«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
(Ghostly) Native Americans—as part of non-Native American citizen subjectivity—are now subject to non-Native (self) rule. And, non-Native Americans “become” Native. However, as Bergland (2000) notes, “The Indians who are transformed into ghosts cannot be buried or evaded, and the spectre of their forced disappearance haunts the American nation and the American imagination” (p. 5). In other words, settler subjectivity rests rather shakily on a sense of precariousness. In my study, I point to some of the moments in which white participants appear to wrestle with their precarious role as settlers and hence settler allies.
For Bergland (2000), the discursive removal of Native Americans corresponds to their material dispossession and an appropriation of Indigenous cultures broadly defined. Writing about settler subject-making processes in Canada, Erickson (2011) also tethers settler internalization of
Native “ghosts” to the material dispossession of Native peoples, “justified” by the perceived-asinevitable advance of capitalism and disappearance of Native peoples:
The inevitable disappearance [of Canadian wilderness and hence Native peoples] is heralded by modern capitalism, and the phantasy in white in a dead world—the creatures of wilderness and the night—were ghosts created by the advance of capitalism. Grey Owl’s literature invites his audience to ingest those ghosts and adopt them as their own, and thus begin to feel better about the changing nature of the world around them (along with their role in benefitting from that change). (pp. 26–27) The result, as Morgensen (2011) puts it, is that “Native disappearance haunts settler subjectivity and illuminates all cultures and politics in a settler society” (p. 22). In short, modern EuroAmerican subjectivity, with a colonizing move at the core, is driven by (and drives) the materiality of the colonial project through/in discourse.
Given participant passages such as Peggy’s that suggest a widespread (white) settler desire to live “legitimately, ethically, fully” on Indigenous lands, my analysis of the various manifestations of proximity discourse assumes the relevance of haunted rationalism for understanding white settler Canadian subject formation. In this way, I explore an aspect of the impulse to solidarity likely not unique to activist settings, but shared by non-Native people regardless of political affiliation—what Razack (2011) refers to as “the compulsion to perform the colonial fantasy” (p. 266). This compulsion “suggests that the settler’s crisis of identity is an ongoing one, born of the psychic and material need to emplace himself. Where the land is stolen, when entitlement to it must be performed over and over again in anxious repression of those indigenous to it, emplacement is the most urgent of tasks” (p. 266). In other words, I pursue the idea that (white) settler Canadians attempt to satisfy (however partially and temporarily) their desire for “emplacement” through mobilizing the colonial relation that Bergland (2000) and others argue is at the core of modern Western subjectivity in the Americas (and perhaps beyond).
Before proceeding, I want to reiterate an important aspect of the colonial relation: the internalized Other does not gain equal footing upon being internalized. As Colin Calloway (2008), LaRocque (2010) and others1 have assiduously pointed out, prevailing ideas about socalled civilized and uncivilized/savage peoples both facilitated and were facilitated by this transposition of modern subjectivity into the colonizer/colonized binary: “they” were uncivilized and thus deserved to be colonized by “us.” As Ahmed (2000) suggests in her discussion of the discursive effects/limits of “becoming the Other,” as Euro-Americans we retain a (troubled) sense of superiority vis-à-vis “our” internalized Native American Others—the “deep level of white supremacist thinking” noted by Indigenous participant Ryah (see Chapter 4). Assertions of Native heritage aside, Chloe displays such thinking when positioning herself “a little ahead of [Native women] in progression, in the good things of life.” It is worth considering if Chloe retains a belief in, as Ryah puts it, “notions of progress, this evolution within a Western lens, that whole myth that colonization was inevitable because Indigenous people were just huntergatherer primitive groups and Europeans had evolved further along, [that] Indigenous people’s lives were ‘nasty, brutish and short’ [and that colonization] was an evolution of humanity.” In using this famous phrase from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Ryah effectively captures the nonsensical, hierarchical thinking and superiority complex that defines colonial subjectivity and justifies settler emplacement. To what extent are such patterns identifiable in white participant narratives? What might deep appropriation and reproduction of hierarchal relations of the sort theorized by Bergland (2000) and Morgensen (2011) look like in the Canadian context? How might one describe in a more precise way some of the intersubjective paths to Canadian national belonging that are available to (white) settlers? For Morgensen (2011), it boils down to
processes of (white) settler colonial naturalization:
Settler colonialism is naturalized whenever conquest or displacement of Native peoples is ignored or appears as necessary or complete, and whenever subjects are defined by settler desires to possess Native land, history or culture. Settler colonialism must be denaturalized not only in social and political spaces, but also in definitions and experiences of subjectivity. (p. 16, emphasis added) Morgensen’s (2011) understanding of the naturalization of settler colonialism (and his call for its denaturalization in all realms including subjectivity) complements Ahmed’s (2000) theorising of the ways in which stranger fetishism works to conceal “histories of determination.” Viewed in this theoretical light, proximity discourses that manifest as “settler desires to possess Native land, history or culture” are clearly implicated in the naturalization (or “concealment” in Ahmed’s lexicon) of settler colonialism. In what follows, I look to those passages in white participant narratives that speak most directly to the central mechanisms of what Milligan and McCreary (2011) call “processes of national subjectification,” and what Bergland (2000) calls haunted rationalism: discursive removal and the appropriation of Indigenous identity.
Making up for Western Lack: Proximity, Appropriation and Nation Building in Canada According to several Indigenous participants, the white settler woman ally’s desire to “do good” (as personified by the emblematic “needy do-gooder”) manifests itself in many ways, including as an attraction to Indigenous culture or spirituality (e.g., for healing purposes) that can become appropriative, however unintentional. The corresponding discursive thread in white women’s narratives is often positively expressed as an appreciation for/identification with Indigenous culture, spirituality and/or values. This particular form of proximity discourse is strongly evident in a minority of white participant narratives (but implicit in more), and often incorporates a scathing critique of Western society and a sense of lack—a sense that something is missing in the non-Native/Western individual and/or collective. The appreciation of Native culture becomes appropriative, however, when it facilitates the settler subject’s sense of legitimacy/belonging.
To reemphasize a main point of this study, the making of white settler subjects is an ongoing, fraught endeavor by definition. The complexity of the process and ambivalence of white settler
subjectivity is apparent in Evelyn’s narrative:
See now, I’ve never been very national minded, but I do think that Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. I don’t really want to travel anywhere else. I’ve been a lot of places in Canada, going to different places when I was a kid. I just think that there’s such a wealth here that we’ve lost. I mean, our government is completely destroying our country, completely dismantling it. I might have been blind to things as a child and a teenager, but now I’m more aware. It’s probably been happening all that time, but it’s on a massive scale. I’d like to stop it.
Evelyn is simultaneously critical and proud of Canada as “one of the greatest countries of the world.” When the passage is read in context, we understand that Evelyn is largely referring to a more sustainable environmental ethos linked to Indigeneity when she mentions the “wealth here that we’ve lost.” Other white participants express a similar ambivalence when asked if and how
solidarity work has affected their attitude toward Canada or being Canadian:
I think growing up you hear this, I would say, very one-sided view of Canada, not that Canada isn’t a great place to live. You hear from newcomers too, you know, it’s peaceful, you don’t have to worry, we’re very privileged to grow up here, to live here.
I’m always aware of that, but at the same time, there is a population at whose expense we’re having this great upbringing and this very privileged life. So, my view has kind of changed from being, from when I was younger seeing Canada in a completely positive light, and you’re instilled with the national anthem and all those patriotic things, I think, that I’m right now—I’m obviously very thankful to live here because I can’t really think of anywhere else that I would have the life that I do, but at the same time acknowledging that there are problems. This country isn’t perfect; there’s a lot of things that need to be improved and that it’s ok to be critical of it. That’s necessary if we’re ever going to improve things... if we improve things for Indigenous populations or whichever populations at whose expense we’re benefiting, it will be better for everyone. (Darcie) Like Evelyn, Darcie vacillates between praise and critique in a no longer “one-sided view of Canada.” She even acknowledges that “we’re benefiting” at the expense of the “Indigenous population or whichever populations.” How can her contradictory embrace of Canada be explained? Are Evelyn and Darcie made uneasy—or forever “haunted” (Bergland, 2000)—by the knowledge that being (a good) Canadian rests on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples?
The colonial logic of invoking “lack”
I propose that these seemingly contradictory stances toward Canada by white settlers are broadly sustained by (and reflect) the colonial logic encapsulated in Bergland’s (2000) notion of haunted rationalism, and the attendant dynamics of becoming, transformation and transcendence discussed in Chapter 4. We can see this logic in operation when white participants set in motion a four-step discursive pattern with lack as its lynchpin: articulating a critique of Western society;
contrasting Western society with Native society; outlining the deficiencies of the former and the wisdom of the latter; and finally, adopting/appropriating Native identity or culture.
I suggest that, when they occur, discourses of lack are a distinctive component of the impulse to solidarity in white settler woman subjectivity. Invoking lack, for example, is not the usual discursive strategy deployed by Heron’s (2007) white/Northern women development workers.
They tend to reproduce their agentic selves “by erasing the agency of local peoples who are Othered in these processes, and by presenting ‘our’ (read white, middle-class Northern) knowledge, values, and ways of doing things as preferable and right, since the North, especially Canada, appears orderly, clean, and well-managed in comparison” (p. 3). In my study, however, a vocal minority of white participants state the exact opposite: rather than extol Canadian virtues, they excoriate certain beliefs and behaviours associated (by them and others) with the mainstream Canadian polity. My analysis converges with Heron’s (2007), however, in that both discourses serve the same goal: to re-centre the white/Western self as self-critical and thus moral.
Following Erickson (2011), I note the production of Native/non-Native hierarchical difference as a defining feature of this discursive pattern of lack. In his study of how the concept of wilderness works in “preserving the whiteness of the nation” (p. 22),2 Erickson (2011) explains that the notion of “absolute difference” is essential to colonial regimes in general and to (white)
settler impersonations of “Indians” in particular:
In the modern enactment of playing Indian, whether it be Grey Owl, the use of Indian names at summer camps... or in professional sport cultures... the surrogate Indian, rather than illustrating a common bond between cultures, works to provide a distinction between white and Native. (pp. 29–30) Erickson (2011) goes on to say, “Key to understanding the signifier ‘Indian’ in these cases was the difference it articulated between white and Indian, modern and primitive” (p. 30). In other words, in these discursive constructions of difference, the white settler enjoys a privileged modern standing, while the “Indian” is relegated to an inferior, primitive status, forever marked as “vanishing.”3 The following select passages from white participant narratives illustrate how such discursive patterns can unfold—often in a seemingly benign way.
Alicia is among the most sharply critical of white participants when it comes to identifying
what’s wrong with Western society:
I don’t think growing up in Western culture that [humility is] a value that’s really imparted. I think it’s the opposite: be the first to the finish line, be the first to put your hand up, be the first to get an A on everything. Compete, compete, compete for everything. Sell yourself. Say why you’re great.... That’s part of that capitalist competitiveness of white Western culture in Canada, I think. I learned from Aboriginal cultures and from elders to be quiet, to be humble, to listen... to be open to other ideas;
to not enforce your values [or] to shove your ideas down their throat. Do not insist on being right.