Charting Indigenous Pasts and Futures
- Karl S. Hele (Editor)
Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Marie Wadden (Author)
Where the Pavement Ends: Canada's Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Keavy Martin
In June of 2009, Canadian authorities shut down a border crossing at Akwesasne in response to a peaceful protest against the arming of border guards in Mohawk territory. Local spokespeople pointed out that the presence of guns not only poses a threat to the community but violates the sovereignty of the Akwesasne Territory, which is intersected by both the Canada-U.S. and Ontario-Quebec borders. This event serves as a reminder of the need for studies like Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands, the recent addition to Wilfrid Laurier’s Aboriginal Studies Series.
Edited by the Anishinabeg historian Karl S. Hele, this collection of scholarly essays offers a mainly historical overview of the Great Lakes watershed, of the negotiations between the colonial British and American governments, and of the ways in which the Indigenous peoples of the region have maneuvered around the drawing of the international border. As Catherine Murton Stoehr writes in her contribution, "[i]t is a truism to say that the borders between nation-states are political fictions; however, those fictions have been turned into Western fact by the national orientation of historical inquiry." Lines Drawn upon the Water thus works to nuance understandings of Great Lakes colonial history and to problematize the boundaries between Canadian and American, settler and Native, and colonizer and colonized.
The extent to which the study of borderlands constitutes a new or rising field-as several of the contributors declare-is questionable, as the framework calls to mind the now-canonical work of scholars like Gloria Anzaldúa, Mary Louise Pratt, and Homi Bhabha. The collection’s strength, rather, lies in the specificity and detail of its components, many of which highlight a particular people (Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis), historical figure (the Flemish Bastard, Tenskwatawa, E. Pauline Johnson), or locale (Sault Ste. Marie, Walpole Island, Six Nations). Although most of the chapters are grounded in careful historical research, the collection arguably also explores the borderlands between disciplines, as its authors discuss the political ramifications of Indian Status legislation (Hele, Shields), the literary and anthropological constructions of local identity and history (Philips & McDougall, Lischke), and the potential for a sustainable land-ethics in the multicultural and multinational Great Lakes region (Fehr).
Hele writes that he and the other contributors "hope to overcome the limitations in perspective imposed by the border . . . and to establish new connections despite the imposition of what is, in reality, a nebulous line drawn upon the water." The book is marked, however, by a tension between this stated desire to look past the border and a recognition of the boundary which inevitably shapes the lives and histories of the local peoples. In other words, the collection itself exhibits the often simultaneous activities of drawing and erasing the border (as exhibited in the cover illustration by Lorraine Trecroce). Yet as Phil Bellfy (White Earth Chippewa) astutely points out, "[w]hile a border implies ‘division,’ [it] . . . may also be viewed as a strong link that has served to maintain unity. . . ." This sense of the border as a connective thread also serves to tie together the diverse and occasionally conflicting pieces of Hele’s collection. Readers will come away with an in-depth and nuanced understanding of the Great Lakes region and with a new appreciation for the benefits of regional (rather than, or in addition to, national/ethnic) studies.
Marie Wadden’s Where the Pavement Ends: Canada’s Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation, though published by a trade press (Douglas & McIntyre) and therefore aimed at a broader audience than Hele’s academic collection, also bears witness to the ways in which state-sponsored initiatives have disrupted the lives of Indigenous peoples. In this book based on a series of articles written in 2006 for the Toronto Star, Wadden documents the legacies of addiction and abuse that have been bestowed upon First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities by a history of government-initiated displacement, disempowerment, and attempts at cultural assimilation. Wadden is upfront about the audience and purpose of her book: she is writing primarily for a mainstream non-Aboriginal readership with the intention of rallying public support for Aboriginal healing initiatives which, though effective, are consistently undermined by a lack of government assistance.
The time that Wadden has spent in communities, and in particular her personal connection with the Penashue family in Labrador, no doubt contributes to the sense of urgency with which she writes about the need for reconciliation, or healing. In describing social problems in Aboriginal communities, Wadden walks a difficult line between capturing the attention of non-Aboriginal Canadians and reinforcing the stereotypes which already dominate the media. At times, Wadden’s tone tends toward the apocalyptic-or echoes, at least, the century-old rumours of the ‘dying Indian’-as she writes that she "ha[s] come to believe that the very survival of the first peoples of this country is at risk." However, the vast majority of the book actually emphasizes the persistence and agency of Indigenous peoples, as Wadden highlights the hard work and successes of Aboriginal leaders like Dr. Marjorie Hodgson, Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth Penashue), and Phyllis and Andy Chelsea, and of grassroots initiatives like the Community Holistic Circle Healing process at Hollow Water, Manitoba.
Throughout Where the Pavement Ends, Wadden contrasts the potential of community-run, culturally specific initiatives with the inefficiency of INAC. She has learned, she says, that "[g]overnment bureaucracies are lousy at helping to solve human problems." However, Wadden’s final section, "Recommendations and Action Plan," strangely mimics the top-down bureaucratic approaches that the author has spent so much time critiquing. Of far greater value are the book’s twenty-one chapters, which emphasize the human face of a past and present too often obscured by geographical and conceptual distance.
- Owning versus Owning Up by Christopher Bracken
Books reviewed: Who Owns Native Culture? by Michael F. Brown and The Legacy of School for Aboriginal People: Education, Oppression, and Emancipation by Bernard Schissel and Terry Wotherspoon
- Niagara Fools by Christoph Irmscher
Books reviewed: The Niagara Companion: Explorers, Artists, and Writers at the Falls, from Discovery through the Twentieth Century by Linda L. Revie and From the Fallen Tree: Frontier Narratives, Environmental Politics, and the Roots of a National Pastoral by Thomas Hallock
- Taboo Intimacies by Maya Simpson
Books reviewed: Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America by Renee C. Romano and Interracial Intimacy: the Regulation of Race and Romance by Rachel F. Moran
- A Complicated Welcome by Markus Poetzsch
Books reviewed: Romantic Hospitality and the Resistance to Accommodation by Peter Melville
- Narrating BC by Joel Martineau
Books reviewed: West by Northwest: British Columbia Short Stories by David Stouck and Myler Wilkinson, Wilderness Beginnings by Rose Hertel Falkenhagen, and Talk and Log: Wilderness Politics in British Columbia, 1965-96 by Jeremy Wilson
MLA: Martin, Keavy. Charting Indigenous Pasts and Futures. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #203 (Winter 2009), Home, Memory, Self. (pg. 155 - 157)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.