- Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition by Glen Sean Coulthard
Glen Coulthard draws on Frantz Fanon’s powerful anticolonial analysis in Black Skin, White Masks. He also draws on Karl Marx and other selected contemporary theorists to analyze the historical and political experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada with settler state colonialism, and to propose postcolonial transformation characterized by Indigenous political and cultural resurgence. While his analysis is directed at the Canadian colonial experience, it has application to all settler states which continue to squat on Indigenous territory.
Coulthard rejects “the politics of recognition” and the contemporary tropes of reconciliation and forgiveness between Indigenous peoples and the state, which tend to reduce Indigenous opposition to historical woes and a contemporary need for equality with (and arguably assimilation into) settler state norms and opportunities. He urges Indigenous peoples to instead seek a “resurgent politics of recognition premised on self-actualization, direct action, and the resurgence of cultural practices” (24).
The book traces the colonial construction of Indigenous peoples as “subjects of imperial rule” in need of inclusion in liberatory settler states, who appropriate Indigenous sovereignties and territories whilst oppressing Indigenous peoples. Coulthard excavates the ways in which the policies and discourses of the state invite the dispossessed to see themselves solely as contemporary people, bearing historical (but not contemporary) wounds from misguided state policy that is now remediated by recognition and apology.
Coulthard proposes that the resultant relationship is predatory, dysfunctional, and structurally self-reproducing. It is also challenged continuously by Indigenous claims to self-determination. The settler state responds with offers of recognition and inclusion that do not acknowledge the “structure of dispossession” that still shapes Indigenous-state relationships (120).
Coulthard argues that the “politics of recognition” in Canada has replaced the more direct objectives of assimilation that were the basis of state policy directed at “Indians” since 1867, and articulated in the 1969 “white” paper (a discussion stage of a policy), which proposed the attainment of equality by eliminating the Indian Act, reserves, treaties, and other directed legislative and programmatic initiatives directed at Indians. Yet recognition has not meant decolonization, but rather the continued “dispossession of Indigenous peoples of their lands and self-determining authority” (25) by governments that are unwilling to recognize land claims and self-determination. [End Page 327]
The political, economic, cultural, and legal apparatus of the state guarantees the continuance of colonial domination. Present-day negotiations for land claims are functionally land surrenders, according to Coulthard, as their objective is to make Indigenous territories available for, in particular, capitalist development (125). He reminds us that “instead of proceeding with negotiations based on the principle of Indigenous self-determination, Canada’s policy framework is grounded in the assumption that Aboriginal rights are subordinately positioned within the ultimate sovereign authority of the Crown” (123).
If not recognition and reconciliation, then what? Coulthard writes that Indigenous people intend “a restructuring of the fundamental relationship between Indigenous nations and Canada” (168). Drawing on work on Indigenous resurgence as proposed by Indigenous theorists Taiaiake Alfred and Leanne Simpson, Coulthard envisions “an intellectual, social, political, and artistic movement geared toward the self-reflective revitalization” of Indigenous traditional values, principles, and cultural practices that enable a “contemporary political and economic reality” (156–57). This movement must be attentive to the critiques of Indigenous feminist scholarship (157) and to “the multifarious ways in which capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the totalizing character of state power interact with one another to form the constellation of power relations that sustain colonial patterns of behavior, structures, and relationships” (14). Th is book offers an Indigenous postcolonial plan of action that is rooted in justice, equity, and respect for the land.