As I make my way through my own journey I have being trying to keep track of the many excuses that are used by settlers to avoid the discomfort of accepting that Canada was created without the consent of Indigenous peoples, alongside the truth of the genocide Canada has (and continues) to commit against Indigenous peoples. To this day, I believe my official list is hitting closer to 22 but here is a few common excuses, ‘moves to innocence’, ‘failures of vision’, or ‘moves to comfort’.
Note: The first six settler moves to innocence capture the ways that “everything within a settler colonial society strains to destroy or assimilate the Native in order to disappear them from the land” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.9). The remaining settler moves to innocence are crucial to finding my space as a white occupier researcher. Parts of this are from pieces of my own research but I just find that I see these types of excuses appearing online and in person so I wanted to post them in a sense of remembering to to be critically aware.
Settler nativism refers to the location or invention of an ancestor with Indian blood, which renders the occupier blameless in the genocide of Indigenous peoples (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.10). Typically, the ancestor was an Indian grandmother because a male ancestor was connected to the savage warrior stereotype (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.11). Moreover, Indigenous becomes a subtractive status, with each generation being seen as less Indigenous to strengthen settler claims to property (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.12).
2. Fantasizing Adoption
Fantasizing adoption refers to the colonial settler imagination in which “the Native (understanding that he is becoming extinct) hands over his land…his very Indian-ness to the settler for safe-keeping” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 14). As a result, we all become Indian and “our only recourse is to move forward, however regretfully with our settler future” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.17).
3. Colonial Equivocation
Colonial equivocation, refers to describing all struggles against imperialism as decolonizing (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.17). This typically embodies a statement such as “we are all colonized”, which in turn holds the inference that settlers do not exist (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 17).
Conscientization or being able to “free your mind and the rest will follow” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 19) refers to acting as if developing a critical consciousness alone is decolonization. As Tuck & Yang (2012) put it the “experience of teaching and learning to be critical of settler colonialism can be so powerful it can feel like it is indeed making a change” however this does not necessarily translate into the repatriation (here I would insert rematriation) of Indigenous lands and life (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.19).
At-risk references the ways Indigenous peoples are described as “on the verge of extinction, culturally and economically” in the ways they are counted, codified and represented by social science researchers (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.22). Asterisk refers to how in large data sets (often used to inform public policy such as education or health statistics) renders Indigenous communities invisible because of the small sample size of Indigenous peoples compared to other race-based categories (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 22).
6. Re-occupation & Urban Homestead
For settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way, therefore law and policies were made to destroy Indigenous peoples, communities, and land claims, while at the same time positioning the settler as “both superior and normal” for their actions (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.22).
7. Desire to make something right
If this desire is short lived and shallow, it is only an escape from existing discomfort. This can take the form of faking allyship and running in with the “what can I do?” impulse or “running off to the Northern territory” to work on an issue that is far away while ignoring local Indigenous struggles (Land, 2015, pp.164, 179-180).
8.Metaphorization of Decolonisation
Decolonization involves both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples engaging in collective action to “break down the institutions and hierarchical structures that maintain and perpetuate the colonial relationship” (Heaslip, 2017, p. 61). It is part of a solidarity that is a long-term relationship of accountability, co-resistance, restitution, and reparations, with Indigenous peoples (Heaslip, 2017, p.18, 62). It is “a centering of our responsibility to colonial history and colonial present” and not a strategic alliance to serve our own agenda (Heaslip, 2017, p.62). Decolonization brings about the “repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools” (Heaslip, 2017, p. 1). Social justice and critical methodologies may decenter white occupier perspectives, but their objectives may be incommensurable with decolonization (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.1). Decolonization is not:
converting Indigenous politics into a Western doctrine of liberation…, a philanthropic
process of ‘helping’ the at-risk…,a generic term for struggle against oppressive conditions… settler scholars…being self-aware.... [or] a metonym for social justice (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.21). Any work in decolonization is accountable only to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 35). If a white occupier’s work is an attempt to relieve feelings or responsibility or guilt without change or giving up land, power, or privilege, it is only a settler move to innocence (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.10)
9. Resolution, 10. Exception, 11. Removal
Refers to asserting that colonialism can end within the given settler state order and exception, where the setter uses guilt or self-claims the title of an Indigenous ally to escape complicity, and removal, where the individual simply avoids entering spaces where they could be implicated as a settler (Lowman & Barker, 2015, pp.100-10, 104).
12. ‘Good White’
Empty apologising (words and no action) or engaging in the alliance only to claim the identity of a ‘good white’ do nothing to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples and require no sacrifice from the occupier (Land, 2015, p.239). Potential allies need to interrogate their motivations behind entering into allyship. Suspect motives of entering into allyship include: for a personal sense of redemption, to follow the trend, to create stepping stone to employment in Aboriginal industry, to gain recognition from Indigenous peoples, to solely be friends with or have children with and Indigenous person, and to deal with personal psychological problems (Land, 2015, p. 105). Furthermore, allies to Indigenous peoples need to be aware of behaviours and excuses that emerge to preserve emotional safety. These excuses include: bursting into tears so Indigenous peoples need to tell you that you are not to blame, turning to anger when any of your behaviour is corrected by Indigenous peoples, and lending your voice to non-Indigenous political parties flouting Indigenous platforms but not giving support to Indigneous self-governance (Lowman & Barker, 2015, pp.95-98). If white occupiers are taking their allyship seriously then emotional safety is not a realistic expectation.
13. Too Hard
Genocide, colonialism, decolonisation...they are huge. It is easy to sit and think it is too hard and it cannot be changed. But colonisation has taken place for over 150 years. It will take just as long if not longer to decolonise. (although I very very much hope it does not take this long!) But, we cannot allow scope, fear of making mistakes, or discomfort to excuse inaction.
14. Assume Common Knowledge
To me, this comes out in classrooms and research where as educators we assume our students know the colonial history and present and so we just gloss over it with phrases such as “these past horrors of residential schools” or “overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system” without explaning the bi picture. For example, we assume that they know there is a crisis of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. We assume that they understand the links of the crisis to contemporary colonialism. We assume that they known colonialism is still in effect. Yet when I speak to these topics there is often shock, if not resistance. Without educating their will be no action.
Heaslip, R. (2017). From Xwelítem Ways Towards Practices of Ethical Being in Stó:lō
Téméxw: A Narrative Approach to Transforming Intergenerational White Settler
Subjectivities. (Unpublished Doctorate Dissertation) University of Victoria, Victoria, BC
Lowman, E., & Barker, A. (2015). Settler Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada.
Fernwood Publishing: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Land, C. (2015). Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of
Indigenous Struggles. Zed Books: London, UK.
Tuck, E. & Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigenity,
Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40. Retrieved from: