Unmasking the Canadian Settler State: Review of 'Red Skin, White Masks'
“The master laughs at the consciousness of the slave,” wrote Frantz Fanon. “What he wants from the slave is not recognition but work.” Recorded in the footnotes of his influential work Black Skin, White Masks, this statement by the anti-colonial Algerian thinker was meant to refute Georg W.F. Hegel’s famous philosophical concept of the dialectical relation between master and slave. Over 60 years later, Yellowknives Dene scholar Glen Coulthard presents us with a renewed understanding of Fanon’s relevance, this time in the context of a liberal-democratic settler state that occupies nearly one million square kilometres of Turtle Island: Canada.
In contemporary Canadian politics, the word recognition evokes progress for Indigenous nations and people through land claims processes and official gestures like Stephen Harper’s 2008 statement of apology to residential school survivors. Yet, just over a year after expressing condolences to survivors of Canada’s genocidal policies, Prime Minister Harper publicly denied that Canada had any history of colonialism at all. Less than five years after the apology, the government passed Bill C-45, unilaterally undermining treaty rights and granting increased state access to Indigenous lands and resources. Canada doesn’t want a mutual relationship of recognition or reconciliation, proposes Coulthard. It wants land and resources.