Gustafsen Lake and Colonialism in Canada

The Gustafsen Lake Standoff represents a site of ongoing resistance to the Canadian colonial project. The institution of state control comes together for the purpose of reenforcing the Canadian state and defending its symbolic borders against First Nations. I use Michel Foucault’s (2009) concept of nation building as it is relevant to the need of the Canadian government to police land claims and First Nations protestors in conjunction with Mark Neocleous (2003) who expands upon many of Foucault’s concepts with the idea of territory. Todd Gordon’s (2011) critique of the Canadian imperial state documents the myriad of ways in which land is stolen from the First Nations. Through legal technicalities and a history of coercive force the Canadian government is able to navigate around the land claim argument put forth by the Shuswup defenders. By actively working against neoliberal ideals of good economics in occupying useful ranch land First Nations are standing in the way of Canada securing circulation, and prevent themselves from being assimilated into governmental bodies like the Assembly of First Nations. The use of force and violence by the Shuswup defenders and its subsequent denouncement can be understood when we look at the nature of law. Law is instrumentally used support a Canadian monopoly over violence for enforcing colonial values and the sovereignty of Canada. The land claim resolution process that Ovide Mercredi suggests is the legitimate avenue for the Shuswup defenders to take has been critiqued by Gordon as a present day form of First Nations dispossession aimed at legitimizing the theft of land. Gustafsen lake represents a wider symbolic struggle over the very foundation of Canada questioning its very legitimacy. Canada’s colonial project is ongoing in suppressing the issue of land-claims and Aboriginal sovereignty.

The concept of territory and dominion are used extensively in Neocleous’ theory in imagining the purpose and use of state control, territory is the primary reason for the Canadian government’s excessive response as the legitimacy and sovereignty of the nation is disrupted by First Nations protestors (Neocleous, 2003). Territory is land occupied and ruled through terror. It’s borders are policed by people who represent that “citizens” of the state, thus the situation of Gustafsen is especially well positioned in highlighting who real citizens are. The police are white Canadian citizens who have come to do their civic duty and stop what the state has characterized as an unlawful protest. Neocleous also explains the importance of the Gustafsen Lake dancers remaining stateless to Canadian interests. By denouncing their actions via the statements of Mercredi, the government sanctioned legitimate First Nations body, the government secured the Shuswup defenders’ status as stateless and therefore irrelevant as a threat to Canada or a legitimate people to be reasoned with internationally. The government then asserted their own monopoly over legitimate use of violence and their dominion over the Shuswup defenders by consistently chastising them for participating in criminal activity over the media. Because of their stateless nature established by the Canadian media’s ontology of events, Canada can take action with no major international repercussions due to the globalized interest in maintaining the existence of nation states and colonial powers. The sacred Shuswup sundance ceremony grounds cannot be found in any typical North American map you’d find in any school, and therein lies the true power of sovereignty. That is defining what real territory is and rewriting history for your citizens to maintain your state.

Because of these factors it is necessary to create discussions and allow room for potentially unlawful protests that strike at the heart of the land-claim issue, many of these claims collide the moral foundations concerning the construction of Canada. The Shuswup defenders’ main political goal after the RCMP siege was in full effect was to obtain the government’s promise that they would help institute an international inquiry on the Canadian government’s occupation on unceded First Nations land. Which was ignored, later the supreme court also ignored appeals that the Shuswup defenders made that they believed that the sundance ground was unceded land. Regardless of what the supreme court thought, it is a well documented fact that most British Columbia was established by the Canadian military forcibly removing inhabitants from areas of economic value. Even if a treaty was made, which Canadian media is passively denying, the Canadian government has a rich history ignoring them or falsifying treaty details and robbing First Nations (Gordon 2011). From the media coverage of the event it is clear that the news outlets’ intent in showcasing the Gustafsen Lake standoff is bringing the story to an abrupt and simple solution. To add insult to injury various attempts to simplify and create false binaries about good or bad First Nations are useful to the colonial project in creating divisions within First Nations groups. These political actions need to be broken down and taken more seriously, the motivations were very clear and should be addressed. Instead, Canada acts out in patronizing manners towards First Nations people. The Gustafsen Lake Standoff stands as another example of ongoing resistance to the Canadian colonial project.

Reference List:

Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp 311-328. [29 March 1978 lecture]

Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358. [5 April 1978 lecture]

Gordon, Todd. 2011. “Empire at Home.” Pp. 66-133 in Imperialist Canada. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing. [Focus on pp. 66-76, 122-133]

Neocleous, Mark. 2003. “The Home of the State.” Pp. 98-124 in Imagining the State. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Recommended Reading:

Kealey, Gregory S. 2000. “Spymaster, Spies and their Subjects: The RCMP and Canadian State Repression, 1914-39.” Pp. 18-33 in Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, edited by Gary Kinsman, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Linden, Sidney. 2007. “Primer on Aboriginal Occupations.” Pp. 15-27 in Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, Volume 2. Ipperwash Inquiry. Retrieved March 11, 2008 from

Pasternak, Shiri, Sue Collis and Tia Dafnos. 2010. “Criminalization at Tyendinaga: securing Canada’s Colonial Property Regime through Specific Land Claims.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 28(1):65-81.

Rose, Nikolas. 2000. “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology 40: 321-39.Mark. 2008. “‘The Supreme Concept of Bourgeois Society’: Liberalism and the Technique of Security.” Pp. 11-38 in Critique of Security. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.



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