«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
The command of the universal... is a consequence of an oppositional and hierarchical ordering of the universal and the particular.... This is a process which not only establishes a standard to exclude those who are different by defining them as other-than the norm, but operates first and foremost as a means of registering the relationship of difference and thereby as a means of securing sovereign status to the subject of representation in a relation of contrast. It is a process that allows setting the self off from the particular and this is nothing other than centering oneself as universal. (p. 103) According to the dualistic logic of colonial modernity, the particular (e.g., Muslim women) is contrasted with the universal norm (Western women) and found wanting, rendered as lack in what Grewal (1996) calls the “binary of freedom and unfreedom” (e.g., Muslim women as not free, not modern and not civilized).27 By aligning themselves with patriarchal, racialized, imperialist practices, white women could secure entrance into modernity as universal, rightsendowed subjects.28 Their participation in these practices would allow (bourgeois) white women to inhabit the freedom side of the binary, as paragons of female freedom and personhood—this notwithstanding the oppressive material conditions of many of their lives in their respective nations.
move.29) The modern liberal subject and imperial/colonial subject collapse into one:
Both share the sovereign subject status of authorship, authority, and legitimacy. Thus, to set up its boundaries as human, civilized, and universal, the Western subject inscribed the history of its others as backward and traditional, and thereby placed cultures of different kinds in a teleological and chronological ordering of history. (Yeğenoğlu, 1998, p. 95)
Scholars such as Sunera Thobani (2007) note the continuation of this ordering into the present:
Orientalist constructs of racialized gender have for centuries fed the assumption that the lives of non-white women are to be understood in terms starkly different from those that account for the experiences of white women, meant to represent the norm of the modern, forward-looking and flexible female gender identity. (p. 167) It is worth recalling Stoler’s (1995) depiction of the complex discursive mechanisms at work in colonial/imperial subjectivities, where “a hierarchy of distinctions in perception and practice...
conflated, substituted, and collapsed the categories of racial, class and sexual Others strategically and at different times” (p. 11). In jostling for universal subject status, Western white (proto-) feminists would have availed themselves of all discursive means at their disposal, including a temporalizing logic whereby the West (by extension, Western women) constructs itself as the universal subject of history, advanced in relation to tradition-bound, stagnant Others (Fabian, 1983). As Yeğenoğlu (1998) writes, “Enlightenment thought has also supplied Western liberal feminism with a whole battery of discursive strategies to know and understand its ethnographic other, and thus to secure the integrity of its own identity vis-à-vis its dark and uncanny double” (p. 97). Because the universalizing gesture becomes available to Western women in the moment of colonial modernity, Yeğenoğlu (1998) and others see Western feminism as colonial at its root.30 Over a decade earlier, Gayatri Spivak (1985) coined the term “worlding” to describe the imperialist machinations of British literary criticism, which promoted “the emergence of the ‘Third World’ as a signifier” with “distant cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered, interpreted, and curricularized in English translation” (p.
243). Scholars read her work as describing “how [worlding] occurs through the whole of the colonial apparatus” (Martin, 1986, p. 93). For Grewal (1996), the concept provides a useful way to conceive of the broader discursive operations whereby Western women in particular and Westerners in general are constituted as modern subjects in relation to “Others”: “By this term [Spivak] means the ignored and imperial use of colonized people for the formation of the Western subject” (p. 64).31 Worlding is thus the process of “re-inscribing” the colonial peripheries in relation to a centre, and necessarily entails “the European subject’s differentiation from colonized subjects” in the Age of Imperialism (Saldaña-Portillo, 2003, p. 64). The concepts of worlding and Othering together provide powerful conceptual tools for understanding colonial designs “to naturalize and legitimate Western dominance” over time (Graves, 2010, para. 1).32 María Saldaña-Portillo (2003) elaborates on how Spivak weds the concept of worlding to the civilizing/missionary impulse of colonial ventures: the “messianic colonizer” is duty-bound to bring colonized Others “into the family of (Christian) humanity” (p. 64). However, once these Others are “placed outside humanity in the realm of ‘nature,’” Saldaña-Portillo (2003) notes, they “‘may be used merely as means’ toward the greater project—toward the end of making (Western) man and his world/empire” (p. 65). This analysis complements the ideas of scholars such as Richard Dyer (1997) (see below) who explore how imperialism is entwined with notions of Christianity, race and capitalism: spiritually-endowed white people were/are seen as uniquely positioned to ensure the proper civilizational development of themselves and Others.
Spivak (1985), however, presents a gender-specific analysis of imperial subjectivity, breaking down the imperative of female subject “interpellation”—that is, the formation of feminists as individuals/individualists via imperialism—into two parts. Given the importance of this
theoretical concept to my study, I quote Spivak (1985) at length:
What is at stake, for feminist individualism in the age of imperialism, is precisely the making of human beings, the constitution and “interpellation” of the subject not only as individual but as “individualist.” This stake is represented on two registers: childbearing and soul-making. The first is domestic-society-through-sexual-reproduction cathected as “compassionate love”; the second is the imperialist project cathected as civil-societythrough-social mission. As the female individualist, not-quite/not-male, articulates herself in shifting relationship to what is at stake, the “native female” as such (within discourse as a signifier) is excluded from any share of this emerging norm. (pp. 244– 245, emphasis in original)33 Spivak’s “not-quite/not-male” female individualist subject is the doubly positioned white settler/imperialist subject discussed above, a subject who is charged with the reproduction of the race in both literal and figurative terms. The role of civilizing the Other becomes her preserve, as the “native female” is considered devoid of subjectivity/selfhood and agency.34 The latter becomes a vehicle for constituting the imperial/modern subjectivity of English middle- to upper class white women, including and perhaps especially feminists, who are in turn defined largely in terms of their specifically gendered role as “helpers” of these more oppressed women (Grewal, 1996, p. 73). The Western female/feminist subject, then, is consolidated in large part through the feminized act of civilizing Others.35 What has become of this apparently deeply entrenched dynamic? To what extent do white settler women in the contemporary solidarity encounter engage in helping behaviour? Can we detect links between such behaviour and an even deeper desire to retain the status of modern liberal subject? In other words, (how) are white settler women/feminists in solidarity work engaged in self-serving or self-making pursuits? Before considering the usefulness of Ahmed’s notion of proximity for taking up such questions, I look a bit more closely at the paradoxical positioning of white settler women in Canada.
Euro-Canadian Settler Women and Canadian Nation Building
As many scholars have discussed, white settler women in the Canadian context were also simultaneously and paradoxically positioned as both colonizers and colonized (Carter, Erickson, Roome, & Smith, 2005; Erickson, 2005; Pickles & Rutherdale, 2005; Roome, 2005). Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale (2005) invoke Pratt’s “contact zone” (2008) to highlight the complexity of roles and interactions between Indigenous women and white women in this
Women’s raced and classed bodies were a vital “contact zone” in the Canadian colonial past. During colonization, women and bodies mattered and were bound up in creating and perpetuating an often hidden, complex, contradictory, and fraught history. Women occupied the spaces of colonial encounter between Aboriginals and newcomers as both colonizers and colonized, transgressing restrictive boundaries and making history. (p. 1) Power relations among women in this milieu were complex. For example, take the fact that white Anglican missionary women in British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century relied heavily on Indigenous women for survival even as the former sought to impose “civilizing” modes of dress and comportment on the latter (Rutherdale, 2005). Additionally, some women came to occupy transgressive positions of “betweenness,” having flouted aspects of the gendered, classed and racialized discourses and attendant subject positions to which they were subjected (Pickles & Rutherdale, 2005). Like their counterparts elsewhere, however, middle- to upper class white women played a central role in securing the bourgeois project of empire. Moreover, most of the relatively few studies to date on interactions between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women in colonial Canada focus on the west.36 In what follows, I review aspects of the literature most salient to this study.
National castings: white settler women and Indigenous female Others As elsewhere, white settler women in Canada were to be the “mothers of the race” (Valverde, 1992). Scholars such as Patricia Roome (2005) note an important strategy of British Empire building—the displacement of Aboriginal women “on the Canadian frontier” with white women (p. 49). In her study of mid- to late nineteenth-century colonial British Columbia, Adele Perry (2001) notes an elite turn to “the well-worn imperial panacea of white womanhood” (p. 139) to manage the issue of a “racially diverse resource frontier” (p. 166) where whites were
White women... would, colonial discourse promised, encourage white men to conform to normative standards of whiteness and masculinity, meet the needs of the local labour market for servants, and help resolve demographic distortion in Britain, and compel white men to reject mixed-race relationships and in doing so, help save British Columbia from imminent moral peril and imperial disgrace. (p. 165) As if lifted from the “feminist individualism in the age of imperialism” playbook, white women’s roles were to accord to the dual mandates of childbearing and soul-making (Spivak, 1985). It is no wonder local elites found most of the young, primarily working-class women arriving aboard the “brideships” of 1862–1863 (part of the government-backed “white female assisted immigration project”) wanting in their imperial duties (Perry, 2001).
As several scholars have noted, racial tensions became more marked with the influx of white settler women—and after two major rebellions by Indigenous populations, the 1869–1870 Red River Rebellion and the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. Thobani (2007) sums up what followed increasing white settlement: “The boundaries of the nation became ideologically delineated most strongly in relation to Native women” (p. 84). Anti-Indigenous rhetoric was ratcheted up and most fiercely directed against Indigenous women, who came to be perceived as “dissolute, dangerous and sinister” (Roome, 2005, p. 49).
Captivity narratives emanating from Canada’s Prairies from the mid-1800s to the early 1920s became part of this ideological arsenal. Such narratives circulated throughout the British Empire and varied across time and place, but generally depicted white settlers (particularly white women) as the innocent victims of Indigenous (male) aggression (Carter, 1997; Simpson, 2009).
Whereas white women were cast as the moral and cultural custodians of the new nation who were responsible for reproducing the white race, Indigenous women were deemed the dangerous menaces or immoral agents of destruction who instigated violence in their men. These narratives, replete with stereotypes about Indigenous women in particular, sustained the material conditions of empire. Reflecting British imperial discourses more broadly, they contained distinctive representations of “whiteness” and Indigeneity that served to spatially and socially segregate Indigenous peoples and settlers (Carter, 1997).37 As Carter insists (1997), despite their often exaggerated or outright false nature, captivity narratives depicting white women’s piety and virtue under siege “became a pretext for suppressing and controlling the Indigenous populations” (p. 15) and for erecting boundaries between peoples in the name of Canada’s nation-building project, particularly after the Métis (and Cree) uprising in 1885.38 According to Renisa Mawani (2002), narratives of the Indigenous woman as immoral and dangerous prostitute circulated from the mid-nineteenth century onward to consolidate the economic and geographic boundaries of whiteness in British Columbia, providing a pretext for the ramped up social and spatial separation of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations therein: “By defining all Native women as prostitutes, authorities ensured that white men could continue to access the bodies of Indigenous women while ensuring that these women and their children could never make ‘legitimate’ claims to Euro-Canadian property, identity, and privilege” (pp.