who is a settler?


a couple of weeks ago i published the first part of my essay  on indigenous solidarity, “do what you say: indigenous solidarity in theory and practice”.  i got a few comments about the essay on FB, including one from Zainab Amadahy.  i asked her if she’d like to expand on her thoughts and i could post them on my blog.  she said that she was too busy, but that i could quote from her comment if i liked.  i think that her comment is useful in illuminating some of the complexities around using the word “settler,” and some of the concerns people have.  here is her quote:

“As someone who is mixed race with African American heritage I am extremely uncomfortable with how the word settler gets uniformly and uncritically applied to African descended folks (might be issues re other POC communities but I can’t speak well to that unless it relates the the US/Latino dynamic which is another complex issue). It feels to me as if you’re using “settler” as a static place of being rather than as a relationship. So for me as someone whose African ancestors were brought here in chains “settlement” wasn’t a choice and in many regards the word doesn’t apply since they haven’t really been allowed to “settle” here because of systemic racism and the violence it visits. I know it’s an ongoing discussion with many African descended communities but I think much is resolved if we 1) look at settlement as a relationship, 2) recognize that identifying as a settler is limited in terms of its ability speak to the complexities of that relationship and 3) does nothing to clarify questions about disparities of social and political power among communities and their complex relationships to decolonization, much less their responsibilities to it. For African descended folks who are struggling for survival against brutal systemic racism that is intertwined with colonization and attempting to negotiate their relationships to Indigenous folks on land they have never been allowed to live on peacefully … well, suffice it to say I don’t think a White guy’s generalization around African-descended “settlers” and their responsibilities is helpful to this discourse. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s not your role to define the roles and responsibilities of African-descended folks at all.”

i also talked with an indigenous university professor who comes from abya yala (south america), and who is métis as to his thoughts about who is and who is not a settler. in his opinion the question of whether métis people are indigenous or settlers is complicated and depends largely on whether they are connected to their indigenous or their settler heritage.  further, he said that he doesn’t believe in one correct definition that is superior to all others, and that ought to be advanced as “the” definition of settler.



The Wiphala: Bolivia’s Other National Flag

finally, i remember listening to shawn brant (mohawk from tyendinaga) several years ago say that he didn’t consider anyone who supported his community and were willing to fight to protect the community as settlers.

i knew when i was writing the essay that the question of “who is a settler?” might be contentious.  i know that some people of colour don’t like the term being applied to them, while other settlers of colour use the term.

for me a settler is someone who is a part of a group who benefits in a structural and systemic way from the historic and ongoing colonization of the place where they live, and i don’t make any exceptions.  this does not mean that everyone benefits equally from colonization.

the palestinian solidarity group students against isralei apartheid – carleton often begin their events by reading a declaration of indigenous solidarity where those of them who are palestinian say that they are both indigenous (palestinians) and settlers benefiting from settler colonialism in canada.

i am also not at all interested in forcing the definition i use on others.

in any case, in order to write an essay where i use the term settler, i needed to have a clear definition of what i meant by the term, and so i have included the definition i am using in part one of my essay.



2 thoughts on “who is a settler?

  1. Once again Matt, your very deep and intentionally helpful dialogue on very complex ideas makes sense. As an ‘elder’ Canadian….whatever that is! ….I am grateful and happy to be learning from your thoughts… Bravo young brother.


    • thanks maureen. i truly appreciate that you took the time to read my writing and to comment. i definitely want to value the knowledge and experience of people who are older than i am.


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