“This history is not your fault. But it absolute is your responsibility. What happened, what has been done, is not your fault. But where we find ourselves here together, whether we are Indigenous, whether we are settler people, whether we are someone in between, this is work we need to pick up. We need to have the courage to look at our past, we need to have the courage to look at where we are now, and we need to work together to figure out how we can collectively heal moving forward,” she says.

The work of decolonization, notes Sanchez, starts with learning and acknowledging the Indigenous lands you live on and what has been done to them in order for you to reside on their lands.

“Find out how you benefit from that history and activate one strategy where you can use your privilege to dismantle that. And share this knowledge,” says Sanchez.

Decolonization and environmentalism

One of the recurring themes in Canada’s colonial history is resource extraction and pollution. In a 2019 article penned by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and two other colleagues, a direct link was made between the climate crisis and colonialism.

“The climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice and of political will. Colonial, racist and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fuelled it. We need to dismantle them all. Our political leaders can no longer shirk their responsibilities,” reads the article entitled ‘Why We Strike Again’.

A fresh narrative is emerging in Tofino, B.C. as a result of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations Tribal Parks Allies program, which was founded in 2018. Local businesses educate guests about the traditional lands on which they operate in addition to making a donation to the program. In turn, Tribal Park Guardians protect, maintain and restore the ancient rainforest and salmon streams that surround the municipality of Tofino.

Indigenous culture is largely based on the laws of nature.

"The canopy was our church before the white man came here, that's where our people went to pray,” says Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Randy Frank in the video ‘For Our Grandchildren’.

Putting value on trees standing and rebuilding salmon streams is all part of Tla-o-qui-aht’s land use plan, and when local businesses support Tribal Parks they are protecting the land, the drinking water and the trees for their children’s children’s children.

The decolonization of our colonial government and giving land back to Indigenous peoples who hope to protect and restore it is one big step closer to saving the planet.

Want to do better?

  • Find out whose land you’re on and use your skills to uplift your Indigenous community.
  • Hold your local, provincial and federal government accountable for dismantling the colonial economic process by writing a letter.
  • Share, like and show your solidarity towards Indigenous land defenders on the frontlines.