Learning Journal: Colonialism

Colonialism refers to the direct and absolute political control of a country accompanied by economic exploitation of its resources by a more powerful nation. However, in Canada colonization refers to the forceful displacement of the indigenous people from their land by Europeans, the British and the French, resulting in the disruption of their culture (Logan, 2015). Despite being rooted in Canadian history, colonization is still an ongoing phenomenon in contemporary Canadian society. For instance, the government aid the industries in taking over the lands of the natives in northern Canada (Battell & Barker, 2016). According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, understanding Canadian history with respect to indigenous people would play a significant role in reconciliation and rebuilding of the relationship between the indigenous people and the non-indigenous people in Canada.

Colonialism thrived from the second half of 14th century up to 18th century as European nations took control of Africa, Americas, and a significant portion of Asia, mainly to exploit its resources such as minerals, labour, furs, and food supply
(González-Ruibal, 2016). Canada was occupied by European settlers who violently displaced the indigenous people from their lands. Occupation of Canada by European settlers began in the eastern coast of Canada. The earliest encounters of Europeans by the indigenous was with the Vikings over 1000 years back. Additionally, Basque sailors made contact with the indigenous people in the 1500s. In the 1830s, the Hudson’s Bay Company put up a fur trading post in Labrador (Smith, 2018). Gradually, European settlement spread to the west and to the south of Canada, eventually getting to the west coast by 1800s. By mid-1900s, the natives of northern Canada were evicted by European settlers for military reasons and for the resources.

As colonialism spread in North America, the takeover of the indigenous peoples’ lands for its resources began. Consequently, indigenous people were evicted from their customary lands and in other areas of Canada, natives were forced into reserves with the signing of treaties (Allard, 2015). Additionally, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI at the request of the monarchs of Spain ratified a proclamation called the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine utilized the notion of terra nullius to validate colonial countries’ mandate to take over land “discovered” by their explorers. The doctrine gave Spain the authority to conquer the lands discovered by its explorers while also barring non-Christians from owning land (Miller, 2019). However, these European notions and declarations failed to recognize that the territories of North America belonged to the indigenous people who had used the lands for thousands of years for trapping, hunting, and fishing.

Similarly, Europeans did not recognize that natives of North America lived in numerous diverse communities with several unique dialects, beliefs, ethnicities, governance structures and trade relations. From 1701, the British Crown started making deals with the natives of the regions that would be Canada (Firmini & Smith, 2017). For instance, The Peace and Friendship treaties between the British Crown and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet was directed towards ending the battles and improving the relationship between the British and these Indigenous communities. In Ontario and the Prairies, the “numbered” treaties necessitated that the indigenous peoples surrender their land in exchange for benefits (Talbot, 2019). The indigenous peoples were given reserve lands somewhere else, farming tools and beasts, yearly payments, firepower, textiles and some freedom to hunt and fish in exchange for their lands.

Furthermore, treaties usually recognized the indigenous peoples’ freedom to practice and promote traditions and fiscal development, in addition to native legislative organizations and administration structure (Imai, 2017). However, the more current treaties were more inclusive as they provided for autonomy. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was the most significant treaty in Canada between European settlers and the Aboriginal peoples since the proclamation recognized in Constitutional law that the indigenous peoples had a right to their territories, sovereignty, and autonomy. Moreover, the proclamation determined that the only legal way the Indigenous peoples could relinquish their lands was through treaties (Fenge & Aldridge, 2015). However, Colonial settlers and governments considered land as a commodity to be exploited for the benefit of their homeland, unlike the indigenous peoples who viewed the land as sacred and should be handled with care.

Consequently, as more land fell into the hands of the Europeans, their relationship with the natives became more strained. When Canada became a federation in 1800, the colonialists saw indigenous peoples as barriers to their acquisition of land (Blake, Keshen, Knowles & Messamore, 2017). Consequently, treaties were considered as a means to acquire land. The initial treaties that led to the cessation of land by the natives were due to hunger and poverty. In 1876, Canada passed the Indian act which significantly affected the everyday lives of the indigenous peoples.The act restricted political decision making to men which were contrary to the indigenous customs. By 1920, native communities were required by law to send their young children to distant residential schools run by churches to civilize and turn them into Christians (Burnett & Read, 2016). The children were seriously affected by homesickness, disease, hunger, and physical and sexual exploitation. It also led to the disruption and erosion of the native culture and languages.

Evidently, colonialism in Canada has evolved and become less overt with time. For instance, whereas the government provides as little food in the reserve as can sustain life, the Hudson Bay company used to provide the natives with just enough ammunition to hunt for a short time (Lithopoulos & Ruddell, 2016). The alienation of indigenous peoples from their lands has resulted in their economic marginalization which has led to lower levels of education, poverty, unemployment, poor housing, and lack of food security. In fact, Canada’s law has made the taking and owning of indigenous land. For example, many indigenous people were displaced by the government to make room for railways and resource extraction.This has continued as the government takes over more of the indigenous people’s land under the guise of development and national interest especially in the northern parts of Canada (LaDuke, 2017). Learning Canadian history with respect to the injustices encountered by the Indigenous people plays a significant role in making the non-indigenous people more empathetic towards them. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, learning this history would lead to the appreciation of the indigenous culture and as a result lead to the reconciliation and rebuilding of the relationship between the indigenous people and the non-indigenous people.


Allard, C. (2015). Relations between Canada and First Nations in the West (1867-1900): The Numbered Treaties, Indian Act, and Loss of Aboriginal Autonomy. HPS: The Journal of History and Political Science4.

Battell Lowman, E., & Barker, A. J. (2016). Settler: Identity and colonialism in 21st century Canada. Fernwood Publishing.

Blake, R. B., Keshen, J. A., Knowles, N. J., & Messamore, B. J. (2017). Conflict and Compromise: Post-Confederation Canada. University of Toronto Press.

Burnett, K., & Read, G. (2016). Aboriginal history: A reader.

Fenge, T., & Aldridge, J. (2015). Keeping Promises: The Royal Proclamation of 1763, Aboriginal Rights, and Treaties in Canada. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

Firmini, M., & Smith, J. (2017). The Crown in Canada. The Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution, 129.

González-Ruibal, A. (2016). : Colonialism and European Archaeology. In Handbook of postcolonial archaeology (pp. 39-50). Routledge.

Imai, S. (2017). Consult, consent and veto: International norms and Canadian treaties. The Right Relationship (U of T Press) edited by Michael Coyle and John Borrows.

LaDuke, W. (2017). All our relations: Native struggles for land and life. Haymarket Books.

Lithopoulos, S., & Ruddell, R. (2016). Crime, Criminal Justice, and Aboriginal Canadians. Criminal Justice in Canada: A Reader.

Logan, T. (2015). Settler colonialism in Canada and the Métis. Journal of Genocide Research17(4), 433-452.

Miller, R. J. (2019). The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism. The Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance5(1).

Smith, D. C. (2018). The Hudson’s Bay Company, Social Legitimacy, and the Political Economy of Eighteenth-Century Empire. William & Mary Quarterly75(1), 71-108.

Talbot, R. (2019). Negotiating the Numbered Treaties: An Intellectual and Political History of Alexander Morris. Purich Publishing.