The cover of Promo 2018 by With War
CW: colonialism, genocide, abuse, colonial violence
The events of this past year showcased the ongoing impact of colonialism yet again and surely raised awareness about this topic. Rightfully so, since various states with colonial histories, such as Germany, the US and Canada, fail to properly process and come to terms with said histories.
When talking about colonialism, we should not only do so from a settler perspective, but put more emphasis on Indigenous perspectives as well. After all, these crimes were committed against them. Accordingly, if we mute them and do not listen to their perspectives, we continue the legacy of colonialism and the violence tied to it, as we then uphold these colonial systems that silence Indigenous voices.
The findings of corpses and unmarked graves in Canadian residential schools again illustrate what atrocities have been committed by colonists on that continent and the fact that something like this could remain unnoticed to this day, again emphasises the importance of this topic in modern times.
We need to educate ourselves and maintain discourse about colonialism and its impact on the world today. Therefore, in this post, I’m going to talk about a band who addresses this issue from an Indigenous perspective: With War.
First Things First
I am first going to provide a small overview of information that is necessary to understand what the band talks about. Afterwards, we are going to have a look at 1868, in which the group positions themselves very clearly.
Colonialism is a massive and potentially daunting topic. However, it is really important to talk about this , as it largely shaped the world we live in, among others by providing the basis for human-made climate change and by shaping the western world to a great degree. This is by no means the go-to starter guide and I urge you to take this as an incentive to do some research and try to learn about this topic for yourselves. At the end of this post, you are going to find all of my sources, as well as a literary recommendation, which might help you as a small starting point.
We are not responsible for the actions of our ancestors, but we must not repeat history and we should not perpetuate oppression, such as colonialism, in the present. It is up to us to ensure that these things do not happen ever again, but as you can tell from the past year and the findings in these past weeks, colonialism is still ongoing and impacts the lives of BIPoC to this day. Therefore, it is important to educate ourselves and stand up to colonialism and other oppressive hierarchies.
Note: I would like to highlight that colonialism does not only affect Indigenous people but also other people of colour. However, in this post, I focus on an Indigenous perspective, which is not supposed to dismiss the experiences of other PoC affected by colonialism.
With that out of the way, what is settler colonialism?
Settler colonies were the types of colony where most violence occurred, as the main populace was mostly replaced with ‘settlers’ there. In the words of Barker and Lowman, ‘Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty’ (Barker, Lowman).
Barker and Lowman also name three features of settler colonialism that help to understand the intentions behind the replacement of Indigenous peoples with settlers. Thus, they highlight the violence connected to this process.
According to them, ‘settler collectives intend to permanently occupy and assert sovereignty over indigenous lands. Second, settler colonial invasion is a structure, not an event: settler colonialism persists in the ongoing elimination of indigenous populations, and the assertion of state sovereignty and juridical control over their lands.’ (Barker, Lowman). Not only does settler colonialism aim at permanently asserting control over Indigenous lands, it also seeks to erase Indigenous populations and establish control over them.
This ultimately results in the third feature of settler colonialism named by the authors: seeking its own end. While other types of colonies seek to establish and maintain imbalances between colonisers and the Indigenous population, settler colonialism works towards ending such differences. However, this does not mean that it works in favour of equality, but rather that it aims to establish a dominant settler state that is completely unchallenged by Indigenous claims to land and legitimacy instead of merely oppressing them (Baker, Lowman).
Accordingly, settler colonialism is ‘rather an attempt to eliminate the challenges posed to settler sovereignty by indigenous peoples’ claims to land by eliminating indigenous peoples themselves and asserting false narratives and structures of settler belonging’ (Baker, Lowman).
Settler colonialism erases Indigenous peoples and replaces them with settlers in order to create an unchallenged settler state, which is then defended through narratives that depict the emergence of this state as just and legitimate.
This idea becomes particularly clear if you consider the US, where holidays like Columbus Day or Thanksgiving reflect a narrative of peaceful settlement, as opposed to the violent occupation that actually took place.
Other countries, that could be considered examples of settler colonialism, are Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Across all of them, you can recognise narratives in favour of the settlement process, such as the terra nullius doctrine, which depicted the land as empty, unused and up for one’s taking and thus justified the occupation process (Gustavus Adolphus College).
That ties in with the relevance of colonialism today. If we do not address what happened and if we do not acknowledge the genocides that were committed against Indigenous peoples, we essentially uphold the terra nullius narrative that depicts the events during the settlement process as just and in doing so, we continue the legacy of colonial violence.
One means of establishing a settler state was the residential school system, which I am going to address in the following chapter, as it is unfortunately still far too relevant given the recent findings in Canada.
Residential Schools – A Cultural Genocide
Residential schools , such as the one near Kamloop, Ottawa, in which more than 200 corpses were found just recently, was one measure taken in colonial genocides to separate Indigenous peoples from their roots and families. Hanson explains the residential school system as follows:
The term residential schools refers to an extensive school system set up by the Canadian government and administered by churches that had the nominal objective of educating Indigenous children but also the more damaging and equally explicit objectives of indoctrinating them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living and assimilating them into mainstream white Canadian society (Hanson, 2009).
Essentially, this system was supposed to estrange Indigenous children from their cultures and families. In that process, children were forbidden to speak in their own languages and exposed to physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse from teachers, all of which happened from the 1880s into the 1990s (Hanson, 2009).
Until fairly recently, these schools still existed. That should prove the relevance of this issue: Until not even 30 years ago, Indigenous children were subjected to horrible conditions in order to assimilate them to Canadian culture and prevent them from rebelling against the settler colonial government behind this.
In doing so, the Canadian government committed a genocide as these practices aimed at erasing Indigenous ways of living . Residential schools are only one chapter in this ongoing process of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples and even today, you can see the impact of said violence on the lives of Indigenous people, which is why it is important to keep talking about these events and why we need to listen to Indigenous perspectives like that of With War.
Settler Colonialism and its Effects in 1868 by With War
In their song 1868, With War respond to settler colonialism and depict the events from an Indigenous perspective. You can find the song on their bandcamp: https://withwar.bandcamp.com/track/1868
The track begins with a clip of Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, a supporter of the Baawating Water Protectors confronting the Canadian Press with the colonial legacy of states like Canada and emphasising the ongoing nature of colonialism. You best listen to it for yourselves.
In the first verse, which follows after that clip, the band summarises the effects of settler colonialism and deconstructs the notion of peaceful discovery connected to it:
This nation was built on broken promises
Forged on the removal of its original people
Extermination in the disguise of discovery
History repeats itself
Your silence is deafening
As common in settler colonialism, With War state that the U.S. was ‘forged on the removal of its original people’, which reflects the ongoing genocide committed against the Indigenous peoples of America, as mentioned before.
Furthermore, the band deconstructs the narrative of discovery and of terra nullius by stating that what occurred was rather an ‘extermination in disguise of discovery’ than a process of peaceful exploration. The lands of America were not empty and Indigenous peoples had been living there ages before the colonisation process. Terra nullius was merely a pretense to “discover”, or rather violently take over Indigenous lands.
The lines following this emphasise the importance of acknowledging the crimes committed against Indigenous peoples, as they show what a perpetuation of settler colonialist narratives results in. ‘ History repeats itself. Your silence is deafening’. As stated earlier, if we do not talk about these things, we perpetuate colonialism and the violence connected to it. Accordingly, through our inaction, we actively let history repeat itself and become complicit in the continuation of colonial violence.
This is further emphasised by the question ‘How many more lives must be lost before you acknowledge our existence?’. Colonialism costs the lives of Indigenous people even today and, as stated earlier, refusal to acknowledge the events and their ongoing effects only contributes to this. If we do not recognise the impact of these past events on their lives in the present and work towards reparations, it is only going to harm them even more.
In fact, according to past studies, First Nations people have been found to be around three times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people: 24.3 in 100000 as opposed to 8 in 100000 for non-Indigenous people, which illustrates the harmful effects of colonialism and its modern day outgrowths on the psyche of Indigenous people (Stober). The relation of this to colonial history becomes particularly clear if you consider the suicide rates of First Nations people on and off reservoirs, the former being about twice as likely to commit suicide than those living outside of reservoirs (Stober).
In the next verse, the singer points out what their band stands for and further reinforces that silence contributes to the effects of colonial violence on Indigenous people:
We will not be made invisible
Listen to our cries for the murdered and the missing
This violence will not go unnoticed
We will not turn the other eye
Where is our retribution?
The band rejects the muting of Indigenous people, stating that they will not be made invisible and that they will cry out for the murdered and missing, which references two things. On one hand, this probably refers to the history of colonial violence. On the other hand, it might be an allusion to hate crimes committed against Indigenous people today, as that theme returns later in the song very explicitly.
Apart from that, the band raises the question: ‘where is our retribution’, which emphasises the need for justice. The US still exist on stolen land and when it comes to issues like climate change, Indigenous voices are still muted and left unconsidered, often leaving Indigenous peoples without agency in these matters.
They are affected earlier by climate change than non-Indigenous people and silencing of their concerns in topics such as this, only continues and intensifies the violence that was committed against them. They need to have agency, which is why it is important to uplift and amplify their voices.
As the song reaches its climax, With War list crimes committed against Indigenous people and again illustrate the ongoing effects of colonial violence on them, as they do not only touch on past, but also on present crimes.
Highway of Tears
Boarding school generation
Endless threats on our bodies
Borders drawn on our land
We are still here
We will always remain
The Highway of Tears is a highway, on which a great amount of women disappeared or got murdered, mostly of Indigenous heritage (Sabo). ‘Forced sterilization” refers to the sterilisations of Indigenous people, which occurred not only in the US and Canada, but in colonised countries around the globe, for instance in Australia.
The Sixties Scoop was essentially a continuation of the principle behind residential schools. According to The Indigenous Foundations, ‘It refers to the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their families into the child welfare system, in most cases without the consent of their families or bands’ (Indigenous Foundations). To this day, there is a disproportionate amount of Indigenous children in the child welfare system and the adoption into non-Indigenous families often resulted in identity crises and harmed the children overall (Indigenous Foundations). Again, it becomes clear that colonialism is still ongoing.
As a final historical reference, the band names boarding schools themselves, the impact of which has been discussed in the previous chapter. The verses following that further emphasise how of all of these historical processes affect Indigenous peoples by summarising them as ‘endless threats on our bodies’. Colonialism and the violence tied to it are ongoing and affect Indigenous people continually.
The borders drawn on their land references the history of displacement of Indigenous peoples and how they were forced out of their original environments into reservoirs, but also the infringement of their claims to their land. Even today, Indigenous peoples aren’t granted sovereignty over the ground they live on and they have to fight for their rights against states or corporations, for instance if presidents decide to build fences to keep refugees out of “their” country or if corporations want to build pipelines on Indigenous lands. Again, Indigenous people need agency and decisions should not be made over their heads. With War show the need to act.
Finally, the singer states ‘We are still here’ and adds and adds in their Indigenous language that they will always remain, which is essentially a declaration that they will stick to their roots and continue to stand up to colonialism.
Why Should I Care?
There are several reasons why this song is important. Firstly, the recent findings about residential schools in Canada provide another insight into the scale of genocides committed in Northern America, as there were more than 200 corpses in just one residential school and more than 700 unmarked graves at a similar institution (Newton, Chavez). Keep in mind that there were lots more of residential schools and lots more of potential victims to be found.
Secondly, the colonial legacy of other former colonies, such as the US, is blatant: there are still holidays like Thanksgiving of Columbus day, celebrations of an alleged “discovery”, when in actuality, the “discovery” was a pretense for an occupation based on several genocides and a systematic dislocation of the country’s original peoples. Speaking of discovery in context of the American continent or any colonised country embellishes this history of violence against the respective Indigenous peoples and directly perpetuates colonialism by flat out denying what happened.
This goes beyond the US and other former colonies, though. While the founding myth of the US is based on a narrative of settlement that embellishes its colonial history, in Germany, colonialism has largely remained unaddressed to this day.
Luckily, these past months, the German government has taken steps to acknowledge its crimes in Namibia and to apologise for the genocides committed against the Herero and Nama, but whether or not this is merely a matter of saving face, rather than a true act of holding oneself accountable, is still up to debate.
The fact that an exhibition with stolen goods from the German genocide in Namibia has just been launched in Berlin, coupled with the fact that German colonial history is still not part of the curriculum and remains largely unheard of, suggest that there is still much work to be done when it comes to processing German colonialism. By the way, it took more than one hundred years to acknowledge the genocide Germany committed in Namibia, which again proves that the country’s colonial legacy has not really been caught up on yet. This topic concerns everyone, not solely those who were directly affected by colonialism. It’s everyone’s responsibility.
The least we can do is to make sure that similar things don’t happen again, which means that we need to raise awareness about this topic. Last year, there were lots of petitions to teach more about German colonialism in school, which would be a first small step in the right direction, but I think that we need to be more aware and vocal about these issues in general, regardless of where we live because the long term damage is still there.
A Source of Empowerment and Perspective
Since this is a really dark topic that might be upsetting, especially to people directly affected by it, I figured that it would be nice to recommend some source of empowerment and positive representation.
Therefore, I strongly recommend reading Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, which is a dystopic climate fiction novel revolving around an Indigenous group of survivors in a colonial post-apocalypse. The author is of Métis heritage and wrote the novel specifically to empower her people and offer them some sort of perspective, as there are high suicide rates among them.
The novel is relatively short and makes for a nice, quick read, but it is really educational, nonetheless. On one hand, it offers representation to Indigenous folks, on the other hand, it can help you to put things into perspective and learn about the impact of colonialism on them.
Dimaline delivers a captivating story that keeps you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end and teaches you about the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people at the same time. Thus, she offers an Indigenous perspective on both, climate change and colonialism, and the residential school system in particular.
However, content warning: The novel touches on lots of dark topics, such as genocide, violence, abuse and rape
Also a hard recommendation for Kyle P. Whyte, an Indigenous scientist, whose work largely impacted my reading experience of that novel. If you are planning to read The Marrow Thieves and are also into the theoretical side of things, definitely check out his work on Indigenous knowledges, as that will help you understand the concept of residential schools more clearly. You will find the citation below.
Additionally, if you want to learn more about these topics, also consider following With War on their social media, especially on Instagram, where they are very vocal about all sorts of Indigenous and intersectional issues and share lots of ressources on a regular basis: https://www.instagram.com/withxwar/?hl=de
As always thank you for reading. Do you know similar artists or works about these topics? Feel free to comment below, I’m always interested in learning more.
Barker, Adam and Emma Battell Lowman. ‘Settler Colonialism.’ Global Social Theory, globalsocialtheory.org, URL: https://globalsocialtheory.org/concepts/settler-colonialism/, accessed on 13 June 2021.
Hanson, Eric, et al. ‘The Residential School System.’ Indigenous Foundations. First Nations and Indigenous Studies UBC, 2020. URL: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/. Accessed on 11 June 2021.
Indigenous Foundations. ‘Sixties Scoop’. Indigenous Foundations. First nations and Indigenous Studies UBC, 2020. URL: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/sixties_scoop/. Accessed on 3 July 2021.
Newton, Paula, and Nicole Chavez. ‘More than 700 unmarked graves found at a former residential school in Canada, officials say’. CNN, 25 June 2021, URL: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/24/americas/canada-unmarked-graves-discovered/index.html. Accessed 3 July 2021.
Sabo, Don. ‘Highway of Tears’. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 6 June 2016, URL: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/highway-of-tears. Accessed on 19 June 2021.
Schwarz, Henry and Sangeeta Ray. ‘Settler Colonies’. A Companion to Postcolonial Studies, edited by Henry Schwarz, Sangeeta Ray, Wiley-Blackwell, 2004, pp. 360-376.
Stober, Eric. ‘First Nations suicide rate 3 times higher than for non-Indigenous people: StatsCan’. Global News, 10 June 2019, URL: https://globalnews.ca/news/5448390/first-nations-suicide-rate-statscan/. Accessed on 3 July 2021.
Whyte, Kyle. “Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropocene.” English Language Notes, Volume 55, Number 1-2, Spring/Fall 2017, pp. 153-162.
With War. ‘1868’. 2018 Demo, 2018.
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