An article on Land Dispossession


The other thing that has struck me is how private land is so much a part of the areas in and around where I live now in Thunder Bay and the impact of that way of thinking, and how it feels to live around that privitization, especially while raising children. Where I myself was not defined by boundaries, or at least, they were different ones, my children have that feeling of having to double check, am I overstepping a boundary here, that constant recognition. I suppose it also comes down to the borders, the frontera, the geopolitical realities.

Being 300 plus km from my home community is a different feeling…. altogether. Land is such a huge concept, and traditional territories- that knowledge of where, or why, of who , and the stories of the Land.

We live in a world dominated by the principle of private property. Once indigenous people were dispossessed of their lands, the land was surveyed, subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. From high above, continents now appear as an endless property patchwork of green and yellow farms, beige suburban homes and metallic gray city blocks stretching from sea to shining sea.

The central logic of this regime is productivity, and indeed it has been monstrously productive. In tandem with the industrial revolution, the fruits of billions of acres of dispossessed and parceled indigenous land across the Americas, Africa, Asia, Ireland and Australia enabled two English-speaking empires – first the British and then the American – to rise to global dominance. The latter remains the most productive economy in the world.

Property also embodies and upholds a set of values and relationships to land. It propagates a utopian vision called the American Dream, wherein hard work, land and a home are platform for boundless opportunity – or at least escape – from capital domination. It separates humanity from all other animals and cements man’s mastery over the natural world and all living things.

History of Thunder Bay

I have always wondered about the vibe in the city I live in. I haven’t bothered doing research. Of course I have heard about the oral stories here. About sacred sites. I have also studied the fur trade and know the contexts. But the stories told thru the euro centred ways of understanding, from the position of a capitalist, and someone who clearly benefited, is a different story that that, say of my grandparents. Clearly, I have found myself impacted by the racialised colonialism here. I’ve looked at the murals in the city, depicting the fur trade, as if it were some sort of celebratory act. I have also nursed along the shores of Lake Superior, feeling very inherently Indigenous and female empowered. At the same time, I have felt demeaned, alone, and tired. I have felt disconnected, dismayed and far from home. I have felt like a stranger in my own territory- Fort William First Nation is a sister to Pic River. I have sought out Land connections only to feel far. Then I have felt the need to connect with the Land in other places- where I truly have felt that sacred connection. I have also dreamed, of being far away. The energy at times too intense. When I think about the fur trade, what that meant, how that looked, I am still not sure I understand. I never romanticized the fur trade. There are so many starting points of history. This one tells the story of Thunder Bay, not of the Indigenous community, but the settler story, of Thunder Bay.

In 1905, the Fort William band was forcefully uprooted and relocated from their reserve site on the shores of the Kaministiquia River so that settlers could build a grain terminus for the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. This intervention was pursued under the auspices of the Indian Act which granted the Governor in Council the power to expropriate lands for the purposes of building public works and securing settler economic development. As historian P. Whitney Lackenbauer recalls, “when the Grand Trunk Pacific indicated that it wanted 1600 acres of prime reserve land to build terminals, and initiated expropriation plans, the Surveyor General at the DIA told the band that he wanted the entire reserve and that it would be moved elsewhere.”[3] Though the grain terminus was never actually built, the settler intervention was supposed to plug the Thunder Bay region into the prairie wheat market and resuscitate what was at that time a fledging local economy by constituting the region as an important transhipment hub…