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The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperialism: Settler Colonialism and the Hybrid Colonial State
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The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperialism
Settler Colonialism and the Hybrid Colonial State

Introduction: Colonial Canada

My fundamental contention is this: Canadian society remains driven by the logic of imperialism and engages in concerted colonial action against Indigenous peoples whose claims to land and self-determination continue to undermine the legitimacy of Canadian authority and hegemony. While concepts such as colonialism or imperialism tend to conjure up dated images and notions of pre-twentieth-century European adventurism, the imperial reality of contemporary Canada is quite different. In order to understand how colonialism as an ideology that generates power for imperial elites is expressed in Canada, it is necessary to understand two key points: first, the nature of contemporary imperialism and the role Canada plays in an imperial system that extends geographically beyond borders and internally into individual lives; second, the nature of Canadian society as a Settler society and the channels that are created for colonial force through the Settler identity of the majority population of the Canadian state. I assert that colonialism as it is carried out internally in the Canadian state follows some aspects of established frameworks of contemporary imperialism but that understanding the unique identity of Settler peoples and assessing the power dynamics in the Canadian state are required for an accurate and useful model of Canadian colonialism. These two concepts allow for a discussion of the Canadian “society of control,” which pits Settler and Indigenous peoples against each other and Indigenous societies against themselves and benefits government and corporate elites at the expense of individual and collective autonomy. [End Page 325]

Of critical importance is the role of the Canadian Settler population in Canada’s contemporary colonialism. As Albert Memmi notes in his analysis of colonialism in the African context, all of those who come to a colony intending to benefit from the spoils of colonial domination are colonials, implying not just a geographical or political situation but a particular set of ethics, motivations, fears, and desires and a pervasive colonial mentality:

It is impossible for [the colonizer] not to be aware of the constant illegitimacy of his status. . . . A foreigner, having come to a land by the accidents of history, he has succeeded not merely in creating a place for himself but also in taking away that of the inhabitant, granting himself astounding privileges to the detriment of those rightfully entitled to them. . . . He is a privileged being and an illegitimately privileged one; that is, a usurper. Furthermore, this is so, not only in the eyes of the colonized, but in his own as well.1

Frantz Fanon, too, made a study of the psychology of the colonizer and how that psychology is replicated.2 While the work of Fanon and Memmi speaks specifically to the colonization of Africa, Canada as a colonial state can and should be examined through similar critical lenses.

Indigenous and Settler Peoples

Collectively, the efforts to expand imperial power will be summed up in this inquiry under the banner of colonialism; contemporary colonialism does not necessarily involve the establishment of physical colonies, forced military suppression of peoples, slave labor, and other classic characteristics of colonialism, though these elements persist. In the present the efforts of colonialism are usually directed at winning over the hearts and minds of peoples who have previously been geographically enveloped by imperial forces. James Tully notes that imperial powers constantly change forms, experiment with different expressions, conglomerate or divide, and probe Indigenous resistance for signs of weaknesses that can be exploited. 3 As Indigenous peoples have proven resistant to being physically or legislatively extinguished, in order to secure the territory of Canada for further imperial imposition Indigenous peoples are now assaulted on social, cultural, and intellectual levels. In Canada’s case Indigenous peoples have already experienced the direct physical aspects of colonization, [End Page 326] even if only in the sense that they have been disempowered within a state, which relies upon the monopolization of territory and force for legitimacy. They have also experienced mental and emotional colonization in residential schools, government programs such as enfranchisement, and the false images portrayed by educational systems and mass media and embedded in racist attitudes...