Unsettling the Setllers

Settler
Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada

By Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker  

After reading Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada, a settler Canadian would know more about themselves than they would like to.

Two Canadian academics – Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker – joined forces to write a book about the relationship between indigenous peoples and other Canadians, the settlers.

This issue has been debated for years and at times it seems a consensus may never be reached. That being said, this book sheds some light on the issue by redefining the roles played by the parties involved. In doing so, it aims to bring both parties closer to reconciliation of a seemingly never-ending conflict.

Canadian culture, as we know it, is cordial and hospitable; the country’s history is based off this notion. However, Lowman and Barker believe there is more to Canada than meets the eye.

“In Canada, we like to think of ourselves as having a fairly inclusive society; we pride ourselves on being open and accepting of difference […] and we lie by omission, because we do not talk about the country being built on attempted destruction of other nations, […] our history of profiting from invasion and dispossession,” Lowman and Barker write at the beginning of the book.

As Settler’s authors point out, Canada has always been hostile to one cultural group: the indigenous community. This kind of hostility is one that can only be shown by the settlers.

“The drive to ameliorate the rift between Anglo and French-Canadian […] dominated the political stage […] Indigenous people had to fight to make their voices heard.”

The book’s opening pages touch briefly on the identity of the settler. It references past political events that have resulted in the coining of the terms “settler,” “settler colonialism,” and “colonial invasion.”

The next couple chapters expand on the roles and responsibility of the settler. The authors describe what they call the “settler colonial systems and structures.”

The settler’s capacity as an invader on a foreign land is emphasized. It is a role they continuously play by living in a country where the indigenous community is slowly being eliminated.

The closing chapters of the book attempt to settle the differences between the settler and the non-settlers. Each party has a role to play and responsibility to assume before positive change can be seen. However, the awareness and acceptance of one’s identity is the most crucial step.

“If we learn to see ourselves and our roles in the systems and structures of settler colonialism – to ‘identify’ with the kinds of settler colonial thought and action we describe – then we create an incredible opportunity.”

Throughout the book, the authors make clear their intention, which is to open the eyes of the settler Canadian. Regardless of how they react to the book’s revelations, they must react.

“The unsettling reactions this book may provoke, including feelings of guilt and shame, anger and outrage, or fear and despair, are important elements of the effort to create just and respectful futures on these lands.”

The arguments and tenets presented in the book are repeated more times than they probably should be. Some of the ideas and principles are over-emphasized, while the authors struggle to provide a concrete resolution for the issues they have raised. Rather, they simply lay down the framework for further research.

That being said, the historical and political references made throughout the book help the authors to buttress their argument.

The definitions and descriptions made are simple and perspicuous. The writing is fluent and the arguments are clearly presented and well-articulated.

Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada denounces the idea of an “Indian problem” and presents the “settler problem.”

If the settler realizes that he is indeed a settler, and that he is a part of the problem, then the first step towards decolonization has been made.

— The Manitoban, Nov. 2015

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