«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Along these same lines, I use the concept of non-colonizing to gesture toward the creation and sustainment of equitable Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in the solidarity encounter and beyond. I draw inspiration from Chandra Mohanty’s (2003) vision of non-colonizing transnational feminist solidarity across borders. In my reading, Mohanty does not so much provide a definition of non-colonizing solidarity as describe an “intellectual move that allows for [a] concern for women of different communities and identities to build coalitions and solidarities across borders” (p. 226). The move she proposes resonates with the nuanced approaches to political solidarity established in the preceding decades (to which she also contributed): “The challenge is to see how differences allow us to explain the connections and border crossings better and more accurately, how specifying difference allows us to theorize universal concerns more fully” (p. 226). As for a more precise definition, this is precisely the work of this study, which seeks among other goals to map the possible contours of noncolonizing solidarity.
Finally, there is the concept of decolonization. On occasion I employ the term and its derivatives as a synonym for “non-colonizing.” However, I am wary of its increasing use in a variety of contexts as “a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools,” in the words of Tuck and Yang (2012, p. 1). These scholars remind those of us involved in “other civil and human rights-based social justice projects” (p. 2) that decolonization projects are distinct, materially-based and focused on furthering Indigenous sovereignty struggles. I also make note of Gaile Cannella and Kathryn Manuelito’s (2008) proposed alternative—an “anticolonialist” social science praxis that “would challenge the illusion that decolonizing can eliminate the effects of oppression” (p. 49). However, even when properly contextualized, the language of decolonization can be used in appropriative ways. Both non-Indigenous researchers based in the Global North, Laura Reinsborough and Deborah Barndt (2010) critique their own application of a “decolonizing lens” to assess a transnational community arts and popular education project, noting the possibility that “we will lose sight of whose struggles this term addresses.... Therefore, it is important to remember how some are more negatively affected than others in the struggles that the term addresses” (p. 161). Underlying my use of all terms— including decolonial, anticolonial or non-colonizing—is an attentiveness to how subjects are differently positioned in relation to political struggle and concomitant solidarity attempts.
Overview of Chapters
In Chapter 2, I discuss the methods and methodologies used to conduct this study, which is decidedly feminist, anticolonial and auto/ethnographic in orientation. I also situate myself as researcher, highlighting how my work with NMS has shaped the study. At the same time, I note the peril involved in the self-reflexive act of disclosing my subject position: the risk of recentring whiteness. More broadly, I consider the “research as encounter,” or how the research process mirrored the very encounter I attempt to theorize and thus presented a fundamental methodological challenge: How does a white settler woman researcher avoid reproducing a colonial encounter in either study design or implementation? In posing the question, I recognize that my subject position is reflective and productive of the collective social relations of which I am a part. I end by considering the extent to which the very hierarchical relations that the study examines (i.e., the gendered, racialized and colonial relations of the solidarity encounter) might infuse the study itself—despite methodological designs to mitigate this risk.
In Chapter 3, I present the theoretical concepts that frame my study of intersubjective relations in the contemporary solidarity encounter. I begin with the premise that Canadian settler colonial relations infuse the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women. I also argue that a central dynamic of these relations—a deeply entrenched (white) settler desire for legitimate (liberal) subject status—is in turn operationalized by a desire for proximity to the Indigenous Other. In light of the historical production of white women as the “saviours” of Other women, I suggest that the settler desire for proximity is also gendered. Moreover, I contend that this particular subject position, which is configured by casting white women as simultaneously subordinate and dominant, remains extremely difficult to resist/transgress.
Importantly, I identify the (settler) colonial subject as a modern liberal subject, and thus the white settler woman ally as always already occupying a liberal subject position prior to solidarity work. The chapter unfolds as follows: I review the literature on the historical production of the white settler/imperialist woman/feminist subject in (hierarchical) relation to her Indigenous Other. I explore the ways in which this subject was/is constituted through the production of gendered colonial difference as the civilizer (saviour/helper) of Other women. I also touch upon some of the specificities of the Euro-Canadian settler woman/feminist subject in Canadian nation building. I thus set the stage for an analysis of gendered colonial difference in the contemporary solidarity encounter, asking how white settler women allies comply with, resist and/or transgress the parameters of their subject position as settlers. In other words, I ask, what has become of the white settler woman’s impulse to civilize, save or help the more “oppressed” Other woman? Finally, I consider the relevance of Sara Ahmed’s (2000) notion of proximity, as one mode of colonial encounter, for exploring settler colonial intersubjective relations at the micro level of solidarity work.
In Chapter 4, I describe the parameters of the white settler woman’s desire for proximity to Indigenous women, and the subtle and not so subtle ways in which it can operate in the service of liberal self-making. I include a host of interrelated desires and discourses under the proximity umbrella, from the longing to be accepted into an Indigenous community to the desire to have a purpose in life. Through a careful reading of participant narratives, I argue that gendered colonial subjectivity—and the quintessential helping behaviour at its core—is often operationalized via the pursuit of proximity. By (figuratively or literally) “getting close” to Native women, the white settler woman attempts to transcend her location in colonial power relations, and thus maintain a sense of legitimacy/belonging. White settler liberal desires—to know the Other and to be moral, innocent, transcendent and, above else, legitimate—are extremely hard to relinquish. However, the reproduction of white settler liberal subjectivity in solidarity encounters is a fraught endeavour, never proceeding seamlessly without contestation.
White settler women do grapple with our dominant positionality, even as we find it exceedingly difficult to give it up. That being said, despite knowing what to avoid—prototypical colonial helping behaviour—at some point most of us exhibit behaviours and attitudes characteristic of the gendered colonial subject.
The chapter begins with the observation that Indigenous participants and white participants respectively describe different modalities of entry into political activism/solidarity: the former tend to emphasize their location as members of a collective, the latter to describe a more personal/individualistic involvement. This suggests both the effects of structural positioning on a subject’s engagement in solidarity and also how much Western individualism marks white women’s subjectivities. After discussing the workings of proximity discourse in more detail, I turn to Native women’s narrations of the solidarity encounter, arguing that the potentially colonizing effects of this desire are most detectable in these narrations. While noting that many white women do not exhibit these problematic behaviours all or even most of the time, Indigenous women emphasize the inevitable display of “needy do-gooder” behaviour among white women allies—behaviour they often experience as invasive/colonial. In short, the white woman’s desire for proximity (in order to pursue liberal subjectivity) often seems to manifest as “neediness.” To encapsulate the specificity of intersubjective relations in a settler colonial context, I develop the concept of the “impulse to solidarity”—the bundle of desires and discursive practices that propels white settler women in their pursuit of proximity. A nexus of the seemingly contradictory white desires to help and to be helped by the Indigenous Other, the solidarity impulse both reflects and facilitates white settler women’s liberal self-making projects. By employing the phrase “to be helped by,” I highlight the constitutive underside of “helping” behaviour—an assortment of self-serving/self-making reasons why white settler women might engage in solidarity with Indigenous Others. Further, I distinguish the solidarity impulse from the “helping imperative” (Heron, 2007) to reflect the intersubjective dynamics of solidarity work at “home” as opposed to development work abroad. I infer throughout the chapter that un-interrogated solidarity impulses often generate tensions among women in the solidarity encounter.
In Chapter 5, I discuss a particular manifestation of the white pursuit of proximity to Indigenous women—the tendency to romanticize and then appropriate 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 all too easily slips 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. In other words, 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. At the same time, I identify a complication in the dynamic—the tendency of some Indigenous women to also idealize Indigeneity, although for the distinct purpose of furthering the political aspirations of Indigenous peoples. Drawing on LaRocque (2010) and Lawrence (2003), I contextualize such discursive moves by Indigenous women as part of a broader pattern of resistance to ongoing colonialism in which they engage despite the risk of reproducing essentialized or romanticized cultural notions of Indigenous difference. 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?
In Chapter 6, I examine the discursive operation of claims of exceptionalism in white participant narratives. Put simply, I argue that some white women attempt to position themselves as exceptional “good white settler allies” through recourse to a good/bad settler binary or notions of friendship (via proximity) (Thompson, 2003). I consider the role of white settler guilt in these dynamics, asking to what extent exceptionalism discourse is an attempt to alleviate this guilt. I also note that the pursuit of exceptionalism can crystallize as competition among white settler women allies, with self-righteousness and a sense of entitlement comingled therein. I apply the insights of critical race scholarship to suggest that white subjectivity itself is constituted through claims to exceptionalism/innocence, including theories of “white disaffiliation” (Wiegman, 1999); “White stigma” (Kowal, 2011); and white moral agency (Applebaum, 2010). I assess the role of declarative statements (Ahmed, 2004) and self-reflexivity (Smith, 2013a) in the microworkings of exceptionalism discourse. I end with thoughts on the fraught promise of selfreflexivity for tempering this facet of the impulse to solidarity. My argument rests on the idea
that moves to exceptionalism are fostered by an individualistic understanding of solidarity work:
it is the white settler woman subject (who thinks of herself as) entering solidarity as an autonomous individual, rather than as a member of a white settler collectivity, who can sustain the fantasy of overcoming colonial power relations. In short, I argue that exceptionalism is part of the liberal subject’s arsenal of strategies to deny/transcend structural white/settler privilege.
In the concluding chapter, I propose a framework for attempting non-colonizing solidarity, which incorporates a spatialized understanding of both the problem/paradox of solidarity and its mitigation. I base my proposal on a synthesis of participant narratives, arguing that Indigenous narratives in particular present us with a phenomenology of the solidarity encounter53 such that we can begin to re-conceptualize political struggles, subjects and subjectivities—including white settler women’s roles as allies in political struggle with Indigenous women. That is, I flesh out the contours of what might constitute non-colonizing solidarity and subjectivities, and the paths we as Indigenous peoples and settlers might collectively take to get there, even as we interact under decidedly colonial circumstances.