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hen Peter Munk, the founder of the Barrick Gold Corporation, died on March 28, 2018, prominent politicians, media outlets, and educational institutions in Canada promptly began to celebrate his life. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rushed to Twitter:
“He was an immigrant who came to Canada with big dreams, surpassed them beyond any imagination, and shared his good fortune through historic philanthropy. Thank you, Peter Munk, for your enormous contributions to our country. You will be missed.”
Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s biggest newspapers, called him a “national champion,” and the nation’s largest university, the University of Toronto, dedicated the main page of its website to his obituary. Never mind the fact that Munk’s Barrick Gold, headquartered in Toronto, has been accused of various abuses around the world: in 2017, Barrick spilled toxic cyanide solution at an Argentine mine for the third time in 18 months. In Jachal, the affected Argentine town where the walls read, “Barrick Out,” the residents have been protesting against the company for years. In 2016, a special commission appointed in Tanzania found that the Tanzanian Police, working in partnership with a Barrick subsidiary, killed 65 villagers and injured 270 living next to the majority Barrick-owned mine. The list goes on.
If the obituaries failed to give a balanced account of Munk’s legacy, they were effective at revealing how extractive projects function as a nation-state building infrastructure in Canada. A nation-state building infrastructure, in this context, is a network of processes of “constructing, unifying, and solidifying…the population of the new geopolitical identity” (Penrose and Mole, 2008: 276). A nation-state, as an “imagined political community” in which people who do not know one another hold an image of camaraderie (Anderson, 2006: 6), requires such process that is both material and ideological: creating institutions that legitimize the nation-state as well as inspiring people’s loyalty to these institutions by identifying or creating shared values are essential. In a settler colonial context, paying attention to how the physical and the ideological work together is particularly important; the dispossession of Indigenous peoples of their lands was (and is) fundamental to settler colonialism, and this ability to dispossess came from physical power and the infrastructures of the state. At the same time, this dispossession was justified by colonial logics that accorded a less-than-human status to Indigenous peoples (Harris, 2004).
Infrastructures, for Larkin (2013: 328), are “built networks that facilitate the flow of goods, people, or ideas and allow for their exchange over space.” They function not only as technical and physical artifacts, but also through desire; as projects of modernit/y, they stimulate “feelings of promise” because they “represent the possibility of being modern, of having a future…” (333). As a nation-state building infrastructure, Canadian extractive projects are projects of modernity that help legitimize the settler colonial nation. As “things and also the relation between things” (Larkin, 2013: 329), they are supported by legal systems that sanction accumulation by dispossession, which is in turn justified by colonial logics that grant some people full humanity while according less-than-human status to the people of the Global South and to Indigenous peoples of Canada. At the same time, extractive projects materially dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands to secure the future of the settler colonial nation.
Canadian extraction overseas functions through a network of legal systems that privilege corporate citizenship, through which corporations become citizens with rights in civil society. Extractive corporations have a history of arguing for their “rights” as a part of their operational strategies. For example, Akhbari (2017) shows that “Big Oil relies on its status…as a ‘citizen’ with its own set of rights” to prevail over “indigenous and workers’ resistance” by tracing the history of British Petroleum (BP) in Iran. When the local politicians and workers started resisting BP in the 1950s, which was beginning to act like a sovereign power, the company launched a series of public relations campaigns that cast itself “as a victim of a ‘vicious’ Iranian government” and was able to “highlight its civilian face and secure victory in legal battles by provoking pitiful international sentiment” (emphasis added).
Today, corporate citizenship has been more formally ingrained into legal systems that oversee extraction—namely, through corporate social responsibility (CSR) regimes, the Canadian government’s preferred policy on extractive projects. Chewinski (2016) observes that in these regimes, Canadian corporations become not a group to be governed, but rather a group that governs local people in host nations who pose threats to Canadian extraction; the rights of transnational corporations are pitted against the rights of local people. Himley (2013) demonstrates that in the Peruvian Andes, Barrick uses its CSR program in seasonal employment to govern the communities, thus ensuring the mine’s smooth operations. While the rotational employment program does generate some benefits for local people, the author argues that it is rooted in corporate interests and acts an “instrument of power” that gives power to the firm in mine-community relations (396). Therefore, when community members organized a protest due to employment and wage concerns and challenged Barrick’s authority, the firm was inflexible to their demands. The resulting conflict killed a protestor and injured at least 10.
A key component to constructing such citizenship regime requires mobilizing “Canadian identity” and “values”—an essential part of nation-state building. The 2013 Speech from the Throne entitled Seizing Canada’s Moment: Prosperity and Opportunity in an Uncertain World claims that Canadians “stand for what is right and good in the world” and “seek a world where freedom – including... democracy and human dignity are respected” (Chewinski, 2016: 357). The document outlines the government’s commitments to “help the world’s neediest by partnering with the private sector to create economic growth in the developing world” (Governor General of Canada, 2013: 19), depicting Canadians as benevolent, justice-seeking individuals that help modernize the “developing” world through economic growth. These values inform the media’s portrayal of Munk as an exemplary Canadian that enabled economic growth. For instance, the obituary by the Canadian Press justifies Barrick’s controversies by quoting Munk himself:
“‘Someone has got to create and generate wealth…I count Barrick’s biggest achievement in Canada ... the fact that we’ve been able to successfully employ young Canadians, young people globally, and provide them with opportunities.’”
As shown in the quote above, the construction of ideal citizenship happens not only by valorizing certain identities and values, but also by devaluing of other lives through colonial logics. As Walter Mignolo (2006) notes, the idea of citizenship, linked to the rise of the nation-state in northern Europe, emerged from an imperial notion of humanity that enforced certain notions of civility (i.e. modern, barbaric). The different categories of the human (i.e. less-than-human, non-human) created through the idea of civility in turn served as a justification for colonialism and imperialism. As Mignolo further remarks, “the rhetoric of modernity is that of salvation, whereas the logic of coloniality is a logic of imperial oppression. They go hand in hand, and you cannot have modernity without coloniality…” (312). Indeed, the construction of an ideal Canadian citizen who helps the “world’s neediest” through modernist projects relies on the inferior status of those being “helped”; Munk’s position as an ideal citizen is mutually constituted with the less-than-humanness of his victims. In 2011, when Human Rights Watch reported that security personnel employed at a Barrick Gold mine in Papua New Guinea were involved in gang rapes and violent abuses, Munk swiftly dismissed the allegations of 137 women. According to Munk, “gang rape is a cultural habit” in certain countries and he did not need anyone to advise him on ethics because Barrick was “providing funds for the education of miners’ families even before there were NGOs.” Here, Munk uses racial historicism—the idea that the racially inferior should be elevated through education and governance (Goldberg, 2008)—to simultaneously cast his victims as less-than-human and position himself as a humanitarian. How “Canadian” identity and citizenship come together to justify coloniality is best summarized by an obituary published by The Globe, which makes a sweeping statement that “Among Canadian patriots, Mr. Munk is something of a hero.”
Extractive projects that build Canadian identity through colonial logics abroad are deployed in a similar fashion at “home” to continue Indigenous dispossession. In Canada, extractive projects work through legal systems that accord different degrees of citizenship to different groups through colonial logics. But there is a crucial, additional consequence: they secure land, which secures the future of the settler colonial nation. The physicality of the nation-building infrastructure becomes central.
Currently, Trudeau’s Liberal government relentlessly supports Kinder Morgan’s controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, despite First Nations’ fierce opposition. When earlier this year, in April 2018, Kinder Morgan issued an ultimatum that it would be abandoning the project if opposition is not resolved by the end of May 2018, Trudeau promised to buy the project for $4.5 billion because it is “in the national interest.” More recently, several First Nations, which had legally challenged the project for the lack of consultations, won the court case in August 2018. However, the federal government reaffirmed its intention to continue with the project, which it again defined to be in the “public interest.”
That Trudeau defines this nation-state building infrastructure as a national project reveals that he is relying on legal systems that assert settler colonial jurisdiction over Indigenous territory and on colonics logics that place Indigenous peoples outside of the “national” imaginary. As Cowen (2018: 16) argues, the battle over the Trans Mountain project is jurisdictional, as “Canada asserts jurisdiction over ‘national infrastructure’ but lands in question were never ceded and are governed by multiple Indigenous jurisdictions.” Jurisdiction has long been part of a settler colonial infrastructure that dispossesses Indigenous peoples in Canada. Under the Indian Act of 1867, Indigenous peoples are governed “cradle to grave” by the Federal government, and “much like rearms and motor vehicle registrations—have been gradually transformed into objects of jurisdiction rather than subjects in nation-to-nation relationships” (Paternak, 2014: 152).
These legal systems that support extraction have worked to physically secure what the settler colonial nation needs most: land. More than half of the pipeline will be running through the Secwepemc Nation’s unceded lands, further solidifying settler territoriality and marking a continuation of Indigenous land dispossession through infrastructure building. As Cowen (2018) reminds us, other national infrastructures such as railways have played a key role in securing settler legal and territorial power. Several provinces made the construction of the “Intercolonial rail” and the Canadian Pacific Railroad a condition for joining the Confederation, and the Constitution Act, 1867 in turn gave jurisdictional power to the federal government over national infrastructure. Authorized by these legal arrangements that built the Canadian state, the railway system acquired land for the settler colonial nation through land “surrenders” and thefts and further secured settler futures.
The jurisdictional power that Canada asserts over Indigenous peoples to construct nation-state building infrastructures would not be possible without colonial logics that grant lesser humanity, and thus lesser citizenship, to certain groups of people. Colonial logics continue to permeate legal systems that govern extractive projects. For instance, even though the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes Aboriginal rights and treaty rights, it also upholds the Royal Proclamation, which is based on the doctrine of discovery (Pasternak, 2014). The doctrine of discovery—through which “‘already inhabited nations were simply legally deemed to be uninhabited’” (Culhane, cited in Pasternak, 2014: 155)—was made possible because of the colonial logics that viewed Indigenous people as savages, or less-than-human. Therefore, when Trudeau frames the pipeline as a “national interest” and says, "This is something Canadians expect us to do and, quite frankly, international investors who look at creating jobs in Canada want to see us able to do,” he uses the logic of coloniality in two ways. First, he formulates “Canadians” as those who support the modernizing infrastructural project, while Indigenous peoples are at once made un-modern and cast outside of the national imaginary. Second, he falls back on the power of jurisdiction, based on coloniality, to materialize the project that will occupy unceded lands.
The celebration of Peter Munk’s life based on wealth and donations reveals a lot about the values of Canada as a settler colonial nation. His financial gifts have undoubtedly funded important programs such as medical research and innovations. But at what cost, and for whom? Barrick’s victims in the Global South will never have access to Toronto’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. In the end, Canadian extractive projects overseas, as a nation-building infrastructure relying on legal systems based on colonial ideals of citizenship and humanity, build settler colonial identity. They shape the imaginary of an ideal Canadian citizen, and finance physical structures, such as the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre of Toronto, that legitimize the settler colonial state. Seen from that light, the Canadian government’s continued support of pipeline expansion in spite of Indigenous opposition is disheartening yet unsurprising, as the colonial logics used overseas are the same ones that secure settler futures through land and legal dispossession.
After making a large donation back in September 2017, Peter Munk described his action as a way of showing his “gratitude to Canada” by helping the country “lay one more cornerstone in its quest to be accepted by the world as a moral leader.” But ultimately, what will make Canada a “moral leader” is moving away from the colonial and imperial status quo—not a financial donation born of so much sorrow.
Some things cannot be bought.