Is Canada Day also our own “Nakba Day”?

The orange t-shirt has become the symbol of residential school survivors. The recent grisly discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children who had been inmates at residential schools has provoked a somber reflection in Canada about the impact of our colonial history. Some have proposed that Canada Day be cancelled altogether. Others have urged using the moment to think about truth and reconciliation. Is Canada Day also our own “Nakba Day”? Read more….

Palestinian American historian Rashid Khalidi spoke to a webinar organized by OFIP last November to discuss his most recent book “The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A century of settler colonialism”. I asked him how he distinguished “settler colonialism” from “ordinary” colonialism.

“The goal of colonialism” he explained is to exploit the labour and resources of other countries and peoples. A “settler colonial” enterprise takes over the land and replaces its inhabitants with colonists, creating a new country in the image of the colonising power.

Based on Professor Khalidi’s definition, there were many “settler colonial’ enteprises during the period of European expansion around the world. The French in Algeria, the British in Australia, and the Afrikaners in South Africa are well known examples. By the same measure, Israel and Canada are both “settler colonial” enterprises.

The objective in both cases was to replace existing societies with new ones, based on a different model. They inevitably are rooted and justified by the racist notion that the colonisers are in some fundamental way “superior” to the colonised.

Resistance is universal… and predictable

Each settler colonial regime has its own specific characteristics depending on various factors including the geography, the “justifying rationale” and the relative strengths between the colonisers and the colonised. The Zionist rationale for taking over Palestine and expelling Palestinians (“a land with no people for a people with no land”), is different from the British “doctrine of discovery” which justified the conquest of North America and other places.

But settler colonialism is always resisted by the people whom colonisers are trying to replace. In turn the colonising powers turn to a fairly predictable range of tactics to carry out their strategic objectives.

Here is a list of 6 fairly common tactics (several of them now identified as “Crimes against humanity”) used by settler colonial powers around the world – including Canada and Israel. They may use some or all, simultaneously or sequentially, or use one tactic in one area and another elsewhere:

A universal truth
  1. Genocide
  2. Expulsion (also known as “transfer” or “removal”
  3. Segregation (e.g bantustans, reserves, walls, apartheid)
  4. Unequal and discriminatory legal regimes
  5. Denial (or restriction) of political rights
  6. Use of police, military and incarceration

Canada Day is an opportunity

Canada Day is an opportunity to reflect on the injustices of the past and the impact of the settler colonial project that has led to the creation of Canada. The “discovery” of the remains of nearly 1000 indigenous children buried in unmarked graves has demonstrated that we are only at the beginning of the process of recognizing and admitting the Truth of what settler colonialism has done. Until that truth is fully recognized, no Reconciliation will be possible.

A parallel process is even more urgently necessary in Israel, which still stubbornly refuses to recognize the truths of its own settler colonial project.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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  1. thanks, particularly grateful for this one. Hazel


  2. Peter, you touch on an extremely embarrassing or painful reality depending on your ethnicity here in Canada that certainly mirrors the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but for the scope of the current violence.
    It’s also reminiscent of the strident effort by officials of the former South African deKlerk government to throw allegations of aparthied back in the face of Canada when this country stood up and demanded S. A.’s violent race based regime be dismantled.
    Embarrassing or not, a good portion of the hubris tossed at Canada was in fact the “truth” so many in Canada didn’t want to hear.
    Well here it is 2021 and technology has just shown where much of that truth has laid hidden literally under our feet.
    Sobering thoughts for anyone pondering how to help others facing their own hell on earth with the huge potential to have “HYPOCRITE” painted in bright red across their forehead, yet would the world now be a better place had Canada not confronted what the world witnessed in South Africa?

    1. Allan, You are so right that Canada’s treatment of First Nations will muffle our ability to speak from the moral high ground on international human rights crises. Will China listen to us when we express concern about treatment of Uyghurs? How do we dodge accusations of hypocrisy when we talk to Israelis about the plight of Palestinians? Yes, we must continue to speak out, but the residential school crimes make it just that more difficult for Canada to be heard.
      The Trudeau government promised six years ago to try to make things right. And guess what? NASA is finding water on the Mars, and our government still can’t provide clean drinking water for many of the people on northern reserves.And we continue to find the bodies of children in unmarked graves. God help us.
      Jeff Sallot

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