Glen Coulthard – Conclusion from RSWM

Citation: Coulthard, Glen. “Conclusion.” Red Skin White Masks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. 151-179.

This is not a comprehensive summary as I’ve worked heavily with this text for other projects. Rather, I’m trying to figure out how to put this conclusion into conversation with the comps readings that I’ve summarized so far.

Argument  To go beyond Fanon, Coulthard looks to Indigenous activism to see what activists have added to our understanding of the relationship between settler colonialism and liberal politics of recognition.

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 

His conclusion sums up some main points from the book and introduces suggestions for moving forward. It’s interesting that Coulthard’s issues with Marx’s “normative developmentism” (152) is akin to the postcolonial teleology that he sees liberal recognition politics advancing. Imaginative and transmotive forms of becoming work outside recognition, as well as against the assumptions embedded within capital-based concepts.

What gets left out with recognition politics? Not only other futures (which is clearly important) but also the very relationship between past, present, and future itself.  He acknowledges that Fanon’s notion of “internalized colonialism” is key for understanding how settler colonial works through its subjects.

Simultaneously, he doesn’t buy Fanon’s assertion that Indigenous culture can’t change living conditions and is based on a delusion adherence to the past, which doesn’t offer good building materials for a robust future – that they are a means rather than an end (153). Subscribing to a dialectic between the old and the new “simply does not provide much insight into either what motivates Indigenous resistance to (153) settler colonization or into the cultural foundations upon which Indigenous noncolonial alternatives might be constructed” (154).  Turning to cultural tradition and orienting strategies offers a “self-reflexive program of culturally grounded desubjectification that aims to undercut the interplay between subjectivity and structural domination that help maintain settler-colonial relationships in contexts absent pure force” (155).

Coulthard summarizes some arguments by Alfred and Leanne Simpson’s arguments, particularly in regards to liberal recognition and psycho-affective colonization: settler colonial rule works via “a relatively diffuse set of governing relations that operate through a circumscribed mode of recognition that structurally ensures continued access to Indigenous people’s land and resources by producing neocolonial subjectivities that coopt Indigenous people into becoming instruments s of their own dispossession. According to this view, contemporary colonialism works through rather than entirely against freedom” (156).

Coulthard uses the term “cultural dynamism to describe resurgent culture that is not a relic of the past, but aims to reestablish contexts and conditions of possibility for Indigenous self-determination” (156) ß perhaps the conditions necessary for transmotion?This is where Indigenous cultural traditions come in: they allow for a “prefigurative politics” where the practice of decolonization come before its achievement (159).  He briefly touches on the gendered dimension of recognition politics, with reference to Patricia Monture’s concerns (158-9). He then recaps Idle No More, arguing that INM is indicative of the “ultimate failure” of the state’s “approach to reconciliation” (163) with its emergent, decentralized and bottom-up approach, and “land-based direct action” (164).

He closes his conclusion with 5 theses on Indigenous Resurgence and Decolonization.  One of these is “The Necessity of Direct Action” (165) – Often deemed illegitimate, but effective because it produces an immediate power effect; represents a lessening of internalization colonialism; it is “prefigurative in the sense that they build the skills and social relationships (including those with the land) that are required within and among Indigenous communities to construct alternatives to the colonial relationship in the long run” (166).

Direct action feeds treaty making. Land claims are linked to direct action, even depend on it (167). Critics take issue with the seeming reactive character of road blocks, etc. but being is an affirmation as much as it is a “negation” – a saying “no” (169). With reference to the Dene’s plan to establish a traditional Dene economy in 1970, land economic sustenance required to reject capitalism and assert  culture (171) so that the people do not regain culture on the basis of a “predatory economy” – culture as a way of relearning the land and developing resurgent forms of education.

Considering Indigenous peoples in the city is crucial: “the efficacy of Indigenous resurgence hinges on its ability to address the interrelated systems of dispossession that shape Indigenous peoples’ experiences in both urban and land-based settings” (176), particularly as the distinction between urban and reserve space is a colonial invention.

Points of Importance/Interest:·

  • Troubles the colonial teleologies perpetuated in recognition politics as well as in Marxist theory.
  • Challenges the distinction between past and present that is necessary for seeing “traditional” culture as a relic.
  • Being as a negation as well as an affirmation (169) is a good argument for sussing out the limitations and problems of a “reactive” stance in relation to recognition politics.
  • The relationship between context and assertions of traditional culture (perhaps points to the way that affirmative culture works, in terms of separating out context from culture — the means without the future possibility of an ends?)



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