Colonialism Denial by Canada's prime minister ignores First Nation history and current reality

AFN press release

AFN National Chief Responds to Prime Minister's Statements on Colonialism

             "We (Canada) also have no history of colonialism."

                                                Prime Minister Stephen Harper
                                 Speaking at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA
                                                           September 25, 2009

        Colonialism: the control or governing influence of a nation over a
        dependent country, territory, or people; the system or policy by
        which a nation maintains or advocates such control or influence.

    OTTAWA, Oct. 1 /CNW Telbec/ - First Nation leaders and a chorus of Canadians find the Prime Minister's comments that there is "no history of colonialism" in Canada shocking, confounding and wrong.

AFN National Chief Atleo today stated:

    "The Prime Minister must be held to the highest standard especially when speaking to the international community. There is no room for error. The current line of response from federal officials that the Prime Minister's remarks were taken 'out of context' is simply not good enough for someone in his position.

    I have spoken with the Minister of Indian Affairs and urged him and the Prime Minister to meet with First Nations in good faith to address this matter and, equally important, begin the work of reconciliation that lies ahead. The Prime Minister stated in his apology to students of residential schools that, 'There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again.' The Prime Minister must ensure that such commitments inform every statement and action.

    The effects of colonialism remain today. It is the attitude that fueled the residential schools; the colonial Indian Act that displaces traditional forms of First Nations governance; the theft of Indian lands and forced relocations of First Nations communities; the criminalization and suppression of First Nations languages and cultural practices; the chronic under-funding of First Nations communities and programs; and the denial of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, even though they are recognized in Canada's Constitution.

    Internationally, Canada has been scrutinized and harshly criticized for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and failure to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Canada is increasingly isolated as one of only three nations in the world that has refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that rejects the doctrine of colonialism.

    The Prime Minister's statement speaks to the need for greater public education about First Nations and Canadian history. It may be possible to use this moment to begin bridging this gulf of misunderstanding. The future cannot be built without due regard to the past, without reconciling the incredible harm and injustice with a genuine commitment to move forward in truth and respect.

    First Nations leaders and Canadians call on the Prime Minister to honour the apology and to make clear the path to reconciliation."

                                                   National Chief Shawn Atleo
                                                    Assembly of First Nations

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.


For further information: Interview requests for AFN National Chief Atleo should be directed to:; Robert Simpson, (778) 991-1407; Chantelle Krish, (778) 990-9544 


AFNQL press release

Prime Minister Harper Denies Colonialism in Canada at G20

    WENDAKE, QC, Sept. 29 /CNW Telbec/ - Prime Minister Harper's statement denying colonialism in Canada made to the press last Friday at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh is an insult and injurious statement to all First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada. While gloating about Canada's economic situation at a press conference, Prime Minister Harper said, "We also have no history of colonialism", referring to Canada. "We cannot remain silent when such false statements are made. In fact society has a responsibility to denounce such misleading statements. Denying the history of colonialism in Canada is like denying the holocaust" said Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL).

    A simple search on Google on "Canada and colonialism" would certainly deny PM Harper's statement. What can be more colonial than a system where the original inhabitants have been removed from the land and forced to live on plots of land that are often the size of a postage stamp. There can be no other term than a colonialist regime when a constitution of a country is drawn up and the original inhabitants are excluded and made wards of the state, with no citizenship.

    Legislation such as the Indian Act with policies of registering the Indigenous population for purposes of control have established a long standing colonial relationship of a racist, exploitative and coercive nature by the dominant settler population and their governments.

    The government of Canada faces the Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of Canada for violation of the rights of Indigenous people in Canada. Canada was cited no less than 38 times for the same reasons at its Universal Periodic review at the United Nations on February 3rd 2009.
Canada's continued restrictive legislation and policies as well as the persistent and consistent underfunding of First Nations economy, housing, health, education, while heavily investing in these areas for the non-Indigenous dominant population is on record and a clear testament to the continuing refinement of a colonialist regime in Canada.

    Canadian Heritage confirmed the precarious situation of Aboriginal languages over 20 years ago. Since Mr. Harper has come to power, we have seen the meagre programs for Aboriginal languages cut drastically. This is consistent with the extinguishment policies of colonial regimes as demonstrated by the admitted objectives of the residential schools which were, "to kill the Indian in the child". Historical policies such as, "Belcher Declaration" that financially rewarded colonialists for scalps of Indigenous men, women and children, and the circulation of infected blankets are acts that were committed here in Canada.

    Colonialism is alive and well in Canada and this can be seen very clearly in the province of Quebec where the federal and provincial governments are cooperating on initiatives to continue the exploitation of Indigenous territories that remain unconquered and unceded. Canada remains silent on the violation of the rights and titles of the Indigenous peoples and the exploitation of their territories but promotes the developments of these on the world stage.

    "The tactics have changed, they are now more refined. The colonization of Indigenous lands and resources continues to this day and federal policy to that effect still denies our title, rights and treaties" adds Chief Picard.

    The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) is a regional organization regrouping the First Nations Chiefs of Quebec and Labrador.


For further information: Alain Garon, Communications Officer, AFNQL, (418) 842-5020, Cell (418) 956-5720


Harper’s understanding of Canada's history and Canadians 

“We’re so self-effacing as Canadians that we sometimes forget the assets we do have that other people see. … We are one of the most stable regimes in history. … We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them. … Canada is big enough to make a difference but not big enough to threaten anybody. And that is a huge asset if it’s properly used.”

—Stephen Harper, Friday, Sept. 25 G20 Summit (Source:


From Queens Journal

Where was the outcry? - At the G20 conference, Stephen Harper claims Canada has “no history of colonialism”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comment was an assault on Canada’s Aboriginal population.

I expected outrage—an outpour of letters to local politicians or newspapers or a national media storm. Instead, there was no response.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said what could be the most offensive statement of his career as a public officer. At the G20 conference in Pittsburgh, in front of every world leader and the rest of the world, he said “We also have no history of colonialism.” What?

At first I thought I could be wrong. Maybe I don’t understand what colonialism is. I consulted various sources for a definition. The sum of all these definitions can be found in the Stanford Encyclopaedia definition: “Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.” That’s what I thought it was, too. I didn’t misunderstand the words that came from Mr. Harper’s mouth.

By talking to some of my peers, I found many actually agree with the statement that Canada has no history of colonialism. In a public forum, someone expressed that “Arguably, we really don’t, and if we did, it’s nothing spectacular. Any form of North American expansion and westward movement before 1867 cannot be placed on Canadian shoulders. And you don’t see Canadians with overseas territorial interests.” So as it turns out, there’s debate to be had over this—which is why I’m writing this piece. Not only does Canada have a history of colonialism—Canada is fundamentally built on colonialist endeavors. It’s offensive to even debate the question “Does Canada have a colonial history?” The only reason I’m engaging in this ridiculous debate is to counter the only voices speaking out on this incident—voices in support of Mr. Harper’s statement.

At best, the comment was a gross assault on this country’s Aboriginal population. Stephen Harper trivializes the struggle of Native peoples throughout Canadian history, largely the history of the state attempting to control, dominate and subjugate First Nations groups. The historical amnesia represented by Harper’s comment forgets instances like Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs in the 1920s, saying, “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.” From the beginning, the goal was cultural and political obliteration of Aboriginal people.

It disregards comments made by Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, regarding the control of the land: “…that Canada should remain a white man’s country is believed to be not only desirable for economic and social reasons but highly necessary on political and national grounds.” Above all, Harper’s ignorant comment makes light of the fact that our residential schools—the tool through which the state continued its assault on human rights by practicing cultural genocide and physical and sexual abuse—were Canada’s own version of ethnic cleansing. We did this. We, the people of Canada. It’s an undeniable part of our history. The Prime Minister himself issued an apology for residential schools just 14 months ago. When we speak of the residential school system, we’re acknowledging Canada’s own racist, colonialist past and history. The last residential school closed in 1996, when many Queen’s students were already in grade school.

It’s embarrassing for a nation to deny on the world stage any previous heinous acts it had committed. Sure, we aren’t directly responsible for acts committed by previous governments. But it’s offensive and hurtful to deny that these acts were committed. To this day, Canadian state colonialism stands in the way of the Six Nations, Akwesasne, Tyendinaga, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Athabasca Chipewyan, Secwepemc and many other peoples who are forced to put up blockades every year to stop environmental injustices caused by mining and resources extraction. That’s a form of dominating, subjugating and controlling others that this state still commits.

Canada didn’t spring up overnight onto an unpopulated and barren landmass. This nation came to exist through an extension of military, political, cultural and economic control on part of French, British and Canadian governments over the First Nations people.

If that doesn’t qualify as a “history of colonialism,” I’m not sure what does.