Shadows of Indian Title: The Territorial Underpinnings of “The Height of Land”


This paper argues for a spatialized reading of Duncan Campbell Scott’s paradigmatic northern poem, “The Height of Land.” Despite its vivid rendering of northern Ontario geography, this poem has been read primarily as a journey through the poet’s mind, not as a territorializing gesture that recalls Scott’s work for the Department of Indian Affairs. Yet, as this paper suggests, the poem’s setting is suffused with the territorial implications of Treaty 9, which the poet helped to negotiate in the area a decade earlier. More like Scott’s so-called “Indian” poems than might first be supposed, “The Height of Land” embeds its metaphysical meditations in a contact zone across which colonial and aboriginal worldviews quietly, but nonetheless significantly, collide. The poem is shaped by a colonial desire to re-map Ontario’s north, its spiritual appropriation of space a reflection of the political appropriation that the treaty sought to effect.

This article “Shadows of Indian Title: The Territorial Underpinnings of “The Height of Land”” originally appeared in 50th Anniversary Interventions. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 204 (Spring 2010): 85-101.

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