Assembling Zibi: How Profits, Property, and Policing Undermined Algonquin Urban Land Reclamation at Asinabka in Canada’s National Capital Region

Thumbnail Image
Sylvestre, Paul
Settler Colonialism , Racial Capitalism , Policing , Urbanization , Settler Colonial Urbanism , Private Property , Algonquin , Zibi
The product of three years of solidarity work with a group of Algonquin land defenders and settler allies struggling to reclaim Asinabka, an Algonquin sacred place in the heart of Canada’s National Capital Region, this dissertation examines how settler colonialism’s urban strategies are (re)organizing in response to the material and discursive demands of urban Indigenous land reclamations. A collection of islands and waterfalls in the Kitchissippi (Ottawa River), located between downtown Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec, the current Algonquin struggle to reclaim Asinabka began in the early 1990s. In 2013, despite fierce Algonquin opposition, corporate real estate developers purchased derelict industrial properties on the islands and announced plans to construct ‘Zibi’, a $1.5 billion high-density mixed-used eco-community. Drawing on participant action research, access to information requests, archival research, and key informant interviews, the research tracks the strategies and practices mobilized by a bloc of government officials, municipal bureaucrats, police agencies and real estate developers, to undermine the land reclamation movement. Building on literatures in critical urban studies, settler colonial studies, and racial capitalism, this dissertation examined three facets through which Asinabka was secured as a white possession: a) it tracks the recursive histories that produced the current distribution of ownership and power at Asinabka and how those histories were recuperated in the present to enact ongoing dispossession; b) it interrogates how the spatialities of race, property, and jurisdiction were mobilized in the present to fortify white possession at/of Asinabka against the demands of the land reclamation; and c) it elucidates how police agencies used a litany of minor interventions to systematically deny sustenance to radical elements of the land defence by modulating the eventfulness of organizing efforts. Though ultimately the story of a defeat, it does not end there. In analyzing what land defenders and allies were up against, I offer notions of recursion, fortification, and modulating eventfulness as a suite of grounded activist hermeneutics designed to crystalize, and thus help strategize against, ongoing racial colonial violence concealed by the white setter state’s pivot to the politics of liberal recognition and reconciliation. Yes, we lost. Next time we lose better.
External DOI