"So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this?": rethinking pedagogical practices in an indigenous context.
|Publication:||Name: Resources for Feminist Research Publisher: O.I.S.E. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 O.I.S.E. ISSN: 0707-8412|
|Issue:||Date: Spring-Summer, 2008 Source Volume: 33 Source Issue: 1-2|
This article addresses the question of whether a white academic can
act as an ally to Native students and faculty in their struggle to
"Indigenize" the Canadian university system. Through an
analysis of two personal experiences teaching in an Indigenous context,
the author argues that university classrooms can become spaces of
liberation and decolonization. This transformation is possible when the
traditional power dynamic between teacher and student is destabilized,
the role of the teacher is decentred, and priority is given to the
reading strategies that Indigenous students bring to the texts and to
the Indigenous texts themselves.
Cet article pose la question a savoir si un universitaire blanc peut se proposer comme allie d'etudiants et de professeurs indigenes dans leur lutte pour l'<
Native writing, publishing, performing, reviewing, teaching, and reading necessarily take place ... in contexts shaped and controlled by the discursive and institutional power of the dominant white culture in Canada. Editorial boards, granting agencies, publishing companies ... enact policies of inclusion and exclusion, and produce meanings based on norms extrinsic to, even inimical to Native values and interests.... So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this? (Hoy, p. 14)
Helen Hoy's question above, a self-reflexive acknowledgment of her complicity as a white academic in the unequal relationship of power between Aboriginal (1) peoples and mainstream cultural institutions in Canada, acts as a framing device for her book, How Should I Read These?: Native Women Writers in Canada. By appropriating Hoy's question as the title of this paper, I acknowledge with her the problematic ground on which I stand. For I too am a white academic writing and teaching on Indigenous cultural production in Canada. According to Cherokee scholar and University of Toronto English professor, Daniel Heath Justice, however, the often repeated imperative that "non-Natives stay out of Native Studies" (2) is an inadequate solution to my dilemma. As he writes: "It has never been as simplistic as 'only Indians should teach/write about/talk about Indian issues.' Considerate non-Indians have a place in our communities and we hold enormous respect for those who are sincere and responsible, regardless of their ethnicity ..." (2001, p. 266).
That I have a role to play as a white ally of Indigenous peoples is emphasized by Renre Hulan, an English Professor at St. Mary's University. In her reading of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), published in 1996, she highlights the ethical imperative it places on Canadians of all ethnicities and races to become more rather than less involved in learning about the histories and cultures of Canada's First Peoples. "The authors of [RCAP]," she writes, "repeatedly stress ... the importance of educating the 'public mind.' Drawing attention to the general lack of information about First Nations issues on curricula in particular, they 'urge Canadians to become involved in a broad and creative campaign of public education'" (RCAP, qtd. in Hulan, 1998, p. 220). For Hulan, the participation of "those who teach Canadian Literature," whether they be Native or not, is key to the success of "this public education" (Hulan, p. 211). As such, she emphatically underlines the importance of RCAP's position that for non-Natives, "remaining passive and silent is not neutrality--it is support for the status quo" (RCAP, qtd. in Hulan, 1998, p. 220). As a result, non-Native academics like Hulan who retreated from Native Studies in the early 1990s now find themselves rethinking the issue. As she writes:
RCAP's position also resonates with Indigenous cultural workers and activists such as Metis scholar and poet, Emma LaRoque, a Professor in the Native Studies Department (3) at the University of Manitoba. From her perspective, it is high time that non-Natives take up the burden of learning and teaching about Indigenous peoples in Canada. As LaRoque puts it, Native artists and writers are becoming increasingly fed-up "with the weary task of having to educate our audiences before even dialoguing with them!" (Preface, p. xxii).
According to scholars such as LaRoque and Hulan and for RCAP's authors, then, leaving the field of Native Studies is now no longer a responsible option for non-Aboriginal students and teachers like me; however, staying in it holds no guarantees that our work will be either ethically appropriate or appreciated by Aboriginal academics and communities in Canada. Hoy sums up the ambivalence of her position nicely: "Deciding not to speak ... beyond one's own experience ... can be a self-indulgent evasion of political effort or a principled effort at non-imperialist engagement" (p. 17).
Despite accepting the political and ethical imperative to engage in this project of "public education," I am still left wondering how I might do so. In what way can I act as a respectful and responsible white ally to Indigenous students and faculty in their fight for justice in the academy? How do I avoid the trap of complicity finding myself working to reproduce rather than resist the university system's colonial hierarchies of power and oppression? How can I support my students' struggle to "Indigenize the academy?" (4) Do I have a place alongside Indigenous scholars in radically transforming the university from an alien "enemy territory" (Justice, 2001, p. 257) to one of liberation and freedom? According to Justice, that transformation is not just a pipedream. The university could indeed, he argues, become not only "a place of intellectual engagement where the world of ideas can meet action and become a lived reality" but also "a site of significant cultural recovery work ... where all people who are disconnected from their histories can begin their journeys homeward" (2004, p. 102)? This is where I would want to be.
I teach Native American Literature--works written by Native ... authors about Native people and issues.... Often, however, my classes consist of extended attempts to disrupt the ethnostalgia of Euramerican students for a lost origin called "Indian" because, for the most part, my students in the university classroom--even in Native American studies but especially in an English department--are seldom indigenous. (Owens, p. 253)
A number of my academic experiences as an instructor in Indigenous Studies at Trent University for the past 18 years have been similar to those of Owens' above; however, I have also found myself in profoundly different situations as one of very few or, indeed, occasionally the only white person in the room. In these cases, not only am I racialized immediately as white but I am also positioned as other, a radically destabilizing space especially for a white university teacher used to a position of power and privilege within the conference hall and classroom. (6) The contradictions of this position are foregrounded further by the fact that I am, on one hand, considered by the university departments that employ me as an "expert" on the Indigenous texts that I teach, while on the other hand, situated for the most part outside the circles of cultural knowledge within these rooms. No wonder that the question uppermost in my mind in such instances is Hoy's: "So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this?"
A number of white academics have attempted to engage with this question, offering advice to fellow teachers and their students in similar situations. University of Saskatchewan English Professor Susan Gingell, for example, argues that the minimal requirement for an appropriate reading protocol for Indigenous texts involves a deeply rooted intellectual humility:
How much more bearable we might be in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit contexts if we modified our tendency to seek mastery of texts by showing humility that is all too rarely a feature of current theoretical, critical, and pedagogical discourse. Of course for cultural outsiders this means learning as much as we can--professors and students alike--about the contexts from which the work we are studying comes ... but it also involves remaining open to the idea that there are things we do not and will not know.... (Gingell, pp. 107-108)
Renee Hulan, writing with Linda Warley, an English Professor from the University of Waterloo, fine tunes Gingell's argument further, adding that "before [white] teachers and students join the [Indigenous] circle ... they need to have knowledge of the particular historical and cultural contexts represented ... to make the "other" comprehensible without erasing difference" (p. 69).
I have attempted to follow Gingell, Warley and Hulan's pedagogical advice concerning "humility," often with great difficulty as it goes against the grain of both the ideology of the western academy and the many years of academic training I have had within it. In addition, while such complex ethical negotiations are vitally important for non-Natives involved in Native Studies, I am all too aware that an obsessive self-reflexivity on the issue of race privilege might also risk reinstating exactly that privilege, a form of white narcissism that occasionally haunts Hoy's text. Furthermore, in the two teaching experiences I discuss below, much to my surprise my Indigenous students seemingly paid little attention to what I understood as my white privilege or my academic knowledge other than to confidently appropriate both for their own purposes. In each case, I discovered that all were very adept at Indigenizing their university course, its texts, the "academic" space in which we met and, indeed, their teacher. In the process they made them their own.
Devon Abbott Mihesuah and Angela Cavender Wilson, in the introduction to their collection of essays, Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities, explain their project of Indigenizing and radically transforming the academy, a vision very similar to that of Daniel Heath Justice:
The process of Indigenization that evolved before my eyes had very little to do with me, although it had a transformative effect on me, and much more to do with both the texts my students were reading and the spaces we were occupying. In the first instance, my small living room at home became the classroom with all of us sitting in a circle on couches and on the floor. In the second, a group of seven Cree students and I sat around the circular table in the small Mushkegowuk First Nation Band office in Moose Factory. In both cases, I watched and listened to my students growing delight in the texts by Indigenous authors they were reading. As we sat in our circles, I wondered at the ease with which they were able to speak not only to each other but also to me. How very different this experience was from the conventional university practices taking place in lecture halls and seminar rooms. These often overcrowded academic spaces reproduced intellectual hierarchies of power and in the process constructed professors (and even teaching assistants) as "experts" offering knowledge as a commodity for students who, made docile and passive, were expected to consume it. And how very different these university texts were. In the process of animated discussion, students were quick to acknowledge the teachings these texts offered them, ones with the potential to radically transform not only their sense of cultural identity and self esteem but also the dominant culture's understanding of Indigenous peoples in Canada. My Cree students talked about how the fiction and poetry they were reading could become powerful tools of decolonization and I soon realized to my amazement that the texts we were reading together could prove to be exactly the sort of resources required for RCAP's "broad and creative campaign of public education" (RCAP, Hulan, 1998, p. 220). I certainly did not dream of this possibility before I began teaching the course.
These texts were revolutionary for another reason. In their readings and discussions, my students began to understand how the Indigenous writers on their course list were re-working African-American activist, essayist and poet Audre Lorde's groundbreaking feminist tenet of the 1980s: the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. (7) In the 1990s, these writers were making this powerful slogan speak again but differently, this time within the context of the colonization of Indigenous peoples, and in active resistance to the "lethal legacy" (8) of government and church policies directed toward the assimilation of First Nations peoples. The loss not only of ancestral lands but also traditional cultures and identities through treaty negotiations, the Indian Act and residential schooling, for example, has meant that generations of Indigenous people in Canada, like my Native students, have few if any traditional tools or languages other than the master's language with which to speak. For many Native peoples, indeed, this loss of their mother tongues is considered symbolic of the death of Indigenous cultures. What my students were discovering in their reading of contemporary Indigenous texts in English, however, was a very different story. Instead of death here was rebirth. For these writers were "writing back" to mainstream society in Canada, deploying a "menacing mimicry" (9) of the colonizer's language and culture. Instead of experiencing the profound silence and psychological humiliation of colonial assimilation, these writers were speaking loudly and being heard. (10) Their prose, fiction, poetry and plays not only involved a rewriting of history from an Indigenous perspective and a cogent interrogation of colonial white settler culture but also a celebration of the extraordinary survival against all odds of Indigenous identities and cultures in a contemporary world. And they were using the master's tools to do it. Such subversive strategies must surely shake the very foundations of the master's house. (11) Perhaps more importantly, these writers were using the master's tools not only to "write back" but also to "write home" as witnessed by the powerful impact their texts were having on the Indigenous students in my classes.
In their Introduction to Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writing in North America, Muscogee/Creek writer and musician Joy Harjo and Spokane writer Gloria Bird insist on "wielding the tools of their enemy" both as a necessity as well as a profoundly effective decolonizing strategy:
In the process of Indigenizing the enemy's tools, many of my students began to explore the work of cultural producers and activists from their own communities. The university classroom in these instances became transformed into a site of cultural recovery where texts by Native theorists, fiction writers, poets and playwrights spoke to them of their own diasporic and contradictory identities. Negotiating speaking positions from the border-zones--the tricky territory between cultures--these writers taught my students not only to resist positions as victims, despite the unequal relationship of power between Natives and newcomers in Canada, but also to celebrate their own hybrid histories and diasporic identities, ones that have arisen, as Tsimpshian/Haida art critic and curator Marcia Crosby argues, as a result of the displacement of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands "into the contemporary terrain of ... 'a chaotic and transitional present'" (Eric Robertson, qtd. in Crosby, p. 12).
What follows in this paper are three stories: two of which describe in greater depth the teaching experiences above and the other story describes my experience giving a paper at a Canadian Indigenous and Native Studies Association (CINSA) conference in Saskatoon. In each story, I am the white academic believing myself to be out of place in these profoundly Aboriginal spaces. Yet despite my self, my white subjectivity and the colonial burden that I must "bear" I argue that all three stories become places of hope, and spaces of decolonization and radical transformation both for my students and for me.
Native Studies 430: Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario
My first experience teaching in the Native Studies Department at Trent was in a small, fourth year seminar in Critical Theory during the academic year 1992-1993. Fresh from finishing graduate courses in the PhD program in English at York University and filled with excitement about the emerging field of Postcolonial Theory, I introduced my students to the texts of some of its key thinkers: Homi Bhabha, James Clifford, Edward Said, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Gayatri Spivak and Gerald Vizenor. Of the ten students, six were Aboriginal including a young urban Haida woman from Vancouver and a young Anishinaabe woman from the nearby First Nation Reserve of Curve Lake. Of the four young men, one was the brother of the Curve Lake student, two were Mohawk, one from Six Nations near Brantford and the other from Kanehsatake, near Oka, Quebec and one was Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia. Of the two white men, one was a candidate in the Master's program in Canadian Studies and Native Studies at Trent who was auditing the course and the other was a young Jewish man from Montreal. There were two white women, both from the Peterborough area. And then there was me: a not so young middle-class white woman. As noted above, the seminar took place in my small living room at home. Each week a student would bring goodies while I offered tea and coffee.
Needless to say, we spent a great deal of time getting our collective heads around some very difficult prose. But this group worked hard and as the year moved on, concepts such as "appropriation," "representation," "authenticity,.... subjectivity," "hybridity,.... diaspora" and "mimicry" were added to our PoCo lexicon. All were "hot topics," all to be fought over, and all generating often disorderly and always passionate discussion with most of the Indigenous students speaking from their own experiences of racism and oppression in Canada. It seems in retrospect that in every seminar there was a defining moment when emotions rode so high I thought the group would unravel, a moment of profound vulnerability for me as an academic when I regretted ever choosing such a difficult field in which to work and teach. Yet each week at that moment one or other of the two Aboriginal women who always sat together on one of the couches would crack a joke and the others would fall about laughing. The seminar would be saved for another week and we'd all take a break to eat and chat.
That first year, I left the work of Gerald Vizenor, a mixedblood Anishinaabe theorist, poet, fiction writer and Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, for last, a mistake I corrected the following year. Perhaps I thought my students would find his ideas and prose style too difficult. I certainly had struggled and still struggle with his writing. (12) Instead, as demonstrated by their passionate discussion of the decentring and irreverent spirit of Vizenor's "Trickster" and their quick connection with their own experiences on both an emotional and an intellectual level, this was not difficult. They had come home. Vizenor's "Trickster discourse" spoke to them of their own liminal, hybrid identities and their own border existence in between cultures. Instead of feeling "inauthentic" and unable to live up to the stereotype of the traditional "Indian" that circulates not only in mainstream culture but also in Indigenous communities, (13) they talked about how Vizenor's theories on Indigenous subjectivity gave them permission to be both complex and contradictory--and to be proud of it. The two young women sitting on the couch were perhaps the most vocal in their enthusiasm; however, in their written assignments, all the Indigenous students in the group spoke in similar fashion about the liberatory and therapeutic quality of Vizenor's writing. The spirit of Vizenor's "Trickster" also connected with their sense of humour, that unlikely blend of compassion and parody which had been our seminar's saving grace, one which resisted anger and refused victimhood. These students deserved Vizenor's highest accolade: to be named post Indian warriors of survivance. And our Indigenized classroom became the site of "education as the practice of freedom" (hooks, qtd. In Mihesuah and Wilson, p. 5) for both Native and white students alike. (14)
Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Saskatoon, May 2001
"So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this?" This question was uppermost in my mind as I sat facing an audience of Aboriginal scholars. What had I been thinking when I decided to present this paper? For here I was, in a room at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Saskatoon, during the annual conference of the Canadian Indigenous and Native Studies Association (CINSA), waiting to talk about my experience teaching a Trent University course on contemporary Native Literature in Canada to a group of Cree students in Moose Factory, James Bay. All seven students were registered in Queen's University's Aboriginal Teachers Education Program and needed this final credit for their degrees. All planned on returning home to their communities to teach. My focus was on the decolonizing strategies they were developing in their readings of texts by Aboriginal women, one of whom was Metis writer, scholar and storyteller, Maria Campbell. Central to my paper, of course, was the same question: how could I, a middle-class white teacher from the south, effectively teach a course to students whose race, class, ancestral histories and life experiences were so different from my own?
My panel was made up of two well respected Indigenous women: Metis/ Saulteaux scholar, Janice Acoose, at that time an Associate Professor at the College and working on her PhD in Indigenous Literature at the University of Saskatchewan and Shawna Cunningham, Metis scholar and Director of the Native Centre at the University of Calgary. Acoose began her paper by turning to me and stating emphatically that it was now time for "non-Natives to get out of Native Studies." Cunningham echoed Acoose's position before beginning hers. By the time my turn came, I certainly felt in the hot seat, a situation made only worse when Maria Campbell entered the room just as I was about to begin. Somehow I got through it and, to my astonishment, lived to hear Janice Acoose suggest that I publish the paper, (15) and to have Maria Campbell come to the front of the room to shake my hand. So what happened? Below is the story I told the conference audience that day in Saskatoon of teaching in the Mushkegowuk Band office In Moose Factory over three week-ends in the spring and fall of 2001.
Mushkegowuk First Nation Band Office, Moose Factory, Spring 2001
Our class began inauspiciously on a Friday evening in early May. Six young women and one young man wandered in late, appearing tired after a long week of work. They must all have wondered about this strange white teacher from the south, one with little connection to their lives, communities and culture. This was a Native Studies course put on by Trent University, as much a colonial institution as most universities in Canada. The first text probably confirmed their fears: Oxford University Press's An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, edited by Daniel David Moses and Terry Goldie, with its dull blue and gold cover, was suitably scholarly but did not appeal to those students hoping for alternatives to mainstream academic texts. In addition, the term "literature" in its title and in the title of the course itself must have brought back too many bad memories of high school English classes: insufferable hours spent reading texts canonized by the dominant white culture but with little relevance to theirs.
By the time class finished that evening, most must have felt the power dynamics between teacher and student and colonizer and colonized were to be reproduced, either consciously or unconsciously, in our classroom. Certainly, I was left questioning how this course, despite my best efforts to create a student-centred pedagogy, would break the tradition of English Literature as a colonial tool of assimilation. However, something wonderful happened on the Saturday and Sunday of that weekend. Sitting together at the round table in the Band office, we put down our pens, closed our notebooks and started taking turns reading out loud from the anthology. (16) I watched and listened to a growing confidence among the students and a felt a change in the atmosphere in the room as they encountered, for the first time, stories and poems by Aboriginal writers in the Moses and Goldie anthology. In the process, the Band office became a site of performance where each of us, both student and teacher, underwent a transformation from isolated individuals into active participants in a community of storytellers and listeners.
Laughter greeted my clumsy attempts at getting my tongue around the "Red English" of Maria Campbell's poem, "Jacob," removing me from the circle of knowledge in the classroom. For Campbell, using this form of english, rather than that of the imperial centre, Received Standard English (RSE), is an act of political resistance based on personal experience: she was forced to speak RSE at residential school and punished if she spoke the so-called "broken english" of her parents and grandparents. (17) My students, on the other hand, read with accomplishment the language of the old people in their communities. They told me with something approaching awe that they could hear the voices of their grandparents in old Jacob's voice as it rose eloquently off the printed page:
As each student read, many were moved to tears. I too found myself tremendously moved both by the obvious sense of confidence the students took in their readings and by the power of the poem to transform a group of individuals into a community of storytellers. "Red English" in this context became a tool working to valorize not only the experience and cultures of the old people like Jacob in the poem, all of whom were survivors of residential school, but also the lived experience of the students themselves by "breaking" the power of the mainstream academic institution and its discourses.
After reading another poem by Maria Campbell, that first weekend our group's focus turned to the poetry of Plains Cree writer and activist, Beth Cuthand. We began with a group reading of her poem, "Post-Oka Kinda Women." Here, RSE is treated with the same political suspicion. This time, however, it is appropriated and re-invented as a contemporary feminist form of "Red English," with the printed page once again becoming a site of oral performance. In this case, as each student read, the voice of a contemporary Aboriginal woman was liberated from the page. The students heard their own voices speaking of their own experiences and laughed with delight at such recognition. Accompanying this new voice in Cuthand's poem is a new sense of confidence and political strength born from the experience of Oka, (18) a watershed moment in Canada's relationship with First Nations peoples, one which spoke to an equal sense of assertiveness among these future teachers:
"Post-Oka Kinda Woman" also refuses to fetishize "authentic" images of Native people, recognizing and celebrating along with my students the contradictory identities of contemporary First Nations women in Canada, ones that resist colonial categories and "Indian Act" constructions. Like them,
This was exciting for us all and for many reasons. In the process of reading these texts, the power relations of the dominant white culture had been turned upside down: written texts became oral performances; students became teachers; readers became listeners and speakers; and as a result, in our classroom in Moose Factory, Indigenous knowledges were valorized and celebrated. For here, the written "academic" texts brought by the white university instructor from the south were appropriated by these students and became, paradoxically, the means of accessing not only the vibrant and dynamic quality of contemporary Indigenous cultural production but also, by making the texts perform for them and by turning themselves into performers, they established a sense of connection and continuity with traditional Indigenous oral cultures.
By "wielding the tools of their enemies," in this case the university system and its white teacher, they Indigenized the course and made it their own. Playing a key role in this subversive strategy were, of course, the texts themselves. In Campbell and Cuthand's poems, for example, the "enemy's tools"--RSE and its literary genres--are re-invented and filled with Indigenous meanings. As they took turns around the table in the Mushkegowuk Band office in Moose Factory, reading and "performing" these texts with such ease and delight, my students also demonstrated that speaking "Red English" could also be for them as it was for these two poets an act of empowerment rather than victimization, a paradoxical act that serves to revitalize Indigenous oral traditions and cultures by means of the written text.
Just as their understanding of the written text had shifted and changed, so too did their understanding of Indigenous identities celebrated within them. Like the students from my course in Critical Theory in Peterborough, these students from small northern Cree communities around James Bay learned that their own contradictory "Post Oka" subjectivities were to be celebrated and not denigrated. What I learned was that the dull blue and gold anthology published by Oxford University Press held magical powers if read in the right context. I also learned that the university, at its best, could indeed live up to Justice's dream and become a space of liberation and a "site of significant cultural recovery work ... where all people who are disconnected from their histories can begin their journey homeward" (Seeing Red, p. 102).
Now back to the conference, my paper, and the question: "So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this?" Certainly, what both Maria Campbell and Janice Acoose heard in my presentation was this: a group of Cree students from James Bay, destined to teach in Aboriginal communities in that area, were "turned on" by contemporary Indigenous writing. They heard that it spoke to their own experiences and their own struggles as well as their growing sense of pride in their own, contradictory, hybrid First Nations identities. If these future teachers brought the same confidence and excitement to their own classrooms as they did to this course, then Aboriginal writing could, indeed, become a powerful decolonizing tool for First Nations peoples. What they did not hear much about was the teacher's pedagogical methods or reading strategies because the students, as they read the texts, developed them themselves. At the end of the day, the white academic from the south was not very important to any of these stories. She was just the "tool of the enemy" appropriated for a new purpose. As Beth Cuthand would say, "No Shit."
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(1.) I follow the practice of my colleagues in the field by using the terms "Aboriginal," "Indigenous," "Native," "First Peoples" and "First Nations" interchangeably in this paper to refer to Metis, Inuit, Status and non-Status Indians in Canada. It is also commonplace for Status Indians in Canada to refer to their communities as 'First Nations' and I follow that practice. 'Native American' is the term most often used to refer to Indigenous peoples in the United States and, less often, in Canada. All these terms are, of course, problematic as they paper over the profound differences existing among Aboriginal groups, bands, tribes and communities. As a result, where possible, I cite each writer's band or tribal affiliation.
(2.) Lenore Keeshig-Tobias demonstrates how the mainstream media and a number of high profile Toronto writers such as Timothy Findley took out of context a variation of this slogan in her nuanced position on the issue of the appropriation of Native voice in Canada published in an article in The Globe and Mail in 1989. By accusing her of censorship, Findley et al. simplified and made reductive a complex and important issue for Indigenous peoples. For a copy of her Globe and Mail article see Keeshig-Tobias, "Stop Stealing," pp. 71-73, and for her response to the controversy the article created, see Keeshig-Tobias, Forward, pp. xv-xvi.
(3.) Universities in Canada use the terms 'Native Studies,' 'Indigenous Studies,' 'First Nations Studies,' and 'Native American Studies' to name their specific programs and departments that focus on Aboriginal peoples, cultures, and histories. The Native Studies Department at Trent University recently changed its name to Indigenous Studies, a key reason for this change being that the Inuit and Metis are neither considered "Native" nor regulated by the 'Indian Act' as are all First Nations communities in the country. In addition, as Lawrence writes: "Indigeneity ... signif[ies] a more decolonized understanding of what could otherwise be termed Nativeness.... It refers less to precolonial states of ... identity than to a future, postcolonial refashioning of Indigenous identities that are truer to Indigenous histories and cultures than those shaped by the colonial realities that continue to surround Native people at present" (Lawrence, pp. 21-22).
(4.) This term is taken from the title of a collection of essays edited by Devon Abbott Mihesuah and Angela Cavender Wilson: Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).
(5.) In an Indigenous fiction course I taught in the winter of 2007 at Trent University, for example, out of 36 students only two self-identified as Aboriginal. At the beginning of the course much of our time was spent interrogating the stereotypes of Indigenous peoples that my white students brought to the course.
(6.) Enakshi Dua and Bonita Lawrence argue convincingly that faculty women of colour in Canadian universities do not hold similar positions of power in their classrooms and academic departments. See Dua and Lawrence, 2000, pp. 105-122.
(7.) For a full discussion of Lorde's position see her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.
(8.) For a further discussion of this legacy, see J.R. Miller, Lethal Legacy: Current Native Controversies in Canada.
(9.) For a discussion of this term, coined by the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, see his collection of essays, The Location of Culture.
(10.) Moses and Goldie's Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English was first published in 1992 and has had two further editions published in 1998 and 2005. Even more successful are recent novels written by Indigenous writers in Canada, Tomson Highway, Eden Robinson and Joseph Boyden. They have become bestsellers not only in North America but also globally in translation. None of these novelists shy away from telling the brutal colonial histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada; however, they also celebrate the survival of Indigenous cultures and identities today.
(11.) Highway, Robinson and Boyden take as one of their themes in their writing the sexual/physical/psychological abuse of Indigenous children in the Canadian government and church-run residential schools. In part because of the success of these novels, the residential school issue is now making headlines nationally and internationally, forcing a shocked Canadian settler society to begin to come to terms with its brutal treatment of Native peoples.
(12.) Vizenor's academic writing, like that of Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha, is often criticized both for its intellectual elitism and its disconnection from the postcolonial or Indigenous communities that it supports. See, for example, Ward Churchill's review of Manifest Manners, pp. 313-318. To Vizenor's credit, however, his theoretical writings target academic readers, on one hand, with publications such as Narrative Chance (1989), Manifest Manners (1994), and Fugitive Poses (1998). On the other hand, his novels and short stories target Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences both inside and outside the academy. See, for example, his equally theoretical but more accessible Chancers (2000); Hotline Healers (1991); Landfill Meditation (1991); Bearheart (1990); Dead Voices (1990); Griever (1987); and Earthdivers (1981). What struck me as extraordinary was that my group of Trent students was willing to put in the hard work of reading passages from his theoretical writings not just dutifully but also passionately.
(13.) For a discussion of the psychological impact of colonial stereotypes on Indigenous peoples and the pressure to be "Status," "traditional" and "authentic" rather than "mixedblood," see Bonita Lawrence, Introduction, p. 1-22.
(14.) The two white women told me that on a number of occasions early in the course they would leave my house in tears because, for the first time at Trent, they were the minority voices in a classroom sitting outside the circle of cultural knowledges in the group. In their written assignments, they argued the importance of that experience wishing it had occurred in their first year at university rather than their fourth.
(15.) The paper, "Wielding the Tools of the Enemy: Three Native Women's Texts and the Politics of Performativity," was subsequently published in CINSA: Proceedings of the Annual Conference: In Partnership. May 31-June 3, 2001. Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan Extension Press, 2002, pp. 108-122.
(16.) This was a practical as well as a pedagogical strategy: course textbooks did not arrive in time, so my copy had to be passed around the table as each student read from it.
(17.) Campbell explained her strategic use of "Red English" in a keynote address at Talking on the Page: Editing Aboriginal Oral Texts, a conference held at University College, University of Toronto, November 14-16, 1996. Other women writers on the course who deploy "Red English" equally effectively were three Cree poets, Louise Halfe, Joan Crate and Beth Cuthand. I discuss the students' response to Cuthand's writing below.
(18.) In protest over the planned extension of a golf course in Oka, Qurbec and the expropriation of a sacred burial ground, Mohawk warriors from the Six Nations reserve of Kanehsatake, Qurbec confronted the Surete du Quebec and the Canadian army during the summer of 1990. This armed confrontation gained national and international media headlines and was witness to an extraordinary solidarity amongst Aboriginal peoples living in Canada and the US.
When I began studying Native literature, the critical climate crackled with charges that such an undertaking, whatever the intention, was an instance of cultural appropriation. As a non-Native person, I avoided Native literature written in English, but in the end the embarrassment of knowing that, after almost ten years at university studying Canadian Literature, I knew almost nothing about First Nations literature caused me to reconsider my initial wariness. (p. 220)
Perhaps as teachers we can facilitate what bell hooks refers to as "education as the practice of freedom." Perhaps we might engage in an educational dynamic with students that is liberatory, not only for the oppressed but also for the oppressors. Perhaps as scholars we can conduct research that has a beneficial impact on humanity in general, as well as on our Indigenous peoples. Perhaps the scholarship we produce might be influential not only among our ivory tower peers, but also within the dominant society. Perhaps our activism and persistence within the academy might also redefine the institution from an agent of colonization to a centre of decolonization. (p. 5)
Many of us ... are using the "enemy's language" with which to tell our truths, to sing, to remember ourselves through these troubled times.... [T]o speak, at whatever the cost, is to become empowered rather than victimized by destruction. In our tribal cultures the power of language to heal, to regenerate, and to create is understood. These colonizer's languages which often usurped our own tribal languages or diminished them, now hand back emblems of our cultures, our own designs: beadwork quills, if you will. We've transformed these enemy languages. (pp. 20-21)
Well Jacob him he stay in dat school all dem years an when he come home he was a man. While he was gone his Mommy and Daddy dey die so he gots nobody. An on top of dat nobody he knowed cause he gots a new name. (p. 131)
She's done with victimization, reparation, degradation, assimilation, devolution, coddled collusion, the "plight of the Native Peoples." (p. 252)
She drives a Toyota, reads bestsellers, sweats on weekends, colours her hair, sings old songs, gathers herbs. Post-Oka woman, she's cheeky She's bold. She's cold. And she don't take no shit! No shit. (p. 252-253)
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