This short paper illustrates how Wolfe’s comparative term, the logic of elimination works within the colonial health care system. Wolfe posits that the State’s primary motive is access to land and acquisition of its natural resources (Wolfe 2006:388). Barkwell (1982) reiterates this goal, citing the aim of federal government is to acquire aboriginal title and liberate land for settlement and exploitation (Barkwell 1982:2). In Samson (2009), this goal becomes transparent in Labrador-Quebec where the indigenous Innu have been forcibly displaced for mining development, hydroelectric projects, military training and practice, and overall industrialization of the territory (Samson 2009: 118). Furthermore, Samson illustrates by eliminating the Innu’s nomadic society through State coerced sedentary village living, the Canadian Government can sever nomadic identity and eradicate their primary personhood—a strategy that has thrown the Innu into what Durkheim identifies as anomic suicide (Samson 121:2009). Wolfe describes a similar approach, where individual Choctaw were isolated from their tribe with the introduction of private property rights; without the tribe (in which land was held in common), the individual Choctaw were no longer considered Indians (Wolfe 2006:397). Like the elimination of the Choctaw, Innu identity was being eliminated when their nomadic life ceased and links to their land broken.
Prior to contact with Europeans, the historical record indicates that Innu had healthier diets, experienced better physical health and were self-supporting—living off the resources of their lands (Samson 2009:114). McCallum (2005) notes in her paper that indigenous people fare much better when isolated from European contact. But, this observation did not generate a logical course of non-interference initiatives, instead, the Government produced top-down policy-making that forced Natives onto reserves where increased medical surveillance and colonial social structures were imposed to assimilate natives for citizenship (McCallum 2005:113). Samson poignantly points out the fruits of Wolfe’s logic of Innu elimination—obligatory sedentarization with its alien institutions—afflicted the Innu with a myriad social, physical and psychological dysfunctions (Samson 2009:114). The government responded with unevenly distributing cash handouts, producing unequal power relations with the band and welfare dependency. Furthermore, the Government employed spurious counseling programs, such as Judaeo-Christian 12 Step recovery models, to alleviate drug and alcohol problems and native community healing practices were discredited by the biomedical practitioners, thus severing the bond between Innu healers and their community (Samson 2009:129). Dr. McGillivray, an allopathic practitioner, argued that the blame should be placed on Innu adults, suggesting that they take charge of their own health and well being (Samson 2009:112). Like Dr. MacGillivrary, Provinelli’s paper (2008) demonstrates how government and business corporations ignore their culpable role in imposing structural violence upon various societies and, by using neo-liberal concepts such as individuality, free-will and self-responsibility, they “blame the victim”—placing the brunt of the problem squarely on the shoulders of the oppressed (Povinelli 2008:517). Ironically, government health care initiatives were perceived by the ethnocentric, non-native community as humane programs to civilize and improve the lives of the primitive, nomadic Innu. Ignorant of indigenous culture and their relationships with the land and ecology, the settlers saw only unhealthy Innu practices and irresponsible, self-destructive behaviours that squandered their opportunity to progress out of the dark ages (Samson 2009:111). Lastly, the final blow to Innu identity and the fulfillment of native elimination comes in the form of what Samson calls, “a colonial double-bind” whereby the Innu are instructed to assimilate modern ways of thinking and operating, which are often contrary to Innu morals and values, or face a host of government reprimands and punishments for non-compliance (Samson 2009:132). This “no-win” situation further erodes the boundaries of self-making and facilitates the elimination of the Innu.
Analysis of these approaches is illuminated in the other readings. Barkwell’s paper (1982) exemplifies McCallum’s observation that, “the ultimate goal of health care, shrouded in the language of self-sufficiency and integration, is to convert Native people into citizens to whom the government owed no obligation” (McCallum 2005:114). Barkwell cites that the policy aims of the government are to manipulate the Indian bands to agree to greater responsibility for administration and financing Native health care, and shows how recent court decisions have narrowly interpreted the “medicine chest clause of Treaty No. 6” to reinforce the position that the federal government has no legal obligation to provide health care to the Indians. This logic of elimination seeks to circumvent Indian rights and status (Barkwell 1982:9-10). As illustrated in reading, “Killing the Shamen” (1985), Clan Chief, Joseph Fiddler’s forced removal to a colonial outpost, where he is tried and convicted under settler laws for a crime he did not understand, and while incarcerated, dies from pneumonia, signifing the ultimate elimination of the native.
What is desperately needed are bottom-up, community designed programs that would rebuild Native identity, values, and healthy social norms. Restoring links to the land could heal tribal life with the help of interconnected structures of native medicine and spirituality, which had proven effective with the Innu in times of crisis (Samson 2009:129). However, this approach would run contrary to government or state aims of territorial access and acquisition, cultural assimilation and the elimination of indigenous personhood.
Barkwell, P. A. (1982). The Medicine Chest Clause in Treaty No. 6. Canadian Native Law Reporter, 4, 1-23
Fiddler, Chief Thomas & Stevens, James R. (1985/2012). Killing The Shamen. Newcastle, ON: Penumbra Press
McCallum, M.J. This Last Frontier: Isolation and Aboriginal Health. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 22, no. 1 (2005): 103-20.
Povinelli, E. (2008) The Child in the Broom Closet: On States of Killing and Letting Die. South Atlantic Quarterly 107(3): 509-530
Samson, Colin. (2009) A Colonial Double-Bind: Social and Historical Contexts of Innu Mental Health. Healing Traditions. The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. Vancouver & Toronto: UBC Press 109-139
Wolfe, P. (2006). Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4), 387-409