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Renewing Transcultural Dialogues in the Age of the Anthropocene

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Diana Brydon. Paper for the 4th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses. “Multi-Inter-or Trans-cultural Communication: Reflections”

 

Questions about the survival of multiculturalism and the roles of transcultural dialogue abound these days. Today’s talk argues for the necessity of renewing transcultural dialogues about multiculturalism within nation-states and as part of a global dialogue about immigration and refugee resettlement. I further argue that in order to renew these dialogues effectively, we need to change the terms of the debate. Instead of thinking within the established categories of current discourse, we need to pay attention to emergent theories stressing the entanglements rather than the separations of humans and their environments. My title refers to the age of the Anthropocene—literally, the age of Man. The Anthropocene has gained currency in the last five years but it is highly contested. Theoretical and political arguments are advanced against using this term to signal the current climate change crisis in which human beings are changing the geological face of the earth and much more besides. In using the term here I am signaling three points. 1. There is a link between current humanitarian crises around refugee movements, state multiculturalism, and climate change. 2. Because these crises are linked, the best way to address them, is to start thinking them together.  3. These linkages are complex, site-specific, and in flux. Yes, climate change is a global event, but its local impacts are being felt, and met, or not met, differentially.

Therefore, there is no single model for addressing cross-cultural communication and climate change in ways that can work in all times and places. With that warning in mind, I will raise for discussion the solution offered by Carlos Fraenkel, in his book Teaching Plato in Palestine set in dialogue with the agonistic politics of Chantal Mouffe.  Fraenkel records philosophical conversations in a variety of locations across the globe that each model different ways of cultivating an open-ended culture of debate. An alternative model of debate is recorded in Jason W. Moore’s edited book, Anthropocene or Capitolocene?, Is this the Age of Man or the Age of Capital? How we name a problem matters.

In academia, we need to strengthen attitudes of openness and avoid foreclosure of important debates. In politics, there comes a time of decision when choices must be made. For such situations, Chantal Mouffe’s model of democracy that she calls “agonistic pluralism,” is most helpful. She argues that “a central task of democratic politics is to provide the institutions which will permit conflicts to take an ‘agonistic’ form, where the opponents are not enemies—not antagonists– but adversaries among whom exists a conflictual consensus.” On some things, we can agree to disagree. In this talk, I argue that multicultural policies can enable a democratic practice in which, conflicts will not disappear but will be “less likely to take an antagonistic form.” Like Fraenkel, Mouffe argues that “the democratic ideal can be inscribed differentially in a variety of contexts.” Democratization does not require Westernization. I argue that multiculturalism too can work differently in different times and places, and that it may help us imagine a world beyond Western notions of cosmopolitanism.

Today, I use Anthropocene rather than rival terms for current environmental crises because it allows us to stage such debates within a broader frame of reference than attention to capital alone allows. Whether we stress the impact of humans on their environment in a general way—the Anthropocene—or focus more specifically on the system of capitalism and its impact, these big picture frames for understanding our global situation require attention.  Our ideas about culture need to change from the terms set by a focus on identity, possessive individualism, traditional humanisms, and the borders they erect toward models that recognize the co-dependencies of humans within a world of entangled frictions and flux.

The Anthropocene fails to capture that necessary shift in emphasis even as it currently stands out as a possible successor to globalization as a new grand theory to describe the challenge of our times. Coined in 2000 by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, the Anthropocene has been proposed by a team of earth scientists as the latest addition to the Geological Time Scale, following the Holocene, the epoch that began at the end of the last Ice Age. While there are multiple definitions of the kinds of evidence that might justify the naming of a new epoch, the key determining feature of the Anthropocene is its emphasis on the observable effects of human activity on the planet. It’s a type of grand narrative that means different things to different people. My interest is in the way it pushes our thinking beyond interdisciplinary dialogue into bringing together categories that we have traditionally been encouraged to keep apart: local and global, nature and culture, public and private, national identity and multicultural identity.

My argument follows in three parts, I will first speak about the Canadian history of multiculturalism and its current exceptional status within the international scene. I will then discuss Carolos Fraenkel’s ideas about cultivating an open-ended culture of dialogue. In my conclusion, I will return to the transcultural challenge of thinking the Anthropocene and beyond it.

  1. Current multicultural debates and the Canadian exception

People point to a number of recent events to support their views that multiculturalism is dead. Numerous terrorist attacks on civilians across Europe. Brexit: the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union. The election of Donald Trump in the recent United States elections. Escalating climate change is logically the biggest threat facing people today. Yet fears of foreigners, immigrants, and refugees, seem to be much stronger—especially within countries of the global North, which, objectively, are dealing with smaller numbers than are many of the countries of the global South. As a result of these fears, the embrace of xenophobia is on the rise in many parts of the Anglophone and European world. Except in Canada. What does this mean? Why is Canada so different? Is it really that different? Is there a Canadian model that can be exported around the world? Does Canada really offer one vision of a viable future for thinking about how to make intercultural communication work? If it is a form of multi-, inter-, or trans-cultural communication that makes Canada work as well as it does, then what is the link between these forms of diversity and a secure and equitable society? This conference is devoted to discussing some of these questions. My contribution derives from my dual role as an analyst of Canada and a student of globalization. I hope it will stimulate further discussion during the rest of the conference.

This talk will chart a path for thinking about these questions more deeply. Canada’s difference is a product of geography, history, some shrewd decisions at moments of opportunity, and a certain amount of luck. The specificity of the Canadian experience makes it difficult to export as a model for anyone else. But it may suggest strategies for enabling transculturalism. I prefer transculturalism to multi- or inter-culturalism because it suggests that culture is created by human beings in interaction with each other and with what Jane Bennett calls the “vibrant matter” of their environments. Culture is never static. It is always produced. Trans suggests this interactive and entangled dimension of culture in ways that multi- and inter- as modifiers do not.

Canada is a settler-colonial state, populated by immigrants, some of whom took the country from its first inhabitants through a combination of force, legislated appropriations, and dishonoured treaties. Not all areas have treaties and there are substantial disagreements about how the treaties should be interpreted and honoured today. Although indigenous people are a small portion of the total population of the country, their role as recently recognized founding nations and original owners of the unceded territory of the land, plays an important part in how Canada understands itself as a nation today. They cannot be seen as simply one component making up the multicultural nation and their demands for decolonization need to be heard. As an immigrant-receiving settler-colonial state, Canada has always needed immigrants to power its economy and populate its territory. Its geography has made it possible for Canada to pick and choose its immigrants. Unlike Europe, Canada is bounded by three seas. It is not easy to get to Canada, and in the past, even the few ships with refugees who managed to make the long journey, were sometimes sent back rather than accepted into the country. Canada has regulated its immigrant and refugee intake since 1869, two years after it was officially founded as a nation. Like the other so-called white Commonwealth countries, Canada took most of its immigrants from Europe until a switch from family reunification policies toward a points based system awarded for skills and language proficiency was introduced in 1967.

My point here is that Canadian immigration has always been managed by the state in the interests of the state. Canada has almost always been selective in the immigrants it has approved and even with the recent increase in intake under the new Trudeau federal government, Canada takes fewer immigrants, proportionate to its population, than does Sweden. In Canada, immigration and multiculturalism are joint state projects. Multiculturalism works to integrate immigrants into the Canadian diversity-based national identity, encouraging the retention of languages and customs to the extent that they are compatible with the Canadian values protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada adopted an official policy of multiculturalism at a particular point in its history, under the direction of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in part as a way of managing sovereignty demands from Quebec. Biculturalism came first. After the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that ran from 1963 to 1969, Parliament passed the Official Languages Act in 1969. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act followed in 1988. That policy has been contentious ever since, and it has evolved continuously to the point where it is more appropriate to call it a model of transculturalism. Neither the mosaic nor the melting pot work well anymore as images of how transculturalism works in national practice. With transculturalism, established borders become porous and leaky; they do not disappear but they shift, depending in part on where the viewer stands within or outside them, and in part on the functions they perform.

From this brief history, you can see five distinct features of Canadian multiculturalism. 1. It was made necessary by Canada’s need for immigrants and its need to both accommodate and contain Quebec nationalism and French speakers across the nation. 2. It was a state-sponsored initiative, conceived and managed by the state in its interests. 3. As the needs of the state have changed, so have its immigration policies and its attitudes to multiculturalism. 4. Canada was the first nation in the world to legislate multiculturalism as an official policy and over the years, it has come to shape many Canadians’ vision of themselves. 5. As a policy, it seems to have worked quite well. But it works because immigration has always been managed and immigration numbers are relatively low. Canadian support for immigration is pragmatic. Demographers have suggested that the points-based system has meant that immigrants to Canada come from a wide variety of places, ensuring diversity, and preventing a high concentration of members from any one group.

Still, one wonders, what makes this diversity work as well as it does in Canada when it does not seem to be working in Australia, Britain, or the U.S.– countries one might think have similar democracies? Perhaps most Canadians feel little fear of immigrants because their own lives are relatively secure. Canadians enjoy a range of public policies that provide a significant degree of security. In addition to universal public medical insurance and an excellent public education system, we have the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, employment insurance, paid maternity leave, welfare, and smaller programs, all designed to ensure that fewer people fall through the cracks. We have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, put in place in 1982. Teachers and government workers are well paid. These protections make Canadians less fearful of others and help ensure that Canada remains a country of high social mobility.

Some of these programs, such as medicare, multiculturalism, and the Charter, constitute the fabric of Canadian identity, which otherwise is less nationalistic than that of comparator nations. These programs are evidence of Canadians’ willingness to change with the times, and adapt our national culture to changing views of what is just. Our relatively early abolishment of the death penalty and adoption of same sex marriage are further testament to our willingness to see our culture as constantly evolving and growing. Such a view is consistent with that expressed by a majority on our Supreme Court, which sees the law as a living tree rather than frozen from the time of its first constitutional enactments.

I have been thinking about these issues because I have been asked about the Canadian model increasingly since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government in the fall of 2015. The Liberals, and it seemed Canadians more generally, embraced a policy of welcoming Syrian refugees, promising to reset relations with Canadian First Nations, and appointing a Cabinet that reflected Canadian diversity, including for the first time, half of them women. The Cabinet includes Sikhs, a young woman who was an Afghan refugee as a child, and several members of different First Nations, The official face of our government is diverse. Without genuine social mobility on all fronts, these appointments could be dismissed as mere window dressing. They represent a beginning on which the nation needs to build.

So multiculturalism appears to be fully entrenched, generally embraced, and still evolving in Canada. Quebec embraces a policy of laicité, or official secularism, derived from France. This policy can sometimes conflict with values of multiculturalism in other parts of Canada. But Quebec does not embrace insularity or xenophobia. Quebec advocates its own policy of interculturalism. The difference is one of emphasis.

The old multicultural model of a mosaic is now seen as too static. It suggests that culture is a possession rather than a process. Surveys tell us that most Canadians, including Quebeckers, believe that immigrants should adapt to Canadian values, especially our belief in the equality of persons. How that belief is manifested is still a matter of debate. But the belief itself is core. Is women’s equality best respected through an affirmation of her choices as an individual, or through an affirmation of the state’s official commitment to secularism in all things? Should a woman’s individual right to choose her clothing take precedence over the state’s commitment to secularism in attire as well as actions? There is no simple answer. But Canadians continue to have the debate. The more we explore such questions together, in respectful dialogue, the more likely we are to come eventually to some consensual decisions about how best to govern our lives together, at least until better ideas emerge.  We may also continue to agree to disagree on implementation. The protections afforded by the Canadian Charter make it possible for Canadians to engage in risky debates together.

To sum up: In this section, I have argued that state provisions of a social safety net, active protections of rights, openness to legislating progressive social change, and above all, institutional supports for these provisions, enable members of Canadian society to engage in the cultivation of an open-ended culture of debate, the focus of my second section,

  1. Cultivating an open-ended culture of debate

In the title of this talk I used the word, dialogue, rather than debate. That was deliberate. When I delivered a talk in Sweden about the open society and stressed the need for debate, some in the audience worried that debates were too confrontational. Too often, they are conducted to win points, instead of collaboratively working together to discover truth. Sadly, this is a dominant tradition of debate in Anglophone cultures. We saw it at its worst in the recent U.S. elections. That is not what I mean here.

An open-ended debate in a truly transcultural mode is more like a dialogue conducted with the goal of deepening understanding across differences and creating the kind of culture in which disagreements can be welcomed as opportunities to search together for emergent truths and values. Carlos Fraenkel calls this kind of discussion an “open-ended debate.” Accepted cultural norms may remain “hidden and inarticulate” under normal circumstances, so we “should welcome the disruptions that compel us to confront them.” His views come from his personal experience as a child of Jewish Brazilian immigrants who fled the dictatorship to live for a while in Germany, and then returned to Brazil when he was a young boy. He now teaches philosophy at McGill University in Canada.

What I find most valuable about his book is the individual case studies he narrates of his extended encounters with different communities around the world to engage in this kind of debate around the issues most immediate to their situations. Through the stories he tells of the workshops he ran, he hopes to “show by example and argument that making philosophy part of our personal and public lives is something worthwhile.”

He makes some bold claims: “Can philosophy save the Middle East? It can.” Through a seminar he co-teaches at Al-Quds University, the Palestinian university in Jerusalem, he hopes to raise questions about philosophy, politics and religion that might open “a new perspective on the Middle East.” He expects the texts to resonate differently there than with his students in Montreal, and they do. With two professors in the classroom, formed within different religious identities, it becomes easier to dramatize the procedures of open-ended debate. His method is to help his students “rediscover the wide variety of positions that were defended in the history of Islamic thought,” thereby opening discussion beyond what Vandana Shiva calls a “monoculture of the mind.” For Shiva, this phrase describes the authoritarian blindness that drove the Green Revolution and its destruction of seed biodiversity and local seed sovereignty in favour of bioengineered and expensive seeds owned by a corporate monopoly. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak adapts the phrase—monoculture of the mind– to describe the denial of difference within social, economic, and political spheres. It has become one of my favourite metaphors for the closed society. We see such closures happening in many parts of the world today.

Fraenkel starts his workshop by connecting his experience  with that of his workshop’s participants. From the Middle East, he goes to Indonesia, then a Hasidic Jewish community in New York, a public high school in Salvador, Brazil, and finally Akwesasne, one of the largest Mohawk reserves in North America, just outside Montreal. These latter two raise the citizenship questions that most interest me. In each, he takes his workshops beyond a university setting into versions of the public sphere.

“Citizen Philosophers in Brazil” raises questions about how to achieve equality in one of the world’s most unequal societies and “Word-Warriors: Philosophy in Mohawk Land” considers the challenges of designing self-governance for a community of roughly twelve thousand Mohawks whose territory is “crisscrossed by five national and provincial borders: Canada, the United States, Quebec, Ontario, and New York.” In addition to these jurisdictions, there are two officially recognized governing bodies and two traditional Mohawk governing bodies that carry authority with the people but not with the Canadian or American governments. Given the community’s long history of colonization, Fraenkel explains: “some of the most fundamental questions require new answers: how to reconcile modernity and tradition, what it means to live well, who should rule, and who counts as a Mohawk.”  In both places, the value of what he is trying to do is questioned, especially by those whose authority would be undermined by an open culture of debate.

In Brazil, he is challenged by both elitist academic philosophers in the universities and by pragmatic teachers who teach to the tests that govern students’ life chances in a system where access to good higher education is limited and mostly denied to the racialized poor. In Akwesasne, his motives for approaching their community are challenged as is the value of the discussions he can offer. But in both cases, interesting discussions are recorded although no conclusions are reached. Fraenkel concedes that philosophical discussions “are often inconclusive.” But he contends that conclusiveness has been over-valued. What he offers are some of the tools for arriving at decisions and revising them as times and needs change. Those tools are what we in the university community can offer to the shaping and conduct of our respective national debates about the values of multiculturalism, interculturalism, and transculturalism.

Fraaenkel concludes people today are lucky that globalizing processes are making it impossible for people “to avoid exposure to beliefs and values different from our own” because this situation puts us all “under pressure to justify what we think and do.” He admits, though, that “diversity and disagreement on their own” are insufficient. His argument is for fostering “a culture of debate—an institutional framework in which diversity and disagreement can be transformed into a joint search for the truth.” An open-ended culture of debate is a particular form of transculturality, in which cultures co-create each other through debate. Fraenkel believes people need training in “techniques of debate,” how to clarify one’s views and meet objections, and training in the “virtues of debate,” that is, in “valuing the truth more than winning an argument.” We need to discuss further how to encourage such a culture, what institutional supports we can devise to support it, and what societal structures inhibit its growth.

Fraenkel’s stories are good to think with. His account of the opposition his project met from established university Philosophy departments in Brazil is discouraging. Could his techniques for encouraging an open-ended culture of debate be scaled up from small group discussion to a nation-wide level? Could they be adapted to calm fears of immigration and multicultural policies on the larger scale of nation-wide discussions?  He believes that “If we can transform disagreements arising from diversity into a culture of debate, they cease to be a threat to social peace.” Is this too optimistic?

In Canada, there are some examples of how such debates have worked.  Canadians have now developed a long tradition of debating what counts as a “reasonable accommodation” of practices that fall outside established hegemonic societal norms. The discussions don’t get any easier, yet in the long run, they can lead to progressive social change. Canadians used to debate the appropriateness of the Sikh male turban within public spaces. That is no longer an issue. Neither is same-sex marriage. Gender neutral bathrooms have entered the public domain in Canada with little fuss. In some circles, however, the niqab still arouses emotional debates.  These public signs of difference can act as flashpoints for violence in some constituencies, whereas in others, when conducted in an open-minded spirit of inquiry, they can lead people into deeper discussions of societal values.

Central to an “open-ended culture of debate” is the willingness to change your mind after careful examination of the issues, if the evidence warrants it. It allows for achieving greater clarity about why certain values matter and what is at stake in defending them. Before it was defunded in 2006, the Law Commission of Canada performed a similar function, consulting widely on emergent issues of concern and making recommendations on necessary updating of the law to take account of changing circumstances, needs, knowledges, and social norms. After consultation, it recommended legalizing same sex marriage and the government of the day then followed through on that recommendation. If the rule of law is to maintain its legitimacy and hold respect, it needs to work to bring itself closer to ideals of justice. It is in this sense that Fraenkel too believes that through informed discussion, people can progress.

There are two potential problems with his argument. In his defense of reason, does he pay insufficient attention to the role of emotion?  In his core value of freedom of expression, is he at risk of promotion a form of ethnocentricism? He addresses these, but questions remain. I raise his book today to ask the question behind my paper: Given a problem as big as the Anthropocene, will an open-ended culture of debate be sufficient for achieving communal agreements on appropriate climate change action in time?

  1. Anthropocene Imaginaries

The Anthropocene is a transworld problem but how transcultural are Anthropocene debates? How open are these debates to ways of understanding the world that were colonized by Western cultures? The Anthropocene as a concept is used in two ways, each of which privileges human agency. It is used by many to criticize the ways in which humans are killing other species, polluting the environment, and causing climate change. And it is also used by some to suggest that humans will be able to solve the problems they have created through further technical ingenuity. The first use argues that humans need to change their ways; the second, that they must continue even more aggressively on the same path.

In this context, we need to change the terms of the debate. Non-Western cultures suggest imagining a world in which human beings are not the sole figures with agency, a world in which we exist among many other living things with their own kinds of interacting agencies. Furthermore, far from being distinct from these worlds, human beings are also entangled within them.  Once, such cultures were consigned to the past and their insights were disregarded. Now, times are changing. Their ways of knowing are being revived, and they are finding complementary partners among many Western-trained scientists.

 

 

The work of scientists, poets, and indigenous peoples around the globe are coming together in ways not previously seen. Alternatives to neoliberal imaginaries of a universal system are advanced within the justice-seeking stories explaining the pluriversal realities of subalternized peoples around the globe. They have long recognized what physicist Karen Barad calls the “entanglement of matter and meaning,” Those entanglements are respected within decolonial, indigenous, and new materialist framings of how to live well through decolonizing the modes of knowing derived from colonial modernity. These theories challenge what Julia Suarez-Krabbe (citing her indigenous interlocutors) calls colonial modernity’s “death project.” In such work, the “slow violence” (Nixon) of imperial and environmental devastation are shown to be inseparable from the epistemic violence of their imaginings. Illustrative counterparts to these theories may be found in the poetry and fiction of many writers from around the world, whose metaphors and stories can help readers understand what is at stake in imagining alternative ways of inhabiting the world as our home. Learning to listen, to read, and to interpret such imaginings can redirect transcultural dialogue toward the values of respect, reciprocity, and negotiation that are necessary for genuine thinking and communication to take place. Donna Haraway offers the idea of “staying with the trouble” as her model for rejecting both cynical despair and naïve hope as responses to the challenge of our times. To stay with the trouble is to accept the challenge of difficult forms of knowledge, and of living together in our various localities within the world. Haraway pushes multi and transcultural imaginaries even further beyond anthropocentric formations to argue for the need to “make kin” with other beings. Such a shift in thinking need not be at the expense, however, of human suffering around the globe.

Many refugees and so-called economic migrants are fleeing environmental disasters, desertification, rising ocean levels, and other kinds of violence resulting from escalating climate change, These problems are pressing. More stable nations cannot accept all of them but we must learn how to help more effectively, by welcoming them into our societies where possible, by helping them in place, and by addressing the causes of their dispossession. These causes are multiform but they are connected to imaginaries that make them seem insoluble. The problems need to be addressed concurrently on at least three scales of engagement. 1. To make life more tolerable, wherever possible, where people are; 2. To aid the movements of peoples to resettle elsewhere, when necessary; and 3. To change the kinds of thinking that have led our world to its present state of crisis. Canada is not doing enough on any of these fronts. Nonetheless, states remain crucial actors whose actions can be influenced by an engaged population. But, neither citizens nor states can make the necessary shifts in attitude and policy without fundamentally changing the terms in which we stage our public policy debates.

The research for this paper was funded, in part, through the Canada Research Chairs program.

Works Cited

Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007.

Fraenkel, Carlos. Teaching Plato in Palestine: Philosophy for a Divided World.

Hamilton, Clive. Christophe Bonneuil and Francois Genenne, eds. The Anthropocence and the Global Environmental Crisis. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Pfress, 2016.

Moore, Jason W., ed. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016.

Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London: Verso, 2013.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Shiva, Vandana. “Moonocultures of the Mind,” Trumpeter 10.4 (1993): 1-11.

Suarez-Krabbe, Julia. Race, Rights and Rebels: Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South. London & New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

 

Imagining Community Resurgence: Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song revisions a West Before and After the West

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Employing Leanne Simpson’s theorizing stories of “Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence,” this paper discusses how Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song imagines one Indigenous community’s path toward resurgence. Many contemporary Indigenous writers are opening up alternative ways of representing time beyond linear chronologies to write from within the contexts of their own epistemologies and ontologies, implicitly enacting decolonization through drawing on their mobile traditional creation stories to situate colonial contact as a brief interruption within the longer timespan of their own occupation of their traditional lands. I think Lee Maracle’s fiction works well within these contexts, enacting the difficult decisions and complicated emotions they entail.

In this paper, I provide an exploratory reading of Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song to show how her approach to decolonization refuses to situate the decolonizing project within the categories established by colonialism, including its linear view of history. I then consider some of the potential consequences of such a decision for re-imagining the future. Maracle, who refers to herself as “Squamish by birth, Stó:lõ by marriage” (Ferguson fn 8: 564), writes out of these traditions and their histories.  For Maracle, the past lives in the present in at least two ways.

Firstly, because colonialism is a structure and not an event (as Australian theorist Patrick Wolfe reminds us), colonial structures remain, sometimes in adaptive ways, to organize people’s lives. In her collection of essays, Memory Serves, Maracle expresses this insight when she argues that “In order to resolve this colonial condition in literature we need to have Canada recognize, first, that this is our condition and that, second, Canada needs to view this condition as unacceptable” (113).  This first point is about duration and ethics, one underlined firmly in the recent Truth and Reconciliation Report on Residential Schools.

My second point concerns Maracle’s insistence on an understanding of law, space and time that challenges those installed by Euro-Canadian systems of governance. She claims that “Canadians need to understand Indigenous law more than they need to understand Indigenous people” (MS:115).  She adds: “Land is space and access to that space creates a place in time. … space is spiritual in the sense that it is there to establish relationship between ourselves and other beings so that we can sustain ourselves and augment our sense of the good life” (MS:121). By beginning with her own culture’s understanding of law, space, and time, rather than accepting the Eurocentric view, Maracle can show how the past lives in the present through ancestral voices, visions, and dreams and mythic incarnations. Maracle inscribes alternative understandings of time and ontology in which the dead are neither powerless nor ghosts but rather ancestors whose spirits survive into the present and continue to make claims on the present.

An earlier version of this paper was delivered at a conference on “The West Before (and After) the West. That theme inspired me to think about the complicated designations of West in postcolonial and global imaginaries. In global contexts, the West is a relational category constructed out of imperial power relations, a category that has become naturalized as a neutral geographical descriptor and an ideological stand-in for the civilizational and now globalizing power of capitalist humanism and imperialism. As such a complex geopolitical category, the West generated a cognitive framework through which the world was viewed. There are at least four distinctive, concurrent, and interlinked elements of Celia’s Song that serve productively to start decolonizing the assumptions built into that cognitive framework. One is the novel’s insistence on redefining beginnings and orientations to start with indigenous namings, stories, and theorizings, moving out into the world from there. Another is the route it chooses for decolonization through a focus on the embodiment of visions, dreams and “song”. Because there is always a danger that such a strategy risks recuperation into inappropriate categories derived from other experiences, the novel resists recuperation into the “postcolonial exotic” (Huggan) or depoliticized versions of magic realism by highlighting the cognitive dissonance that this fiction insists separates Indigenous from non-indigenous readers. Finally, there is a grim recognition of the very real and horrific damages wrought by the colonial system that is accompanied by the insistence that the best way forward for Indigenous communities will be to take responsibility for dealing with these damages on their own and in their own way. Maracle’s insistence on Indigenous autonomy is the most interesting and potentially most troubling dimension of her work for a non-indigenous reader, a reader she names in colonial, racialized terms as white. Through highlighting moments of cognitive dissonance, when alternative ideas about rules and consequences clash, Celia’s Song reminds its readers that decolonization has barely begun and will not be easy.

Maracle’s essay, “Sharing Space and Time,” included in her book Memory Serves, articulates a vision I see enacted in Celia’s Song. She asserts: “We are all severely damaged goods: on the one hand, Canadians are damaged by their history of plunder, the constant rationalization of their preponderant super-sized entitlement over space, and their control of time; on the other, Indigenous people are damaged by the absence of entitlement, so damaged that sorting this out will be a nightmare. But do it we must” (127). Balancing this grim realism, she offers hope. Universities “need to open the doors and invite all knowledge in” (127). That process offers roles for everyone.  She claims: “I believe that the knowledge of Indigenous people—resurrected, fleshed out and reconsidered in our new context—has a valuable role to play. I believe that, granted access and authority over space, we could rebuild our nations without anyone’s assistance. I believe we are all personally responsible for resurrecting, reclaiming and reshaping the very notions of time and space that will invite the knowledge of others into our fields of study, so that a genuine sharing can occur” (127).  This is the vision enacted in Celia’s Song.

The novel takes history seriously but it does not approach it in Western terms. In The Truth about Stories, Tom King suggests that indigenous writers have usually avoided historical fiction, largely turning instead to the present and the future to articulate their visions of an alternative and indigenous world view.  He speculates that given the dominant negative stereotypes promoted by colonialism, indigenous writers have felt themselves lacking access to a usable discursive past capable of forming a basis for an indigenous-centred historical fiction. Since King’s lectures, Joseph Boyden has attempted historical fiction in The Orenda to mixed reviews. I hypothesize in this paper that options for engaging the past in alternative ways are opening up beyond those prescribed by a Eurocentric focus. If history as a discipline and particular orientation to the past has been contaminated by the biases of colonialism, then the more viable solution may be to turn, as King himself does, to the creation stories for an alternative starting point. In Green Grass Running Water, he pairs this approach with a deconstruction of the mythic stories told by the colonizing Europeans and their colonial descendents. Yet King has also criticized postcolonial theory for beginning its critique of colonialism with first encounters rather than recognizing the long histories of indigenous occupation and theorizing through stories that preceded that encounter. This paper is interested in the alternative approach to those pre-encounter worldviews as enacted in Celia’s Song, Maracle’s sequel to Ravensong.

In these novels, Lee Maracle moves one step beyond King, bracketing the colonial period as an interlude in a much longer understanding of deep time beyond that of the human Anthropocene. The two-headed serpent protecting an abandoned house front in Celia’s Song, asks itself: “How long in human time have we been here?? (10).  The novel slips back and forth between the carved serpents’ time, and significant moments in human time, with the conversations and actions of all participants, human and non-human, witnessed by the shape-shifter mink, whose voice opens and concludes the novel. If readers still think of British Columbia as the West, then Maracle writes this West as a West simultaneously both before and after the West of the colonial imaginary.

My interest in these novels comes from my thinking about the inter-related violences of colonialism, particularly colonial/modernity’s epistemic and cognitive injustices and the ways they connect to humanism’s ontologies, now being questioned by the nonhuman and posthuman turns across the disciplines. Juanita Sundberg summarizes this diverse body of work as refusing “to treat the human as 1) an ontological given … and 2) disembodied and autonomous” (34). While lauding this work for its contestation of “dualist ontologies in Anglo/European political philosophy by showing how a multiplicity of beings cast as human and nonhuman—people, plants, animals, energies, technological objects—participate in the coproduction of socio-political collectives” (33), Sundberg is troubled, as am I, by “their silence about location and silence about Indigenous epistemes” (35).  We have so much to learn from Indigenous theorizings of what U.S.-based critic Jane Bennett calls “vibrant matter,” yet to date there has been almost no conversation between these new materialisms and indigenous studies.

For a reader like myself, wondering what cognitive justice might look like and how it might be achieved, Celia’s Song reads like an experiment in imagining some answers. Why talk about cognitive justice instead of justice pure and simple? For at least two reasons. Understandings of what justice is can be culture-specific, so that to move toward achieving any kind of full justice, it will be essential first of all to understand the kinds of cognitive justice that came with settler colonialism and the kinds they ignored and repressed within a knowledge system that continues within institutional structures today.

Taiaiaike Alfred asserts “Without a substantial change in the circumstances of colonization, there is no basis for considering the historical injustice. The crime of colonialism is present today, as are its perpetrators, and there is yet no moral or legal basis for indigenous peoples to seek reconciliation with Canada” (170). That basis must come, he argues, from a recognition of the fundamentally different models of governance and value generated by indigenous worldviews, and by subsequent moves toward restitution for the destruction of the economic and cultural logics of those alternative systems. In arguing against reconciliation, Alfred argues that “restitution is the real pathway to justice for indigenous peoples” (165). But the case for restitution can only be made once indigenous peoples free themselves, through resurgence, from what Leanne Simpson describes as the prison of cognitive imperialism.

In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, Simpson explains that indigenous peoples, because they are “cognitively locked” into “the lens of colonial thought and cognitive imperialism,…are often unable to see our Ancestors” (15).  This is the situation dramatized in sections of Ravensong and Celia’s Song. Simpson describes cognitive imperialism as a vat in which indigenous peoples are immersed, a box in which they are trapped, and a poison for which they need to seek the antitidote. For Simpson, the key task is to create “free cognitive spaces” (34) through reclaiming, transforming, and rebuilding inherited and inherent indigenous imaginaries through story and ceremony (17). Maracle actualizes this process, enabling her readers to hear the ancestors (through the grumbling of their bones, some recent and some ancient), through the efforts of natural forces such as cedar to communicate, and through the witnessing of mink, whose words are italicized to distinguish his perspective from that of the narrator. Mink is gendered male, although named as a shape-shifter (5) and Raven female (269) as a way, I think, of insisting upon their sentience and personhood, not in any anthropomorphizing way, but in recognition of their integrity in themselves. The two-headed snake emerges from the gateposts of the house to take corporeal form in the shape of two quarrelling heads, Restless and Loyal, each seeking recognition from the community in their individual ways. Maracle only allows her hereditary seer, Celia, fleeting intuitions and glimpses of the presence of these claimants to her attention. Celia sees in fragmentary flashes, but as mink observes, she is not a listener. In a similar fashion, Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen enables the brothers Okimasis, not to see, but at least to hear echoes of the shaman ancestor Chachagathoo, who remains in their northern lands long past her physical death, but of whom they are ashamed and afraid until late in their story when they have finally begun to learn how to re-see Chachagathoo for the powerful, decolonizing challenge she embodies.

Maracle’s vision, like Alfred’s, is more uncompromising than that provided by King or Highway. By uncompromising, I mean that she is less interested in explaining her culture to others than in mourning what was lost and regenerating what can heal. This is a question of emphasis and address. Like Simpson, she returns to the original creation stories of her people to theorize resurgence from within her own cultural paradigms rather than in dialogue with the colonizing forces. Like Alfred and Simpson, she is wary of the potential power imbalances in ideas about reconciliation if it is defined from the abuser’s perspective alone, with an eye to moving on without truly addressing what is at stake in this current moment within the long history of settler colonial structures. Celia’s Song is “Dedicated to all those children who were removed from our homes and who did not survive residential school.”

In Celia’s Song, the structure of settler colonialism is inscribed in the institutions (legal, medical, civic, educational, and business) that organize people’s lives, perpetuate forms of cultural genocide, and impose themselves on the land through the demarcation of lived space that physically separates the two communities (the Indigenous village and “white town”) and through the transformation of a lifestyle based on wood into one organized around electricity and oil. Traffic moves both ways across the bridge over the water that divides the village where the action takes place from the city of Vancouver but accommodation is difficult for members of both groups because those colonial structures are also inscribed in their minds and even their bodies. Ravensong focusses on Celia’s older sister Stacey and her movement out from the village into the world of white schooling, a movement offset in that novel by a devastating epidemic that came from that world into her own. Celia’s Song is still dealing with the destructive impact of that epidemic, including the impact of the suicide of Celia’s son, Jimmy. Julia Emberley explains the temporal framing of these two texts as “more circular or spiral than linear. It is only in the epilogue [of Ravensong] that the reader learns that the central narrative occurred in 1954 and yet it is being told some twenty-five years later, in the ‘present time’ of the epilogue” (174). That is in 1979.  It is only in the Epilogue we learn that the story we have just read in Ravensong had begun in answer to Stacey’s son, Jacob’s question: why did Celia’s son Jimmy kill himself? At the end of Ravensong, Jacob knows the story is not over. In Chapter 7 of Celia’s Song, the women of the family are still gathering as they did all winter to tell the story. Even though they believe they have now told the story, Celia feels it still hanging in the air and mink explains “the entire story has not been told” (41). It takes the rest of the book for the full story to be revealed and the healing begun.

Celia’s village is a fairly closed society into which some whites have moved through the establishment of affective and affiliative relations with individual indigenous people, but whose acceptance there remains uneasy. There is a character always named through her place of origin as “German Judy.” Like Judy, Stacey’s partner, the doctor Steve, needs to continually earn her trust and that of her family. Stacey’s difficulties when he proposes (in Celia’s Song) show the huge gap that separates them, as they move back and forth between an un-crossable distance and the promise of some kind of nascent understanding. Stacey thinks: “Living with him would require extra care; he’s white, different. She has no way to frame that difference without offending him and jeopardizing the future of the relationship…. There would have to be a separate world and a together world, which means life with him would be complicated. He has no idea that it would be this complicated, and she is not sure she can deal with it” (186). Nonetheless, as the text proceeds, together they do start to deal with it, Steve risks his career to help her family deal with a crisis their way, and there is some fragile hope they can learn to live with their differences. Helen Hoy has sensitively documented the destabilizing impact that Ravensong exerts on non-indigenous readers. She explains: “Making white culture marked and Native culture the standard foregrounds and calls into question the very naturalizing of normative cultures” (136). Celia’s Song continues that process.

In Celia’s Song, challenges to the structural incarnations of the settler colonial system take form on two fronts: the institutional and the mythic. Institutionally, Celia and her family refuse the aid of the Canadian medical and legal establishments when confronted with the child who has been violently sexually abused by one of their own. They determine to keep her at home and heal her themselves, despite the severity of her injuries, and they decide to judge and deal with the perpetrator, Amos, themselves, according to their banned pre-contact rituals. Amos, initially uncomprehending, appears to have at least implicitly assented to this procedure. The process of his dancing to his death is described as profoundly liberating for him, as he relives and then sheds his own experience of sexual abuse at the residual school and its toxic aftermath (254-255). The reader is told that eventually “Redemption comes as his ancestors reach for his dancing body” (255).

Nonetheless, this communally sanctioned death, presented here as a voluntary, ritual suicide, challenges not only the rule of law which recognizes only that legal system determined by the colonial state, but also Canadian rejections of capital punishment. The willingness of white doctor Steve to condone these decisions as an act of respect for the autonomy of Stacey and her community is the price he must pay for their acceptance of him, and, it is implied, such respect must be the pre-condition for any kind of reconciliation between the two cultures. The novel thus raises the important question: what are and should be the limits to indigenous autonomy and self-governance at the communal level? Could these incompatible systems function concurrently within the same state without the secrecy necessitated by the current state of affairs as depicted in Celia’s Song?

The novel recognizes that the Indigenous community is itself now divided over how best to address such questions but presents these actions as important steps toward regained self-confidence and agency among the Indigenous community actors. Through mink’s witnessing and access to the internal thoughts of each of the main characters, the reader is immersed in their worldview and our sympathies are engaged. Much of the story involves the destructive aftermath of the Canadian government’s banning of ceremonies meant to honour the dead and thereby meet their communal contractual obligations to the two-headed snake. These entities demand their due: respect and ceremony from the people. The refusal of Western mindsets to understand such relations and to acknowledge such presences is mocked in the single scene set outside the village. Four scientists who “don’t know their lab is smack dab in the middle of Musqueam territory” (14) debate how to interpret a mysterious shadow that mars their film. They cannot accept that it might depict the two-headed snake that mink has already seen slip its moorings. Only one of the three is ready to admit that “’We aren’t the only people who know things’” (18). But mink and the reader hear this lesson.

My original idea for this paper involved comparing these experimental dimensions of Maracle’s text with those employed by Australian Waanyi writer Alexis Wright in Carpentaria and The Swan Book, to situate their respective turns to alternative space-time imaginaries derived from local place within concurrent turns within Western theory toward nonhuman and critical posthuman imaginaries. This move will be important because I see Maracle and Wright’s texts as important theoretical and aesthetic interventions into current Western theoretical discussions too often deaf to indigenous alternatives. Parallel discussions about how to inhabit the world are occurring among mainstream academics and among indigenous writers but there is little interaction between these two epistemic communities as yet. Texts such as Dancing on our Turtle’s Back or Celia’s Song, when classified as Native Studies or Fiction, are not recognized for the full extent of the challenges they pose to the entrenched cognitive imperialism of the academy, which includes the ways in which it infiltrates disciplines and shapes the kind of stories that resonate with different audiences. Through highlighting moments of cognitive dissonance, when alternative ideas about rules and consequences clash, Celia’s Song reminds its readers that decolonization has barely begun and will not be easy for anyone.

Works Cited

Alfred, Taiaiake. “Restitution is the Real Pathway to Justice for Indigenous Peoples.” Web.

Emberley, Julia. The Testimonial Uncanny: Indigenous Storytelling, Knowledge, and Reparative Practices. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014.

Ferguson, Margaret. “Presidential Address 2015: Negotiating Sites of Memory.” PMLA. 130. 3 (May 2015): 546-565.

Highway, Tomson. Kiss of the Fur Queen. Toronto, Anchor, 2005.

Hoy, Helen. How Should I Read These? Native Women Writers in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

King, Tom. The Truth About Stories. Toronto: Anansi, 2003.

Maracle, Lee. Celia’s Song. Toronto: Cormorant, 2014.

—. Memory Serves: Oratories, ed. Smaro Kamboureli. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2015.

—. Ravensong. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1993.

Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creeation, Resurgence and a New Emergence. Winnipeg: ARP, 2011.

Sundberg, Juanita. “Decolonizing posthumanist geographies.” Cultural Geographies (2014) vol.21, no, 1: 33-47.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Toronto: Lorimer, 2015.

Wolfe, Patrick. Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native.” Journal of Genocide Research (2006) 8 (4): 387-409.

Revisiting the Open Society: A Canadian View

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I am so deeply honoured to accept this award, not least because I hold such admiration for the fine scholarship being done at Linnaeus University and for the openness colleagues here have shown to me, a visiting scholar and collaborator from another society.

As a literary critic, I always look at words and the stories they tell. So I start today with the puzzle posed by the open society—the theme of this Linnaeus lecture series this year. My research leads me to wonder: Can there be such a thing? The open society only takes on meaning when contrasted with a closed society. Yet are not all societies closed in some ways, and differentially open in others? Openness is a matter of degree, not identity. To be meaningful, it must always be open to challenge, and hence to the possibility of revision. Openness cannot be fixed; it must be an ongoing process. At the same time, for a society to be a society, it must have a sense of itself and a sense of who belongs to its imaginary—and who does not. Who is inside and who is outside? What makes this society different from other societies? Where are the borders and who inhabits the borders? Borders block and they also link. So where are the linkages between this society and others? Finally, the absolute nature of that definite article “the” gives me pause. Can there be only one open society and if so, who gets to determine its openness? Whose interests does such a descriptor serve? Would not the indefinite article, “a”, serve us better in describing the nature of societies and their relations with each other?

From my work in postcolonial and decolonial studies, I have seen the damage caused by a single civilizational ideal imposed on others. As a student of globalization, I see how the world has moved from the bipolarity of the Cold War era into the unipolarity of US dominance. That era now seems to be over. We are now shifting into a dynamic and unstable multipolar world. Within that world, competing models of openness seek to win our loyalties. The most dramatic oppositions may be between two starkly opposed models with very different starting points and views of what is at stake. One links societal openness to ethical calls to welcome recognition of our interdependencies with others, human and nonhuman, and to respect our co-dependencies. The challenges energizing but also to some extent blocking such initiatives come from climate change and migration as well as from the second model, which seeks to expand neoliberal capitalism further into individual lives and the global governance system. This second model links openness to those calls from business communities and their allies to embrace so-called free trade deals or lose our global competitiveness.  Both versions claim ownership of true openness yet differ on their understanding of the goals and natures of society. Each model offers a different view of how its open society might operate globally. The first imagines a world of no borders for people in a world where “no one is illegal.” The second imagines a world of complexly negotiated borders, in which goods, ideas, capital, and a privileged class of global elite might circulate freely but in which others remain ideally confined to the place of their birth.

Is either model truly feasible on a global scale, and if it were, would that necessarily be desirable? The answer depends on how each version of the open society were to be defined and implemented. The first version of a global open society is associated with organizations such as The World Social Forum and the second with the World Trade Organization. A third attempt at a middle way between the two might be linked to the Soros Open Society Foundation. It works “to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.” Its beliefs in “fundamental human rights, dignity, and the rule of law” and “in encouraging critical debate and respecting diverse opinions” place it firmly within small l liberal traditions of democracy promotion. As a Western feminist myself, I find these ideals appealing yet I am also aware of how regularly they are seen in other parts of the world as an alibi for imposing a colonizing and Christianizing agenda on alternative modes of defining these value concepts. Each of these terms, human rights, dignity, and the rule of law, are highly disputed and carry problematic histories that cannot be forgotten. One group’s common sense contradicts the experiences of others. There is a huge literature within postcolonial studies pointing out the difficulties with these discourses that I do not wish to go into here because my main point is simply that none of these categories can be taken for granted and their meanings are not transparent.  The open society is no different. It follow that our key task is to continually test and negotiate the meanings of these practices, working our way toward shared understandings of their value and the best way to implement them within our communities.

I believe our current models of international and global relations are flawed and it will be important to rethink how people might reorganize our efforts within the global arena differently. At the same time, however, I think the best ideas for rethinking the global are more likely to come from a coalition of bottom-up initiatives rather than from above. As a starting point for discussion,  I do not believe that versions of the open society implemented in one nation-state can usefully be imposed or even borrowed to work within another polity nor can one model usefully be  scaled up to operate unchanged within the global arena. When Will Kymlicka, for example, suggests that Canadian multiculturalism might offer a model for finding unity through diversity to other nations across the globe, I think he underestimates the specificities that render Canadian multiculturalism a model unlikely to travel well. Even within Canada, multiculturalism remains a debated concept and Quebec has offered interculturalism as a preferable alternative. It follows from this that Canada and Sweden can learn from each other but we each need to find our own way that will be true to our needs and our own evolving sets of values as we renegotiate our national imaginaries for a global era defined by time/space compression, continual rapid change, and associated growth in precarity.

In my classrooms and research teams, we look at a variety of stories from around the world and from different disciplines to think about what they can teach us about living together and living well. Stories told from within a variety of epistemic communities, whether these be place-based, discipline-based, or anchored within any interest-based community, can in the situated experiences they create, help those of us who think about them with “critical intimacy” learn more about what it feels like to open oneself to other realities. By “critical intimacy,” a phrase I borrow from Gayatri Spivak, I mean a way of opening oneself imaginatively to the experiences created by a story, with a generous willingness to take its premises seriously enough to consider them thoughtfully. For a long time, literary criticism was dominated by a lopsided focus on critique, which culminated in a “hermeneutics of suspicion.”  Now critics are moving away from that automatic suspicion toward more balanced engagements with the richness of story. “Critical intimacy” restores balance to the act of literary reading, providing room for the kind of intimate engagement that open up to a text’s difference without sacrificing the kind of careful examination we associate with the exercise of reason. If we can encounter stories in that spirit, then interpreting them can help us both appreciate their complexity and work through that complexity to achieve greater clarity.

If you are not a literary critic, that may sound rather abstract. I will offer two stories, one fictional and one non-fictional, to show the value of stories about the productive frictions generated by encounter. The first works as a “thought-experiment” (as described by Ursula Le Guin) and the second as “a kind of intellectual travelogue” that engages in contemporary debates about “how to approach diversity and disagreement” (Fraenkel).

First, science fiction author, Le Guin, imagines a type of open society operating across the Universe as an ever expanding federation of planets in The Left Hand of Darkness. Her envoy from this Federation (called the Ekumen) has been sent to the remote planet of Winter, where he experiences severe culture shock in attempting to communicate with these new peoples and then again when after three years, he reunites with others from his Federation. The major stumbling block for him arises from the people of Winter’s alternatively gendered embodiment and resultant behavioural norms. The story focusses on two nations on the planet Winter that are both open and closed in radically different ways and the confusions and political machinations that block the alien envoy’s route to establishing relations with these new peoples. Different ideas about governance, the rule of law, the economy, and the nature and values of community, of public and private, dignity and honour, distinguish these two Winter societies from each other. But what unites them, and differentiates them from the envoy, is what we would call the transgendered and fluid nature of their embodied identities and the associated roles they perform. These people are neither male nor female, and therefore not transgendered either in the ways we understand that term here on Earth today. Each person can fulfil the biological functions we conventionally associate with both male and female here and they can move fluidly between these roles. As a result, they do not think in binary gendered categories. Their freedom from that interpretational grid continually puzzles the envoy, and forces we readers to stretch our imaginations along unfamiliar lines.

Le Guin’s alternative societies with their alternative biology, offered as a “thought experiment” in 1969, remains a challenge for how to think about the implicitly gendered and potentially problematic nature of what is being promoted by Western nations and their foundations as the open society today. The fact that so many controversies arising from immigration and refugee resettlement seem to centre on gender relations reminds us of how important it is for any theorizations of open society to address these deeply ingrained biases. Readers of Le Guin’s text are allowed internal access to what it feels like to live such an alternatively gendered life and to the revulsion and fascination felt by the envoy, at first to the manifestations of such a different way of being in the world, and then later, to his alienated disgust at seeing his own people, and feeling his own embodiment, as if through the eyes of another.  Such an experience allows readers to open their imaginations to alternative possibilities, stretching our abilities to question even the most deeply ingrained prejudices and assumptions that currently govern our thinking.

My second set of interconnected stories comes from philosopher Carlos Fraenkel’s book, Teaching Plato in Palestine: Philosophy for a Divided World. He explains that the impetus for his project, documented in this book, derives from the fact that values embedded in a culture that shape our identity and norms may remain “hidden and inarticulate” under normal circumstances. This is what Le Guin’s envoy learns at the deeply intimate level of bodily experience and close interactions with others. Given that situation, Fraenkel argues that we “should welcome the disruptions that compel us to confront them.” This may be a painful process but he believes we can emerge stronger as a community by engaging in what he calls “the open-ended culture of debate.”  What he means by this label is “the dialectical skill of engaging in a joint search for the truth.” His advocacy of this position comes from his personal experience as a child of Jewish Brazilian immigrants who fled the dictatorship to live for a while in Germany, and then returned to Brazil when he was a young boy. He now teaches philosophy at McGill University in Canada. What I find most valuable about this book is the individual case studies he narrates of his extended personal and professional encounters with different communities around the world to engage in this kind of debate around the issues most immediate to their situations. Through the stories he tells of the workshops he ran, he hopes to “show by example and argument that making philosophy part of our personal and public lives is something worthwhile.”

He makes some bold claims: “Can philosophy save the Middle East? It can.” Through a seminar he co-teaches at Al-Quds University, the Palestinian university in Jerusalem, he hopes to raise questions about philosophy, politics and religion that might open “a new perspective on the Middle East.” He expects the texts to resonate differently there than with his students in Montreal, and they do. With two professors in the classroom, in this case with different religious identities and backgrounds, it becomes easier to dramatize the value and procedures of open-ended debate. He speculates that the “permanent state of collision” that characterizes this environment might stimulate closer attention to the urgency of inquiring into questions of “justice, rights, and power” than does the situation in the West, where there is more complacency about these concepts. His method is to help his students “rediscover the wide variety of positions that were defended in the history of Islamic thought,” thereby opening discussion beyond what Vandana Shiva calls, in a different context, a “monocentrism of the mind.” For Shiva, this phrase describes the authoritarian blindness that drove the Green Revolution and its destruction of seed biodiversity and local seed sovereignty in favour of bioengineered and expensive seeds owned by a corporate monopoly. Gayatri Spivak adapts the phrase—monoculture of the mind– to describe the denial of difference within social, economic, and political spheres. It has become one of my favourite metaphors for the closed society.

With each community in which he holds his seminars, Fraenkel builds on an aspect of his experience that most closely connects with theirs and through their interactions the discussions take forms best suited to their own immediate preoccupations. From the Middle East, he goes to Indonesia, then a Hasidic Jewish community in New York, a public high school in Salvador, Brazil, and finally Akwesasne, one of the largest Mohawk reserves in North America, just outside Montreal. These latter two raise the citizenship questions that most interest me. In each, he takes his workshops beyond a university setting into versions of the public sphere.  “Citizen Philosophers in Brazil” raises questions about how to achieve equality in one of the world’s most unequal societies and “Word-Warriors: Philosophy in Mohawk Land” considers the challenges of designing self-governance for a community of roughly twelve thousand Mohawks whose territory is “crisscrossed by five national and provincial borders: Canada, the United States, Quebec, Ontario, and New York.” In addition to these jurisdictions, there are two officially recognized governing bodies and two traditional Mohawk governing bodies that carry authority with the people but not with the Canadian or American governments. Given the community’s long history of colonization, Fraenkel explains: “some of the most fundamental questions require new answers: how to reconcile modernity and tradition, what it means to live well, who should rule, and who counts as a Mohawk.”  In both places, the value of what he is trying to do is questioned, especially by those whose authority would be undermined by an open culture of debate. In Brazil, he is challenged by both elitist academic philosophers and by pragmatic teachers who teach to the tests that govern students’ life chances in a system where access to good higher education is limited and mostly denied to the racialized poor. In Akwesasne, his motives for approaching their community are challenged as is the value of the discussions he can offer. But in both cases, interesting discussions are recorded although no conclusions are reached. Fraenkel concedes that philosophical discussions “are often inconclusive.” What he offers are some of the tools for arriving at decisions and for revising them as times and needs change. Those tools are what we in the university community can offer to the shaping and conduct of our respective national debates.

The strength of Fraenkel’s book lies in its individual case studies of debates he guided with a range of communities, each grappling with issues most central to their own sense of identity and communal needs. Most of the societies he engages might be described as among those least open to the rest of the world yet his stories of their discussions show the value of open debate in those contexts. He concludes people today are lucky that globalizing processes are making it impossible for people “to avoid exposure to beliefs and values different from our own” because this situation puts us all “under pressure to justify what we think and do.” He admits that “diversity and disagreement on their own” are insufficient. His argument is for fostering “a culture of debate—an institutional framework in which diversity and disagreement can be transformed into a joint search for the truth.” For Fraenkel, philosophy can provide the models, the metaphors, and the vocabulary for engaging in such discussions but the groundwork for developing such a culture would need to be developed in the last years of high school. What he wants to see is training in “techniques of debate,” how to clarify one’s views and meet possible objections, and training in the “virtues of debate,” that is, “valuing the truth more than winning an argument.” I would argue that most disciplines have developed their own ways of teaching these principles.

Fraenkel’s stories are good to think with. It may be that the kind of discussions he documents work best within small group contexts or within societies where these techniques and virtues of debate have been widely inculcated. Could they be adapted to calm fears and encourage resiliency on the larger scale of nation-wide discussions?  He believes that “If we can transform disagreements arising from diversity into a culture of debate, they cease to be a threat to social peace.” This may be too optimistic in all circumstances but such a culture could surely contribute to that end.

For example, despite a lot of ugliness, anger, and uninformed commentary during Canada’s recent federal election, when Prime Minister Harper sought to make the niqab an election issue and promised to set up a hotline on barbaric cultural practices, there were also many principled interventions from a variety of perspectives that enriched understanding and ultimately, I think, contributed to strengthening our varied modes of expressing our equally strong convictions about the equality of women as understood in the distinct, yet overlapping societies of Canada and Quebec. News from Sweden about the refusal of a politician to shake hands with a woman carries the potential to start a discussion in Sweden about the values and necessary limits around what we in Canada call “reasonable accommodation” of practices that fall outside established hegemonic societal norms. The politician in question suggested another substitute gesture that did not carry the same implications of intimacy for him. In response, we heard another politician insist that Swedes shake hands. What is at stake in this exchange, reported in a piecemeal fashion in the global media? To an outsider without all the facts, it seems that shaking hands in this instance stands in for much more than a mere gesture of politeness. It is being asked to carry a burden of cultural beliefs about gender equality that might benefit from further articulation.

Fraenkel’s ideal of an “open-ended culture of debate” allows people to change their minds if they find it desirable after careful examination of the issues, and it also allows for the possibility of achieving greater clarity about why certain values matter and what is at stake in defending them. Before it was defunded in 2006, the Law Commission of Canada performed a similar function, consulting widely on emergent issues of concern and making recommendations on necessary updating of the law to take account of changing circumstances, needs, knowledges, and social norms. After consultation, it recommended legalizing same sex marriage and the government of the day then followed through on that recommendation. If the rule of law is to maintain its legitimacy and hold respect, it needs to work to bring itself closer to ideals of justice. It is in this sense that Fraenkel too believes that through informed discussion, people can progress.

Fraenkel offers a spirited defence of why his views are not blindly ethnocentric but rather represent a “critical ethnocentrism” that refuses the two extremes of either coercion or relativism. Freedom of expression is essential to his project but as long as a society ensures that freedom, he thinks the culture of debate could flourish in many different kinds of society and not just a liberal democracy. In this talk, I have found myself engaging in my own debate with his ideas as I try to imagine what an open society might look like.

If you search for the open society on the net, chances are that Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society and its Enemies, will pop up first. I find this wording counter-productive. Fortunately, we have the freedom to determine our own way of framing the issues. In Western democracies, we are conditioned to value openness. But given that bias, it is harder to see the limits to our own openness, the places where less visible blockages continue to exist, and the places where despite ourselves we may find unexpected closures occurring. With the benefit of hindsight, we can identify some of the ways in which self-identified open societies in the past were far from completely open. Through comparing one society to another, we can see the varieties of openness within each as well as the many different ways in which openness is understood in practice and mobilized for causes both good and ill.

For example, 17th century philosopher John Locke defined North American indigenous nations as static closed societies. He came to these conclusions without ever visiting the continent or studying their thinking and their practices. A whole system of colonial governance was built on Locke’s false premises that we are only beginning to dismantle today. From studying history and listening to indigenous peoples themselves, we now know that they were much more open societies than that of the British who colonized them. They had protocols for defining belonging and enabling adoption and they initially welcomed the settler/invaders to share the land with them according to the laws associated with the fundamental openness built into their societies. Their original openness is now being advocated by Canadian intellectuals such as John Ralston Saul as a model on which the Canadian nation can build a better version of its own claim to openness. Such examples from the past advise caution when making assumptions about what is open and what is closed today.

It is possible that given its history of blatant misuse, before and especially after the events of 9/11, the open society as a concept may inspire more cynicism than idealism. Words get damaged when misused and sometimes we need to renew them. I was part of an inspiring project called Building Global Democracy that sought to bring together academics, activists and policymakers from around the world to advance knowledge and practice for greater public participation and control in the governance of global affairs. I believe in this ideal, and the word democracy, in some contexts, can still inspire fear in dictatorial regimes. At the same time, the history of so-called democracy promotion, has also inspired cynicism, perhaps especially among formerly colonized nations where many see it as an alibi for continued colonialism or Christian conversion. Partly in response to such considerations, I prefer to talk about self-determination and autonomy, the rights of a people to govern themselves—not as a unit cut off from the world but as a community that recognizes both how it is connected to a larger world and the ways in which it is distinct. Naming matters. A recent Canadian book, by indigenous scholar Lisa Monchalin, renames what used to be called “the Indian problem,” by labelling it instead, The Colonial Problem: an Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada. That kind of shift in perspective can jolt readers into alternative ways of framing discussion.

Many formerly colonized countries, once labelled Third World, then underdeveloped, and now the Global South, reject the stories that development studies tells: stories that the West holds the only keys to modernization and has charted the only route forward for any society seeking to improve itself. Without necessarily opening themselves entirely to Western ideas, they also refuse Western beliefs that they are closed societies and that the only way to become an open society is to emulate the West.  Such challenges to Western definitions of the open society can help us, in Sweden and Canada, to redefine what an open society is and what it could be. Development still locates its centres of value within the global North, which it presumes both defines and leads modernity. Yet the darker, colonial side of that modernity needs to be addressed, and development discourses and their associated practices need to be decolonized. To what extent, as some theorists argue, has Western development actually itself developed the underdevelopment that justifies its continued interventions? And to what extent does the current refugee crisis owe its impetus to that history? We can all see that globalizing processes, mostly economic, are opening borders to goods and ideas while closing them to the movements of people.

It was once predicted that globalization would hollow out the nation-state. That has not happened. Instead, nation-states are changing their functions, slowly losing control over their decision-making capacity in areas governed by so called “free trade” deals, but maintaining the right to control immigration and confer citizenship. These free trade deals advocate a dangerous version of openness that will in fact close down a democratic society’s right to determine its own directions. The problem comes through the trade deal advocacy of ISDS, an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism inserted in deals such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and substantially strengthened in the proposed TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) and CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) between Canada and the European Union. These agreements would allow corporations to sue governments for damages when laws or regulations were enacted that they believed could damage their profitability. With this example, we can see the kind of Orwellian double speak that disguises itself as openness while strengthening closure. Part of the problem with these deals is that they were negotiated in secrecy, thereby pre-emptively silencing the kind of open debate that I am suggesting is necessary here. The insights offered by the two texts I have discussed today suggest that it is premature to believe that the stark choices insisted upon by promoters of these trade deals, between open and closed, are the only options before us. What feminist economists such as J.K. Gibson-Graham suggest is that there are alternative theorizations and practices of economic engagement that have yet to be fully explored.

And so to my conclusion, which invites future engagement. In this talk I have suggested that to be met effectively, the challenges I have outlined here require, first of all, a decolonizing perspective that defines openness as the fostering of “multiepistemic literacy” capable of learning and unlearning to dialogue effectively “between epistemic worlds” (Kuokkanen cited in Sundberg); and secondly, a commitment, in Juanita Sundberg’s words, to taking “responsibility for the epistemological and ontological worlds we enact through the paths we walk and talk” (40). I see an interesting link between Jean-Luc Nancy’s definition of community as something that transcends the place-, identity-, and interest-based assumptions of the past by stressing instead a “being-with” and the Zapatista’s “respect for the [reciprocal] multiplicity of lifeworlds” that they define as “walking with” and “asking as we walk” (Sundberg 40; 39), a process that moves away from the universality implied by the open society toward the pluriversality of many worlds, at once singular and overlapping in their relations. Mario Blaser defines the pluriverse as “an experiment in bringing itself into being” (55).  “Pluriverse,” being with” and “walking with” are emergent philosophical constructions that fit well with the idea of concurrences as developed by the Concurrences Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies here at Linnaeus University, with which I am privileged to work. These concepts enable different disciplines to open to one another to share their archives and open conversations across their research worlds without collapsing them into a monocentrism of the mind. I look forward to many more years of fruitful walking and questioning together.

Works Cited

Blaser, Mario. “Ontology and indigeneity: on the political ontology of heterogeneous assemblages.” Cultural Geographies (2014). Vol. 2 (1): 49-58.

Fraenkel, Carlos. Teaching Plato in Palestine: Philosophy for a Divided World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Gibson-Graham, J.K.. The End of CAPITALISM (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. With a New Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Kuokkanen, Rauna. Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007.

Kymlicka, W. Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: ACE Penguin, 1969; “Introduction” 1976.

Monchalin, Lisa. The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Being Singular Plural. Trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Popper, Karl. R The Open Society and Its Enemies. New One-Volume Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Saul, John Ralston. “Canada’s multiculturalism: a circle, ever edging outwards.” The Globe and Mail. Friday April 2w2, 2016.

Shiva, Vandana. “Monocultures of the Mind.” The Vandana Shiva Reader. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2014.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

Sundberg, Juanita. “Decolonizing posthumaist geographies.” Cultural Geographies (2014. Vol. 2 (1): 33-47.

What Does it Take to Decolonize a Country? Celia’s Song revisions a West Before the West

ravensong

In The Truth about Stories, Tom King suggests that indigenous writers have usually avoided historical fiction, largely turning instead to the present and the future to articulate their visions of an alternative and indigenous world view.  He speculates that given the dominant negative stereotypes promoted by colonialism, indigenous writers have felt themselves lacking access to a usable discursive past capable of forming a basis for an indigenous-centred historical fiction. Since King’s lectures, Joseph Boyden has attempted historical fiction in The Orenda to mixed reviews. I hypothesize in this paper that options for engaging the past in alternative ways are opening up beyond those prescribed by a Eurocentric focus. If history as a discipline and particular orientation to the past has been contaminated by the biases of colonialism, then the more viable solution may be to turn, as King himself does, to the creation stories for an alternative starting point. In Green Grass Running Water, he pairs this approach with a deconstruction of the mythic stories told by the colonizing Europeans and their colonial descendents. Yet King has also criticized postcolonial theory for beginning its critique of colonialism with first encounters rather than recognizing the long histories of indigenous occupation and theorizing through stories that preceded that encounter. This paper is interested in the alternative approach to those pre-encounter worldviews as enacted in Lee Maracle’s novel Celia’s Song, her sequel to Ravensong.

First of all, Maracle refuses to situate those pre-encounter worldviews solely in the past. For her and her people, what mainstream History terms the past is not over.  It lives on in the present in at least two ways. Firstly, because colonialism is a structure and not an event (Wolfe), colonial structures remain, sometimes in adaptive ways, to organize people’s lives. Secondly, by beginning with her own culture’s understanding of time, rather than accepting the linear, Eurocentric view, Maracle can show how the past lives on in the present through ancestral voices, visions, and dreams and mythic incarnations. This is an approach to decolonization that refuses to situate the decolonizing project within a linear view of history. It must involve the ancestors if it is to succeed.

The last few years have seen several indigenous writers look further back into the period before colonization to imagine a usable past, derived from “a West before the West” on which to build a West after the West. Yet to use the language of before and after in such a way is to misrepresent how these writers approach the concept of time. Maracle, for example, implicitly challenges the Eurocentric separation of past from present and future, by inscribing alternative understandings of time in which the dead are neither powerless nor ghosts but rather ancestors whose spirits survive into the present and continue to make claims on the present. This conference’s title plays on the multiple significances of the West in the colonial imaginary. From a postcolonial perspective, the West is understood as a relational category, inscribing the orientation of European powers who assume the right to name the rest of the world from the place where they begin. In naming the Orient as their East, as Edward Said explained, they also named themselves, in relation, as “the West.” In that sense, the West named a geopolitical category that functioned as a geographical imaginary and generated a cognitive framework through which the world was viewed. In the same way, confusingly, in turning their gaze westward, Europeans named North America a different kind of West, as a new world and a frontier for their explorations, often stereotyped as “the wild West.” In that sense, the West was both civilization and its opposite, the wild that civilization feared and opposed, which it located outside itself yet often feared could be found within itself. That West, as King explains, was mythologized in many Hollywood westerns, describing an invented tradition for the settler societies of Canada and the United States. Those stereotypical cowboys and Indians created a view of a settler-invader West that remains difficult to dislodge. That mythic West, in turn, further marginalized the indigenous cultures of the far western edge of the continent, the place of Maracle’s two novels.

King’s answer to the dilemma of how to write oneself out of the dominant colonialist mythologies was to turn to alternative creation stories and to challenge the colonial stories head-on, especially in Green Grass, Running Water. In Cellia’s Song, Lee Maracle moves one step beyond King, bracketing the colonial period as an interlude in a much longer understanding of deep time beyond that of the human Anthropocene. The two-headed serpent protecting an abandoned house front asks itself: “How long in human time have we been here?? (10).  The novel slips back and forth between their time, and significant moments in human time, with the conversations and actions of all participants, human and non-human, witnessed by the shape-shifter mink, whose voice opens and concludes the novel. If readers still think of British Columbia as the West, then Maracle writes this West as a West simultaneously both before and after the West of the colonial imaginary.

There are at least four distinctive and interlinked elements of Celia’s Song that serve productively to start the decolonizing process. Each happens simultaneously so they cannot be labelled as first, second and third. One is the novel’s insistence on redefining beginnings and orientations to start with indigenous namings, stories, and theorizings, moving out into the world from there. Another is the route it chooses for decolonization through a focus on the embodiment of visions and dreams. Finally, because there is always a danger that such a strategy risks recuperation into inappropriate categories derived from other experiences, the novel resists recuperation into the “postcolonial exotic” (Huggan) or depoliticized versions of magic realism by highlighting the cognitive dissonance that it insists separates indigenous from non-indigenous readers. Finally, there is a grim recognition of the very real and horrific damages wrought by the colonial system that is accompanied by the insistence that the best way forward for the indigenous community will be to take responsibility for dealing with these damages on their own and in their own way. Maracle’s insistence on indigenous autonomy is the most interesting and potentially most troubling dimension of her work for the non-indigenous reader, a reader she insists on naming in colonial, racialized terms as white.

My interest in her work comes from my thinking about the inter-related violences of colonialism, particularly its epistemic and cognitive injustices. For a reader like myself, wondering what cognitive justice might look like and how it might be achieved, Celia’s Song reads like an experiment in imagining some answers. Why talk about cognitive justice instead of justice pure and simple? For at least two reasons. Understandings of what justice is can be culture-specific, so that to move toward achieving any kind of full justice, it will be essential first of all to understand the kinds of cognitive justice that came with settler colonialism and continue within institutional structures today. Taiaiaike Alfred asserts “Without a substantial change in the circumstances of colonization, there is no basis for considering the historical injustice. The crime of colonialism is present today, as are its perpetrators, and there is yet no moral or legal basis for indigenous peoples to seek reconciliation with Canada” (170). That basis must come, he argues, from a recognition of the fundamentally different models of governance and value generated by indigenous worldviews, and by subsequent moves toward restitution for the destruction of the economic and cultural logics of those alternative systems. In arguing against reconciliation, Alfred argues that “restitution is the real pathway to justice for indigenous peoples” (165). But the case for restitution can only be made once indigenous peoples free themselves from what Leanne Simpson describes as the prison of cognitive imperialism.

In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, Simpson explains that indigenous peoples, because they are “cognitively locked” into “the lens of colonial thought and cognitive imperialism,…are often unable to see our Ancestors” (15).  She describes cognitive imperialism as a vat in which indigenous peoples are immersed, a box in which they are trapped, and a poison for which they need to seek the antitidote. For Simpson, the key task is to create “free cognitive spaces” (34) through reclaiming, transforming, and rebuilding inherited and inherent indigenous imaginaries through story and ceremony (17). Maracle actualizes this process, enabling her readers to hear the ancestors (through the grumbling of their bones, some recent and some ancient), through the efforts of natural forces such as cedar to communicate, and through the witnessing of mink, whose words are italicized to distinguish its perspective from that of the narrator. The two-headed snake emerges from the gateposts of the house to take corporeal form in the shape of two quarelling heads, Restless and Loyal, each seeking recognition from the community in their individual ways. Maracle only allows her hereditary seer, Celia, fleeting intuitions and glimpses of the presence of these claimants to her attention. Celia sees in fragmentary flashes, but as mink observes, she is not a listener. In a similar fashion, Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen enables the brothers Okimasis, not to see, but at least to hear echoes of the shaman ancestor Chachagathoo, who remains in their northern lands long past her physical death, but of whom they are ashamed and afraid until late in their story when they have finally begun to learn how to re-see Chachagathoo for the powerful, decolonizing challenge she embodies.

Maracle’s vision, like Alfred’s, is more uncompromising than that provided by King or Highway. By uncompromising, I mean that she is less interested in explaining her culture to others than in mourning what was lost and regenerating what can heal. This is a question of emphasis and address. Like Simpson, she returns to the original creation stories of her people to theorize resurgence from within her own cultural paradigms rather than in dialogue with the colonizing forces. Like Alfred and Simpson, she is wary of the potential power imbalances in ideas about reconciliation if it is defined from the abuser’s perspective alone, with an eye to moving on without truly addressing what is at stake in this current moment within the long history of settler colonial structures. Whereas Kiss of the Fur Queen celebrates cultural survival and revival after the residential school experience, Celia’s Song is “Dedicated to all those children who were removed from our homes and who did not survive residential school.” There is a strong element of elegy and loss in Maracle’s text that is not present in either King or Highway. The emphasis, then, is different but each of these creative texts shares with The Truth and Reconciliation Report on the Residential Schools, a definition of settler colonialism as “a structure and not an event” (Wolfe). As such, settler colonialism cannot simply be left behind. It lives on into the present in various institutional incarnations and in the modes of thought that legitimate them.

The structure of settler colonialism is inscribed in the institutions (legal, medical, civic, educational, and business) that organize people’s lives, perpetuate forms of cultural genocide, and impose themselves on the land through the demarcation of lived space that physically separates the two communities and through the transformation of a lifestyle based on wood into one organized around electricity and oil. Traffic moves both ways across the bridge over the water that divides the village where the action takes place from the city of Vancouver but accommodation is difficult for members of both groups because those colonial structures are also inscribed in their minds and even their bodies. Ravensong had focused on Celia’s older sister Stacey and her movement out from the village into the world of white schooling, a movement offset in that novel by a devastating epidemic that came from that world into her own. Celia’s Song is set many years after the destructive impact of that epidemic and its action occurs almost entirely within the world of the indigenous village.

This is a fairly closed society into which some whites have moved through the establishment of affective and affiliative relations with individual indigenous people, but whose acceptance there remains uneasy. There is a character always named through her place of origin as “German Judy.” Like Judy, Stacey’s partner, the doctor Steve, needs to continually earn her trust and that of her family. Stacey’s difficulties when he proposes (in Celia’s Song) show the huge gap that separates them, as they move back and forth between an un-crossable distance and the promise of some kind of nascent understanding. Stacey thinks: “Living with him would require extra care; he’s white, different. She has no way to frame that difference without offending him and jeopardizing the future of the relationship…. There would have to be a separate world and a together world, which means life with him would be complicated. He has no idea that it would be this complicated, and she is not sure she can deal with it” (186). Nonetheless, as the text proceeds, together they do start to deal with it, Steve risks his career to help her family deal with a crisis their way, and there is some fragile hope they can learn to live with their differences. Helen Hoy has sensitively documented the destabilizing impact that Ravensong exerts on non-indigenous readers. She explains: “Making white culture marked and Native culture the standard foregrounds and calls into question the very naturalizing of normative cultures” (136). Celia’s Song continues that process.

In Celia’s Song, challenges to the structural incarnations of the settler colonial system take form on two fronts: the institutional and the mythic. Institutionally, Celia and her family refuse the aid of the Canadian medical and legal establishments when confronted with the child who has been violently sexually abused by one of their own. They determine to keep her at home and heal her themselves, despite the severity of her injuries, and they decide to judge and deal with the perpetrator, Amos, themselves, according to their banned pre-contact rituals. Amos, initially uncomprehending, appears to have at least implicitly assented to this procedure. The process of his dancing to his death is described as profoundly liberating for him, as he relives and then sheds his own experience of sexual abuse at the residual school and its toxic aftermath (254-255). The reader is told that eventually “Redemption comes as his ancestors reach for his dancing body” (255).

Nonetheless, this communally sanctioned death, presented here as a voluntary, ritual suicide, challenges Western condemnations of capital punishment, as it meant to do. The willingness of Steve to condone these decisions as an act of respect for the autonomy of Stacey and her community is the price he must pay for their acceptance of him, and, it is implied, such respect must be the pre-condition for any kind of reconciliation between the two cultures. The novel thus raises the important question: what are and should be the limits to indigenous autonomy and self-governance at the communal level? Could these incompatible systems function concurrently within the same state without the secrecy necessitated by the current state of affairs as depicted in Celia’s Song?

The novel presents these actions as important steps toward regained self-confidence and agency among the indigenous community actors. Through mink’s witnessing and access to the internal thoughts of each of the main characters, the reader is immersed in their worldview and our sympathies are engaged. Much of the story involves the destructive aftermath of the Canadian government’s banning of ceremonies meant to honour the dead and meet their communal contractual obligations to the two-headed snake. These entities demand their due: respect and ceremony from the people. The refusal of Western mindsets to understand such relations and to acknowledge such presences is mocked in the single scene set outside the village. Four scientists who “don’t know their lab is smack dab in the middle of Musqueam territory” (14) debate how to interpret a mysterious shadow that seems to mar their film. They cannot accept that it might depict the two-headed snake that mink has already seen slip its moorings. Only one of the three is ready to admit that “’We aren’t the only people who know things’” (18). But mink and the reader hear this lesson.

My original idea for this paper involved comparing these experimental dimensions of Maracle’s text with those employed by Australian Waanyi writer Alexis Wright in Carpentaria and The Swan Book, to situate their turns to alternative space-time imaginaries derived from local place within concurrent turns within Western theory toward nonhuman and critical posthuman imaginaries. This move will be important because I see Maracle and Wright’s texts as important theoretical and aesthetic interventions into current Western theoretical discussions too often deaf to indigenous alternatives. Parallel discussions about how to inhabit the world are occurring among mainstream academics and among indigenous writers but there is little interaction between these two epistemic communities as yet. Texts such as Dancing on our Turtle’s Back or Celia’s Song, when classified as Native Studies or Fiction, are not recognized for the full extent of the challenges they pose to the entrenched cognitive imperialism of the academy, which includes the ways in which it infiltrates disciplines and shapes the kind of stories that resonate with different audiences. Through highlighting moments of cognitive dissonance, when alternative ideas about rules and consequences clash, Celia’s Song reminds its readers that decolonization has barely begun and will not be easy.

Works Cited

Alfred, Taiaiake. “Restitution is the Real Pathway to Justice for Indigenous Peoples.” Web.

Highway, Tomson. Kiss of the Fur Queen. Toronto, Anchor, 2005.

Hoy, Helen. How Should I Read These? Native Women Writers in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

King, Tom. The Truth About Stories. Toronto: Anansi, 2003.

Maracle, Lee. Celia’s Song. Toronto: Cormorant, 2014.

—. Ravensong. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1993.

Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creeation, Resurgence and a New Emergence. Winnipeg: ARP, 2011.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Toronto: Lorimer, 2015.

Wolfe, Patrick. Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native.” Journal of Genocide Research (2006) 8 (4): 387-409.

Canada, Brazil, and Beyond: Call for Papers, a special issue of Canada and Beyond

brcakeCall for Papers, a special issue of Canada and Beyond

Guest Editors: Diana Brydon and Vanessa A. Nunes

The Brazilian comparison makes good sense for Canadianists yet our different histories of colonialism, indigenous relations, and cultural debates about capitalism, democracy, multiculturalism, and globalization have seldom been investigated with the sustained attention they deserve. In literary studies, only a few names such as P.K. Page, Elizabeth Bishop, Jan Conn, and (more recently) Priscila Uppal have attracted much attention in their portrayals of Brazil, while the presence of Canada in Brazilian literature is even scarcer. This call for a special issue on Canada, Brazil, and Beyond begins to address the question of what might be learned from thinking about Brazil and Canada together. What creative works and new angles of analysis have been missed by neglecting this comparison? What revised frameworks might such a focus call for?

Canadian Studies has traditionally been oriented toward an Atlantic Studies paradigm working in English or French. Pacific and Northern studies functioned as supplements to this transatlantic orientation. Neither multicultural nor postcolonial studies succeeded in fundamentally dislodging it. A shift away from Europe toward situating Canada within the Americas was signaled by a few texts, which, however, paid scant attention to Brazil. Albert Braz proposes the label “Outer America” for Canada and Brazil as these two large countries are often forgotten in continental dialogues (119). With the exception of a few special journal issues and the journal Interfaces Brasil/Canadá, the journal of the Brazilian Association for Canadian Studies, the Canada-Brazil relation remains under-discussed.

Indigenous and Latin American decolonial studies, developing concurrently with the rise of interest in global and hemispheric studies, are creating an environment more receptive to thinking about Canada and Brazil, their changing relations, and the varied contexts in which they might illuminate each other. Canadian studies scholars, an international community, now look, not only to the east and west but also south and north from Canada as disciplinary alignments react to changing pressures. This contextual broadening, indicated by the launch of the journal, Canada and Beyond, from its base in Spain, now works across languages as well as across oceans and continents. It is in the light of these changes that we issue a call for papers rethinking the relations between Canada, Brazil, and Beyond.

We invite original papers on any dimension of this theme from scholars working within and across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Essays should be 6,000 – 8,000 words, double-spaced, and follow MLA style. Please email queries any time and completed papers to Diana.Brydon@umanitoba.ca and Almeida3@myumanitoba.ca by March 1, 2016. Papers will be reviewed with an aim of publication in the Spring 2017 issue.

Work Cited: Braz, Albert. “Outer America: Racial Hybridity and Canada’s Peripheral Place in Inter-American Discourse.” Canada and Its Americas: Transnational Navigations. Eds. Winfried Siemerling and Sarah Phillips Casteel. 119-133. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

The Politics and Poetics of Public Sphere Witnessing: Dionne Brand, Samantha Nutt, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier

A paper being offered Speaking Her Mind: Canadian Women and Public Presence  20-22 October 2016
University of Calgary

Abstract: Working at the intersection of postcolonial, feminist, and globalization studies, this paper addresses the rhetorical strategies adopted by writer-activists Dionne Brand, Samantha Nutt, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier to speak their minds on issues such as global violence, environmental destruction, and global citizenship, matters of central concern to the twenty-first century and Canada’s role within it. These women are public presences who have made a difference yet who are seldom discussed as public intellectuals. What can their work tell us about public sphere politics and poetics?

Description: This paper considers the literary contributions of three Canadian women who have functioned as activists and witnesses to injustice in ways that locate the Canadian public sphere in its historical and global contexts. The paper addresses the pressure these women differentially put on conventional notions of the public intellectual through discussion primarily of their published works and the reception they have received. Working at the intersection of postcolonial, feminist, and globalization studies, I will address the rhetorical strategies these writers have adopted to speak their minds on issues of central concern to the twenty-first century and Canada’s role within it. Texts to be discussed include Brand’s Inventory, Map to the Door of No Return, and essays; Nutt’s Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid; and Sheila Watt Cloutier’s autobiography, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet. Their work addresses key contemporary concerns, yet their contributions to shaping public debates have not yet bshmeen accorded the attention they deserve. In seeking to rectify that situation, this paper will also seek to understand it.

Debunking the half-truths and exaggerations in the National Post

NCTR-Turtle1-1200x800
As scholars located at the University of Manitoba, it was with great concern and some embarrassment that we read the recent editorial on the final report of Canada’s TRC by Hymie Rubenstein and Rodney Clifton. Their perspective both on the TRC’s report and Canadian colonialism more generally in no way reflects the main currents of thought in those disciplines devoted to understanding genocide and settler-Indigenous relations, nor is it consistent with the view of the vast majority of our colleagues at the University of Manitoba. The U of M has publicly acknowledged both the harms of Canada’s Indian Residential School system and the university’s own role in perpetrating to them. Moreover, later this year the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation containing the archives of the TRC will open at the University of Manitoba, where it will act to preserve the memory of Canada’s residential schools while serving as a powerful resource for survivors, their families, researchers and members of the public.

Rubenstein’s and Clifton’s remarks echo the insensitivity and moral inattention the TRC is attempting to redress. They lean on a half-baked understanding of what genocide is and show little evidence of having read the TRC’s report. They assume the role of arbiters in an unsavoury competition for the mantle of true victimhood and bizarrely equate the boarding school experiences of Indigenous children with those of immigrants and the wealthy. Their editorial also ignores the substantial historical record and places heavy weight on the authors’ own anecdotal experience from late in the IRS era. It also minimizes the high death tolls and abuse occurring in IRS as simply common features of an earlier era of schooling and portrays the stripping away and denigration of indigenous languages, beliefs and cultural practices as somehow good for Aboriginal children. To suggest that others are reinforcing half-truths is to misunderstand the concept of truth itself. It also shows a lack of willingness to engage in a process of reconciliation by accepting the truths of others or truths that may be difficult to admit.

We reject Rubenstein’s and Clifton’s characterization of the Indian Residential School system and its effects. Their attempt to downplay residential schools’ harms is indicative of their failure to understand the history of residential schooling and the TRC, its mandate, its careful evaluation of the available sources and scholarship, and its conclusions.

Signed:
Sharon Alward, Fine Art
Marlene Atleo, Education
Greg Bak, Archival Studies and History
Jarvis Brownlie, History
Diana Brydon, Centre for Globalization and Cultural Studies
Karen Busby, Faculty of Law
Warren Cariou, Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture
Mary Anne Clarke, Peace and Conflict Studies
Elizabeth Comack, Sociology
Aimee Craft, Faculty of Law
Joan Durant, Family Social Sciences
Maureen P. Flaherty, Peace & Conflict Studies
Deana Halonen, Social Work
Nancy Hansen, Disability Studies
Mary-­‐Anne Kandrack, Sociology
Kiera Ladner, Political Studies
Rick Linden, Sociology
Jayme Menzies, recent graduate Faculty of Law
Eveline Milliken, Inner City Social Work Program
Adam Muller, English, Film and Theatre
Tom Nesmith, Archival Studies and History
Judith Owens, English, Film and Theatre
Debra Parkes, Faculty of Law
Adele Perry, History
Tracey Peter, Sociology
Susan Prentice, Sociology
Jennifer L. Schulz, Faculty of Law
Niigaanwewidam Sinclair, Native Studies
Struan Sinclair, English, Film, and Theatre
Katherine Starzyk, Psychology
Shirley Thompson, Natural Resource Institute
Jocelyn Thorpe, Women’s and Gender Studies
Christopher Trott, Warden, St John’s College
Lorna Turnbull, Faculty of Law
Andrew Woolford,Sociology

University of Manitoba profs can add their name to a petition here: http://t.co/ru6Nh0gT79

response to Clifton & Rubenstein