The Jurisdiction of Infrastructure: Circulation And Canadian Settler Colonialism

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Infrastructure always seems to promise something, and so often it seems as if it is a promise intended to be broken.

AbdouMaliq Simone, “Come On Out, You’re Surrounded,” 2015.

It is only three years after Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC), and the first year after the settler state’s 150th anniversary celebrations. The TRC was marked by moral and political claims to repair relations between Canada and Indigenous people, and by formal and popular commitments to redress the violence perpetrated by this settler state. In 2015, live broadcast of the Commission’s reporting described the years of work invested in archiving stories from thousands of survivors of Canada’s residential school system. It was not the benevolence of the state, but the extraordinary resilience of those survivors and their class action law suit that brought the Commission into existence. While the Canadian state had to be dragged into the process, 2015 was nevertheless a moment of possibility for change. Beyond official state commitments to reconciliation, institutions of all kinds made promises to take up the TRC “Calls to Actions.” Academic, artistic, health and cultural institutions began articulating programmatic responses, and Canadians were invited to take responsibility beyond formal and legislated action.

Just two years later, that sentiment of possibility withers. “Canada 150” — ostensibly a moment to mark history, was instead defined by enforced amnesia. Festivities were awash with the language of reconciliation, but sidelined both historic and ongoing state violence, not least the very act of celebrating the “replacement” of multiple Indigenous jurisdictions with a single colonial one. As the late Secwepemc leader, Art Manuel, made clear, “I do not wish to celebrate Canada stealing our land. That is what Canadians will be celebrating on July 1, the theft of 99.8% of our land, leaving us on reserves that make up only 0.2% of the territories given us by the Creator.” Millions of dollars were spent on ‘150’ balloons and birthday parties, in a gaudy, ghastly celebration of the birth of a colonial formation which had its genesis in genocide.