Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Whithorn Way, Day Six

The pilgrimage to Whithorn doesn’t end at the ruins of Whithorn Priory. It continues with a trip to St. Ninian’s Cave, where the saint repaired for private devotions, and a walk to Isle of Whithorn, where a now-roofless stone chapel dedicated to St. Ninian’s stands. We’re going the opposite way of medieval pilgrims, who would have come by sea, stopping at St. Ninian’s cave along the sea shore before disembarking at St. Ninian’s chapel and then proceeding overland for the short walk to Whithorn and a visit to the saint’s (now missing) remains.

We shunned the medieval pilgrims’ method of transportation at first this morning–we took a taxi to the parking lot above the cave, where we met Matthew’s friends Chris and Clare, who had driven over from Newcastle to see him. Together we walked along the shore to the cave. It’s smaller now than it would’ve been when Ninian was there–erosion caused parts of the entry to fall in–and the crosses that medieval pilgrims carved into the stone walls are lost among other graffiti, but there are signs of people visiting out of faith: crosses and coins and, strangely, the name “Manson.”

Then we climbed up onto the cliffs above the sea and walked to Isle of Whithorn. It was windy and a little rainy–nothing like the forecast had promised, though–and the path was often just inches from a vertiginous drop to the rocks below. I relaxed whenever we went through a gate into a pasture, because then there would be a fence between us and the edge. Usually, however, there was no fence. It was the setting of a Scots murder mystery: two business partners go for a walk along the shore, hoping the fresh air and exercise will help them settle their differences, and only one returns. “He fell, officer, honest!” But Detective Milngavie finds out the truth, somehow, within the 200 pages the publisher asked for, and the social contract is reaffirmed.

I had left my heavy pack behind and was carrying Christine’s day pack, and I felt like skipping over the hills. And my boots finally dried last night, mostly, so my feet were comfortable. Despite the cliff edge, it was a great walk.

In Isle of Whithorn, we saw the chapel ruins and had coffee–and some of Clare’s delicious fruit cake–and then Chris and Clare drove us back to Whithorn before turning for home. Our plan is to go back to Isle of Whithorn for supper at the pub. Yes, we could’ve stayed there–a band was playing folk music in the pub–but an entire afternoon in the pub might have meant overstaying our welcome, especially in our smelly walking clothes. “Get the stinking drunk Canadians out of here!” the barman would shout, and we would end up walking, or staggering, back to Whithorn.

That’s the end of this walk. Tomorrow we head for Glasgow, where Matthew will had back to Nottingham and then, two days later, we’ll return home. What have I learned from walking in Scotland? Bring rain pants! And if your path reaches a dead end, don’t be afraid to turn back. And take time to enjoy a lovely country. At least we’re done the last one, very well.

Whithorn Way, Day Five: Arrival

It was pouring rain when I got up this morning, but by the time we’d finished our massive full Scottish breakfast, the sun was shining and it stayed shining all day. Our landlord drove us to Mochrum, where we began our short(ish) walk to Whithorn. On the way, he explained how a man in his forties managed to retire and move from southern England to what he calls “the least populated corner of Scotland” to run a pub and hotel with his wife and daughter. It’s not an easy life–they closed last night after midnight and we’re up to serve us breakfast at nine o’clock, but although he says he wouldn’t do it again, he seems to be enjoying himself.

We walked along a busy B road most of the day. But our path took us past a trio of menhirs (two had fallen), called the Drumtrodden stones. Neolithic people dragged those huge stones to that spot and then pulled them erect, so that thousands of years later they are still vertical (some of them). And there are menhirs all over Europe. Nobody knows exactly what they were for, but they were clearly important–otherwise those people wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble putting them up.

My boots are still wet, despite being stuffed with newspaper last night. And that means damp socks and, eventually, more blisters. But because our walk was short today, and because the sun was shining, I’m no worse off than I was at the end of yesterday’s walk.

The traffic got busier as we drew nearer to Whithorn, with relays of tractors hauling wagons of loose hay (for silage, perhaps) and then returning empty. That meant a lot of hopping out of the way every few minutes. Soon we could see Whithorn in the distance–the clock tower on the town hall is quite distinctive–and in a few miles we were there.

Our B&B hosts weren’t around, so I stashed my pack in their garden and walked on to Whithorn Priory. There’s a Church of Scotland church next to the roofless priory chapel, which was abandoned after the Reformation (many of the priory’s other buildings seem to have been pulled down and the stone reused–perhaps for the new church). The crypt where St. Ninian’s remains used to be is below–it can be accessed through the museum, which holds a small but impressive collection of stone crosses dating back more than a thousand years.

It was a little underwhelming, perhaps because of the small size of the chapel, or perhaps because my feet hurt and I was tired. I enjoyed hearing about the stone crosses, though, and we met the author of the guidebook to the Whithorn Way, Julia Muir Watt, at the town’s visitor centre. (We bought copies for future reference.) She said we were the first Canadians to walk the Way–or in our case, parts of it.

A taxi will arrive shortly to take us to a pub in Garlieston for supper. And after that, I’m excited about doing a little laundry–since we’re going to be here for two days, it might even dry!

Whithorn Way, Day Four

Last night, Peter Ross, one of the group who are working to revive the Whithorn Way, stopped by our lodgings (a renovated shed named Nadav’s Hut) to say hello. He was kind enough to take Matthew and Christine to a nearby village (I needed a nap) where they bought some food for breakfast and, more importantly, beer. This morning, we met Peter at Glenluce Abbey, and he walked with us much of the day. No waymarking troubles–Peter led the way and put us on our road when he turned for home–and much explanations of the history of the Way and the politics of reviving it, as well as the nuts and bolts of living in this corner of Scotland. He was a welcome addition to our walk.

We crossed the famous Southern Uplands Way, which Peter helped to create in the early 1970s. It hasn’t taken off, partly because of the difficulty of the route and partly because the Borders are too unpopulated to provide much in the way of services for walkers. Many of the things that make life here easy–cars and trucks, for instance–make walking harder, since they encourage rural depopulation, which makes pedestrians’ lives harder. Eighty years ago there might’ve been more villages where walkers might’ve been able to get food and drink–like Arthur Wainwright wandering around in the Pennines just before the war.

The sun came out briefly in the morning, but it started to drizzle while Peter was touring us through the ruins of Glenluce Abbey, and the rain, ranging from steady showers to a fine mizzle, stayed with us all day. Away went the camera, and on went the rain gear. As lovely as my camera is, its weight and fragility count against it, and I wonder if I need something lighter. We stopped for lunch in Glenluce village–I had a haggis and cheese sandwich, an odd yet tasty combination–and then carried on down the road. Peter showed us a loch with two crannags–artificial islands built by Bronze Age people–before he turned back to Glenluce. The islands were intended for defence, archaeologists think: if raiders appeared, the people could pull away their drawbridges and be safe. Or at least safer.

After Peter left for home, our path led us over the moors and through a forest. I spooked a pair of sheep, who stumbled across a cattle grid and headed for parts unknown. Then an approaching vehicle sent them running back our way. I thought of how my friend Geoff was knocked down by a rogue sheep in Spain. I got out of the way. The sheep ran past–Matthew has a great photo of them–and back over the obstacle that was supposed to keep them on the other side of the fence.

Then we went through the forest. The path became a track covered in knee-high grass, which soaked our boots and trousers. We plashed across the moor to the point where our landlord from the Craighlaw Arms in Kirkowan was to pick us up. We were early and as soon as we stopped walking we got cold. Shivering cold. But Dave arrived quickly and carried us to his hotel where we were offered a dryer for our clothes and a warm place for our soggy boots. Maybe they’ll dry overnight! We also were served an excellent supper accompanied by an IPA. What could be better?

During the last hour of any walk, when my feet hurt and my pack is heavy, I curse myself and ask why I go on these walks. After a shower and dry clothing and eating and drinking, I have my answer. Although I do wonder how I’ll get back up the stairs to our room…..

Whithorn Way, Day Three

This morning, we put on our wet boots for another day of walking. There are two schools of thought here regarding wet boots: does one wear dry socks and risk getting them wet, ending up with two pairs of wet socks, or does one wear damp socks and keep the dry pair for a better day? I’m of the faction that prefers to save dry socks for later, but looking at my pruny feet, I might have to change my ways. Perhaps dry socks in wet boots is the way to go.

Those pruny feet are, not surprisingly, blistered, and I hobbled the last few kilometres into New Luce today. It’s a lovely village, but the pub is closed for renovations and our kind hosts don’t normally do suppers (without lots of advance notice). Luckily we have some food, including a can of soup donated by our hosts. Supper is covered, then, but breakfast is not. We will have to walk to the next town on empty stomachs. It’s not far–just over five miles.

It was a lovely walk here. We didn’t get lost–we couldn’t, since we followed the same road past sheep and cattle farms all day. And wind farms–several of those. We also figured out how to use the OS map references on our directions to identify where we were. Matthew even has a compass, which is invaluable.

The threatening rain held off until just after we stopped for a midday snack–a full Scottish breakfast leaves little room for lunch–and then it started to pour. This time I was smart and put my camera–which slowly came back to life over the morning–away. Eventually the sun came out. I stopped to take off my boots and socks, wondering aloud if I ought to put on a dry pair. Hardly had the words “dry socks” left my mouth than it began to rain again. It rained on and off for the rest of the day. It’s raining now.

We’re safely under a roof, though, and resting after our walk. Soon we’ll think about supper. Until then, it’s time for a nap.

Whithorn Way, Day Two

It started raining as we left the B&B. We had eaten enough to satisfy Robert the Bruce’s army at breakfast. In the town centre, we ran across the landlord from the Maybole Arms with Loki, and they posed for a photo.

Our B&B hosts had said it was a mile to Crossraguel Abbey. It was longer, a plod alongside a busy highway. The Abbey is closed for restoration work, but Christine climbed the fence and took a look inside.

Later: We walked along a country track (paved, oddly), across a ford (shallow now, but apparently the burn can get a lot deeper), and into Kirkoswald. I stumbled on the track and hurt my knee, so when we stopped at a whiskey shop for samples, I put on a brace that I bought in Spain years ago. Then we wandered into a café for scones and coffee. When we start walking again, we’ll be heading into the countryside again. I’m going to be more careful of where I put my feet.

Later: It was a gentle rain at first, the kind that seems to stop when you put on your raincoat. Then it got steadily worse, and we slowly got used to being wet. We have directions and an OS map, but the directions are sometimes cryptic and they seem to be intended to accompany route maps which we don’t have–they were lost in the mail, apparently, or sent to the wrong address. So we got lost despite following the directions as best as we could. They often referred to places that weren’t on the OS map, which was a problem. Not even on the GPS version of the map, which at least gave us an idea of where we were. That was essential–which isn’t a surprise, I suppose.

Once, the path appeared to come to a dead end at a stone barn. After much discussion and map reading, we found the way forward: an overgrown track. That was a relief. Later, the road we were following ended in a barley field. We were lost. We knew where we were–in a barley field next to an industrial park that was on the OS map. But where was our path? We thought it might be best to walk along the edge of the field. That led us to a ditch filled with brambles and nettles. I could hear the highway on the other side of the ditch, and tried to find a way through. It was impossible: on the other side of the steep-walked ditch there was a fence, covered in more brambles. I turned around and retraced my steps. It was starting to rain hard. By the time I got back out of the ditch I was scratched and bleeding–and soaked. We all were soaked. The barley field was a giant sponge filled with water. In hindsight, we should’ve just turned around when the road ended. But when you’re walking, every step costs something, and it’s hard to lose that effort–the sunk cost fallacy in action, I suppose.

Finally we found our way out and discovered we were close to where we were supposed to be–the Ayrshire Coastal Path, which essentially means the seashore, never mind the terrain or the tides. We had several miles to go and we were wet and exhausted, and without an address, we couldn’t call a cab. So we kept walking. My camera didn’t like getting so wet–it started giving strange error messages–so I put it away. Just as well–it was raining too hard for photography.

Now we’re in a pub in Girvan. My legs and hands are singing from the nettles, but it seems to have stopped raining and our B&B is close by. I’m looking forward to getting out of my wet clothes–although I’m going to be getting back into them again in the morning, unless the airing cupboard works some kind of magic. Even if it does, there’s a good chance of rain tomorrow.

Whithorn Way, Day One

We’re on the train to Ayr from Glasgow, where we’ll begin our walk on the Whithorn Way, an approximation of an old pilgrimage path to Whithorn, where the relics of St. Ninian, the first Christian missionary to Scotland, are located. Many medieval pilgrims, or at least pre-Reformation ones, including Mary, Queen of Scots, made their way to Whithorn for spiritual reasons. I’m just interested in walking in Scotland.

The Whithorn Way isn’t marked, although some of the paths it follows are, and despite our instructions I anticipate wrong turnings. We have OS maps which ought to help. And Google Maps, too–depending on reception.

I neglected to charge my camera, unfortunately. At least I can take photos with my phone. Christine is still jet lagged and hasn’t slept in days. She’s having a nap now as the train speeds towards Ayr.

John Henderson, one of the folks working to revive the Whithorn Way, drove to Glasgow from Melrose yesterday to meet us and explain logistics as well as the history of this path. His explanation of OS map references is going to come in handy.

Later: We’ve stopped for lunch beside the Irish Sea. It smells like kelp and salt. There’s a holiday camp behind us, and a dog came to visit–not because he wanted our sandwiches, but because he wanted someone to throw his slobbery ball. We’re about to set off to climb the Heads of Ayr. Wish us luck.

Later: We didn’t climb the Heads of Ayr. We missed a way marker, or the way marker was missing, and we ended up walking along the beach beneath, over boulders and through deep sand. I hadn’t realized how slippery deep drifts of kelp on the shore would be. How could I know? I live thousands of miles from the ocean. Had the tide been in, though, we wouldn’t have been able to make our way through.

Eventually we found the trail again, which led us into a cow pasture. I noted how many wildflowers here have been introduced in Canada–silverweed and thistles and sow thistle–but also how many plants are completely unknown to me. The way out took us back down to the sea again. But we could see the village of Dunure in the distance, where we are supposed to head inland.

We are in the tea shop in Dunure now, deciding whether to call a taxi to Maybole, where we’re staying, or keep walking. My phone says we’ve already walked as far as we had planned, although we did get lost a couple of times and we wandered around in the Robert Burns museum for a while.

I think the decision is to take a taxi. Just as well: it was a very hard walk today, and we have more walking tomorrow.

My camera, surprisingly, still has a little juice left–but I will have to charge it tonight.

Irn Brus are finished; time to move along–in a taxi.

Later: Our B&B is in a Charles Rennie McIntosh-designed Arts and Crafts-style home, and the town boasts a pub and a restaurant–hopefully side-by-side. Today’s walking is more or less finished; tomorrow’s is the work of another day.

Still later: We had stout at the Maybole Arms, where the landlord kindly let us bring in fish and chips from the chippy across the road (his kitchen was closed) and gave us treats to give to his handsome dog, Loki. Then back to our lodgings for wine and fantastic British cheese as a dessert. Now it’s time to turn in; the full Scottish breakfast at eight o’clock requires a good night’s sleep before it can be faced with courage and appetite.

Walking to Maynooth

When I was accepted into the Sacred Journeys conference in Maynooth, Ireland, I thought I might walk there from Dublin. My paper is on walking pilgrimages, so it seemed appropriate. Here I am, then, on the Royal Canal towpath, resting and enjoying the breeze. Maybe I’ll walk away my jet lag.

I slept in a little, still jet lagged, and left later than I had planned. I had a little trouble finding the way to the trail, which runs along the old towpath, too. So I can’t say if I’m past the halfway point or not. It doesn’t matter; one foot after another, and I’ll get there. Eventually.

This isn’t nonfunctional walking, since I have a goal, but in a way it is. The railway line is on the other side of the canal, and periodically a passing train reminds me that there are saner ways to get where I’m going. But then I wouldn’t get to know anything about the space I’m travelling through.

According to the visual and olfactory evidence, the Bin the Poo campaign is not working, despite the hefty fines involved (€150).

I stopped to chat with a cyclist this morning, and later I walked with two retired fellows for an hour or two. They filled me in on the weather here (today’s humidity is unusual) and the popularity of Gaelic football (more popular than soccer). They walk the path regularly. It’s one of their hobbies, I suppose.

Too bad there’s no pub nearby, because it’s lunchtime and I have no food (a terrible oversight). I might not find one until I get to Maynooth. That will make this walk difficult, even unpleasant. Translation: I’m hungry.

The sun is coming out. It’s turning into a lovely day.

Later: I found a pub in Leixlip, happily. Food and cold drink are coming my way. Still a way to go, and a wiser man would swallow his pride and take the train.

Later: About two kilometres back an old fellow told me that it was three more miles to Maynooth. I would guess I have another three kilometres to go. My feet are tired and blistered, but I expected that. I hope it’s not too far from the town centre to the university, where I’m staying.

Later: I made it. Now to find the campus. That can’t be too hard.

What strikes me about today’s walk? Wild poppies. The herons I surprised–two of them. The odd skunk smell along the path occasionally (are there skunks in Ireland?) Reminders of home: magpies, mallards, fireweed. The quiet water in the canal: lily pads and other water plants, a pair of swans with their babies. The friendly, grinning pit bull who squeezed through my legs as his human companion laughed. I’m sure I could come up with more. It was a grand day, as they say here.

Walking to the Glenbow

Yesterday, I played hooky from the conference I’m attending at the University of Calgary and walked downtown. It wasn’t a drift–I had Google Maps open on my phone, trying to find my way through a snarl of highways and suburban streets–nor was it nonfunctional walking, because I had a goal in mind: the Nick Cave show at the Glenbow Museum. The show–all of the work on display, including the new Kent Monkman installation–was great. So was my dinner at a tapas place on 17th Avenue SW. So was my walk: the first time I’ve been able to stretch my legs this year (I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time at my desk, reading).

I hadn’t planned to write about the walk here. I didn’t bring my camera (my phone was occupied in giving me somewhat suspect directions) and took no notes. What do I recall of the experience now? Making a sudden shift from a down-at-heel postwar suburb (curling asphalt shingles on every house) to a prewar suburb, just by turning a corner–along with the smaller houses (no bungalows), one sidewalk slab was marked with the contractor’s name and the date: 1931. Poplar fluff drifting from an unseen tree, hidden by an apartment building. The smell of barbecues in Beltline, possibly a Friday night tradition in this city. An odd level crossing allowing pedestrians and cyclists on a recreational path to safely cross the CP line. And this strange assemblage on a telephone pole. Is it art or a sign for technicians who might be called upon to make future repairs? I can’t tell.

It was close to an epic or heroic walk–solo and longish–which I have discovered is very much out of fashion among walking artists. (“Epic” and “heroic” turn out not to be neutral descriptors but pejoratives. I can see a paper that needs to be written: “In Defence of Epic Walking.”) But then again, it wasn’t an aesthetic walk. And that’s okay.

73. Harold Cardinal and Walter Hildebrandt, Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations

Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations (another that I read in the summer course I took last summer) is exceedingly important, because it explores the oral tradition surrounding the treaties in Saskatchewan through the words of contemporary Elders (contemporary 20 years ago, that is). That work is vital, given the differing interpretations of the treaties one sees in other writers. It was initially intended as a companion book to. Bounty and Benevolence: A History of Saskatchewan Treaties, by Arthur J. Ray, Jim Miller, and Frank Tough. The books are very different, though, and for some reason were published by two separate university presses—not that it matters. It’s clear while Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan was intended as an Indigenous perspective on the treaties, while Bounty and Benevolence was to be a standard documentary history. In my opinion, Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan has aged better; Bounty and Benevolence (is the title ironic?) has been superseded by Sheldon Krasowski’s No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous.

Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations begins with an account of First Nations spiritual laws and traditions, which makes sense because, as other writers on the treaties point out, the treaties were negotiated in accordance with First Nations laws, traditions, ceremonies and protocol. “The Elders make it clear that, in their view, those who seek to understand Indian treaties must become aware of the significance of First Nations spiritual traditions, beliefs, and ceremonies underlying the treaty-making process,” write Cardinal and Hildebrandt (1). First Nations believe they were put on this land by the Creator, and that it is theirs collectively (3-5). Those beliefs and principles and protocols informed the objectives of First Nations in negotiating the treaties. First, they sought recognition and affirmation of their right to maintain their relationships with the Creator through the laws they had been given by him (6-7). They understood that both parties in the treaty “would conduct their relationships with each other in accordance with the laws, values, and principles given to each of them by the Creator” (7). In addition, because the treaties were performed through ceremonies, the promises and agreements that were made are irrevocable and inviolable, and breaking them can bring about divine retribution with grave consequences (7). The invocation of the sun, river, and grass in the treaties, according to Elder Lawrence Tobacco, was an appeal to their spirits, and that demonstrates the seriousness of the promises being made (8). 

Because the land and everything on it—animals, water, trees, plants, rocks—are sacred gifts from the Creator, they could not be sold or given away. “For that reason,” Cardinal and Hildebrandt write, “the Elders say that the sacred Earth given to the First Nations by the Creator will always be theirs” (10). (That doesn’t sound like the so-called surrender clause would’ve been something the Chiefs negotiating with the representatives of the Crown would have agreed to.) The Creator provided other gifts, including laws, values, principles, and mores (10). According to Cardinal and Hildebrandt, “it is this very special and complete relationship with the Creator that is the source of the sovereignty that their peoples possess” (11). The negotiations were spiritual ceremonies, and that needs to be remembered.

One of the core values of the Cree nation is miyo-wîcêhtowin, the principle of good relations and expanding the circle of individual and collective relationships (14). The circle is an important symbol of this principle. The term wâhkôhtowin refers to the laws governing all relations, whereas miyo-wîcêhtowin are the laws concerning good relations (14). “For the Elders, the relationships created by the treaties were founded on the doctrines of wâhkôhtowin and miyo-wîcêhtowin for they constituted the essential elements of an enduring and lasting relationship between the First Nations, the Crown, and her subjects,” write Cardinal and Hildebrandt (15). Those relationships were to consist of mutual and ongoing caring and sharing arrangements between both sides, including a sharing of the duties and responsibilities for the land, which would be shared with the newcomers so that they could make a living (15). The laws of wâhkôhtowin are applied by analogy to the treaty relationship (19). In other words, as Harold Johnson and Michael Asch argue, the treaties created a kinship relationship between First Nations and the Crown, and therefore also between First Nations and settlers, who are also “children” of the Crown, metaphorically.

Because the treaties and their promises are sacred due to the ceremonies performed during the negotiations, they cannot be changed or altered (25). However, in the focus sessions Cardinal and Hildebrandt held with Elders, “it became very clear that their view and understanding of the treaties differed significantly from the written text of the treaties. Indeed, their focus was on the ‘nature and character of the treaty relationship’ as opposed to the contents of the written treaty texts created by the Crown” (25). Again, one is reminded of Harold Johnson’s words, that the treaties were about relationships and are therefore not simply finalized documents. I was also reminded of the notion of treaties as a covenant chain that periodically must be polished. This is a very different perspective on treaties than the Western one, which sees them as finalized once they’ve been negotiated. 

Cardinal and Hildebrandt list several principles or irrevocable undertakings—their language shifts for no apparent reason—that are affirmed by the treaties, according to the Elders. First, the treaties were a joint acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Creator and the joint fidelity of both sides in the negotiations to that divine sovereignty (31). This affirmation took place through the use of the pipe and sweetgrass (31). Second, the parties agreed to maintain a peaceful relationship—again, through the use of ceremony (32). Peace refers to the kind of relationship symbolized by the laws governing relationships between cousins. The third undertaking involves creating and maintaining a perpetual family relationship based on concepts defined by principles of wâhkôhtowin or good relationships (33). Cree Elder Simon Kytwayhat uses the term kiciwamanawak to refer to the settlers who, he says, were adopted by his nation through treaty (33). One sees the source of Johnson’s ideas here, and I wonder if Kytwayhat is the Treaty Elder Johnson consulted. The fourth irrevocable undertaking was that sharing land with the settlers would guarantee a continuing right of livelihood to First Nations (36). The land was not sold or transferred to the Crown, but a promise was made to share it—and natural resources were not included, according to Treaty Elder Peter Waskahat (36). “The fundamental principles identified by the Elders constitute aspects of the treaty relationship that, in their view, are not subject to change or alteration between the parties,” write Cardinal and Hildebrandt. “The understanding of these principles are interwoven with and derive their existence from the spiritual and ceremonial fabric of First Nations societies. They provide the contextual framework for the Indian understanding of the collective and individual relationships created by treaty” (38).

Another key term in the book is witaskêwin, or living together on the land, which in the context of the treaties means sharing territory with the newcomers. Elder Danny Musqua points out that First Nations had a history of sharing territory with each other for various purposes (39). Each First Nation has its own spiritual relationship with the Creator through ceremonies and their connectedness to the land (41). “The treaties, through the spiritual ceremonies conducted during the negotiations, expanded the First Nations sovereign circle, bringing in and embracing the Crown within their sovereign circle,” write Cardinal and Hildebrandt. “The treaties, in this view, were arrangements between nations intended to recognize, respect, and acknowledge in perpetuity the sovereign character of each of the treaty parties, within the context of right conferred by the Creator to Indian nations” (41-42). The treaties are therefore nation-to-nation agreements (42). 

Despite the fact that the treaties cannot be changed, some aspects of them are open-ended, requiring flexibility and adaptability as times change. One example of an issue requiring flexibility and negotiation is resource extraction (42). That leads to another key term, pimâcihowin, the ability to make a living from the land (43). This is a complex term, because the wealth of the land is both spiritual and material, and pimâcihowin incorporates both dimensions (43). In material terms, “the treaty guarantees the continuing right of First Nations livelihood, and the continuing right of First Nations to maintain a continuing relationship to the land, and its resources constitute one of the irrevocable and unchanging elements of the treaty relationship negotiated by First Nations and the Crown,” according to Cardinal and Hildebrandt (46). In a long quotation, they cite Danny Musqua’s argument that First Nations were promised that they would be as wealthy as settlers (47). That, of course, has not happened.

In the chapter entitled tâpwêwin, which means the obligation to speak with truth and accuracy, Cardinal and Hildebrandt note that there is no “formal existing agreement” between First Nations and the Crown about the meaning and content of the treaties, and this problem needs to be resolved “if the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship is to be properly understood” (48). They refer to the written texts of the treaties as “purporting to be the official copies” (48)—the word “purporting” suggesting they have their doubts. Nevertheless, Canada still takes the position that only the written treaty documents, read literally, can be used to determine whether or not there is an existing treaty right (49). That approach precludes the use of other sources, including the First Nations understanding of the treaties, the reports and dispatches written by Treaty Commissioners, eyewitness accounts, and other related documents and correspondence (49). The Treaty Elders, however, believe that it’s most important to examine oral evidence and history, before turning to other documents and, last of all, the “so-called articles of treaty” (50). The Supreme Court of Canada has given guidelines through several decisions that reinforce the Treaty Elders’ perspective, but Canada apparently still does not follow those guidelines when litigating treaty rights (50, 52). Those guidelines, as reproduced in the text, are an important source, since they are drawn from several judgements. “The Elders’ presentations dealing with wîtaskêwin (living together on the land) and pimâcihowin (making a living) directly contradict the written texts of the treaties in Saskatchewan and past case law predicated on those written texts,” Cardinal and Hildebrandt write (57). First, Canada continues to refuse to acknowledge that First Nations were sovereign when the treaties were negotiated, and it continues to claim that the Crown has underlying sovereign title, which contradicts the First Nations position that they have original sovereign title (57). Second, Canada claims that Indian title was extinguished by the treaties, but the Treaty Elders maintain that this is not the case. In a shocking passage, Cardinal and Hildebrandt write:

At the focus sessions, when the “extinguishment clauses” of the written treaty texts were read, translated, and explained, the Elders reacted with incredulity and disbelief. They found it hard to believe that anyone, much less the Crown, could seriously believe that First Nations would ever have agreed to “extinguish” their God-given rights. (58)

Third, the Crown asserts exclusive ownership of and jurisdiction over all lands, wildlife, and resources, but the Elders maintain that First Nations retained ownership and jurisdiction, except for those portions of land required for agriculture—and then only to the depth of a plough blade (58). The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) made suggestions about resolving these issues, but Canada has not implemented them (58). These disagreements don’t mean that the treaties are invalid, however; the written texts and the oral history both indicate that substantive agreements were reached (58-59). “For the Elders,” Cardinal and Hildebrandt conclude, “what is at issue is not whether or not treaties exist, but whether a mutually acceptable record of them can now be agreed upon and implemented” (59).

Next, the authors discuss livelihood in more detail. They argue that the treaties state that First Nations livelihood was not to be affected, and that freedom, independence, and economic self-sufficiency were the goals the First Nations negotiators sought to achieve (61). The Treaty Elders interviewed in the book were very clear about what the treaties do not mean in this regard. They were not a blanket transfer of First Nations lands and resources to the Crown (62). They were land-sharing arrangements for agricultural purposes only (63). Natural resources were not to be shared, and neither were water resources, fish, wildlife, or waterfowl (64). In addition, as far as Treaty 4 is concerned, the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Crown is an outstanding issue that was not resolved during the negotiations and needs to be addressed. The authors provide a long quotation from Danny Musqua on that land transfer, in which he rejects the Crown’s claim to sovereignty (65-66). “[T]he sharing arrangements, as envisioned by the Elders, were to be fair to each of the parties, intended to enable the parties to jointly share in the prosperity of the prosperity of the land—not drive the First Nations to destitution,” Cardinal and Hildebrandt write (66).

That chapter, the penultimate in the book, is also the strongest, where the evidence from the Treaty Elders matches the argument most successfully. In fact, the book gets better with each successive chapter, until the conclusion, which is surprisingly quite weak, merely repeating what has already been said. “It has not been possible to include all the conceptual issues raised by the Elders during this process,” the authors write, without explaining what those issues were or why they could not be included (71). Nevertheless, this is, as I said at the outset, an important book, despite its flaws, because it gives a sense of what the oral history of the Saskatchewan treaties looks like. I was surprised to learn of the insistence of the Treaty Elders that the land was to be shared only to the depth of a plough blade, and that no natural resources were to be included in the treaties. I am sure that our provincial government would strongly disagree with that perspective. I was also surprised to learn that water resources were not included, either. I wonder what this province would look like now if the treaties had been implemented the way they are understood by the Treaty Elders. It would be a very different place, no doubt, and the horrors of residential schools and deliberate starvation would not be on our consciences.

In addition, the current consensus is clear: the importance of oral history, the emphasis on sharing the land rather than transferring it outright, the lack of consensus on what the treaties actually mean. I wonder is Asch’s optimism is warranted, given the gulf that divides First Nations and Canada on what the treaties mean, and I wonder if Canada will ever begin to attempt to resolve that issue. I have no doubt, though, that Tom Flanagan’s take on the treaties (as reported by Asch) is very much an outlier, at least in the academic literature on the subject, although I think many settlers would agree with his complaints. I remember reading reviews of Flanagan’s First Nations, Second Thoughts when it came out, and I wonder why a book that ignores the historical record got so much attention. Perhaps because it told some Canadians the kinds of things they wanted to hear? Certainly Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan could not be accused of that.

Works Cited

Asch, Michael. On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Cardinal, Harold and Walter Hildebrandt, Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations, University of Calgary Press, 2000.

Johnson, Harold. Two Families: Treaties and Government, Purich, 2007.

Krasowski, Sheldon. No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, University of Regina Press, 2019.

Ray, Arthur J., Jim Miller, and Frank Tough. Bounty and Benevolence: A History of Saskatchewan Treaties. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000.

72. David Pinder, “Arts of Urban Exploration”

I don’t recall where I learned about David Pinder’s essay “Arts of Urban Exploration”—perhaps in Tina Richardson’s anthology on contemporary British psychogeography, or maybe in Phil Smith’s book Walking’s New Movements. Sometimes a long time elapses between reading about (and printing) an article and actually getting down to reading it. Without knowing the context that explains why I thought the article might be worthwhile, it’s hard to know what my expectations might have been or why I thought it might be interesting. I need to find a better way of keeping track of these things, perhaps by improving my note-taking, because I can foresee this happening a lot. If anyone out there has any ideas, let me know.

Anyway, Pinder’s essay is an introduction to a special journal issue on “the arts of urban exploration” (387). He begins with a 2003 event on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a musical march of sorts, described by the organizers as “a tour, a sound riot, a parade, a junk band, a detritus band” (qtd. 383). The police were disturbed, and passersby bemused; when the group wheels noise- and fire-making “contraptions” into the site of their parade, the police move in; the parade crosses over into Brooklyn, “taking its noisy party spirit with it” (385). That event was created by a Brooklyn artist collective, Toyshop, which is centred on a street artist named Swoon; “the group . . . is concerned with public space and its democratization through what it calls ‘creative forms of productive mischief,’” Pinder writes (385). “The activities of Swoon and Toyshop signal some of the themes at the heart of this essay,” he writes:

My concern is with how artists and cultural practitioners have recently been using forms of urban exploration as a means of engaging with, and intervening in, cities. The papers sets this within the wider context of critical approaches to urban space which take it seriously as a sensuous realm that is imagined, lived, performed and contested. It argues that experimental arts and modes of exploration can play a vital role in the development of critical approaches to the geographies of cities, where they may challenge norms about how urban space is framed and represented, and where they may help to open up other possibilities. (385)

Toyshop’s intervention was part of a 2003 event in New York called Psy-geo-conflux, which “brought together artists, cultural workers, activists and urban adventurers from North America and Europe under the banner of ‘psychogeography’” (385-86). That event, he continues, 

can be seen as part of a developing concern within academic, artistic and activist circles with exploring critically the cultural geographies of cities. This includes practices of studying, representing and telling stories about cities; it also involves ways of sensing, feeling and experiencing their spaces differently, and with contesting ‘proper’ orderings of space to allow something ‘other’ to emerge. Characterizing this experimentation within academia is not only interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity, in recognition that understanding cities necessarily requires diverse perspectives and cannot be the province of one discipline alone. Also important is a growing dialogue and interconnection between academia, artists, cultural workers and activists, and between critical and creative practices. The search for tactics, spatial practices and modes of expression with which to explore urban culture is leading to an increasing turn to work traditionally associated with the creative and performing arts and with the inventiveness of activist groups, and now permeating all sorts of critical endeavour. (386-87)

This exchange between academic theory and creative practice owes a debt to the writing of Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, the Surrealists and the Situationists, and “the long histories of attempts to transgress boundaries between art and everyday space, to explore the street and public realm through artistic practice” (387). However, Pinder is particularly interested in “the current revival of interest in urban psychogeography in relation to its political dimensions,” and intends “to focus on two main themes”: “assertions of ‘rights to the city’ and forms of ‘writing the city’” (387).

The term “urban exploration” has politically charged connotations, Pinder acknowledges:

it is associated with voyages of discovery and the construction of geographical knowledge, but it also has a disturbing history in terms of the power relations through which it has been conducted. Of particular concern are the colonial discourses and power structures that have framed much venturing into cities in both past and present. This is in terms not only of colonizers discovering and “taming” distant lands and peoples, but also of intrepid social explorers and reformers seeking to shed light on the “dark” and “undiscovered” urban geographies in the heart of exploration. (388)

At first, I thought Pinder’s use of the term “colonial” was metaphorical, but he means it seriously, even though some of his examples such as the 19th century “the language of imperial exploration” that was used in relation to places like London’s East End, which ended up being described “as part of ‘darkest England’ and its inhabitants as an ‘exotic race apart,’ in ways that had powerful material effects for mappings and constructions of the city and for projects of colonization and civilization,” are also rhetorical (388). But those linguistic constructions have power and generate nondiscursive effects. “The power of such scripting in the production of imaginative urban geographies remains evident in the colonial present,” Pinder notes, and it continues elsewhere, such as “in presentations of urban ‘pioneers’ exploring prospects in the ‘Wild West’ and on the ‘frontiers’ of the inner city” (388). This irruption of the colonial into walking practices is a problem for my own walking in Saskatchewan, where “colonial” is definitely not a metaphor, and I need to find ways to address it.

Nevertheless, the term “exploration” can be appropriated for other ends; example of the radical geographer Bill Bunge, who set out to turn around “the capitalist and colonialist language of exploration during the late 1960s and early 1970s” in “expeditions” in Detroit and Toronto, in which “he showed how progressive forms of exploring urban areas could be developed in collaboration with urban residents” (388). “These expeditionary practices brought into focus the daily problems, inequalities and structural conditions affecting the lives of residents,” Pinder states (388). Bunge’s techniques included “community mapping that addressed spaces of violence and safety, of poverty and wealth, and of starvation and abundance. This was a practice of exploration based on an ‘intimate sensing’ in contradistinction to abstract ways of knowing then promoted by advocates of spatial science” (388). Another radical tradition of urban exploration is found within the Situationist International and psychogeography, “which was from the beginning a highly politicized endeavour, one that was committed not only to studying urbanism and socio-spatial relations but also to changing them” (388). The Situationists, of course, used dérives or drifts as a way of exploring cities on foot, drawing on earlier avant-garde practices, especially those of the Dadaists and Surrealists (388). Psychogeography 

combined playful-constructive behaviour with a conscious and politically driven analysis of urban ambiences and the relationships between cities and behaviour. But they also sought out a better city, one that was more intense, more open and more liberating. This led to reimaginings and remappings of urban space, where cities were mapped according to paths, movements, desires and senses of ambience. (389)

The Situationists’ activities have been important in the recent interest in critical urban exploration (389):

As a mode of exploration, psychogeography has typically had a marginal and underground air, not least through its focus on the hidden, forgotten and obscure. Its basis lies in the settings and practices of the streets, in their fragments, everyday materials and detritus. Yet if psychogeographical explorations retain associations of the marginal and even illicit, their significance for developing critical understandings of cities has been increasingly recognized. (389)

Pinder contends that there has been an surge of interest in other artistic practices engaging with urban space related to psychogeography as well (389)—and I think he might be including the work of Toyshop in that category: 

Psychogeographical practices of exploration are additionally feeding into, and resonating with, wider current concerns with rethinking cities and urban space. The attention to mood, ambience and the possibilities of the urban are proving conducive for those seeking to develop critical understandings of urban experience and life. (390)

Theoretical influences on these practices include Doreen Massey and the importance she gives in For Space to “the potential surprise of space and to the encounter with the unforeseen, arguing for an understanding of the spatial that resists closure and stasis. It is an approach that emphasizes dynamic simultaneity, where space is in process and incomplete, where it eludes final determination and representation” (390). I was happy to read that capsule summary of Massey’s book, and I realize, once again, that I will need to read For Space a second time.

A broad range of activities took place during the Psy-geo-confluxes event: activities that “sought to divert or subvert routinized spatial practices” and encouraged interactions with strangers (390-91). Other activities tried to investigate “the urban everyday, and to sense urban moods and ambiences,” by listening to the city and its multiple stories and memories, “and finding means of responding to or recounting the tales” (392). These practices didn’t only consider “meanings as currently understood” but also questioned those meanings through games, walks, events that encouraged participants to adopt different routes “or sought to defamiliarize routine paths and practices” (395). Most of the activities “involved immersion in the city specifically through walking,” in keeping with other forms of urban exploring and psychogeogrpahy (396). However, those activities set out “to displace everyday routines and habit in navigating the city” by opening walks “to chance events and encounters,” often “through instituting frameworks or rule systems for walking” (396). “Such practices to encourage dérives might recall aspects of situationist practice, and in particular Debord’s criticism of the limitations of surrealist strolls that relied on chance alone,” Pinder notes (397). 

The Situationists and their “conscious assertion of revolutionary desire in the effort to overturn dominant sociospatial relations” also “led to the assertion of what their sometime associate Henri Lefebvre later termed in 1968 ‘the right to the city,’ by which he meant the right to dwell in and to inhabit the city, the right to urban life and encounter, to the use of moments and places, to participation and socialization” (397). Much of the value of psychogeographical activities, Pinder argues, “comes from what they say about ‘rights to the city’ and practices of ‘writing the city’” (397). “To intervene through creative practice in public space today,” he continues, “is to enter into a crucial struggle over the meanings, values and potentialities of that space at a time when its democracy is highly contested. Encouragement of vitality and openness in that space is not an innocent demand” (398). Instead, it confronts “the commercialized and commodified blandness of urban space” (398). It is also “located within a tightening of surveillance measures and a hardening of the city’s surface,” in terms of increased security after 9/11 “and in relation to a landscape pitted against the already marginalized and poor” (398). “Familiar components include the proliferation of surveillance cameras and the construction of walls, embattlements and other signs to warn off and issue orders to users of space,” and “zero-tolerance” policies, moving homeless people out of public spaces (398). Related to these is the redevelopment of urban centres, which has resulted in evictions and exclusions (398). “Toyshop’s infectuously joyous Serenade and other psychogeographical explorations of cities” therefore “occupy an awkward position”: 

The games and gift economy underlying them cut against the prevailing emphasis on commercialized and controlled activity with associated demands of passivity, where the commodity is the measure of worth. From a hard-nosed political perspective, though, such activities may be easy to dismiss as irrelevant to the “real” business of political struggle, even trivial. Real estate interests can also sleep easy, with the cachet of more artistic gatherings even rubbing off on their marketing schemes. How can artists criticize and resist the remaking of public spaces by powerful interests? How can they question the complicity of the arts in socially divisive urban development programmes, where they are often used merely to add gloss to urban “renewal projects through aestheticization in the form of sculptures or individual art projects? (398)

Such questions “have been at the heart of much important critical public art over the last two decades,” and they have “led activist strands of creative practice to engage with communities and existing social struggles, to develop collaboration and dialogue with residents, and to employ different modes of address” (398). Those “activist strands” have also questioned the role of the arts in urban change and gentrification (398).

The political strategies of the psychogeographical activities Pinder has discussed are typically not overt, and they rarely involve collaborations with communities beyond “their own relatively narrow constituencies” (399). For that reason, “they are relatively detached from the kinds of day-to-day struggles of poorer local residents” (399). At the same time, however, “exploring ‘the meaning of living in a city’ at this time is crucial politically. It is not a trivial matter to find different ways of attending to the ‘quality of life’ in the city, especially when that phrase has become hijacked by authoritarian modes of policing public space . . . and used invidiously to construct public space in exclusionary ways” (399). “Nor is it insignificant to explore critically the qualities of streets, squares, parks and other aspects of the public realm in terms of how they are used, imagined and lived,” Pinder continues. “Indeed, doing so is vital given the significance of these spaces for sustaining a vibrant and democratic urban culture, and for defending rights to the city. So too is provoking debate about how they might be different, better” (399). In addition, many explorative activities have become politicized through the resistance they have received—such as police harassment (399). The importance of psychogeography is the way that it “directs attention in particular to spatial practices, undercutting assumptions that public space can be understood in static terms as a ‘thing’ whose status is fixed in advance. It can open to interrogation the means through which public space is socially produced and contested” (399). What characterizes psychogeographical strategies is their “emphasis on an active engagement with urban space where importance is attached to the act itself: to creating games in the city, to experimenting with behaviour, to experiencing urban spaces directly as an actor rather than as a passive spectator” (400). Psychogeographical activities can also include “forms of play in the streets, whose presence is testament to how space remains open to the potential for surprise and encounter, and whose actions” may loosen the rules of social conduct (400). These strategies may also “raise significant questions about how hopes, dreams and desires for a different city might be drawn out from everyday moments and events” (400).

However, the difficult question “of how resulting momentary incursions and shifts in perspective can lead to longer lasting social and spatial change” is important: “Demands for right sto the city, as Lefebvre made clear, require the production of an appropriate space; this signals a limitation of psychogeographical incursions and remains an issue in need of further address” (400). “Part of the significance of psychogeography and walking practices is nevertheless the way in which they allow encounters with apparently ‘ordinary’ and ‘unimportant’ activities in the city, against the grain of powerful discourses of the urban,” Pinder writes (400). Such discourses that constitute grand narratives about the state of city life (401). “Wandering through the city and attending to such everyday practices” means operating below the threshold (to paraphrase de Certeau) of “urbanistic, planning and geographical discourses” (401). “It is from this street-level perspective that such practices open up detours and rework understandings of cities along different lines from those scripted according to the dominant terms of the ‘Concept City,’” Pinder contends (401). He asserts the importance of de Certeau’s essay “Walking in the City” as an expression of “the endless creativity of ordinary users and walkers in cities, their tactical operations and errant movements on foot,” which resemble (de Certeau argues) speech acts in which pedestrians “enunciate” spaces rather than conform to them (401). However, there are many critiques of that essay, including the suggestion that de Certeau was talking about walking in the abstract, without rooting his essay in specific examples, which led to, among other things, a neglect of “the specific identities through which people negotiate their passage in the city” (402). 

One “important outcome” of the discussion of urban exploration, Pinder writes, has been an emphasis on the ways that 

spatial practices are constrained as well as enabled by the particular identities of the explorers involved and the context with which they are engaged. The relative ease with which some explorers move through terrains is bound up with axes of power that involve complex articulations of class, gender, ‘race,’ sexuality, disability and so on. It is therefore necessary to consider how ostensibly ‘radical’ explorations may themselves depend on privileges of power. (402)

That reality “tempers some of the enthusiasm with which walking has been embraced by many critics and cultural practitioners in recent years for enabling critical analysis, discovery and thought” (402). Indeed, part of walking’s appeal “has been the way it apparently renounces the centred, the panoptic and the hierarchical” and “provides a means of engaging with urban spaces and experiences in ways that move beyond specialized arenas, whether those of art or academic institutions”—with “apparently” being the key word in that sentence (402). 

It is important to recognize that while the city “can never be known in its entirety, and that representing space is in some cases an inevitably doomed task due to its very openness,” experimenting with ways of “writing the city” is still 

vital for developing critical studies of the urban as well as this sense of its openness. “Writing” here is understood in a wide sense as involving all kinds of media, registers and modes of performance, and may include adopting different textual strategies and voices as well as modes of (counter)mapping in an effort to find forms conducive to addressing the complexities of the urban. Such experimentation is not for its own sake but in recognition of the politics as well as poetics of representation. (403)

There is much to be learned regarding the politics of the representation of the city, Pinder argues, 

from a range of current exploratory and psychogeographical practices that includes the work of contemporary artists, urban adventurers and explorers. It is not simply an issue of asking what artists can do in a narrow instrumental sense to bring about progressive urban change, but rather of opening up through such practices the potential for collaborations, interventions, reimaginings that disrupt and expand senses of both the city and the self. This necessitates working within particular contexts, and negotiating and constructing paths through what exists. It also requires inventing different ways to address “the meaning of living in a city” and associated rights, with a continual emphasis on what is possible. (404)

Those words essentially constitute Pinder’s conclusion; what follows is a discussion of the other articles in the issue of the journal, which sound promising and helpful and certainly worth reading.

In a way, Pinder’s essay is a rather general introduction that repeats things I’ve already read. What is useful about it, though, is that it is a discussion of psychogeography that doesn’t get hung up (as I tend to do) on some of its (to me) less useful aspects—its emphasis on occult or esoteric knowledge or belief, for instance. And, while Pinder is clearly focused on urban explorations, I wonder if it would be possible to read his essay against rural explorations as well. Perhaps not: there are significant differences between the way space is constituted in the country and the way it is constituted in the city. Nevertheless, it still might be worth a try. I was also surprised at the link Pinder makes between events like Toyshop’s parade and psychogeography—perhaps the range of activities that fall beneath that rubric is wider than I had thought. And, of course, Pinder’s bibliography is a rich source of further reading, as any good research essay typically is. Each thing I read is one more piece of a larger puzzle, even if I can’t immediately see where that piece fits, and so none of it—well, almost none of it—is wasted.

Work Cited

Pinder, David. “Arts of Urban Exploration,” Cultural Geographies, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 383-411.