We were here and we’re still here: the lingering effects of colonization

HAMILTON – Colonization has had lingering effects throughout the years and still makes an impact on indigenous communities and people today.

The McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance (MISCA) recognizes this and held a day-long conference on Monday, January 9 at McMaster University titled, the Effects of Colonization. Keynote speakers, indigenous and non-indigenous, shared their thoughts and opinions on various topics related to the effects of colonization.

Some of the speakers were Ryan Deshpande, Cody Looking Horse, Roxanne Miller, Phil Monture, Renee Thomas-Hill, Carolyn King and Don McLean. They spoke on land recognition; youth suicide; historical trauma; land claims and treaties; mental health and addictions; government control and first nations elected councils; and Looking Horse shared what he learned and experienced during his month-long stay at the Standing Rock pipeline protests in North Dakota.

“I don’t like to call ourselves protestors, because that’s not what we’re doing,” said Looking Horse. “We are Water Defenders and the kinds of things that the police are doing there are just wrong. I feel so sad for them [the police].”

The state is seeking to build a pipeline through the Standing Rock reservation and Water protectors are concerned that if the pipeline were to ever break that the spill would damage water sources for all near communities and cities. Recently production on the pipelines has been required to cease but some, like Looking Horse, feel as though drilling and progress is still taking place.

“They [the drillers] are all still there,” he said. “So it seems to a lot of us that they are still up to something.”

Renee Thomas-Hill, an elder who used to work with helping people overcome addictions and mental illness, spoke on that topic. She explained how almost all addictions — from bad habits to improper drug use — stem from the misuse of food.

“Usually when you help someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol you would make them throw away their drugs and alcohol first and then start to rebuild from there. But the first thing I always do is teach an individual how to respect, cherish and honour their food properly,” said Thomas-Hill, who often goes by Grandma Renee.

Grandma Renee said the food we eat, or are supposed to be eating, is sacred and should be treated as such.

“Food doesn’t have a nurturing feel to it anymore,” she said. “We eat just to eat and a lot of times it’s junk and we look for different things to fill that nurturing void a lot of us have. Those other things are often what lead us to unhealthy addictions. I always emphasize how important it is to fix your issues with food first, then we can work on what comes next.”

Carolyn King, former Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, spoke on the elected council system of many indigenous territories and she also spoke a little on government control throughout the years.

“Even being an elected chief I knew exactly what I was. I was an instrument of the legislation and of the colonizers,” said King. “I didn’t like sitting at the political table at all but I knew that if we had the right individuals from our nations sitting at those tables that good things could being to get done.”

King was chief 16 years ago, from 1997 to 1999. Now she travels around a lot telling others about all the differences between the many different types of indigenous people groups on Turtle Island, also known as North America.

“Some people don’t know that there are different kinds of aboriginals in Canada,” she said. “Sometimes I call my little lesson ‘Indian 101’. It’s really important for people to know what and whose land they’re on.”

The speeches ended around 5 p.m. and the event was followed by a rally in continued support on Standing Rock.

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