ABOUT JASKIRAN DHILLON ///
Jaskiran Dhillon is a first-generation anti-colonial scholar and organizer who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, Canada. Committed to the tenets of public intellectualism, Jaskiran’s scholarship is informed by on-the-ground advocacy and direct action. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Cultural Anthropology, Truthout, Public Seminar, Feminist Formations, Environment and Society, Social Texts, and Decolonization among other venues. Her first book, Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (2017), provides a critical, ethnographic account of state interventions in the lives of urban Indigenous youth. Her new research focuses on developing an anti-colonial critique of the environmental justice movement by examining Indigenous political movements working against extractivism, including the resistance at Standing Rock. She is guest editor of a special issue of Environment and Society (2018) that foregrounds Indigenous resistance to, and theorizing of, climate change and is co-editor of Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement (2019). Jaskiran is an associate professor of global studies and anthropology at The New School in New York City. She contributed to The Funambulist 20 (Nov-Dec. 2018) Settler Colonialism in Turtle Island (guest-edited by Melanie K. Yazzie & Nick Estes). Learn more on her contributor page.
ABOUT THIS DAILY PODCAST SERIES ///
As many of us are confined in many places of the world, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast in partnership with Radio Alhara emitting from Palestine. Our ambition for it is to not add to the saturation of information we are currently experiencing but, rather, to propose a daily extension 15-minute of our political imaginaries.
The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.
While we are recording this podcast in privileged conditions of confinement, we keep in our thoughts the multitude of people around the world who do not share similar conditions or have no choice but to risk being affected by the pandemic because of criminal policies that have to do with neoliberalism, carceralism, or colonialism
We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.
(music by hooksounds originals)
NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT ///
Jaskiran Dhillon: I just wanted to say thank you for this invitation. It’s a real honor to be part of this series, which has, for me, been quite inspiring. And I think we need worldwide we all need desperately, desperately need stories of inspiration and a kind of future imaginings that are grounded in political commitments to justice and revolution. So I want to thank you for assembling this intervention in these exceptional times and with such exceptional people as part of it.
Léopold Lambert: Thank you.
JD: Yeah, and I’m speaking to you today from Philadelphia, which is Lenape territory, even though I’m going to be speaking about where I grew up back home, in Canada, in Western Canada. So when I read the prompt about true moments of decolonization, I, like many others, I’m sure, thought about a range of experiences and insights I’ve had throughout my life that have sort of struck me as particularly revolutionary or striking, you know, those moments that are etched in your memory as really significant in your own political development and in sort of sharpening of your political commitments. And I think just to clarify, when I think about decolonization, I think about it as a political process that takes many different forms. It’s something obviously, that peoples movements all over the globe have developed strategically and configured and adapted over time. And there are always a range of tactics and approaches. And, you know, so I was thinking about it quite expansively when I was considering which moment to share in this conversation. And all of us that you know, are doing the hard work of political organizing and mobilizing in this moment have inherited these long standing traditions of liberation struggles that of course are global, and, you know, we’re reconfiguring them for this particular historical moment. So, I just thought it was important to, to offer a little bit of context on how I’m thinking about decolonization, you know, as a political anchor for this conversation.
So for my true moment of decolonization, I want to transport us back to December of 2012, at the height of the Idle No More movement in Canada. And for those who are listening, that are not familiar with Idle No More, Idle No More was a grassroots and is still in some form of grassroots movement founded in Saskatchewan, that was developed as a national platform to bring attention to Canada’s history as a white settler colony, to sort of the center of the political stage. So notions of indigenous resurgence, the rebuilding of nation-to-nation relationships based on indigenous sovereignty, and upholding of treaty obligations and rights and responsibilities that were signed at the time of Canada’s colonial founding, are central in this native liberation struggle, and the native liberation struggle that define this moment and continues to this day.
It’s important when we’re thinking about all obviously the context of and development of Idle No More to remember that this is existing against the very the backdrop of a very material set of, of realities and stakes that signal the difference between life and death for Native people across Turtle Island. So in Canada, these conversations around Indigenous resurgence and the upholding of treaty obligations and assertion of Indigenous sovereignty, that have been long standing is clearly tied to other urgent political questions about housing and poverty, rampant violence against indigenous women and girls, limited access to medical care in remote communities. Which of course, in this moment of COVID-19, is again rising to the surface more than ever. Contaminated drinking water, environmental degradation, the underfunding of education for Indigenous children and youth and of course, what is widely known as a persistent criminalization of Indigenous peoples, and violence enacted against them in their communities by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local law enforcement agencies coupled with a child welfare system that is, you know, rooted in the history of residential schooling in Canada.
So Idle No More signaled a political moment, Indigenous uprising in Canada that I think is important when we’re thinking about the context of indigenous resistance across Turtle Island as a whole. And for me, and thinking about which moment to share, and again, I will say, there are many ideas that came to mind. You know, I thought about my role and responsibility as a settler of color who grew up on treaty six, Cree territory and thought about what it means to be a comrade to Indigenous people in the struggle for liberation in the countries where I lived. And this moment just kept rising to the surface for me.
So, as I mentioned, this moment, any event takes place in December of 2012. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and I just flown Saskatoon and was picked up at the airport by one of my friends. And because my flight had been late, we had to drive straight to this Idle No More rally that was happening on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. And it was the middle of winter there, it’s December. So there’s deep snow and a sub-zero climactic freeze. So if you can close your eyes and imagine the most wintry day you could possibly conjure up in your head, that’s where you would land, coupled with being on the riverbank, which creates a little bit of a wind tunnel in different moments. So it’s very cold. As we’re pulling up to this park area on the banks of the Saskatchewan River, you know, I could start to see some of the signage and the people that were gathering, you know, there were parents and children and young people, community members, more well known activists in the community, academics and artists, and then a range of just you know, everyday allies and comrades that had joined the rally that was organized as part of the, again, this growing indigenous resistance in Canada and when you stepped out of the car, and as we were walking towards the rally, people were embracing one another with enthusiasm, an unfettered sense of solidarity, which was really inspiring to be able to witness.
The event itself sort of coalesced around community leaders, including elders and young people that were there making speeches about the conditions of struggle for Indigenous people across Turtle Island. And there were ceremonial songs and drumming and prayer that were all part of this, that were at the core of this gathering. And then at one point all of us joined hands and moved in a rhythmic step with the beat of round dance. And so they had some very well known drummers that were present that day along the river that provided the drumming that allowed us to participate in this round dance. And it was quite an incredible sight to bear witness to, but also to participate in and experience the intergenerational presence across the gathering was notable, and there were children that were playing in the in the snow, and people held posters and placards, and that were stamped with phrases like, you know, “I will fight for my rights, this government is not representative of us as First Nations.” “You don’t have our permission on our lands,” “I am the embodiment of territory,” “our land is sovereign land.”
And all of these things for me resonate as a true moment, all these these these sort of witnessing these, this representation resonates as a true moment of decolonization, because it signals a contemporary instance of Indigenous resurgence. So why does all of this matter in this moment? And why is it so relevant when we’re thinking about the context of Indigenous resistance? And for me, what, why I sort of recognize it and mark it as a moment of decolonization is because it’s a consistent assertion of political mobilization, and indigenous presence in our contemporary historical moment that stands against the deep and entrenched structural violence of settler colonialism that positions Indigenous people in, in a place of disappearance, and of elimination, and of genocide, and histories of violence and domination.
And for me, this experience just embodies all of the incredible strength and intergenerational leadership and possibility for a different kind of world and a different kind of way of being and a different kind of living for all of us, that inhabit the lands of Turtle Island, and also signals a kind of responsibility, that we have to think about the very concrete measures we can take to act in solidarity in material ways that would allow this future, a future that is anti-capitalist, a future that thinks hard about what our relationship between the human and other than human world should be, a future that places the notion of radical relationality and reflexive relationality kind of at the center of how we exist in the every day, and a future that dismantles the political economy of settler colonialism in a way that makes it possible for all of us across the globe to continue to exist on the planet. And at the same time, recognizes and uphold Indigenous sovereignty over their homelands. So this experience for me, I think, really helped to make clear what my own political commitments were to this, but also to remind me of the very, very long standing arc of indigenous resistance on the homelands where I grew up.
And I think if I can take a moment now to just read the words of one of the Indigenous leaders who was present at this rally and round dance, it’ll provide a better sense of some of the texture of the day. So this was very close to the beginning of my arrival at the rally and round dance. And so I just want to share these words, because this is sort of how I entered the space when I arrived that day. So this is what he said: “This is the rise of Indigenous awareness, the Indigenous presence. And the reality is that the potential of who we are as Indigenous peoples hasn’t fully been realized yet here, the potential for what our children are bringing for what our young people are bringing has yet to be witnessed by Canadian citizens and yet to be witnessed by the world. And we can see that among our young people who are here today. I feel like this is a stepping stone for our young people to witness and experience for they’re the ones who are going to carry on.”
And while he was speaking, you could see in the backdrop there was this soft, delicate mist that was drifting up from the snowed in and glowing river and the trees were covered in this thick white frost that kind of created this metaphorical backdrop, that you could feel a kind of a presence in his speaking that was connected to the place that we were standing on the riverbank. And also a very tangible sense that change was and is coming. Change to the long standing conditions of indigenous dispossession, change in the ways that we fundamentally relate to the air and water and land that we are so intimately connected to and rely upon, change in terms of the Canadian political relationship to the Indigenous nations who have inherent rights to their territories change in terms of the social institutions that have done the work of Indigenous elimination, since the colonial founding of Canada, and so all of these things to me were signaled in the ways that people were speaking, but also in the very presence of people on the land next to the river that day in a city that is consistently positioned as a white settler city. This is a an assertion of Indigenous presence, a city that is actually an Indigenous city, a city that is built on Indigenous homelands.
And the one last thing that I’ll say about this moment, and why I sort of, it sort of keeps arriving in my imagination, and my memory as a place as a point of, or moment of true decolonization was that there was a youthful presence in this place. In this moment that could not be undermined. And the young people participating in this rally, were contesting the alleged privileges and benefits of what it means to grow up in Canada with their material realities of what it means to be an Indigenous person fighting for their political rights and access and, and responsibilities to their homelands and territories. And they’re not just passive onlookers or, you know, without agency in this struggle, but are actually leaders that are voicing their political demands and their desire to craft a different future for them and their communities, and the generations that are coming after them.
And you can see the reverberations of this, across many places on Turtle Island, right. This was clearly witnessed in the Standing Rock Sioux struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline with the presence and leadership of indigenous young people there, including the runners that went to Washington DC. My recent visit to Witsuwit’en territory in Northern B.C., and the resistance that’s being led there by the Witsuwit’en against the coastal gaslink pipeline, I had a similar kind of experience in sort of witnessing the responsibility and the leadership of the Indigenous young people in moving the political mobilization of Indigenous communities forward in these territories.
And this, to me is absolutely foundational to how we think about what it means to live in this moment, and to support the struggle for native liberation in the countries that we live in here, on Turtle Island. And that it’s a clear reminder of Indigenous presence and the immense leadership and continuance that continues to exist despite hundreds of years of settler colonialism. And that everyday people are continuing to come together and to fight against the structural violence of the world that is inherent in the configurations of settler colonies, like the United States and Canada. And for me, that is an has to be the beginning point of a movement for decolonization.