45480373._SY475_A review of Valerie Lannon and Jesse McLaren, Indigenous Sovereignty and Socialism (Toronto: Resistance Press, 2018)

 

By Dougal McNeill

 

The epic struggle of Wet’suwet’en against the state and Coastal Gaslink playing out currently gives this title a special relevance. The Canadian state, like the New Zealand, has a wholly undeserved reputation for liberality and ‘generosity’ when it comes to the question of Indigenous rights. Justin Trudeau is happy to talk the language of rights, respect and reconciliation. The idea that Canada is a nicer, kinder society than the United States is important to its nationalism. But the reality, as Valerie Lannon and Jesse McLaren show in this important book, is the same as in every other settler-colonial capitalist society. Canada was built out of invasion, by the French and British empires, of Indigenous lands; and North American capitalism – in the fur trade, in forestry, and, later, in resource extraction – required the systematic degradation and attempted genocide of First Nations. Treaties were broken, or never signed; sovereign nations invaded; children taken from their families (a process ongoing to this day); and cultures degraded. This is the true history of liberal Canada, and it deserves to be more widely known. Lannon and McLaren, two socialist campaigners, outline the history of European colonisation and the capitalist state. And, crucially, they connect this history to the needs of capitalism. Canada’s leaders were motivated by a bitter racism, certainly, but their actions in dispossessing and oppressing Indigenous peoples were linked also to the needs of the profit system. They show how racism served to unite settler workers with the settler state against Indigenous resistance; and how tools of oppression, like the residential schools (state-run institutions now revealed to be rife with abuse, presented as ‘enlightened’ educational settings for Native children), tried to “instill passive acceptance of capitalist exploitation” while Indian Agents “helped recruit for employers”.

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