Gladue Rights Research Database

Settler Colonialism

Patrick Wolfe (1996) was the first scholar to fully define settler colonialism.  He distinguished it from other forms of colonialism (such as conquest colonialism) in that it was predicated on the assumption that settlers arriving from their homeland were coming to stay with the goal of creating a new society that would be distinct from what the colonists left behind in their homelands, but that would not respect or involve Indigenous people.  Settler colonists want land, not Indigenous labour.  Indigenous people, therefore, are impediments. They are in the way; a problem.  The solution to the problem that Canadians and American settler colonist determined upon was to displace Indigenous people from their lands by restricting First Nations to marginal Indian Reserves and allocating individual plots of land (Scrip) within settler surveyed lands for the Métis. Nefarious government agents and speculators worked to reduce the size of many Indian reserves, and research by Frank Tough reveals that over 90% of Scrip allocated to Metis people was in the hands of settler speculators within days of it being originally allocated.  In Canada settler colonialism was additionally facilitated by Indigenous people’s lack of immunity to European and Asian disease (Indigenous populations were in rapid decline in the nineteenth century) as well as by the demise of key Indigenous resources (such as the Bison).

Lorenzo Veracini argues that settler colonialism is a process empowered by the lack of acknowledgement or inability to recognize the degree of complicity which enables settler colonialism to thrive.  For example, hard working pioneer families and their descendants remain reluctant to acknowledge their complicity in the process of Indigenous displacement.  This reflects the tension within Canada over understandings of government culpability, societal culpability, and individual culpability.  Efforts to make amends and atonement (to build reconciliation) are lost within this process of shifting responsibility.  As a process settler colonialism involves the taking of Indigenous lands supported by European legal and theological doctrine like terra nullius, Dominion, and Manifest Destiny. “Peopling,” (the displacement of Indigenous populations coupled with the insertion of settler bodies i.e. settlement does not occur “in a relational void”) (Veracini, 2014). 

In the Saskatchewan context, settler colonialism continues today.  Settlers continue to benefit from the earlier displacement of Indigenous people and they remain largely in denial to their complicity in that process. Indigenous people, meanwhile, continue to suffer the consequences of settler colonialism. One example of the consequences of Indigenous displacement is evidenced in contemporary Indigenous youth who are caught up in multiple jurisdictions and administrative processes. Saskatoon’s Indigenous youth occupy a tenuous threshold in the city’s core area.   


Suggested Readings: 

  • Jaskiran Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017) 
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  • Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker. Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada (Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2015).