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Crisis of Invasion: Militaristic Language and the Legitimization of Identity and Place

Published onMar 15, 2018
Crisis of Invasion: Militaristic Language and the Legitimization of Identity and Place

On May 9, 2016, the alt-right news site Bugout News published an article entitled “It’s OFFICIAL: We’re Being Invaded By Illegal Immigrants And What Obama Has Reaped, We Will Sow,” in which the author declares that millions of Americans are “sick and tired of being forced to witness and accept a massive invasion of third-world poor into their country.”1 This message of crisis, writes J. Dougherty under the web name Usafeaturesmedia, is a direct reflection of and signals agreement with the anti-immigration message put forth during the presidential campaign by current U.S. President, Donald J. Trump.2 Trump’s hard-line campaign proposals on border control became a rallying cry for right-wing Americans who remain suspicious of asylum-seekers and view illegal immigration as one of the greatest threats not simply to national security, but to nationhood itself. Conservative journalist Pat Buchanan neatly summarized this position on the public affairs program The McLaughlin Group in early January 2016 when he warned that “if the invasion of Europe and the United States are not stopped, these—the continent and the country will cease to exist.”3 As Buchanan’s words indicate, the framing of immigration in militaristic terms is reflective of a larger political and social backlash in the Global North against increased human migration that, characterized as a global crisis, is perceived to threaten the livelihoods and well-being of already-established inhabitants of destination nations.

Such violent language is not limited to the description of human migration, however. Environmental historian Peter Coates writes that discussions of “undesirable immigrants” are just as likely to include non-human subjects such as flora and fauna, though the concerns encapsulated in the use of such rhetoric in environmental debates go beyond the ecological and point to more wide-ranging anthropocentric fears regarding place and belonging.4 In an increasingly globalized world fraught with social, economic, political, and military conflict, the language of threatened security is a response to what many perceive to be a fading of borders, imagined or otherwise. Indeed, Richard Mack et al. write that, “[i]n a world without borders, few if any areas remain sheltered from these immigrations [of invaders].”5 This conceptualization of a world vulnerable to foreign trespass—human and non-human alike—frames migration as a global crisis, reaffirming place-based fears and legitimating xenophobic attitudes and policies. It is also evidence of what urban geographer Ash Amin identifies as the apocalyptic imaginary, writing that, “by design or default, [it] draws a parallel between diverse threats … seeing them as perturbations of a world system on the edge of breakdown.”6 Connecting human migration to the cross-border movement of flora and fauna through a shared discourse of invasion fuels the perceived conflagration of multiple crises taking place across the globe, and this perception contributes to the notion of a damaged future.7

Working from the position that “invasiveness” has become one of the dominant frameworks through which crises over space and place are viewed and understood, this paper questions the politics of belonging in today’s globalized and crisis-ridden climate. It asks: who determines what or who is invasive or non-invasive, and by extension, what or who is included or excluded in formations of space and place? In what ways are such questions complicated by the continuing violence wrought by settler colonial institutions, and can the complexities inherent in discussions of space and place be overcome in a way that may allow us to reimagine a non-anthropocentric, non-apocalyptic future?

Place-making and Identity

Whether in the case of human or non-human agents, the use of invasion terminology as a construction of crisis indicates an associative link between security, space, and identity, suggesting that processes of place-making and place-keeping are part of an architectural everyday practice of identity construction and preservation. Here, I draw on the work of David Harvey for an understanding of the human as architect. In Spaces of Hope (2000), Harvey identifies the figure of the architect as central to “the processes of constructing and organizing spaces.”8 Within these processes, the architect creates not solely for the purpose of social utility; equally, he/she attempts to express the longings and desires of individuals and collectivities in material form, thereby bound to the pursuit of utopian ideals.9 Yet utopian schemes, as Harvey quickly points out, are often made manifest through authoritarian forms of governance and control.10 In chasing the utopic, the architect seeks a spatial pattern that works to uphold a particular moral order, but to do so requires both a strictness of organization and the exclusion of anything perceived to be disruptive to social harmony. What makes Harvey’s reading of the architect as utopian schemer most significant, however, is his insistence that “we can all equally well see ourselves as architects of a sort,” making the architect a figure of individual agency as we construct and re-construct our life worlds. If, as Harvey argues, the production of place works simultaneously as the production of ourselves and who we do or do not want to be, and we as humans are all the architects of our individual and collective spatial orderings, we may therefore read the making of space and place as a process of identity construction. And, if architecture gives material form to our individual and collective desires, and the manifestation of these desires leans towards an authoritarian structuring designed to protect a constructed moral order, we may also read the making of place and space as a process of identity preservation.

Place-making is a process of imagined and real spatial ordering in which we, as architects, construct simultaneously our collective space and self. For example, Coates holds the creation of a national identity is inextricably linked to a valorization of “native nature;” the legitimization of a naturalized patrimony, he argues, is based on “symbiotic processes of identification and rejection” that create “a nature of inclusion and a nature of exclusion by distinguishing between native species and those that [fall] beyond the pale.”11 These processes, according to Coates, spring from initial periods of enthusiasm for intercontinental transplantation that are ultimately rejected, creating a controversy that is framed in terms of “immigrant promise and desirability and immigrant menace and undesirability.”12 The rejection of non-native species of flora and fauna in the creation of a legitimate national identity illustrates the vital role of landscape in Western understandings of belonging and non-belonging. Here, spatial planning works on behalf of the dominant political agenda, and the control of the natural landscape, or what Chiara Certomà refers to as “non-human nature,” is a means to control any aspect of human nature, or indeed, any human, deemed to be potentially revolutionary and, therefore, dangerous.13 Coates’ argument offers an opportunity to consider the ways in which the perpetuation of settler colonial practices and institutions depends upon framing national identity through the appropriation and construction of “native” spaces and the rejection of alien species. Such rejection is made most effective through a security framework in which militaristic language becomes a form of discursive violence that buttresses systemic and institutionalized racism. Invasion, the primary mechanism of conquest, is co-opted into the national discourse of the settler colonial state in order to legitimate colonial hegemonic belonging. The intersection of appropriated nativeness and the fear-mongering discourse of invasion serves to rewrite settler colonial history through the re-imagining of a utopian pre-contact past in which the settler-colonizers are written in as the legitimate inhabitants while the Indigenous population is erased from the national or regional record. The cooption of exotic, or “invasive” species of flora and fauna into the rhetoric of invasiveness supports a rewriting of settler colonial history through a constructed narrative of pristine wilderness untouched by humans which actively excludes and therefore makes invisible the Indigenous inhabitants of colonized lands. In doing so, colonial settlers are reframed as the legitimate “native” population.14

While this rewriting of colonial history perpetuates settler colonial hegemony, it may also be read as a legitimization of the hegemonic position of humans within our planetary ecosystem. Framed in terms of belonging and non-belonging, invasion terminology also supports an anthropogenic notion of nature that imagines and valorizes the pre-existence and possible recreation of a true “wilderness” that lies in stark contrast to the “anti-wilderness” created by human activity. Working in conjunction with this notion is the apocalyptic imaginary—a method of thinking that embraces the inevitability of ruin and devastation heralded by the destruction of ecosystems. The reimagined past makes implicit a destructive present and a damaged future; therefore, invasion becomes both apocalyptic and nostalgic. In the face of a climatic apocalypse, the recreation of “authentic” ecosystems is a process of wilderness construction that serves to reinforce our human authority through the authoring of natural space. Our inability or unwillingness to reimagine consciousness and agency in non-human ways works in tandem with our desire for control through an ecological discourse of conquest and encroachment. This discourse simultaneously acknowledges and disregards plant agency in order to legitimate both the destructive threat of alien flora and the power of humans to determine processes of inclusion and exclusion.15 By labelling plants as invasive, we attribute to them the agentic power to illegally cross human-constructed boundaries, cloaking them in culpability; yet, our refusal to consider the right of plants (or any other non-human agent) to move, settle, and/or relocate according to forms of consciousness, choice, or need that we cannot fully understand is a wholesale dismissal of that same agentic power of which we accuse them in their offensive trespass. The settler colonial institutions that have sought to undermine Indigenous presence and power for five centuries are paralleled on a planetary scale as humans continue to rely on an anthropocentric understanding of the environment that, bolstered by the rhetoric of invasion, places them at the top of an ecological hierarchy.

Problematics of Disruption and Self-Reflexivity

When I first began investigating these issues, I sought to problematize the language of invasion and disrupt the notion of “invasiveness” as it intersects with settler colonialism, racism, environmentalism, and notions of “land” and “frontier.” Here, I define ‘disruption’ as an interruption to a way of thinking, a questioning or challenging meant to create the possibility for constructive change.16 By questioning the affective uses of this language, I wished to reframe “invasion” in a non-apocalyptic way in order to avoid the romanticism and false nostalgia associated with the term that longs for a utopic past free of perceived turmoil, while also questioning the politics of belonging in today’s globalized climate. However, the notion of disruption through academic writing began to seem not only inadequate, but problematic in itself. Through long and often fraught periods of self-reflexive meditations and conversations with peers, I began to realize that my grappling with the complexities of place, belonging and non-belonging, played out through the language of invasion, should, in fact, be not only the starting point but a significant portion of my research and the resulting paper. It became clear that I needed to openly address both my personal concerns regarding my position as a white, privileged, middle-class, North American woman whose history is very much complicit in settler colonialism, and the complexities—and risks—involved in attempting to disentangle the various threads of security, place, identity and belonging while remaining cognizant of resisting settler colonial hegemonies.

Yet, like disruptive pedagogies, the practice of self-reflexivity within academia presents its own complications and can be viewed as a growing crisis within the institution; scholars increasingly insist upon the necessity of confessing privilege while simultaneously debating this move’s potential as, at best, a token gesture and, at worst, a reassertion of privileged power.17 As scholars Corey Snelgrove, Rita Kaur Dhamoon and Jeff Corntassel suggest, my attempt at the political practice of self-location is “susceptible to performativity” and runs “the risk of reifying (and possibly replicating) settler colonial … modes of domination.”18 This assessment echoes the concerns of Indigenous studies scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, who argue that the “cultivation of critical consciousness” is a type of “settler move to innocence,” in which “conscientization” stands in for “the more uncomfortable task of relinquishing stolen land.”19 Other modes of settler innocence are equally recognizable in the practice of self-location: the performance of sympathy embedded in settler adoption fantasies, and the erasure of Indigenous peoples by placing them at the margins of public discourse—what Eva Mackey would call “conceptual exile.”20 On the other hand, Tuck and Yang also seem to suggest that there is a place for such a practice, writing that “attending to what is irreconcilable within settler colonial relations and what is incommensurable between decolonizing projects and other social justice projects will help to reduce the frustration of attempts at solidarity.” However, they go on to clarify that “the attention won’t get anyone off the hook from the hard, unsettling work of decolonization.”21 The work of Tuck and Yang gives valuable perspective to my project, and does offer some optimism for the value of such scholarly practice. In suggesting solutions to settler innocence, they write that it is an acknowledgement, if not an understanding, of uncommonalities that offers opportunities for solidarity, rather than attempts at “friendly” reconciliation, which simply rescue settler normalcy. In particular, they cite critical pedagogies of environmental and place-based education as being potential sites for considering the incommensurability between institutionally-endorsed environmental education programs and Indigenous, decolonizing perspectives on land, environment and place.22 I suggest here that my attempt to disrupt invasion terminology has the potential to engage in such incommensurability as this attempt is also a challenge to mainstream environmental education which often disregards Indigenous relationships to the land while simultaneously appropriating the authority to decide what species belong or do not belong.

Invasiveness and the Legitimacy of Nationhood

Keeping in mind my feeling that the greater majority of discursive space should be given to the complexities embedded in the notion of invasiveness rather than my self-reflexive practices, an arguably greater problem which must be addressed in this rhetorical analysis is the potential complicity of critique in what Indigenous studies scholar Bonita Lawrence and sociologist Enakshi Dua call “the ongoing delegitimization of Indigenous nationhood.”23 Following the logic of Lawrence and Dua’s argument, to question the use of invasion terminology to label migrants—human, floral or faunal—as not having a legitimate claim to belonging, and therefore dangerous and detrimental to the “nation,” is to question a neo-racism that mobilizes an historical articulation of nationalism through autochthonous discourses. As sociologists Nandita Sharma and Cynthia Wright note, neo-racism establishes a dualistic hierarchy between “Natives” and “Non-Natives;”the use of a militaristic language of invasion to describe the movement of “Non-Natives” into “Native” space simply bolsters this unequal binary by demonizing migration.24

Although the strong language employed by organizations working to eradicate invasive plant species and rebuild “native” ecosystems may appear to be a far cry from the more overtly racist rhetoric of anti-immigration groups, the mutual relationship between the construction of place and of identity means that the imagined and/or real spatial arrangement of landscape, including what should or should not be permitted within its bounds, plays an essential role in the formation of a national identity heavily based on exclusion. The conceptualization of “native-only” spaces is widely promulgated by government-endorsed programs that seek to manage or eradicate flora and fauna that do not occur naturally in designated ecosystems and which are seen to pose a threat to such native environments and to biodiversity as a whole. For example, the Canadian Council on Invasive Species (CCIS) writes that such invasive species, which “have either already invaded Canada or have the potential to invade Canada,” are an aggressive foe requiring international cooperation due to the fact that such species “know no boundaries.”25 This notion of willfully boundary-transgressing species is a clear iteration of the same fear of dissolving borders at play in the writings not just of native-plant proponents, but their anti-immigration counterparts. As Hugh Raffles writes in a New York Times op-ed piece reconsidering the necessity of rooting out non-native species, members of both the anti-immigration crusade and the native species movement are motivated by the “fear of being swamped by aliens.”26 But what is most significant in its relationship to the construction of a national identity is its bald conceptualization of a utopic, purely “native” national space free of encroaching outsiders. That this conceptualization is not only endorsed but framed as a goal that is actively worked towards by a government whose relationship with colonized, marginalized Indigenous communities remains severely imbalanced in favor of the dominant settler colonial power adds another layer of complexity to an already tangled confluence of conflicting discourses of nationhood, space and power.

While the neo-racist undertones of invasion terminology point to a problematic framing of nationality founded on the criterion of “native-only,” critical calls for a dismantling of the conception of nationhood itself run the same risk of disregarding—or, indeed, erasing—the concerns of Indigenous peoples as does the settler colonial appropriation of native spaces and its accompanying rejection of alien species. Lawrence and Dua argue that “the postcolonial emphasis on deconstructing nationhood furthers Indigenous denationalization for those targeted for centuries for physical and cultural extermination, and facing added fragmentation through identity legislation.”27 Decrying the dismissal of “ethnic absolutism” by some academics as “an increasingly untenable strategy,” Lawrence and Dua reject their denigration of nationalism as founded upon technologies of violence, or inherently prone to fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing.28 These criticisms, they argue, “question the very notion of national identity” and in doing so, prevent Indigenous peoples from envisioning “a future separate from continuous engulfment …or their continuous erasure.”29 Following this logic, while invasion terminology may be a tool of settler colonial institutions in the construction of a legitimate, naturalized patrimony, for Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, invasion is an ever-present reality. As Patrick Wolfe notes, the relationship between Indigenous communities and the state is one of “an invaded people and their invaders,” and rather than being a thing of the past, current “colonial system bureaucracies are part of the invasion, because they take away Native initiative.”30 A blanket critique of invasiveness disregards and therefore delegitimizes Indigenous claims against settler colonial invasion. Mackey writes that the dilemma of this type of delegitimization lies in “historically privileged citizens of nations” being able to “use rights frameworks to counter the rights-based claims of dispossessed, marginalized, and subjugated indigenous people.”31 Both groups, she explains, use these rights frameworks strategically. While she acknowledges that “indigenous movements and right-wing anti-immigration movements … both use essentialist, anthropologically obsolete and dangerous … ‘blood and soil’ assumptions about culture,” it is an oversimplification of complex relationships and histories to equate such arguments.32 By equating the use of such biological or epistemological absolutes by disparate groups, attempts by marginalized Indigenous groups to claim their right to sovereignty are demonized and dismissed.

The Ongoing Invasion: Endangering Indigenous Claims to Sovereignty

Within this web of complexities, how does one consider the issue of justice for both Indigenous peoples and migrants? To answer this question, it is essential to analyze the ways in which a disruption of invasiveness might endanger Indigenous claims to sovereignty. While part of my challenge lies in a critique of the wholesale labelling of human and non-human immigrants as invasive, a racially discriminatory practice, a secondary part of my challenge lies in uncovering the role such labelling plays in constructing an imagined utopian pre-contact past which erases Indigenous communities from history and therefore legitimates the settler colonial population as the true “Native” inhabitants—an interesting example of historically privileged people using rights frameworks to counter both land claims of Indigenous communities, as detailed by Mackey, and settlement claims of migrants. Rather than rejecting all constructions of nationhood, I problematize settler colonial constructions of nationhood which work to dismantle Indigenous claims to an autonomous, oppression-free sovereign nation.

Additionally, despite having recognized the potential of my research to engage in the pedagogical incommensurability put forth by Tuck and Yang, a lack of Indigenous representation in any discussion of invasiveness insulates the debate in a way that, as I mentioned above, risks keeping Indigenous peoples at the margins of discourse as conceptual exiles. Mackey argues that in order to challenge truth claims that operate in majority discourse, it is necessary to contextually investigate and uncover the unequal ground created in any discursive confrontation.33 Settler colonial discourses of invasion, like other discourses of violence, marginalize Indigenous voices by defining a reality of legitimate settler power through the creation of exclusionary nationalist discursive, and physical, spaces.34 Bolstered by the support of scientific knowledge, the binary conceptualization of “native” versus “non-native” provides a discursive field for settler colonial power production. In the supposed fight against invasive plant species being waged by settler colonial community and government organizations, where are the Indigenous voices? In the framing of ecosystems as threatened by illegal floral or faunal immigrants, or in the creation of protected native-only ecosystems, one finds little mention of the Indigenous communities that traditionally inhabited or, despite rumor, continue to inhabit, such threatened areas. The website of the CCIS, for instance, contains no mention of partnerships or consultation with First Nations communities who may have a vested interest in their work, despite the fact that it is a government-endorsed, federal society that claims to represent the majority of Canadian provinces and territories in its work.35

There are exceptions to this lack of inclusion. The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) Society in British Columbia has collaborated for several years with local Indigenous communities, arguing for the necessity of including Indigenous communities and historical practices in planning and implementing ecosystems restoration projects. In their guidebook of Principles and Practices, the society writes that “Any opportunity to engage First Nations should be taken to encourage the mutual sharing of information and to include First Nations as partners or key stakeholders in restoration planning.”36 This mandate is laudable, demonstrating a willingness to collaborate that goes beyond what Leanne Simpson Betasamosake would refer to as the “extractivism” of settler colonial institutions; however, it is important to point out that while the society supports Indigenous partnership, it is nevertheless a non-Indigenous-run society attempting to author ecosystems on traditional First Nations territory, making its very existence a potential exertion of settler colonial hegemony.37

While on one hand a lack of collaboration with Indigenous communities demonstrates an institutional disregard for the opinions and traditional knowledge and practices of First Nations, on the other hand, like the discursive demarcation of native and alien species, public debate over the necessity of floral and faunal border control reveals a stark level of cultural amnesia regarding the treatment of Indigenous peoples at the hands of European invaders. In response to Hugh Raffles’s article mentioned above, several letters to the editor of The New York Times were sent in, vehemently opposing the author’s point of view. Their greatest point of contention, it would seem, was Raffles’s comparison of anti-immigration sentiments to the scientifically-endorsed fight against invasive species of flora and fauna.38 Rejecting his calls for biological diversity and the implied xenophobia of native-species proponents, the first letter indignantly points out the extensive damage that is done at the hands of non-human invasive species. In a paragraph meant to sever the connection drawn between human and non-human migration, as put forth by Raffles, the responder asks whether Raffles would “be as positive about welcoming species into the United States that eat humans? Or that kill through disease? Because that’s what harmful invasive species often do to native species.”39 His implication is that anti-immigration “fervor,” as he puts it, is laughably extreme, worthy only of satirizing through the language of native-species enthusiasts, a tactic of which, to his disappointment, Raffles does not make use; in other words, human diversity, rather than being dangerous, is to be welcomed (as opposed to non-human diversity). Yet, his crudely worded questions, to which the majority of Indigenous peoples would surely have a strong response, demonstrate a remarkable amnesia regarding the violent consequences of colonial invasion and the capabilities of human behavior. Like the invasion terminology itself, the responder’s attempt to justify the native-species movement while delegitimizing opposition to human migration whitewashes the settler colonial history of the United States and erases the violence of Indigenous experience.

Perhaps what is most interesting about a critical engagement with invasiveness is its demonstration of how discourses of nationhood necessarily exist in a site of perpetual tension, as shown in public debates over human immigration and the potential xenophobia of the native species movement and, more poignantly, in Indigenous calls for sovereignty. In our globalized world, how do we reconcile the competing interests and tensions embedded in claims to place and identity? Mackey suggests that such tension can be “salient and potentially productive,” but at the same time, potentially “destructive.”40 While I cannot pretend to offer a clear solution for this dilemma, it is clear that in criticizing the discursive violence of invasion terminology, it is essential to leave room for the recognition and confrontation of real and ongoing acts of systemic, institutional, bureaucratic and spatial invasions of Indigenous communities.

While it is evident that anti-migration rhetoric is an effective tool of the settler colonial state to maintain a construction of exclusionary nationhood, it is less evident whether all scholarly critique of this form of nationhood should be uniformly dismissed for its endangerment of Indigenous sovereignty, as Lawrence and Dua would lead us to think. Sharma and Wright argue that viewing migrants—forced, less-than-voluntary, or voluntary—and their descendants as settler colonists exacerbates the over-simplified, oppositional characterizations of “Native” and “migrant,” a symptom of neo-racist ideologies that emerged within the political context of 1980s neoliberalism.41 For them, such an approach neglects the realities of forced migration, denying the fact that “migration is often one response of people who have been colonized or dispossessed of their prior livelihoods” and sometimes “a response to being ‘decolonized,’ as postcolonial struggles rage over whose ‘nation’ has just been ‘liberated.’”42 Sharma and Wright also suggest that the anti-miscegeny of such neo-racism risks supporting constructions of community “that normalize patriarchal, elitist, and exploitative social relations” and perpetuate devotion to “old” racisms bolstered by re-imagined origin stories.43 These responses to the criticisms of Lawrence and Dua parallel Mackey’s response to other scholars’ equation of Indigenous and right-wing anti-immigration essentialist discourse, in that both sets of responses specifically reject oversimplification as the key problem. For me, the most useful conclusion to be drawn, then, is that contextual investigation must be incorporated into scholarly work on truth claims in order to fully uncover such complexities and inequalities.

If this critical disruption of the notion of ‘invasiveness’ is in part an attempt to problematize settler colonial constructions of nationhood which denationalize Indigenous claims to nationhood, how might a rhetorical analysis address the round dismissal by many scholars of the efficacy of the nationalist project for decolonization?44 Sharma and Wright argue that decolonization runs the risk of being construed as a liberation of “nations” rather than “people” from a hierarchy of social relations and that, when this misconstrual takes place, the goal of decolonization becomes the “gaining of a particular group’s power (one that is usually racialized/ethnicized, and always homogenous).”45 This tendency exposes the neo-racism embedded in many Indigenous nationalist movements and, Sharma and Wright argue, regardless of whether it has emerged from colonial forms of rule and in reaction to colonial racist practices, “we cannot ignore the commonalities shared by the nationalisms of the dominant with those of the dominated.” The “hierarchical notion of societal belonging” that is an inherent part of nationhood is organized through both old and new racist discourses.46 If, then, we must rethink the value of nationhood in the trajectory of Indigenous decolonization, how can Indigenous claims for sovereignty be fulfilled while also being denationalized? Although this paper cannot, for reasons of space, undertake a discussion of Indigenous formulations of the concept of nationhood, this would seem to be the most logical place to start, in order to properly gauge the efficacy, according to First Nations, of a nationalist project in the process of decolonization. Certainly, the debate requires a marked increase of Indigenous presence. And, to bring the analysis back to the topic of invasiveness, how can the appropriation of invasion terminology by settler colonial powers to secure their hegemonic position as nations be effectively challenged while simultaneously acknowledging both the reality of invasion for Indigenous populations under colonial control and complexities of nationhood when applied to dominant and non-dominant groups?

Approaches to Challenging Settler Colonial Notions of Invasiveness

I feel that any discussion of or research into the complex web of settler colonialism necessitates an unequivocal position of support for decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty and a willingness to actively seek out this end. For Tuck and Yang, “decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life.”47 In my questioning of the wholesale labelling of immigrants as invasive, I question not the legitimacy of Indigenous repatriation, but rather the racism the underlies such labelling, and the opportunity for appropriation of cultural and historical narratives that such labelling makes available to the settler colonial state. Following Tuck and Yang’s insistence that the requirement of repatriation is not a metaphor, although critical engagement with the complexities of settler colonialism, nationhood, and decolonization is important, solidarity through discursive engagement does not go far enough, and as such, risks becoming “too easy, too open, too settled.”48 Moreover, when it does take place, discursive engagement should be lead by Indigenous voices in order to avoid the pitfalls of conceptual exile. This is the greatest weakness in such a rhetorical analysis—one that I continue to grapple with—as well as in the discursive and spatial framing of nationhood demarcated through a system of exclusion.

While recognizing that it risks falling into Snelgrove et al’s trap of performativity, a confrontation with personal legacy and the often insoluble incommensurabilities that we, as humans, face, is a necessary and unavoidable first step towards change. However, the reconciliation of competing claims to place and identity requires action beyond recognition and confrontation. At a time of a perceived fading of borders, thought to be both the cause and effect of multiple global crises, challenging the notion of invasiveness in a meaningful, long term way that leaves room for multiple competing interest groups to lay claim to a sense of belonging requires a reimagining of the future. In the militaristic language of invasion, we see that place-making conflates concerns of security, space and identity into a single architectural process; in particular, the framing of humans and non-humans alike as either native or non-native—and in consequence, as either belonging or not belonging—becomes a valuable settler colonial tool for the construction of neo-racist nationhood, resulting, through the appropriation of Indigenous spaces and a rejection of alien species, in a construction of historical myth that erases Indigenous claims to sovereignty. To reimagine a different future, then, also necessitates a debunking of such historical myths, as well as a disruption of the indiscriminately applied notion of invasiveness.

Drawing upon Harvey’s notion of “dialectical utopianism,” I suggest that the complexities of place-making, identity and nationhood require what Harvey calls a willingness to transcend “the socio-ecological forms imposed by uncontrolled capital accumulation, class privileges, and gross inequalities of political-economic power.”49 If the ubiquity of invasion terminology is a result of both perceived and real threats to cultural, social, economic and/or political security driven by a globalized, overly-capitalized, unequal and settler colonialist world in crisis, a reimagining of alternative potential worlds offers the possibility of a balancing of tensions and the fulfillment of competing interests. Indeed, a willingness to contemplate and create new forms of social and political life falls in line with Indigenous calls for decolonization, a project which remains challenging for those implicated in settler colonialism due to its insistence on a wholesale reframing of settler colonial conceptions of sovereignty and nationhood. However, the contemplation and creation of new life-worlds necessitates a coming together of disparate groups within a community, as well as an embracing of what Harvey terms “a more generalized radical insurgent politics.”50 To avoid exclusionary and authoritarian practices that often result from utopic community political organization, Harvey calls for a more integrated process of historical-geographical change beyond the common interests of individual communities. In disrupting the notion of invasiveness and challenging settler colonial rules of belonging, I argue that a reimagining of alternative worlds must not only involve partnership with Indigenous communities; rather, it requires Indigenous leadership in order to challenge the status quo voices of hegemony. I suggest that constructing a space for reframing our varied and often conflicting conceptions of the present and future world offers an opportunity to reconsider the binary assumptions carried by the rhetoric of invasion and address current crises of identity, place and belonging in a non-apocalyptic manner.


Emma Lansdowne is a horticulturalist and writer/researcher from Victoria, BC. She has just completed her Master’s degree in Cultural Studies & Critical Theory at McMaster University, and also holds a B.A. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Victoria. Her current research involves gardening as a practice of place-making, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion embedded in such a practice. Emma looks forward to starting a doctorate program in January 2019, and until then can be found working amongst the birds, bees and flowers on Vancouver Island.

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