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Integration, Settler Colonialism, and Precarious Legal Status Migrants in Canada


Drawing on research with postsecondary migrant students with precarious legal status (those without permanent residence or citizenship), this paper examines the information participants learn about the settler colonialism and the histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Our findings suggest that like other residents of Canada, participants often access varied, limited, and often incorrect information. We propose that such variation in the accuracy and depth of information is not accidental, as accurate histories and contexts disrupt the narrative of a welcoming Canadian state. However, we also found that despite their immigration status, and experiences of precarity and deportability, a large proportion of participants made concerted efforts to learn about Indigenous peoples, histories, and contexts. Given our findings, we recommend that scholarship on immigrant integration in white settler societies like Canada account for settler colonialism for two reasons. First, to avoid engaging in methodological nationalism, or the focusing on nation-states as discrete or bounded units of analysis through which social relations operate. We focus on a specific and less examined aspect of methodological nationalism: a disregard for Indigenous sovereignty and nations. Second, to understand how differently situated im/migrants, including precarious legal status migrants participate, uphold, and resist the structures that produce and maintain settler colonialism.

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  1. 1.

    In Canada, treaties organize the relationship and responsibilities between some Indigenous nations and settler colonists including land rights, autonomy, and identity rights. These were outlined in the 1982 Constitution and Charter for Rights and Freedoms (MacDonald 2014). Yet, this constitutional entrenchment did not improve conditions, leading to further calls for change.

  2. 2.

    While terms like Aboriginal, First Nations, and First Peoples are often used to refer to Indigenous people in Canada, we have opted for the latter unless using direct quotations. We recognize Indigenous peoples arrive in Canada from elsewhere, but for the purposes of this paper, we use Indigenous peoples to signify those present in what we now call Canada.

  3. 3.

    A process that involved physical, sexual, and emotional violence and forced assimilation.

  4. 4.

    Newcomer refers to new permanent residents in Canada (Government of Canada 2018b).

  5. 5.

    We use im/migrant to signify the permanence and unidirectionality associated with immigration and lack thereof associated with migration, and by extension, PLS (De Genova 2005).

  6. 6.

    See, for example, Government of Canada (2018a).

  7. 7.

    This does not mean US culture/scholarship engages with settler colonialism in better ways than Canada, only that representations of Indigenous peoples from the USA are more dispersed globally.

  8. 8.

    A number of participants, n = 17, sought to stay in Canada and transition to permanent residence.

  9. 9.

    Idle No More is a movement created “to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water” (Idle No More 2018). It gained visibility across media outlets due to protests against the construction of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline on Indigenous land. In 2016, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was established to address the disproportionate number of women and girls who face physical and sexual violence, homicide, and police violence, etc. (Ambler 2014; National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls 2017).

  10. 10.

    For instance, the Humanitarian and Compassionate application.

  11. 11.

    Indigenous conceptions of nations vary significantly from Eurocentric notions of nation/alism (Lawrence and Dua 2005; Sehdev 2011; Dhamoon 2015).


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We would like to thank the participants in the two research studies for sharing their stories and time. We would also like to thank Francisco Villegas, Linn Clark, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback.

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Correspondence to Paloma E. Villegas.

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Villegas, P.E., Barrie, B., Peña, S. et al. Integration, Settler Colonialism, and Precarious Legal Status Migrants in Canada. Int. Migration & Integration 21, 1131–1147 (2020).

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  • Integration
  • Settler colonialism
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Precarious legal status