«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
The existing literature can be put into at least three overlapping categories: the issue or topic addressed; a focus on strategies/tactics; and the approach (empirical or theoretical). Many of the empirical studies pertain to specific case studies, for example, on the Coalition for a Public Inquiry into Ipperwash (Davis, O’Donnell, & Shpuniarsky, 2007) or Indigenous/non-Indigenous peace-building initiatives (Wallace, 2014). Others discuss alliances with specific Indigenous communities such as the Lubicon First Nation (Funk-Unrau, 2005; Long, 1997), or in relation to fishing and/or environmental struggles (Davis, 2009; Lipsitz, 2008), a trend somewhat repeated in the collection.38 There is also a growing scholarship on reconciliation since the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on “Indian Residential Schools” (IRS) and the Harper Government’s apology to IRS survivors, both in 2008 (Castellano, 2011; Henderson & Wakeham, 2013; Regan, 2010; Rogers, DeGagné, Dewar, & Lowry, 2012). However, there is little material in the Davis collection or elsewhere that explicitly focuses on Indigenous/nonIndigenous women/feminist solidarity, or on intersubjectivity or subject-making processes.
Nonetheless, there are several sources that inform my study. Adam Barker’s (2010) contribution to Alliances,39 for example, although lacking a gender analysis, cites several barriers to solidarity, two of which are potentially relevant for my purposes: a dictatorial tendency in allies to control and define alliance efforts; and guilt arising out of egocentricity often combined with an aversion to personal sacrifice.40 He proposes “radical experimentation” as a conceptual guideline for allies to apply in their efforts to decolonize and become better allies.41 Although employing different terminology, Barker is ultimately concerned with intersubjective relations.
However, his is not an empirical study, but rather a reflection based on personal experiences.
Paulette Regan (2010) also draws on her lived experience, as a former IRS claims manager, to consider the “pedagogical potential of truth-telling and reconciliation processes” (p. 11).
Sharing Alfred’s critique of hegemonic reconciliation discourse, she seeks to reframe “reconciliation as a decolonizing place of encounter between settlers and Indigenous peoples” (p. 12) where settlers would be induced to “unsettle” their internal settler selves, that is, to “deconstruct the foundational myth of the benevolent peacemaker—the bedrock of settler identity” (p.11). However, Regan’s starting point is different from my own—she seeks to develop “decolonizing pedagogical strategies” that would transform “colonizers” into “allies,” whereas I start with people already disposed to being/becoming allies. Also, she does not sufficiently explore the limits of critical reflection, as I attempt to do in Chapters 2 and 7.
Transformation is also a central theme in Davis and Heather Yanique Shpuniarsky’s (2010) work. They distill their findings from the Alliances Project42 into a list of guiding principles for effective Indigenous/non-Indigenous alliances, their target audience being primarily nonIndigenous allies: respect Indigenous self-determination, i.e., avoid paternalistic behaviours and centre Indigenous agendas; foster respect and trust; establish ongoing, long-term relationships;
and be open to learning and transformation. They describe coalitions as sites of pain: “As Indigenous people struggle to confront the pain of colonization in its many forms, nonIndigenous peoples struggle to look inward at their own roles within colonialization, and confront themselves” (p. 343). Similarly to Regan, however, Davis and Shpuniarsky (2010) stop short of interrogating the limits and pitfalls of self-reflexive settler subjectivity. They also risk reproducing the traumatized Indigenous subject in need of assistance (Million, 2013).
In a short article on the same topic, Harsha Walia (2012) rehearses a somewhat distinct list of basic principles related to solidarity and decolonization. She too calls on non-Indigenous people to take Indigenous leadership, build long-term relationships, establish good communication, and grapple with “the complicated ways, often as simultaneously oppressed and complicit,” in which they are located in relation to colonialization (p. 30). She also appeals for “cultivating an ethics of responsibility within the Indigenous solidarity movement [that] begins with non-natives understanding ourselves to be beneficiaries of the illegal settlement of Indigenous peoples’ land and unjust appropriation of Indigenous peoples’ resources and jurisdiction” (p. 28).
Additionally, however, Walia cautions against the paralysis of guilt that can ensue “when faced with this truth” (p. 28), touching upon how white/settler privilege is often upheld through selfreflexivity (Smith, 2013a). Non-Indigenous allies must recognize “the line between being too interventionist and being paralyzed” (p. 28), or what Audrey Huntley and I discuss as striking a balance between “assuming responsibility for a decolonizing solidarity... and the potential reinstatement of settler ally dominance” (D’Arcangelis & Huntley, 2012, p. 56). My research builds on Walia’s (2012) very useful macro account of how colonialism and solidarity operate.
Andrea Smith’s Native Americans and the Christian Right (2008a) straddles the literature on alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and that of alliances more generally.
Also calling for a re-conceptualization of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations, Smith (2008a) showcases examples of activism in a terrain largely unexplored by mainstream social movement theory: organizing efforts in and between Native American and Christian Right communities.
She does this to elucidate the complexities of alliance building and to generate a “prolineal genealogy” (p. xxvii) of coalition building and Native American studies. She characterizes her work as one that “assesses the possibilities of building alliances for the goal of political liberation ‘without guarantees’” (p. xxii). Smith (2008a) highlights strategies employed often out of necessity by Native people, and Native women in particular, to forge “unlikely alliances,” a point that resonates with the findings of this study. Among the most important strategies for Indigenous activists is a politics of rearticulation—“the process of transforming political allegiances to build movements for social change” (p. xvi)—wherein issues are reframed in a way that make alliances more attractive. Above all, Smith calls for a “shift in the way we think about coalition building in general” (p. xii) so as not to foreclose “new possibilities for political organizing that do not depend on uncritically held assumptions about what constitutes progressive politics and who is able to participate in them” (p. xii). I build on Smith’s (2008a) work, but rather than focus on the tactics and strategies of alliance building, I look more deeply into the subject formation processes therein.
The intersections of Indigenous/feminist postcolonial and critical whiteness studies Lastly, I locate my study at the intersection of Indigenous/feminist postcolonial studies and critical whiteness studies. An important postulation for my research emerges at this juncture: the idea that white supremacy and colonialism/imperialism are mutually constitutive (see Chapter 3). Even so, as Barbara Heron (2007) contends, “there has been little attention paid by postcolonial studies to issues of whiteness, and vice versa” (p. 9), although this is changing with the establishment of settler colonial studies, which included the founding of a journal in 2011 with the same name (Edmonds & Carey, 2013). That said, feminist researchers have long produced scholarship that recognizes the impact of the colonial/imperial genesis of Western (white) feminism on different social issues (Razack, 2008; Thobani, 2007). For example, Sheryl Nestel (2006) argues that the movement to legalize midwifery in Ontario, “like many feminist projects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, [has occupied] a ‘historically imperial location’...
deriving material and discursive benefits from an engagement with Third World women” (p. 7).
Still, few empirical studies take up whiteness and colonialism/imperialism in relation to solidarity, a notable exception being Heron’s (1999, 2007) work on the subjectivities of Canadian women development workers in Africa. In researching how these women “negotiate and understand [their] positions in relations of power in developing countries,” Heron (1999) identifies the pervasive operation of a “helping imperative” replete with what she calls “colonial continuities” (pp. 41–42). In fact, as I later explain, her main research question bears a striking resemblance to my own.
Emma Kowal (2011) also interrogates whiteness, solidarity and colonialism, but in the Australian context, in her ethnographic study of white anti-racist subjectivities. She argues that “progressive White anti-racists” working with remote Indigenous populations mobilize various discursive techniques to transcend the “stigma of white privilege”—a “voluntary” stigma felt only by “White people who accept responsibility for the effects of colonization on Indigenous people” (p. 320). In their desire to avoid being cast as “missionary, mercenary or misfit,” white anti-racists most often attempt to minimize their agency (e.g., describing themselves as “merely” or “just” behind-the-scenes helpers). The ultimate fantasy of white anti-racists, according to Kowal, is to invert power relations, that is, “to divest themselves of power altogether (if only discursively)” (p. 325) by casting themselves as children who stand to learn from the “experts”—Indigenous people. Like Kowal (2011), I am concerned with white settler women subjects who “readily acknowledge their privilege” (p. 6); and I build on her research by applying it to the Canadian context and by considering the gendered aspects of white stigma.
As I suggest above, Moreton-Robinson’s (2000, 2006, 2008) work stands firmly at the crossroads of whiteness studies, feminist postcolonial studies and Indigenous studies, and is highly relevant to my study. In Talkin up to the white woman (2000), she explores whiteness as a colonial instrument in contemporary relations between white feminists and Indigenous women/feminists in Australia. She exposes how the privilege of white feminist academics hinges on the structural invisibility of whiteness, which in turn allows them to remain unaware of their dominant positionality and complicity in racist, colonial processes. Through an extensive review of feminist texts coupled with in-depth interviews of both white feminist academics and Indigenous women/feminists, Moreton-Robinson (2000) concludes that the former “perceive themselves as autonomous independent individuals, whose anti-racist practice is orchestrated through an intellectual engagement based on objective rational thinking and behaviour” (p. 147). In other words, white feminist academic engagement with race/racism too often precludes the recognition of their embodied, lived experiences of white privilege. I draw extensively on Moreton-Robinson’s work in my own in an attempt to elucidate some of the ways in which white colonial subjectivity operates in the solidarity encounter in Canada.
Mapping Intersubjective Dynamics in the Solidarity Encounter
This study continues to tackle the profound question raised by Davis (2010b) and others: How can non-Indigenous people “work in solidarity with Indigenous peoples without replicating the continuing colonial relations that characterize the broader frame of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships in Canada today” (p. 2)? The inspiration for my particular focus comes mainly from three places. First, the critical assessments by Indigenous women of their encounters with white women and whitestream feminism signal the importance of looking more closely at the gendered and racialized aspects of solidarity relations—especially in light of the shortage of empirical studies on the topic. Second, there is merit in honing in on quotidian social practices, whose role in solidifying hierarchal relations between subjects is highlighted by Sunera Thobani (2007), who argues that the white supremacy of Canadian nation building “had to be constantly defended and reproduced at the level of daily life” (p. 83). Thobani implies the centrality of intersubjective relations for any political project, which brings me to Stewart-Harawira’s (2007) more explicit statement: “The most fundamental principle in the search for a new political ontology for being together in the world is the relationship between the ‘self’ and ‘other’” (p.
134). Third, my activist experiences have convinced me that improved practices of solidarity would follow from a more nuanced understanding of Indigenous/non-Indigenous social relations. Influenced by these critiques, visions and experiences, I chose to study the micro interactions of what I call the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women/feminists and white women/feminists in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In more theoretical terms, I sought to explore the unfolding of intersubjective relations at a specific site of colonial encounter.
Reflecting on the above literature and my own experiences, I came to the research with a broad question: How do white women/feminists grapple with our dominant structural positionality in the solidarity encounter, that is, in the context of ongoing colonial relations? From there, two lines of inquiry formed the backbone of my analysis. The first sought to illuminate the tensions in and challenges of the solidarity encounter. I was compelled (by Indigenous women’s/feminist literature in particular) to consider what had become of the colonial roots of Western feminism.