SFU Assistant Professor Kyle Willmott finds neoliberalism behind calls for assimilation of Indigenous people and the rewriting of history to elevate racist abuses to “remarkable works” and “good deeds.”
Dr. Willmott identifies the Canadian Taxpayer Federation (CTF) as a contributing organization amplified by unjournalistic media that uses cookie-cutter stories from groups with hidden agendas.
Manitoba MLA Dougald Lamont wrote about the CTF for CBC. His points:
- They get acres of free coverage in newspapers and on local and national newscasts; their spokespeople regularly get more coverage than elected officials.
- The CTF’s media presence is truly remarkable when you consider it has a membership of five people.
- While the CTF’s mandate is to hold elected officials to account, who holds the CTF’s five members to account? Each other. Who decides who else can become a member? They do. As a result, CTF has faced accusations of being a fake grassroots organization.
- It is not a citizen’s advocacy group, but a donors’ advocacy group. CTF has no obligation to disclose its donors — and it doesn’t.
Professor Willmott’s paper Taxes, taxpayers, and settler colonialism is worth our consideration. Extracts:
The stories that are told about Indigenous peoples by ‘taxpayers’ often involve complaints about budgets, welfare, and ‘unfair’ tax arrangements… By tracing the construction of taxpayer concerns and tax myths as forms of fiscalized racism, the paper demonstrates the importance of tax to settler colonialism and the shape of Indigenous-settler relations.
In 2017, Canadian Senator Lynn Beyak sparked anger when she suggested that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) findings focused too much on ‘the negative’ aspects of residential schools… Beyak argued that the ‘good deeds’ of teachers, administrators and clergy had been overshadowed…
Beyak later explained her comments at a committee meeting: The speech that caused so much hurt and distress was actually a speech about taxes…
In 2018, Beyak came under scrutiny for posting racist letters of support she had received to her Senate website…
The everyday invocations of tax as a cudgel against Indigenous peoples demonstrate the political and legal contours of how the settler colonial present is shaped by the power of tax and fiscal discourses…
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has helped to popularize long-standing tropes about taxes and Indigenous peoples that have resulted from both legal and political distinctions between Canadians and Indigenous peoples, but also legal attempts by the Canadian state to assimilate Indigenous nations into Canada.
…the CTF has argued that it stands for ‘accountability’, ‘transparency’, and against government ‘waste’. Their brand of ‘populist’ watchdog politics places them among right wing and/or neoliberal market-oriented political advocacy organizations that have long attempted to construct market-oriented political imaginaries and subjects to consume those market-oriented imaginaries. Despite the group’s political mission, the CTF is often quoted in the mainstream press as an independent representative of ‘taxpayers’, without reference to the group’s ideological disposition.
Because they are often focused on more ‘mundane’ issues, such as funding for public transport, deficits, ‘wasteful’ state projects or inefficient bureaucracies, their mundane ‘fiscal conservatism’ — or neoliberalism — helps to fill ‘cookie cutter’ stories about the abuse of ‘taxpayer money’ that are a staple of news media.
However, this also provides significant space for the CTF to push more reactionary policy advocacy, often under the guise of their ‘folksy’ populist image. Their anti-Indigenous policy advocacy is a prime example, with their advocacy for individual property rights on reserve land one example of their assimilationist politics...
State strategies to undermine Indigenous sovereignty has long been a concern in Indigenous studies, and law and sociolegal studies. This study combines the analysis of formal legal and policy strategies, but focuses on the informal mechanisms by which Indigenous sovereignty is attacked, and how Indigeneity itself comes to be governed by tax tropes and ‘taxpayer governmentality’.
…settlers often do not understand that Indigenous nations are nations with governance and legal systems/knowledges, not simply Indigenous ‘individuals’ who live ‘in’ Canada.
[Stephen Harper’s First Nations Financial Transparency Act] initiated a surgically precise method for settlers to critique First Nations and Indigenous peoples… Through the analysis of a series of editorials authored by the CTF, I identify three building blocks of taxpayer subjectivity: bifurcation of Indigenous peoples from the category of taxpayer, the subsumption of Indigenous sovereignty, and the constitution of tax as white property.
…editorials authored by CTF staff helped to create calculating taxpayer subjects as part of the ongoing material and affective colonial structures that sediment property relations, undermine Indigenous sovereignty, and act as everyday structures of white settler political domination…
Despite the insistence of Canadian liberalism that we are in an age of multicultural reconciliation, settler colonialism does not rest — but instead morphs itself into new discursive frames…
Information is dense in Willcott’s 22-page paper. It references the work of many academics and explains that “aggressive regimes of non-knowledge persist” in Canadian conversations about Indigenous rights. Willcott cites Australian scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson who wrote:
The right to take possession was embedded in British and international common law and rationalized through a discourse of civilization that supported war, physical occupation, and the will and desire to possess.
While Professor Willcott’s paper criticizes the CTF, he paints with a wider brush. It helps me understand how my early life views about Indigenous people were formed and reinforced, and only revised when I began to realize that Canada’s European settlers were destructive interlopers who believed the people they displaced had little value and no rights.
By decisions made thousands of kilometres away, by people who never set foot in North America, the “new” land and its resources belonged to hereditary monarchs and could be permanently assigned to newcomers without regard to millennia-long tenures of existing populations..
The education of baby boomers like me barely recognized Indigenous presence and almost completely ignored history of North America that did not involve Europeans. Entertainment channels pictured “savages” worthy of eradication or removal. Outside of TV and movies, original people of our land were routinely disrespected. When I was in high school, my soccer team was taught to play rough with skilled players from the Tla’amin Nation (then called Sliammon). “They won’t retaliate,” we were told.
The ceremonies of Indigenous people, and what we saw as their lack of materialism, were ridiculed. “Good Indians” were the ones who left their communities and sought to “be like us.”
While I believe that young people in British Columbia today are educated with sensitivity and that most will become adults with interest in multicultural reconciliation, it seems clear that today’s Canadian society is directed by people whose opinions were formed half a century or more ago. Authorities are prepared to pay lip service to Indigenous rights, but embrace only privileges and entitlements that have little material cost.
To those controlling British Columbia, the picture below represents the highest and best use of Indigenous territories and, if necessary, they will deploy armed troops, complete with snipers, to ensure that uppity defenders of traditional lands do not disrupt the ongoing destruction of our planet.
Willmott, Kyle. 2022. “Taxes, taxpayers, and settler colonialism: Toward a critical fiscal sociology of tax as white property.” Law & Society Review 56(1): 6–27.
Alberta writer David Climenhaga also reviewed the Willmott paper in his article: