«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
6) Following such theories, it is certainly conceivable that white settler women allies stand to gain a sense of “indigenized emplacement” by critiquing through an “indigenized” lens.
There are historical precedents of juxtaposing “utopianized” Indigeneity (LaRocque, 2010) and Western dystopias, which suggests the effectiveness of invoking lack in settler colonial subjectmaking processes. LaRocque (2010) ties these juxtapositions back to the European primitivist tradition and its central figure, the noble savage, ushered in by key thinkers from the
Renaissance to the Romantic periods:
As a critic of European society, the culturally “raw” Indian was dichotomized from the Old World overgrown with conventions.... Berkhofer  points out that while there were variations in emphasis at different periods, European ideas regarding the noble savage remained largely the same. It was thought that human freedom was inherent in the raw state of nature. What was human-made was artificial and untrue, what was “unspoiled” and (thought to be) natural as found in earliest “primitive man” was inherently good. Finding such a world promised a new social order for Europeans. The European idea of the noble savage was abstract; it was meant as a tool for social criticism. The ennobling of the Indian was almost accidental, and Native peoples as human beings were largely inconsequential to European (and later White American) concerns. Intellectual idealization was one thing, understanding or acceptance of real Native life was quite another matter. (pp.
127-128) LaRocque (2010) reminds us that the white settler desire for proximity is more often a desire to be close to an imagined Native (see Francis, 1992).6 Similarly, in his study of the remarkable prestige garnered by Grey Owl in the eyes of the Canadian public,7 Erickson (2011) connects “the elevation of a primitive way of life” to the anti-modernist movement:
Anti-modernism8 developed in the face of the changing economic and social structures, including increased consumerism, immigration and racial diversification in urban environments, and the rationalization of the workforce. Nostalgically looking to the past, Indian masquerade imagines the possibilities of life for the white subject outside these constraints. (p. 27) Somewhat ironically, anti-modernism provided a platform upon which the modern liberal subject could stand. Bringing us full circle back to the contemporary moment, Willow (2009)9
charges mainstream environmentalists in particular with “recasting the noble Indian”:
If Western society is viewed as hopelessly corrupted by consumerist greed and competitive individuality, for instance, Native society becomes a symbol of contrasting tendencies, including ecological enlightenment and communal harmony. It is not surprising, then, that the environmental movement has played a central role in recasting the noble Indian in an ecological guise. Environmentalists, Kay Milton... suggests, want to believe in the existence of viable alternatives and paths to sustainability. (p. 39, emphasis in original) Identifying this genealogy of the discourse of Western lack allows a more critical view of white settler ally praise of Indigenous societies/cultures to surface; we become more aware of what that praise can accomplish—namely, the reproduction of colonial hierarchies. It allows us to scrutinize seemingly complimentary views of Indigenous values (preceded by the denigration of Western society) for traces of all that is entailed in the white desire for proximity to the Other.
As implied above, there is usually a degree of romanticism or “imperialist nostalgia” (Rosaldo,
1989) involved in the dynamics of white settler ally subjectivity that can abet the appropriation or internalization of Indigenous identity.10 Morgensen (2011) proposes that romanticism or nostalgia is tied to the settler desire to secure (Native) authenticity for themselves. He explains
the seemingly paradoxical yet essential role of nostalgia in settler subject-making processes:
In a settler society, then, the very demand upon settlers to replace Natives simultaneously incites white settler desires to be intimate with the Native authenticity that their modernity presumably replaces. Indigeneity’s civilizational replacement thus is complementary to the settler pursuit of primitivism. Impersonating indigeneity and believing in colonial modernity are noncontradictory acts, given that settlers preserve Native authenticity as a history they must possess in order to transcend. (p. 17) The settler desire for intimacy—i.e., proximity—is built into the logic of settler colonialism (see Chapter 3); the settler must get close to or intimate with (often a stereotypical, romanticized rendition of) Native peoples and cultures (“the settler pursuit of primitivism”) in order to replace and transcend those cultures (an exhibition of the subject’s belief in colonial modernity). Schick (1998) describes how imperialist nostalgia in the Canadian context permits a more subtle
manifestation of colonial hierarchies, one that is arguably found in the solidarity encounter:
Whereas the contemporary version of colonialism would disavow the overt desire for dominant/subordinate roles, rather, in the present day, the other is required for the production of nostalgic and salvific benefit to the [settler] subjects. Renato Rosaldo (1989) calls the [settler] subjects’ desire “imperialist nostalgia” in which they regret and mourn the passing of that which their culture has helped to destroy. In spite of the imperialist connections in which this nostalgia is rooted, subjects’ expressions of this desire are offered as something positive, as proof that subjects value and are conscious of those good things the indigenous other has to offer. (p. 185) Settler subjects can appear virtuous (and innocent) in their appreciation of Indigenous culture.
But, as I have shown, settler subject-making processes are nothing if not fraught—and many white participants struggle with their historic positionality. And, to be fair, the majority of white participant narratives do not conform neatly to the logic of imperialist nostalgia; they recognize and lament the devastating impact of ongoing colonialism on contemporary Indigenous communities and traditions, while also noting a resurgence in Indigenous cultural practices. In other words, their statements depart from the most clear cut form of imperialist nostalgia wherein the Indigenous Other is vanishing/has already vanished. However, it is worth considering the possibility that salvific benefits are also sought. To reiterate, Alicia, Dawn and Evelyn issue their critiques of Western society—its lack of spirituality, of community and of concern about violence against (Indigenous) women and environmental destruction—alongside their valorizations of (sometimes essentialized) notions of Indigenous alternatives that could be accessed to make up for Western individual and collective lack. In fact, it is possible that these participants interpret and adopt discourses used by Indigenous activists (discussed below) as a way to demonstrate (to these activists) their capacity to be “good” allies (see Chapter 6). Given the complex ways that discourse circulates and subjectivities are constituted, it is conceivable that these objectives are sought simultaneously.
Mahrouse (2011) describes in different terms the path to salvific benefit (if/when it is) paved by the white settler woman ally’s “appreciation” of Native culture/values/spirituality, arguing that such an appreciation facilitates the dominant (settler) subject’s ability to reconcile her relative privilege vis-à-vis the Native Other. In studying the world of “alternative” socially responsible tourism, she found that Western “tourists” frequently mention “the non-material wealth of the locals and the idea that ‘we’ westerners stand to learn from ‘them’”; she contends “that such discourses of reversal and equation provided the tourists with a means to reconcile the inequity they are participating, and being complicit, in” (p. 376). In other words, the desire for reversal and equation can partially explain why white settlers invoke the “social, emotional, and spiritual wealth” (Mahrouse, 2011, p. 382) of those whose materially subordinate structural position in society cannot be disputed. This may be happening in a small minority of white participant
narratives. Take Alicia’s interpretation of the film Avatar relative to her own life:
The Indigenous people were the ones who defended themselves. They actually rescued the white guy from his shitty culture that had him after greed and money and things like that. Maybe that’s the same case with me. “I’m not here to rescue you.” Aboriginal people have rescued me from a life of consumerism, competition, greed, selfcenteredness. Other people reach spiritual enlightenment through Buddhism, I learned through Aboriginal elders, things like respect.
It is plausible to suggest that Alicia employs “discourses of reversal and equation” in drawing a parallel between herself and the white guy (his “shitty culture” in particular).
Viewed through the theoretical lenses provided by Mahrouse (2011), Morgensen (2011) and Schick (1998), among others, these white participant narratives, though few in number, suggest a relationship between reconciling one’s privilege and appropriating Indigenous culture for individual and collective self-making purposes: the settler’s need to emplace herself (i.e., to be/come legitimate; recall Peggy’s statement on the desire to “be here legitimately, ethically, fully”) can be accomplished by reconciling inequity, which is facilitated by proximity to the Other (what “they” can teach “us”). In this sense, narratives of lack can be precursors to appropriation and comprise one strand in a complex web of narratives of becoming (see Chapter 4). I also submit that there is a constitutive connection between the invocation of lack at the individual and collective levels. If we extend, for instance, Schick’s (1998) idea that “the [Indigenous] other is required for the production of nostalgic and salvific benefit” (p. 185) to apply to white subjects as a collectivity, her analysis attends to why Alicia, Dawn and Evelyn seem compelled to make a connection between their individual lack and that of “white Western culture in Canada,” and between the benefits promised to them (as individuals) and those promised to “white Western culture” (as a collective) via an embrace of Indigenous culture. Put differently, there is a (typically unrecognized) link between the desire to reconstitute the “I” (the autonomous subject) and the desire to formulate a “we” (the legitimate Canadian citizenry).
Morgensen’s (2011) description of the naturalizing logic of settler colonialism is useful:
Settler colonialism is naturalized not only in Native people’s seeming “disappearance” from a modern, settler landscape, but also in indigeneity’s recurrent appearance within and as settler subjectivity. Whether erasing or performing indigeneity, omitting or celebrating it, settlers practice settlement by turning Native land and culture into an inheritance granting them knowledge and ownership of themselves. (p. 18, emphasis in original) Adopting this view, we can situate discourses of lack, and the sometimes quite subtle dynamics of appropriation they serve, within the logic of settler colonialism; ostensibly individuated narratives of becoming are collectivized to constitute narratives of national belonging wherein white settlers especially are “turning Native land and culture into an inheritance granting them knowledge and ownership of themselves” (Morgensen, 2011, p. 18) While explicit mentions of Canadian nation building are rare in white participant narratives, they indicate that the solidarity encounter is not immune to broader discursive patterns of Canadian nationalism. Dawn, also cited above, directly invokes Canadian nationalism when asked about transformation at the personal and/or collective level. She cites a memorable occasion—a Native ceremony in honour
of a long-time Native woman activist—to explain how doing solidarity has transformed her:
I—this is very true in the honouring ceremony—can see and experience... some of the culture and see what an opportunity it is for Canada when they begin honouring that culture, the contribution that that can make.... I really think that [Native culture] is one, like I said, of the treasures that Canada has. It thinks that it has just got mineral resources and stuff. No, no, no. It has got an incredibly rich spiritual core, that if it connects with that, some other things, like harmony and balance with the environment will start falling into place, the honouring of women in general. It’s all part of the same piece. We will become a stronger nation.
Dawn’s appreciation of Native ceremony can be interpreted as “something positive,” to recall Schick (1998), a sign of her knowledge of Canadian colonial history. We could similarly interpret Alicia’s more implicit reference to the superiority of non-Western (i.e., Indigenous) ways: “There’s a different way to be living on this planet: to be more in tune with themselves, to be more in tune with nature, to understand colonization, to try some decolonizing work, to get back to our roots, to know what a community means.” Alicia appears to cross the line, however, between appreciation and appropriation by suggesting that “we” get back to “our” roots. Dawn performs a similarly appropriative move when claiming “Native culture” as Canada’s treasure, its rich spiritual core. Both narratives suggest the ease with which settlers, even or perhaps especially through celebratory means, can “turn Native land and culture into an inheritance granting them knowledge and ownership of themselves” (Morgensen, 2011, p. 18). Perhaps most problematically, both narratives, by placing an inordinate emphasis on culture, steer us away from a more difficult conversation about the very colonial structures that have dismissed the value of Indigenous cultures in the first place.
Chloe’s narrative sheds more light on the potential problems with white settler admiration of
Indigenous peoples in the solidarity encounter and beyond: