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Oct 17 2011

Occupy Vancouver – a second perspective

This morning I alluded to a fact about the “Occupy Vancouver” movement, indeed the Occupy movement as a whole, that has not yet pierced the popular narrative – the fact that we are choosing to ‘occupy’ land that is already occupied in a very real way. Vancouver, the city I love, is basically existing in a perpetual and overblown state of “squatter’s rights”, wherein the land is governed by people who have no legal claim to it. The irony, therefore, is that the act of standing up for the little guy is happening on land that is owned by the littlest guys in society, by the same people who have a hand in that group’s oppression.

I consider myself a First Nations ally, in the same way that I consider myself a LGBT ally or a women’s rights ally – I am aware that there are serious problems about which I have a superficial understanding. I come to this particular position by recognizing the vast and numerous similarities between Canada’s First Nations and the struggle for mainstream acceptance of black people. My support for the recognition of their rights is, in my mind, no different than my fight for equality for myself. My role as an ally is simple: to advocate when I can, and listen when I am being spoken to. In that vein, I would like to offer this signal boost to what I think is a phenomenal article about some of the ‘forgotten’ issues underlying Occupy Vancouver:

Firstly, the word Occupy has understandably ignited criticism from Indigenous people as having a deeply colonial implication. It erases the brutal history of genocide that settler societies have been built on. This is not simply a rhetorical or fringe point; it is a profound and indisputable matter of fact that this land is already occupied. The province of BC is largely still unceded land, which means that no treaties have been signed and the title holders of Vancouver are the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Tseilwau-tuth, and Musqueam. As my Sḵwx̱wú7mesh friend Dustin Rivers joked “Okay so the Premier and provincial government acknowledge and give thanks to the host territory, but Occupy Vancouver can’t?”

Supporting efforts towards decolonization is not only an Indigenous issue. It is also about us, as non-natives, learning the history of this land and locating ourselves and our responsibilities within the context of colonization. Occupation movements such as those in Boston and Denver and New York have taken similar steps in deepening an anti-colonial analysis.

Secondly, we must understand that the tentacles of corporate control have roots in the processes of colonization and enslavement. As written by the Owe Aku International Justice Project: “Corporate greed is the driving factor for the global oppression and suffering of Indigenous populations. It is the driving factor for the conquest and continued suffering for the Indigenous peoples on this continent. The effects of greed eventually spill over and negatively impact all peoples, everywhere.”

The Hudsons Bay Company in Canada and the East India Trading Company in India, for example, were some of the first corporate entities established on the stock market. Both companies were granted trading monopolies by the British Crown, and were able to extract resources and amass massive profits due to the subjugation of local communities through the use of the Empire’s military and police forces. The attendant processes of corporate expansion and colonization continues today, most evident in this country with the Alberta Tar Sands. In the midst of an economic crisis, corporations’ ability to accumulate wealth is dependent on discovering new frontiers from which to extract resources. This disproportionately impacts Indigenous peoples and destroys the land base required to sustain their communities, while creating an ecological crisis for the planet as a whole.

This piece, written by local activist Harsha Walia, is not a nit-pick or typical liberal pedantry – it points out the hypocrisy in claiming to fight for political equality if, in so doing, you are violating the civil and human rights of the people you claim to represent. While the Occupy movement doesn’t really claim to be the official mouthpiece of any group, they do advertise themselves (ourselves?) as ‘the 99%’. First Nations people are part of that 99%, and in Vancouver, probably the ones in the most desperate need of a movement like this. While I don’t even pretend to understand all the issues, I think it’s important to recognize that when the slogans and calls for solidarity fade away, there were inequalities that existed long before anyone had even heard of a bailout.

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2 comments

  1. 1
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    This is a nice piece, but sadly most of that sentiment was lost on me when yesterday’s 1PM General Assembly got turned into a massive, essentialist, naturist, Luddite sermon cloaked under First Nations traditional religious beliefs. I was happy to walk by the occupation at Granville and Georgia, and happy to see the First Nations people up there speaking…but the religiosity underlying much of what was said was utterly abhorrent, and I found myself less able to listen as time went on, including slowly stepping away from the gathering.

    I still feel torn up inside saying this, because I know what I heard yet I hope that I’m not crossing any lines with this criticism. I hate Luddites, no matter what form they come in.

    Of course, religiosity aside, the songs were wonderful. I’m biased though, because I love Coast Salish music ^^;;;

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Yeah I’m with you. When I saw that there was a “Traditional Native Healing” tent set up behind the actual med tent, I could barely roll my eyes hard enough. I felt the same way about a lot of the other people who were speaking too – not a bastion of critical thought. At the same time though, I’m sure many of the people there would think that my empiricism is laughably naive, and consider my terribly closed-minded. We can still rock out together.

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