'Land is a Relationship': An interview with Glen Coulthard, author of 'Red Skins, White Masks'
"Your good words make my ears tingle," says Elaine Durocher as she overhears Glen Coulthard at a diner in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, unceded xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.
In December I had the opportunity to sit down with Coulthard, and in our discussion, he is describing how the granting of certain rights by the state works perfectly within colonialism by effectively masking the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Durocher, a Metis grandmother and activist who I know within the Downtown Eastside community, joins our conversation and is nodding along.
Coulthard is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, an assistant professor at UBC, and involved with the Dechinta Bush University. His debut book Red Skins, White Masks is a trail-blazing opus, quickly gathering a storm of praise and becoming a manifesto for Indigenous resurgence within academic, activist and community circles, as well as amongst Indigenous and settler communities alike.
Coulthard's premise is a forceful one: there is no freedom to be found in or from the settler-colonial state. Drawing primarily on Frantz Fanon, Coulthard interrogates how concessions by the state maintain both the objective and subjective realms of colonial power. He challenges the liberal pluralism of state-based efforts at recognition that serve to mediate and accommodate Indigenous claims through the Canadian state itself. Coulthard's work contextualizes the sentiments of those like Tsleil-Waututh elder and residential school survivorAmy (Ta'ah) George. In an interview last year, George said of Harper's apology and the Truth and Reconciliation Week: "The government said we're sorry for what happened to you. They didn't say we're sorry we built these schools so you would die. Every apology they make, I say, 'that's bullshit.'"