Indigenous Resurgence

Reviewed by Stephanie Butler

Bevann Fox’s Genocidal Love, originally self-published as Abstract Love (2011), is a lightly fictionalized memoir centred on Fox’s experience of abuse in residential school, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement claims process, and decades of relationship challenges in the aftermath of survivance. Using an avatar, Myrtle, Fox poignantly traces the impacts of residential-school abuse (sexual, physical, cultural, and spiritual) on her (at times abusive) relationships with men as an adult. One former white non-Indigenous partner, Bella, transitions from male to female as their relationship ends. While it is, perhaps, realistic that Myrtle struggles to accept her former partner, she repeatedly misgenders Bella and does not distinguish between gender and sexual orientation (claiming Bella is transgender rather than bisexual, when the former refers to gender while the latter refers to sexuality; it is not uncommon to be both transgender and bisexual). It seems appropriate to attribute Myrtle’s difficulty in accepting Bella’s transness not just to their sexual and romantic relationship, but also to the ongoing imposition of patriarchal settler-colonial gender roles (an insidious form of settler-colonial violence). It is, otherwise, obvious how important an ongoing friendship with Bella is to her. The impacts of abuse, and colonial patriarchal attitudes toward women’s bodies, are unflinchingly addressed in her bold yet humorous portrayal of women friends’ endeavours to achieve sexual pleasure. Myrtle’s grief over the death of her son has resonance for readers who have experienced similar losses; it is an assertion of the preciousness and sacredness of Indigenous lives in defiance of ongoing genocide.

The text sensitively starts with a content warning, which implies an expected readership of fellow survivors and their kin. Fox frames the story and its effects as (potentially) healing for herself and her audience—as a way “to bring back something lost.” Daniel Heath Justice, in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter (2018), echoes this sentiment by articulating how Indigenous “stories can be good medicine” to “heal the spirit as well as the body, remind us of the greatness of where we come from as well as the greatness of who we’re meant to be, so that we’re not determined by the colonial narrative of deficiency.” Fox and her protagonist Myrtle are survivors, and the narrative—through all its pain, trauma, and grief—is life-affirming. This book, I would argue, thereby contributes to what Aubrey Jean Hanson identifies, in “Reading as Reconciliation” (2017), as Indigenous resurgence via the literary arts.1 “Resurgence, unlike reconciliation,” constitutes “a socio-cultural movement and theoretical framework that concentrates on regeneration within Indigenous communities. It validates Indigenous knowledges, cultures, histories, ingenuity, and continuity.” Although colonialism is acknowledged, relations between Indigenous peoples and settler-colonizers are not centred in resurgence. Instead, resurgence “focuses on Indigenous communities as sites of power and regeneration”—it “is about people in their own communities nourishing their own traditions, languages, worldviews, stories, knowledges and ways of being.” While residential-school abuse, colonial violence, and intergenerational trauma are addressed in Fox’s narrative, community, close relationships, and healing take centre stage.

However, as a white settler scholar residing in Canada, I am confronted with questions about who should read Fox’s text and how. Yet, as Hanson articulates, drawing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s educational calls to action, non-Indigenous people in Canada need to engage critically with Indigenous perspectives, the residential-school system, settler colonialism, and Indigenous successes. For fellow settlers or non-Indigenous people embracing the ethical imperative to read, learn from, and even teach such a text, Helen Hoy’s How Should I Read These? (2001) and Robert McGill’s “Against Mastery” provide useful examples of the necessary processes of humility and critical self-reflection.2 If we are willing to reflect on our own potentially flawed interpretations, and guard against how our readings of Fox’s text may unwittingly reinforce anti-Indigenous stereotypes, there is, I would argue, a place for non-Indigenous readers provided we approach the text respectfully and with an understanding that it was created more for fellow survivors than for us.

Such questions about the ethics of readership and non-Indigenous consumption of Indigenous culture and art are central to Indianthusiasm: Indigenous Responses, edited by Hartmut Lutz, Florentine Strzelczyk, and Renae Watchman. While this collection engages critically with academic literature and debates about Indigenous literatures and the ethics of readership, it has a wider non-academic appeal. The book establishes a foundation for understanding German interest in North American Indigenous peoples. Despite my own Swiss German heritage, relationships with German friends and colleagues, and expertise in Second World War British-German relations, until I read this book I had no idea that there was such a thing as German “Indianthusiasm.”

Indianthusiasm comprises a series of interviews conducted by the co-editors with Indigenous artists and writers from North America who have lived, studied, or worked in Germany. Interviewees included Ahmoo Angeconeb, Jeannette C. Armstrong, John Blackbird, Warren Cariou, Jo-Ann Episkenew, Audrey Huntley, Thomas King, David T. McNab, Quentin Pipestem, Waubgeshig Rice, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Emma Lee Warrior. Each was asked if they were aware of German “Indianthusiasm,” had encountered it, what they thought of the phenomenon, and if they had engaged with or responded to it in their own work.

Interviewees were asked about widespread interest in Indigenous cultures and knowledges among Germans, which led to one of the collection’s most striking conceptual arguments. In conversation with Episkenew, and as clarified by Lutz, it emerged that German “Indianthusiasts” may be influenced by a desire to connect with pre-Christian traditions and ways of being with nature. As Lutz explains, many earlier Germanic traditions were misused by the National Socialists and so have stigma attached to them. “Indianthusiasm” emerged as a response to a desire both to escape feelings of guilt over the genocidal violence of National Socialism and to connect with pre-Christian and pre-capitalist modes of coexisting with nature. In the introduction, the co-editors also acknowledge Adolf Hitler’s appreciation for German novelist Karl May’s stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples in North America and how German “Indianthusiasm” historically was a response to Germany’s thwarted colonial ambitions. Nonetheless, the conceptual influence of systems of anti-Indigenous genocide in North America on National Socialist anti-Jewish genocide in Europe is absent from this narrative. Moreover, National Socialist plans for genocide in North America, had they occupied these lands, and their implications for Indigenous peoples, are not mentioned.

Yet this deeply engaging and critical text centres on the ethical implications of German “Indianthusiasts” positioning themselves as arbiters of authentic Indigeneity in ways that threaten to replace Indigenous peoples in some manifestations, while providing work and study opportunities for actual Indigenous peoples in others. The Indigenous artists, writers, and academics interviewed refuse to be limited to this framework of engagement, instead largely insisting that their work is designed for Indigenous audiences and not in response to German appropriations. Both Fox’s text and this collection necessitate ethical self-critical reflection from settler and non-Indigenous audiences. It is not enough for settler and non-Indigenous peoples to read Indigenous literatures or engage with Indigenous knowledges; substantial harm can result from misreading, appropriation, and false claims to Indigeneity.

1 See “Reading for Reconciliation? Indigenous Literatures in a Post-TRC Canada,” ESC vol. 43, nos. 2–3, 2017, pp. 69–90.

2 See Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry vol. 3, no. 2, 2016, pp. 241-54.

This review “Indigenous Resurgence” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 2 Dec. 2020. Web.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.