Immigrant people of colour and Indigenous peoples have a common ground- that of being forced to negotiate the barriers of militarized borders that confine and oppress them and refuse them any sovereignty or self-determination.

Our Home on Native Land

By Sarwat Viquar

Canada is a country which prides itself on its efforts in
‘peace-building’, always taking care to distinguish its
‘peace-building’ efforts from similar efforts as claimed by its
southern neighbour. Abroad, this peace-building translates into
‘supporting sustainable development in order to reduce poverty and
contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.’

Volumes can be written and indeed have been already on the nature of
and the pre-conditions attached to this ‘sustainable development’.
Whether it is the schizophrenia of supporting a program for ‘human
rights education’ of the Pakistani masses while simultaneously
supporting and encouraging its military dictatorship, or talking
about Africaís poverty while looking for ‘investment opportunities’
in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But that is ‘Canada Abroad.’ What about ‘Canada at Home?’ and what
does ‘peace-building’ mean at home? The very suggestion that the
department of foreign affairs and CIDA’s (Canadian International
Development Agency) regular sessions and NGO consultations on ‘human
rights’ could possibly include a review of Canada’s own human rights
record is viewed with shock.

The Canadian government as the great peace-builder has a unique
understanding of how to treat people on (what it considers) its own
territory. It means deporting 24 non-status Algerians back to Algeria
while telling a deported couple that their two-year old son can live
in Canada, but they cannot, because he’s Canadian and they’re not. It
means threatening deportation to a ten week pregnant Algerian woman
threatening a hunger strike that she has to go back to a country
where 100,000 people have been disappeared since 1992 ( see DFAIT
Canada’s travel advisory for Algeria).

The lifting of the moratorium on Algerian deportations culminated in
a crisis last month as an Algerian family ordered to appear at Dorval
airport in Montreal for their deportation failed to appear. They were
granted sanctuary at a local church with lots of support from local
activist groups. Due to this support and local media attention,
immigration authorities didn’t dare to arrest and forcibly remove the
couple who have a two-year old son.

This comes at the end of a six month long campaign by local activists
in Montreal, belonging to a group called ‘No-one is Illegal’ and the
‘Comite d’action des sans-statut’. Even now, immigration authorities
fail to see the trauma they are putting these people through as the
violation of human rights it plainly is. The list goes on and will
probably increase as Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone,
Angola and the Republic of the Congo come under ‘review’ by the
Canadian Immigration Council for mass deportations.

These are those same “developing countries” that are ‘some of the
poorest countries in the world’ and where “(people) majority women,
struggle to survive on less than $1 US per day” (Canadian
International Development Agency website, section on Africa, ).

The myth of a humane western democracy that benignly watches over the
immigrants it has granted gracious sanctuary to, is too strong and
too well propagated through the corporate media. Buying into this
myth as refugees and immigrants of colour, we are often told what a
privilege it is to be granted ‘Canadian citizenship’, or American, or
British, or Australian.

That we should be delighted to gain citizenship rights from our
former colonial masters. Being far from our lands of origin and not
having been exposed to the actively colonizing nature of the US and
Canada we often buy into the whole idea of being privileged to be
here and strive to be ‘good immigrants’.

But there are no such blinkers for Charlie ‘Wolf’ Smoke, an
Indigenous person of Mohawk, Lakota and Seneca heritage who is now
being asked by the Canadian government to ‘prove’ his Canadian
citizenship and his right to be in Canada. Wolf does not identify
with being ‘Canadian’. He has made it clear that he belongs to his
community of Indigenous peoples who have lived here for centuries,
which therefore makes him ‘Pre-Canadian’. As a result he and his
family have been continuously terrorized by Canadian authorities.

Wolf has well-founded fears that one day Canadian authorities may try
to disappear him. Recently he has been asked to appear for hearings
in front of Immigration Canada and been threatened with deportation
to the US. US authorities have already refused to accept him, not
that he is looking for their acceptance.

Canadian authorities may well wish they could deport him to the past,
since that is where, in their minds, indigenous sovereignty belongs.
(for more on the case of Charlie ‘Wolf’ Smoke, see (original link is down))

Immigrant people of colour and Indigenous peoples have a common
ground- that of being forced to negotiate the barriers of militarized
borders that confine and oppress them and refuse them any sovereignty
or self-determination. For the Algerians, it means being caught in
the vicious cycle of repression, deprivation and outright torture in
Algeria and being penalized and criminalized for seeking asylum
against it in countries like Canada. Countries which either directly
prop-up or turn a blind eye to the post-colonial dictatorships which
flourish in the South.

For Indigenous Peoples, it means being told to ‘prove’ their right to
be on the only land they have ever known. It is Western imperialism
that is the common denominator here and recognition of that means
recognition of the need to fight a common oppressor.

In Smoke’s words “Uncle Sam shot my grandfather in the back, raped my
grandmother, humiliated my parents, then did everything he could to
keep me from even being born. Now he’s going somewhere else to do the
exact same thing to someone else. So I should help him? Then come
back here where he will continue to commit acts of genocide against
me? What’s wrong with that picture?”

In a march of solidarity for the Algerians facing deportations from
Canada, Shawn Brandt, a Mohawk activist from the Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty (OCAP) stood outside the offices of Immigration
Canada and told the Algerians that they were ‘welcome on his land’.
During a three day conference on Indigenous Peopleís Struggles, held
in Montreal and entitled ‘Our Home on Native Land’.

Indigenous activists repeatedly affirmed their solidarity with
Algerians, Palestinians, Colombians, Afghans and others. They voiced
their strong opposition to the war plans being prepared for Iraq and
talked about how Indigenous lands and the people on them had served
as the first testing grounds for the military industrial complex. It
is time to give back this solidarity and to show that we as
immigrants are honoured to identify our struggles with the struggles
of Indigenous Peoples in America.

[This article was originally published on ZNet on December 15, 2002.]