Guest lecturer highlights the realities of settler colonial present

By in Opinions

On March 16, Lorenzo Veracini of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, gave a guest lecture at the University of Saskatchewan on settler colonialism and the ongoing legacy it presents. I spoke briefly with Veracini and U of S history professor Maurice Jr. Labelle about the settler colonial present and how to decolonize one’s life on Treaty Six territory.

In addressing the settler colonial present, Veracini emphasizes that while many would say Canada’s settler colonial history is a bygone era, its legacies and influence on the present are still obvious.

Decolonizing - Jeremy Britz
Lorenzo Veracini (left) and Maurice Jr. Labelle (right) pose together.

“It is a mode of domination that informs the present because of its legacies,” Veracini said. “As a mode of domination, settler colonialism establishes a sociopolitical body in place of another. So the legacies of settler colonialism structure society. The legacies of settler colonialism are recognizable in the way society is structured and in the way power behaves.”

Similarly, Veracini notes that the legacy of settler colonialism should not be regarded as a break from history or something that denotes it as a separate era.

“A legacy is something to string the past and the present together,” Veracini said. “When you say legacy, it’s not to distance the [present] from the past, it’s actually to emphasize how the two are related directly.”

In discussing the terminology of the “settler colonial present,” Labelle notes that contention can arise and that European-descended Canadians may be reluctant to acknowledge the settler colonial reality that is their life.

“In a lot of ways, that’s a very provocative frame, because people don’t think of the present — wrongfully — as being settler colonial,” Labelle said. “We mostly think of colonialism and settler colonialism as an act that happened in the past, that doesn’t have longevity.”

Veracini spoke of the “logic of elimination” in modern settler colonial societies — a means of oppression that dispossesses people from rights and privileges.

“To explain how the logic of elimination works, for example, if people eat rubbish, they’re not reproducing properly,” Veracini said. “If people don’t access decent medical care — and these days they don’t — that’s because they are positioned in a mode of domination that no longer is interested in their reproduction as labour power.”

When it comes to decolonizing our lives and the approaches to it, Veracini was hesitant to put forth concrete solutions but remained ideologically steadfast.

“I believe when it comes to decolonization processes, individual actions are not as significant as collective ones,” Veracini said. “If colonialism is a relationship — for example, the unequal relationship that constitutes colonist and colonized — its end will also be a relationship, a respectful relationship based on equality.”

Both Labelle and Veracini made a point of underlining that the legacies and continued presence of settler colonialism — while seemingly difficult to identify — are highly prevalent in day-to-day life.

“Legacies of settler colonialism are widespread,” Veracini said. “They are also normalized. The more it wins, the less it is visible. It is easy not to see the legacies, because they are everywhere. It’s hidden in plain sight.”

Regarding Canada, Labelle was more upfront about the legacies of settler colonialism.

“They’re on our money,” Labelle said.

While decolonizing our lives can seem daunting, Veracini sees it as a vital and necessary component of living in a postcolonial world.

“If you’re willing to accept the inheritance of settler colonialism — including a relatively wealthy society and benefits and so on — you should be ready to accept the responsibilities that come with it,” Veracini said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Zach Tennent / Opinions Editor

Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor