«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Eventually you get back to the core thing, and I think if you get back to that, most Canadians realize their great respect for Native tradition and it goes back to our feeling… the first settlers in Canada like Champlain, he respected the Native people.
Why? Because they had a classless society, they had a way of doing things: they produced healthier children, nobody starved to death, they were courageous, they were hard working. He admired the people that they met when they first got off the boat. And I think some of that is still within our heritage. I’m hoping it’s all across Canada. I think it is.
Chloe is confident that most Canadians across the country share her respect of “Native people and tradition.” She seems to have borrowed directly from John Ralston Saul’s A Fair Country (2008), which I suggest represents a certain strand of Canadian national belonging discourse.11 He rests his argument—plain in this bold opening sentence, “We are a métis civilization”—on a
characterization of Canadian society (deemed by Saul a “civilization”) similar to that of Chloe:
When I dig around in the roots of how we imagine ourselves, how we govern, how we live together in communities—how we treat one another... what I find is deeply Aboriginal. Whatever our family tree may look like, our intuitions and common sense as a civilization are more Aboriginal than European or African or Asian. (Saul, 2008, p. 3) According to David MacDonald (2013), Saul (and Chloe, I would add) argues that Canada “is actually based on a long history of Aboriginal–settler partnerships, which created forms of ‘métissage’—political and social cultures that amalgamate many ways of knowing and being.
The key to a successful future, Saul holds, is for Canadians to rediscover and celebrate this shared past” (p. 61). While not disputing the importance of acknowledging the historical and ongoing contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canadian society, I want to highlight Saul’s seamless slippage into using “we,” the third person plural (a move also made in Alicia’s narrative). On the one hand, Saul could be lauded and considered virtuous (Schick, 1998) for his knowledge of colonialism and Indigenous social and political processes; on the other, his main claim arguably does the work of reversal and equation (Mahrouse, 2011) and is of nostalgic and salvific benefit (Schick, 1998). MacDonald (2013) hones in on a core problem with nostalgia— its often strong links to historical revisionism, that is, the white-washing of Canada’s colonial
history and invalidation of Indigenous historiography and contemporary political struggle:
Saul’s vision of the past... is tinged with nostalgia and romanticism. His desire to forge a common society, for example, is premised on a “return to the balanced relationship that had developed through the first centuries of our shared history” (Saul, 2008, pp. 23–24).
This romanticism elides much of the negative history of Canada, and tacitly undermines and invalidates Aboriginal critiques of the continued colonization of Turtle Island, or critiques that posit that the relationship was never that particularly close. (p. 62) Speaking directly to Saul’s work, LaRocque (2010) stipulates the need for a “microscopic examination” (particularly by postcolonial scholars) of the CIV/SAV (civilized–savage) doctrine at the heart of the colonial enterprise if there is to be respectful recognition by nonNative Canadians of the multifaceted contributions of real (as opposed to spectral) Indigenous
peoples to Canada’s “Métis civilization”:
It is not enough to simply make a nodding acknowledgement of the CIV/SAV’s radioactive lifespan; this would be the place and time to redirect the colonial gaze, and give it a microscopic examination. It is incumbent on us all to understand its twisty workings in our cultural productions. There is no “metis civilization” for Canada otherwise. (pp. 15–16) As an Indigenous participant, Danielle’s take on the pulse of mainstream Canadians also counters that of Chloe and Saul. She not only cites high levels of ignorance and arrogance on the
part of most Canadians, she calls into question the legitimacy of the Canadian state itself:
It’s like, “Just because we say it’s so, it’s so.” I find that with the government. I find that with the whole foundation of Canada, that for 300 years, they’ve been saying this, so then it must be true. For 300 years, it’s been this lie in place, so... it must be true, when we know the truth because we have an oral tradition and we keep telling the story over and over and over.
Following Danielle and MacDonald (2013), one might ask how the material realities of Native people in Canada—such as unresolved specific and comprehensive land claims—figure into equations like Saul’s. As members of a Métis civilization, do we all enjoy equal rights to these lands? What unites the statements of Dawn, Chloe and Saul is a resolute belief in the following ideas: contemporary Canadian society owes much to its Indigenous inhabitants; we should honour this legacy; and we can rightfully claim it as our own. Danielle has committed to combating the 300-year-old lie about the “foundation of Canada” and the ignorance of many mainstream (white) Canadians by “telling the truth” in as many public “speaks” as possible.
Indigenous Women on Political Activism/Solidarity, Collective Survival and Responsibility Philip J. Deloria (1998) explores those US identity-making practices wherein white Americans in particular perform and create myths of national belonging around “Indianness”: “Tracing the different manifestations of American Indian play invariably requires following the interlocked historical trajectory of native peoples as well” (p. 8). The same assertion grounds Morgensen’s (2011) argument that “Native and non-Native queer politics [and subjectivities and modernities] formed their relationship in the spaces between them produced by settler colonialism” (p. x).
Like Morgensen, I aim to interpret such “intimately relational and power-laden conversations” (p. 28) at a different site—the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women in a Canadian context. I proceed in that spirit by looking at Indigenous women’s selfpresentations in relation to white settler subject-making processes. And like LaRocque (2010), I am also interested in “what will emerge... from the contested ground upon which we, the Canadian colonizer-colonialist and Native colonized, have built our troubled discourse” (p. 3).
In what follows, I shift my focus to Indigenous women’s subjectivities in order to consider what I find to be an interesting moment of discursive convergence in settler–Indigenous relations.
Indigenous women’s self-presentations (of themselves or their communities) appear to dovetail with two key aspects of the white participant narratives discussed above: a critique of Western social values and practices, and simultaneous praise of alternative Indigenous ones. Indigenous women often embed such critiques of the West in their self-presentations, i.e., in self-depictions of women upholding their responsibilities to family, community, nation and Creation. They represent Indigenous peoples as inclined towards tolerance, inclusion, respect and thoughtfulness in contrast to Western tendencies toward intolerance, exclusion, intrusiveness and impatience. How do we read these discursive overlaps? Do Indigenous women also deploy discourses of nostalgia and romanticization, and what might this say about the discursive roles that Indigenous peoples have played and continue to play in contesting or even reproducing stereotypical representations of themselves? LaRocque (2010) suggests some answers in her study of Native scholarly and literary texts, which she insists must be situated within a colonial framework. Read in this light, Native knowledge production is a resistance response to the colonial “vilification of Native peoples” and simultaneous “hero-ification of the White man” (p.
Native people have had to punctuate cultural differences to counter the portrayal of themselves as uncultured, unregulated savages. In this defending and repositioning, we have, inevitably perhaps, utopianized our culture(s). The noble savage has been an ideal image—and tool—for this pursuit. Again, this process has not necessarily been conscious; the enduring image has been there for us to internalize. Or to use as fodder for our art or research. (LaRocque, 2010, p. 130) Drawing on LaRocque (2010) and other Indigenous feminist scholars such as Anderson and Lawrence (2000), I consider how Indigenous participants’ discursive self-presentations can be read as acts of resistance in the context of historical and ongoing colonialism.
I was able to identify this discursive convergence through first noting a general divergence in Indigenous and white participants’ respective views on political activism/solidarity and selfhood, a point I initially raise in Chapter 4. To be sure, there are resounding similarities in their understandings of these concepts: equal numbers of Indigenous and white women define activism in broad terms (as opposed to the more narrow terms of protest politics) and report having come to political activism through a variety of avenues including the academy or the arts. Moreover, roughly half of both groups eschew the activist label—albeit with distinct rationales. However, there are also important dissimilarities. One of the most striking relates to Indigenous participant notions of political subjectivity or selfhood, which include a unique weave of political activism, individual/collective survival and communal responsibility. For example, unlike any of the white participants, several Indigenous women spoke about their political activism in terms of inextricable individual/collective survival—statements indicative of a departure from common ground when it comes to the stakes of political struggle for differently positioned subjects. But, these relatively divergent modalities of political activism/solidarity come full circle in at least two important ways: a number of Indigenous and white women both are invested in critiquing Western social norms and practices, and simultaneously in praising Indigenous ones as a viable alternative.
Politically positioned: Indigenous women and collective survival
Moreton-Robinson’s (2000) declaration on the front cover of Talkin’ up to the White Woman exemplifies a growing consensus in scholarly literature by and about Indigenous women that being positioned as an Indigenous woman carries with it certain responsibilities in relation to a range of collectivities—from families to communities, nations, future generations and ultimately Creation (Anderson, 2000; Lawrence & Anderson, 2003; Miller & Chuchryk, 1996; Monture & McGuire, 2009). Most Indigenous participants identify in inextricable terms as Indigenous women and explain their engagement in politics/solidarity in terms of an embrace of this subject position (and the respect and sense of responsibility it is accorded). Moreover, they often present themselves as principled actors dedicated to solidarity work for politically strategic reasons. In this way, participant narratives reflect widely-circulating discourses about Native women’s role as the caretakers at the centre of their families, communities and nations. For instance, in the above passage where she explains her dedication to “telling the truth,” Danielle traces her political activism back to her positionality as an Indigenous woman in Canada. In emphasizing their concern for the collective welfare of Indigenous peoples as a main motivation for engaging in solidarity work, do these women, however inadvertently, romanticize, essentialize and/or homogenize Indigenous womanhood or Indigeneity more broadly? Why risk re-entrenching stereotypical notions of the “authentic Indian” that could then be incorporated into/by settler subjectivities? I begin with Indigenous participant perspectives on political activism/solidarity.
Some Indigenous participants characterize the subject position Indigenous woman as inherently political. For example, Teresa says, “I think we’re born as Indigenous women into political positioning, whether we like it or not.” In this statement, Teresa depicts political engagement as an almost unbidden consequence of being “born as Indigenous women”: to be born Indigenous is to be born political regardless of one’s political inclinations (or lack thereof). Similarly, Indigenous philosopher Anne Waters (2004b) argues that “American Indians [in the US] are political beings, as all tribes share in the struggle against the continuing genocide perpetrated against our people and our nations” (p. 167). LaRocque (2010) speaks directly to the toll exacted at the individual and collective levels by the Canadian state’s genocidal policies vis-àvis Indigenous peoples: “I too carry ‘the 400 years pain,’ a ‘pain’ that is part of this land; I too carry the pain of my mother, my father, my sister, my brothers, my nieces and nephews, my grandfathers and mothers, my aunts and uncles. And I carry my own pain” (p. 33). Traces of LaRocque (2010) and Waters (2004a, 2004b) are found in Belinda’s and Lydia’s respective redefinitions of activism in survivalist terms—political acts that invoke the sustained efforts by
Indigenous peoples as Indigenous peoples to resist centuries of colonial onslaught:
But when I think back on it, you know, I realize that everything is political. I mean just staying alive as a Native woman is political; just deciding that you are going to live and be well and go to university and write is political. Deciding that you are not going to end up in jail and be on welfare and lose all your kids. You know, that’s political... in the sense that I’m not going to be crushed and fall under all the crap that gets thrown at you all the time.... [It’s about] taking your own power, deciding to live in a good way.