Indigenous Peoples’ Wage Labour and Engagement in the Canadian Labour Movement

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Alia KARIM, York University, Canada
Critical scholarship about Indigenous peoples’ social movements in Canada tends to focus on the colonial-state denial of Indigenous rights to traditional lands, water and natural resources. However, little is known about Indigenous peoples who have performed wage labour and their engagement in labour movements. Many scholars assume that Indigenous peoples were irrelevant to the development of Canada’s emergent industrial economy after the fur trade, but thousands of Indigenous men, women, and children, turned to wage labour when they were faced with land dispossession. In the West Coast, for example, Indigenous peoples worked in virtually every commercial resource industry as wage labourers, or as independent owner-operators. This presentation will focus on the crucial role of Indigenous wage labour in Canada’s economic development, and Indigenous workers’ activism through unions and Indigenous-led organizations, such as the Native Brotherhood of B.C. I will also bring attention to challenges in the Canadian labour movement regarding the racist constructions of Indigenous peoples as “primitive” and “lazy”, the positioning of Indigenous cultures as incompatible with industrial labour (despite the evidence of Indigenous workers’ widespread labour participation), the belief that Indigenous concerns remain separate from, and less important than, non-Indigenous workers’ struggles, and industrial development and employment conflicts involving contemporary Indigenous land claims.