On Monday, Nov. 15, a packed room of 70 people came to attend our event on “The Indigenous struggle and the fight for socialism” held at Concordia University in Montreal. This was our biggest meeting on campus since 2016! The massive presence at the event is a testament to a major shift in consciousness that has occurred across Canada over the last few years. Young people especially are disgusted with Canada’s legacy of oppression of Indigenous peoples, and are keen to fight to end it once and for all.
The event was introduced by Connor Bennett, Fightback activist and Concordia student. After going through a series of appalling statistics on the plight of Indigenous peoples, he then went on to give an overview of the history of Canada and how the current nightmare came to be.
Connor explained how the oppression of Indigenous people is a defining feature of the rise of Canadian capitalism. He detailed the role of the Indian Act of 1876 in enshrining this oppression into law. The rise of Canadian capitalism destroyed the way of life of Indigenous people, inflicting abuse and trauma that continue to this day.
He then took time to explain that there is a radical and revolutionary tradition in the Indigenous movement, expressed in particular in the Red Power movement of the 1970s. He quoted Vern Harper, an Indigenous leader from the time who explained that “native and non-native people are seeing that capitalism doesn’t serve the masses. It only protects the capitalists’ interests.” This radical tradition has been expressed in a series of heroic blockades and stand-offs from the 1970s through the ’90s and up to today, including most notably the Oka stand-off.
Connor showed that it was following this rise in militancy that the Canadian state started pretending to care about Indigenous peoples. In particular, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was put in place and recommended the adoption in Canada of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Our comrade explained that while the content of UNDRIP is quite radical in the Canadian context (emphasizing “free, prior and informed consent for all activity on Indigenous territory”), it can never be implemented under capitalism. The case of British Columbia makes this clear There, the adoption of UNDRIP in the province didn’t prevent the government from sending in the RCMP against Wet’suwet’en land defenders protecting their land from the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The ruling class of Canada can never allow genuine consent by Indigenous peoples before moving forward with profit-making projects.
A very important thread in Connor’s presentation was the growing class divide in Indigenous communities. In the case of Coastal GasLink, many band councils made deals with the company to allow the project to carry on. The leaders of these band councils represent a thin but growing layer of Indigenous bourgeois that are used by the state and corporations to ram through projects in the communities they supposedly represent. Connor drew the analogy with the Black struggle in the U.S., where over the past decades a layer of Black bourgeois has emerged, while the militant tradition of the civil rights movement had been massively repressed.
Connor then made an inspiring appeal for solidarity and class unity. He used the example of Baffin Island, where Inuit activists blockaded the airstrip and access road to the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation which was threatening to jeopardize the whole ecosystem. While they were stranded there, a group of miners working for the company wrote a letter of support to the protesters: “You’ve said that it is not the workers you are upset with, but the Baffinland executives, and we would like to say that our support is also not with our superiors in the company, but with you.” Connor ended by calling to link these struggles to the fight for a socialist society, where land, resources, and industry are owned collectively and projects are decided upon democratically on the basis of need and not in the pursuit of profit.
Following the presentation, we held an open discussion where all attendees could bring up their questions and express their point of view. There were also various interventions on the role of the church in the history of Indigenous oppression, on what socialism would mean in terms of Indigenous control over their land and resources, and on how to fight the Indian Act, just to give a few examples. Many attendees expressed their appreciation of the event, saying that the presentation and discussion were eye-opening and inspiring.
But not everyone seemed to be pleased that we held this event. Last Friday, only three days before the event, we received a frankly insulting email from the Concordia Student Union’s equity, diversity and inclusivity advisor. The email asked us to take down our posters for our event on campus “given the lack of indigenous voices within your organization”—never mind the fact that Fightback is composed of non-Indigenous and also Indigenous activists! The email continued to attack socialism, saying: “The link between socialism and Indigeneity is not one that is appreciated by members of the indigenous community.” Another message said, “initiatives that primarily focus on class struggle have a reputation for being very White and performative”!
This is another unfortunate example of the poisonous role of identity politics in the movement. Here we have a member of the CSU leadership claiming that “the indigenous community” doesn’t “appreciate” the link with socialism. Since when can they claim to be a voice of “the” Indigenous community? Moreover, this type of blanket claim also plays into the racist idea that all Indigenous people are the same. We have never claimed to speak in the name of Indigenous communities. But what right does the student union bureaucracy have to silence the growing number of Indigenous Marxists who wish to unite with the broader working class to end Indigenous oppression? We merely ask to exercise our democratic right to put forward a socialist perspective on this struggle—a socialist perspective that is clearly growing in popularity with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike and is clearly threatening to anti-socialist bureaucracies. These self-proclaimed representatives cannot silence Indigenous revolutionaries and their comrades.
This question about “the Indigenous community” and socialism did come up in the discussion at the event, and it was brilliantly commented on by Darcy Seekaskootch, a Cree Socialist Fightback activist. Darcy made a passionate speech expressing their disgust that some Indigenous academics claim to represent “the” community. Darcy explained:
“I really don’t know where the notion that socialism is a white thing comes from. It’s almost laughable to me to say something like that. Like I’m standing right here and you’re telling me I’m not real because I’m native and a socialist at the same time? Really? That’s so f—–g ridiculous!
“And it’s f—–g racist! Treating all native people like we are a monolith who all think the same and agree inherently on politics always! It’s insulting!
“I am so f—–g tired of native and non-native liberals using Indigenous culture and identity as a political weapon against socialism. This does nothing except censor and divide. This only separates us from the working class struggle, by making our struggle look alien to non-native workers and students.
“There exists a layer of out-of-touch academic activist leaders. That speaks of native peoples as if we are not workers. That implies or even states that our interests are different. That non-Indigenous workers have nothing in common with us. They believe our exploitation is fueled by ideas and attitudes. They believe oppression is caused by individual mentality. I really don’t believe this to be true. Racism is an ideological weapon of exploitation and genocide whose aim is to break any inconvienent or easily exploitable peoples.
“If you stand in the way of the capitalists raping the land for profit then you become a mortal enemy of the capitalist system. The Canadian genocide of my people was to remove the threat Indigenous people posed to the legitamacy and necessity of the capitalist system. As Connor mentioned, what the capitalists and government fear the most is solidarity!
“Racism and genocide is not the result of a state of mind! It is a brutal weapon of class rule!
“I’ll end with the incredible words of revolutionary Black Panther Fred Hampton: ‘We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.’
“The struggle for socialism is what will enable us to finally mobilize the immense resources of society into providing a decent living for native people. To finally end the centuries of oppression and exploitation. So please if you agree, join the struggle!
“The crimes of colonialism and genocide cannot stay buried! I believe with every fibre of my being that the only way to save and heal my people and other Indigenous peoples is to tear the whole capitalist system down! To tear it all down we must fight like hell for socialism in our lifetime!”
Our comrade Gary Elaschuk Pruden also gave an interesting example of the growing class divide within Indigenous communities during the discussion:
“The Canadian state has always used the band council system to control Indigenous communities and land…This bureaucratic layer has separate interests to the everyday working band member and we are seeing the results in these contradictions as we speak. The tensions between these two classes reached a boiling point on the first of this month in Beaver Lake Cree Nation, the neighbouring reserve to my Métis settlement. Dozens of members blocked access to the band council building. I haven’t heard of something like this before. It’s really showing a rise in class consciousness, these band members know that these bureaucrats don’t properly represent them.”
The last word was given to our comrade Connor, who concluded what was a very successful event by echoing Darcy’s appeal to join us in the fight for socialism.
It is clear that all across Canada, the tide has turned. For the first time in the history of the country, a large majority of public opinion is behind Indigenous peoples. Never before has the colonial heritage of Canada been so exposed and hated. The potential for a united struggle against the Canadian state and the capitalist system they defend has never been higher. The militancy of the Indigenous activists and land defenders should be taken up in the entire labour movement. Together, we’ll build a socialist society where the needs of all will be met, putting this rotten system of exploitation that relies on the poverty of the majority and the extreme oppression of Indigenous peoples into the dustbin of history.