Sarah Rotz, Daniel Rück, and Sean Carleton
On February 7, militarized RCMP arrested and removed Wet’suwet’en land defenders from their unceded territories, triggering demonstrations and blockades across the country. With large parts of the country’s rail traffic at a standstill, and shipping vessels unable to move goods, people are seeing that peaceful civil disobedience can #ShutDownCanada.
As solidarity actions spread, Canadian politicians of all stripes struggled to respond. On February 14, Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer called the rail blockades and political disruptions “illegal” and said Indigenous land defenders and their supporters should “check their privilege.” Scheer’s statement was ill-informed and arrogant, but it was also predictable. These kinds of statements are standard fare in settler colonial societies like Canada, and they are part of a pattern of behaviour consistent with what Cherokee scholar Daniel Heath Justice has described as “Settlers With Opinions.”
When movements like Idle No More or #ShutDownCanada emerge, when non-Indigenous Canadians are inconvenienced by Indigenous assertions of nationhood and sovereignty, settlers often respond with what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang call “moves to innocence.” Tuck and Yang define settler moves to innocence as “strategies to remove involvement in and culpability for systems of domination.” These “moves” or “plays” form a key part of the settler playbook: the common tactics and strategies used by settlers to defend the colonial status quo. Violence and coercion are a key part of the playbook; however, settlers also use a number of discursive manoeuvres to maintain the material conditions of colonialism. Exposing the settler playbook can help counter these strategies and advance decolonization. As activists and settler scholars, we offer this short primer to the settler playbook.