Rupturing Settler Myths
Review of Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan’s Policing Indigenous Movements
Myths about Indigenous peoples are persistent in popular settler Canadian discourse. They show settler disconnect and lack of understanding around dispossession of Indigenous lands and lifeways, settler colonization, and cultural genocide. These myths are utilized to “treat assertions of traditional Indigeneity as abnormal,” and create a framework where “any challenge to settler colonial authority is marked as potential violence against the post-colonial order” (9). What in part propelled, and now underlies, the continued colonization of Indigenous peoples and their lands within Canadian borders is a body of myths and mis/non-information regarding Indigeneity, relationships to land, and Indigenous histories. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once infamously stated, Canada is “without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have—either colonial pasts or perceptions of American imperialism.” 1 These popular beliefs all function to normalize structural violence while allowing settlers to negate their complicity in capitalist settler projects. Rupturing these myths requires settlers to recognize myths’ relationship to environmental and state violence.
Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan’s Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State 2 shines a light on the Canadian state’s obsession with myths, including the state’s aggressively sought after ficticious “post-colonial order” and the creation of Indigeneity as an “abnormality” to be excised through surveillance and policing. Through an exhaustive research agenda—supported by Access to Information (ati) requests and Freedom of Information (foi) requests—Crosby and Monaghan procured thousands of federal, provincial, and municipal archival documents that detail the growth of the Canadian police state. Their work outlines what they call a “mosaic” of policing: “a sprawling array of national security and policing agencies, industry and corporate partners, and public bureaucracies that are increasingly integrated through surveillance intelligence databanks and institutional partnerships in efforts to pre-empt or disrupt potential threats” (3). The book surveys the stories of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, the Idle No More movement, and the Elsipogtog First Nation. The authors show how these groups were surveilled by a “security state [that] actively delegitimizes and suppresses Indigenous movements that challenge settler colonialism” (4).
The four accounts that the authors’ work follow all have an intimate tie to one current mode of colonialism: extractivism. Extractivism is built on a non-reciprocal method of natural, bodily, and cultural resource extraction, based on capitalist accumulation, entangled with colonial and neocolonial dispossession. Extractivism, and the Indigenous-led resistance against it, are at the core of both Canada’s move towards becoming a worldwide “energy superpower” and its practice of policing and repression. Crosby and Monaghan argue that the Alberta tar sands occupy a unique mythic space in the Canadian settler imaginary. Materially, they represent an immense reserve of hydrocarbons ripe for exploitation towards economic progress. Psychosocially, they represent the idea of stability and even an “ethical” or “progressive” move towards realizing nationalist securitization. These fantasies are touted by politicians whose careers are intimately tied to the feasibility and success of extractivist projects like the Alberta tar sands. Thus, settler states can create “Aboriginal extremism” and normalize the domestic “war on terror” by criminalizing and othering Indigenous peoples who are challenging extractivism and demanding self-determination on their territories (3).
The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have been resisting extractivist encroachment, which has come in the form of logging on their 44,000 km2 unceded land base (28-29). The Unist’ot’en Clan has been resisting colonial expansion from the Alberta tar sands for more than a decade. This spread from the tar sands mega-projects has been in the form of Enbridge’s now defunct Northern Gateway Pipeline, Chevron’s Pacific Trails Pipeline, and TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline. 3 Idle No More has been organizing against the damage to Indigenous nations and their lands through “exploration, invasion and colonization” (97). The Elsipogtog First Nation has been battling shale gas exploration pursued by the Southwestern Energy Company (swn). These movements have all resisted colonial extractivism that has been encroaching on their lands and threatening the health of their communities. The authors show how the Canadian state is simultaneously hyper interested in and indifferent towards Indigenous communities in how they are policed especially with regards to social and political movements. The state simultaneously over-polices communities through elaborate networks of social movement surveillance and does not provide the infrastructure for communities to access health care, emergency services, or other material supports.
Monaghan and Crosby show how Indigenous-led movements have long been the target of state repression and how the growth of these movements has resulted in a compounding of that repression. The collaboration that supports this repression is between Canadian policing agencies and private corporate partners and is dependent upon a “broad program of surveillance” (77). The authors open the book by outlining one of the most invasive ventures in which this surveillance programming has culminated: Project Sitka. Sitka was a year-long investigation conducted by the RCMP to identify “serious criminality associated to large public order events with national implications,” 4 which directly identifies rural and urban Indigenous organizations and decentralized movements like Idle No More, the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, and the Indigenous Environmental Network (5, 175). According to the authors, the rcmp’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre (niCc) produced a report in March 2015 that detailed Project Sitka’s profiling of more than 300 prominent Indigenous and settler activists involved in anti- extractivism work, 45 of whom were part of the Mi’kmaq resistance at Elsipogtog (174).
Another key component of the Canadian (and us) policing mosaic that the authors outline is the creation of “fusion centres.” Fusion centres, as the name implies, fuse information from local, state, and federal law enforcement administrations to create a web of information that can be dispersed back through the network of contributors to provide counterterrorism intelligence. The multitude of actors and intelligence networks are collapsed into these collaborative mass surveillance hubs, which the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (csis) refers to as “a central fusion centre for Native problems” (99). Intelligence was centralized in response to Idle No More’s movement for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, what Crosby and Monaghan, again, note as the Canadian state’s perceived threat(s) to its post-colonial order. In the us, there are at least 78 established fusion centres according to the Department of Homeland Security. The authors demonstrate how fusion centers have become a mechanism to protect private Canadian and us interests, such as “critical” extractivist “infrastructure.” Using the term “critical infrastructure” creates the conditions for the “war on terror” to be redirected towards domestic surveillance, as Indigenous and settler communities threaten extractivist projects’ viability. These projects’ physical structures are critical only insofar as they have monetary value for the corporations (and by extension, the state) which establish them. Categorically, they are mislabeled as being “infrastructure” because 90 percent of these structures are privately owned, rather than being in the public domain like roads, schools, hospitals, or mass transit (18, 73).
Policing Indigenous Movements is carefully organized, easy to understand, and politically relevant. It is an accessible piece that effectively utilizes intertextual and contextual analysis across academic disciplines. Crosby and Monaghan are building on years of their past research investigating myriad topics such as the statist creations of “terrorist identities,” the imposition of settler governmentality on Indigenous nations, repressive policing, and social movement organizing. This book attempts to rupture the cyclical creation and perpetuation of myths surrounding Indigenous peoples’ movements for sovereignty and self-determination. It does so through outlining the collaboration between Canadian state and energy corporations’ fixations on establishing a post-colonial narrative outlined above. The book also gives prescriptive advice towards “decolonizing the security state” and modes of thinking beyond these surveillance politics. The fixation on post-coloniality is an important facet for many popular myths of settler psyches including the terra nullius myth, or the myth of empty/unoccupied lands. Myths like this allow extractivist corporations to appear to be causing indirect environmental harm at worst, rather than perpetuating systemic colonial, racial, and gendered violence in the destruction of colonized Indigenous lands.
This work has become even more topical in the Canadian context since its release in the summer of 2018. On January 7, 2019, the rcmp forcefully removed multiple members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation from the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en encampments, which are on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in the interior of BC. Fourteen of the camp’s members were arrested. 5 Prior to this, the Unist’ot’en, and other groups allied in the struggle against the Northern Gateway Pipeline, earned a brief victory in December 2016 when the federal government abandoned the pipeline project (94). As it is now known, the brevity of the victory was thanks to the Trudeau government’s greenlighting of Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline project (tmep) and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. 6
The violent assault of the Unist’ot’en at the hands of the rcmp was a direct violation of Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (undrip), which plainly states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” 7 It continues the violent settler history of oppressing anti-colonial movements like the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Idle No More, and the Elsipogtog First Nation. This analysis raises important questions in the ever-changing extractivist landscape: how can settler-colonial continuity be understood in the context of the state’s support of the tmep? Thinking from a feminist anti-colonial viewpoint, how will the introduction of more transient workers housed in “man camps”—rural work camps situated along pipeline routes that house temporary employees responsible for pipeline/infrastructure construction and maintenance—affect the environmental and gendered violence against First Nations communities (especially women, girls, and Two Spirit peoples) along the tmep route?
As of February 2019, BuildForce Canada, a state-funded and industry-led authority on Canadian construction labour, predicted that 62,200 new workers will be needed over the next 10 years in BC alone. 8 These workers, 25,700 of which will be from outside of the province, will be constructing the Site C Dam, the lng Canada export facility for the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, and the tmep. The state has never seriously taken responsibility for, nor been accountable to, the persistent violence that Indigenous communities face as a social by-product of extractivism and the creation of man camps near their territories. This colonial gendered violence is one of the by-products of the malaise of workers who lack access to basic social needs ranging from proper health care to familial contact while living in “man camps.” Dramatic increases in reported sexual assault and rape, high levels of substance abuse, and the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women and girls are prevalent in these extractivist regions. One 2017 report by the Firelight Group states that there was a 38 percent increase in reported sexual assaults in Fort St. James in BC, a Canadian extractivist hub that the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline, the North Montney Mainline pipeline, and the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline all pass through. 9 The Canadian state’s continued financing of fossil fuel production through the tmep directly contributes to gendered violence done to Indigenous women and girls today. The collective ignorance around the environmental and gendered violence that results from (state sponsored) extractivist expansion is the most problematic component of the mis/non-information.
This book has far reaching implications for leftists involved in organizing beyond anti-colonial or anti-extractivist frameworks or campaigns. Crosby and Monaghan have organized the whole of their ati/foi acquired government records on a website available for public use. 10 This is an important contribution to anti-capitalist organizing as the files contain records, meetings emails, reports, and memos of the rcmp, csis, the ciit, the (now defunct) Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (inac), Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (aandc), the Integrated Threat Assessment Center (itac), the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (capp), and more. All these organizations implicated in Project sitka surveil other Indigenous-led and settler organizations not detailed in Crosby and Monaghan’s work including the “American Indian Movement, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Defenders of the Land, along with the Council of Canadians, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and media co-ops in Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax.” 11 This dragnet “surveillance matrix” was written about at length in Upping the Anti Issue 20 by Mariful Alam and Matt Cicero.
Implications for Leftist Organizing
This is all to say that everyone organizing around anti-state and anti-capitalist movements has something to gain from reading this work and doing their own personal unsettling. Unsettling in this case depends on contesting colonial narratives that are used to create Indigenous “abnormality” and “extremism,” which in turn normalize extractivist violence. Rupturing the existing myths that settlers believe about Indigenous peoples is an essential step in creating what the Reclaiming Native Truth initiative calls a “mutual humanization, which emphasizes humanity of both the group of concern and the dominant group to engender empathy and a belief in a shared fate.” 12 Indigenous Movements is a useful work towards reanimating this narrative and problematizing the activities of the Canadian security state. The authors end the book with a note on both confining the spread of the security apparatus and contesting settler state dominance in expanding the ficticious post-colonial order through “economic development.” They do not explicitly outline how to “rein in” (192) the security state so the work regarding this research is far from over. Suffice to say, the work of reining in the security state starts with spreading information about its repressive stylings and continuing to support the movements that it targets most vehemently. *