Filed under: Anarchist Movement, Critique, Indigenous, Land, White Supremacy
An anti-colonial critique of two texts, Rattachements and Inhabit.
It was winter 2020 and in the aftermath of the most inspiring anti-colonial uprising of my lifetime, I read Rattachements (Re-attachments in English) and Inhabit. The trains had started up again across the country, and COVID-19 was starting to reorder our lives mere weeks after we had been doing our small part to help shut down Canada. In and around Tio’tia:ke (Montreal) where I live, there were many Indigenous-led initiatives, including solidarity rounddances that blocked traffic downtown, and of course the month-long blockade of the railway tracks that run through Kahnawá:ke. On and around the island, the engagement of settlers in #ShutDownCanada took a number of forms including clandestine sabotage of rail infrastructure, demos and vandalism of RCMP property, and multiple rail blockades, one of which lasted a few days.
Coming down off of these events, it was especially jarring to read the proposals in Inhabit and Rattachements. Both texts are representations of political thought coming out of communities in the US and Quebec that are heavily influenced by the writings of the Invisible Committee in France and European Autonomist movements. This political tendency is sometimes labelled tiqqunist, appelist, or autonomist. It is a political orientation that has a significant amount of sway among a segment of those who were engaged in the settler-initiated portions of the organizing in Montreal last winter, and these two texts seem to be important reference points for these people. Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 stifled what could have been an opportunity for deeper analysis of some of the political differences between those of us who organized together that winter. I would like to clarify my disagreement with the anti-colonial strategy, or lack thereof, put forth by Inhabit and Rattachements. I hope that in future broad coalitional moments of solidarity like last winter, we might be able to better understand where our potential for collaboration could break down. I also hope that critical engagement with the analysis proposed by these texts will limit the extent to which it influences the contours of settler-initiated anti-colonial solidarity in years to come.
Taking issue with dominant currents of environmentalist action (on the one hand activists who ask the government to take action to save the environment, and on the other individuals changing their consumption practices to do the same) the writers of Rattachements propose a new approach to dealing with the ecological crisis and colonial capitalism. This new approach is one of building an “ecology of presence” through the construction of communes. The writers see the project of reconnecting to that which “has been torn from them” as both material and spiritual. They wish to truly inhabit land from which to attack the machinery of capitalism while also building new forms of life there. Foundational to their understanding of the problem is an assertion that they did not choose to be thrown into a world bent on its own destruction, a world structured by colonial capitalism, wherein their “affects are captured” and their connection to the land has been severed.
The writers forward that “[d]efending the land necessarily means learning to inhabit it, truly inhabiting it necessitates defending it.” In doing so they assert that their reconnection to the land is a precursor and integral part of anti-colonial struggle. An “ecology of presence,” they write, can be found in the connections between Indigenous peoples and their territories, including the Zapatistas’ resistance against the Mexican government and the material and territorial autonomy of the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka. However, the writers, are rejecting an analysis of social position from jump. They appear to not think that the position of subjects within systems of domination is relevant to their analysis or strategies of resistance to those systems. But the writers are nonetheless settlers speaking to (mostly) other settlers. The abstraction they employ is thus dangerous, as they go on to say that “it is when communities affirm that they themselves are part of the territory, of this forest, of this river, of this piece of the neighbourhood, and that they are ready to fight, that the political possibility of ecology appears clearly”. This statement can easily be seen as a call for settlers to understand themselves as belonging to the land in order to defend it, or at the very least, on a level playing field with Indigenous people when it comes to assertions of what the future of land in this place should resemble. Whether or not this is the intention, this opens the door to settler self-indigenization being understood as a decolonial strategy. In a settler colonial society like Quebec or Canada, the state exists in large part to secure settler access to land, and Indigenous people are always threats to that access. This is both the history and present of all settler societies. We need not look far to find examples where settlers relating to the land in a way that resembles Rattachements’ “ecology of presence” has already been put into practice effectively against Indigenous people.
Take, for example, the story of the white hunters in Mi’kma’ki (the Chic Choc Mountains in Gaspésie, specifically) who in 2004 had already grown frustrated about the incursion of logging in the area and who, having hunted on the land for quite some time and feeling rather connected to (even “of”) the territory, were faced with a new threat: the establishment of a “Mi’kmaq-controlled area which would offer outdoor activities for a fee” (a “pourvoirie”). This new project threatened their ability to hunt for free. In response to this, while meeting in a “communal tent” on the territory, the white hunters concocted a plan to identify as Indigenous in order to help add legitimacy to their claims of connection to the land. They founded an organization which would come to be named the Metis Nation of the Rising Sun, and successfully prevented the establishment of the pourvoirie. This story is not an outlier in our area, rather merely one example of a widespread phenomenon wherein settlers, feeling very attached to the land they are living on (and maybe even having some communal inclinations,) feel moved to defend their control of it from threats that include Indigenous people who have their own pre-existing claims and relations to the same land. Often, this involves claiming an Indigenous identity, but it need not necessarily. What continues to be crucial for the advancement of settlement is the ongoing procurement of land by settlers and the entrenchment of the idea that this is our land, whether the possession is property based (I have the deed and so this is mine) or spiritual (I know the land, I feel connected to the land, and so I belong here).
Looking to other settler colonial contexts, we can see more examples of the risks of communal settlement undertaken with radical political aims. The Kibbutz movement in Palestine, for example, is a story of self-organized communes set up from the early 1900s onward, beginning with the second wave of Jewish settlers fleeing pogroms from Eastern Europe. The settlers of the first Kibbutz had anarchist ideals of egalitarianism, rejected the “exploitative socio-economic structure” of the farms established by the first wave of settlement, and hoped to undermine the developing capitalist economy with their communes. They sought to establish “a cooperative community without exploiters or exploited“, and did so in 1910 after gaining access to land “which had recently been bought by the Palestine Land Development Company from the Jewish National Fund.” This first farm was such a success that “before long, kvutzot were being set up wherever land could be bought.” These communes, while viewing themselves as a viable alternative and considerable threat to the capitalist mode of production, were also serving the Zionist settlement of Palestine. Today they are commonly understood as an important part of Israel’s national story, and approximately 270 settlements still exist (despite their internal organization and anarchist character having shifted significantly) in occupied territory. It is clear that while the anarchist and anti-capitalist ideals of such projects may be inspiring, the settler colonial context calls for attention to the impacts of settlement on Indigenous peoples, not merely the ideals or internal politics of communes.
Land Back vs. Back to the land
Rattachements emerges from and endorses an understanding that settlers too have been dispossessed – of connection to land, of spirituality and knowledge. It leans hard on this claim to try to get other settlers to feel moved to action. The zine, written within and circulating among social circles dominated by white settlers with varying radical politics, posits that a solution to the ecological crisis lies in these (again, primarily settler) milieus’ ability to create communes. These communes will then be able to establish material and political autonomy by rendering spaces (land, wastelands, buildings, churches, houses and parks) “liveable.” In other words, they propose to settle and squat, communally, the land, whether it has already been built on by other settlers or not, asserting that this is a strategic necessity rather than merely a lifestyle choice.
I too believe that capitalism is a system which alienates us from each other and the living beings we depend upon. And yet I believe that we must be more specific: colonial capitalism has created a country wherein, by and large, settlers own land, and have the resources and relative freedom to build a variety of relationships with it. This comes at the expense of Indigenous peoples, who have been dispossessed of their land, and the languages, cultures, and spiritualities that emerge from and inform their relationships with that land. Rattachements suggests that a crucial part of the anti-capitalist/anti-colonial ecological struggle is shifting settlers’ affective and spiritual relationships with the land in a context where our material relationship with the land – one of ownership of that which has been stolen — remains unchanged and fundamentally colonial. A group of settlers buying a communal house together outside the city as part of a strategy of revolutionary ecology has little to nothing in common with Indigenous peoples reoccupying their traditional territories. The latter is a direct disruption of colonial development projects and environmental destruction and is recognizable as part of a lineage of Indigenous resistance to displacement and genocide. The former misrecognizes itself as somehow sharing something with that lineage, when in fact it is possible because of, and shares much more with, generations of encroachment and expansion by settlers.
Absent from the program of ecological struggle proposed by Rattachements is an explicit call for the return of land to Indigenous communities. Instead, they call implicitly for an increased presence of their (settler) milieus on that land, in part in order to potentially support Indigenous struggles. Despite the acknowledgment that land has been stolen (and the lauding of Indigenous relationships to land as ones to look to as examples for the readers of the zine) what is missing is the proposition that “Land Back” in the literal, material sense, is an important piece of the ecological struggle, and one to prioritize leaps and bounds above settlers going back to the land. In the Land Back Red Paper released in 2019 by the Yellowhead Institute, the writers tell us that “the matter of Land Back is not merely a matter of justice, rights or ‘reconciliation’; Indigenous jurisdiction can indeed help mitigate the loss of biodiversity and climate crisis. […] Long-term stewardship of the land allows for constant reassessment, planning, and adaptation.” This leads to an efficacy of protection of biodiversity and hope against climate change thanks to the culturally specific world views passed intergenerationally through a presence with and in defense of the land.
It must not be seen as a necessary precondition for decolonization that settlers develop relationships (spiritual or affective) with land that we occupy. Settlers deciding to prioritize building these new relationships with the land does not bring us closer to decolonization. Focusing on settlers’ spiritual or affective relationships to the land as an important part of anti-colonial struggles sidetracks and warpsour ability to focus on the much more central problems of settler colonial Canada. The dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ lands is a partial but crucial piece of struggling against settler colonialism and climate change. Regardless of the politics of the settlers, our relationships with land are most often built through a tactic of land ownership, due to the relative ease of access to the financial means or social connections that allow for this. I am thinking, for example, about the many collective land projects that have been initiated by radical settlers in so-called Quebec, which all involve owning the land. To think of building a land-based spirituality on a foundation of land ownership does not make sense, these relationships would be colonial, not revolutionary. In other words, the relationship between settlers and land must change primarily on a material basis, not a spiritual or affective one. Indigenous peoples have articulated that “Land Back” will give them the power to rebuild knowledge, languages, culture, and autonomy. This is the substance of decolonization; it is crucial that Indigenous peoples be free to develop and regain their relationships with the land rather than settlers taking it upon ourselves to do it in their stead.
On Inhabit and Settler Territorial Autonomy
In Inhabit, a text coming out of appelist/tiqqunist/autonomist networks in the so-called US, the desire for territory is expanded.The goal articulated in Inhabit is the extension and multiplication of the isolated communes of Rattachements. Yet unlike Rattachements, whose authors claim to be committed to their own understanding of an anti-colonial politics, Inhabit does not articulate an anti-colonial politic at all. This is not necessarily surprising, as anti-colonial politics seem to be less present in settler radical milieus in the US than in Canada, but it still matters. “Our goal”, they say, “is to establish autonomous territories—expanding ungovernable zones that run from sea to shining sea. Faultlines crossing North America leading us to providence.” Like the westward expansionists of yore, the writers of Inhabit posit a better way to use the land and suggest that pockets not yet taken up in service for their revolution be transformed in their image. In other words, one can read the writers of Inhabit as promoting their vision of Manifest Destiny: the expansion of land use in their vision, faultlines moving unimpeded across a vast and unclaimed North America. Perhaps following the paths of the railroads that came before?
Inhabit’s authors seem unable or unwilling to engage with settler colonialism. With the exception of the mention of incidental interaction between settlers and Indigenous families in contexts where they are already comrades, race and colonialism are invisible in their text. The authors’ unwillingness to engage with the larger collectivities of Indigenous life and their settler colonial context betrays their colonial understanding of the land itself. In proposing territorial expansion without concern for the claims to land that cover this continent already, Inhabit calls to its readers with imagery of the settler state national project – from sea to shining sea: “Build the infrastructure necessary to subtract territory from the economy,” they urge. But the land has never been just territory, and settlers occupying it has more often looked like removing Indigenous peoples than subtracting it from the economy. One need only look to the southern US to see how, for example, white people squatting “vacant” land was an intended consequence of the process of allotting Indigenous people land far from their communities. The US banked on the fact that these communities would be unable to prevent squatters from setting in and taking possession. “Rent a space in the neighborhood. Build a structure in the forest. Take over an abandoned building or a vacant piece of land.” Inhabit repurposes thought and strategies from contexts highly unlike their own (squatters movements in europe, for example) and tries to implement supposedly liberatory strategies for “inhabiting” space that merely further entrench settler access to and control of land.
The Flight from Identity
In an October 2020 report-back called Chasse à la chasse (translated as Hunting the Hunt in the English version published by Inhabit’s “Territories” newsletter), the writers (based in Quebec) give an account of their time spent supporting Anishnabe communities fighting for a moratorium on moose hunting in their territory. They conclude their summary of the situation with the following reflection: “It would be an illusion confining one to weakness to think that we cannot be and appear other than as illegitimate settlers, regardless of ‘how’ we intend to inhabit what is left of the world.”
It is surprising to me that one of the most pressing takeaways from organizing in solidarity with an Indigenous community would be the possible escape from settler “identity” it uncovers. It seems to me that the fear of being seen as an “illegitimate settler” is what motivates some of their rejection of social position and in turn undermines their analysis. I don’t intend to say that the authors have nothing to contribute to anti-colonial struggle because they are settlers. Rather, I disagree with the importance being placed on not being perceived as settlers, instead of on evaluating what is the most effective contribution they could make to anti-colonial struggle. Their position as settlers in a settler society is necessarily going to be an important piece of this evaluation. This rejection of social position is visible in Inhabit in so far as race and colonialism are made invisible. In Rattachements, it is only visible as a thing from which the writers flee. “Ecstasy: bliss provoked by an exit, a departure from what has been produced as our ‘self’, our ‘social position,’ our ‘identity.’” In a hurry to reject identity politics, and in conflating “identity” with an attention to social position, the writers remove the lens that would allow them to analyze our context more fully and accurately. In doing so, they doom themselves to a flat and limited approach that says that if it is strategic and possible for Indigenous people to build territorial autonomy, it must be just as strategic, possible, and subversive, for settlers to do the same.
The St. Lambert rail blockade was a multi-day action called by and mostly attended by settlers last winter in the context of #ShutDownCanada. It was an opportunity for a proactive and explicit explanation of why we as settlers thought it important to respond to the call for solidarity actions in the way we did, and an encouragement of other settler radical milieus to do the same. This could have been very valuable in a context where some settler supporters were hesitant to propose or participate in settler-initiated actions. Unfortunately, this proactive communication approach was not taken for a variety of reasons, including lack of political cohesion amongst the people organizing the action. In the end, communication coming out of the camp opted for vague language about who was there and who was being spoken to and missed an opportunity to speak as settlers to other settlers about what we could do to intervene. Obfuscating our position made it easier for the mainstream media to use the fact that we were not Indigenous as a “gotcha” moment which helped them attempt to turn public opinion against us without using overtly racist tropes. Our lack of clear analysis also left space for Premier Francois Legault to separate us from the other blockades because we did not explain how we saw ourselves in relation to them. Of course the cops knew all along the demographics of those in attendance and acted accordingly. There were no tactical advantages to this approach, and we lost the opportunity to put forth clear, decisive analysis as to why other settlers should take the risks we (and many Indigenous communities) were taking at that time to shut down Canada. I worry that an avoidance of addressing head on issues of social position and the role of settlers in anti-colonial struggle may lead us to make similar choices in the future.
Inhabit and Rattachements share a desire to produce affect in their readers which inspire them to see themselves as full of power and possibility. Toward this end, they encourage readers to reject guilt or sacrifice and to understand themselves as central protagonists in struggle. For Rattachements, this looks like encouraging their readers to see themselves as “neither victims” of “nor guilty” for the ecological crisis. This aversion to self-sacrifice, to being ready to give something up, means denying that settler colonialism and some other drivers of the crisis continue to benefit us. This is the preemptive evasion of potential guilt for being a settler – we must not understand ourselves as the subjects for which the genocidal removal of Indigenous people from their land is ongoing. The impulse is tied to a rejection of identity politics, and while I do not suggest to instead embrace a demobilizing guilt in the face of the past and present horrors, I think it is both a strategic and ethical imperative to refuse to ignore
Where do We go from Here?
The authors of Inhabit and Rattachements might think that rejecting, on the basis of demographics, their respective strategies of territorial autonomy or of building material autonomy in communes on the land is essentially a refusal to build power—a concession to the demobilizing effects of ally politics. On the contrary, I think this rejection is both an ethical and a strategic choice, from which we must necessarily develop a stronger and more anti-colonial revolutionary strategy. It does not weaken our movements to turn away from building territorial autonomy for primarily settler communities if what we turn towards is a greater focus on the continued rebuilding of territorial autonomy for Indigenous peoples we seek to be in struggle with. What is required is to not see settlers as the central subject of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle, and to recognize that the positions from which we struggle differ and thus the paths we take must also differ. Any serious analysis of Canadian settler colonialism will see the hundreds of years of Indigenous struggle against capitalism and the state as relevant and in many ways determinant of the chances of these communities’ potential success at building territorial autonomy. This same analysis will note the difference between this history of struggle and that of radical settler movements in so-called Canada.
If we talk about territorial autonomy in a serious sense, we will know it is far more than “a network of hubs” we’ve rented, squatted, or built in the forest, or a constellation of communal houses in the country. Territorial autonomy, if seen as a strategy for the destruction of capitalism and the state, includes the long term work of developing zones where cops cannot go, where the means to sustain and reproduce those who live there can be found, where a large group of committed and connected people of all ages has the means and the need to defend that territory, over generations. We can look to where this work has already been done for hundreds of years to see examples: Wet’suwet’en territory, Elsipogtog, Barriere Lake, Six Nations, Tyendinaga, Kahnawá:ke, and Kanehsatà:ke. This work has by and large not been done for hundreds of years by non-Indigenous communities – we are starting from zero, and thus even if prioritizing our own territorial autonomy seemed ethical, it would not be likely to be strategic because settler communities in a settler society have much less structural conflict with the colonial system. It does not make us weaker to prioritize the fight for the territorial autonomy of communities of which we are not a part. It makes us stronger, if by doing so we build relationships that contribute to revolutionary contexts in which the goals of settler revolutionary networks converge with those of anti-colonial Indigenous groups. Toward a stronger potential for joint struggle against the colonial state.
Our environmental politics must foreground material responses to the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ land, for the sake of the planet and as part of a broader commitment to anti-colonial politics. It is dangerous to slip towards a “back to the land” politics, as Rattachements does, because these approaches and projects at best sidetrack us, and at worst set the stage for the development of twisted settler claims to Indigenous land. These kinds of claims will shatter the relationships we should seek with anti-colonial Indigenous allies, and risk strengthening settler reactionary tendencies that we should be fighting. If we see ourselves as aiming to engage in joint struggle with Indigenous communities against the colonial state, we will know that what makes our movements stronger is when our comrades are strong, and our relationships with them are strong.
If we focus on the material realities of settler colonialism and the real ways in which it continues to structure our lives, options, and resources, we can develop more effective strategies by asking what our differing social positions allow and disallow, and how we might put these differences to work for common goals. Mike Gouldhawke explains that “people think of settler as a personal identity but it’s more about a categorical relation between a social subject and settler states.” As La Paperson says, the term settler (and native, and slave) describe “relations of power with respect to land. They sound like identities, but they are not identities per se.” Instead of an attempt to flee these labels, we should put our time to better use and focus on changing the conditions producing those relations of power.
Social position as the sole lens of analysis for developing revolutionary strategy is of course insufficient. It matters deeply how people, no matter what their lives are like now, want the world to look like in the future. However, we need to be able to see and understand the different material realities of those around us in order to have any hope of those realities changing in the world we want to build together. Seeing these realities for what they are, and why they are, shows us that the relationships settlers build with the land are far less important than the ones we dismantle. It is clear that supporting the resurgence of Indigenous territorial autonomy needs to be a greater priority than building a territorial autonomy of our own. The question becomes how to build and sustain formations that can offer long term support and solidarity to Indigenous people struggling against the colonial state, and how best to cultivate a politics that will continue to respond to the shifting contexts, relationships, and terrain of that joint struggle toward self-determination and an end to capitalism, colonialism, and Canada.
 Rattachements is available in French here: https://contrepoints.media/fr/posts/rattachements-pour-une-ecologie-de-la-presence , and in English here: https://illwilleditions.com/re-attachments/
 To be clear, for myself and many others, we saw ourselves as “initiating” specific actions in response to explicit calls for such activity, in response to changing contexts that we thought demanded it, and in at least the case of the rail blockades, very clearly directly inspired by already ongoing Indigenous initiatives. I use the phrase “settler-initiated” not to take credit for the events of what was very clearly an Indigenous-led movement, but rather to note that there is a real difference between those actions seen by supporters and adversaries as taken by Indigenous communities and those recognized as settler solidarity actions.
 It should be noted that the communes they describe are essentially nice places to live where people share meals and daily activities and talk to eachother, and not necessarily communes on a scale where they would produce meaningful reorganizations of the economy or social reproduction. It is reasonable to assume that shift in scale is desired.
 Which they call colonial-modernity
 Page 17 of A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement by James Horrox
 A Living Revolution 18
 A Living Revolution 18
 A Living Revolution 19
 Another example of this kind of communal settlement that I learned about during the writing of this text is the Finnish socialist settlement of Sointula, located on the territory of the ‘Namgis First Nation. The village was established in the early 1900s on so-called Malcolm Island in British Columbia.
 The English translation uses the word habitable rather than liveable.
 I do not wish here to forward a romanticized view of Indigenous peoples as never exploiting the land, as the Red Paper cautions against doing on page 60. Rather I wish to remind us that without Indigenous peoples’ ability to steward the land, the destruction of capitalism alone would still leave us without the intergenerational knowledge to care for it in effective ways. https://redpaper.yellowheadinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/red-paper-report-final.pdf
 Conversely, critiques of anti-blackness and slavery are often not well integrated into analysis coming out of settler radical networks here in Canada compared to in the US. This makes it even worse that Inhabit also makes no reference to this kind of critique or analysis either.
 By pre-existing claims, I am referring both to Indigenous claims to land as well as longstanding claims by groups such as the Republic of New Afrika.
 Available in French here: https://contrepoints.media/posts/chasse-a-la-chasse-recentes-mises-en-acte-de-la-souverainete-anishinabee , and in English here: https://territories.substack.com/p/hunting-the-hunt
 It is worth noting that the English and French versions differ somewhat significantly. Whether due to large errors of translation or intentional changes in anticipation of an Anglophone American readership, the closest sentence in the English version reads: “The question of how to inhabit concerns any living being in any given place.” This is a major difference.
 #ShutDownCanada was a massive, broad, and heterogeneous Indigenous-led movement. A large catalyst was the militarized RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en land defenders protecting their home from Coastal Gas Link pipeline construction last winter. In that context, a number of explicit calls for solidarity actions were put out including by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and specific camps on the land such as the Gidimt’en checkpoint. Despite these very clear and explicit calls to action, I think that some of the hesitancy of some sympathetic settlers to participate in settler-initiated solidarity actions came from a belief that all actions needed to either be Indigenous-led or explicitly endorsed or approved by an Indigenous person. I believe Indigenous critiques of the ways that settlers participate in anti-colonial organizing are important. I believe that it is crucial to consider how one’s actions might be perceived by or have consequences for Indigenous communities when planning solidarity actions. However, sacrificing basic security principles of “need to know” in order to obtain an Indigenous stamp of approval on a risky settler-initiated action seems like an especially egregious form of tokenism. That our organizing communities in Montreal are often majority or exclusively made up of settlers is something to be examined and addressed on a more foundational level rather than attempting to hide it by seeking an endorsement of our choices after the fact. I could be wrong, but my assumption from this winter was that some settlers sympathetic or supportive of #ShutDownCanada were worried about the risks of participating in solidarity actions and used the fact that some actions were settler initiated to avoid having to take risk and join the blockade. I think this is unfortunate and is something that must be changed in part by clearer anti-colonial analysis coming out of settler networks.
 Limited record exists of other speeches to the media, but this is one example. https://contrepoints.media/en/posts/declaration-du-blocage-de-saint-lambert-declaration-from-the-saint-lambert-blocade
Thoughts? Email: [email protected]
photo: Jonathan Lampel via Unsplash