«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
These groupings reflect the main ways in which I understand participants to be describing their desires or others’ desires involving proximity. Notably, the separation of groupings is artificial in that they are often mutually constitutive. For example, the desire to be included in an Indigenous community could be linked with a desire to gain a sense of purpose in one’s life. Likewise, an attraction to Indigenous culture, tradition or spirituality is often linked to a desire for acceptance. I do not speculate on the particular connections between the desires of any one participant (with the exception of myself), but hope that participant narratives speak for themselves in this regard.
The desire for acceptance was not necessarily an initial motivator for those white women who expressed such a desire; but rather, it became operative for them at some point once working in solidarity. However, the desire for acceptance often came up in both implicit and explicit ways in participant responses to any number of questions.
S. Razack, personal communication, April 2013.
The theme of respect for women surfaces in a number of participant narratives—Indigenous and white. Teresa (an Indigenous participant), for example, argues that non-Indigenous women have been drawn to solidarity work with Indigenous groups precisely due to a desire to achieve respect for women, “I think people who want to join in solidarity are also attempting to fill the gaps in their own community. There’s a gap in respect of women, and so they wanted to join our communities somewhat in order to learn how to fill that gap with respect.” I was admonished a number of times by Lee about the dangers of imputing meaning to someone’s behaviour or words outside of the words one has been given by that person. In agreement with Lee’s interpretation of such moves as invasive, I have tried to raise questions rather than provide definitive answers.
Extranjera is Spanish for female foreigner.
I do not mean to suggest that same sex desire is not operative in the solidarity encounter. In fact, one white participant discussed her attraction to an Indigenous woman with whom she was working in solidarity.
I am paraphrasing from a public presentation Wilson gave at Ryerson University in 2012. Wilson (2008) is perhaps best known in the academy for his explorations of research as a sacred endeavor, hence his point that research is scared, i.e., that scholars must enter into ethical/accountable relationships with ideas.
This seeming inconsistency is addressed by Ahmed (2000) in reference to producing an anthropological text:
“But what of the possibility of the stranger, who is the object of knowledge and recognition, coming to know?...
If the stranger is admitted as possibly knowing differently, then the document and the ‘who’ would lose the easy identification that allows the stranger to be figurable as the ‘what’” (pp. 73–74). She suggests why the Other must remain unknowing, even, for example, in exchanges where that Other is nominally seen in an instructive capacity.
See my discussion in Chapter 6 of discourses of exceptionalism for a more detailed assessment of the subjectmaking aspects of these (unilateral, self-ascribed) and other types of declarations.
S. Razack, personal communication, May 2014.
Chapter 5Romanticization, Resistance and National Subjects In this chapter, I discuss a particular manifestation of the white desire/pursuit of proximity to Indigenous women: the romanticization and possible appropriation of Indigeneity in the interests of white settler self-making. To do so, I trace participant constructions of Western and Indigenous cultural “difference.” While a minority discourse in white participant narratives, a nostalgic, romanticized admiration for Indigenous values/cultures can all too easily slip into an invasive, appropriative mode. This slippage, I argue, is akin to the self-making dynamic of “going strange/going native” (Ahmed, 2000), which works to consolidate the white settler’s sense of legitimacy as national subject at both the individual and collective levels. The liberal subject’s capacity to “know” the Other and “master” difference is reinforced. My analysis highlights the striking role of white settler critiques of “Western lack” in this discursive move.
In the second half of the chapter, I identify a complication in the dynamic: the tendency of some Indigenous women to also idealize Indigeneity (and to vilify so-called Western values), although for a distinct purpose, i.e., to further the political aspirations of Indigenous peoples. I explain this convergence as partly a consequence of the colonial encounter; Indigenous women (and men) are pressured to meet “the white need for certainty about Indian difference” (Lawrence, 2003, p. 23), i.e., to demonstrate their “authenticity” in order to advance their collective political aspirations. However, the risk of reproducing essentialized or romanticized notions of Indigenous cultural difference is great, and the unintended consequences many, including the facilitation of collective white settler subjectivity that thrives on the romanticization of Indigenous peoples. Here I am reminded of Razack’s (1998) work on storytelling and our responsibility as differently positioned subjects to “pay attention to the interpretive structures that underpin how we hear and how we take up the stories of oppressed groups” (p. 37). In that vein, I draw on LaRocque (2010) and Lawrence (2003) to read the discursive moves of Indigenous participants as part of a broader pattern of resistance to ongoing colonialism. I end with a question for consideration in the concluding chapter: Given the colonial discursive parameters and tightly scripted roles that circumscribe all participant subjectivities (although with uneven benefits), what steps can be taken to mitigate this particular manifestation of white settler/liberal subjectivity?
Interestingly, I was able to detect a convergence between Indigenous and white participant discourses (shared references to Western social dysfunction and Indigenous social cohesion) only after noting the divergence in Indigenous and white respective modalities of political activism/solidarity (see Chapter 4). To restate here, white women tend to position themselves as individuals (as opposed to members of a settler collectivity) who choose to engage in the solidarity encounter. Their narratives indicate, however, that a desire for proximity fuels this decision: they are in part drawn to solidarity work in order to pursue the status of selfdetermining, legitimate (white settler woman) subject. As I take up in this chapter, Indigenous women are more apt to present themselves as members of an oppressed collectivity compelled by their positionality to take up political struggle. Accordingly, Indigenous participant narratives generally do not indicate the same desire for proximity that suffuses white participant narratives.
To reiterate, despite their divergent takes on political subjectivity, participants from both groups access similar discourses about Indigenous–Western (non-Indigenous) difference: signified as cooperative, non-hierarchical and embracing sustainability, Indigeneity is favourably contrasted with “Western” competitiveness, hierarchy and unsustainable consumerist practices. Discursive convergences such as these attest to how differently positioned subjects (in the solidarity encounter and beyond) make meaning within the same discursive field of settler colonialism. At the same time, taking into account that “our different subject positions [are] borne out in how we know, tell, and hear stories” (Razack, 1998, p. 51), I note potentially significant dissimilarities in the meaning and deployment of these discourses by white and Indigenous participants respectively. For instance, white participant narratives place equal emphasis on critiquing “Western” cultural values and praising “Indigenous” ones, whereas Indigenous women’s narratives feature appraisals of Indigenous values as superior. Does this difference in emphasis reflect a distinction between Indigenous and settler political interests, with the former steeped in resistance and the latter in hegemony? Do seemingly similar invocations of Western lack and Indigenous difference have the paradoxical effect of bolstering both Indigenous and white settler nation-building processes? While exceeding the scope of this study, I raise such questions as possible avenues for more research. In this chapter, I attend to the observations that brought me to such questions, chief among them the persistence in both Indigenous and white participant narratives of a framework of cultural (and not necessarily power) difference for understanding Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in the solidarity encounter (and beyond).
Revisiting the Colonial Logic of Western Subjectivity
Let us return to Peggy’s frank admission in Chapter 4 of her own settler desire to “belong here on this continent.” Her acknowledgement recalls a central aspect of the logic of settler colonial subjectivity described by Morgensen (2011), the need of “settlers [to] both supplant and incorporate indigeneity to attain settler subjectivity” (p. 17). While Morgensen writes about the US context, contributors to Audrey Kobayashi, Laura Cameron and Andrew Baldwin’s (2011a) Rethinking the Great White North hint at a parallel logic in Canada. Bruce Erickson (2011) traces Archibald Belaney’s (a.k.a.
Grey Owl) performances of Indigeneity (which is assumed to be permanently on the brink of disappearance) to discuss the historical production of Canadian wilderness via “Indian surrogacy,” thereby providing a prime example of how white subjects “supplant and incorporate indigeneity” in the production of Canadian settler subjectivity:
In this case, it is possible to see the loss and surrogacy as mutually constitutive; white North American subjects acted in place of the disappearing Indian (both symbolically and geographically, as Aboriginal people were moved onto reserve land) and helped legitimize that disappearance. The act of surrogacy acknowledges the wounds of loss with the hope of establishing something that can replace the item that was lost. (p. 27) For Razack (2011), Erickson’s case study suggests that “playing primitive... is an integral part of modern identity; settlers must take the place of the Indian, however fantastic a story or violent a dispossession this requires” (p. 270). In the same volume, Richard Milligan and Tyler McCreary (2011) argue “that Canadian identity relies on the abjection of Aboriginal others to construct settler entitlement to the land” (p. 280 note 1), which reminds us as does Razack of the subordinate status visited upon the Indigenous Other when white subjects “play primitive.” In her expose of modern Western subjectivity, Bergland (2000) illuminates settler colonial logic more fully in explaining how the desire for national belonging works through a desire for proximity as conceptualized by Ahmed (2000)—replete with fantasies of becoming, overcoming and transformation. Although her analysis is site-specific (like Morgensen, she focuses on the US), Bergland (2000) situates American subjectivity in a broad theoretical frame that would apply to Canada. She defines modern Western subjectivity with its characteristic assertion of
autonomy as a historically specific concept emerging out of the Enlightenment:
When people began to define themselves as subjects, they embraced both their own individuality and their status as representatives of all humanity. At this specific historical moment, each subject internalized both the human collective and the [historically contingent] transcendent laws that govern the human collective. As subjects, individuals see themselves both as the ones who know the law, and also as the ones who are accountable to the law. Therefore, as Balibar explains, each subject “performs his own subjection.” The great political freedom of the late eighteenth century is the freedom for each subject to rule over him or herself; that is, to internalize his or her own subjection.
Balibar characterizes this as “a new degree of interiorization, or, if you like, repression.”... The enlightened subject, then, is a self that rules itself. Further, it is a self that must constantly deny its own submissive subjectivity in order to assert its authoritative subjectivity. (Bergland, 2000, pp. 9–10) Bergland (2000) goes on to discuss this as “haunted rationalism”— a subject’s internalization of the political (national identity) and the spectral (collective ghosts)—which she argues is particular to modern Western subjectivity. What is the internalization of the political? “Freed” from subjection to the monarch, the Enlightenment subject becomes its own authority or establishes self-ownership, which becomes experienced as (an illusory) autonomy. To maintain the illusion of freedom and universal status through autonomy—as Yeğenoğlu (1998) notes, “It is the assumption of autonomy which gives the subject a universal status” (p. 5)—the subject must repress knowledge of the paradoxical move towards self-ownership. Because attempts at repression are by definition unsuccessful, the modern subject is forever haunted by feelings of subjection or powerlessness.
Bergland (2000) tethers modern Western subjectivity in the Americas to a “colonial geography,” thereby incorporating haunted rationalism’s other component—the internalization of the spectral—into her analysis. She theorizes that Euro-Americans must “become” Native American (through consuming the Other in Ahmed’s terms, or eating the Other in hooks’ terms) in order to justify their residency on Native land (i.e., the appropriation of land, resources and cultures in nation-state building processes). By noting the omnipresence of the “discursive technique of removal” in much American literature (i.e., the representation of Native Americans as ghosts), she argues that haunted rationalism is at work in the formation of modern American subjectivity when non-Native US citizens consign the Other (Native Americans) to the “imagination spaces” of their Euro-American psyches: “As Indians are made to vanish into the psychic spaces of the American citizen, the psychic space within each citizen is itself transformed into American territory, and each citizen comes to contain an America, to be homo Americanus” (p. 5).