“Canada, by existence, is racist in that it exists because it was able to frame Indigenous peoples as primitive, non-political subjects incapable of owning land,” says Eva Jewell associate professor of Sociology and research director at the Yellowhead Institute, a policy think tank located at ‘X University,’ formerly Ryerson University, in Toronto. “This is used as a justification to dispossess Indigenous Nations of their countries.”
Jewell believes that without behavioural change and awareness of structural racism, there will only be apathy and inaction.
“Canada might define reconciliation as moving on from a past contaminated by ‘cultural’ genocide,” she says. “The issue is they don’t know how to embody it or make it actionable since much of the system that oppresses Indigenous peoples is still intact.”
Jewell is Anishinaabe from Ontario with Haudenosaunee heritage and holds a Doctorate of Social Sciences from Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C. She will be speaking at Simon Fraser University on Oct. 6, at a talk titled, Taking Action! From Structural Racism to Personal Practices. Her talk will be centered around the idea of Canada as a state where racism is not an incidental flaw, but a state intentionally designed to be racist.
Canada, racist by design
“Canada is a settler colonial state that requires the erasure of Indigenous Nations to exist,” says Jewell. “This is the primary logic of the Indian Act, which was used to control, manage, and assimilate First Nations, and which enabled the removal of Indigenous peoples from their territories.”
Enacted in 1876, the Indian Act introduced residential schools, created reserves and legally renamed Indigenous people with European names. Among many other tenets, the Act forbade First Nations peoples from being politically organized and prohibited them from speaking Indigenous languages or observing Indigenous religious practices.
According to Jewell, the original racist designs of Canada have been modified since the country’s founding in 1867 and continue to the current day.
“The experience of Inuit throughout the 1950s and through to today – they experienced the violence of Canadian colonialism a bit later than many of us in the south,” says Jewell. “It was just as brutal, and it happened all in living memory and persists to the present. They now face systemic racism through the lack of housing and the effects of climate change in their homelands.”
Altered behaviour and reconciliation
Jewell says that people in Canada have developed personal stakes in the settler colonial system, even if it harms Indigenous peoples and other racialized groups. She says that the original white beneficiaries of the colonial system have grown, and different groups have joined over the years, including Indigenous people.
“There are certainly Indigenous individuals who have deep personal stakes in settler colonial systems,” says Jewell. “Settler colonialism subsumes and co-opts to maintain its power.”
Taking Action! will teach its participants about steps that can be taken to practice anti-oppression in their daily behaviour. Jewell says there are many oppressive behaviours practiced every day that perpetuate structural racism.
“It takes understanding how we embody these harmful attitudes everyday – competition, scarcity mentality, convenience and consumption, complacency in a harmful system of capitalism,” says Jewell. “It will harm everyone eventually since we are entering a climate crisis. The roots of this crisis are in capitalism, settler colonialism, and an anthropocentric society.”
The purpose of Jewell’s upcoming presentation at SFU will be to prepare people for reconciliation. According to Jewell, reconciliation is a diverse concept with no exact definition for all Indigenous Nations in Canada.
“I conceptualize reconciliation to be many different things depending on who is talking about it,” she says. “It’s important to remember that there will absolutely be variation in the idea of reconciliation. There are dozens of Indigenous Nations that all have their unique worldviews and specific relationships with settlers.”
Jewell says that by now, reconciliation requires more than simply paying attention to Indigenous voices.
“When asked about it, many leaders will say that they need to listen to Indigenous peoples, but with over 1,000 recommendations from several inquiries in the last 30 years,” says Jewell. “I think we are beyond a listening exercise.”
“I think Canadians need to challenge their apathy that their governments and economic powers rely on,” she says. “This requires bravery to examine the privileges and benefits of being a Canadian, and what cost this has to the original inhabitants of this land.”
For more information on Taking Action! From Structural Racism to Personal Practices, visit
For more information on Eva Jewell, visit www.ryerson.ca/sociology/people/faculty/eva-jewell