Savoir Faire Level: Senakw

I mentioned this in the comments of my last posting, but I think it’s worth going into a bit more detail.

The Guardian [guard] carries the story, but I first heard it on an interview on some podcast or other. I forget which. The interviewee was a First Peoples’ spokesperson who, as many of them are, was very thoughtful and funny and interesting to listen to. But, let’s go with The Guardian‘s reporting for simplicity:

The scrubby, vacant patch beneath the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver looks at first glance like a typical example of the type of derelict nook common to all cities: 11.7 acres of former railway lands, over which tens of thousands of people drive every day.

This is not any old swath of underused space, however. It’s one of Canada’s smallest First Nations reserves, where dozens of Squamish families once lived. The village was destroyed by provincial authorities more than a century ago.

Now it may rise again – but in radically different form. In an internal referendum on Tuesday, 87% of voting Squamish Nation members approved the construction here of what may become the most dramatic statement of urban Indigenous presence in any Canadian city – a new district called Senakw, after the long-displaced village, with 11 towers, 6,000 dwelling units and more than 10,000 residents.

It’s actually a whole lot cooler than it sounds. The lands that the First Nations are winning back, legally, are some of the most valuable pieces of Vancouver. Note that, in spite of some victories, it’s not very likely that white people will just give back “Millionaire’s Row” in Vancouver and let its original owners build on it.

I find these things fascinating, as they unfold, but I feel bad because I know that behind my fascination is real pain. The Guardian‘s words “long-displaced village” sounds so clean. You know, as if the villagers picked up and left because they decided “this place we thought was a gorgeous place to live, we want to give it to the white man” or something. The problem was, as usual, that the white man also thought it was a gorgeous place to live, and they’re violent motherfuckers, white people are; there’s something wrong with them, I think. Maybe it’s the shape of their skulls.

Though the original village here was ostensibly a protected reserve, government and industrial interests chipped away at it. In 1913, the provincial government coerced the remaining Squamish residents into selling their land, placed them on barges bound for the north, and razed the village. For a time the area became a squatter’s camp, and was surrendered altogether by the Squamish nation in 1947.

“Chipped away” is a really nice way of describing ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is a really nice way of describing genocide and culture-cide. When you displace a culture from the lands in which it arose, you irrevocably change it, and you leave footprints that will reverberate down through history, inevitably. Even attempting to remedy the situation changes the situation for others, and everyone is stuck in a balance of resentment, fear, and greed. “Surrendered” sounds like such a nice way of saying “driven off their land” – land which, we all agree, is a beautiful place to live. I’ve been to Vancouver and I wouldn’t mind coming and clearing a few blocks and building a big house, maybe have the former residents build it for me and then tend the fields and make me sushi after I was comfortably installed. Put that way, doesn’t that sound fucked up? You bet. But I’m white, and that’s how we think and there’s something wrong with us. Maybe it’s the shape of my skull.

That’s an artist’s rendering of what the Squamish want to build where millionaires’ mansions stand.

A conversation I have sometimes had involves The Queen of England. I was in Canada, doing a talk in Montreal, once, and asked one of the Canadians why they still have the queen on their money. “Why not something beautiful, instead of an old lady?” It’s interesting how people think about the queen. For many of us USAians, the queen is a cute oddity – sort of a very old Kardashian without plastic surgery. For all I know, that’s a Canadian attitude, as well. But when I was listening to the Squamish fellow on the podcast, he referred to “crown lands.” What’s that?

Crown lands are personally owned by the queen.

WTF!? I understand that the queen’s not really the “owner” in the sense that she can’t just sell off a chunk, except that she sort of can. And the queen, personally, owns 80% of Canada. 80% of Canada is “crown lands.” Please don’t anyone, ever, tell me that the queen is a “figurehead” without real power, yadda yadda, any more. Land is power. And the queen, which is a typical behavior for her blood-line, is a grasping, hoarding, land-grabbing monster. She may have a cute exterior but, if I understand this correctly, she’s saying all that is hers because her daddy died and left it to her. For one thing, you can be damn sure she didn’t pay any inheritance tax on it, right? If anyone ever wants a perfect illustration of the toxic harm that monarchy does to a civilization, you have no farther to look than Canada and the queen. She’s probably responsible for poutine, but I’m not even going to research that question.

Let me frame this another way: give it back. Her granddaddy stole it. She knows it’s stolen. give it back. I wish I had Jeff Bezos money because I’d sponsor the biggest set of lawsuits against the Gotha-Saxe-Coburg bastards who stole Canada and are knowingly transferring stolen property from one generation to the next, in their great big monarchial power-scam.

I just had a horrified thought: does that dried up old monster own Australia and New Zealand, too?

God damn! A google search for “New Zealand crown lands” returns horror:

New Zealand’s Crown estate includes some of the most iconic land in the country, ranging from South Island High Country pastoral land to bodies of water such as lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu. As the Crown’s land manager, we are the guardians of eight percent – around two million hectares – of New Zealand’s land area.

How can this be? Yes, I understand that the queen is only the nominal land owner and the government is basically the land owner, but that old fangless monster ought to trigger a constitutional crisis and give it back. Maybe not all of it, but it is stolen fucking land, you monster!

public land (54%) was vacant crown land and just under 7% (524,100 square kilometres) was in a nature reserve. Approximately 63% of Australia was privately owned in 1993.

Before the French Revolution (the Vendee) Louis XIV the king owned 70% of France. The Catholic Church owned another 10%, the nobles 9% – and they were pissed about that. The People owned nothing, basically. The kingdom of France was a great big scam, but at least it was land that was acquired in the traditional way hundreds of years ago – by the simple expedient of French people clobbering other French people and acquiring their land. The French people smartened up and guillotined a remarkably small number of nobles (about 3,000) and one of the side effects of that was a re-balancing of land-ownership in France thereafter. This whole thing of monarchial land grabs is ridiculous and out-dated and now we can see why monarchists still like it: the queen, that horrible little creature, has accepted stolen goods in the form of a big chunk of the planet. Her grandma thought she owned India. For no reason more than “because of whose daughter she is.” That’s it. The royals aren’t even entertaining, anymore – they don’t deserve any of this stolen land, in the slightest.

So, I was joking with this Canadian about “why do you still have the queen on your money?” but now my question is “why haven’t you guillotined those robbing bastards?” Because you all – everyone in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States – you know it’s stolen land. Give it back. Or at least, say, 80% of the 80%.

If you want a new villain to hate: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are pikers compared to that white-haired vampire with the corgis.



  1. snarkhuntr says

    As a life-long Canadian and anti-royalist, I have no serious objections to dispossessing the queen.

    The problem is, though, that she does not actually own any of the Crown lands. She is quite literally the Figurehead of the Canadian state, but has no meaningful power or agency in it. We just use her as the friendly face of our centuries long campaign of genocide and dispossession. She no more controls the country than a carved figurehead on a ship determines its course. We call it Crown land for the same reason we call our Public Prosecutors ‘Crown Attorneys’, it’s a polite cover for the iron hand of the state. Let’s blame the old lady for what a bunch of lawyers and bankers in Ottawa do.

    Canada was, in a very real sense, a creation of real-estate speculators. Most generational wealth that was built within this country was built atop a foundation of stolen land, handed to an insider by the government, and then resold at a massive profit once the public treasury had built amenities on or near it. If you dig into a Canadian wealthy family enough, you almost always come back to this basic method of wealth accumulation: find land that has value but whose value is not publically known. Either buy the land directly from its owners, or use the mechanisms of the state to dispossess them and acquire it. Resell the land to incoming immigrants or other parties for a massive profit. Rinse and repeat. It’s the history of our colony. We’re basically a bunch of realtors in a big overcoat pretending to be a republic.

    The excellent Canadian podcasting/journalism outfit ‘Canadaland’ has a great podcast ‘commons’ that is currently covering this very issue. They also did one a while back about corruption in this country, which is a very poorly covered topic. People are often surprised to discover that Canada is a huge destination for international illegal money, but that’s because they don’t see what’s under our polite facade: an absolute willingness to overlook how someone came to own something. We just don’t care, because if we start to ask inconvenient questions about it, people might question how *we* came to own what we have, and there’s always an indigenous person around with inconvenient ideas about what ownership should mean.

  2. pierremasson says

    By the same token, American governments would need to give back much of the United States to its original owners. There are many ways to win a war, and a treaty is worth only your capacity to enforce it.

  3. springa73 says

    I’m pretty sure “crown land” is basically just a form of government-controlled land, not in any way personal property of the royal family.

    This may be more controversial, but from what I’ve learned of history, I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with white people as a group that isn’t also wrong with humanity as a whole. When white people are in a position of power over others, they do the same kind of abusing that most groups of humans would do if you gave them similar power.

  4. says

    I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with white people as a group that isn’t also wrong with humanity as a whole.

    Oh, I agree. The Mongols and Achemenids were nastier than bears contemplating. I’m being silly. (By the way where were all the white people while the Persians were inventing civilization?)

    Jared Diamond says some interesting things about this in Guns, Germs, and Steel – mostly that white people conquered the world because they were more resistant to the diseases they carried. That and they got a lot of practice killing eachother, which stood them in good stead for a long time (with minor lapses like the Mongols, who were the killingest).

  5. rojmiller says

    Marcus, to Canadians, “Crown” is just another (archaic) word for government. The Queen has nothing to do with it as far as we are concerned – it is just an historical anomaly, if anything, and most Canadian probably don’t even think about it that deeply.

    Crown land is mstly forested land, mostly in the northern parts of Canada (Ontario, Quebec and the Prairie provinces anyway), and it is provincially owned. As a result it is associated with the provincial government, usually with the Ministry of Natural Resources or Forestry (disclaimer? – I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for over 30 years). A portion of Crown land is usually logged, but for most people Crown land is for hunting, fishing, or camping, or lake access generally (Canada has at least 1/4 of the lakes in the world).

    The Queen has nothing to do with it, and because it has been called Crown land since forever, no one is likely to call it anything else even if a provincial government decides to name it differently. As to how it became Crown land, most folks don’t think about that either, and I haven’t seen it raised fron the Native (known as First Nations in Canada) side either (in a general sense, not just related to specific land claims).

  6. grim says

    public lands are good. Or, not good, (pretty bad, TBH) but much, much better than the alternative land uses we’ve see in
    north america. Obviously we should do a Senakw,and give it all back to whatever indigenous folks we haven’t finished genociding yet, but honestly, that process will probably be easier for land that’s already publicly owned (even if that “public” is an ancient crone living on an island thousands of miles away)I ‘m biased, because I’ve spent some really formative time in various bits and pieces of Canadian Crownland, (and of course because I’m a white invader living on stolen Dakota land) but carefully and thoughtfully maintaining wilderness lands is critical. Even more so now that we’re hard against the cutting edge of this mass extinction we’ve built.

    But yes, royalty is a hideous social disease, not just a charming anachronism. But when you’re getting wild out there with the guillotine, try to make sure that the land managers still get to do their jobs.

  7. rojmiller says

    Marcus, the best US comparison I can think of is naming roads “pikes” or “turnpikes”. The definition of those words is a toll road, but not all turnpikes are toll roads. Huntingdon Pike north of Philly (PA232), as an example, was probably a toll road way back in history. Are all the folks along that route worried that because of its name, the PA government is going to change it to a toll road? Are they up in arms about this possibility? Or is it just a name to them (like Crown land in Canada :-)

  8. pierremasson says

    “But yes, royalty is a hideous social disease…”
    Kings and queens when they hare actual power, are basically dictators.

  9. says

    So things like:

    So, Who Owns Canada?

    The land of Canada is solely owned by Queen Elizabeth II who is also the head of state. Only 9.7% of the total land is privately owned while the rest is Crown Land. The land is administered on behalf of the Crown by various agencies or departments of the government of Canada. The Canadian Act has no provision for any Canadian to own physical land in Canada. Canadians can only own an interest in an estate. Of the land owned by the Queen, 50% is administered by the provincial governments and the rest by the federal government. The Crown Land administered by the federal and provincial governments can be defined as land not assigned in freehold tenure. The land in Canada is mainly used as national parks, forests, private homes, and agriculture.

    … are factually wrong?

    That was from world atlas

    I know the monarch can’t just go and start disposing of lands. But imagine the fun freakout if the old dictator tried to do the right thing and start giving it back. The fact that it seems to have never occurred to her is the point.

  10. rojmiller says

    “Land ownership in Canada is held by governments, Indigenous groups, corporations, and individuals. … Since Canada uses primarily English-derived common law, the holders of the land actually have land tenure (permission to hold land from the Crown) rather than absolute ownership.” From Wikipedia “Land Ownership in Canada”.

    Since this seems to be derived from English land ownership, and no one in England seems to worry about this “lack of ownership” technicality either, its just another anachronism. (Yes supposedly this means that the government can take your land, but your land can be expropriated in the US too… same process either way)

    “There are all sorts of wacky laws in the U.S. regulating what people can and cannot do on Sunday. … In Alabama, for example, it’s a criminal “offense against public health and morals” to engage in a whole host of activities on Sunday, including playing cards. Shooting, hunting, gaming and racing are also prohibited and carry a fine of $10 to $100. Worse, you could be imprisoned or sentenced to hard labor for no more than three months for any of these “immoral” acts.” From Howstuffworks, “10 Completely Archaic Laws Still on the Books”

    Does anyone in the US get up in arms about any of this? There’s all kinds of stuff in law left over from long ago – in England’s (ok, UK) case, it seems to go back centuries, and been extended to countries like Canada, NZ and Australia. But it is all of no effect or consequence, and has zero chance of being enforced.

  11. tuatara says

    In my experience, crown land is, to be extremely simplistic, land that was claimed with the planting of a flag “in the name of king xxx” or “in the name of the queen xxx”. Because the crown is the nominal head of state in nations that are ex British empire and have not become republics, any lands owned by the government (New Zealand or Australia for instance) are defined as “crown lands”. They are not the property of the monarch, such as Queen Elizabeth II, any more than federal lands are the personal property of the head of state in the USA – namely the president (although I am amazed that Donald the Trunt didn’t try to steal all that too).

    The minister for Justice in New Zealand during the early-mid 1990s was Sir Douglas Graham. Amid debate in the then print media over the treaty reparation negotiations underway at the time (basically the Crown reneged on many of the freedoms guaranteed in the Treaty of Waitangi – signed 6 January 1840), he penned in the editorial pages of the New Zealand herald this sentence:

    “Under British law alienation of property rights is total and in perpetuity, which is foreign to Maori”

    The disturbing reality implicit in the statement By Sir Douglas Graham is that dispossession was imported with the colonists whose dispossession was so far in the past that none remembered what it was to be communal owners of the land.

    My own tribal group (Ngapuhi) had many tracts of land stolen by the crown in New Zealand under the guise of a land rates bill that gave the government the right to confiscate land if the land rates (taxes) could not be paid by the owners. This was a contravention of the treaty under which Maori were given unrestricted ownership of their traditional lands, as well as unrestricted traditional use of those lands, in return for ceding sovereignty to the proxy of the then King of England, Scotland and Wales.

    I have had this conversation with many people over the years and none, apart from other indigenous people, comprehend this idea of European dispossession in the distant past. I do not expect many others to understand it either without a lived experience of dispossession. Being dispossessed only to find those who dispossessed you are in the same dis-position as you are in is a delicious irony lost on those who do not remember their dispossession. Ignorance, they say, is bliss when dispossession is bizarrely called “freedom”. How fucked up is that? Honestly?

    In New Zealand, among the Maori peoples of whom I am one (though unaffiliated since my father had his Maori-ness beaten out of him as a child in school), communal ownership of land fosters an individual’s responsibility for the wellbeing of the community. Under such ownership, states such as homelessness are almost impossible and vital food resources are shared.

    Conversely, private ownership removes this communal responsibility from the individual, replacing it with a communal responsibility for the wellbeing of the individual. Being built into the system, homelessness is endemic, and vital food supplies are not readily shared.

    I terms of psychological wellbeing I know what version I prefer.

    As far as I can tell, private ownership of land, when combined with unbridled capitalism, will thus eventually lead to a society in which the state (wealthy land “Lords”) must “care” for the multitude of their dispossessed possessions (the serfs).

    Our society will return whence it came.

  12. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 rojmiller
    Don’t tell Marcus about Crown Attorneys :)

    The line “The Crown will lay charges” must be confusing to visitors.

    @ Marcus
    There is, officially no Queen of England. I believe HM’s distant relation, Elizabeth I, was the last Queen of England in her own right though it may have been Queen Anne.

    There is a Queen of Canada. The Queen, for practical matters the Governor-General, actually has some considerable “residual” powers which are very, very seldom used. See Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and the Parliamentary prorogation fiasco.

    I had to go grab my wallet to check but you’re right, the Queen’s image is on the $20 bill. Good lord, Mackenzie-king is on the $50!

    I believe the Queen may be the owner of Canada Post, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and other Crown Corps as IIRC the single share of each corporation is held by the Queen in right of Canada.

    Because we are a constitutional monarchy a lot of things are done in the Queen’s name which may sound strange to some one from a republic.

  13. bmiller says

    Plus, Persian civilization was by no means the first. The first “urban” civilizations included Sumer (Semitic) Egypt (Semitic again) and the Indus Valley Civilization (not clearly defined ethnic group-may be Dravidian, which evolved into today’s Tamil populations of Southern India/Sri Lanka).

  14. sonofrojblake says

    What does it mean to “own land”? I own some land. This means I can
    (a) live on it
    (b) charge someone else rent to live on it
    (c) sell it for profit
    (d) farm it or otherwise profit from it by exploiting its resources
    (e) put a fence round it and stop people coming onto it. If I lived in a more barbaric country it’s even conceivable I could arm myself and kill people who tried to come onto it, legally.

    Whatever else you say about her (and do please help yourself), the vast, overwhelming majority of the land the Queen “owns” isn’t owned by her in any way that’s real or comparable to your or me or Jeff Bezos owning land. She can’t live on most of it, she can’t (or perhaps simply doesn’t) charge people to live on it or visit it, doesn’t farm it, mine it or otherwise exploit it, and there’s mechanism by which she can legally transfer the title to someone else (just saying “I’m giving you this land” doesn’t cut it).

    Her son, on the other hand, really does own vast swathes of the UK AND charges people to live on it. My advice to people who want to see the back of the monarchy is simple: wait a bit. Despite how it may appear, Brenda is mortal, and sooner or later Brian will ascend to the big chair. If his behaviour thus far is any indication, he may well be the last king of England. He doesn’t have any of his mother’s diplomatic instincts for self-preservation. There’s an interesting time coming some time in the next decade or two (Brenda’s mum made 101!).

  15. bmiller says

    What is odd to me is how many Americans remain obsessed with royalty. Given the limited space in the average supermarket magazine rack, why are there multiple glassy magazines about “Will and Kate” and Queen Elizabeth? Who buys these things? (They share space, of course, with magazines about the AMERICAN king, Elvis. )

  16. jrkrideau says

    @ 16 bmiller
    What is odd to me is how many Americans remain obsessed with royalty.

    I never really thought of that but I am reminded that a US ambassador seems to receive a life “peerage” .

  17. consciousness razor says

    It seems like the detour involving “the crown” and whatnot is distracting some from the story this post started with….

    If you simply called it “federal” property instead, like we do in the US, so what? That doesn’t change the fact that it was all stolen from indigenous people and claimed by this or that government.

    Although I can’t stand monarchies, I can kind of understand how to some it may sound fairly innocuous, if you’re accustomed to thinking of the Queen as being an irrelevant figurehead who never does anything important — no big deal when her name/face/whatever is plastered on random shit.

    However, the thing is, your entire government isn’t a figurehead of itself, and that’s the thing which still claims the land it stole. So isn’t that still a real problem, not just a bit of trivia about the silly royalty-flavored terminology you happen to use to talk about it?

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