Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Category: Reading

126. John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution

borrows canada's indigenous constitution

A brief unscheduled pause: perhaps a respite, or an opportunity? The latter, I hope: I’m waiting for the questions I’m going to be asked on my comprehensive examinations to be formulated, and while I thought I was finished with my reading, I’ve decided to use this time to carry on, addressing one of the absences in my reading with John Borrow’s book, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution. Borrows is an Anishinaabe legal scholar who teaches at the University of Victoria, and I assume the argument he presents in this book will be quite different from John Ralston Saul’s claim that Canada (its government and law and culture) is essentially Métis—a suggestion that makes the Métis people I’ve talked to pretty angry. That’s my opening assumption; let’s see what Borrows himself has to say. Oh, I want to point out before anyone (other than myself) reads any further that this book is lengthy and the arguments detailed and, frankly, sometimes over my head, so this summary is, in turn, quite long as well.

The book begins with Nanabush. He’s writing and watching birds and otters feeding on a beach on Vancouver Island and longing for his home reserve in Ontario. “The words of power he is most familiar with are found in the law,” Borrows writes of Nanabush (who appears to be a stand-in for Borrows himself):

He hates them. He loves them. They are just like him: conflicted, cross-cutting, double-edged, and inconsistent. They hold the ability to heal and they have the potential to destroy. . . . The law is a vicious, delightful thing. Yet he also knows the law can be like the diamond-crested waters beyond the shore, teeming with life and purifying in its potential. The law is a nurturing, hopeful being too. Yes, he thinks to himself, the law is just like him—a trickster—simultaneously full of charm and cunning, good and evil, kindness and mean tricks. (4)

Nanabush “writes to destroy and he writes to create, though he can never be quite sure if he is destroying or creating the things he cares about. He often wonders if, in the end, his words will help or hurt what he most deeply cares for and treasures. Sometimes he even forgets to be concerned. He takes so much pleasure in being a transformer that he occasionally forgets what he really loves” (4). He considers becoming a bird, but an eagle feather falls onto the grass in front of him:

It whispers of peace. The message sinks deep into his heart,” Borrows continues. “He changes course, once again. He thinks to himself, I don’t want to be an eagle or a crow today. I’ll be my truer self. I’ll be an otter. That is my “dodem”: nigig. They have taught me better than anything else today. I will write about power from their perspective, that of my clan, kin, and people, working together, for sustenance, in harmony. Four otters and the law . . . (5)

I’m not quite sure what to make of this “Retroduction,” as Borrows calls it: the association between the author himself and Nanabush in particular. But it indigenizes what follows, I think. If Borrows’s interest is in harmony and sustenance and peace, if the four otters suggest the four directions, if the otter which is the vehicle for his exploration is the name of Borrows’s clan, then from the outset Borrows is locating his discussion of the law—a positive one, it seems, with generous ambitions—the book is going to be deeply implicated in Indigenous worldviews and methodologies.

The book’s first chapter, “Living Legal Traditions,” begins with a statement of purpose: “This book examines the standards that we consider authoritative in making judgments about the law in Canada. It asks questions about the criteria we use in measuring the regulation of activities and in guiding the resolution of disputes” (6). Despite the peace and prosperity generated by Canadian law, we “continue to suffer from conflicts rooted in long-standing disputes about the legitimacy of its origins and the justice of its contemporary application” (6). Indigenous peoples do not believe “that the rule of law lies at the heart of their experiences with others in this land. In this respect, Canada’s legal system is incomplete” (6). More importantly, the laws of Indigenous peoples “are often ignored, diminished, or denied as being relevant or authoritative in answering these questions,” and this situation “has led to important queries about the sources of Canada’s law, as well as its cultural commitments, institutional receptiveness, and interpretive competency” (6). Law is essential to Borrows, but “while it may be challenging to ask deep questions about the underpinnings of Canada’s legal system, we should not regard these inquiries as being without value. In fact, such searching questions can be crucial to our societies if they reveal ways of organizing ourselves that draw us even closer to our collective aspirations” (7). According to Borrows, this book “suggests that we can do a better job of building our country upon our highest ideals,” and that “Canada needs to be constructed on a broader base, recognizing Indigenous legal traditions as giving rise to jurisdictional rights and obligations in our land” (7).

There are different definitions about what constitutes law, and it “can simultaneously produce peace and chaos, depending in whose name it is administered and from whose perspective is is processed” (7). Law includes formal and informal elements and “pivots around deeply complex explicit and implicit ideas and practices related to respect, order, and authority” (7). Legal traditions are cultural phenomena, and a legal tradition “can be distinguished from a state’s legal system if a national system does not explicitly recognize its force” (7-8). A state can have multiple legal traditions, or one legal tradition can overlap between different states, a situation known as legal pluralism (8). Canada is “a legally pluralistic state: civil law, common law, and Indigenous legal traditions organize dispute resolution in our country in different ways” (8). “When recognized, provided with resources, and given jurisdictional space, each legal tradition is applicable in a modern context,” Borrows writes (8). Each of Canada’s three legal traditions points us beyond itself, and each “continues to grow amidst changing circumstances” (8). 

Traditions, Borrows continues, “can be positive forces in our communities if they exist as living, contemporary systems that are revised as we learn more about how we should live with one another,” but they can also “be destructive if they become static and frozen in their orientation, interpretation, and application,” if “they are overly romanticized, essentialized, and fossilized in an inflexible framework” (8). For that reason, “[t]he keepers of Canada’s legal traditions must guard against rigidly fundamentalist and oppressive ideas and practices,” because (for example) a “dogmatic intolerance of the civil law or Indigenous legal traditions” on the part of those who practice common aw “could damage these traditions too” (8-9). “We often tend to regard other traditions as potentially threatening, despotic, or severe, if our own ethnocentrism prevents us from seeing problems arising in our own systems,” Borrows writes. “We must ensure that we turn a critical eye on each legal tradition, including our own, to ensure it promotes respect and dignity for those who depend upon it” (9). 

Recent social science research has revealed “imbalances between legal traditions in Canadian life” (9). But that research also “exposes scholars’ historic lack of regard for, interest in, knowledge of, and predisposition towards the contemporary nature of Indigenous law throughout the last century” (9). The lack of research on Indigenous legal traditions “means more extended and respectful quantitative and qualitative research is required to evaluate their positive and negative effects and potential,” an analysis that is necessary “to ensure that each of our traditions does not slip into archaic, oppressive fundamentalism” (9). Our legal traditions can be helped to “remain open to new and healthy influences” by regarding them “as being situated within interpretive communities in which those who are affected by them are able to participate in their continued construction” (9-10). “In contrast with the social science research on Indigenous legal traditions, there is a nascent law review literature beginning to explore them from a normative perspective,” Borrows writes, and “[t]his book flows in this tide. It explores the potential scope of Canada’s interpretive communities in relation to its varied legal traditions” (10). “It is my hope that this work represents a further invitation for those interested in this topic to join with me and other willing scholars, practitioners, politicians, policy analysts, Elders, chiefs, and leaders in the identification, recognition, questioning, and further development of our legal traditions,” he continues (10):

In keeping with this approach, this book suggests that Indigenous peoples’ laws hold modern relevance for themselves and for others, and can be developed through contemporary practices. While Indigenous legal traditions have ancient roots, they can also speak to the present and future needs of all Canadians. They should not be just about, or even primarily about, the past. They contain guidance about how to live peacefully in the present world. (10)

At the same time, Indigenous legal traditions are imperfect. “There is no romantic time of pre-contact which was an idyllic existence for Indigenous societies,” Borrows continues, and “[v]iolence, tension, creation, destruction, harmony, and tenuous peace have always been with us in varying degrees” (10-11). Colonization has “compounded the challenges Indigenous peoples have always faced” (11). But his primary point here is that “Indigenous laws incorporate certain deficiencies related to their societies’ imperfections,” just like other legal traditions, and for that reason, “we should not idealize Indigenous laws in our attempts to constructively apply their precepts” (11). Nevertheless, “in dealing with disharmony, Indigenous laws may contain some guidance in curtailing our worst excesses,” and they “are especially relevant when Indigenous peoples are involved” (11). “Disputes within Indigenous communities and with other societies could potentially be reduced if their laws were more widely applied,” he writes (11).

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the existence of Indigenous legal traditions, and although “the implications of this recognition have been largely ignored,” “a nascent framework is in place for extending their reach” (11). And, “[t]hough negatively affected by past Canadian actions, Indigenous peoples continue to experience the operation of their legal traditions in such diverse fields as, inter alia, family life, land ownership, resource relationships, trade and commerce, and political organization” (11). “Indigenous legal traditions are inextricably intertwined with the present-day Aboriginal customs, practices, and traditions that are now recognized and affirmed in section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982,” Borrows writes. “In this respect, they are also a part of Canadian law” (11). 

However, Borrows writes, “[d]espite their potential to answer pressing questions, Indigenous laws have an uncertain status in Canada’s formal legal system” (12). Some commentators argue that Indigenous people had no laws before Settlers arrived in North America; rather than laws, they claim that Indigenous people only had customs, and that “centralized authority and explicit command are necessary for a legal system to exist” (12). For Borrows, such views “potentially replicate troubling stereotypes” about Indigenous societies (12). He suggests that “[w]hile some Indigenous law is customary, it can also be positivistic, deliberative, or based on theories of divine or natural law” (12). Even if Indigenous laws were customary, “it is misleading to regard customary laws as holding only moral force” (12). Borrows first encountered such assumptions about Indigenous laws as a student at the University of Toronto, where he was taught that there is a hierarchy of laws, with customary law, the kind Indigenous people were presumed to have, at the bottom (13). Most parliamentarians, lawyers, and judges have not questioned the assumption that Indigenous laws were legally inferior or primitive (13). Canadian law was (and is) thought to have been received from the former imperial powers, Britain and France, and this “doctrine of reception does not incorporate Indigenous peoples’ wisdom and learning to formulate the basic rules of our legal system” (14). The doctrine of reception was central to Borrows’s legal training. However, he “believed ‘reception’ also requires some form of interaction with Indigenous peoples to be a peaceful process” (14). He knew from his own family’s history “that the Crown often sought Indigenous agreement before it settled and started governing its own people in our traditional territories” (14). Where such agreements had not been secured, Borrows “viewed reception as being incomplete, thus requiring future action” (14). Most legal texts, however, proceeded from the myth that “law only arrived in the country with the first colonial legislatures or governors,” a myth that presents practical and theoretical problems: “Colonization is not a strong place to rest the foundation of Canada’s laws. It creates a fiction that continues to erase Indigenous legal systems as a source of law in Canada” (14).

“This fiction lies at the root of conflict between Indigenous peoples and the Crown,” because its Eurocentrism “ignores the prior presence and laws of Indigenous peoples in Canada and disregards them as a potential source of law in the country today” (14). The legal hierarchy Borrows was taught “has generated an incorrect and impoverished view of Canadian law,” which this book sets out to address (15). “My thesis is that Canada cannot presently, historically, legally, or morally claim to be built upon European-derived law alone,” he writes. “In this work I attempt to develop conceptual language to strengthen the law’s foundation and contemporary status in this country” (15). Writing about Canada’s constitutional foundations without considering Indigenous law is a mistake: “You cannot create an accurate description of the law’s foundation in Canada by only dealing with one side of its colonial legal history. When you build a structure on an unstable base, you risk harming all who depend upon it for security and protection” (15). “This book,” he continues, “is about attempting to put Canadian law on a stronger footing. Acknowledging the traditional and contemporary place of Indigenous law in this country—alongside the common law and civil law—is a necessary step in this process,” and “crucial to creating a healthier and more accurate conception of Canada’s broader constitutional order” (15-16). “Judicial opinions based on the supposed ‘cultural inferiority’ of Indigenous peoples have not withstood scrutiny,” he notes, and “[l]egal scholars have also rejected the placement of Indigenous laws on a lower level” (16). However, despite “philosophical and judicial statements rejecting ideologies of Indigenous peoples’ inferiority, the so-called European discovery of Canada continues to provide a troubling justification for the diminishment of Indigenous legal traditions,” which “perpetuates the myth of inferiority” (17). For Borrows, this problem reaches into the claim that underlying title to the land in what is now Canada vested in the Crown (as stated in R. v. Sparrow), a conclusion “drawn despite substantial doubts about the Crown’s claims relative to Indigenous peoples’ lands and governments at the ‘outset’ of their relationship” (17).

Despite rulings such as R. v. Sparrow and R. v. Guerin, which upheld the doctrine of discovery, “it is factually apparent that at Canada’s formation there was no first discovery on the part of the Crown that would justify displacing Indigenous law. Indigenous peoples had already discovered most land within their territories and exercised jurisdiction over it prior to the arrival of Europeans” (17). Any legal consequences flowing from “‘discovery’ . . . should vest in favour of Indigenous peoples, not the Crown” (17). “The doctrine of discovery should only give the Crown the ability to claim exclusive or pre-eminent legal authority in areas that were terra nullius, literally ‘barren and deserted,’” but the territories of Indigenous peoples at the time that the Crown arrived in North America were anything but barren and deserted (17). “Discovery should not be accepted as a basis for diminishing Indigenous law,” because the doctrine of discovery is “‘legally, morally, and factually wrong,’” according to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (17). Another, related justification for discounting Indigenous legal traditions which should also be rejected is occupation, the notion that “[o]ccupation by a political grouping on a territorial basis is one reason for recognizing broad legal rights over a territory” (17-18): “if the doctrine of occupation were applied without bias, most people would likely conclude that at Canada’s formation the Crown had not effectively occupied Indigenous lands in this manner such as to justify displacing their laws” (18). “Regrettably, the concept of occupation is often applied in an ethnocentric manner to read Indigenous people out of occupation,” Borrows writes, citing the case of R. v. Marshall; R. v. Bernard as an example (18). “Ethnocentric standards concerning occupation”—such as the claim (from John Locke) that Indigenous people had not worked the soil and were therefore not owners of the land, or (from Blackstone) that Indigenous peoples were not organized in such a way as to claim group occupation—“should be discarded as a basis for diminishing Indigenous law” (18).

Another way “to justify the demotion of Indigenous legal traditions” is “by reference to the passage of time and the growth of the common law and civil law in relation to them” (19). According to Borrows, “this argument is analogous to the property law doctrine of prescription,” which “permits a subsequent claimant to acquire rights if they openly occupy an area over a period of time and the original owner acquiesces to the subsequent presence” (19). However, “Indigenous peoples have not generally acquiesced to the common law’s purported replacement of their laws,” and historically “the relationship of the common law and civil law to Indigenous legal traditions has not been peaceful and unchallenged,” since “Indigenous people shave frequently objected to the common law’s presumptions of complete displacement” (19). “Indigenous activism and opinions have been resolutely turned against the displacement of their cultures, laws, and traditions,” Borrows continues (19). The notion of conquest is related to the idea that “Indigenous legal traditions were minimized through adverse common law and civil law application” (19). However, the belief that “Indigenous laws were displaced through conquest” is “contrary to law”: “Despite conflict between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown in Canada, the country’s legal framework does not treat Indigenous peoples as conquered peoples” (19). The Supreme Court of Canada has said so, and Canadian history does not support a claim about conquest, and so “the doctrine of conquest cannot persuasively be relied upon to argue that Indigenous legal traditions are without force in Canada (20). In addition, “the doctrine of conquest is not a morally sound concept upon which to build our legal system,” because it would “potentially set Indigenous peoples in perpetual opposition to the state” and generate “bitter feelings of resentment towards the country” (20). (As if the behaviour of Settlers has not already created bitter feelings of resentment!) “The application of the doctrine of conquest to Crown-Indigenous relations would be the framework that would most likely create continued conflict and future confrontation,” Borrows writes (20).

“Thus, there are problems with theories of discovery, occupation, prescription, and conquest when considering the place of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada’s legal hierarchy,” Borrows continues. “Fortunately, there is an alternative. We do not have to abandon law to overcome past injustices. In placing our country on firmer footing, we only have to relinquish those interpretations of law that are discriminatory” (20). Developing “at least one strand of Canadian law” could repudiate “these damaging doctrines” (20):

Working out the fuller implications of treaties between Indigenous peoples and the Crown is a way out of the impasse created by the rejection of other legal theories. Treaties have the potential to build Canada on more solid ground. Since First Nations legal traditions were the first laws of our countries and were not extinguished through discovery, occupation, prescription, or conquest, they could be viewed as retaining their force. Furthermore, when treaties are made they can be seen as creating an inter-societal framework in which first laws intermingle with Imperial laws to foster peace and order across communities. (20-21)

According to Borrows, treaties “could allow for the peaceful reception of common law and civil law traditions within Canada” (21). They would make it possible to say that while the Constitution Acts and other imperial legislation partially created Canada, so too did First Nations laws (21). First Nations laws modified the operation and force of imperial law through treaties (21). “The Constitution Acts and First Nations laws continue to construct our countries as they develop through time,” Borrows writes, “but treaties also continue to construct them as new agreements are signed and historic treaties interpreted. Without treaties, the so-called reception of the common law remains an act of forced dispossession” which “is antagonistic to peace, friendship, and respect” (21). “Imperialism wanes when the Constitution Acts are seen as consistent with the preservation of Indigenous legal traditions and the creation of inter-societal norms in their relationship with the common law and civil law,” Borrows argues, and “[w]hen constitutional instruments are regarded as resting upon treaties, then Canadian law is firmly on the path to becoming truly Indigenous—home-grown in its place of application” (21).

Borrows concludes the chapter by stating that “this book will argue that there is a strong case for recognizing Indigenous legal traditions in Canada,” a recognition that “requires the ongoing cultivation of solidarity within, between, and across legal cultures throughout the land” (21). “As such, the common law, civil law, and Indigenous legal traditions must grow beyond their trial roots, even as these roots continue to nourish the country’s ongoing constitution,” he writes. “We must come to see that we are free to modify ourselves and how we are constituted. Our society is not insular, one-dimensional, monocultural, or complete. Relationships can be strengthened as we affirm the overlapping, interacting, and negotiated nature of our traditions through time” (21). One dimension of this “effective constitutionalism” involves “cultivating and refining laws that implement Indigenous peoples own aspirations and perspectives, alongside the common law and civil law, and in harmony with international human rights standards” (21-22). In this way, Indigenous legal traditions “would expand and improve Canada’s legal system and benefit Aboriginal peoples along with our society as a whole” (22).

Borrows’s second chapter, “Sources and Scope of Indigenous Legal Traditions,” begins with the possibility that states can embrace the traditions of all of their peoples to become stronger and more unified. “The blending and/or coexistence of legal traditions is possible,” he writes, noting that Canada is a multi-juridical country since it embraces common law, civil law, and Indigenous legal traditions; even though Indigenous legal traditions are often unrecognized, they “can have great force in people’s lives despite their lack of prominence in broader circles” (23). “Indigenous legal traditions are a reality in Canada and should be more effectively recognized,” despite the “many negative stereotypes in circulation regarding Indigenous law” (23). For Borrows, understanding Indigenous laws can help lead to their recognition. “The underpinnings of Indigenous law are entwined with the social, historical, political, biological, economic, and spiritual circumstances of each group,” he writes, noting that they are also “based on many sources, including sacred teachings, naturalistic observations, positivistic proclamations, deliberative practices, and local and national customs” (23-24). In addition, “Indigenous peoples hold many different views about the character and practice of law” and what gives law “its binding force” (24). “Indigenous legal traditions can be just as varied and diverse as Canada’s other legal traditions, although they are often expressed in their own unique ways,” he continues. “This chapter will explore Indigenous legal traditions by focusing on their varied sources. It is hoped that by categorizing Indigenous laws in this way readers will be better able to grasp their complexity and understand the choices available to Indigenous peoples when they exercise their laws,” as well as allowing others “to see the choices they have in relation to Indigenous law in Canada” (24). 

Some Indigenous laws have sacred sources: they come from the Creator, or from creation stories “or revered ancient teachings that have withstood the test of time” (24). “Legal traditions based on spiritual principles form an important part of most every culture’s legal inheritance,” Borrows writes. “While Canada’s legal traditions are becoming increasingly secularized, one cannot deny the role of the metaphysical in our law’s formation. For example, the civil law and the common law have been significantly influenced by ideas about religion. The receipt of evidence and the test for truth often rests on appeals to the divine” (24-25). Canada’s Constitution’s preamble “states that Canada is ‘founded on principles that recognize the supremacy of God’” (qtd. 25). In Indigenous legal traditions, creation stories are often a source of sacred law: “These accounts contain rules and norms that give guidance about how to live with the world and overcome conflict. Their reach can be quite expansive because they contain instructions about how all beings should relate to specific territories” (25). Sometimes these stories are specific to individual territories, and other times they are universal. “Due to their broad reach and revered nature, laws that have sacred aspects at their source may be less flexible than laws flowing from other sources,” Borrows notes. “Similarly, their recognition, enforcement, and implementation can often be regarded as foundational to the operation of other laws” (25). 

When Borrows worked with Elders in Saskatchewan, “[t]hey spoke of their treaties as being sacred because they brought Canada into existence within their territories” (25). (How unfortunate for me that Borrows’s 2005 report for this province’s Treaty Commissioner remains unpublished.) When the Elders spoke of the legally binding promises to maintain peace and order in the treaties, 

it was clear that they regarded the treaty as flowing from a sacred source. They did not rely on the written text of the treaty to arrive at this conclusion. Because First Nations followed their own legal traditions in creating treaties, their interpretation was that treaties were made with the Creator as well as with the Crown. First Nations felt encouraged in their view by the presence of Christian missionaries during the negotiations. (25-26)

The Elders he worked with told Borrows that it was the Creator’s will that Settlers came to live among them, and that the Creator expected “‘the white man’” to live by the treaty and to revive the treaty relationship with First Nations (qtd. 26). “The laws surrounding Canada’s formation in many treaty territories are profound because they are meant to encourage the spiritual, moral and legal capacities of all the people who would come to live here,” Borrows continues. “The sacred nature of the treaties is one reason why many First Nations would not consider abandoning them despite generations of government neglect. It would be a violation of the Creator’s law, sacred law, to turn away from their promises to him and others in maintaining peace and order throughout the lands on which they lived” (26). 

This view “challenges the approach of some critics who may regard Canada’s existence in treaty areas as a transgression of rather than an application of Indigenous law,” Borrows writes (26-27). I am reminded of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s argument that the Williams Treaties are instruments of settler colonialism, and that they were “processes designed to clear Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg bodies from the land to the extreme benefit of settlers” (99). For Borrows, though, “the fact that treaties helped to bring Canada into existence within certain areas should not for that reason alone be regarded as contrary to Indigenous law. Many things, including treaties, can be considered sacred even if they are not given the respect they deserve” (27). Some Indigenous peoples do “regard Canada’s creation as profane,” he continues, such as the Haudenosaunee of the eastern Great Lakes, who “do not regard themselves as participating in the creation of Canada. Instead, they regard their treaties as bringing their Confederacy into an alliance with the Crown” (27). For that reason, “many Haudenosaunee people wold resist being labelled as Canadian citizens because of their distinct status” (27). Another exception is in British Columbia: there, “First Nations . . . would have a hard time accepting claims that Canada was formed through promises to the Creator by reference to their laws,” because “other people moved into their territories and established governments without their formalized participation and legal consent” (27). That kind of settlement could hardly be considered sacred. In addition, 

a sacred view of the treaties might also be problematic from a certain government perspective, as demonstrated by arguments often made by government lawyers who give treaties the narrowest possible technical interpretation in order to increase the Crown’s authority relative to the Indians. Some might even view treaties as filled with fraud, duress, and manipulation—or as expedient temporary bargains, designed by the Crown to separate Indians from their lands and resources for the lowest possible price. (27)

However, “there are large areas of the country where treaties between Indigenous peoples and the Crown referenced Indigenous traditions,” and “[f]or people in these spaces, treaties can be regarded as sacred creation stories about Canada’s formation if placed in their best light” (27). For Borrows, though, “treaties an be regarded as a sacred creation story,” and for that reason, “they join other Indigenous laws that flow from sources that are revered or most highly respected” (28).

Another source of Indigenous law is natural law: law developed “from observations of the physical world” (28). Laws derived from the physical world “can be seen to flow from the consequences of creation or the ‘natural’ world or environment. . . . these laws may be regarded as literally being written on the earth” (28-29). It’s important to note, however, that “Indigenous definitions of natural law may at times have a somewhat different emphasis than what is found in many leading natural law theories within Western jurisprudence” (29). “For many Indigenous people, the casebook for learning natural law requires an intimate knowledge of how to read the world; understanding natural law from this point of view does not require an intimate knowledge of how to read legal philosophy,” he continues (29). He notes that his mother is an Elder and that she “studies and interprets nature’s laws for her family’s benefit” (29). “Not all legal traditions within Indigenous societies are immediately state-focused,” he writes. “Authority can be based upon kinship and family networks” (29). His mother’s experiences on the land guide the family’s actions; when they don’t follow her judgements, they often find themselves “in breach of important environmental laws” (29). A public example of law derived from the environment can be found in Delgamuukw v. Attorney General (British Columbia), in which “Gitksan Chiefs from Gitwangak described their relationship to the land in natural law terms”: they used analogies of territories to animals to draw lessons that could “legally regulate behaviour and minimize disputes” (33). While the judge in that case “did not rely upon these accounts to formulate his opinion in the Delgamuukw case,” the Gitksan continue to reference their legal traditions “to regulate and guide their relationships” (35).

Another source of Indigenous law is “processes of persuasion, deliberation, council, and discussion” (35): “While sacred and natural law might sometimes form the backdrop against which debate occurs, the proximate source of most Indigenous law is developed through people talking with one another,” which means “that recognition, enforcement, and implementation make them subject to re-examination and revision through the generations” (35). “Indigenous law is not static and can move with the times,” Borrows writes:

The deliberative nature of many Indigenous laws means they can be continuously updated and remain relevant in the contemporary world. When Indigenous people have to persuade one another within their traditions, they must also do so by reference to the entire body of knowledge to which they have access, which includes ancient and modern understandings of human rights, due process, gender equality, and economic considerations. While contemporary concepts will modify and be modified by very old principles and processes, they will also remain distinct by virtue of their particular cultural-legal contexts. Thus, since deliberative Indigenous laws draw upon historical and current legal ideas, they can also more explicitly take account of (and even incorporate where appropriate) legal standards from other legal systems. They can be harmonized with or distinguished from the laws around them based on what counts as persuasive to the group involved in the debate. (35-36)

“Deliberation aimed at making Indigenous law can occur in formal and informal meetings and gatherings,” Borrows continues, and “in these settings laws can be constructed through highly structured or ad hoc means” (36).

According to Borrows, “[t]he deliberative nature of the Indigenous legal tradition is also a key to resisting fundamentalist or dogmatic legal practices and ideas” (36). He notes that many Indigenous communities face challenges, most of which are the result of colonialism, which “make it difficult for certain communities to administer their legal traditions in healthy ways” (36). “The remedy for this problem lies in helping those communities to heal themselves so that they are in a better position to develop constructive and dynamic laws,” he writes. “Persuasion is most effective when people have confidence in one another’s personal and social integrity; thus, healthier relationships can create stronger legal systems because of the increased social capital upon which they can rely” (36). Social capital, “the resource generated in group relationships,” can “foster trust and goodwill, and can engender mutual obligations necessary for effective group action” (36). As with any society, socio-economic health strengthens the effectiveness of community deliberation, and “[h]ealthy participatory legal processes are an important bulwark against oppressive leadership and overbearingly inflexible laws” (36). However, “Indigenous peoples are very aware of foundational principles of civil, political, social and economic rights and responsibilities upon which legal systems rest,” and “they call on these ideas all the time in their fight against colonial state domination” (37). “For Indigenous peoples to be persuasive in declaring and developing law they must incorporate human rights principles in some form within their legal systems,” Borrows continues. “The problem with the Indian Act for many years has been its failure to incorporate human rights standards. While the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act may help to partially remedy this deficiency, a fuller solution would allow Indigenous peoples to develop their own legal traditions consistent with international human rights standards” (37-38). In fact, Borrows states, “Indigenous legal traditions will more likely facilitate dignity and freedom if people inside and outside of our communities drop stereotypes about the timeless, past-tense nature of First Nations life and laws”:

Indigenous traditions are syncretic, and fused with ideas and practices from many sources. They adapt to changing circumstances in accordance with the needs and priorities of their members and in response to external pressures. Tradition is not abandoned as new ways are introduced. In fact, it is renewed as it combines with vibrant healthy influences from other worthy sources. (38) 

“Indigenous law must continue to engage in conversations with other legal traditions to stand any chance of continually being embraced by a sufficient number of people within our communities,” Borrows contends (38).

Because Indigenous laws are based on deliberative processes, dissenting viewpoints can be taken into account as laws are formulated, often through the use of circles “to invite participation in developing legal standards. Circles are considered sacred and represent the bringing together of people in an atmosphere of equality, as they do not raise one person above another” (38-39). Borrows cautions that “[r]elationships of power and hierarchy do not necessarily disappear when people make decisions using a circle format,” but “much deliberative Indigenous law development can be conducted through circles—such as talking circles, healing circles, and reconciliation circles—if protective procedures are present” (39). Some Indigenous peoples “prefer gatherings such as feasts and other large public assemblies to encourage discussion and resolution of issues,” particularly in the Pacific northwest, where feast structures “contain elaborate protocols to engage communities in important celebrations and decision-making issues” and use “narrative, dance, music, and gift-giving” to address a variety of disputes, including issues related to property law, family law, commercial disputes, and criminal law (40-41). “There is tremendous potential for the continued operation and development of feasting structures and other large gatherings to develop law through the exercise of Indigenous deliberative practices,” he writes (41). But there are other ways of making law. The Haudenosaunee, for instance, use “structured deliberations” to “build and maintain their Great Law of Peace on the consensus and agreement of six different nations” (42). “The reinvigoration of Haudenosaunee law is one of the reasons the Canadian and Ontario governments have had to work differently with the Six Nations community near Brantford, Ontario in recent years,” Borrows suggests, “and their laws’ influence was especially evident in the disputes concerning subdivision land in the Caledonia dispute in 2006-9” (42).

“Today, perhaps the most visible example of Indigenous legal tradition developed through deliberation and persuasive debate occurs in band council settings,” Borrows writes. “Although the full expression of their laws is constrained by the harsh overlay of non-Indigenous rules under the Indian Act, bands often, though sometimes inconsistently, use traditional legal teachings to conduct their business and regulate their communities” (42). The Indian Act’s strictures “unnecessarily restrict and occupy jurisdictional space and thus hinder healthier law-making procedures and patterns,” and therefore Indigenous law-making is “a poor reflection of what would be possible if this restrictive legislation were repealed” (42-43). Borrows notes that “band councils cannot properly claim to administer Indigenous legal traditions . . . because they are a creation of the Canadian government and therefore only function as a non-Indigenous law-making body,” but he states that “it must also be acknowledged that many continue to be recreated through community participation” (43). Some elected chiefs and councillors do “reference their own First Nation’s legal values in debating and making decisions,” and “many so-called bands pre-existed the Indian Act and find their inherent governmental power in their pre-Confederation authority” (43). “Thus, some band councils are well situated to apply Indigenous legal traditions and have a long history of implementing their own community’s procedures and principles in their decision-making, despite the Indian Act’s strictures,” Borrows writes. “Other band councils, such as those found on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, have very little legitimacy in administering Indigenous legal traditions because the government’s imposition of the band council has never been broadly accepted by their community” (43). Because the Indian Act allows First Nations “to organize their affairs in accordance with their own customs,” it can be argued that, “rather than extinguishing Indian governance, the Indian Act could be interpreted as explicitly recognizing and affirming pre-existing law-making powers” (43). Nevertheless, “further steps should be taken to remove First Nations from the Indian Act’s suffocating embrace. Operating as a custom band under the Indian Act does not adequately facilitate the growth and development of Indigenous law because the surrounding legislative framework largely assumes a relatively low level of decision-making ability and authority” (43-44). Still, band councils “are a rich source of Indigenous law, despite the problems that exist” (44).

These examples show “that many Indigenous legal traditions develop in a deliberative fashion, through councils, circles, feasts, and other informal and formal meetings and gatherings” (44). Many Indigenous societies are “radically egalitarian,” enabling everyone “a legal right and practical opportunity to assist in the development of their laws,” while others restrict participation because of rules about status, heredity, or “Canadian legal impediment” (44). One must remember that Canadian legal traditions involve pragmatic limits before criticizing the limits in Indigenous participation in law-making (44). “Canadian legal process may be considered somewhat analogous to the special positions, ceremonies, and hard work required by some Indigenous legal traditions,” Borrows continues (44). In any case, “many criticisms related to the scope of disclosure and participation within Indigenous societies can be successfully addressed if widespread deliberation remains the heart and focus of a community’s legal system” (45). If a community’s legal traditions are “undemocratic and thereby restrictive of deliberation,” he argues, those traditions “should be renounced and discarded,” as has happened in the case of slavery, for instance (45). “Where participation in the creation of Indigenous law is restricted in inappropriate ways, it is usually because some powerful individual or group has used positivistic law to usurp authority from a community,” Borrows states, noting that “one of the most profound sources of restrictions on broader participation within Indigenous legal regimes today is Canadian law itself,” both through the Indian Act and the attitudes of lawyers, judges, and parliamentarians that Indigenous law doesn’t even exist (46). 

By positivistic law, Borrows means “the proclamations, rules, regulations, codes, teachings, and axioms that are regarded as binding or regulating people’s behaviour”—legal traditions that have weight “because proclamations are made by a person or group regarded by a sufficient number of people within a community as authoritative” (46-47). Legal positivism is based on command, and in an Indigenous context, “positivistic laws may be formally proclaimed in feast halls, council houses, wampum readings, band council chambers, and other such public settings” (47). “Some positivistic Indigenous legal traditions may once have been explicitly connected to a larger normative system, but the reasons underlying their original adoption might have been deliberately abandoned or forgotten as circumstances change,” so that “laws that once drew their authority from deliberation or creation may now be followed for different reasons—because some group or individual has garnered enough power (through respect or fear) that others will now follow their pronouncements without considering the reasons behind the law’s development” (47). Borrows is concerned about the use of “positivistic law as a source of authority,” both in Indigenous traditions and in civil and common law as well (47-48). He worries that “if a prominent leader or group rules through this form of law for too long, without the restraining influences found in the other sources identified to this point, this could lead to great corruption,” and he hopes that positivistic law “will constantly be tempered by other factors to ensure that those who proclaim law do not become a source of oppression to those who follow them” (48). Borrows suggests that it is rare to see positivistic law operating in Indigenous communities “without other sources of law being studied and followed,” though, and notes that one criticism of Indigenous law is the lack of “a so-called recognizable sovereign who can pronounce laws and command obedience to them” (48).

Positivistic laws are “followed by people with little understanding of why they are binding, beyond their trust in or fear of the individual or group who gave them the rules” (48). “Many societies often obey such laws because they are regarded as necessary to the proper maintenance of order within their jurisdictions,” Borrows writes. “When someone breaks a law, our concern is not usually whether the law-breaker was persuaded at some point to support the law but that they had failed to obey it. When we know someone is flaunting the law, we may not immediately care whether that person sees the law as being in harmony with some broader sacred, natural, or deliberative source” (49). Instead, “most people who witness the disobedience are more concerned about their own safety and self-interest, and with that of their neighbours,” and therefore “they may not immediately be concerned about larger questions of legitimacy surrounding the law” (49). For that reason, “in understanding positivistic law’s legitimacy, it is important to remind ourselves that such power flows from a leader or group’s claim or endowment of reason and responsibility” (49). If that leader or group is abusing their authority, they can be removed “without offending other legal traditions that may flow from deliberation, nature, or the community’s sense of the sacred” (49). “Thus, if an Elder named chief or clan mother suffers from a loss of reputation, people could cease to follow their rules without dire consequences,” Borrows states, although “the consequences of a leader’s loss of reputation may be more complex and the subject of much greater conflict” (50). In fact, “[i]t might be difficult to disentangle a powerful group’s claims to authority from laws flowing from the Creator, nature, or from the functioning of a deliberative council,” and “[t]he challenge of separating political power from legal sources should not be underestimated” (50). Application of the law “tends to be messier in mingling the practice of politics and law,” Borrows admits, and “there is always the danger that changes in leadership or group dynamics may make it more difficult to abandon rules that seem, at first glance, to be tied to a person’s or group’s will-to-power through their proclamations” (50-51). Nevertheless, Borrows contends that these political dynamics should not lead to an overestimation of “the problem of leadership conflict or change within Indigenous legal systems where positivistic law is in force,” since “[t]he availability of appeals to the Creator, the environment, and reasoned consensus or custom greatly assists communities when an individual or group’s proclaimed rules or formerly binding teachings become less compelling for reasons related to their reputations” (51).

Custom, the final source of law Borrows discusses, “is the label that most people would likely give Indigenous law if they were unfamiliar with the complexity of these societies’ social organization,” although non-Indigenous societies rely on customary law as well (51). “Customary law can be defined as those practices developed through repetitive patterns of social interaction that are accepted as binding on those who participate in them,” Borrows explains. “Customary laws are often inductive, meaning that observations of specific behaviour often lead to general conclusions about how to act; as a result, the obligations they produce are regularly implied from a society’s surrounding context” (51). Customary law “rests heavily on an individual’s unspoken agreement about how rights and obligations will be regulated between community members,” and the intuitive nature of this form of law “means that disputes are often regulated through social pressures that distribute incentives and disincentives to act or refrain from acting in certain ways” (51-52). Customary laws are often implicit and initially more difficult to recognize, interpret, or enforce, but this fact doesn’t mean they “should give way to other sources of Indigenous legal tradition” (52). “[I]n its proper context,” customary law “can be very effective in producing strong and healthy community relationships” (52). Indigenous customary law is most strongly recognized in marriage and family relationships in Canada (52). Recent land claims agreements also rely on customary law, as n the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, which explicitly recognizes that customary law can exist in oral or written traditions, observances, or practices, in the opinions of Elders, or in community consensus (52-55). 

In the chapter’s conclusion, Borrows notes that “the distinctions between the different sources of law” he has outlined “can be defined too formally and separate from one another. In the real world, Indigenous legal traditions usually involve the interaction of two or more of the sources” he has described (55). “Indigenous peoples have choices when they turn to their laws for answers,” he stresses. “While complexity and choice might make working with the law appear more complicated, it should also provide greater opportunities for those interested in recognizing, interpreting, enforcing, and implementing these laws” (56):

Understanding that a source of law is natural, deliberative, positivistic, or customary might help those people who think of Indigenous legal traditions as static to see a much greater space for their application and development in modern Canada. If Indigenous legal traditions are going to expand and be a creative source of authority in Canada, we must reject the view that Indigenous law lies at the bottom of the legal hierarch, labelled as simply customary. . . . Indigenous legal traditions can be regarded as living systems of law, open to human choice and agency, within the context of the communities who will use them. (56)

One way Indigenous societies can keep their legal traditions alive “and connected to broader normative bases” is by emphasizing “the oral transmission of their laws” (56). “For many Indigenous societies, the spoken word ensures the law’s vitality because it sustains connections to their community’s underlying cultural foundations,” Borrows writes. “It also ensures that laws remain connected to a living community” (56). The oral transmission of law “is an important protection against narrowing influences because it allows for a stronger weaving of the past and the present” (56). It is “bound up with face-to-face persuasion, reason, the configuration of language, political structures, kinship, clan, economic systems, social relations, intellectual methodologies, morality, ideology, and the physical world,” Borrows continues, factors which “assist powerful individuals and groups in knitting legal memories more tightly in their adherents’ minds, keeping the laws living in places other than dusty old books full of overly technical rules” (57). Oral recitation also “allows issues from non-Indigenous systems to be incorporated with flexibility,” because it leads to Indigenous law becoming “intermixed with ideas from other sources” (57). 

“[A]ll of these strands of oral law, whether ancient or more recently incorporated, can be woven together and reinforced by mnemonic devices or other cultural practices, which also encourage broader participation and normative links,” Borrows concludes (57). Memory aids—including “wampum belts, masks, totem poles, medicine bundles, culturally modified trees, birch bark scrolls, petroglyphs, button blankets, land forms, and crests”—can record legal ideas, and those mnemonic devices “can be supplemented by practices which include such complex customs as pre-hearing preparations, ceremonial repetition, the appointment of witnesses, dances, feasts, songs, poems, the use of testing, and the use and importance of place and geographic space” (57). “The existence of these formalities and processes can help to ensure that certain legal traditions are accredited within a community,” Borrows argues, and oral tradition often blends sacred, natural, deliberative, positivistic, and customary sources of law together, keeping “Indigenous legal traditions alive and growing” (58).

In the third chapter, “Indigenous Law Examples,” Borrows describes many systems of Indigenous law within their specific social frameworks. He notes that there are dangers to focusing on specific groups when trying to understand Indigenous law: there is the risk of oversimplifying Indigenous societies “by presenting each group’s laws as completely isolated and self-contained,” and ignoring the fluidity and permeability of both legal traditions and cultures (59). He emphasizes the revisionist character of healthy legal systems, and suggests that “[t]he authenticity of Indigenous law and governance is not measured by how closely they mirror the perceived past, but by how consistent they are with the current ideas of their communities” (59-60). In addition, disagreements over interpretations of law “could be a signal that the tradition is vibrant and strong”: “As long as there is a way to temporarily resolve inconsistencies for the finite moments when decisions actually require deference, legal systems can live with a great deal of variation” (60). 

First, Borrows discusses Mi’kmaq legal traditions. “[M]embers of the Mi’kmaq confederacy, or Awitkatultik, see their contemporary territory as being divided into districts or sakamowati,” he writes. The sakamowati exist “to acknowledge family rights to certain hunting grounds and fishing waters,” and decisions made within the sakamowati “are based on what members have learned from other living beings within their territory” (61). “Building upon the earth’s teachings in this manner, the Mi’kmaq people seek to apply natural law to their relationships with others,” he continues (62). Mi’kmaq tradition “aspires to give everyone an opportunity to participate in decision-making (wikamou) during certain seasons,” and periodically the people gather to form a Grand Council, or Santé Mawíomi, where issues are discussed (62). Mi’kmaq laws are flexible and holistic, and they change as circumstances change: “The dynamic nature of Mi’kmaq law means that great care should be taken not to freeze the interpretation or application of these laws in an artificial past” (63). Many Mi’kmaq legal traditions come from the sacred, “from their views of creation and their explanations about their sacred responsibilities in the world” (63). Because everything has a spirit, or mntu, “[r]ocks, plants, insects, birds, and animals have a more central role in Mi’kmaq law”:

The need for respect, demonstrated by an awareness of the natural world’s participation in forming Mi’kmaq life, has deep legal implications for these people. It gives higher priority to stories, dreams, and visions than is the case in the common or civil law. This approach more freely accommodates the protection and facilitation of life forces that we do not fully understand or contain. As such, Mi’kmaq law does not shy away from discussions based on experiences that occur outside linear legal argumentations. (64)

But Mi’kmaq laws “can also embrace ideas based on positivistic processes,” through regular wampum readings, or Inapskuk, for example (64-65). However, wampum belts are often misinterpreted or misunderstood by Canadian courts as faulty history rather than law (65-70). “Just as precedent is measured by the most recent cases, rather than by their first formulation, so Mi’kmaq legal tradition must be considered in its most recent light,” Borrows writes. “It is freely accepted that law as a living, interpretive engagement between the past and the present is a necessary part of other legal traditions. The same acceptance should not be denied to Indigenous legal traditions” (70). “Indigenous legal traditions must be understood in the context of their own interpretive rules, just as common law and civil law are understood in accordance with their own distinctive cultural traditions,” he concludes (72).

Next, Borrows discusses Haudenosaunee legal traditions. “Law lies close to the heart of the Haudenosaunee’s genesis as a unified people,” he writes (72). “Although disrupted by U.S. and Canadian attempts to eradicate this tradition, the Great Law of Peace continues to be the most important legal tradition guiding these communities today” (73). The Great Law of Peace, the Kaianerekowa, “bound the Iroquois nations together into a confederacy of considerable strength,” Borrows continues. “Its narrative and principles brought peace, power, and righteousness to generations of Iroquois people, and continues to be important to Haudenosaunee people today” (73). According to Borrows, “[t]he Great Law of Peace is one of North America’s most recognizable Indigenous constitutions,” and “it’s primary authority continues to reside in its spoken version,” rather than in its numerous written descriptions (73). Borrows briefly tells the story of the Peacemaker and the instructions he gave to chiefs about how to live and how to run their councils (73-75). Like most legal traditions, the symbols the Peacemaker gave to the chiefs “are subject to wide interpretation and reinterpretation because their framing encourages listeners to broadly apply their messages,” and the Great Law “also communicates laws relating to adoption, emigration, individual rights, and international relations” (75). Once the Peacemaker taught the principles of the Great Law of Peace, he left, promising to return (75).

“The Great Law is built on the agreement and creativity of many Haudenosaunee people,” Borrows continues. “Future generations are considered in deliberations under the law, and their anticipated needs were to be a significant part of any resolution” (75). Agreements are reached through unanimity, and any of the Six Nations can request a meeting of the council of the confederacy (75). “The Haudenosaunee developed intricate diplomatic traditions in their relations,” he writes, noting that the agreements they reached “continue to resonate with many Indigenous people today,” such as the Gus Wen Tah, or Two Row Wampum, which was the basis of agreements between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch, the French, and the English (75-76). Another symbol related to the Gus Wen Tah is the Silver Covenant Chain, which binds nations together without causing them to lose their independence (76). “Those holding the Covenant Chain are responsible for keeping their relationships bright and preventing them from breaking Haudenosaunee law seems to maintain an independence from other legal traditions that prevents its assimilation or integration,” Borrows writes, and this independence means that “the Haudenosaunee are the least likely of any Indigenous group to support or embrace the application of their laws as part of the Canadian legal system,” although “many Haudenosaunee would welcome seeing their legal traditions given greater recognition” (76). Because the Haudenosaunee tend to see themselves as allies of Canada rather than as Canadian citizens, Borrows’s “conclusions about the nature of Canadian multi-juridicalism will likely be rejected by many people of the longhouse. They would not want to see their legal traditions as part of Canada’s Constitution, unless they consented to such an arrangement through a treaty with their confederacy, which is unlikely in the present circumstances” (76-77). However, “many Haudenosaunee would likely accept renewal of the Gus Wen Tah and the Silver Covenant Chain, both of which symbolize their ancient treaty relationship with the Crown and affirm their decision-making powers and distinctiveness,” and “Haudenosaunee law has a continuing and significant influence on how Canadians organize their affairs” (77).

Borrows now turn to Anishinabek legal traditions. “Historically, the Anishinabek lived in communities as clans organized in a loose confederacy, which more recently was called the Council of the Three Fires,” he writes (77). They “often manage their resources through kinship allocations, agreed upon through discussion and consensus,” and “these kin-based allocations have been confirmed, overlain or displaced by band council-sanctioned certificates of possessions under the Indian Act” (77). Clan systems “assist in regulating behaviour and resolving disputes,” and “[p]ersons who are not Anishinabek by birth may be granted citizenship and legal standing to participate in community life through an adopted clan” (77). A person’s clan, or dodem, “creates reciprocal obligations among fellow clan members, thereby establishing a horizontal relationship with different communities and creating allegiances that extend beyond the confines of the home village” (78). Clan obligations help “the Anishinabek allocate resources to their hunting grounds, fishing grounds, village sites, and harvesting/gathering sites,” and “[a] conservation ethic is apparent in resource allocations under Anishinabek practitioners using this system” (78). 

According to Borrows,

The Anishinabek people have a number of legal principles that guide their relationship with other living beings in a conservationist mode. For example, humans and others have rights relative to the earth, and they also have duties. Duties or obligations are central to relationships under Anishinabek law. This is demonstrated in formalized patterns of speech. For example, when Anishinabek people historically met, they would first ask one another: “Weanaesh k’dodem?” (“What is your totem?). Once clan and family were determined, people would be asked: “Ahniish aen-anookeeyin?” (“What do you do for a living?”). Both of these questions are related to a person’s responsibility within the community. A person’s dodem indicates more than their lineage: obligations are attached to their clan affiliations. Like a dodem, a person’s anookeewin also connotes ideas of duty and right (daebinaewiziwin). Anishinabek peoples have obligations (daebizitawaugaewin) to their families and community: to support them, to help them prosper, and to exercise their rights to live and work. In an Anishinabek legal context, rights and responsibilities are intertwined. (78-79)

“The Anishinabek have strong legal traditions that convey their duties relative to the world,” Borrows continues, including “stewardship-like concepts (bimeekumaugaewin) and apply to their use of land, plants, and others” (79). “Principles of acknowledgment, accomplishment, accountability, and approbation are embedded in the Anishinabek creation epic and associated stories,” he writes:

Ojibway legal traditions concerning bimeekumaugaewin speak of how the world was created and how beings came to live on the earth. They tell of how they depended on the earth, plants, and animals for their sustenance and survival once they arrived. The Ojibway’s acknowledgment (gaamiinigooyang) of a Creator and an appreciation of their reliance on their relationship to the world comprise the first principle of bimeekumaugaewin within Ojibway societies. (79)

The second principle of bimeekumaugaewin deals with accomplishing “the Creator’s vision in setting life in motion” (79). “The stories convey the manner in which plants, animals, and humans should relate to and respect one another,” Borrows writes. “They obtain important teachings about the preparation necessary for living a good life. They talk of principles that must be followed so that all the orders of creation can live together in peace and friendship” (79-80). The third principle of bimeekumaugaewin is accountability: “As with the pipe, ceremonies are often performed in conjunction with these stories to communicate to the Creator, and to acknowledge before others how one’s duties and responsibilities have been performed. Dancing, feasting, and singing sometimes accompany these rituals as a way to ratify legal relationships” (80). Finally, stories explain “the consequences of living in accordance with, or contrary to, these principles” (80). “The idea of approbation received for proper performance of duty, or disapprobation (tubuhumahgawin) flowing from failure to fulfill a responsibility, complete the Ojibway circle of bimeekumaugaewin,” Borrows continues. “These are the enforcement mechanisms of Anishinabek law” (80). 

Legal remedies in Anishinabek law “are not usually punitive,” although “examples can be found in which drastic action had to be taken against individuals to preserve community safety” (81). One was recorded by William Jarvis, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, in 1838. In that incident, a man named Mayamaking began drinking his own blood (despite the availability of other food), tearing off his clothing (despite the winter weather), and eating ice and snow. The community feared he would eat their children, and unanimously agreed that Mayamaking would have to die. His best friend shot him, “‘not wishing any other hand to do it’” (Jarvis qtd. 82). “This real life historical case is an interesting example of Anishinabek law,” Borrows writes. “The community dealt with the issue in accordance with their own legal traditions. The community had no other resources for their protection but themselves, their extended family and friends. They used their law to deal with a pressing issue” (82). When it became clear that the man’s threats “were becoming a matter of life and death,” the community “went to council together rather than take action individually” (82). “This is an important Anishinabek legal principle,” Borrows continues. “Their method of making judgments was a collective, not an indiviualized one. They relied upon one another’s viewpoints. They were deliberative. They clearly felt that this method of deciding was very important because they travelled through heavy snow to meet together” (82). The legal principles that led to the man’s death were focused on defence and compassion, and his death had restorative aspects: “The father received gifts from the community, and the man who killed the son stepped into his role, also performing restitution. Even the man who lost his son seemed to be satisfied with the council’s decision” (82-83). For Borrows, this example shows the differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous law: “Imagine what our legal systems would be like if judges or lawyers had to take the place of those they prosecute or send to jail” (83). 

Of course, today Mayamaking’s mental illness would be handled very differently, but for Borrows, the point is “to focus on the process and principles that guided the actions, rather than on the specific outcome” (83).  “Even today,” he writes, “people can still”: “wait, observe, and collect information,” “consult with their friends and neighbours when it is apparent something is wrong,” “help the person who is threatening or causing imminent harm,” remove the individual “so that he or she does not harm others (though, to re-emphasize, the act does not involve what the common law has labelled capital punishment),” “help those who rely on that person by restoring what might be taken from them by the treatment,” and “invite both the community and the individual to participate in the restoration (83). These legal principles “show what can be learned from looking at the past,” Borrows contends, and “Anishinabek peoples will likely find similarity with many of these approaches in their contemporary lives” (83). “For the Anishinabek, windigos come in different forms, even today,” he continues. “There are other harmful forms of cannibalistic consumption that destroy lands and people. The principles that underlie the practice in the Mayakiming case are important for dealing with these problems” (84).

Borrows now discusses Cree legal traditions. The Cree homeland is vast, covering both boreal forest and prairie, and for Borrows, who is only including the Plains Cree, Woods Cree, and Swampy Cree in this discussion, “the diverse ecologies of this terrain influence their laws” (84). Those who keep the law are known, in Cree, as “Onisinweuk,” Borrows writes (84)(probably onisinwayak, in Standard Roman Orthography, although I can’t find that word in the dictionary; oyasiwéwin means law, though). Legal principles are encoded in Cree language, expressing fundamental principles in the words wâhkôhtowin, miyo-wicêhtowin, pâstâhowin, ohcinêwin, and kwayask-itôtamowin, and understanding these words provides a glimpse into Cree legal traditions (84). wâhkôtowin is “the overarching law governing all relations,” and it is said “to flow from the Creator who placed all life on earth” (84). According to Borrows,

A body of stories describes what people have learned from observing the natural world; the stories are used to facilitate order in Cree law. The sun, moon, winds, clouds, rocks, fish, insects, and animals all provide illustrations of wahkohtowin, which the Cree interpret into law. Wahkotowin has implications for individuals, families, governments, and nations. For example, in the family law context, wahkotowin is said to require different levels of conduct: parents are to nurture and care for their child with loyalty and fidelity; brothers and sisters are to live close but separately in an atmosphere of non-interference; cousins and other relatives are to be treated respectfully in a non-coercive manner. (84)

Unrelated people apply the principles of wâhkôhtowin “in accordance with the ideas found in miyo-wicehtowin, pastahowin, ohcinewin, and kwayaskitotamowin” (84).

miyo-wicêhtowin, Borrows writes, “is said to have originated in the laws and relationships that Cree people have with their Creator”: it directs Cree people to behave in a way that is conducive to the creation of good relationships (85). miyo-wicêhtowin “is an important legal principle because it speaks to maintaining peace between people of different places and perspectives,” and the “maintenance of mutual good relationships, through positive support and assistance,” is “often represented by the circle in Cree law” (85):

Circles are considered sacred and represent the bringing together of people. They are meant to remind people of Mother Earth and their journey through life: from the earth, to infant, to child, through adulthood to old age and back to the earth. Cree legal traditions can be conducted in circles, such as talking circles, healing circles, and reconciliation circles. (85)

pâstâhowin and ohcinêwin, on the other hand, are about the consequences of failing to abide by the law:

Pastahowin is used to describe something that goes against natural law. If such an offence occurs, negative consequences will follow, making the concept of ohcinewin relevant. Ohcinewin is part of the concept of pastahowin and means to suffer in retribution for an action against creation. Pastahowin and ohcinewin can apply to any circumstance in which the law is not followed, either through action or omission. (85)

Retributive aspects of Cree law include “meskotsehowin” (redress), “kakweskasowehk” (reproval), “apehowin” (revenge), “naskwawin” (reprisal), “pasastehokowisowin” (retributive justice), “naskwastamasowin apo apehowin” (vengeance), “pasihiwewin” (vindication), “atameyimew” (blame), “sihkiskakewin” (obligation), “masinahikepayowin” (indebtedness), and “tipahikewin” (recompense) (85) (all in quotation marks because I’m not sure of Borrows’s spelling and can’t find any of these words in the dictionary). Examples of pâstâhowin and ohcinêwin can be found in relationships between animals and humans: “Animals are regarded as persons in their own right; the relationship between the Cree and animal-persons is governed by the same legal considerations that govern human relationships” (85). “If animals are not treated appropriately,” Borrows writes, “pastahowin and ohcinewin can result: something bad will happen. Many stories interpret the law relating to animals in these terms” (85-86). Borrows notes that a Cree-speaking judge, Gerald Morin, was appointed to preside over a Cree court in northern Saskatchewan in 2001, but suggests that this court “does not represent anything close fo a fully functioning Cree legal system” and that it “only faintly affirms Cree legal traditions,” since “[t]he substance and procedures of Canadian law continue to contain many cultural incongruities that are considered incompatible with Cree legal traditions” (86).

Borrows turns to Métis law next. He notes that in 1840 the Métis living on the prairies developed buffalo hunting laws to organize that economic and social activity (87). The captain of the hunt could impose penalties if the rules of the hunt were broken (87). However, “this set of laws was not a complete code for the hunt. There were, in addition, significant customary legal principles involving the respectful killing and use of animals. Métis law also extended to trade, family obligations, political organization, and land use” (87). Without the order created by Métis law, “the fur trade would have floundered, and political and economic development on the St Lawrence River and easter Great Lakes would have been severely delayed or restricted” (87). Métis “legal presence” was also instrumental in opening western and northern Canada up for settlement (87-88). According to Borrows, “Métis legal traditions were most prominent when the Dominion Parliament attempted to unilaterally survey the old North-West Territories around the Red River in 1869” (88). Because the Métis did not want to become part of the Dominion without their consent and participation, they prevented surveyors from doing their work, and “[t]his prevented Canada’s expansion into the region and compelled the government of Sir John A. Macdonald to negotiate with them” (88). This situation led to the creation of a Métis Provisional Government, which negotiated an agreement embodied in the 1870 Manitoba Act (88). After the terms of that agreement were broken by Canada, “a group of Métis established a democratically elected government in St Laurent, near Batoche, Saskatchewan,” where Gabriel Dumont and eight councillors “passed rules, patterned after their ancient buffalo hunt laws” (88). Borrows includes a long ist of the laws passed at St. Laurent (89-91), and notes that these laws “have survived in customary form, and still have relevance today” (91). In addition, “Métis legal traditions . . . survive in Canada as positivistic law. In Alberta, Métis people operate a quasi-judicial system to deal with disputes about membership, land dealings, surface rights, and any other matter to which the parties agree” (91). This body, the Métis Settlement Appeal Tribunal, was created in 1990 by provincial legislation, and “[i]t has developed an extensive body of jurisprudence as a living legal tradition” (91). Métis living in other parts of Canada “have also enacted their laws in a contemporary context” (91).

Borrows writes about Carrier legal traditions next. The Carrier people organize themselves in houses, with house groups led by a head chief, subsidiary wing chiefs, and house members; a group of houses constitutes a clan (92). Membership in a house or clan is determined by matrilineal descent (92). “Carrier legal traditions contain principles of societal organization,” Borrows states. “These laws are central to the proper distribution of decision-making power” (92). “An integral part of Carrier legal heritage,” Borrows continues,

is their kungax, or “own spirit power.” Kungax tell of the land’s creation, the people’s earliest history, territorial boundaries, major battles, and the origins of house crests, titles, names, and significant past events. Kungax are often performative, using song and dance to communicate major themes and specific principles. Kungax are first taught to children when they are quite young. As they grow and mature, children are expected to deepen their memory and understanding of the kungax until they can recite them accurately. While every attempt is made to ensure that those with proper authority perform the kungax in official gatherings, parallel or divergent accounts often circulate. (92)

According to Borrows, 

Kungax teach specific principles for regulating behaviour as well as outlining remedies for breaches of social order. Several fundamental principles intended to govern individual conduct have been identified within Carrier law. These are respect, responsibility, obligation, compassion, balance, wisdom, caring, sharing, and love. (92)

None of these principles is more important than the others; all are of equal weight. One example of a principle found in a kungax is the obligation to treat animals with respect; if they are not, they will leave Carrier territories or exact retribution (92). “To mark respect for fish, the Carrier enact a ceremony each year to honour the salmon’s return,” Borrows writes. “Honour continues throughout the salmon’s cyclical visits with rules governing its allocation, catch, use, preparation, and disposal” (92). These rules are enforced “by proving commentaries about consequences for mistreatment” (92). For the Carrier, “[f]eelings are an important part of the law; reason is not separated from emotion in making decisions and taking action. Reason and emotion operate together to motivate proper conduct” (93). “The kungax also teach proper rules of respect, love, and obligation towards others,” Borrows writes. “If people are not well treated, they are said to transform into animals and leave their partners” (93). 

The kungax provide “a principled context,” but “Carrier people regulate their society through the bah’lats or Potlatch laws” (94). “The bah’lats,” Borrows writes,

are the legal basis for succession and inheritance, territorial laws and resource management, family law (including marriage, divorce and mourning), dispute settlement, village governance, special rules of conduct for women, and principles of justice taught to children. The bah’lahts are administered through head clan and subclan chiefs who determine their questions of Carrier law. Hereditary chiefs receive their authority from matrilineal clan assignments in the bah’lahts, if they live in a way that merits the honour. Wealth, service, generosity, wisdom, respect, family and community support all qualify people for the authority. Without living in accordance with these principles, a person cannot expect to be effective in interpreting and adjudicating disputes. (94)

However, if head chiefs do have the respect of the community, they are “responsible for determining breaches of Carrier law and, in consultation with wing chiefs, adjudicate an appropriate remedy” (94). Remedies “are administered by a clan member known as a ‘whip man’” (94). “Formal business within the bah’lahts takes place in the feast hall,” Borrows notes, and feasts are guided “by a major legal tenet, dinii biits wa aden, or ‘the way the Feast works’” (95). “Practices and principles must be followed when a hereditary chief’s name is being assigned, when law is solidified, when shaming occurs, and when a birth, marriage, or adoption is announced,” he continues. “Precise legal procedures are followed within the feast” (95).Borrows describes those procedures, which include the distribution of eagle down after decisions are made, and the proper calling of witnesses (95-96). Witnesses are important, “because they may be called upon at a future feast to verify past actions” (96). “The recording of the bah’lahts proceedings ensures that the witnesses are specifically prepared to testify in the event of a potential conflict over what has transpired,” Borrows concludes, noting that in this respect, Carrier legal structures are similar to those of other northwest coastal nations, including the Nisga’a, to whose legal traditions he turns next.

The Nisga’a are divided into four clans or pdeek, and historically they were also organized into wilps or house groups, each of which “had its own chiefs, territories, rights, history, stories, songs, dances, and traditions. These customs are handed down through matrilineal succession” (96). “Wilps are matrilineal and matrilocal,” Borrows states. “The highest ranking woman in a wilp is called the sigidimnak’; she makes the final decisions on names and inheritance,” and when she dies, the position is assumed by her oldest sister or daughter (96-97). The highest-ranking man in a wilp, the sim’oogit, is “responsible for passing adaawks and associated prerogatives from one generation to the next,” usually through feasts in which these prerogatives are made public and are validated by other chiefs. “Each wilp has an adaawk that describes how their ancient territories were acquired; they can take the listener back to the beginning of time,” Borrows writes. “The adaawk will also describe the wilp’s ancient migrations, territorial defence,” and the major events of its history (97). “The adaawk records property rights such as fishing sites, hunting territories, and gathering grounds. It also details rights and responsibilities in family law,” he continues. “For example, adaawk convey information about how ancestors were given animals to be used as crests by each wilp and to show them how to live, eat, and prepare food. They also relate details about how these entitlements and obligations should be passed on to the next generation” (97).

“The Nisga’a people remember their adaawk by referring to their ayuukhl,” an “ancient legal code that has guided Nisga’a social, economic, and political relationships” for centuries before Canada proclaimed itself a nation (97). “The ayuukhl, in conjunction with the adaawk, historically governed land ownership, education, succession, citizenship, and the institutions of the chieftain and matriarch,” Borrows writes. “The laws also governed marriage, divorce, war, peace, trading relationships, and restitution, though these laws have been modified in some degree by a recent treaty” (97). Some ayuukhl are related to the Nisga’a origin story and are believed to have been placed “in Ginsk’eexkw by k’amligihahlhaahl who is regarded as the Supreme God,” while other ayuukhl “are founded upon K’amligihahlhaahl’s teachings to Txeemsim, the trickster, who identified central legal tenets for Nisga’a peace and order. His deeds and misdeeds illustrate consequences that can flow from certain behaviours” (98). Still other ayuukhl “seem to come from the direct experience and observation of the people. There are many cases of people being rewarded or punished because of the respect or disrespect they showed in following the ayuukhl” (98). Sanctions and restitution are an important part of the Nisga’a legal tradition, including shaming and public cleansing. “Nisga’a legal traditions, therefore, cover many significant aspects of human behaviour,” Borrows continues. “The ayuukhl and adaawk are an important part of Nisga’a legal traditions because they connect the people to their territories, families, and past. They teach them how to live in relationship with the earth around them” (98). However, Nisga’a laws have been modified by their 1999 treaty with Canada and British Columbia; that agreement brings Nisga’a legal traditions into a contemporary Canadian context (99). 

Finally, Borrows discusses Inuit legal traditions. “Among the most important legal terms in Inuit law are maligait, piqujait, and tirigusuusiit,” he writes:

Malagait refers to things that have to be followed. It is a relational term focusing on the results of a request (the obligation to obey). Piqujait deals with things that have to be done. The obligation that is the focus of piqujait is the wish of an authorized person about something that is to be done. Tirigusuusiit refers to things that have to be avoided. If a person transgresses tirigusuusiit, he or she will have to face the consequences of his or her actions. (102)

While these traditions are ancient, they “have the potential to be applied to present-day circumstances” (102). Tirigusuusiit, for instance, “could be used as an Inuit legal device to highlight inappropriate actions,” and while all tirigusuusiit might be followed today, “they could be compared and contrasted with other Canadian legal traditions to create a better future” (102). For instance, “tirigusuusiit requires that campsites be kept clean out of respect for the land and the animals,” suggesting that it is “an important foundational idea for creating environmental and land use planning regimes” (102-03). “There are tirigusuusiit related to visiting peoples in other lands, clothing, hunting, and other life activities,” Borrows continues (103). Another important Inuit legal concept is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, which includes unwritten traditional knowledge, family and political structures, education, and even knowledge of weather (103). “It has also been described as a living technology for rationalizing thought and action, organizing tasks, managing resources and family, and seeing society as a coherent whole,” Borrows writes (103). I’m not sure what the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit might be, but I’m wondering if they are oral narratives. Borrows notes that “the Nunavut territorial government is one of the most important institutions implementing Inuit legal traditions in Canada,” and states that the government “has taken great guidance from Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit to structure its legislative and administrative agenda and actions” (103). There are no political parties, and the cabinet operates by consensus (103). He provides a long list of Inuit legal principles, and suggests that the government of Nunavut “has taken many opportunities to apply these and other Inuit legal traditions to their statutes, regulations, and government procedures” (104).

In his conclusion, Borrows emphasizes his contention that these eight legal traditions require debate, “because such debate cold lead to further clarification and more refined applications of the law at issue. . . . Further discussion and development of these descriptions are essential to ensure that Indigenous legal traditions do not become withdrawn from critical inquiry or become lost in mythologies of the past” (104). Therefore, “it is vitally important that Indigenous laws remain relevant through their continual interaction with the contemporary facts of life” (104). Without such interaction, “they could become detached from the everyday concerns and experiences of Indigenous peoples today” (104). Borrows also asserts that:

significant problems can develop if too much deference is given to how traditions (including common law, civil law, and Indigenous law) were practiced in past eras. While ancient understandings can give significant guidance to present practitioners, problems develop when traditions are held hostage to historical interpretations that do not take into account the modern contexts. In these circumstances, placing too much weight on the “hallowed” nature of traditions can become an obstacle to their present-day applications. If an overexalted view of a tradition is applied, it could limit ordinary people from connecting to it when faced with their messy and often mundane circumstances. Legal traditions must have an air of reality about their present-day applications. People will have trouble making their laws work for them if a hard-edged realism is not combined with the necessary idealism that underlies most legal systems. (105)

For that reason, “traditions should not be frozen in some past-tense state because of misplaced notions of reverence and respect” (105). In fact, those notions “could be exceedingly disrespectful” if they lead to the belief “that one’s legal tradition cannot intermingle with other ideas to provide guidance in circumstances that differ from the past” (105). “Respect should not be equated with non-use,” Borrows argues (105). Nor should traditions become the property of an elite (105). “Resistance to ‘non-approved’ ideas that come from other sources can allow elites to selectively shield themselves from complicated counter-narratives,” he continues. “This can only lead to a narrowing and can threaten a tradition’s relevance in a complicated world” (105). “Legal traditions must be brought out of the past and into the present to increase their scope and vitality,” he writes, a statement he believes is true for common law and civil law as well as Indigenous law (105-06). The remainder of the book, he concludes, is about how laws “might learn from and interact with other approaches to regulation and decision-making” (106). In other words, the rest of the book is an argument in favour of legal hybridity.

Borrows’s fourth chapter looks at what can be learned from the coexistence of civil law and common law in Canada, a phenomenon known as “bijuridicalism” (107). However, that term is not inclusive enough, since “numerous Indigenous legal traditions continue to function in ways that are integral to Canada’s legal system” (107). For that reason, it would be better to think of Canada’s legal system as multi-juridical (107). His intention in this book is “to build on bijuridicalism and take a more pluralistic approach to recognizing and affirming our country’s rich legal inheritance” (107). “In this vein, this chapter will explore how the continued development of Indigenous legal traditions can take guidance from the relationship between the common law and civil law in Canada,” he continues (107). “A more thorough understanding of the development of common and civil law will demonstrate the historically fluid, socially constructed, and culturally contingent nature of legal traditions in Canada,” and it will also provide “an important reminder not to stereotype or overexaggerate the positivistic nature of non-Indigenous legal traditions” (107-08). Without that context, common law and civil law often appear to be natural, and Indigenous law to be an exception to the legal norm (108). Like Indigenous law, common law and civil law “waxed and waned depending on sociocultural factors,” knowing about their conditional development “increases awareness of the need for choice and moral agency in the broader adoption and adaptation of Indigenous legal traditions” (108). 

“When comparing Indigenous and Western legal traditions, it is tempting to make broad, nearly irreconcilable distinctions between them because of their different histories, social organization, and values,” Borrows writes (108). That is the reason it’s important to see the unwritten cultural assumptions of those traditions (108). The unwritten constitutional principles behind Canada’s constitution have been recognized by the Supreme Court. “If the similarities between our legal traditions are not appreciated, their differences can give rise to misconceptions and stereotypical ideas about Indigenous legal systems,” Borrows continues (108). Those ideas, such as the notion that Indigenous law is educational in nature, cause problems, “because they neglect the role of civil and common law as cultural mediums that educate, communicate, and socialize” (109). “It is too easy to detach the civil and common law from their cultural contexts and this must be avoided,” particularly since the cultural components of common law and civil law “seem almost invisible precisely because they correspond with the values of a wide portion of society” (109). Neither common law nor civil law is removed from society: “The development of the civil and common law flows from, and is embedded in, the cultures of specific groups of Canadians” (109).

First, Borrows discusses the civil law tradition, which begins with Roman law and then spread around the world in codified and uncodified forms (109). “Civil law is a highly structured tradition; it is based on broad declarations of general principles that provide guidance to its adherents,” he notes (109). It first arrived in North America in New France, because King Louis XIV decreed that the laws that governed the colony would be the same as those that governed the Île de France, the region around Paris (109-10). That kind of centralized transplantation of laws from one part of the world to another “is a feature of principle-based laws” (110). The laws of New France were hierarchical, with “royal ordinances, edicts, and decisions from the Conseil Souverain (Sovereign Council) proclaiming the laws by which people would live” (110). However, there was some recognition of the need for law to reflect local values, and so the code was changed several times “to accommodate the particular cultural circumstances of New France” (110). After the British conquest in 1763, civil law in New France was abolished, but it continued to exist in practice, and therefore it was reinstated by the 1774 Quebec Act (110). Since then, civil law has survived in Canada: “Civil law remains a powerful legal tradition in Canada because of its historical use and its relationship to the society and culture in which it is applicable” (111).

Common law began to be practiced in Canada about the same time as civil law, Borrows continues (I would’ve thought it started later). “Those who settled the land outside Quebec brought a cultural preference for this legal tradition and made a conscious choice to adopt this system,” he writes. “Much like some Indigenous legal traditions, common law has a strong customary law component” (111). In other words, its origins “are not grounded in any text” (111). Common law “grew out of a society in which a bewildering diversity of courts, from a broad array of cultures, enforced a wide variety of laws” (111). It was born “when the use of writs expanded at the expense of these other legal jurisdictions” (112). Those writes were “‘forms of action’” that “were the procedural devices used by courts to give expression to the theories of liability recognized by common law,” and the uniformity writs provided “allowed for the more centralized control of the entire common law structure, and the sovereignty of the Crown expanded as the jurisdiction of common law became more widespread” (112). Common law first appeared in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia after the expulsion of the Acadians in 1756, and it expanded into other British colonies (and Canadian provinces) afterwards. “Of course, many Indigenous people wonder how these colonies came to be viewed almost exclusively as common law jurisdictions when Indigenous legal traditions continued to apply in all of them,” Borrows writes. “Nevertheless, the common law tradition in contemporary Canada operates through stare decisis and a hierarchy of courts. Stare decisis is the principle by which decisions in previous cases are applied to current cases that are materially similar,” and the hierarchy of courts refers to the fact that lower court decisions can be appealed to higher courts, whose decisions “are binding on inferior tribunals” (112-13). “The culture of common law is of incremental development on a case-by-case basis,” he continues (113). 

The point of these summaries is to demonstrate that “the development of civil and common law traditions is based on specific historical and cultural circumstances,” along with choice and “moral agency” (113). For Borrows, “[c]hoice and agency will be as important to the adoption and continued adaptation of Indigenous legal traditions. Since legal traditions are subject to human intervention, they can change, grow, and develop” (113). Part of that development is the way that these legal traditions have influenced each other. For most of Canada’s history, common law has been dominant, but Borrows says that more recently civil law has become more prominent. “The growth of Indigenous legal traditions may follow the same course if appropriate measures are taken,” he writes (113). 

Common law and civil law have interacted with each other, and these interactions “may hold lessons for Indigenous laws’ growth” (114). Civil law “has been inordinately influenced by common law and still maintains its authority,” and the same might apply to “Indigenous traditions influenced by the other legal traditions,” which may “maintain their power despite being heavily and inappropriately overshadowed by other legal traditions in the courts, parliament, and provincial legislatures” (114). For years, courts, Parliament, and legislatures outside Quebec paid scant attention to civil law, and during that time, “civil law did not enjoy the same weight as common law in the Supreme Court of Canada” and it seemed in danger of assimilation (114). There was a lack of reciprocity between the two systems—a failure to understand that “the Civil Code was a founding document of Quebec’s legal system” (114)—and this situation left many worried about “the continued vitality of civil law tradition” (114). However, things have changed, particularly after the Supreme Court of Canada replaced the Privy Council in the U.K. as the country’s highest court. Despite the dominance of common law, however, “civil law has at times affected common law,” and Borrows cites several examples “in which the Supreme Court has referred to civil law in common law decisions” (114). “The dialogue between these two legal traditions has proved beneficial,” he writes. “Greater reciprocity has facilitated access to a richer body of laws with which to answer legal questions” (115). Each tradition, then, influences the other in Canada (115). That mutual influence has worried some lawyers, who were concerned with the purity or authenticity of civil law. “This approach fails to recognize that the integrity of a legal system is not solely dependent on its relative isolation, internal logic, or doctrinal purity,” Borrows writes. “Integrity also depends upon the system’s recognition, from within and by others. Recognition secures a jurisdictional space for its operation that encourages the respect of the public and facilitates access to resources” (116). When legal systems are recognized as valid, “they are much freer to interact with other systems without fear of assimilation” (116). The broad recognition of civil law was a factor in its survival. “Once the courts and Parliament acknowledged the authority and scope of civil law, it became easier for its influence to grow,” Borrows continues. “Because it has been more firmly recognized by Canada’s dominant legal institutions, civil law ahs been revitalized” (116).

According to Borrows, Indigenous law could benefit from a similar process. Indigenous legal traditions “could grow stronger through greater recognition by the courts and Parliament,” and “Indigenous legal practitioners might consider the civil law experience and identify potential dangers that could develop from an exclusively inward-looking approach to tradition” (116). However, “it is important to contemplate the idea that perhaps the formal separation of Quebec as a civil law jurisdiction has been the strongest reason for its growth, more so than the normative strength it acquired from interacting with the common law,” so both separation and harmonization of legal traditions could be important (116). “Greater discussion is needed within Indigenous communities about the benefits and potential problems of trying to purify Indigenous traditions by the removal of the ‘contamination’ from common law and civil law traditions,” Borrows writes. “Those wishing to live solely by their traditions could usefully ponder whether disproportionately negative effects flow from attempts to completely isolate themselves from surrounding relationships” (116-17). “There are compelling arguments that Indigenous traditions could be strengthened by their separation from and interaction with the principles and approaches that are found in Canada’s other legal traditions,” he continues (117). Also, it’s possible that the history of civil law may not be the best guide: 

Indigenous traditions are somewhat different from Canada’s other legal systems. Indigenous peoples are a much smaller proportion of the population than those living under civil law in the province of Quebec. These smaller numbers might give less political weight to the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions nationally. Furthermore, the Quebec government (which protects property and civil rights through civil law), has specific protections in the Canadian Constitution, whereas Indigenous governance may not have the same status. It may be implicitly protected under section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982; but, so far, this recognition has been less than optimal. Additionally, the fact that civil law and common law both stem from European cultures may make their harmonization easier than would be the case with the interface of Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal traditions. (117)

These differences must not be used as an excuse to avoid potential recognition, Borrows continues, and Indigenous traditions must not be subordinated to European ones “on disguised grounds that they are somehow less civilized” (17). Also, international legal systems favour common law and civil law. Therefore, one must be cautious in using the history of civil law as a model for what might happen to Indigenous law. And, finally, “civil law is limited to matters of private law, whereas Indigenous legal traditions also deal with aspects of public law” (118). The differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous law need to be acknowledged, and they need to “form part of any strategy designed to preserve and develop Indigenous legal traditions” (118).

“In order to have the common law, civil law, and Indigenous law work together in a more harmonious way, we will have to find better words, phrases, and frameworks to acknowledge and facilitate their coexistence,” Borrows states. “The search for such congruence will take us deeper into the realm of interpretation, dialogue, and argument” (118). Like all legal traditions, Indigenous legal traditions need to be interpreted—Borrows uses the word “translated” (118)—in order to be understood, although it’s important that such translations not “always flow one way, to the benefit of the dominant systems” (118). Canada’s other legal traditions, like Indigenous laws, are “embedded in a culture of argument,” and “[e]ach contains a degree of ambiguity that requires judgment beyond its initial formulation”: by courts, judges, and lawyers, through case law, and by Parliament and legislatures, which “promulgate administrative regulations to further implement and clarify statutory grants of power” (118), on the one hand, and by other methods of interpretation, on the other. The methods of interpretation proper to Indigenous law are unfamiliar to Canadians, which presents a challenge for Canadian law, “especially when ambiguities exist not only within legal traditions but also between them” (118). For Borrows, “the most important step we can take in developing a culture of argument in relation to the place of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada is to develop a framework that does not subordinate them to the common law and civil law” (119). When Indigenous law (and Indigenous peoples) have equal status, ways to coordinate the three legal systems will be revealed (119). In other words, “Indigenous law will more fully permeate the consciousness of common law and civil law practitioners and theorists when it is regarded as a real source of rights and obligations in our country. The expansion of our conventional conceptions of Canadian law will also require greater participation by Indigenous peoples” (119). 

To illustrate this claim, Borrows turns to a Cree story about a meeting between the Creator and the animals, prior to the creation of humans. He suggests that this account “will draw on Cree law to point out the general principles that can help to bridge the ambiguities between the civil/common law and Indigenous legal traditions” (119). The great gift humans will possess, the Creator tells the animals in the story, is the ability to dream, which will make them creative. They will also possess the gift of the knowledge of truth and justice, humans will have to search for that gift, the way they must search for their identity. The Creator asks the animals to help him find a good hiding-place. All of the animals make a suggestion, but none of them are good enough. Finally, the Mole speaks: “‘Put it inside them because then only the wisest and purest of heart will have the courage to look there’” (121). And that’s what the Creator does. Borrows suggests that this account demonstrates “the importance of participation and equality in the interpretation of Indigenous legal traditions,” because all of the animals, the greatest and the least powerful, are able to contribute to the discussion with the Creator, who is put on an equal footing with them (121). “If we apply these principles to Indigenous traditions, we can conclude that powers of interpretation and judgment should not all be vested in legislators or judges,” Borrows writes. “If we extended them to the coexistence of each of Canada’s legal traditions, we would also acknowledge that the common law and civil law should not be the only reference points in the country’s legal lexicon. Those with less formal power in society should also have a role in deciding how law should be interpreted and should apply to them” (121). Decision-making between legal traditions “should not presume a hierarchy that places Indigenous legal traditions lower in force or authority,” and each tradition should be brought into contact with the other on an equal basis (121-22). 

Such equality would help to prevent the erosion of Indigenous law, which has two negative effects: it “destabilizes normative order within Indigenous communities,” causing confusion and disrespect for “the law,” which creates “a significant challenge for peace, order, and development” (122), and it “diminishes Canada as a nation,” weakening its culture of law and causing it to lose the wisdom those legal traditions “could provide about how to organize relationships and reduce disputes,” while also causing us to miss “the underlying justice of Canada’s creation and development” (122). “The recognition of Indigenous legal traditions could connect Aboriginal and other Canadians to land in ways not possible under the current administration of common or civil law,” Borrows continues, reminding his readers that there was no discovery by the Crown that could justify extinguishing Indigenous legal jurisdiction, and no conquest that could have extinguished Indigenous peoples’ “jurisdictional rights over their own affairs” (122). “The Crown’s claims of effective occupation and adverse possession over lands where Indigenous peoples still reside are not very persuasive doctrines when they are used to undercut pre-existing and contemporary Indigenous laws,” he writes (122-23). However, “[l]egal certainty is strengthened when Canadian law is built on doctrines that acknowledge the flaws of these other justifications”:

The recognition of Indigenous legal traditions places Canadian law on a firmer foundation because Indigenous law provides ways to allocate or alienate or share land within their communities and with others in ways that are more consistent with the demands of justice. When land and power is transferred in harmony with Indigenous law, all people of Canada can claim a relationship to land and jurisdiction that rests on consent and mutual respect. (123)

Even in parts of Canada where treaties establish a ground for sharing land, the flaws in the ways those treaties were negotiated makes them, at least potentially, doubtful ways to justify the presence of Settlers or their governments here, as Sheldon Krasowski’s book No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, suggests; if Borrows is right, and recognition of Indigenous law would lead to relationships of consent and mutual respect, then such recognition is essential.

Borrows notes that Canada has recognized the “reserved rights” doctrine, which “implies that anything not agreed to or expressed in the treaty remains vested in Indigenous populations, and cannot be claimed by the non-Indigenous governments as a general right that flows from the treaty negotiations,” in relation to Indigenous title (123). “The ‘reserved rights’ doctrine highlights the inherent nature of Aboriginal rights,” he states. “It builds upon the fact that when the Europeans arrived in North America, the Indians were already here, living in organized societies and occupying their lands as they had done for centuries” (123). This, according to Borrows, is the reason treaties are so important to Canada’s legal framework:

They can draw the common law, civil law, and Indigenous legal traditions together. Treaties recognize Indigenous peoples’ right to make decisions in accordance with their laws to share or give land to others. They recognize non-Indigenous peoples’ right to do the same thing, to share and give land in accordance with their legal traditions. Such mutuality should make it obvious that Indigenous peoples are not the only beneficiaries under the treaties. Non-Indigenous peoples also have treaty rights. Both groups are recipients of the promises made in the negotiation process. The mutuality of the treaties is often overlooked because Indigenous peoples are those most often striving to assert their rights. Yet there are a number of potential inheritors of treaty rights other than Indigenous nations, bands, and individuals. The British and Canadian Crown certainly received many benefits from the treaties. Their citizens were able to peacefully settle and develop most parts of the country by consent. In those parts of the country where there are no treaties (such as British Columbia, Quebec, Labrador, and parts of the North), Indigenous consent is now being negotiated. Where there are treaties, Canadians can trace many of their rights in this country to the consent that was granted to the Crown by Indigenous peoples in the treaty process. (123-24)

“Yet the notion that non-Indigenous peoples might trace certain rights to land or governance through the treaties is, for many, still an emergent concept,” Borrows continues. “Because people have not been exposed to Indigenous understandings of law or the treaties, they are only now beginning to consider them in this light” (124). Unlike countries without treaties, where people struggle “to create better regimes without the advantage of shared ideological roots of intercultural understanding and association,” in Canada that understanding and association was, in many places, “created through multi-juridical meetings that mediated differences throughout most of the land,” and Canada continues to be created in this way through contemporary treaty-making (124). Treaties, Borrows states, are living examples of multi-juridicalism, and “Canadians are fortunate to have agreements that provide mutually recognized conventions for the resolution of disputes between peoples that draw on different legal traditions. New policies or norms need not be invented” (124). The treaties “provide a common starting point of poly-juridical connectivity,” he continues. “Much of the world is not founded on such high principles” (124). Canada has much to learn from its bijuridical experience, and “[r]ecognizing and affirming Canada’s legal structures within a framework of multi-juridical diversity is one more step in this learning” (124).

In his fifth chapter, “Recognizing a Multi-Juridical Legal Culture,” Borrows begins by suggesting that “[t]he operation of multiple legal systems is a Canadian tradition, though its full diversity has been largely hidden from the country’s common law and civil law communities” (125). Nevertheless, the country “has strong aspirations towards tolerance and respect for difference,” as shown by, among other things, our federal system of government and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (125). “Canada’s founders rejected the idea of forced cultural coercion, at least as it related to the most critical challenges they encountered: French and English, juridical, cultural, religious, and linguistic differences,” Borrows writes. “Although this framework was not broadly extended to Indigenous peoples”—well, it wasn’t extended to them at all, was it?—“it is not too late to do so” (125). Borrows suggests that Canada’s constitutional history suggests analogies to this objective. The British North America Act, 1867 was designed to allow “French and English speakers to continue their unique political, religious, cultural, linguistic, and legal traditions within provincial frameworks,” and it enshrined minority educational rights as well (126). While the BNA Act was “an incomplete governance instrument,” it was “nevertheless sufficient to unite disparate peoples” (126). These “historically deep, constitutionally protected rights and traditions should not be ignored,” he continues, because their aim is “to foster unity amidst difference” (126). They have “great potential for application to Indigenous issues”:

Each of Canada’s legal traditions must remain strong to ensure peace, order, and good government. Canadians must therefore strive to develop and extend societal cohesion through common allegiance to Confederation’s historical and legal framework. At the same time, differences in traditions must not be sacrificed to overreaching attempts to enforce civic solidarity. The country’s constitutional goal is to reconcile unity and diversity, to recognize continued interdependence even in the face of a measured independence. Canada’ democracy is fundamentally connected to these substantive goals. (126-27)

For Borrows, the benefits of these constitutional arrangements “should be more widely available to Indigenous peoples” (127).

Borrows’s optimism about Canada isn’t naive. He knows that many people disagree with his argument. Some advocate for enforcing “a greater commonality” and conformity through various means. Others who are “concerned about difference” see the answer in assimilation. “Of course, the question of who should assimilate whom is not easily answered,” he notes. “The normal assumption is that minorities should be assimilated,” but “it is hard to justify why one group should be entitled to dominate and absorb others on solely numeric terms” (127) The melting pot metaphor might be attractive to some, but it “underestimates the inappropriate pressures this can place on individual identities and national development. This has particularly been the case with Indigenous peoples” (127). He notes that assimilation of Indigenous peoples “has been an astonishing failure,” and that “assimilation is the most hated and resisted policy for Indigenous peoples” (127). “Nothing will turn Indigenous peoples from the Canadian state with greater force than policies designed to assimilate them,” he states (127-28). To push strongly for such assimilative policies, he warns, could destroy the country, as the history of secessionist movements in Quebec suggests (128). He further points out that section 35(1) of the 1982 Constitution Act “safeguards Indigenous peoples as one of the country’s founding political and legal groups. The embedding of Indigenous diversity in Canada’s central legal texts provides a sound justification for recognizing their legal traditions” (129). Of course that recognition isn’t keeping the RCMP away from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, or allowing them to determine whether pipelines will be built across their territory. It’s more than possible to be too sunny about Canada’s laws and Indigenous peoples.

Borrows suggests that recognizing Indigenous legal traditions “alongside other legal orders has a historic precedent in this land,” and that prior to the arrival of Europeans, “a vibrant legal pluralism sometimes developed amongst First Nations,” with treaties, intermarriages, contracts of trade and commerce, and mutual recognition as “legal arrangements that contributed to extended periods of peace and helped to restrain recourse to war when conflict broke out” (129). “When Europeans and others came to North America, they found themselves in this complex socio-legal landscape,” he continues, and although it has not always been acknowledged, “contemporary Canadian law concerning Indigenous peoples partially originates in, and is extracted from, these legal systems” (129). Diplomacy and treaties were important; Borrows gives the 1701 Dish With One Spoon treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek as an example. That agreement, which shared resources around the Great Lakes, is still remembered by the two nations today (130). Intermarriage and adoption were important, as were games, contests, dances, and feasts (130-31). Boundaries and neutral zones could be developed to separate nations from each other (131). Blockades could prevent other groups from gaining access to a particular locale (131). “These tools were embedded in a wider framework of law,” Borrows states. “Indigenous peoples’ occupation of areas to which they maintain or claim rights is not merely a modern phenomenon” (131). Finally, war was a last resort, although conflicts tended to be localized and “based on Indigenous justice systems that required a life for a life” (131). The disastrous war between the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat in the 1640s, which led to “the near extermination and brutal dispersion of the Wendat peoples from their traditional territories in southern Ontario,” demonstrate “the extreme consequences of armed confrontation if other forms of conflict resolution break down and the application of law breaks down” (131-32). According to Borrows, “Indigenous peoples have long sought ways to avoid such calamities, thereby placing Indigenous law and diplomacy at the heart of much Indigenous experience with others in North America”(132).

When non-Indigenous peoples arrived in North America, “they encountered peoples with well-developed laws and duties related to land and resource use,” and they adapted themselves to Indigenous protocols, using “many of the same institutions with which Indigenous peoples were familiar: councils, feasts, ceremonies, orations, discussion, treaties, intermarriage, adoption, games, contests, dances, spiritual sharing, boundaries, buffer zones, occupations, and war” (132). Treaties were made between the newcomers and Indigenous peoples, using Indigenous legal traditions (132). “If their rights were not recognized, Indigenous peoples would take direct action and re-occupy areas recently claimed by others,” and they were “willing to enforce their rights to land if necessary” through war (132). The war between Indigenous peoples and Britain that began in June 1763 led to the British recognition of and agreement to preserve Indigenous land and resources through the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the subsequent Treaty of Niagara of 1764. “The British approach committed the Crown to entering into treaties with Indigenous peoples if their lands were to be occupied by non-Aboriginal people,” Borrows writes. “Indigenous peoples’ actions and perspectives were important to this policy formulation. They persuaded the government to peacefully settle conflicts over land and resources in North America through treaties. The Crown was bound to secure Indigenous consent before occupying Aboriginal lands” (133). Since then, hundreds of treaties and agreements have been made in Canada, “with many of them drawing on some form of Indigenous legal tradition, even in later eras when they enjoyed less political influence” (133). The continuation of treaty rights and obligations today “entrenches the continued existence of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada” (134).

Treaties are not the only way that Indigenous law influenced, and continue to influence, Canada’s Constitution. “From the 1500s onward, a number of European individuals submitted themselves to Indigenous legal orders,” Borrows states: fur traders, for instance (134). In 1867, “the Quebec Superior Court affirmed the existence of Cree law on the prairies and recognized it as part of the common law,” applying a legal doctrine known as “the doctrine of continuity” (134-35). This doctrine recognized “the continuity of Aboriginal customs, laws, and traditions upon the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty,” and the Crown recognized “Aboriginal rights to occupy and use their traditional territories and to conduct civil affairs” (135). Over time, though, “these diverse forms of reconciliation and resistance at least partially founded on Indigenous legal traditions were attenuated,” and interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples “became more dependent on non-Aboriginal cultural and legal norms” as non-Indigenous people became stronger and more numerous (135). However, “Indigenous peoples never completely surrendered their approaches to law and conflict resolution,” and Settlers “have never achieved absolute dominance over Indigenous peoples in Canada in these matters” (135). “Indigenous peoples’ agency continues to exist,” Borrows writes. “As such, Indigenous legal perspectives and traditions continue to shape Canadian law by being part of it” (135). Supreme Court decisions—Haida Nation v. British Columbia, R. v. Mitchell—include “strong endorsements of the need to determine, recognize, and respect Aboriginal rights in Canada, and they reveal that Indigenous law is important to this venture” (135-36). For Borrows, “there are sound arguments that Indigenous rights, obligations, and conflict resolution procedures are compatible with the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty” (136). Since their rights were not surrendered by treaties or by “clear and plain government legislation,” Indigenous peoples “believe that their laws coexist with common law and civil law traditions, and that they are a strong part of Canada’s constitutional inheritance” (136).

As the next chapter indicates, there are both challenges and opportunities in recognizing Indigenous law. “One of the first challenges to the recognition and development of Indigenous legal traditions is the fact that law is never as tidy as we would wish,” Borrows writes (137). The law is always open to interpretation (137). While Borrows argues that the law “can accommodate Indigenous legal traditions,” there are contrary arguments (138). It is not possible, he writes, 

to definitively declare what “the law” is or should be in the relationship between Canada’s legal traditions. Such answers will always be open for question and reinterpretation; that is the nature of legal reasoning. Therefore, in arguing for a greater respect between traditions, I must at the same moment be open to the view that Indigenous legal traditions do not or should not exist in Canada. (138)

For that reason, “this chapter will consider reasons why we should not recognize Indigenous legal traditions within Canadian law today, although it will be my conclusion that each of these objections can be overcome,” Borrows writes (138). What he’s doing, then, in this chapter is introducing what Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein call a “naysayer” into his text: an opposing argument that will, in the end, strengthen his own position.

The first naysayer is intelligibility: “some people might question the intelligibility of Indigenous law. They may argue that Indigenous legal traditions are not precise enough to affect an individual’s conduct. They may contend that it is not possible to foresee the consequences of inappropriate behaviour” (138-39). For Borrows, this objection needs to be taken seriously. “Since some Indigenous laws are framed as stories, songs, practices, and customs, they may be criticized as being too unintelligible as a prescription of conduct,” and “too-open-ended to function as legal standards” (139). Borrows suggests that there are several approaches to this question. Some Indigenous laws may have to be reframed to make them clearer and easier to understand (139). However, any legal system struggles with intelligibility, and Indigenous legal systems are not an exception to that rule. “There is nothing inherently unintelligible within Indigenous laws but there may be a need to articulate, translate, or reinterpret some of them in particular instances to reduce their vagueness or imprecision,” Borrows suggests (139). In addition, since law is a cultural phenomenon, “what may be unintelligible to those inexperienced with Indigenous culture may be quite intelligible to those familiar with it” (140). For that reason anyone evaluating “the meaning, relevance, and weight of Aboriginal legal traditions must therefore appreciate the potential cultural differences in the implicit meanings behind explicit messages if they are going to draw appropriate inferences and conclusions” (140). “Third, Indigenous peoples might also approach the issue of intelligibility by questioning the detail necessary for a formulation to be ‘prescribed by law,’” a term that suggests that sometimes the law should be left somewhat vague as an aid to flexibility in interpretation (140). I’m not sure I understand this point—I’m not a lawyer—but it seems to suggest that courts need flexibility and discretion in interpreting the law, an issue that the Supreme Court of Canada has dealt with. “If broader Canadian law can describe ‘debatable’ legal standards as intelligible, Indigenous legal traditions should surely be given the same courtesy,” Borrows writes. “Care must be taken to ensure that Indigenous legal traditions are not held to a higher standard of intelligibility than non-Indigenous law” (142).

Intelligibility is related to accessibility, Borrows’s second naysayer. “Laws are accessible when people know where to find them, how to learn them, and who to speak to if they have questions about them,” he states. “If too many people have difficulty understanding Indigenous laws because they are not readily available, steps should be taken to make them more accessible” (142). Indigenous people would benefit from this increased accessibility, as would other Canadians, who “would see that these laws can be learned and applied” and “would develop a greater appreciation for the nature and scope of these laws” (142). Colonialism has alienated Indigenous people “from both broader Canadian society and from their own Indigenous communities,” which “makes questions of accessibility very real” (143). “Such disconnections may make it difficult for an Indigenous legal authority to clearly communicate laws to its citizens,” a problem that “may lead to a lack of information amongst those to whom such laws are meant to apply” (143). “At the same time, accessing Indigenous law is an issue for other Canadians, too,” he suggests. “If the overall population is not able to easily learn about Indigenous law, it will be more difficult for our different legal traditions to coexist” (143). Therefore, increasing the accessibility of Indigenous law is necessary. Indigenous law “could be codified and made available in written form,” and “decisions of Indigenous councils, courts, and traditional gatherings could be broadcast or publicized in a regularized and systematic way” (143). “[E]nhancing both the written and oral distribution of Indigenous laws would make them easier to learn,” but “the way these laws are communicated must be balanced and calibrated to the type of law being described or interpreted” (143). Not all Indigenous laws should be written down; doing so could sometimes deprive those laws of their force, and “[i]n such instances, oral foundations must be maintained” (143). When oral traditions are written down, “it is important that steps be taken to ensure that their flexibility is not lost to preserve greater context” (144). That’s not an impossibility; “Quebec’s Civil Code has maintained an openness and flexibility despite its written nature,” and flexibility can be secured “by making laws for med through oral tradition paramount over written laws,” as in the Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement (144). “Indigenous peoples might also decide to make their laws more accessible by creating broader learning opportunities,” something that could be done “through both general and detailed legal education programs which could take many forms: workshops, apprenticeships, classroom learning, written textbooks, public performances, and so on” (144). Law schools could offer courses on Indigenous law, and new law schools focusing on Indigenous law could be created (144). “Indigenous laws also become more accessible when the government recognizes Indigenous law-making powers through treaties,” Borrows suggests, citing the creation of Nunavut as an example (147). 

There are dangers in making Indigenous law more accessible, though: “Indigenous peoples have many reasons to distrust the sharing of their ideas with greater numbers of people. Past attempts to communicate their laws to others have generated misunderstandings in some non-Indigenous communities” (148). Those misunderstandings have led to a loss of trust and to Indigenous people being placed in a defensive position, leading “to an inordinate amount of time being spent clarifying or justifying their legal position,” which can be exhausting (148). Indigenous knowledge has also been (and continues to be) appropriated and stolen, Borrows continues, and “[s]ome Indigenous peoples will be very hesitant to share their legal knowledge with people not of their community because of the potential for its inappropriate use. . . . People will not want to share their legal traditions if they believe that any exchange will only lead to appropriation, criticism, and extinguishment” (148-49). In addition, “certain Indigenous legal knowledge can form part of a tradition that should be considered intellectual property,” and such knowledge “cannot be shared without following elaborate protocols that may purposely limit accessibility” (149). “In making Indigenous law more accessible, close attention must be paid to the specific cultural contexts in which it operates, and solutions must be crafted which skilfully address those contexts,” Borrows writes. “Accessibility must be extended in accordance with a respect for the intellectual property of each Indigenous legal tradition” (149).

Equality is Borrows’s third naysayer. “Some might view the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions as creating inappropriate special treatment for Aboriginal people within Canada’s legal system,” he writes (150). In addition, “Indigenous peoples themselves have suffered in precisely such a manner because of attempts to segregate and separate them from the rest of Canada’s population through the Indian Act and other such laws” (150). However, “the Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that the recognition of difference can be a mechanism to achieve equality,” Borrows continues. “Differential treatment does not always signal a denial of the equal benefit and protection of the law” (151). It can be argued that difference does not necessarily lead to “concerns about equality, fairness, certainty, and so on” (151). But Borrows is not arguing that recognizing Indigenous legal traditions alongside common law and civil law means a separate legal system for Indigenous peoples. Instead, 

[t]he recognition of Indigenous legal traditions alongside common law and common law traditions should be regarded as part of the  same system. There is plenty of room for these traditions to interact within one framework It is not segregation to more tightly associate Indigenous legal traditions with Canada’s other tradition. A prominent idea in this book is that the failure to recognize the existence of Indigenous legal traditions as a part of Canadian law is in itself discriminatory. Indigenous peoples have constantly adjusted their laws to take into account the common law or civil law, but Canadian judges and lawmakers have rarely done the same when it comes to Indigenous legal traditions. With one side resisting adjustment to their legal relationships, and thus preventing further harmonization, it might be said that the resistant party is the one who is engaging in discrimination. Equality is not well served by denying Indigenous societies equal participation in the ongoing formulation of Canada’s legal system. (153)

Connecting our legal traditions “does not imply absolute convergence and fusion” between them, and “Indigenous legal traditions should no more be subject to forced assimilation than the common law is to the civil law. Each can operate in conjunction with the other, and be harmonized to some degree” (153). 

Also, as a federal system, different provinces and territories have different legal rules, some of which contradict each other; this situation does not lead to inequality. “The law in Canada unites uniformity with diversity,” Borrows writes. “It is appropriate to want the country’s laws (including Indigenous legal traditions) to be interconnected, balanced, and harmonized, and it is inappropriate to regard the law as undifferentiated and insist that exactly the same legal principles should apply to everyone in the same way when to do so would foment inequality” (153). “It is important to judge the recognition and affirmation of Indigenous legal principles by equality standards,” Borrows concludes. “However, it is just as important that equality not be interpreted in a manner which is contrary to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as international human rights principles” (155). A wider acceptance of “differential Indigenous legal traditions and their existence within a singular framework” would actually promote equality (155). “As long as we do not create distinctions that have as their purpose or effect the idea or practice that Indigenous peoples are inferior or superior to other Canadians, equality need not be sacrificed in our law to recognize Indigenous legal traditions,” he states (155).

Borrows’s fourth naysayer is applicability. To whom would Indigenous laws apply? Where would they apply? “One of the major issues surrounding applicability is that people could be obligated to follow laws over which they have no influence,” which would be undemocratic (155). “Connecting the applicability of law with its administration is one of the reasons for this book,” Borrows argues. “For too long, Indigenous peoples have been expected to follow laws over which they had little influence. As Indigenous legal traditions gain greater recognition throughout the country, Canada’s democratic character is enhanced because Indigenous peoples will secure greater input over the common law and civil law’s reach into their lives” (156). However, while Indigenous peoples are gaining greater participation and recognition, it’s important that “other Canadians . . . not be unduly prejudiced by this development,” and that “the application of Indigenous law does not sever other Canadians[’] democratic relationship to the laws which govern their behaviour” (156). For that reason, “Indigenous peoples must be responsive to broader democratic values,” and “[t]hose who administer the common law and civil law should likewise judge the reach of their laws into Indigenous peoples’ lives by similar standards” (156). Every citizen of a reserve, then, would be obliged to obey Indigenous laws. The question of people without Indian status living on reserves is more complicated. Borrows writes, “it is my contention that First Nations should terminate definitions of citizenship that are based on the Indian Act. It is contrary to Indigenous constitutional values. Citizenship shold be extended more broadly” (157). He argues that First Nations “should not deny people citizenship if they are willing to abide by First Nations citizenship laws and be fully participating members of our communities. This could enable many more people to become dual citizens of a First Nation and of Canada” (157). He quotes the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: “Aboriginal people are not racial groups; they are organic political and cultural entities” (qtd. 157). “Since Indigenous peoples have historic rules for adopting others into community, they could build upon these principles to grant people citizenship in the present day,” he continues. “The modernization and extension of citizenship to people form all parts of the world is a strong basis upon which to build the applicability of our laws” (158). He notes that “the recent Dogrib and Innu treaties recognize Indigenous peoples’ authority to make their own citizenship decisions, and thus significantly depart from the Indian Act” (158). The Tlicho Constitution states that citizenship is the purview of their government and that the Tlicho assembly can establish criteria for citizenship. Such laws “make room for others who are not defined as ‘Indian’ by the federal government” (158).

“Indigenous groups should therefore loudly and clearly assert that they are not seeking race-based laws,” Borrows continues. “This would help to overcome most problems of applicability of Indigenous legal traditions to those who are permanently living within Indigenous communities” (159). However, non-citizens living on reserves who have no interest in becoming First Nations citizens would still have to abide by that nation’s laws, the way residents of one province have to abide by the laws of another province to which they may travel (159-60). Moreover, applying Indigenous laws to non-Indigenous reserve residents “does not mean non-citizens would lack influence over the recognition of laws,” because “[t]here will be a pervasive persistence of Canada’s other legal traditions in their influence over Indigenous law no matter what we do,” because of “the colonial nature of Canada’s history,” which will remain “even as we try to decolonize our constitutional framework” (160). Borrows hopes that common law and civil law will be strengthened through the adoption of Indigenous legal traditions: “This interdependence should be the nature of legal discourse in a multi-juridical country. In fact, many Indigenous peoples will demand that protections developed through the common law and civil law’s approach to regulation and dispute resolution be integrated into Indigenous law’s application” (160). He hopes that non-Indigenous people do the same thing, “and insist that protections developed from Indigenous law’s insights be embedded within their laws” (160). The challenge, he suggests, “is to ensure that connections between the traditions are positive and constructive within Indigenous communities, rather than negative and destructive as they have been in the past” (160).

If Parliament accepted the scope of Indigenous law on reserves, greater democratic authority would be accorded to the application of such law to Canadian citizens who happen to be on reserves or other recognized Indigenous spaces (160). “This could be done through a constitutional amendment, a national treaty, or a Parliamentary act or statement of policy from the government of the day,” he suggests. “If Canada’s democratically elected officials were to acknowledge the scope of Indigenous law-making authority on reserves, this would ensure that Canadians had a representative voice in the application of First Nations law to non-citizens” (160-61). In addition, “First Nations could also provide non-citizens of surrounding municipalities and provinces opportunities to comment on the development of their laws as they are being drafted,” and formalized mechanisms for such mutual consultations could be developed (161). Policing agreements could ensure that people from one jurisdiction could be detained in another if suspected of criminal activity (161). 

For Borrows, “Indigenous laws are best administered within Canada’s constitutional framework on a territorial basis, giving strict heed to its broader democratic basis. On this principle, I would suggest that First Nations citizens and other people who reside on or visit the reserve should be obligated to follow the laws formulated for the reserve” (162). At the same time, “Indigenous peoples could continue to have provincial or federal law apply on their reserves in accordance with currently recognized rules under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, or section 88 of the Indian Act, which makes all provincial laws or general application extend to Indians” (162). Some First Nations might opt not to develop criminal courts, for instance, due to a lack of capacity or resources (162).

Would Indigenous laws apply to Indigenous people living off reserve? “There are a few issues to sort out in answering this question,” Borrows states. Reserves were taken from traditional territories without consent, “through the blunt force of colonial law” (163). In other cases, as with the Métis and Inuit, no lands were set aside for them (except for Métis settlements in Alberta). “Thus, the severing of Indigenous peoples from their traditional territories without making provision for the extent of prior Indigenous legal relationships on them is something we are still trying to resolve,” he writes. “Indigenous territories must be significantly expanded to address the injustice of past losses at the hands of a voracious colonial state” (163). For that reason, “Indigenous laws must also be used to enlarge the spaces within which Indigenous law operates. We should concede that there is much work ahead to more fully address the bounds in which Indigenous peoples would have recognized jurisdiction in applying their law off reserve” (163). However, he suggests that off reserve, provincial or federal laws “should create the main obligations for Indigenous people and other Canadians, though these obligations will hopefully be influenced by Indigenous legal traditions” (163-64). This position is consistent with his argument that laws are applicable within territories “to ensure the facilitation of a more fully democratic framework in Canada’s legal system” (164). However, this argument does not foreclose the possibility of mutual interaction between legal systems. “For example, Indigenous laws should have direct application off reserve in those cases related to the exercise of Aboriginal or treaty rights that spill over into provincial or federal spheres,” he argues. “Furthermore, Indigenous laws should have an indirect and varying influence off reserve consistent with Canada’s multi-juridical nature, just as the common law and civil law should influence laws on reserve” (164). This approach “attempts to reinforce the territorial nature of law’s application within Canada’s constitutional framework” while it “recognizes the interpenetrating nature of Canada’s legal traditions” (164). For Borrows, “[t]his is the nature of multi-juridicalism” (164). “It is my belief that this approach most appropriately reconciles Canada’s legal traditions, maintains a strong culture of certainty in securing law and order, and enhances the democratic relationship of citizens with their legal system,” he concludes (164-65).

Borrows’s final naysayer is legitimacy, a “catch-all category [that] addresses broader sociopolitical difficulties people might have in accepting Indigenous law” (165). This includes “psychological and emotional objections to recognizing Indigenous legal traditions that must be addressed if Indigenous law is going to be more broadly received” (165). He cites an article by Jennifer Nedelsky called “Embodied Diversity,” in which Nedelsky argues that judgement is formed through intellectual and emotional processes working together (165). “Thus, in being attentive to how people might feel about the ideas developed in this book, readers might want to identify whether they have strong negative or positive feelings that are not easily connected to logical argumentation,” he continues:

The identification of such feelings might reveal further issues that should appropriately defeat or support this book’s thesis. Emotion can be a powerfully positive force if it leads us to identify lucid, cogent, rational arguments concerning a given course of action. I welcome the identification of such issues to the extent that they are based on fair and balanced argumentation. On the other hand, if our feelings cannot find a root or connection to intellectually persuasive justifications for denying or accepting the existence of Indigenous legal traditions, it may be we should harness such emotions in favour of a different approach. (165-66)

Borrows suggests that identifying “some of the negative feelings people have expressed concerning the recognition and growth of Indigenous legal traditions” would be helpful (166):

Some people may fear for their safety if Indigenous peoples exercise greater lawmaking power. They understand that Indigenous people are over-represented in the country’s jails and that Indigenous communities sometimes experience higher levels of interpersonal violence. They may worry that such violence would spill over into other communities if Indigenous peoples are unable to properly administer their law. Both Indigenous people and other Canadians are likely to express this concern. (166)

Others fear that recognizing Indigenous law will cause division and strife. “Some Canadians might feel Indigenous peoples will be entitled to something they are not if Indigenous law grows stronger,” Borrows writes, noting that such feelings “could generate irritation, fear, or bitterness towards Indigenous law” (166). Other negative feelings, including greed, apprehension, discomfort, anxiety, envy, or “paternalistic affection” might cause people—and I think he primarily means Settlers here—to reject the recognition of Indigenous law. “Any strategy to more widely recognize Indigenous law must address these emotional reactions,” he suggests (166).

Others might worry “about the legitimacy of working with Canadian legal systems when these structures have been so disrespectful of Indigenous traditions and ignored or denied their force. They may feel that Indigenous peoples cannot overcome oppression by working with the very instruments that help to create oppression” (167). Borrows cites Audre Lord’s suggestion that “you cannot use the master’s tools to take down the master’s house” (167). However, Borrows contends that few Indigenous peoples want to secede from Canada. That would mean losing parts of their traditional territories, he suggests, as well as “separating themselves from their neighbours, when trade, intermarriage, and environmental independence characterize many relationships” (167). First Nations usually talk about “creating better relations,” not “severing their relations with others” (167). “It may even be contrary to many Indigenous legal systems to take this approach, given the emphasis on peacemaking, harmony, and reconciliation found in many Indigenous laws,” he states (167). In any case, Borrows has never had much use for the “master’s tools” metaphor: “A hammer, saw, and backhoe are instruments of creation and destruction. It is possible to use these tools to undo or renovate the thing that has been created” (167). Moreover, “if we judge reform or political change against the standard of perfection, then any action we take will always fall short of this unrealistic ideal” (167). Nevertheless, “there will be some people who regard the interaction of Indigenous law with other laws as illegitimate,” and this position “may lead them to seek or support Indigenous peoples’ complete separation from Canada’s legal system because they feel that it would not be right to work with a country that has hurt Indigenous people so deeply” (167).

Borrows’s position is a pragmatic one, he states. He acknowledges that recognition of Indigenous law within Canadian law won’t solve every problem. Some of the objections he has listed “all too clearly foreshadow problems that will occur if we do not act in accordance with our highest traditions” (168). Indigenous legal systems could be used “to disrupt our country’s aspirations for unity,” he suggests (168). Some Indigenous legal systems “are and will be badly administered,” which could hurt those subject to them or who live near their jurisdiction, “just as Indigenous peoples have been harmed by Canadian law” (168). Indigenous peoples could gain influence and power at the expense of other groups or individuals, which would cause distress, even if it is just (168). Miscarriages of justice will happen in Indigenous systems of law, generating doubts about the wisdom of his ideas, because “[n]o society is immune from error, miscalculation, vice, corruption, and distortion” (168). “This is the reason all societies, including Indigenous societies, have need of law”:

Law should be one of the tools we use to deal with issues of secession, maladministration, and injustice. Even though grave injustices periodically arise within Canada’s other legal systems, similar injustices may be regarded more severely if Indigenous people create them. It is difficult to prevent Indigenous peoples from being held to a higher standard when they seek to administer their own affairs. (168)

We have seen such higher standards applied to First Nations elected councils, and the same racist attitudes that motivate them would almost certainly appear in relation to the recognition of First Nations legal systems as well.

However, Borrows argues that we should not give these objections “wider scope or weight than they deserve. While our eyes should be wide open to the difficulties that lie before us, we should also be clear about the consequences of not opening our legal system to reflect Indigenous participation, norms, and values” (168). “The recognition of Indigenous legal traditions could extend benefits to Indigenous peoples which others already enjoy, and simultaneously provide greater benefits to all Canadians,” he argues (168). “[W]e must at least ensure we do not base future decisions about Indigenous legal traditions on unexamined feelings that have questionable roots,” he continues. “The Supreme Court of Canada has noted that racism against Aboriginal peoples is a part of the Canadian experience” (169). But, for Borrows, there is a more formidable challenge: “potential feelings of resentment about the injustices” Indigenous peoples “have endured in Canada. Deep and bitter feelings of anger, distrust, and betrayal reside in some Indigenous communities because of the centuries-long denial of their rights and traditions” (169). For that reason, 

it would be quite understandable if Indigenous peoples rejected this book’s ideas. Canada’s suppression of Indigenous rights and traditions has gone on for so long that Indigenous peoples might wonder how this book’s arguments could possibly turn the tide. These views might be especially strong if Canada’s past treatment of Indigenous law is denied as being real or relevant in moving forward in our relationships. (169)

The potential objections of Settlers to recognizing Indigenous law, which would be based in racism, are less important to Borrows than the potential objections of Indigenous peoples, which are based in bitter experience. The trauma Indigenous peoples have experienced, he notes, which includes “the suppression of Aboriginal institutions of government, the denial of land, the forced taking of children, the criminalization of economic pursuits, and the negation of the rights of religious freedom, association, due process, and equality” (170), has never “been sufficiently accounted for in our legal system” (170). (Since this book was published prior to the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, I wonder if Borrows’s position on this issue has changed.) 

In addition, “[t]he Canadian state continues to benefit from Indigenous losses through their possession of Indigenous lands and the exercise of virtually unconstrained legal power over them,” Borrows continues:

The failure to acknowledge and remedy this situation is perhaps the underlying cause of conflict between Indigenous peoples and the Crown in this country. This conflict goes to the heart of why Indigenous legal traditions are not more widely recognized by courts, Parliament, and other Canadians. As such, this conflict reveals the central issue that lies at the foundation of our legal system: what is the meaning and significance of the past as it related to the present configuration of law in Canada today, and who gets to determine the answer to this question in our official legal narratives? (170)

Canadian courts and legislatures control the interpretation of the past through official legal discourse, Borrows points out, and because those institutions “test Indigenous history and law against common law standards of proof,” they also “measure Indigenous societies against non-Aboriginal sociopolitical norms and economic priorities,” in the process ignoring or diminishing “Indigenous legal perspectives” and not giving “sufficient space for the operation of Indigenous legal traditions” (170). In this way, Canadian courts and legislatures have placed themselves in a position where they can control the country’s past—and therefore, Borrows argues, the future as well. This situation is likely to lead to continued conflict unless Indigenous peoples “are not given some measure of control over interpretations of the past” (170). “Since a contributing cause of our problems is the past denial of Indigenous legal traditions, this has prevented them from controlling their own interpretations of how the future should unfold,” he states. “This approach has injured Indigenous societies, and Canada as an entire country. The acknowledgement and remedy for that harm has great significance for how we reconfigure the relationship between our legal traditions in Canada today” (170-71).

Borrows goes on to apply trauma theory (using the work of Judith Herman) to this situation. Her argument that denial or forgetfulness is a typical response by perpetrators to the trauma experienced by victims, he suggests, “helps explain why Indigenous grievances regarding Canadian law can rise to the point of conflict” (172):

There is little awareness in Canada’s official history of the lived experience of trauma by Indigenous peoples and how this continues to consume present generations. There is a tendency to take the side of the Canadian government when viewing Indigenous claims, much as it is often easier to take the side of the perpetrator in other situations of abuse. (172)

“Indigenous peoples often fact situations in which they are told the thing they complain of never happened,” Borrows continues: they never owned the land they are claiming, or are exaggerating or lying, or that they have brought their grievances on themselves, and that in any case “it is time to forget the past and move on,” because “past injustices cannot be cured today” (172-73). “These reactions can cause Indigenous peoples to feel marginalized within Canadian society and turn away from constructive engagement with the state,” he suggests, and this situation might cause them to reject his book’s thesis (173). 

What is required, Borrows continues, drawing on Herman’s work, “is a social context that affirms and protects the victim, and reconnects him or her with healthy relationships in the present. Three things are required: action, engagement, and remembering” (173). Such a response could be facilitated “through the recognition and affirmation of Indigenous legal traditions,” because that recognition and affirmation “reconnects Indigenous peoples and other Canadians”:

These interactions have the potential to involve more people in a process of active engagement that acknowledges Indigenous experiences. This can create more respectful spaces where Indigenous peoples can tell their stories and extract meaning from them. In these circumstances, their grievances can be taken more seriously and not shuffled off to places where they have no control over their outcomes. Most Indigenous peoples do not feel it is safe to go to the courts as they are currently constituted. Their testimony and history are subject to discrediting cross-examinations and harsh burdens of proof. Their legal traditions do not form standards for judgment in relation to their testimonies. Furthermore, Indigenous peoples do not find peace or security when raising their issues in the political sphere. They are outnumbered in the political process, and thus votes alone do not carry their concerns into action. In fact, some political parties are regarded as displaying outright hostility to any acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples’ legal rights in Canada. (173)

Indigenous people, Borrows continues, tend to feel the same way about the media, unions, churches, and other social organizations. This situation must change, he writes, “if Indigenous peoples are going to more strongly connect with Canada and overcome acute trauma,” and such a change would require “a sociopolitical context that is more supportive of Indigenous peoples’ perspectives” (173-74). “This is a major reason why I believe we should embrace multi-juridicalism in Canada,” he states. “Indigenous peoples should be able to apply their laws within their own communities and have them influence broader Canadian legal analysis” (174). A wider acceptance of Indigenous legal traditions could set us on a road towards peace (174).

In the chapter’s conclusion, Borrows notes that appeals to reason are unlikely to change anything, and that emotional and psychological aspects of human relationships will affect how his thesis is accepted despite the rationality of his arguments (174). “It is deeply important to our peace and order that we attend to these broader issues in a positive manner, with a constructive approach, devoted to problem-solving and reconciliation,” he writes (174). He recounts an insight a former student offered him. She had interviewed for a clerk’s position at the Supreme Court of Canada, and during that process, she told the interviewing judges that she wanted to work in the field of Aboriginal law (174-75). Each of the judges asked her, “‘Is there any hope?’” (175). “The student reported that she felt the question was heartfelt, honest, sincere, and searching,” Borrows states:

She thought it was posed in the most professional manner and with the utmost respect and dignity. She said she felt their goodness and understood more deeply the decency and honour that these people brought to their office. And yet, at an advanced and highly accomplished stage in their legal careers, an important question for them remained unanswered in relation to Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the Canadian state. (175)

The purpose of this book is “to give reasons why I believe there is hope in our law as it relates to Indigenous peoples,” Borrows continues. “While hope is only one part of the answer to finding our way out of the mess we are in, it is often the part we pay the least attention to in our formal legal circles. This must change” (175). He acknowledges that there are many issues to be resolved if Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples “are to enjoy the full benefits that a vibrant multi-juridicalism can offer Canadians,” but at the same time, he believes that Canadians “have the means to overcome these challenges if we draw upon one another’s creativity and goodwill in addressing honest questions and in acknowledging our deepest fears. If we can take this path in further refining our legal relationships, there is hope—not just for INdigenous peoples, but for other Canadians as well” (175-76).

Chapter Seven turns to “The Role of Governments and Courts in Entrenching Indigenous Legal Traditions” (177). “How can governments and courts best facilitate the development and extension of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada?” Borrows asks (177). He notes that this book has answered that question in different ways: through “the fuller recognition of treaties (Chapter 1); through an understanding of the various sources of Indigenous law (Chapters 2 and 3); through an understanding of the culturally contingent nature of the authority of the country’s other legal traditions (Chapters 4 and 5); and by explaining that “Indigenous legal traditions could be more fully entrenched if we recognized their intelligibility, enhanced their accessibility, and understood that their implementation does not undermine but strengthens equality rights in our country” (177-78). Chapter 7, he continues, “focuses on the specific role of governments and courts in strengthening legal traditions. These bodies are important in implementing Indigenous law in a Canadian context” (178). Governments formulate and administer laws, but courts interpret and enforce them, and when they function properly, both are essential to communicating about role of law in society (178). However, when governments and courts are unresponsive, when they “do not reflect a people’s obligations or facilitate their participation,” the results can be “[s]ociopolitical chaos and disorder” (178). “With few exceptions, Indigenous peoples in Canada experience these difficulties,” Borrows writes. “They are not permitted to sufficiently control decisions within their own sphere. They rarely see their legal traditions reflected with sufficient strength across the country. Thus, they do not feel the same sense of obligation citizens usually experience when ruled by laws which strengthen social bonds” (178). The result is that they “do not enjoy the degree of peace, order, and security potentially available to them,” and this must change: “Indigenous and other Canadian governments and courts can become a catalyst for constructive change if they appropriately build upon their highest traditions” (178).

If the power of Indigenous legal traditions “is acknowledged by official state and community institutions,” they will “more positively permeate our societies” (178). For that reason, Chapter 7 “examines steps that can be followed by governments and courts to implement Indigenous law,” although Borrows cautions that his focus on “formal state institutions should not cause us to discount the role of non-governmental organizations, families, or individuals in creating, interpreting, and enforcing Indigenous law” (178). “There is a tremendous danger that official state organs can overwhelm other institutions of civil society if they are regarded as exclusive legal agents in Canada,” Borrows contends. “This would be a mistake and would undermine the vitality of Indigenous law” (178-79). In fact, governments should be regarded with suspicion given their ongoing history of dispossessing Indigenous peoples (179). The “broad dispersal and decentralized force” of Indigenous law is one of the reasons it has “survived colonialism’s onslaught”; legal traditions that were “intensely concentrated in highly formal offices” would have been easier to erase (179). “Indigenous law is often at its strongest when Elders, families, house systems, and other bodies have communicated their traditions in more diffuse and centralized ways,” Borrows continues. “This experience teaches us that we must be careful that Indigenous law’s formal implementation by governents and courts does not undercut Indigenous civil society” (179). For this reason, “governments and courts will likely work best for Indigenous peoples when they are strong but limited in their powers and jurisdiction” (179). “At some level, state-like institutions must be restrained because they tend to usurp vital functions that are often best performed by Elders, families, clans, and other bodies within Indigenous societies,” he contends. “Governments and courts should not be trusted with more power than is necessary to create a sphere of recognition and enforcement for underlying community values” (179). Governments and courts, then, “are supplementary and not at the centre of the resurgence of Indigenous law” (179). 

Nor should “academic works or other commentaries . . . displace the essential role of individuals, kin, clan, families, and community in making the most important judgments about how Indigenous law is lived” (179-80). Borrows acknowledges that his book is about how and why Indigenous legal traditions should be affirmed, but he argues that “Indigenous peoples will be poorly served if works like this become the standard against which Indigenous legal traditions are ultimately measured. People trained in multi-juridicalism should be somewhat distant from the daily identification, creation, interpretation, and enforcement of Indigenous law in Canada” (180). Lawyers are “poor substitutes for drawing peace and order from the living relationships and teachings found in families and communities,” and the presence of lawyers “may foster an unhealthy reliance on so-called legal experts” which could “fatally frustrate grass-roots community organization and family activism that should essentially drive regulation and dispute resolution within Indigenous communities” (180).

Nevertheless, Borrows suggests that governments, courts, lawyers and academics “can play an important ancillary role in supporting individuals, families, and communities in the preservation and implementation of Indigenous legal traditions” (180). “Because of the strongly hierarchical nature of Canada’s other legal traditions, Indigenous laws could be overlooked and undervalued if they are not championed by more centralized institutions within Aboriginal communities and Canadian society as a whole,” he states:

Indigenous legal traditions will not receive the respect they deserve if governments, courts, lawyers, political scientists, and law professors fail to more fully articulate their place in our country. Effective governance and judicial decision-making thus requires that formal institutions work alongside Indigenous individuals and families to recreate a supportive context for Indigenous law’s implementation. A strong yet limited role for governments, courts, and lawyers can help ensure that Indigenous legal traditions do not get lost in their interactions with the common law and civil law. Governments, courts, and lawyers should therefore help create the conditions for the more explicit implementation of Indigenous legal traditions and community values. Such action could unburden families and communities, thus enabling them to plan their lives according to their own priorities, freed from the Indian Act and other colonial fetters. (180-81)

In the remainder of this chapter, Borrows writes, he will suggest that “both Indigenous and other Canadian governments could enact legislation or undertake similar official acts that recognize and harmonize Indigenous legal traditions with the common law and the civil law,” and that “Indigenous courts, along with federal and provincial courts, could better implement Indigenous law by developing appropriate interpretive mechanisms and ensuring that at least some of those who are appointed to the bench have a knowledge of or receptivity to Indigenous legal traditions” (181). He advocates that Parliament pass “Indigenous law recognition legislation to facilitate the rule of law’s development in Canada,” that that such legislation be developed along with Indigenous peoples (181).

The last point—the need for what Borrows calls “Recognition Acts” to be passed by Indigenous communities—is the subject of the chapter’s next section (181). “Indigenous peoples do not require formal recognition to possess and exercise law,” he states, and the point of Recognition Acts “would be to once more prominently bring Indigenous law to a society’s attention” (181). “Formal recognition would remind Indigenous peoples of the Indigenous source of their rights and obligations,” he continues. “It would also make these facts more widely known to the various constituencies Indigenous governments regularly serve” (181). Formal recognition would identify Indigenous law “as a primary source of regulation, decision-making, and dispute-resolution powers,” and that identification “might even take the form of a constitution for some communities” (181). Indigenous communities might decide to participate in Recognition Acts or create their own constitutions “because they want other governments to understand the basis of their law-making authority,” Borrows continues. “In this light, such acknowledgement could demonstrate to municipal, provincial, and national governments that an Indigenous community has occupied a field of law-making power appropriate to its jurisdiction” (181-82). In addition, “the passage of Recognition Acts by Indigenous communities could provide a basis for subsequently harmonizing their laws with other legal traditions in Canada. There are many valid reasons why Indigenous peoples might want to pass laws recognizing the source and scope of their laws in their territories and beyond” (182). In addition, Indigenous governments might want to include within their Recognition Acts a statement affirming the civil law and/or common law’s “scope of authority” within their territories (182). “As part of this declaration, communities might decide to recognize the Crown’s role as a source for other Canadians to whom they relate,” he suggests. “Some Indigenous governments may even take the step of acknowledging that they have certain obligations to the Crown within their territories and that these obligations have a relationship to their own laws” (182). 

Such recognition would be a challenge to Indigenous communities “who have struggled under the weight of colonial oppression,” Borrows acknowledges, and therefore “most communities would feel appropriately justified in choosing to withhold recognition of Canada’s other legal traditions until the Crown takes steps to be more respectful of Indigenous law” (182). At the same time, though, some communities “might appropriately seize the initiative and demonstrate to Canadian governments the generosity of spirit that Recognition Acts could encompass. Indigenous peoples could take the path of justice in their relations with others even in the face of the injustice they continue to experience” (182). Such recognition could be “a generosity of heart that recognizes ‘all our relations,’ a concept which undergirds many Indigenous legal values” (182-83). Borrows notes that those relations now include Settlers (183). “Embracing broader aspects of recognition would demonstrate the interdependence of Canada’s legal traditions,” and it would also “perhaps alleviate fears that the recognition of Indigenous law would threaten other laws that aspire to create peace, order, and good government in the land” (183). It would also enable Indigenous peoples “to explicitly articulate their views about the sources of legal order in Canada,” and that “could be important to subsequent Crown recognition of Indigenous legal traditions,” which “could generate constructive alternatives, building Canada on an even firmer legal foundation” (183). This kind of recognition “would also be a legally accurate gesture” that “could help facilitate a culture of order and respect for people’s entitlements and obligations no matter what the source in their lands might be” (183). In that way, it could “kick start the process of expanding the possibilities for the more formal interaction of laws in Canada” (183). Borrows’s use of the word “recognition” leaves me wondering what Glen Coulthard, whose book Red Skins, White Masks has the subtitle Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, would have to say about his argument. I wonder if Coulthard addresses Borrows directly, or if he means something different by the word “recognition.” There’s only one way to know, of course: take Coulthard’s book off my bookshelf and read it.

In any case, Borrows contends that Recognition Acts would protect Indigenous law and enable it to meet current community values and needs (184-85). “The most effective types of recognition will abandon traditions that do not agree with contemporary mores,” he writes. “Recognition will be the strongest when it accords with international human rights law and is the contemporary product of the self-determining choice of Indigenous communities” (185). Like other legal traditions, Indigenous law “will be the subject of continual revision in order to ensure compatibility with contemporary communities and consistency with human rights values,” a viewpoint that, he suggests, “Indigenous law Recognition Acts should explicitly reference” (185).

The next section of the chapter focuses on the need for Canadian governments to recognize formally Indigenous law. “In taking such steps, they should be guided by their own constitutional obligations to Indigenous peoples,” he writes, referring to Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, which has “significant implications for the Crown’s adknowledgment of Indigenous legal traditions,” because as well as recognizing Aboriginal rights, it also affirms the Crown’s obligations as well (185-86). Borrows’s interpretation of Section 35(1) suggests that it “means that whenever Aboriginal ‘rights’ are invoked, governmental ‘duties’ are summoned,” a reading that “places the Crown more squarely in the picture if Aboriginal rights incorporate Indigenous law” and “appropriately shifts the focus from Aboriginal peoples to the Crown in a more significant way in working out the section’s content, and meaning” (186). He notes that the decision in R. v. Sparrow acknowledged limitations to the Crown’s power, and “[t]hese limitations must be prescribed by law and be consistent with Canada’s legal traditions” (186). Such constraints “are consistent with Canada’s democratic traditions,” because “[t]he Crown’s subjection to the rule of law is at the centre of the nation’s political values” (186). Limits on Crown sovereignty go back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and “[c]onstraints on Crown actions under section 35(1) should be seen as flowing from this same tradition. The recognition of Indigenous law as potentially imposing limitations on the Crown could be viewed as a human rights triumph” (187). Constitutional limitations on the Crown’s power increase freedom, and “section 35(1) falls within this tradition” (187).

“In dealing with Indigenous peoples, Parliament must therefore organize itself in accordance with its constitutional principles to meet its obligations,” Borrows writes. “It would be a serious violation of the country’s highest law if the federal government did not order itself in this way. Governmental actions that do not accord with the Constitution violate our most fundamental tenets” (187-88). Recognizing and affirming Aboriginal rights and properly exercising federal responsibilities towards Indigenous peoples is not optional, he continues (188). Federal, provincial, and territorial governments “must organize themselves in relationship to Indigenous peoples to abide by these higher precepts,” which “will more fully structure our society in accordance with its constitutional order” (188). “Regrettably, this is an area in which Canada has seriously failed to abide by its highest laws,” Borrows states (188). However, “it would not be a completely groundbreaking stretch for governments to pass legislation recognizing the relationship between Canada’s Constitution and Indigenous legal traditions,” he continues, noting that a 1995 policy statement recognized the inherent right of self-government (188). Since self-government involves Indigenous law, this statement alluded to Indigenous legal traditions. Borrows concludes “that Indigenous legal traditions could be considered as existing Aboriginal rights in Canada, recognized and affirmed by section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. This shows that Canada’s recent past policy holds some promise for the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions, if it could be made more explicit, that is, by the inclusion of specific written provisions” (189). Parliament could pass legislation translating that policy statement into “a legally enforceable legislative instrument”: 

Such law could make explicit the relationship of Indigenous law to governance in Canada. In this vein, Parliament could affirm that Indigenous governance includes the right of Indigenous peoples to implement their unique laws in order to continually strengthen their cultures, identities, traditions, languages, and institutions and thereby nurture their special relationships with lands and resources. (189)

This approach would build on the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (189). “The point is to draft legislation that accords with Canada’s constitutional obligations, that implements Indigenous peoples’ democratic aspirations, and ensures that those who may be vulnerable within Indigenous societies are appropriately served and protected by Indigenous legal traditions as well as by other Canadian laws,” Borrows contends. “To further protect the political integrity of Indigenous communities, Indigenous law recognition legislation should create a framework for Indigenous communities within which to choose whether they want to accept the recognition offered by Parliament” (190). That would ensure that Indigenous peoples are not worse off after such recognition had been enacted (190). Such legislation would not be accepted by communities if it were to offload responsibilities onto Indigenous communities without “an adequate quid pro quo,” nor if it were regarded as an attempt by the government to do anything beyond formally acknowledging “inherent Indigenous legal and governmental powers” (190-91). “The rights recognized must be also regarded as vesting in the proper Indigenous authorities, which is a matter for Indigenous peoples to choose,” he continues (191).

International law contains norms “that recognize the connection between Indigenous governance and the law,” Borrows notes, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which “is clear about this relationship and could provide direction to those developing Recognition Legislation” (191-92). Other international legal instruments acknowledge the connection between Indigenous governance and legal traditions, including the International Labour Organization’s 1989 Convention 169 and the Organization of American States’ 1997 Proposed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (192-95). “When international human rights law is added to Canada’s constitutional provisions, a strong argument can be made that the legal basis for the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions already exists,” Borrows argues (195). He suggests that the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples is particularly important in this regard (195-96), although of course that was only a report and not legislation. “Indigenous peoples’ desire for good governance would be facilitated if Indigenous law could structure peoples’ internal community relations, their relations with the Canadian state, as well as Canada’s own internal structures,” he contends, and “[t]he Royal Commission’s observations are an important source of support for these aspirations” (196). Legislation could be built upon those recommendations, and “Aboriginal self-government could be implemented as an inherent right” (196). That form of recognition “would imply that Indigenous legal traditions could be more explicitly proclaimed and practised if the ideas found in this book were more widely accepted” (196). 

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples also found “that Indigenous peoples already possessed governance powers in Canada because it found that such powers were never extinguished” (196). That conclusion was supported by Calder v. A.G. (B.C.), in which the court found that Indigenous powers of self-organization pre-existed the arrival of Europeans and “were not voluntarily surrendered when the Crown asserted its own sovereignty in Canada” (196). Indigenous peoples continue to live in organized societies, “governed by ancient and contemporary customs, laws, and traditions that give meaning and purpose to their lives despite the extensive regulation of these powers through instruments such as the Indian Act” (197). However, as R. v. Sparrow points, out, “[t]he regulation of Indigenous law-making power does not extinguish it” (197). Other Supreme Court of Canada decisions affirm the existence of Indigenous rights, including governance powers (197). “An Indigenous society’s legal traditions are inseparable from its governance powers,” Borrows argues. “The ability of Indigenous peoples to express their legal traditions through governance does not depend for its existence on any grant of authority form the executive or legislative bodies in Canada” (197). And, of course, had the Supreme Court of Canada not affirmed the existence of such governance rights, it would be incorrect—a position that Borrows, as a lawyer, doesn’t seem to hold and, frankly, doesn’t have to hold because of decisions that do affirm the existence of those rights. Finally, he states that Indigenous peoples “hold rights under their legal systems,” and an important one of those rights “for the health and vitality of their legal orders is their inherent governmental power” (198). “Canada’s multi-juridical status implies the existence of a multi-jurisdictional political order,” he continues, and Section 35(1) “can facilitate the connection, growth, and development between Indigenous governance and Indigenous legal traditions. The recognition of Indigenous governance within Canada’s Constitution is important because it can help heal the troubled relationship that Indigenous peoples have with the country” (198). Parliament could enact legislation acknowledging that fact (198). In fact, Parliament ought to enact such legislation.

However, Borrows cautions that section 35(1) “must not bear all the weight of reform in constructing recognition legislation,” because “Aboriginal rights as articulated by the courts when interpreting section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 can only go so far in building a harmonious nation state” (198). For Borrows, it’s necessary to mobilize broader sociopolitical forces, because “[e]ven within the constitutional sphere, section 35(1) is necessary, but not sufficient, to accomplish legal reform. Other opportunities for reform might be missed, particularly in regard to federalism, if too much reliance is placed on section 35” (198-99). That’s because, according to Borrows, “[s]ection 35 has not been sufficiently directed towards the larger project of nation-building” (199). “To put it bluntly, sections 25 and 35 have become focused on a few specific practices that the courts have decided were integral to Aboriginal peoples prior to the Europeans’ arrival in North America, and those related rights that have not already been extinguished,” he writes. “Furthermore, from an Aboriginal perspective, the provisions in section 35 are increasingly used to justify government infringements of Aboriginal rights” (199). A reliance on section 35(1) cannot be allowed “to sidetrack all Canadians from the more fundamental work to be done to harmonize Indigenous peoples’ relationships with their neighbours” (199). “Canada needs to move beyond narrow interpretations of the constitution relative to Indigenous peoples,” he continues, and Parliament should take a leadership role in this process (199): 

Section 35(1) as currently interpreted by the courts does not replicate jurisdictional powers for Aboriginal peoples as found in sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Aboriginal peoples do not have an Attorney General to protect their rights. There has been too little constitutional discussion of democracy, self-determination, and the role of Indigenous law as they relate to Aboriginal peoples in Canada. (199)

I was more than a little surprised by these comments. How could the BNA Act give Indigenous peoples greater jurisdictional powers than the 1982 Constitution, given that it allowed for the Indian Act and other legal horrors? 

The principles that underlie the ability of provinces to make their own laws “could be applied to Indigenous peoples if Parliament deferred to them in the realm of law and government by passing recognition legislation” (200). Canada’s federal system is “only partially complete in relation to Aboriginal peoples,” and Canada could fill in the caps of our Constitution by distributing appropriate powers to Indigenous governments (200). Borrows argues that “we need to further develop the implications underlying Canada’s constitutional framework in relation to Indigenous peoples. It is consistent with the country’s constitutional ideals to enhance a flexible political federalism that included recognition and cooperation between Indigenous peoples’ legal systems and those of other governments” (200). Canada’s federalism might be more fully developed “if we followed a process similar to that prescribed by section 37 of the Constitution Act, 1982, through which Canada’s first ministers and Aboriginal representatives convened to fill in the meaning of section 35, particularly relative to Indigenous law and governance” (201). That process failed, Borrows concedes, but “it at least put the definition of Aboriginal rights at the centre of political debate” (201). Since then, “the courts have been much too prominent in defining Aboriginal rights, although they have ultimately also provided little guidance on this issue as well” (201). “It is time that Canada’s elected leaders and Indigenous peoples’ chosen representatives did the necessary work in meeting to work out the contours of mutual recognition,” he concludes (201). He’s probably right, but ten years after this book was published, there appears to be little interest in the process he is describing—even with a Prime Minister who claims to be sympathetic to Indigenous peoples.

“After recognition legislation is enacted, other legislative mechanisms should be created to harmonize Canada’s other legal traditions with Indigenous laws,” Borrows writes. “Harmony is  value often associated with Indigenous societies. It can be a positive goal to Indigenous-Crown relations as long as it is not coercively applied” (201). Harmony was evoked by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which argued that “‘Canada is a test case for a grand notion—the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences’” (qtd. 201). But justice must accompany harmony. “Justice can be facilitated and peace thereby promoted through harmonization legislation,” Borrows continues. “If properly applied, harmonization mechanisms could ease communication between Canada’s other legal traditions and reduce conflict or inconsistencies between them” (201-02). Such mechanisms “could address questions about the relationship of Indigenous law to federal statutes and create interpretive principles to ensure Indigenous laws are read in a wide, liberal, and generous manner,” as well as provide ways to make sure that the acknowledgement of those laws “does not inappropriately disrupt settled interests under Canada’s other legal traditions,” and that “Canada’s other legal traditions do not inappropriately unsettle interests developed under Indigenous laws” (202). There are examples of such harmonization mechanisms, such as the 2001 Federal-Law-Civil Law harmonization Act (FLCLHA); Borrows argues that something similar “could be created for Indigenous legal traditions” (202). “Harmonization legislation could ensure that federal law provisions are brought into line with existing Indigenous law provisions acknowledged in the recognition process,” he suggests, thereby promoting “the equivalence of civil law, common law, and Indigenous law as equally authoritative sources of law for property and civil rights in Canada” (203). “Harmonization legislation could be developed jointly with Aboriginal governments and organizations,” Borrows posits, and he goes on to outline the principles that could be contained by the legislation’s preamble (203). There’s no reason such legislation couldn’t be developed, he argues, since “Indigenous legal traditions deserve the same respect that is given to civil law” (204). Other countries have harmonized their Indigenous legal traditions with their non-Indigenous legal traditions, and their examples “could provide appropriate mechanisms to secure Indigenous legal traditions while simultaneously protecting human rights” (204-05). 

“The harmonization process would also have to eventually deal with issues of protocol between Indigenous peoples and the Crown,” Borrows writes. “The act should also address the power imbalance that Indigenous peoples would encounter relative to the common law and civil law in the harmonization process” (205). For instance, it could direct decision-makers “to give Indigenous law a large, liberal, and generous interpretation, following the canons of construction developed by courts in dealing with treaties and statutes concerning Indians” (205). It would also have to come up with a process to address issues such as “the role of Elders in harmonization,” “concerns about appropriation and cultural property,” “the impact of colonialism on Indigenous laws,” “the problem of gender stereotyping, discrimination, or imbalance in Canadian and Indigenous laws,” and “the potential harm traditional laws and Canadian laws could cause for the vulnerable within Indigenous communities” (205). It is essential, he reiterates, 

that each of Canada’s legal traditions embraces contemporary human rights concerns, including those with a colonial origin that have negatively affected Indigenous peoples. It is also important that human rights concerns do not become an excuse to further colonize Indigenous societies. Human rights can be protected within Indigenous and other Canadian communities without further extending the discriminatory practices and attitudes of earlier imperial policies. This is best done by Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians reformulating their traditions in a manner that respectfully integrates traditional and contemporary normative values, and also protects and harmonizes their laws with international human rights standards. (205)

“The more comprehensive recognition of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada through recognition and harmonization legislation could give Canadians significant expertise in working with and assisting other countries that have mixed legal systems (civil, common, and Indigenous),” Borrows continues. “This expertise in multi-juridicalism would allow Canadians to play an even greater role on the world stage” (205-06). It would also “provide an even greater source of answers to pressing questions faced by Canadians,” and their legislatures would better be able “to reflect the normative values of an increasingly diverse population” (206).

In the chapter’s next section, Borrows turns to the role of the courts in recognizing and harmonizing Indigenous law. Along with governments, “Indigenous dispute resolution bodies and Canadian courts could also act to facilitate healthier interactions,” he writes. “Because courts often stand on a society’s front lines in creating and interpreting law, they are important institutions in the recognition and harmonization of Indigenous law with other legal traditions” (206). Courts are special kinds of public assemblies, because they consider “arguments about the resolution of disputes in accordance with a formalized set of procedures” (206). “Each of Canada’s legal traditions convenes special assemblies to resolve disputes in different ways,” he notes (206). Common law assemblies run on an adversarial model, presenting a clash of opinions in order to establish the “truth” of a matter, with judges acting as neutral arbiters between the disputing parties (206). “As such, they can be at the mercy of parties in the gathering and receipt of evidence which forms the factual matrix of a dispute,” he suggests (206). In civil law, “courts are usually inquisitorial,” which means that “judges take a more active role in supervising the compilation of evidence and in testing that evidence before the parties to the dispute” (206-07). Indigenous dispute-resolution assemblies, in contrast, can take various forms, “neither wholly adversarial nor inquisitorial” (207). “There are as many different dispute resolution procedures and styles as there are Indigenous groups,” he states, and therefore, “Indigenous dispute resolution is in some ways distinct from the common law and civil law systems” (207). Nevertheless, Indigenous societies have dispute-resolution mechanisms, including more recently developed models “that have drawn on adversarial or inquisitorial models of the common law or civil law in resolving disputes” (207). 

“There is much that can be done by Indigenous peoples to further develop mechanisms for communication between their laws and the laws of others,” Borrows contends:

Indigenous governments could further encourage and empower dispute resolution institutions to take steps down this path. Indigenous dispute resolution bodies could exercise primary legal jurisdiction over matters that are both internal to their communities and crucial to their relationship with other peoples. They could articulate principles about how these matters relate to the common law and civil law. Indigenous governments and courts could affirm their powers in the manner most consistent with their diverse legal traditions. (207)

All of this is important, he suggests, “because Indigenous law must embrace a community’s deeper normative values” (207). It must also be seen to be “a fair and effective force in facilitating peace and order within Indigenous communities, so that it will be easier to convince others to eventually harmonize Indigenous and non-Indigenous laws” (208). “If Indigenous laws are not fair,” he states, “they should be challenged and changed,” but if they are fair, “they must be recognized and connected to our deepest legal structures” (208). Indigenous dispute resolution bodies might not be created by the Constitution, but they enjoy its protection, and therefore they must meet standards of participation and accountability in order to be accorded the same legitimacy that common law and civil law courts have (208). “This will help facilitate the harmonization process,” he suggests (208).

“The further development of Indigenous dispute resolution is necessary because Canada’s other legal traditions do not sufficiently engage Indigenous values and thus do not appropriately encourage Indigenous participation,” Borrows continues. “This problem would be corrected by Indigenous adjudicative institutions applying Indigenous principles” (208). The adjudicative institutions that currently exist “too often frustrate the participation of Indigenous people since those structures falsely rest on public institutions such as the Indian Act that are constitutionally questionable,” and this result “erodes Indigenous peoples’ confidence in the rule of law in Canada” (208). The Supreme Court has said that it will not tolerate “a legal vacuum” in any part of the country, but “[w]hen Indigenous laws are not recognized and harmonized, Indigenous peoples experience conditions that resemble a legal vacuum”: chaos exists because legal systems are ineffectual (208). “As a result, there is a mounting crisis in the rule of law within Indigenous communities,” because the Canadian law in force there “rests on shaky foundations” because it pays little attention to the values and participation of the people living in those communities (208). “If Indigenous peoples could start to see themselves and their normative values reflected in how they conduct their day-to-day affairs,” he contends, “some of the legal challenges within Indigenous communities would diminish” (208-09). In addition, “Indigenous governance would enjoy greater accountability and legitimacy if Indigenous peoples’ own dispute resolution bodies were properly recognized as being able to resolve their disputes” (209). “The power to hold their own members accountable for their actions could be considered an Aboriginal right that was integral to Indigenous communities prior to the arrival of Europeans,” and because that right was never extinguished, it “can be exercised in a contemporary form” (209). Indigenous peoples have the right, under section 35(1), “to sit in judgment of their own citizens,” and “[t]hey should be able to make them answerable for violations of rights and liable for failures to exercise appropriate responsibility and accountability. Indigenous dispute resolution bodies are in the best position to articulate legal principles that will have the deepest meaning and legitimacy in their communities” (209). I remember that, 10 years ago, the Harper government was all in a lather over this particular issue; perhaps they should have seen Borrows’s argument as a way to address it—although, of course, they probably had other motives rather than finding a resolution.

The approach Borrows is advocating “would be consistent with Indigenous legal values as well as with more general principles of Canadian constitutional law” (209). “Judging Indigenous peoples by norms that flow from within their legal traditions as well by norms of Canadian law is essential to the facilitation of normative order,” he writes. “It would create a regime in which legality and legitimacy would coincide and which would bolster the respect and effectiveness of regimes of accountability. The failure to permit Indigenous peoples to be governed and judged by principles that flow from their own normative prescriptions” has not provided them with stability, order, or predictability (209). Tribal courts exist in the United States, and they “have played an important role in allowing Indigenous peoples to live by their own laws” (209); that example demonstrates “what can happen when these traditions are given juridical space by a nation state” (210). “Thus, the development of Indigenous courts in Canada can lead to broader articulation of Indigenous laws, thereby increasing their intelligibility and accessibility,” he suggests (210), using a summary of Navajo legal traditions in contracts, government, property law, and family law as an example (210-13). That example “shows that the recognition of Indigenous institutions of dispute resolution can even have a place in broader Canadian legal developments and reform. Indigenous peoples can develop their own legal traditions and also participate in Canada’s other institutions” as legislators, parliamentarians, or judges, “because aspects of their legal participation are particular to their Indigenous citizenship (213-14). After all, Quebeckers are not prevented from participating in Canada because that province’s dispute resolution procedures are based on the Civil Code (214). “Similarly, the existence of Indigenous dispute resolution bodies should not preclude the acceptance and application of Indigenous legal principles in broader matters,” Borrows continues. “Indigenous law can influence the development of the common law and civil law and be an important source of guidance for other peoples” (214). 

“Canadian courts could also play an important role in recognizing and harmonizing Indigenous legal traditions,” Borrows writes (215). They could “further develop jurisprudence within section 35(1),” interpret recognition and harmonization legislation “if such instruments were passed by Parliament and Indigenous communities,” and “engage in the essential work of declaring the common law’s own position in relation to Indigenous legal traditions, as drawn from their inherent jurisdiction” (215). More Indigenous judges should be appointed to the bench, he suggests, which “would help to ensure that Indigenous traditions would develop by being understood and appropriately applied on a case-by-case basis,” the way that Quebec judges appointed to the Supreme Court have helped it understand civil law (215). Indigenous judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court, as well as other levels in the judicial system (215-16). “The most important reason for appointing people to the bench who have knowledge of Indigenous legal traditions is that they bring new ideas to their task in the context of a settled continuity of Canada’s other legal traditions,” Borrows argues:

A change of ideas when exercising judgment will bring broader reform than almost any other initiative. It is simply not enough to have Indigenous issues, individuals, and institutions become an integral part of the law. Until Indigenous ideas (ideologies) are part of the intellectual exchange, Canadians are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as they deal with the ongoing problems of Indigenous peoples and the law. Nothing in the law changes if “reform” simply means adding a few more issues, individuals, and institutional variations to the mix. Profound legal change requires that questions be examined from perspectives that at least partially emerge from sources outside Western legal discourses and that are motivated by considerations from Indigenous normative orders. (217)

“Standards for judgement must not only flow from the common law but also from Indigenous legal values,” he continues. “Precedent should not be confined to dusty old law books; it should also be open to the authority of Indigenous teachings and law-ways” (217). In other words, “[t]he criteria for measuring what is considered just, fair, and equitable should not solely be drawn from non-Indigenous sources”:

Indigenous codes of conduct need to be part of the law’s formal and informal expressions. Indigenous codes of conduct need to be part of the law’s formal and informal expressions. Indigenous traditions should guide how Indigenous people and other Canadians answer the problems they collectively encounter. Indigenous laws are necessary to meet challenges that lie in Canada’s future. These traditions should be simultaneously compared, contrasted, combined with and distinguished from critical and constructive norms in the civl law and common law traditions. (218)

Judges who have been trained in Indigenous law could perform this role, which is one reason it is so critically important to appoint Indigenous people to the bench. “Their ideas could facilitate a unique exchange with Canada’s other legal traditions,” he concludes. “The exploration of new ideas may lead to answers not immediately apparent under conventional legal reasoning” (218).

Borrows’s next chapter discusses the development of Indigenous legal institutions. He states that “Indigenous peoples should not be forced to accept and integrate into institutions that are designed to conform to the current structures of the colonial state” (219). Instead, “Indigenous peoples must transform their relationships with Canada by practising their traditions throughout their territories, beyond the reserve and other colonial boundaries. Ancient teachings can be regenerated in a contemporary context if they are applied to all sites of struggle encountered by Indigenous peoples within their lives” (219). That doesn’t mean, Borrows continues, that tradition should be “frozen in a past tense or within a reserve-only framework,” but that “an Indigenous logic must infuse the personal and political choices made by Indigenous peoples in all their relations. This includes those relationships within the Canadian state that have an adverse effect on Indigenous legal traditions” (219). He cites the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that stated “Indigenous peoples should reconfigure their affairs within all levels of the Canadian state. This includes challenging public institutions that contribute to Indigenous peoples’ domination by not recognizing their identity, culture, and need for thoroughgoing participation throughout public life” (219). Unless Indigenous peoples participate in government policy making in relation to Indigenous peoples, those policies will be illegitimate and unjust (220). For Borrows, “the Canadian state must be more fully built upon Indigenous foundations,” and Canada “changes for the better when Indigenous values, perspectives, and legal traditions become a more prominent part of our constitutional fabric” (220). 

That’s what his book has argued up to this point, he states. However, “[t]his chapter takes this central insight one step further,” Borrows continues:

It suggests that Indigenous participation has to expand not only in relationship to the larger structures of the Canadian state, but it must also be facilitated in more localized legal affairs. In particular, law societies and law schools should reflect Indigenous participation because they are important sites in conserving and developing Canada’s legal traditions. Such institutions have important responsibilities in promoting high standards of legal education and conduct and these duties should extend to Indigenous legal traditions. (220)

Participation in these institutions, he continues, “could allow Indigenous peoples to see their laws more widely reflected in public life” (220). However, “[b]roader recognition of Indigenous law would also facilitate greater autonomy within Indigenous communities”:

If law societies and law schools were more attentive to Indigenous law, Indigenous peoples would have greater incentives to develop and expand their own traditions. This could add further weight to the push felt by Indigenous communities from their own members to more boldly articulate their laws. The creation of a healthy institutional space into which Indigenous law could flow might lead to more focused efforts within Indigenous communities to explicitly reference their own laws when making decisions. (220-21)

More respect for Indigenous law would give Indigenous peoples greater confidence in their interactions with other Canadians, leading to a growth of trust because they would know “that assimilation did not characterize their work with Canadian institutions” (221). That increased confidence is essential, “because Indigenous peoples will not give up wither deepest beliefs in order to work with others” (221). Policies of assimilation have failed, and recognizing and developing Indigenous law could provide “an important bulwark” against assimilation (221). To accomplish the goals of recognition and developing Indigenous law, “Indigenous peoples cold use their own legal norms and work with law societies and law schools as a way to guide their interactions beyond their reserves and settlements to they can reoccupy their traditional territories and bring them into harmony with other people living in Canada” (221).

First, regarding law societies, they need to “support the further extension of Indigenous law” by implementing “fair and efficient procedures for acknowledging Indigenous legal practitioners’ jurisdictional space for training, licencing, capacity, conduct, professional competence, complaints, and continuing education” (221). They would need to carry out those duties without taking responsibilities away from Indigenous legal bodies; instead, “they should search for ways to recognize and affirm Indigenous legal traditions in a manner that expands but does not compromise their central missions” (221). This change would require law societies to reform themselves, since “most do not have this experience in dealing with Indigenous legal traditions,” and so “they will have to make some significant changes to ensure they appropriately deal with the unique circumstances presented by Indigenous law” (222). Building this expertise “would have to be done with significant Indigenous participation”; there would be no other way to accomplish this task (222). There would be opposition to this proposal, from those who “will worry that law societies will not be sufficiently independent from legislatures to create a legal profession that is truly at arm’s-length from colonial governments,” as well as those who would worry about the difficulty of changing “the common law or civil law bias of law societies” (223). “Some may even regard the recognition of Indigenous law as a challenge to their monopoly over legal services in the provinces,” which would give lawyers “significant financial incentives to exclude Indigenous legal traditions as a recognized source of law” (223). However, if law societies did not move to address the existence of Indigenous legal traditions, “this would not prevent Indigenous peoples from creating their own law societies,” which would be “best organized in accordance with the legal structures and protocols that characterize their various systems” (223). Borrows came to appreciate the importance of Indigenous law societies when he was teaching in the United States, where Native American bar societies exist (223-24). “Despite the evident advantages in creating an Indigenous law society, its development may not be a priority within some communities because of the pressure to devote scarce resources to other more pressing matters,” Borrows acknowledges (225). The Indigenous Bar Association in Canada “could take on a role in the accreditation or coordination of lawyers or other practitioners who may be called on to participate in Indigenous legal systems,” he suggests (226). So could the Canadian Bar Association (227). Because these institutions are independent of government, “they could help to ensure that politics do not impede the healthy developent of the concepts discussed in this book” (228).

Other institutions in Canada that are independent of governments, such as universities, could play a role in the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions. Universities “could work with Indigenous peoples to create law schools to teach multi-juridicalism,” teaching Indigenous law alongside common law or civil law (228). Borrows acknowledges that it might be difficult “to generate the resources to establish” Indigenous law schools,” and so, in the short term, “existing law schools may be in the best position to develop multi-juridical education programs” (229). “The academic rigour and scholastic reputation of an existing law school could enhance the legitimacy of studying Indigenous law and ensure that such traditions are more widely understood,” he suggests (229-30). “Thus, building on existing practices, the day may soon arrive when a Canadian law school will develop a degree program focused specifically on Indigenous legal traditions in a contemporary setting,” perhaps drawing on McGill Law School’s civil/common law program “that integrates learning about the common law and civil law throughout its curriculum” (230-31). Another model would the the University of Victoria law school’s experience when “it conducted the Akitsiraq law school in Iqaluit, Nunavut” (231-32). Borrows goes on to outline what the program of an Indigenous law program might look like (232-37).

Borrows concludes by suggesting that “[t]here are many ways to constructively critique and respectfully change the current configuration of Canadian Confederation, in accordance with the rule of law. Indigenous peoples can work on their own, and with others, to transform their relationships by practising their laws and traditions throughout their territories” (237-38). “Canada’s rule of law is enhanced when our legal traditions are brought into authoritative conversation with one another for the purposes of applying them to resolve pressing disputes that face us as a country,” he continues. “In fact, those who work with Indigenous legal traditions may find themselves claiming that such knowledge makes them better common law or civil law lawyers in certain contexts. They may say they are more attentive to the assumptions and contrasts available within the law when they are practising in their field” (238). Such multi-juridical practitioners would “bring their insights to bear on our problems” and “be in a better position to articulate a solution that has persuasive resonance in common law, civil law, and Indigenous legal traditions. The value of challenging, understanding, and working within a multi-juridical methodology is the next chapter’s focus” (238).

Borrows begins that next chapter, “Living Law on a Living Earth: Religion, Law, and the Constitution,” by explaining that it “attempts to apply the insights found throughout this book by demonstrating what legal analysis might look like if multi-juridicalism was a moreprominent part of Canada’s Constitution” (239). The arguments of this chapter, then, “test the recognition and harmonization of Canada’s legal traditions in the context of whether Anishinabek beliefs concerning the Earth as a living being can be legally recognized and affirmed” (239). What might the answer to that question reveal “about the law’s source, cultural commitments, institutional receptiveness, and interpretive competency” (239)? “These questions explore matters that lay at the heart of Anishinabek spiritual life and at the centre of Canadian legal thought,” he writes. “Thus, this chapter further reveals where bridges and gaps, convergences, and inconsistencies exist within Canada’s constitutional order” (239). Juxtaposing Anishinabek law and “current formulations of Canadian constitutional law reveals the country’s profound legal pluralism at the same time that it highlights the law’s failure to foster broader coexistence and application” (239). In this chapter, Borrows argues “that Anishinabek and Indigenous legal traditions should stand beside the civil law and common law in order to organize and structure society’s relationships” (239). “Each tradition can provide guidance about how we should theorize, practise, and order our association with the Earth,” he continues. “It is therefore appropriate to address the Earth’s legal personality from both Indigenous and Canadian constitutional law perspectives because both operate within the territories we call home” (239). Civil law and common law have force “because Canadian legal authorities have chosen to bestow this authority upon them,” and they are “shaped by and subject to Canada’s Constitution” (240). But “Anishinabek law also has force when it accords with the earth’s biological rhythms and where individuals and communities recognize and abide by its order. This legal tradition is shaped by Anishinabek teachings regarding the Creator, observations from nature, positivistic proclamations, deliberative practices and local customs” (240). It’s “varied sources illustrate that not all legal power in Canada flows from legislation, regulation, and cases” (240). Law can have other sources of legitimacy.

Borrows also suggests that this chapter “reads a little like a lesson plan for highlighting the implications that legal pluralism might hold for Canadian constitutional law. In this respect, it builds upon the recommendations concerning Indigenous legal education in the last chapter,” while it also “highlights the significant challenge further development of multi-juridicalism presents to Canada’s constitutional order,” thereby representing self-reflexively critiquing his ideas (240). He emphasizes the fact that “law is always fright with conflicting and convergent ideas” (240). “This book is not a blueprint for Utopia; I do not believe the inclusion of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada’s legal system will lead to a future free from strife, misery, and distress,” he continues. “Conflict will always be with us,” and for that reason, 

it is important to further problematize the interaction of Canada’s legal traditions. While legal pluralism is a better way to frame our legal relationships, because Indigenous peoples at least get to participate in constructing our collective world, conflict is at least diminished under this approach by channelling it in ways that contests domination and facilitates agency. The test of this book’s thesis should not hinge on whether I have crafted a perfect solution to the problem addressed herein. Perfection is practice or theory is not my aim. I believe a more productive test of these ideas is whether they positively enhance or negatively reduce our responsibilities and freedoms in the real world. (240-41)

For that reason, this chapter sets out to think about “how Canada’s constitution could be improved if we more explicitly adopted a trans-systemic approach to legal interpretation” (241).

First, Borrows discusses Anishinabek spiritual beliefs, reminding us that he is a member of Anishinabek legal culture (241). “The Anishinabek regard Michee-Makinakong on the narrows between Lake Huron and Michigan near Lake Superior as the world’s centre, the place where the land above the water was formed” by Michabous in the Anishinabek creation story, he states (241). When the animals Michabous saved from the flood died, “the first Anishinabe arose from their corpses,” and their “identity and dodem or clan names” are taken from those ancestors” (242). “For the Anishinabek, creation of the Earth did not end with Michabous’ experience on the raft,” Borrows continues. “The Earth grows and develops or dies and decays because it is a living being subject to many of the same forces as all other living creatures. Many Anishinabek people characterize the Earth as a living entity who has thoughts and feelings, can exercise agency by making choices, and is related to humans at the deepest generative level of existence” (242). “The subject of the Earth’s personality is a profound religious, political, and legal issue,” he writes:

Since the Anishinabek consider the Earth a sentient being that helps to generate life, religion is implicated in their beliefs concerning her existence. While the Earth is considered sacred, Anishinabek do not worship the Earth as one would a Creator, but she is regarded with great awe, respect, and wonder because of her ability to live a good life and reproduce in numerous forms. Anishinabek people believe in a Creator, Kitchee Manitou, who gave form and meaning to the Earth following a vision. The first elements of Anishinabek creation stories explain how life came into being from a constellation of forces marshalled by the Creator. Later stories convey important spiritual insights by providing instruction about how the Earth must be honoured and respected. Within these teachings it the general recognition that the Earth has a soul (chejauk) that animates its many moods and activities. Many believe that the Creator, as the Great Master of Life, created a universal bond between all living things that placed the earth at the centre of a vast web of kinship relations. (242)

According to Borrows, “[g]reat power can be attached to these relationships because of the spiritual energy that flows between, from, and through them” (242).

Formal religious belief or membership in a formal religious community in Anishinabek society isn’t required in order to regard the Earth as a living being, because the structure of Anishinabemowin (the Anishinabek language) “depicts the Earth in this manner” (242-43). In addition, “there are strong and formalized structures to give this belief even greater coherence,” such as the Medewiwin Society, which “is regarded by some as the traditional Anishinabek religion” (243). “It teaches its members how to appropriately relate to the Earth and other living beings,” Borrows writes (243). In addition. many Anishinabek who are Christians “also hold a belief in a living Earth, either because it is taught within their congregations or because it is accepted as a syncretic practice within their belief structures and communities” (243). Other Anishinabek who are neither Medewiwin nor Christian “hold a strong conviction of the Earth’s agency and personality” (243). Borrows acknowledges that some Anishinabek do “regard the Earth as inanimate, without a soul or spiritual life force”; like any community, there are a variety of perspectives on religion and spirituality in Anishinabek society (243). “Yet despite diverse perspectives, the land’s sentience is a fundamental principle of Anishinabek law, one upon which many Anishinabek people attempt to build their societies and relationships,” and this idea remains “a present-day principle of central significance that has tremendous implications for how we live with one another on the Earth’s surface” (243). I find myself wondering how that belief, as a legal principle, could be harmonized with common law, which is based on a belief that the Earth is inanimate. Wouldn’t environmental laws produced by the two legal traditions be very different, given the extraordinary differences in their starting points? Perhaps Borrows addresses that point later in this chapter.

“Political issues are also implicated in the Earth’s legal personality for many Anishinabek because they regard themselves as striving to live in community with the Earth,” Borrows continues. “The political relationship between humans and rocks creates mutual obligations and entitlements that must be respected for this community to reproduce in a healthy manner. This governmental structure requires humans both to consult with the Earth’s Creator and to seek the Earth’s receptiveness before important decisions are made” (243). Those consultations take place through ceremonies or be observing the Earth’s interactions “with wind, water, fire, and other beings to which she relates” (243). Anishinabek practices also incorporate scientific understandings of how the Earth operates as a way of forming “an important benchmark for respectful behaviour as communities develop greater knowledge about her through time” (243). In addition, “obligations between Anishinabek and the Earth have territorial aspects”:

At one level, the political boundaries of Anishinbek relationships to the Earth coincide with the totality of the planet’s surface. An Anishinabemowin word that describes this relationship is aen-danee-yauk-kummikuak, which means “the nature of the land’s character form which all derive sustenance.” At this broadest level, we are all citizens with and of one land because we depend on its total existence to survive. (243-44)

However, “this wider political ordering does not preclude Anishinabek or the land from being citizens of smaller polities: watersheds, islands, valleys, countries, tribes, cities, reserves, and so on,” nor does it prevent “allegiances across global and smaller geographical units” (244). “Within Anishinabek thought is the encouragement to determine the Earth’s character to make decisions about how to best divide ourselves in ways that are most respectful of her,” Borrows writes. “The ability to relate to the Earth on different scales feeds a multiplicity of citizenship rights for Anishinabek people and the Earth” (244). So a person could simultaneously be a clan member, Anishinabek, Canadian, American, and a world citizen, while the Earth could be a planet, geological plate, continent, or pebble, all at the same time.

In the chapter’s next section, Borrows works through the connection between Anishinabek law and the Earth. He reiterates his argument that Anishinabek legal traditions (like other Indigenous legal traditions) “continue to grow and develop through observation, experience, and interaction with other people’s more recent presence within their territories” (244). “Anishinabek law is a living social order, developed through comparing, contrasting, accepting, and rejecting legal standards from many sources,” he contends, and for that reason, “Anishinabek legal traditions do not lose their Indigenous status if they adopt viewpoints that address matters not encountered before European contact” (244). In addition, there are usually a variety of interpretations of the way Anishinabek law “should be created, studied, and applied,” and these differences of opinion “illustrate the tradition’s vibrancy and vitality” (244). 

Borrows’s discussion of Anishinabek law’s relation to the Earth begins with rocks. “Rocks are animate or living in verb-oriented Algonkian languages, of which Anishinabemowin is one,” he states. “The very way in which Anishinabek people conceive of the land as alive is hardwired through language. You cannot even describe the world without acknowledging this fact” (245). Because rocks are animate, “they have an agency of their own that must be respected with Anishinabek people use them,” and that means “it would be inappropriate to use rocks without their acquiescence and participation because such action could oppress their liberty in some circumstances” (245). Because enslaving rocks “could lead to great calamities for the Earth and her people,” it’s important to make sure that “rocks and land are use appropriately” through ceremonies or legal permissions (245). “Under Anishinabek legal traditions, some rocks (or places on Earth) cannot be owned or allocated if such ownership or allocation implies control of the Earth without her involvement,” although a kind of ownership can take place “in accordance with appropriate Anishinabek principles” (245). “The pipe ceremony is a particularly important certification-like process preceding the appropriate use or ownership of land,” he states. “When one participates in a circle and handles the pipe under the guidance of proper leaders, the Earth’s legal personality is acknowledged” (245). It is believed that the smoke ascends to the Creator and thus demonstrates gratitude for existence, and “prayers of thanksgiving are expressed for the rocks, plants, animals, and other humans as the smoke rises from the pipe” (245). The pipe itself represents Earth’s different orders: earth, which makes up the pipe (in the form of pipestone, I would assume); plants, because tobacco is used; animals, because feathers and fur are added to the pipe; and humans, because they are the celebrants (245). 

“Use of the pipe is a token of peace between people and the land and between peoples settling on the land,” Borrows tells us. “The Earth is best used by celebrating her contributions and consulting with her creator in this way” (245). For this reason, when treaties between Anishinabek people and Settlers were reached, a pipe ceremony was used “to include non-Indigenous people in this relationship” and “to register their mutual agreement concerning the use of the Earth” (245). Because the Earth carries on while plants, animals, and humans die, “[i]t is contrary to certain interpretations of Anishinabek law to claim absolute ownership of the Earth, which is called a mother because of her role in bringing forth life” (246). “For many Anishinabek, ‘ownership’ is not regarded in the same light as in other Canadian legal traditions,” but trusteeship can be used as an analogy to explain “limitations concerning Anishinabek land use” and “in understanding Anishinabek law” (246). “A trust in equity, as merged through the common law, is a right held by one person (the trustee) for the benefit of another person (the beneficiary),” Borrows explains. “Under Anishinabek law, land is held by the present generation for future generations. Land does not ultimately belong to a person or people in the sense that they have absolute discretion and control; land is provisionally held for (con)temporary sustenance and for those unborn” (246). Such analogies, though, can “create confusion in understanding Anishinabek legal traditions if carried too far”:

Under Anishinabek law, while the Earth is somewhat dependent on other orders of life for its health and vitality, plants, animals, and humans are much more reliant on the Earth for their survival. In this sense, the Earth can be considered the trustee for its beneficiaries (plants, animals, and humans). This analogy may be a stretch for the common law legal imagination because, under the common law, the Earth is neither a living being nor does she possess a legal personality. Nevertheless, Anishinabek legal traditions recognize interdependence between rocks and humans because of their mutual agency. The concept of reciprocal obligations between rocks and humans is an important part of Anishinabek law. People are the beneficiaries of the Earth’s care, and under Anishinabek law this creates duties for the beneficiaries as well as for the Earth (as the so-called trustee). (246)

Borrows provides a contemporary example of these principles: a proposal to move the pow-wow ground on his reserve was made in the late 1990s, and when it became clear that this change would mean building a road over a significant rock formation, an alvar, that is important geologically, botanically, and spiritually, the community decided, after much deliberation and ceremony, that the change would not take place (246-48). “This brief review of Anishinabek law demonstrates that Anishinabek beliefs concerning the Earth as a living being can be legally recognized and affirmed,” Borrows concludes. “It also shows how Anishinabek law can lead to land being accorded political citizenship with its other close relations. Attentiveness to the land’s character and sacred power gives the Earth an important place within this jurisprudential system” (248).

Although Canadian constitutional law provides for freedom of religion, thereby protecting Anishinabek spiritual beliefs and practices, “there are also significant challenges in shielding Anishinabek spiritual beliefs from government interference,” Borrows writes at the beginning of the chapter’s next section. “These challenges are so profound that it is unlikely that courts would uphold Anishinabek beliefs unless they embraced broader conceptions of multi-juridicalism that have been developed in this book” (248). That’s not only because, historically, Indigenous beliefs have been ridiculed. It’s also because “law has a difficult time escaping its liberal context and understands its subject through its own values” (249). “[L]aw is a liberal god that creates religion in its own image,” Borrows suggests, and so “the Constitution will have difficulty protecting Anishinabek religious beliefs and practices if they are outside law’s central commitments to individual choice, autonomy, privacy, and personal conviction” (249). “Unfortunately, if beliefs about the Earth are not informed by a multi-juridical understanding, Anishinabek religion can be characterized as lying outside the Constitution’s informing commitments,” he continues. “They can be seen as being alien to Western law, politics, and religion” (249). “The fact that Anishinabek religion and law treat the Earth as a living being with the power of choice, requiring respect for its autonomy, privacy, and personal convictions,” but “the notion that the Earth is the individual possessing these characteristics probably propels Canadian constitutional law beyond its informing commitments,” stretching “the law beyond its cultural context” (249-50). Arguably the 2017 failure of the Supreme Court of Canada to rule in favour of the Ktuxana First Nation in British Columbia, which tried to block the development of a ski resort on a mountain it considers sacred to the Grizzly Bear Spirit, is an example of Indigenous beliefs being considered to be outside of the protections afforded by Canadian constitutional law (Fine A1).

Borrows summarizes arguments about whether or not the Anishinabek people might find religious protection under the Charter, including arguments that were presented before the Supreme Court of Canada (250-52). The problem is that interpretations of the Charter are not informed by multi-juridicalism, he suggests:

Without seeing the contemporary existence of Indigenous laws it may be hard for Canadian courts to detect the holistic religious practices of Anishinabek spiritual life. Anishinabek spiritual beliefs may not be labelled religious because they can lack many of the outward forms of other worship systems. They are not often taught in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or cathedrals. Of all Anishinabek religious experience, only the Medewiwin Society has a lodge where these teachings are more formally taught and practised. One can imagine the difficulty that an Anishinabek Christian would have in proving his or her religious beliefs where doctrines concerning a living Earth are submerged or not easily found written in a church’s doctrinal canon. For many courts, Anishinabek Catholicism or Anglicanism would overshadow Anishinabek beliefs and practices. Similarly, an Anishinabek person not affiliated with any organized religion would have an equally difficult time convincing a court that his or her spiritual views and practices are religious when the collective nature of his or her “worship” is difficult to pinpoint. Most Anishinabek spiritual expression differs substantially from what many people regard as religious, and this could prove problematic for protection under section 2(a) of the Charter. (252-53)

Borrows discusses cases related to religious belief that were argued before the Supreme Court of Canada to suggest that “definitions of the religious nature of Anishinabek spiritual beliefs may not necessarily prove fatal to their claims” (253). Even if those arguments were successful, though, “an Anishinabek person alleging government interference with his or her religion would have to show that the infringement was substantial or non-trivial” (253). Would the construction of a road over “old barren rock through an empty unused field” be considered trivial or insubstantial (253)? Borrows acknowledges that, in a legal environment in which “the Earth is left out of political citizenship and lacks legal standing,” it’s quite possible that such construction would be considered trivial (254). As the example of the Ktuxana case against the development of the ski resort suggests, it’s more than possible that the court would do so.

Even if the court found that the case was not trivial, an Anishinabek claimant would still have difficulty, since the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that freedom of religion is not absolute (254). If Anishinabek beliefs conflicted with the competing rights of others, then the Supreme Court might find that those beliefs must be limited in scope (254). “In other words, if another constitutional right conflicts or competes with Anishinabek religious rights, then those rights might not receive automatic protection,” he writes (254-55). Therefore, “Anishinabek religious beliefs can be infringed upon if the government meets certain standards” (255). However, it’s also possible that “[t]he focus on competing rights might help to protect Anishinabek religious rights from interference,” because contractual and property rights are not “directly protected in Canada’s Constitution,” and so “if protecting Anishinabek beliefs increased transaction costs in the alienability and use of land on and off reserve, then this should not be sufficient to defeat their automatic protection. It is not enough that Anishinabek religious rights may interfere with other people’s economic circumstances” (255). I wonder if the example of the Ktuxana case against the ski resort contradicts Borrows’s argument here. I’m not a constitutional lawyer and so I have a difficult time analyzing what he is saying in this section of the chapter. He does note that “social, political, and contextual factors might limit Anishinabek religion,” and that “courts will find it difficult to ignore the economic costs” of recognizing such religious rights “if they have social or political implications. Courts could find reasons to weigh and favour non-Anishinabek economic interests against constitutionally protected rights” by invoking the limitations to freedom of religion in matters of public safety, order, health, or morals (256). “Restraints on the alienability of land and the government’s ability to develop infratructure over what to others looks like barren rock could bring other interests to the foreground, thus justifying government infringements upon Anishinabek religious rights,” he admits (256). 

“The standard for proving whether the Crown has an important objective in passing legislation is often deferential in the government’s nature,” which “represents another hurdle for Anishinabek religious protection” (256). “The fact that law’s distribution of land after contact unjustly stripped Indigenous peoples of their land rights over an area might not enter into the court’s evaluation,” he notes:

In other words, the courts might not see government action in the creation of private property out of traditional Indigenous territories. If the government’s role in creating private property is not recognized, then non-Aboriginal property rights might become a surrogate for making certain activities more pressing and substantial for governments, thus potentially constricting the scope of Anishinabek religious freedom. The cultural context of constitutional law is visible only if one is reminded of this fact, which again demonstrates the value of working in a multi-juridical context to remind judges of this fact. (256-57)

The question of the minimal impairment of rights is also part of this issue. “In the circumstances of Anishinabek spiritual beliefs that are interfered with by road building, it would likely be easy for governments to show that the exercise of zoning or expropriation powers for roads is rationally connected to legislative objectives,” Borrows writes. “Presumably, all that the government would need to show is that the road connects point A to point B in a way that makes sense for its purpose” (257). The road could take up the smallest possible area, “and Anishinabek practices cold be respected through pipe ceremonies, permissions, and prayers” (257). “Although such measures resemble appropriate accommodation, one must not forget that the Earth might say no to the development of the road, and yet the government might still decide to go ahead with the construction,” he continues. “While the accommodation suggested is probably fair under Canadian law, one can see how it still likely offends religious beliefs. Thus, while minimal impairment might not be possible from an Anishinabek perspective, the Supreme Court’s own test would presume that a reconciliation of government objectives and Anishinabek beliefs could be accomplished” (257). That presumption “would likely favour non-Anishinabek governmental objectives over Anishinabek beliefs and reveal the culturally constraining character of Canadian constitutional law,” and “[t]he minimal impairment test may be an example of a place where the law shows its inability to travel beyond its own informing commitments” (257). My only quibble with Borrows’s argument here is his all-too-careful use of the word “may”: perhaps I’m cynical, but it would be hard to imagine any Canadian court siding with an Indigenous belief that the Earth is alive over a government that wanted to build a road.

“Finally,” Borrows continues, “Anishinabek beliefs may be infringed upon if the salutary effect of the road’s construction outweighs its deleterious effects on Anishinabek rights” (258). The damage to Anishinabek spiritual beliefs would be weighed against the practical benefits of the road and found wanting. A belief in the Earth’s agency “potentially threatens the core of North American economic organization in the twenty-first century”: “If the alienation and use of land are limited by one small group’s spiritual beliefs, it could impose unacceptable costs on the development for others” (258). Courts would also be cautious about the potential abuse that could arise from recognizing Anishinabek spiritual claims: some untrustworthy people “might claim power to speak exclusively for the Earth to fraudulently advance their economic, social, or political agendas” (258). How could the judiciary distinguish between legitimate and fraudulent belief? “As with many spiritual matters, beliefs are linked with faith, which is difficult to test in objective norms and should cause us concern,” Borrows states (258). “Thus, when measuring deleterious effects that Anishinabek people might experience,” he continues,

judges will have to resist the temptation to measure favourably the law’s salutary effects against their own cultural understandings of the law. Roads are generally seen as good or at least a necessary evil within Canadian society. They foster communication, commerce, and expansion. “Empty” land is often seen as unproductive, inefficient, and of less value if roads do not service such sites. One might legitimately ask: Why should Anishinabek beliefs trump the social conveniences of enhanced mobility, municipal planning processes, and economic efficiencies that roads create? While it is possible that judges might be able to check their cultural biases in making these evaluations, they must still provide reasons for decisions drawn from Canadian constitutional law cases. If the law itself has embedded certain cultural commitments concerning land use that largely accord with non-Anishinabek organization, then it may be difficult for the law to move beyond its own parameters in such judgments. (258-59)

That is, the law might find such movement difficult unless multi-juridicalism is present in the judicial analysis, Borrows contends (259). But, as things currently stand, it would be difficult for Anishinabek people to achieve the Charter’s protection of religion “without a more explicit call to incorporate Indigenous legal traditions into Canada’s constitutional framework” (259). “Thus, while Canadian constitutional law may on rare occasions transcend its cultural context and informing commitments, it continues to draw significant inspiration from its common law parentage,” Borrows concludes. “Constitutional law will remain limited in its application to Anishinabek spiritual life until it regards its birth as also flowing form another source, outside its European and so-called neutral conception. Unless the multi-juridical nature of law is recognized, Anishinabek religion will be better protected through Anishinabek law” (259). Therefore, “greater space must be found within our legal systems to recognize and affirm our complex and right legal heritage” (259).

In the chapter’s next section, Borrows explores that possibility that Anishinabek people might use section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 to protect their spiritual beliefs and practices (260). That section states that “‘[t]he existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed’” (qtd 260). “While this section may be more likely to transcend common law’s cultural footings, the courts have not yet achieved this result,” Borrows states:

Despite attempts to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and laws, section 35(1) remains securely tied to its non-Aboriginal foundations. There is no real Indigenous law cited in arriving at appropriate decisions. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has taken to translating Indigenous perspectives and practices into common law rights, a sure sign of the problematic nature in this section’s current configuration. Making common law the ultimate measure of ancient Indigenous traditions virtually ensures that non-Aboriginal cultural practices will predominate within section 35. (260)

According to Borrows, “[a] multi-juridical read of the constitution is needed to overcome this bias” (260). Despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1990 declaration that “the recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and treaty rights represented the ‘culmination of a long and difficult struggle’ that ‘calls for a just settlement for aboriginal peoples’ and ‘renounces the old rules of the game,’” it is clear that “section 35 did not end Indigenous peoples’ struggle for ‘a just settlement,’ nor did it renounce the most problematic aspects of ‘the old rules of teh game’ that give preferential treatment to non-Aboriginal cultural interpretations of Aboriginal and treaty rights,” Borrows contends. “Indigenous peoples are still struggling for their rights, and the new rules of the game increasingly look like the old rules,” particularly since “the common law as applied within section 35 seems to be collapsing back into itself and is interpreting Aboriginal and treaty rights through non-Aboriginal categories and principles” (260). “In fact, it might almost be argued that resort to its own contextual categorizations is ‘integral to the distinctive culture’ of common law’s practices, customs, and traditions—since their ‘contact’ in North America with Aboriginal peoples,” Borrows continues. “Indigenous legal traditions are almost invisible in the current way problems are addressed under section 35(1)” (260-61). I’m not sure what the word “almost” is doing in that quotation; although I appreciate Borrows’s careful way of writing, sometimes it undercuts his argument.

For Borrows, the problems with section 35(1) “can be illustrated by considering how this section might be used to protect Anishinabek spirituality” (261). He takes the example of road construction over a significant rock formation as his example. Anishinabek people might have many options under section 35(1) for protecting that site:

For example, the Anishinabek could try to assert an independent Aboriginal right to religion, they could claim Aboriginal title over territory considered sacred, they could attempt to prove a site-specific Aboriginal right to a religious practice, they cold argue that they have an Aboriginal right to governance in relation to the alvar, or they might maintain that they possess a treaty right to territory, governance, or religion. Each argument and perhaps more can be relevant to the protection of Anishinabek religion. (261)

However, Borrows contends, “the most significant Anishinabe concern is the one underlying this chapter, that of a living Earth,” although the other arguments are also relevant, such as the idea that treaties are sacred covenants which “imply deep religious obligations” (261). “While the spiritual nature of Indigenous treaties is sometimes acknowledged in section 35(1) jurisprudence, its implications for Indigenous spirituality must be explored in future research,” he continues, citing his yet unpublished paper prepared for the Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner (261). (I wonder if he would send me a copy of that paper if I asked.) 

The courts have ruled that Aboriginal rights under section 35(1) must meet specific tests: 

it has to be established first that Anishinabek religious practices or beliefs concerning a living Earth were integral to the distinctive culture prior to European contact. To receive constitutional protection, the Anishinabek belief cannot be the result of European contact. The court would expect to find that a belief in a living Earth truly made the society what it was, in 1615, at the moment Samuel de Champlain made contact with the Anishinabek of Georgian Bay. The Supreme Court curiously, does not seem to find it relevant if Anishinabek practices, customs, or traditions developed in response to contact with other Aboriginal nations. (261-62)

This test has been criticized as freezing Indigenous cultures at the point they met European cultures (262). “While this test is exceedingly problematic when applied to Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights, its injustice becomes even more pronounced when Aboriginal religion is at issue,” Borrows writes, since it “denies Indigenous people protection of the inner means to cope with the physical impoverishment that often developed as a result of European contact” (262). “Making Aboriginal religious rights dependent on whether practices, customs, and traditions were in existence before European arrival reveals the culturally chauvinistic roots of Canadian constitutional law relative to Indigenous peoples,” he continues (262). It also creates “difficulties of proof”: “One can imagine scenarios in which the test is section 35(1) potentially undermines Anishinabek religion, particularly if it ‘proves’ that the belief in a living Earth is an ‘inauthentic’ modern invention contrary to the present perception of Anishinabek spiritual views” (262). If the Supreme Court of Canada were to decide that this belief did not pass the test, it would “certainly constrict the socio-legal and political spaces within which Anishinabek laws could grow. Such a decision would hamper the further development of a healthy multi-juridicalism in our land” (263). Also, other constitutional questions are not asked to submit to such a test (263). “The Supreme Court’s test thus inappropriately encumbers and potentially distorts Indigenous spirituality and the constitutional protection available to it under section 35(1),” Borrows continues. “It misses one of the central points being made about multi-juridicalism in this book—Indigenous peoples have living legal systems that evolve through time. Protection for religion under these systems can change over the years even as individuals and societies attempt to maintain an acceptable degree of continuity with past beliefs and practices” (263). For all of these reasons, the test “makes section 35 exceedingly inappropriate for the recognition and affirmation of Anishinabek religious freedoms” and “degrades the court’s role as a champion of human rights” (264).

“Similar problems will be encountered if protection for religious practices is sought through Aboriginal title,” Borrows writes:

While the language of Aboriginal title does not often explicitly use the ‘integral to the distinctive culture’ test for proof, this test underlies the reasons courts seek to protect title. If Anishinabek people sought to protect their religious freedom through Aboriginal title, they wold have to prove that they had exclusive occupation of the territory prior to the assertion of British sovereignty and that this occupation was continuous through time immemorial until the present day. It might be difficult to establish these facts if certain pieces of land cannot be occupied in accordance with Anishinabek law because the Earth is living. It seems to be logically inconsistent to use evidence of non-occupation as proof of occupation for Aboriginal title. (264)

Borrows suggests that “courts would likely resist attempts to protect Anishinabek religion through Aboriginal title or any other section 35(1) grounds” (264). They would likely consider any claim that sought to protect the alvar as “an indirect and more generalized claim for religious respect,” and “[t]he courts are loath to cast Aboriginal rights claims at broader levels of generality when more specific claims can be made; their search is for the appropriate level of specificity relative to the claim” (265). Section 35 is too limited, he suggests. And “even if Anishinabek people are able to prove that their beliefs and practices related to a living Earth are integral to their distinctive culture prior to European contact, their struggle under section 35(1) is still not over,” because they would “still have to prove that their rights were not extinguished prior to 1982” (265). In that case, those rights would not be included within that section of Canada’s constitution. The standard of proof for extinguishment is quite high, but unfortunately “one of the few cases to have considered extinguishment as it relates to Aboriginal religious rights,” R. v. Thomas and Norris, “construed the Crown’s power in the widest possible manner, to the detriment of Indigenous religious freedoms” (265). That decision “privileges the common law and civil law over Indigenous law by the raw power of judicial assertion,” and it may have “extinguished Aboriginal rights to spiritual prctices concerning a living Earth when it was introduced” (266). “Without a multi-juridical reappraisal, the Thomas and Norris case representa a potentially insurmountable hurdle for Anishinabek spiritual beliefs because it reads extinguishment in the broadest possible light,” Borrows continues, although “strong doubts can be raised concerning the astonishingly low standard of extinguishment used in this case” (266-67). “Indigenous peoples’ religious rights under section 35(1) hang under a cloud of general extinguishment unless the courts precisely and unequivocally reject the assumption of cultural superiority in Thomas v. Norris,” Borrows states. “The explicit recognition of multi-juridicalism in cases like this would be one way to dispel this bias” (267).

“Finally, Indigenous peoples have one last obstacle to overcome to secure their religious freedoms against government interference under section 35(1),” Borrows continues (267). The Crown can argue “that it has the right to infringe upon Anishinabek religion under section 35(1) through a justificatory process” (267). In other words, “[t]he Crown can justify the infringement of Aboriginal rights if it has a valid legislative objective and its actions are consistent with the honour of the Crown” (267). It would be easy to show that the Crown has a valid legislative objective in building a road (267). “In addition, it would be possible for the Crown to show that infringement of Anishinabek beliefs and practices is justified if procedures that uphold the Crown’s honour are followed,” Borrows writes (268). Numerous obligations constrain the Crown’s sovereignty when Aboriginal rights are at issue, but “these constraints do not mean that governments are prevented from taking action that overrides Aboriginal rights if they follow proper procedures” (268). “[T]hese obligations can be a powerful tool for Anishinabek people to increase the scope of their rights,” because “[t]hey place Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the government in a reciprocal light, and show the crown may have to defer to Indigenous legal orders in certain circumstances” (268). In the example of the road across the alvar, these obligations could include recognition, affirmation, reconciliation, the prevention of the perpetuation of historic injustices, undue hardships on the exercise of religious rights, the need to give priority to Anishinabek spiritual beliefs and practices when rights are infringed, consultation, accommodation, the mitigation of the impact of government actions on Anishinabek rights, and compensation for the loss of religious rights (even though that might be impossible) (268-69). The application of these rights and obligations “calls upon Indigenous collective action to authoritatively deal with governments if rights are threatened,” and recognizing “the reality of Indigenous legal orders in such circumstances could strengthen the country’s multi-juridical framework” (269). However, “governments may find appropriate ways to infringe upon Anishinabek religious rights and this may render nugatory these significant governmental obligations” (269). “Thus, despite the potential of section 35(1) for recognizing and affirming Anishinabek spiritual beliefs and practices, it may have difficulty travelling beyond its own cultural commitments,” Borrows concludes. “Anishinabek rights might not be protected under section 35(1) if they are found not to be integral to the distinctive culture, if they are deemed to have been extinguished, or if the Crown is able to justify infringement through a valid legislative objective and the preservation of its honour” (269).

I am frankly shocked by all of this—but at the same time, I’m not shocked at all. I had thought that section 35(1) was worth more than Borrows demonstrates. No wonder Indigenous peoples have such a difficult time getting justice from Canada’s courts. We need to do much better than this, and while I would think that multi-juridicalism would be hard to practice, given the differences between Indigenous legal traditions, on one hand, and common law and civil law, on the other, Borrows makes a strong case in this chapter that justice will be impossible without the recognition and development of Indigenous law. Borrows states as much:

To better protect religious beliefs and practices, Anishinabek and Indigenous legal traditions should stand beside Canada’s Constitution to organize and structure society’s relationships. Greater space is needed within Canada’s doctrinal fissures and formal legal structures to recognize and affirm this country’s multi-juridical reality. Indigenous dispute resolution bodies, governments, and tribal courts could perform an important function in extending religious freedom within Aboriginal communities. They could also provide greater visibility for Aboriginal law within Canadian constitutional structures and perhaps one day lead to a significant breakthrough in that forum. (270)

“Whether the Earth is thought of as living or dead, our laws have some distance to travel before they fully address the depths of our disagreements with one another,” he concludes. “There is still much work to be accomplished before Canada’s constitution can be regarded as rigorously multi-juridical” (270). So much work needs to be done, in fact, that I find myself despairing at the monumentality of the task and the paucity of interest in getting started.

Borrows’s last chapter, “The Work Ahead: Cultivating Indigenous Legal Traditions,” “acknowledges that Indigenous legal traditions will not grow to their full potential unless we actively work at their further development” (271). “Indigenous laws can be reinforced if people in positions of power actively seek to support them,” he contends, and “[p]art of this support requires ensuring that state structures do not inappropriately displace the individual and family in the development of tradition” (271). Canada’s “balanced, somewhat decentralized federal state is built on the principle of harmonized disaggregation,” and so the recognition of difference is one of Canada’s strengths (271-72). The principles of federalism “should be extended beyond federal-provincial relations and applied to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit laws and governance” (272). Explicitly recognizing Indigenous legal traditions “could lead to useful experimentation and innovation in solving many of Canada’s pressing problems,” and “the affirmation of Indigenous legal traditions could strengthen Canadian democracy by placing decision-making much closer to the people within these communities,” as compared to federal and provincial governments, which “tend to be less responsive to the Indigenous electorate than Indigenous governments would be if they could exercise greater responsibility for their own affairs” (272). Borrows acknowledges that recognizing Indigenous law “is bound to be contested and create difficulties in law and policy,” but doing so would be consistent with the human rights of Indigenous peoples, “while ensuring that others’ rights were not abrogated” (272). The ideas in this book “are directed at recognizing and creating practices that will find an appropriate harmonization between the interests of society as a whole and the rights, values, and laws of Indigenous peoples” (273). Because “Indigenous law should . . . be treated as an active system that contains its own values, norms, uses, standards, criteria and principles,” “intellectual methodologies that express Indigenous legal concepts must be embedded in and thereby change the very structure of Canada’s law” (273). Those legal methodologies “should also be recognized and affirmed on their own terms as having force within Indigenous communities” (273). And “[a]s Indigenous normative concepts are extended into regulatory and dispute resolution regimes at local, provincial, and national levels, a greater range of options will be available to tailor solutions to particular issues and disputes” (273). For Borrows, incorporating the very different perspectives of Indigenous law, on one hand, and of common law and civil law on the other, “in a morally and politically defensible manner is what I have attempted to do in this book. This task is a societal task but it can also have more personal applications” (273-74).

Borrows then tells the Anishinabek story of manadamin, or corn, which provides an example of “the kind of effort needed to encourage the growth of Indigenous legal traditions in Canada” (274). One day, a stranger arrives in a village, saying that he has gifts to give to a good man. The people in the village suggest he talk to a young man whose grandmother, whom he loved, had recently died. The stranger, whose name is Mandamin, tells the young man they must fight to prove the young man’s merit. Although he initially refuses, the young man says he will fight in order to to protect his community. After a four-day battle, the young man kills Mandamin and buries him beside his grandmother. He tells the village medicine man what had happened. The medicine man says that the young man must care for Mandamin’s grave the way he cares for his grandmother’s, and he does so. The following spring, he discovers a new plant growing from the soil there. The medicine man tells him to let it grow. When the plant matures, the medicine man tries one of the yellow kernels and names the plant “mandamin,” or “Food of Wonder.” The young man did not kill Mandamin; rather, he gave the stranger “life in a new form” (278). “Mandamin’s message has implications for the development of Indigenous law,” Borrows explains:

Just like the young man, Indigenous peoples face many challenges from outside their communities. They have many choices about how they will deal with the challenge of developing their laws. There must be adaptation to change, but this must occur within a context that respects our grandparents’ good teachings. Challenges regarding change must be met with goodness at the centre point of judgement. The young man was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen and ponder upon his grandmother’s teachings before she died. (279)

In addition, the story “teaches that Indigenous peoples have successfully encountered change in the past and this has helped sustain them. We have experience in receiving new people and ideas in our lives, and these experiences of receiving them have been a part of our traditions for a long time” (279). Change isn’t always easy, and “[t]he development of Indigenous law in a contemporary context requires similar struggle. There are risks involved. Survival is sometimes on the line” (279). And sometimes Indigenous peoples will fail: “There will be times they do not succeed in making their values the core of judgment in their communities and in having these norms also impact on wider Canadian society” (279). The story suggests what is required to achieve success, and indicates that “[i]t may take some long periods of time to see results” (279), because “Indigenous peoples will find themselves battling forces that would like to defeat Indigenous law” (280). In addition, it teaches that some legal practices “must die in order for them to be transformed into a more nourishing way of living,” and that “the death of threatening traditions must take place in all legal systems” (280). 

There are different versions of this story, told by different Elders, and that “demonstrates that there are often varied approaches to legal meaning within the law of a single tradition,” differences that “are shaped by gender, perspective, life experience, and age” (280-81). Indigenous jurists will not “speak with unanimity in their articulation of the law”; we do not expect that of Parliaments, judges, or legal scholars (281). Different versions will emphasize different qualities of the story. One version says that the young man cultivates the plant; another that he leaves it as it matures. One story, then, is about “the importance of active monitoring and control over the legal development process,” while the other suggests that the development of the law is often beyond a community’s control. “Once the forces of creation and change are in motion, some matters cannot be contained,” Borrows states. “The lesson we can take from this as it relates to the law’s development is that while Indigenous people can do much to create better futures, it must also be acknowledged that development always contains a degree of risk” (281-82). That fact does not mean “that Indigenous peoples should forsake their quest for peace and order in their own communities and in their relationships with others,” he continues. “Rather, it means they must also recognize that the paths towards a better future will not always be ones they can completely create on their own” (282). This statement is generous and optimistic, given much of what Borrows describes in the rest of his book, and given the history of genocide and displacement that marks at least the last 200 years of relations between Indigenous peoples and Settlers in this country.

Like the young man, “Indigenous peoples and others have a fight on their hands to bring multi-juridicalism to its fullest fruition,” Borrows concludes. “They will have to work hard and exercise care and patience in cultivating the grounds for broader acceptance. Part of this process will involve rooting traditions in contemporary community values that are consistent with our country’s most revered legal teachings” (282). Not acknowledging Indigenous laws will constrain the rule of law in Canada, and “the burden will be weightier for Indigenous peoples if this occurs” (282). It needs to be remembered that Canadian law “also derives its authority from force,” as well as “appeals to precedent, consensus, reason, and consistency”: 

Its application can be hard to wrest from the biases of wealth, status, social convention, and established Western traditions. If Indigenous peoples and others choose to take advantage of opportunities noted in this book, these cautions should be amplified and heeded. While busy working for recognition and affirmation of Indigenous laws within Canada, supporters must also remember that such victories can be hollow if Indigenous peoples’ own traditional authorities are permanently subjugated in the process. This warning is not to counsel against working with Canadian law in every case but is meant to simultaneously keep our attention on its collateral consequences. We must continue to speak many languages of law. (282-83)

Borrows notes that he expands on the last point in a companion book, “written simultaneously with this work,” entitled Drawing Out Law: A Spirit’s Guide, which, coincidentally, I was using to hold open the pages of this book as I typed this summary (283). (Perhaps that means I need to read it next.) “Canadian law can sometimes be used with great effect, but only if Indigenous cultural values, traditions and authorities are simultaneously part of this process,” he writes. “Canadian law can also be a problem. If Indigenous peoples cannot practise their traditions in light of the conceptions developed in this book, they will be rightly rejected” (283). But we can choose “to recognize, affirm, and apply Indigenous legal traditions alongside the common law and civil law,” or else “we can choose to deny their historic reality and contemporary force” (283). We can thus either “mark our country as progressive and open to legal guidance from the best of our traditions, or as oppressively fundamentalist and frozen in our orientation to law” (283). For his part, Borrows chooses freedom: “Legal cultures are fluid. Law is in the process of continual transformation, and Indigenous peoples must participate in its changes” (283). “Multi-juridicalism must receive the support it needs” to nourish the strengths of our legal traditions: their wisdom, durability, and flexibility,” he continues. “Indeed, our Constitution depends upon it” (283).

Canada’s Indigenous Constitution has turned out to be very useful for my research. I’m surprised, in fact, that a book on constitutional law could be so applicable, but since my proposed walks are a response to treaty, perhaps I should have known better. It’s also much more soundly argued than John Ralston Saul’s book which describes Canada as a Métis nation. I agree with Borrows on the difficulty of putting into practice the changes he recommends, and I wonder if his ideas will ever find a sympathetic ear in legislatures, Parliament, or the courts. Because I’m not a lawyer, perhaps all I can do is hope that they do, although I’m aware that hope is not sufficient, and that more is required from any Canadian concerned that our legal system become a system of justice. In fact, I’m convinced that the recognition and development of Indigenous law is, at least potentially, a pathway for Settlers to find an ethical way to live on these lands. 

Works Cited

Borrows, John. Canada’s Indigenous Constitution, University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Fine, Sean. “Top court deals blow to Indigenous peoples.” The Globe and Mail, 3 November 2017, p. A1. Gale OneFile: CPI.Q (Canadian Periodicals), Accessed 24 Jan. 2020.

Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, 4th edition, Norton, 2018.

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

Saul, John Ralston. A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, Penguin, 2009.

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

“Walking: A Pedestrian Pursuit”

walkprofile-bigThis morning, CBC Radio’s “The Sunday Edition” broadcast this repeat of a 2013 program on walking. It’s worth a listen.

125. Zoe Todd, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism”

zoe todd

I ran across a reference to Métis anthropologist Zoe Todd’s essay “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism” in Stephanie Springgay’s and Sarah E. Truman’s Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: Walking Lab. Their summary of her argument states that Todd, “like other Indigenous scholars, insist[s] that ontological discussions of matter must take into consideration not only Indigenous worldviews but material legal struggles over matter and sovereignty” (9). When I read Bruno Latour’s book, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, I found myself wondering if Todd would consider his approach to the vitality of things to be colonial. Well, let’s take a look at Todd’s argument and see.

Well, the essay begins with a memoir of going to see “the great Latour” give a lecture in Edinburgh in 2013. “I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour, live and in colour!” she writes. “Bruno Latour’s work was, in part, the reason that I switched my focus away from a pure science degree in Biology in my undergraduate studies. . . . Latour was (and is) very much a personal hero of mine” (4). Okay, I’m confused by Todd’s apparent sarcasm, directed either at Latour or her younger self’s credulity. Bruno was talking about “Natural Religion,” and he suggested that climate was “a matter of ‘common cosmological concern’” (5). He mentioned the notion of Gaia, and Todd expected that “he would reference Sila, the well-known Inuit concept that is today translated by many non-Inuit as climate but Sila is also ‘the breathe [sic] that circulates into and out of every living thing” (Qitsualik, qtd. 5). (Well-known? I had never heard of it, but it sounds interesting, and Qitsualik’s account might be worth reading.) “The infinitesimal bit of the concept of Sila that I can claim to understand is that it is bound with life, with climate, with knowing, and with the very existence of being(s),” Todd continues. “And, in some respects, it sounds an awful lot like the idea of Gaia to my Métis ears” (5). Todd notes the contributions of Inuit people to activism about and awareness of climate change, and, she writes, “I waited through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for their millennia of engagement with sentient environments, with cosmologies that enmesh people into complex relationships between themselves and all relations, and with climates and atmospheres as important points of organization and action” (6-7). 

She waited in vain, of course (her narrative foreshadows that conclusion): Latour didn’t discuss Indigenous thinkers or worldviews. “I was left wondering, when will I hear someone reference Indigenous thinkers in a direct, contemporary and meaningful way in European lecture halls?” she recalls:

Without filtering ideas through white intermediaries—apologies to the vast majority of my anthropology colleagues—but by citing and quoting Indigenous thinkers directly, unambiguously and generously. As thinkers in their own right, not just disembodied representatives of an amorphous Indigeneity that serves European intellectual or political purposes, and not just as research subjects or vaguely defined “collaborators.” As dynamic Philosophers and Intellectuals, full stop. Rather than bequeathing climate activism to the Al Gores of the world, when will Euro-American scholarship take the intellectual labour of Inuit women like Rosemarie Kuptana and Sheila Watt-Clouthier seriously? (7)

Todd left before the end of the question period:

it appeared that another Euro-Western academic narrative, in this case the trendy and dominant Ontological Turn (and/or post-humanism, and/or cosmopolitics—all three of which share tangled roots, and can be mobilised distinctly or collectively, depending on who you ask), and discourses of how to organise ourselves around and communicate with the constituents of complex and contested world(s) (or multiverses, if you’re into the whole brevity thing)—was spinning itself on the backs of non-European thinkers. And again, the ones we credited for these incredible insights into the “more-than-human,” sentience and agency, and the ways through which to imagine our “common cosmological concerns” were not the people who built and maintain the knowledge systems that European and North American anthropologists and philosophers have been studying for over a hundred years, and predicating many of their current “aha” ontological moments (or re-imaginings of the discipline upon). No, here we were celebrating and worshipping a European thinker for “discovering,” or newly articulating by drawing on a European intellectual heritage, what many an Indigenous thinker around the world could have told you for millennia: the climate is a common organizing force! (7-8)

Todd states that what struck her about Latour’s talk was “the unintential (even ironic) evocation of theories about the climate as a form of aer nullius”—in an endnote, she states that this Latin term means “it belongs to no one (20)—“which it often becomes in Euro-Western academic discourses: where the climate acts as a blank commons to be populated by very Euro-Western theories of resilience, the Anthropocene, Actor Network Theory and other ideas that dominate the anthropological and climate change arenas of the moment” (8). 

Her concern, she continues, is less with Latour than with his audience, which “consumes Latour’s argument (and the arguments of others writing and thinking about the climate, ontologies, our shared engagements with the world) without being aware of competing or similar discourses happening outside of the rock-star arenas of Euro-Western thought” (8). “Was it entirely Latour’s fault, therefore, that he did not mention Inuit?” she asks:

If a European audience is not familiar with the breadth and depth of Indigenous thinking and how strongly it influences many of the current strands of post-humanism and the Ontological Turn, can a speaker be blamed for side-stepping a nod towards Inuit climate advocacy in a discussion of the “climate as common cosmological turn”? Should I welcome his silence: better that he not address Indigenous thinking than to misinterpret it or distort it? (8-9)

She cites Vanessa Watts’s article (which I blogged about here) as both a source for her claim that Indigenous thinking influences current thinking about post-humanism and the ontological turn (I’m not sure, though, that Watts’s essay establishes a chain of influence) and cites Watts’s argument that 

the appropriation of Indigenous thinking in European contexts without Indigenous interlocutors present to hold the use of Indigenous stories and laws to account flattens, distorts and erases the embodied, legal-governance and spiritual aspects of Indigenous thinking. So there is a very real risk to Indigenous thinking being used by non-Indigenous scholars who apply it to Actor Network Theory, cosmopolitics, ontological and posthumanist threads without contending with the embodied expressions of stories, laws, and songs as bound with Indigenous-Place Thought. (9)

She has observed, in the academy, Indigenous stories being “employed without Indigenous peoples present to engage in the application of them in European work” (9). Yet, she continues, “there is a risk as well, to Indigenous thinking not being acknowledged at all. How do we hold these two issues in tension and apply the accountably in anthropology?” (9). That’s a good question, and not just for anthropology as a discipline: what Todd describes as “tension” could quite easily slide into a double-bind, in which non-Indigenous thinkers are damned for not drawing upon Indigenous knowledge (assuming that they have any clue of its depth and breadth, or that they know the names of the thinkers Todd cites—we all have our blindnesses, even the great Latour) and then damned for appropriating that knowledge if they do draw upon it. Nobody wants to occupy that kind of space, or be forced into it, and if all you can offer someone is a space of negation, they will simply refuse to occupy it, and rightly so.

“I concede that there are elements of post-humanism, cosmopolitics and the Ontological Turn that could potentially be promising tools in the decolonial project, if approached with an attention to the structural realities of the academy,” Todd continues (9). She cites the work of Juanita Sundberg, who tries to use post-humanism “as a decolonizing tool kit” while acknowledging its Eurocentrism (9). Sundberg sounds like someone I will have to read: Todd suggests that Sundberg and Watts “both provide Euro-Western scholars with practical tools for employing Indigenous ontologies in their work with care and respect” (9). I’m not convinced that’s true of Watts, who (in my reading of her essay) would bristle at Todd’s use of the term “ontology,” but perhaps Sundberg’s notion of accounting for location would be useful. Or, to be fair, perhaps I will need to return to Watts’s essay and think further about her idea, “Indigenous Place-Thought” (9). 

According to Todd, the issue is structural: 

it is a critique of systems and practices that culminate in events such as the one I attended. It is a critique of a discipline and intellectual environment that currently claims to be striving for the worthy goal of “ontological self-determination” but failing to create the conditions wherein many of its practitioners respect our physical self-determination (and right to ensure Indigenous thinking is employed accountably) and intellectual presence as Indigenous peoples within its very own bricks-and-mortar institutions. (9-10)

Yes, there aren’t enough Indigenous scholars (yet) to establish an intellectual presence within the academy (although I would venture that the only people guaranteed of getting tenure-track jobs in Canada at the moment are Indigenous), and decolonization or self-determination are mere dreams in this country, given the progress that has been made (almost none) towards so-called “reconciliation” since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report almost five years ago. I completely agree. Helpfully, Todd eventually gives her readers a list of Indigenous thinkers they should be reading; without that list, many of us môniyâw wouldn’t know where to begin. 

Next, Todd tells another story to assure her readers “that the problem outlined in this essay is deeper than any single scholar associated with dominant thought in the European academy at the moment . . . but is due, rather, to the European academy’s continued, collective reticence to address its own racist and colonial roots, and debt to Indigenous thinkers in a meaningful and structural way” (10). She notes that on the day in 2014 that a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who shot black teenager Mike Brown, the American Anthropological Association issued a press release calling for more discussion of structural racism in the United States. What, she wondered, is the Association of Social Anthropologists of the U.K. and Commonwealth up to? She discovered that the call for papers for the association’s upcoming conference used the phrase “going native” (10). She complained, and “a footnote clarifying the use of this term as intended to spark critical debate around historical relationships between anthropologists and the people they researched was added to the website” (10). But the experience left her thinking about how often she “witnessed racially charged phrases used in day-to-day exchanges in the UK academy” (10): all the time is the answer. 

Todd cites the idea of “anthropology as white public space” articulated by Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson in their work on racism in anthropology—an idea that has become central to Todd’s own work (10). “I experience anthropology as white public space,” she writes: “in the subtle but pervasive power afforded to white scholarship that distorts or erases or homogenises distinct Indigenous voices” (11). She notes that she is “a white-passing Indigenous woman” and therefore has “a curious access into spaces where people ‘say what they really think’ about Indigenous issues or People of Colour when they assume everyone in the room is Caucasian”: 

This is a space that must be acknowledged and problematised, for it is a space that deeply influences how Euro-Western thought is produced within the academy. the vast gulf between “what is” and “what can be” within a discipline like anthropology lies within those spaces where whiteness protects itself when it assumes there are no POC (and/or Indigenous peoples) to bear witness to its insecurities, hostilities. (12)

She has seen the ways that “‘white fragility’ manifests and pities and consoles itself when white supremacy is challenged within the academy” (12). This situation gives her “a front seat to the whole spectacle of whiteness—how it is practiced when it claims to be dismantling itself and in turn how it is practiced when it shores itself up against necessary critiques from Indigenous scholars and Scholars of Colour” (12). In such “underacknowledged spaces,” she continues, “official academic discourse and promises of decolonial ethos” mingle with “with the real practice, and prejudice, of our disciplines. Where racism and whiteness are reinforced and reproduced (but also where they can be challenged and dismantled)” (12). She cites Sara Ahmed’s claim that the term “white men” describes an institution “that reproduces itself in its own image” (12-13). She notes that “a critique of whiteness is meant to draw attention to the structural, routinised aspects of ‘white public space’” (13). According to Todd, Ahmed suggests that the reproduction of “white men” as an institution is citational: “one must cite white men to get ahead. In this way, we are conditioned to cite Al Gore before Sheila Watt-Cloutier; to reference Irving Hallowell before we engage with and acknowledge contemporary Anishinaabeg thinkers like John Borrows” (13). Okay, but that’s not my experience: I’ve never heard of Irving Hallowell, but I think John Borrows is fantastic. Perhaps I can credit my supervisors for that fact.

Todd notes that courses in Black Studies are absent in the UK; universities believe that they lack the ability to offer such programs because of a lack of black faculty. “But the inevitable postponing of critical scholarship about race, racialisation and racism forestalls the ability of Indigenous scholars and POC to invest our careers in these topics within the academy,” she writes. “If Universities are not yet ready to challenge white supremacy, will they ever be? And if a program on critical race thinking is not supported today, how can White Scholars advance claims that the academy is in fact a safe space for Indigenous scholars, let along claim that decolonisation is occurring within the halls of the academy itself?” (13). Todd suggests that she has developed coping strategies to deal with the “colonial and racist trends” she encounters “as an Indigenous person infiltrating the British academy” (13):

Therefore, as an Indigenous woman, I have tried, over the last few years, to find thinkers who engage with Indigenous thought respectfully; who give full credit to Indigenous laws, stories and epistemologies; who quote and cite Indigenous people rather than citing anthropologists who studied Indigenous people 80 years ago. This is not always easy. (13-14)

She names scholars who fit that description and thanks them for giving her hope “amidst the despair I’ve felt as the ‘Ontological Turn’ gains steam on both sides of the Atlantic” (14). 

In fact, she continues, “I think it is time we take the Ontological Turn, and the European academy more broadly, head on”:

To accomplish this, I want to direct you to Indigenous thinkers who have been writing about Indigenous legal theory, human-animal relations and multiple epistemologies/ontologies for decades. Consider the Indigenous and/or POC scholars referred to within this piece as a “cite this, not that” cheat-sheet for people who feel dissatisfied with the current Euro (and white, and quite often, male) centric discourse taking place in our disciplines, departments, conferences and journals. (14)

This shift in attention is important because of colonialism, which continues in Canada. “Canada is only now coming around to the realisation that through things like residential schools, and the deeply racist—and still legislated(!) Indian Act—that it, as a nation was built on cultural genocide and dispossession,” she writes. “Ask any Indigenous person, and you will hear that nobody from an Indigenous Nation has ever laboured under the fantasy that Canada is post-colonial, or benevolent” (15). British institutions, including universities, are still benefitting from colonialism. “We are enmeshed, across the Atlantic, in ongoing colonial legacies,” she continues. “And in order to dismantle those legacies, we must face our complicity head on. I firmly believe we can confront these legacies with a great deal of love and accountability, and build processes and structures that are attentive to and accountable for the ongoing impacts of colonial rule” (15). European thinkers are also “embedded in systems that uphold the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous peoples,” and “[t]he academy plays a role in shaping the narratives that erase ongoing colonial violence” (15).

Can Europeans simply absolve themselves from any guilt over the genocide of Indigenous people, “[a]nd then . . . turn around and use Indigenous cosmologies and knowledge systems in a so-called new intellectual ‘turn,’ all the while ignoring the contemporary realities of Indigenous people vis-à-vis colonial nation-states, or the many Indigenous thinkers who are themselves writing about these issues?” (15-16). The answer to this rhetorical question is obviously “no”—but that’s what’s happening, according to Todd. I would still need to see evidence that the contemporary intellectual currents she is addressing are actually based on Indigenous knowledge systems and cosmologies; after all, it’s not impossible that systems of thought that begin in different places could arrive at similar conclusions. Todd’s reference to Watts isn’t enough for me. Of course, she could argue that the failure or refusal to cite Indigenous thinkers hides the origins of post-humanist thought, but there evidence for influence (or plagiarism) must be there somewhere. I’m not sure one can attack Eurowestern scholars for ignoring Indigenous thinkers and also attack them for borrowing from Indigenous thinkers without giving credit. Perhaps I’m misreading Todd, and that’s not what she’s doing.

Todd cites Zygmunt Bauman’s attack on sociology’s “role in narrating the Holocaust, and its role in erasing our collective guilt in the possibility for a future Holocaust to emerge” (16). The rhetoric of post-colonialism is as complacent as sociology:

it absolves the present generation of thinkers, politicians, lawyers, and policy wonks for their duty to acknowledge what came before, and, in keeping with Bauman’s insights, the possibility it could happen again—that within all societies lurk the “two faces” of humanity that can either facilitate or quash systemic and calculated human suffering and exploitation. The reality is, as Bauman asserts, that humanity is responsible, and humanity must be willing to face itself and acknowledge its role in these horrors. We must do so in order to ensure we never tread the path of such destruction again. (16)

Todd takes Bauman’s words to heart, she writes, and she asks her “non-Indigenous peers to consider their roles in the ongoing colonial oppression of Indigenous peoples” (16):

The colonial moment has not passed. The conditions that fostered it have not suddenly disappeared. We talk of neo-colonialism, neo-Imperialism, but it is as if these are far away things (these days these accusations are often mounted with terse suspicion against the BRIC countries, as though the members of the G8 have not already colonised the globe through neo-liberal economic and political policies). The reality is that we are just an invasion or economic policy away from re-colonising at any moment. (16)

Therefore, she continues, “it is so important to think, deeply, about how the Ontological Turn—with its breathless ‘realisations’ that animals, the climate, water, ‘atmospheres,’ and non-human presences like ancestors and spirits are sentient and possess agency, that ‘nature’ and ‘culture,’ ‘human’ and ‘animal’ may not be so separate after all—is itself perpetrating the exploitation of Indigenous peoples” (16). Can thought be decolonized if “the academic structures through which this decolonisation of thought is being carried out continue to reproduce the white supremacy of the academy” (16)? No: “the proponents of the discipline themselves” must be “willing to engage in the decolonial project in a substantive and structural and physical way, and willing to acknowledge that the colonial is an extant, ongoing reality” (17). 

“What I am critiquing here then, really, are the silences,” Todd writes:

It is not that current trends in the discipline of anthropology or the Euro-academy more broadly are wrong. It is that they do not currently live up to the promises they make. I do think many people making claims regarding the promise of current turns in anthropology have very good intentions. However, these cannot always easily translate into long-term structural change. Our interventions as Indigenous feminists are thus necessary to hold our colleagues up to the goals they define for themselves. (17)

“Why is there still a bias towards citing white male scholars?” she asks. “What are the political-legal implications for Indigenous peoples when our stories, our laws, our philosophies are used by European scholars without explicit credit to the political, legal, social and cultural (and colonial!) contexts these stories are formulated and shared within?” (17). She cites the work of Sarah Hunt on the “epistemic violence” of the use of Indigenous ontologies in erasing “the embodied, practiced, and legal-governance aspects of Indigenous ontologies as they are enacted by Indigenous actors” (17). In other words, “Indigenous thinking must be seen as not just a well of ideas to draw form but as a body of thinking that is living and practiced by peoples with whom we all share reciprocal duties as citizens of shared territories (be they physical or the ephemeral)” (17). She cites Borrows, Kahente Horn-Miller, Tracey Lindberg, and Val Napoleon to argue that “Indigenous thought is not just about social relations and philosophical anecdotes” (17). Rather, “Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies” represent “legal orders, legal orders through which Indigenous peoples throughout the world are fighting for self-determination, sovereignty” (18). Colonial dispossession is still happening: “It did not end with repatriation of constitutions or independence from colonial rule. Europe is still implicated in colonial exploitation, whether it likes it or not” (18).

Her argument, she continues, is “that Indigenous peoples, throughout the world, are fighting for recognition-fighting to assert their laws, philosophies and stories on their own terms” (18). When they pick and choose the parts of Indigenous thought that appeal to them “without engaging directly in (or unambiguously acknowledging) the political situation, agency, legal orders and relationality of both Indigenous people and scholars,” social scientists (including anthropologists) “become complicit in colonial violence” (18). When European thinkers “who discuss the ‘more-than-human’” are cited, but “their Indigenous contemporaries who are writing on the exact same topics” are not, “we perpetuate the white supremacy of the academy” (18). “In order for the Ontological Turn, post-humanism, cosmopolitics to live up to their potential,” Todd writes,

they must heed the teachings of North American Indigenous scholars who engage similar issues such as Dwayne Donald, John Borrows, Val Napoleon, Audra Simpson, Kim TallBear, Chris Anderson, Rob Innes, Tracey Lindberg, Sarah Hunt, Vanessa Watts, Glen Coulthard, Leanne Simpson, Eve Tuck, Cutcha Risling Baldy, Violet Lee and so many other brilliant thinkers (this list is not exhaustive!). And they must heed the teachings of Indigenous and racialised scholars from all around the globe. (18)

Non-Indigenous thinkers “would do well” to incorporate Dwayne Donald’s notion of reciprocity, which he outlines in his work on “ethical relationality,” which “invokes a reciprocity of thought” (18-19). “Reciprocity of thinking,” she continues, “requires us to pay attention to who else is speaking alongside us. It also positions us, first and foremost, as citizens embedded in dynamic legal orders and systems of relations that require us to work constantly and thoughtfully across the myriad systems of thinking, acting, and governance within which we find ourselves enmeshed” (19). This ethical relationality, she writes, “means that more than just the Indigenous scholar in the room would have expected Latour to reference his Indigenous interlocutors on a topic as broadly discussed and publicised, and as intimately linked to political claims by many Indigenous nations and peoples, as climate change” (19). 

So, she concludes, “for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways” (19). Decolonizing the academy means considering our own prejudices and biases as expressed in systems like peer review and hiring processes. “Consider why it is okay for our departments to remain so undeniably white,” she writes. “And then, familiarise yourself with the Indigenous thinkers (and more!) I reference here and broaden the spectrum of who you cite and who you reaffirm as ‘knowledgeable’” (19).

I’m glad I read Todd’s article, and not only because it provides a starting point for reading Indigenous thinkers (some of whom I’ve already read or heard about, and some of whom are new to me). That reading list is a little daunting. Here I am, at the end of the reading for my comprehensive examinations, and yet there is so much I have not read or even known that I should read. I also appreciate the permission to read and think about Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies that she grants her readers—with the proviso that we acknowledge the political situation, agency, laws, and relationality of Indigenous peoples. I don’t think that means that Indigenous methodologies are simply available to Settler scholars; I agree with Kathleen Absolon that they aren’t. However, while I agree that scholars should read the work of Indigenous thinkers who are writing on topics related to their research, I’m not convinced that someone like Bruno Latour (or name some other post-humanist scholars) is borrowing from Indigenous thinkers without citing their work—plagiarizing them, to be blunt. I don’t think you can argue that someone is both ignorant of a body of scholarship and that they are stealing from it. But perhaps that’s not Todd’s argument; as with everything I read, I would have to go over it again to get the nuances. In many ways, this project has been a first attempt at understanding a broad range of texts, and a process of identifying what I want to go back to. Maybe that’s its purpose. In any case, I plan to take the weekend off; the semester begins on Monday and I’m still exhausted from the last one.

Works Cited

Absolon, Kathleen E. Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know, Fernwood, 2011.

Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, translated by Catherine Porter, Polity, 2018.

Springgay, Stephanie, and Sarah E. Truman. Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab, Routledge, 2018.

Todd, Zoe. “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism.” Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 29, no. 1, 2016, 4-22. DOI: 10.1111/johs.12124

124. Fiona Wilkie, “‘Three Miles an Hour’: Pedestrian Travel”


I read Fiona Wilkie’s book, Performance, Transport, and Mobility: Making Passage, during my MFA, but I don’t remember it. That’s what happens when you read a bunch of books quickly, without taking good notes—at least, that’s what happens to me. I remember reading the book. It came by interlibrary loan; I remember the yellow paper band around the cover and having to rush to finish it by the due date. And I remember finding it useful. I wish I could remember the argument, though. A couple of months ago, I found a cheap(ish) copy online, and it arrived, finally, just before Christmas. On this snowy day, I decided to give it a (second) look.

“‘Three Miles an Hour’: Pedestrian Travel” is the first chapter in the book—the others discuss mobile performance by train, automobile, boat, and airplane, none of which interest me—and I thought I would return to it today. I’ll read her introduction as well. The introduction begins by positing a homology between performance and movement: performance “moves its audience to a range of feelings” and “tours from one place to another” (1). “Performance has always been a slippery business,” Wilkie writes: “on the move, ephemeral and difficult to contain” (1). Wilkie has “two opening premises”:

The first is simple: that transport systems are important to our experience and understanding of mobility. The second is that, perhaps less obviously, a rich dialogue exists between transport and performance, and that this is worth investigating in order to consider how concepts of mobility are explored and debated. An underlying assumption of this book is that how we travel is intimately connected with the ways in which we both understand that travelling and conceive of ourselves—and others—as travellers. And part of this understanding comes through performance. A wealth of performances and related cultural practices have been, and continue to be, actively engaged in imagining, exploring, revealing and challenging experiences of being in transit. (1)

For Wilkie, “transport systems are a means of enabling collective imagining,” as theatre and performance is, and so thinking about these two different practices together “raises questions of the kinds of imagining that have been, and might be, done through them, and of those who are included in, and excluded from, such imaginings” (2). Her case studies, she hopes, will show that “performance not only responds to but can also produce new mobilities, reshaping existing models and engendering new, alternative possibilities for movement” (2).

Wilkie acknowledges that she has been influenced by work on “the ‘mobility turn’” in the social sciences—work by geographers and sociologists on travel—and her intention is to bring “scholarship in geography and sociology . . . into dialogue with that in theatre and performance studies” (2). “My hope . . . is that this book begins to signal some of the ways in which, when we consider performance, ‘mobilities make it different,’” she writes, citing John Urry. “By bringing ideas from within the mobility turn to bear on theatre and performance analysis, I suggest, we open up a rich field of inquiry,” she continues. “Conversely, I believe that performance has much to bring to the conversation and so, by discussing a wide range of performances and artworks that offer nuanced explorations of what it is to be mobile, I argue that the perspectives of performance extend existing discourses of mobility” (2).

Next, Wilkie summarizes the idea of the “mobility turn” (3). One of the clearest arguments about the significance of this shift is made by John Urry, who “conceives of a ‘mobilities paradigm’ . . . which provides a theoretical framework for analysing social groupings and practices in terms of movement instead of spatial rootedness” (3). She cites Urry’s 2007 book Mobilities, which I should probably read. Mobility theorists presuppose “that social life consists of movements and stillnesses at different levels that sustain one another” (3). “Broadly, the concept of mobility enables an enquiry into how the movement and transmission of ideas, arts practices, theory, capital and information relate to the physical movement (voluntary or otherwise) of people,” Wilkie writes (3-4). However, mobility isn’t just about physical movement. Wilkie quotes geographer Tim Cresswell: mobility “is about the contested worlds of meaning and power. It is about mobilities rubbing up against each other and causing friction. It is about a new hierarchy based on the ways we move and the meanings these movements have been given” (qtd. 4).

Wilkie discusses Cresswell’s distinction between a “sedentarist metaphysics,” in which “place is unmoving and mobility is perceived as a threat to fundamental human values,” and a “nomadic metaphysics,” in which “mobility is coded as freedom, figuring centrally in postmodern culture and positively linked to subaltern power,” as in the work of Michel de Certeau on walking (5). For Cresswell, neither the sedentarist nor the nomadic metaphysics is aware of the ideological meanings they ascribe to mobility (5). Janet Wolff’s feminist analysis is suspicious o the postmodern sense of travel as freedom, suggesting that this assumes “a patriarchal model of movement as the norm and thus excluding the experiences of women and other less dominant groups” (5). “Much of the current scholarship on mobilities takes care to avoid universalizing assumptions,” Wilkie writes. “For example, Cresswell’s proposed way out of the nomadic/sedentarist/dichotomy is an approach that is alert to the ‘historical conditions that produce specific forms of movement, which are radically different’” (qtd. 5-6). Doreen Massey’s work also argues for a consideration of place “as fundamentally mobile” (6). “One consequence of these debates,” Wilkie continues, “is a focus on mobilities as fundamentally relational” (6). In other words, “the various scales on which mobility operates, and the vastly different levels of privilege and empowerment in experiences of being mobile, exist not in spite but in direct relation to one another” (6). Writing on mobility tends therefore “to be invested in a notion of connection. It frequently reveals the ways in which movements on a small or local scale have generated important ideas about mobility, in turn informing a much wider set of movements across different scales” (6). We might, Wilkie suggests, 

consider the range of mobilities involved in theatre and performance as not merely arbitrarily linked by meaningfully connected in terms of ideas about mobility. In this way, the audience’s applause, stage entrances and exists, the dramaturgical structures of movement, thematic explorations of travel within theatre works, the actors’ journeys home, and the global tour of a mega-musical might all be understood to contribute to a sense of the theatre’s mobility. But the seductive power of such connections should not mask an awareness that these various movements at different scales are not connected equally. An emphasis on the relationship of mobilities requires also an acknowledgement that difference rather than similarity is often the result of relations between mobile experiences. (7-8)

Many of Wilkie’s case studies “work to tease out the disparity and power imbalance of vastly different mobilities” (8).

Wilkie is interested in the ways that “performance always already attends to, and is expert in, a number of different levels of movement” (8). Movement is part of the content of theatre and performance works. Historically performers moved from place to place, seeking audiences. “These various movements—of the performers and the characters—then circulate in a variety of ways: as theatre tours, as documents (for example, playscript, photograph, video, and web presence), in the memories of spectators, and in critical responses,” she writes. “Underpinning all of this is the travelling that enables performance events to happen at all: the temporary relocation of actors required in rehearsal periods, national and international touring schedules, and the travel of audiences. The circulation and production of contemporary arts practices have an intrinsic mobility that is worth conceiving as such” (9). She cites Miwon Kwon’s comments on the way that travel has become a marker of artworld success (9). It’s part of academic success as well. And many artists address travel in their work.

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that “a range of performances and artworks that might otherwise not be considered together” do actually “have something to say as part of a larger conversation about movement and travel” (11). The book focuses on modes of travel other than walking as a way to extend discourses about walking and performance, “to signal a rich set of performance dialogues taking place in and through other means of travel” (11). Moreover, “transport has not often been a focus for scholars of theatre and performance,” even though “transport frames ideas of social experience in ways that are worth investigating” (12). One of the ways she tried to understand performance’s relationship to mobility at the beginning of this book project was “through a concept of ‘registering passage’” she takes from the work of David Pascoe on the architecture of airports: we move through airports “‘without registering passage’” (qtd. 16). This idea echoes Marc Augé’s discussion of such spaces as “non-places” (16-17). “Performance as a set of mostly live practices has a vested interest in meaningful encounters, and it is therefore not surprising that there are many examples of performance that seek to mark the significance of transit spaces,” Wilkie writes. “Such performances work against the logic of uninterrupted flow as sites of transport, encouraging spectators to register their passage as a complex activity, simultaneously public and private, and culturally, socially and even morally loaded” (17). Now, however, she wants to claim “something more for the practices discussed in this book” (17). She cites sociologist Peter Frank Peters, who discusses the relationship of time and passages, and the Australian artist Mick Douglas, who describes his participatory art projects “as a kind of ‘making passage’ and therefore a creative ‘method of mobility’” (17). “Following Peters and Douglas, then, I suggest that the cumulative effect of the case studies gathered in this book is one of making passage, developing not merely a commentary on travel but a valuable means of shaping experiences of transit and thereby creating new momentum,” she concludes (17).

Wilkie’s introduction outlines her general approach; the first chapter, on walking, presents specific instances of the ideas she discusses in that introduction. (So do her other chapters, which I’m not going to reread this time.) Walking, “the form of mobility that occupies the most central place in twentieth and twenty-first century performance practices,” provides her with a context in which other forms of mobility can be discussed (18). Wilkie’s argument is that “the well-established tradition of thinking, writing and performing the pedestrian yields a rich critical legacy that informs both theoretical and artistic explorations of other kinds of mobility” (18). Walking, she continues, “establishes a set of values and ideals against which the choice of mechanized transport is measured (and frequently found wanting)” (18). 

While walking is often seen in opposition to other forms of movement, it also complements other kinds of travel. “The fact that an overwhelming majority of the walking attended to in the critical discourse is undertaken as a choice also has implications that we should note,” Wilkie continues:

For the most part, Romantic poets, landscape artists, Situationists, ramblers, cultural geographers and flâneurs walk because they want to, not because they have to. The stories of those who walk because they are too poor to do otherwise are far less visible in the vast literature on walking. . . . There is therefore a context of privilege in which most documented walking occurs, and a corresponding context of walking in poverty that needs to be acknowledged. In some places this is more apparent than others. (19)

At the same time, many artists “position their work as a political response to the situation found in LA and elsewhere,” the notion that walking is pathological, and “walking is thus perceived as a radical choice in the face of cultural pressure to relinquish any prolonged contact between pavement and footwear” (19).

In the work of Guy Debord, Michel de Certeau, and Walter Benjamin, the radical potential of walking is a key theme, and these writers “have created a pervasive critical apparatus, setting out the figures of the dérivist, the pedestrian and the flâneur as standard positions from which to theorize one’s walking” (19). This critical apparatus “has become academically favoured—the accepted means of accounting for the role of the walker—and at least one of these three writers is likely to be employed in any discussion of walking in the arts, humanities and social sciences” (19-20). One consequence of this dominance is “the shift of focus to urban settings” (20). After all, all three of those “standard positions” are urban walkers. “The critical discourse of walking also tends to be organized, albeit often implicitly, around two pairs of opposing terms: urban/rural and solitary/collective,” Wilkie continues. “That is to say, the claims made for pedestrian mobility frequently rest on its status as either urban or rural; similarly, different claims are made for walking depending on whether it is undertaken alone or as part of a group. The urban/rural pairing emerges from quite distinct genealogies” (20-21). Rural walking begins with Romanticism, and “[s]till today, discourses of rural walking emphasize introspection, beauty, imagination and inner discovery,” while discourses of urban walking, which begins with avant-garde walkers, focus on “modernity, subversion and political comment” (21). (My walking practice, I think, tries to apply subversion and political comment to rural spaces, which is part of what makes it strange.) So-called “natural” country walking is both historically unusual and demographically limited: that’s the point made by “[t]he black British artist Ingrid Pollard’s Wordsworth Heritage” billboards (1992): “Pollard’s photographic project draws attention to the dearth of black pedestrians in narratives of rural walking, and cautions us to consider the ownership of various types and sites of mobility” (21-22). Walking practices also tend to be organized around “[t]he solitary/collective pairing”: Romantic rural walkers are supposed to walk alone, as are Benjamin’s flâneur and de Certeau’s pedestrian (22). Rousseau makes it clear that he walks alone “not through choice but through circumstance,” but nonetheless “the prevailing image of the Romantic walker is a solitary figure,” and that figure can be seen in the art of Richard Long, who walks alone: “the point of encounter with others is in the documentation rather than the journey” (22). Alternative versions of walking prize the collective: the dérive is a collective form, as is Misha Myers’s “conversive wayfinding” and Deirdre Heddon’s “Turning 40” project (22-23). Collective walking is said to be sociable, as well as “an enduring form of protest, found in both rural and urban situations” (23). 

The term “walker” is very broad, and it “encompasses a wide variety of approaches to, and reasons for, travelling on foot”:

The walker, as we have seen, is frequently theorized as flâneur, dérivist, or pedestrian. Elsewhere, the walker is figured as pilgrim, hiker, wanderer, activist, stroller, climber, migrant, nomad and tourist, among others. Further, walking art constructs a number of different modes of encounter: the artist walks and reports back; the spectator walks, guided by the artist in the form of recorded voice, written instructions or “smart” technology; spectators walk with performers, experiencing sections of performance en route. (23)

“Across all of these discourses, figures and structures,” Wilkie writes, “the themes of belief, retracing, resistance and pace recur, emerging as guiding ideas that inflect every other experience of travel” (23). These are the themes Wilkie goes on to discuss in this chapter. 

Wilkie begins the section on belief by quoting Phil Smith: “When the writer and performance-maker Phil Smith writes ‘I am a great believer in walking as far more than physical exercise,’ he is expressing something akin to a spiritual belief, and it is a belief that has many historical precedents” (23). Many grand claims are made about walking; it is “conceived by some as a life choice rather than, or as well as, a means of getting from A to B. And it is as a life choice that walking becomes associated with values of truth and authenticity” (23-24). Walking is both physical and spiritual, “prized for its directness,” because “it seems to offer an unmediated encounter between environment and traveller,” and because “[i]t enables a contact with the elements—with open/fresh air and changes in weather—that many other modes of transport prevent with barriers of glass and metal” (24). Rebecca Solnit suggests that walking “engenders a feeling of embodiment,” in contrast to the disembodiment produced by automobile travel. An important aspect of this belief, Wilkie suggests, is “the connection made between physical contact and self-knowledge” (24). Walking pilgrimage is the clearest expression of this “strand of belief in discourses of walking,” which “emerges as a fertile model for walking artists,” such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, who “both adopt tropes of pilgrimage in their work,” as does the poet Tom Chivers (24). “The structure of pilgrimage—or at least walking as a ritual act of belief—is also there in Carl Lavery’s Mourning Walk (2006), a performance documenting a walk made to mark the death of Lavery’s father,” Wilkie suggests (25). “Another engagement with the pilgrimage model—this time collective and somewhat extended, as befits a pilgrimage—is offered in the Louise Ann Wilson Company’s Fissure (2011),” she continues. “Wilson’s project takes the form of a large-scale secular ritual: a three-day journey through the Yorkshire Dales, in the company of scientists, dancers and musicians, for around 100 participants/audience members” (25). The “fissure” referred to in the work’s title “connects the workings of the brain to the shape of the Yorkshire landscape: the performance was created in direct response to the death of Wilson’s sister from a brain tumour, and was staged in the environment of the sisters’ childhood” (25). What Wilkie finds interesting in both Lavery’s and Wilson’s projects “is that it is specifically a walk, rather than any other mode of engagement, that is chosen as having the required weight and depth to address the subject of grief” (27). For Lavery, that engagement is solitary, while for Wilson it is collective, “[b]ut both artists, through these works, profess a belief in the power of walking: to remember, to mark and, perhaps, to heal” (27).

“Perhaps the belief that I am tracing through these examples is, for some at least, a consequence of a sense of awe,” a feeling that might not be true for urban walkers, “who may feel spurred on to a feeling of mastery by a Certeaudian confidence that their walking ‘transgresses . . . the trajectories it “speaks”’” (de Certeau, qtd. 27). That sense of awe, as Wilkie points out, is primarily associated with the Romantic tradition. “The theme of belief that runs through discourses of walking is, then, tied up with the dialectic of the rural and the urban,” she continues. “It is based on a combination of seemingly paradoxical feelings of autonomy on the one hand and connectedness within a larger ecology on the other, a combination that is arguably unique to walking among modes of transport” (27). In this context, it might be appropriate to note the Romantic connotations of what, for Wilkie, is intended to be a neutral term, “transport”: the O.E.D. suggests that one of that word’s meanings is “The state of being ‘carried out of oneself’, i.e. out of one’s normal mental condition; vehement emotion (now usually of a pleasurable kind); mental exaltation, rapture, ecstasy,” all feelings associated with the Romantic experience of the sublime, as I recall from the course I took on the Sublime so many years ago, taught by Dr. Ian Balfour.

Retracing is next. Wilkie suggests that “[o]ne aspect of the enduring spiritual belief in walking is a sense that walking might enable a kind of communion with those who have gone before” (27-28). She sees this idea in Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways, and suggests that “[t]here is a significant strand of performance practice that responds to such ‘voices heard along the way’ by figuring the walk as reenactment. Retracing another’s steps offers a rich structural and thematic framework for performance walks. It is a framework that immediately imagines a historical relationship, establishing a dialogue between a past and a present” (28). That relationship reveals both similarities and differences between past and present, although Wilkie suggests also that “[t]he historical walk—the one that has gone before—also becomes a means of validating the present one, justifying the choice of pedestrian movement over other modes of travel” (28). 

Wilkie gives Smith’s 2008 performance In Search of Pontiflunk as an example of “this doubling effect” (28). In Search of Pontiflunk is a theatre project based on two walks: Charles Hurst’s acorn-planting walk in the early twentieth century in the English midlands, and Smith’s 16-day reprise of that walk in 2007, “with a variety of accidental and invited companions at various stages along the way” (28). Smith’s account of the journey became a solo play and was toured by Nottingham’s New Perspectives Theatre Company in 2008 (28). During the walk, Smith looked for 100-year-old oak trees that might have grown from Hurst’s acorns. “The performed account reveals both the pleasures and the frustrations of walking,” Wilkie states: “alongside memorable meetings . . . and the enjoyment of ‘private journeying,’ Smith records encounters with others unwilling to talk, blisters and a burning pain in his left knee. He confesses to taking a taxi for part of the route. Certainly, Smith’s enduring belief in the power of walking is tested here, but it remains strong” (28-29). Smith’s belief in the power of walking is political, though, rather than spiritual, an important distinction to be made in relation to his work. Smith’s play (as opposed to his walk, or as well as his walk?) “emerges as a study in time,” contemplating temporality through the acorn. As well as looking back in time at Hurst’s journey, Smith looks ahead, to our responsibility for the planet’s future. He also conceives of his walk in opposition to other forms of transportation: the point is to meditate on walking and the way motorized transportation “displaces us” (qtd. 29). In her chapters on other modes of transportation, Wilkie says, she discusses “many examples of artistic practice that parallel this concern with ‘what our mobility makes us’ at the same time as they challenge Smith’s argument by articulating ways in which transport still has the power to move us and to reassert our sense of place” (29). As a walker, I would be interested in reading those chapters—not now, but eventually—partly because I believe it would be difficult to make that kind of argument successfully.

Another example of walking as reenactment is Esther Pilkington’s A Long Walk (2009), in which Pilkington retraces half of one of Richard Long’s walks: a 626-mile walk carrying a stone from the beach at Aldeburgh to the one at Aberystwyth, and then retracing the journey with another stone. “Divided into 20 short sections, the performance text describes weather conditions, clothing, walking companions, stopping points and photographs taken along the way,” Wilkie writes.  “Alongside such details, the artist considers issues of generosity, identity and documentation. Her focus is on the relationship ‘between the walk and its documentation,’ the activity and its description, and it is a relationship that we can only guess in Long’s work,” which is documented with a sparse text work, as is his practice (30). With its emphasis on anxiety, Pilkington’s text “makes an appealing contrast to the prevailing image of the confident walking artist in command of the task to be undertaken and fully equal to the distances involved” (30). Her decision to treat Long’s text work as instructions rather than a record of a past event “complicates the apparent simplicity” of Long’s Crossing Stones (30). Pilkington’s text “could be read as a postscript to Long’s attending to the sometimes messy realities involved in long-distance walking and art-making. She recasts the closed, completed work as an open invitation, and in doing so implicitly reminds us that any experience of walking is circumscribed by gender, age and expertise” (30). In fact, for Wilkie Pilkington’s performance leaves her inspired to think that she could walk across Britain one day. That is “part of the appeal of conceiving the walk as reenactment: the fact that another has gone before not only validates and lends historical weight to a current walk but also acts as reassurance that it can be done” (30-31). It also generates a sense of being in dialogue with previous walkers even as we are issuing an invitation to future walkers who might follow in our own footsteps (31). 

“As A Long Walk makes clear, though, none of these manifestations of one route can every really be understood as the same walk” Wilkie continues. “When a walk enacts a retracing, it also marks out—footstep by footstep—historical changes, personal differences and cultural shifts” (31). Deidre Heddon’s reenactment of Mike Pearson’s autobiographical talking tour Bubbling Tom is one example: when she reperformed Pearson’s work in 2000, “she found that the ‘original’ guided tour was ‘remembered, written over, added to, forgotten, extended, transformed, recontextualized, reinvented, as space and place were shared, contested, and for the ‘outsider,’ borrowed” (Heddon, qtd. 31). “Indeed, Bubbling Tom itself might be understood as an act of retracing, attempting a communion with the cumulative power of many childhood explorations of the same territory more than 40 years earlier,” Wilkie writes. “By similarly unsettling any sense of a stable ‘original’ walk that exists unproblematically to be traced and retraced, we might view each of the reenactments discussed here as creative exploratory acts, positing histories of walking as open-ended conversations stretched across time” (31). 

Audio walks, such as those created by Janet Cardiff, are another kind of retracing: “The artist walks and records that walk along with instructions for repeating it,” Wilkie writes. “In doing so, she makes claims for the significance of the route: it is, implicitly, worth walking again. The effect of the binaural recording technique used by Cardiff is that the walker follows in the artist’s footsteps, retracing the walk that she has done before” (31-32). This retracing is a layering, and the power of these audio walks lies in the slippages between the two layers. “My suggestion here is that a significant proportion of walking art is premised not just on walking but on walking again: reenacting; retracing; reconsidering,” Wilkie continues. “Legacy thus emerges as one of the value-based claims made for walking over other forms of transport: walking practices are supported, or perhaps haunted, by historical precedence” (32).

Resistance is another theme in walking art: “it is one means by which we can conceive of separate instances of apparently private walking as, cumulatively, a public art. Walking more explicitly engages with the public realm—and with pressing questions of what it is to be public—in those instances when it is figured as an act of resistance” (32). Wilkie suggests that there is an etymological link between “mobility” and “mob” and that protestors are usually on foot. “But resistance, of course, does not necessarily mean protest,” she continues. “Rather quieter forms of resistance involve walking as a deliberate choice in the face of its perceived ‘others,’ including commerce, globalization, transport culture and urban planning” (33). Debord and de Certeau provide key theoretical texts about walking as resistance, and many art projects use walking as a form of resistance: Platform’s 2006 And While London Burns; FrenchMottershead’s 2012 Walkways; Bruno de Wachter’s ongoing series Circling Around (Without Taking Off), in which de Wachter and participants walk around the perimeters of international airports (33-35). 

“In all of these examples, the choice to walk is deemed important to the capacity of resistance,” Wilkie writes, partly because walking is literally out-of-step with modern (or postmodern) forms of space, time, and embodiment (35). “The claim for slowness is used to set walking apart as a more virtuous choice than other means of travel, and therefore has clear implications for the practices discussed in the chapters that follow,” she continues (35). Whereas French theorist Paul Virilio has been called “the ‘high priest of speed,’” he is interested in deceleration as well as acceleration. “One of the means by which the world might now be said to be slowing down is the advocacy of slow travel, which, by association with slow food, signals ‘a concern for locality, ecology and quality of life’” (Dickinson and Lumsdon, qtd. 36). The 2010 performance installation Slow Travel Agency (presented by Sustrans in Bristol) is an example of a performance that emphasizes slowness (36). The work of Wrights & Sites is another example of work that uses slowness to resist hierarchies that value speed. “Many of those employing pedestrian travel in practice and theory rely, implicitly or explicitly, on celebrating the pace of the walk over the speed of mechanized transport,” Wilkie writes. “The comparison with other forms of transport is fundamental to this celebration of walking” (36-37). She notes that slowness is not the only important aspect of walking, and suggests that “pedestrian performance is not so much a return to ‘slowness’ . . . as a quest to find a more fluid and mobile mode of interaction with our surroundings, one which is based on a self-generated rhythm” (Lavery, qtd. 37). Nevertheless, Wilkie emphasizes slowness “because it continues to be cited by those performing and documenting pedestrian travel. Lavery’s caveat would be that walking is a reaction against both the speed and the passivity of contemporary life” (37).

Writer Andie Miller highlights these elements in her book on walking. The artist Ohad Fishof’s Slow Walk series announces its emphasis on slowness: rather than travelling at three miles per hour, Fishof walks at one metre per minute (37-38). The Slow Walk project is intended to have an audience; Robert Wilson’s Walking, another “slowed-down walking event, operates rather differently” (39). First created for the Oerol Festival in the Netherlands in 2008, “Wilson’s immersive installation does not really work in conceptual terms” but rather operates “as something to be experienced” (39-40). “The work sends its participant-spectators on a three-mile, three-hour walk,” Wilkie writes. “Participants set off at intervals of about a minute: the piece works . . . by creating a continuous line of walkers” (40). Participants leave “stress-inducing” items (phones, watches, cameras) behind (40). “The central event of the walk insists on silence, and explicitly strips away what might be seen as the trappings of a fast-paced walk,” Wilkie continues (40). The experience is both solitary but also a communal ritual. “Even as I find myself resistant to any straightforward equation of thought, landscape, pedestrian travel and well-being, I cannot deny the physical invigoration I feel at the end of Wilson’s walk,” she recalls (41). That’s because the work operates through a slow pace and “what it means for the artist or participant to switch to a different tempo” (42). While Fishof connects slowness to political resistance, Wilson “constructs an enjoyably escapist experience that sidesteps any sense of its relationality” (42). Running performances, though, address a very different pace: “Part of its potential, perhaps, will be to problematize the historically enduring sense that contact between the foot and the ground is characterized by slowness and leads to [a] profound relationship with both the self and the environment” (43).

In her conclusion, Wilkie notes her attraction to and skepticism about statements that equate walking with thinking. Despite caveats about the connection between those two activities, “walking seems to maintain an air of righteousness, whether it lies in the ‘one-ness with nature of rural walking or the potential for subversion often claimed for urban walking” (43-44). “Walking is valued because it inspires belief,” she continues, “because it has a strong legacy that can be trace and celebrated, because of its power to resist dominant structures, and because it is slow. It is connected rhetorically or symbolically with ideals of autonomy, freedom, insight, truth, political subversion and critical reflection” (44). But we need to be cautious about claims that the values of walking are “universally available and when the differential experiences of walking are overlooked” (44-45).

Wilkie’s discussion of walking is both a brief introduction and an interesting analysis, through her four themes, of the practice. It would be worth assigning as reading in a course on walking. But my sense, from the chapter’s conclusion, is that Wilkie is more interested in the other forms of transportation she explores in the rest of the book. That might explain some of her missteps: I don’t think Phil Smith’s walking practice is about belief, for instance; it would be better to consider his walking as a form of resistance. That’s how he would frame it, anyway. 

Work Cited

Wilkie, Fiona. Performance, Transport and Mobility: Making Passage, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

123. Nancy J. Blomberg, ed., Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art


Nancy Blomberg’s edited collection Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art is another book lent to me by my supervisor, and therefore, of course, something I need to read. It’s an anthology of essays from a symposium held at the Denver Art Museum in 2008; the contributors are experts on performance art in general, and Indigenous performance art in particular. Blomberg’s introduction begins with the questions, “What is ‘performance art’? How do we define it? Discuss it? Critique it? Create it? And collect it?” (9). She notes that the Denver Art Museum’s “involvement with performance art has been limited,” and in fact it has been limited to Indigenous performance art (9). Residencies by Bently Spang in 2003 and Floyd Favel in 2007 were well-received by the gallery’s visitors, which led to “a more in-depth look at the greater world of Native American performance art and some of the issues important to its future” (9). Those issues include questions like “How do native artists use performance to analyze social conditions and offer solutions?”; “How can the artist use performance as a means of transmitting knowledge?”; How does the artist build communities among artists—and also between native and non-native populations and individuals?”; “What is the lifespan of a performance work? Does the camera merely document the moment, or does it create another artwork?”; and “What are the issues for iconic works like James Luna’s The Artifact Piece and the implications for restaging such works?” (9-10). The last questions are common, I think, to all forms of performance art, but the first three questions might be considered more specific to Indigenous performance art. Those three questions might not be the best questions to ask about any art practice. Does art really offer solutions to social problems? Does it build communities? Does it transmit knowledge? I’m not convinced. But those are the questions Blomberg and her colleagues considered important.

The book’s first essay is Rebecca Belmore’s “Making a Garden Out of a Wilderness.” It begins with an anecdote: during a residency at the Banff Centre, Belmore was asked to give a lecture on performance art. Thinking about this task, she stumbled across 1492 and All That: Making a Garden out of a Wilderness by historian Ramsay Cook. In that book, Cook retold a story that was given to a Baptist missionary by the Mi’kmaq people:

One of them, a Mi’kmaq man, was taken to France where he was placed in a wilderness garden with a deer. There, he was told he was to perform for an audience of nobility; he was expected to kill the deer with a bow and arrow, skin and dress the carcass, then cook and eat it. According to the Mi’kmaq, wrote the missionary, the man adhered to their instructions but took the liberty of expanding on their idea of his performance by “easing himself before them all.” I took this to mean that he shat upon the ground. (16)

Belmore saw herself in that man: Indigenous, in a park intended “to protect what remains of the ‘Canadian wilderness,’” like that man, “trapped in a ‘wild’ garden” (16). “A day before my scheduled lecture,” she continues, “I took a shit in the bushes behind the building that housed my studio” (17). Then she worked with a couple of Mohawk media artists to capture video of herself using “a gasoline-powered leaf blower to clear a path through the forest,” and running through the forest with her hands tied behind her back “and then falling, kicking, digging, barefoot into the earth” (17). On the day of her lecture, she collected her shit in a jar; she also collected elk shit and put it into an identical jar. “I place each jar into a plain brown paper bag,” she recalls. “The lecture begins. I arrive carrying the two bags. I stand at the lectern while the ‘leaf blowing machine imagery’ is projected onto a screen. When it is finished, I take the jars out of the paper bags and describe to the audience what I had read” (17). Then she leaves and flushes the shit from the jars down the toilet. She returns “to finish the lecture by projecting the imagery of me running with the hands bound, an escaped captive Indian” (17). “I consider this Mi’kmaq man to be one of the first performance artists of the Americas to work internationally—hundreds of years ago,” Belmore concludes (17).

The anthology’s second essay is art historian Marcia Crosby’s “A Disturbing Certainty: The Multimedia Work of Rebecca Belmore.” “Many of the works of Canadian multimedia artist Rebecca Belmore include disturbing representations of violence, which on one level are about the particular and are layered with encoded references to very specific individuals, acts, events, peoples, and spatially bounded locales,” Crosby begins. “Each of the empirical referents for these artworks has its own deep histories, embedded as they are in larger histories of cultural trauma, most of which have been obscured from public view. In performance, installation, photography, and video, Belmore refers to power imbalances between the state and individuals, between groups of peoples, or between individuals” (21). Belmore was inspired by the Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta, Crosby suggests, who also explored the theme of violence, particularly against women’s bodies (21). That violence raises the issue of trauma:

Trauma in aboriginal performance art can be linked to the performative dimensions of social and political “action art,” ritualized action, cleansing, mortification, and marking the body with various kinds of “wounds” (which is the literal translation of the Greek word “trauma”). The term has been used more recently in the study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to refer to a single event (sudden injury, death, natural disaster) or a prolonged injury caused by abuse over time, such as, I wold say, colonialism. As an art strategy, woundings have been used to address violence in the artists’ political and social worlds. Such actions make language for past and present trauma, and they can shock and unsettle (create uncertainty), reactivating old traumas that may be reinscribed in the body of the performer and/or audience. (21-22)

Even writing about such performances, Crosby continues, “may activate a process of both acting out and ‘working through’ an experience of personal trauma” (22).

Performance art, Crosby writes, as an art form that presents an activity or action before an audience, has historically been “a particular form of resistance which did not/does not lend itself to conventional containment within museums and did not easily enter the museum or the realm of art magazines” (22). Its ephemeral nature “does not lend itself to ‘telling’ specific historical narratives or producing meaning or explanations,” but “performance can disentangle histories in very particular ways”:

an artist at one level may refer to personal, local, cultural, or national narratives of prolonged abuse or trauma (as fiction or empirical fact); and the body, its gestures (and other media) may expose the imbalance of power relations of a personal trauma. In an aboriginal performance that is focused on trauma or violence, performer or spectator may gather any number of the narrative strings of colonization: lateral violence in the home or community, the dissolution of family, residential schooling, decimating diseases, diaspora, the emergence of fluid or unstable urban aboriginal communities—any events and/or conditions that make up the complexity of colonialism’s historical and ongoing woundings. That said, such narratives are a referent or perhaps only “one arrangement” of an oscillating constellation of other possible elements to the performance, which raise questions about power itself. (22-23)

Belmore doesn’t use performance art “as an attempt to make meaning or create closure in relation to the specific historic events she references,” Crosby continues. “She is well aware that in its capacity to elicit both a somatic response and to call up specific memories, the language of performance art is transient, it is gesture, trace remains of anecdotal evidence; it cannot be objectified and can hardly be explained, and it is viscous in its contradictions” (23). The duration of a performance work “draws a momentary horizon line, pointing both to what is known and that which is emergent and thus yet incoherent,” but Belmore’s use of images of violence, “held in tension with images of beauty, constitutes a strategy that adds to the disturbing or unsettling nature of the work—new meanings continually emerge, calling into question contemporary norms, images, sounds, words, gestures” (23).

“Themes of violence and the ephemeral nature of performance itself conspire to create uncertainty,” Crosby writes, and that uncertainty “resonates with the theories and methodologies employed by anthropologists and writers Michael Taussig and Arjun Appadurai” (23-24). Like Taussig and Appadurai, Belmore points “to the relationship between uncertainty and violence and to the ways in which uncertainty constitutes . . . one of the preconditions for violence” (24). Belmore’s work confronts issues of race and racism, Crosby suggests, which complicates any reading of her work (27). Her 2002 performance Vigil, for instance, “which was concerned with the local ‘disappearances’ and murders of women from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver,” many of whom were Indigenous, is at the same time “a collapse of the elements that make up an action” (27-28). “These elements include any or all of the following: the body (as an object that is both hers and not hers); any or all references to the murder[s] of the women; the performance site in the alley; and the audience,” Crosby continues.  Vigil “cannot be reduced to polemic, or a political protest based on aspects of Belmore’s ‘identity’—which is not to say that any audience member may participate in a performance, or see the video, in that way” (28). The purpose of the performance, and the subsequent video installation, The Named and the Unnamed, is to disturb viewers: Belmore shouted the names of the missing women, she tore roses with her teeth, and she nailed the red dress she was wearing to a telephone pole and ripped it away until it was in shreds. “Through this series of actions, she pointed the audience to traumatic violence and losses that were so deep that they could not be translated into something to be transcended or redeemed with meaning, or perhaps even spoken,” Crosby suggests (28).

Crosby cites historian Saul Friedlander’s suggestion that any attempt to make meaning out of violence (his example is the Holocaust) “is to presume that such violence and meaningless suffering can be redeemed with significance, can be given a moral dimension suggesting hope” (28-29). Rather, Friedlander suggests that such histories of violence sustain uncertainty and allow us to live “without understanding or redemption” (29). For Crosby, uncertainty is part of “the oscillating constellation of meanings” in Belmore’s performance work (29). “In many of Belmore’s works, ‘disappeared’ people, events, and histories are brought to the surface, emerge for a time, and then disappear from view,” she writes. “It is this emergence and disappearance, which circulates tenuously in public memory and in durational time, that makes the histories to which she refers ‘uncanny’ and disturbs the ground in which they have been buried” (29). Nor does Belmore limit herself to referring to colonialism in general terms; rather, “[h]er works are informed by the details of particular cases . . . and they refuse accepted ‘facile linear narratives’ about them” (29). “Performance, installation, and photograph work to disturb, but without excessive and self-reflexive references to historic trauma and violence as an end in itself,” Crosby contends (29).

Belmore’s White Thread, a staged photograph, “the model is bent over and wrapped in red fabric (with a line of white thread sewn on its edges) from face to ankles; her wrapped face faces her knees, and wrapped arms and legs are bound together from elbow to ankle” (30). She is posed in what “is clearly an untenable position against a white backdrop that also covers the small plinth on which she stands” (32). In 2003, when the work was made, Canada had just gone to war in Afghanistan, and Belmore was thinking about women and that war. While White Thread “may not reveal how ethnicity, race, and cultural politics have been constructed in the media since 9/11,” it is nevertheless “a red flag,” Crosby writes (32). Belmore’s 2007 photograph Fringe (first displayed on a billboard in Montreal) depicts a body that might seem to fit the idea of a martyr or sacrificial victim (32). The photograph shows “a brown-skinned woman lying in repose on a covered white platform, her back to the viewer, nude except for a sash of white cloth over her hips and a diagonal slash across her back, with red beads ‘embroidering’ the length of the wound and cascading onto the platform” (32). According to Crosby, “Fringe maps complicated intersections of mass-mediated images of violence, conflated populist and nationalist signs, and representations of the ‘other’ that resonate with those that circulate at global levels” (32-34). Brown skin and beads, in particular, suggest indigeneity (34). “The many slippages and possible referents for the disturbing and powerful image of the body in Fringe,” Crosby continues, “complicate any literal or narrative reading” (34):

The installation itself may seem, at first or second glance, to be reduced to the cut across the woman’s back—the vivisection, an assault on a woman and/or a visual assault on the viewer. But at second or third glance, the woman’s back provides the viewer with an equivalent, yet absent image. . . . first, a woman slashed and dripping blood; next, a woman with a wound that is beaded with a red fringe. As a kind of filmic frame, the suture as a focal point in Fringe also points to an inside and an outside: the viewer “outside” and the brown-skinned beaded Indian woman’s “inside.” By this I infer the part of her body that is hidden as an “inside,” inaccessible to an “outsider.” This inside image is equivalent to the outside vulnerable and violent one—or vice versa. (34)

Crosby suggests that Fringe, like performance art, “is not intended to create an articulate response” from its viewer (35). “This is also true of the paradoxical ways that Belmore combines certain themes and materials in other works: themes of motherhood and death and materials such as wine and milk,” she continues. “All of the various elements in Belmore’s work may raise questions for an audience, but they do not offer answers or resolution or any specific call to action—just a nervous uncertainty” (35).

The violence in Belmore’s work may shock and unsettle viewers. So is Belmore implicated in “constructions of violence that perpetuate more violence, or add to the degree to which audiences become inured to it due to overexposure?” (35-39). Crosby thinks that the answer to both questions is yes, since “any work about violence is necessarily complicated by the paradox of taking it as subject matter in the first place: we ‘re-present’ it, and representations of violence are always double-edged,” even those that set out to critique violence (39). Belmore’s works, and their use of violence, suggest that she “includes representations of violence with an understanding of how it is constructed and produced,” and Belmore herself seems “compelled to address the subject in ways that create a shift in consciousness” (39). But those “who are compelled to investigate violence” are prone to emotional effects, such as protective numbing; these are “the inherent contingencies and contradictions of both making and ‘reading’ such work” (39). 

“Trauma is marking,” Crosby concludes. “And since its mark is also visceral, somatic, and cellular, mental knowledge or consciousness doesn’t necessarily come into play” (39). For that reason, viewers “leave at the end of the performance, still in its middle, without the consolation of closure or meaning. Alive and undisturbed” (39).

The third essay, Polly Nordstrand’s “Evoking Heroism in Floyd Favel’s Snow Before the Sun,” begins with “[t]he disturbing photograph of Chief Big Foot’s body crumpled and frozen between a sitting and lying down position,” taken “in the wake of the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek” (47). “We are devastated by the images of the massacre, but at the time the victims were seen by the soldiers and settler community as little more than outlaws,” she notes (48). “Of course, not everyone then or today thinks of the Indians dead at wounded knee as ‘outlaws,’” Nordstrand continues, particularly Floyd Favel, who was “so deeply disturbed by the image of Big Foot’s frozen body at Wounded Knee and the details of the massacre that he was compelled to create an original performance” (49):

Rather than focus on the victimization of the people of the Plains, he melded the tragic event at Wounded Knee Creek and the beliefs of the Ghost Dance with the 1970s film icon Billy Jack to evoke the heroic nature of two men—one real, once fictional. The drama that unfolds is one of persecution and spiritual resistance. (49-50)

Nordstrand worked with Favel to present Snow Before the Sun in Denver after it had been workshopped at Regina’s Sâkêwêwak Story Telling Festival in March 2004. Favel was planning to study the Denver Art Museum’s collections to inform the performance, and then stage it in the museum. “Favel is an artist hungry for the understanding of history,” Nordstrand writes. “Themes of historic events frequently run through his writings and investigations. He conducts extensive research in order to understand not only the event, but the experiences of the people who lived it and the landscape where the event took place. He absorbs all of this information as part of his creative process” (51). He examined the winter count drawings at the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Those drawings and paintings “showed figures through time, in various periods of wellness and strife,” and Favel wondered how he could incorporate that imagery into his performance (51). But the photograph of Chief Big Foot’s body was the performance’s motivation. “Like many people, Favel was deeply affected by this image of death and brutality,” Nordstrand writes (52). 

But Favel also was drawn to the eponymous hero of the 1970s film Billy Jack. An ex-Green Beret and martial arts expert, Billy Jack’s “mixed heritage of white and Cherokee parents motivates him to ‘connect with his roots’ by going to live on an Indian reservation where he has taken up the role of protecting the wild mustangs from being hunted for dog food” (53-54). White Settler violence against students at a nearby school leads Billy to begin a vigilante’s revenge, and he uses his martial arts knowledge to protect the survivors. “As a young person, Favel had seen this film and rather than being disturbed by hot-tempered Billy Jack’s revengeful actions, he connected with the students in the film who suffered racial intolerance from the surrounding local white community,” Nordstrand writes. “Favel had witnessed this same intolerance on his reserve. Favel admired the way Billy Jack stood up to the racists in defense of the Native youth—something that he hadn’t seen in other films or his own community” (54-55). Billy Jack “informed Favel’s rethinking of the story of the Wounded Knee massacre” (55).

Nordstrand describes Favel’s performance at length. Favel is silent throughout, although there is a soundscape, composed by Dene musician Leela Gilday, which “includes sparse dialogue excerpts from the Billy Jack film, and in so doing reinforces the suggested plot” (57). “Favel is not reenacting the event at Wounded Knee, nor is he recreating the plot of the film that influenced him as a young person,” Nordstrand writes. Instead, “Favel compresses time and pieces together an dIndian narrative out of historical memory, fiction, and personal experience” (57). In the performance, “Favel takes the mythological from reality and the imagination to present a deeply moving story where we can find ourselves reflected in the actions” (57).

“Some artists try to create shock through performance; Floyd Favel instead deals with the shock of the images in the photographs as filtered through his performance in order for us to regain a sense of calm,” Nordstrand continues:

He does not respond with words, but instead with movement and sound. He moves through transformative experiences, creating new scenes that allow us to process the killings at Wounded Knee or even the hatred we might have experienced in our own lives. He presents the action and in this way does not implicate the audience, which is made up of people from all cultures, in the event—its racism and violence. (57-58)

“By means of this performance we are given an extended vision of the impact of events like the massacre at Wounded Knee,” she concludes. “We see the afterlife of the fallen victim. We also see the frustration of future generations, but we are presented with the opportunity to consider the demonstration of heroism within the tragedy” (59).

In “The Artifact Piece and Artifact Piece, Revisited,” Lara M. Evans writes about Erica Lord’s reenactment of James Luna’s The Artifact Piece, initially performed at the San Diego Museum of Man in 1987, in which Luna placed himself in a display case with some personal items. “The presence of a live Indian on display punctured the romantic fantasy of the vanishing race,” Evans states. “The Artifact Piece had such impact that it is now one of the most well-known and important performance artworks by a Native American artist” (63). It also helped to change museum display practices (63). The work was “part of a wave of indigenous peoples talking back to the institutions that have represented them to non-indigenous audiences,” showing “the subjects of anthropology” speaking back to “those academic disciplines, patriarchal institutions, and legislative bodies that circumscribe native sovereignty and operate in disregard of existing Native epistemologies” (63-65). 

Evans provides a lengthy description of The Artifact Piece, and notes that “[t]he artwork remained effective even without the bodily presence of the artist,” because Luna’s possessions on display functioned independently of his presence, “and the impression of Luna’s body in the sand” in the display case “was an indexical sign of his previous occupation of the space” (66). Erica Lord’s 2008 reenactment “brings the work out of the textual and photo-documentation realm of the recent past and back to the possibilities of the physically present moment” (67). Such reenactments are taking place throughout performance art; in 2005, for instance, Marina Abramovíc reperformed works by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Gina Pane, Joseph Beuys, and Valie Export, as part of a series entitled Seven Easy Pieces (68-69). (The seventh piece was Abramovíc’s own Lips of Thomas, originally performed in 1975.) Lord’s own art practice “is about issues of gender and hybridity, locale, and the transfer of traditions into new modes and new environments,” and she usually works with photography and multimedia installation (71). She sought Luna’s permission to reperform The Artifact Piece, which she had studied as an undergraduate; that permission was granted, and the work was presented, or re-presented, at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. 

“In the months before the April 2008 performance, I was intrigued by the uncertainties I had about how audiences would react to the work,” Evans recalls. “Would issues of gender trump issues of race? Would criticisms of museum display practices get lost in the mix? Would issues of cultural patrimony and repatriation fall by the wayside compared to the objectification of a young female mixed-race body on display? Would Lord even be seen as Indian?” (71). “To my mind,” she continues, “it seemed clear that while the forms and actions of Lord’s Artifact Piece, Revisited would be very similar to Luna’s original work, Lord’s work could not carry precisely the same meanings because of differences in gender, age, and textual specificity” (72). Evans flew to New York to see Artifact Piece, Revisited. She describes Lord’s reenactment in detail. “Discussion of gender, masculinity, and manliness in relationship to Luna’s The Artifact Piece was nonexistent in the late 1980s,” she writes. “Substituting a female body creates a drastic shift in perception, however. A sense of sexualized voyeurism is inescapable” (81-82). The performance also reminded Evans of wakes and funerals (82). She suggests it reminds her issues of repatriation of human remains and cultural objects (84). “Luna’s original performances of The Artifact Piece humanized and individualized himself as an Indian while also critiquing museum display practices in regard to the ‘other,’” she concludes. “Lord does more than ‘revisit’ the piece; she brings hybridity, sexualized objectification, the trap of beauty, and tribal specificity to the work,” and her reenactment “brings out additional nuances: gender, regionalism, and the fluid interplay between American pop culture and contemporary Native youth culture” (85).

The anthology’s fifth text is James Luna’s “Four Ways: A Performance Script and the Process of Creating a Performance.” “I have maintained over the years that the best way to explain my work is to perform it,” Luna writes, but he hopes that the script of Four Ways will offer some insight “into the themes and the process of developing and performing a performance work” (89). “The beauty of performance art is that there is no wrong or right way to develop and present one’s work, which means the medium is wide open for exploration,” he continues. “I believe the medium of performance art avails itself to Native culture like no other medium, as one can add traditional forms such as storytelling, dance, singing, and certain ceremonial framework as part of the production. There are not rules but skills that artists need to develop, first and foremost of which is their relationship to their audience” (89).The script describes the work, although given the importance of Luna’s presence and the live movement that accompanied the performance, it gives only the bare bones of what took place on the stage. At the end of the text, Luna notes that his process for making art is writing: “not writing in a traditional sense but writing and accumulating short dated notes. Notes on visual ideas, concepts, and technical problems to be resolved for both performance and installation works. There does not seem to be a shortage of ideas but the trick is where to begin, as there is much to do” (100). He describes how Butoh performance has influenced his work, and notes that he looks forward to collaborating with other performers in works he will write and direct. “I now have the luxury of devoting more time to my artwork but sometimes I feel there are not enough hours in the day to get done all I need to do, as there are non-art-related projects to do as well,” Luna concludes. “Life is good” (101).

Tina Majkowski’s “Gypsies, Tramps, Half-Indian, All Queer, and Cher: Kent Monkman Defining Indigeneity Through Indian Simulation and Accumulation,” the anthology’s sixth essay, begins by suggesting that Monkman “appears tired of the overromanticization of the Canadian landscape in his most recent installations” (104). “By strategically redeploying canonical historical images that tell stories of European domination and slash-and-burn of North American indigenous cultures,” she writes, “Monkman works to critique these visual narratives, or, perhaps more so, he labours to question the veritable accuracy of these banal representations of  indigenous peoples as noble savages—as ultimately an already vanished, if not dying race” (104). By reinterpreting images of Indigeneity, she continues, “Monkman ultimately interrogates and gives voice to the impact of European colonization on indigenous forms of sexuality and the transmission of homophobia that originated from Christian European imperialism” (104). “[E]ven the seemingly fixed nature of history is always in process, subject to alternative and divergent readings and in need of constant critical vigilance and reinterpretation,” and in that way, “history and performance/art seem more alike than dissimilar given that both happen in space and time as a process, rely on spectatorial interaction, and are always open for reevaluation and revision” (104).

“Monkman is seriously invested in performance and art practices that lend themselves to the creation of a political inquiry into what constitutes ‘the Indian’ in the collective and various national contexts,” Majkowski continues:

On one hand this sort of reinvention is always part and parcel of the artistic process; however, as this theme develops as a prevalent artistic practice among indigenous artists, as a critical and caring audience we are faced with the question of why this inquiry is particularly urgent for the indigenous community and how artistic interventions into the popular visual conception and consumption of the ethnic label “Indian” promote active indigenous communities. (104-05)

“The relationship between political insistence and indigenous performance practices is part of the question of how performance art functions to build and sustain native communities,” Majkowski writes (105).

Monkman—a “queer person of mixed-blood heritage” (105)—faces questions of “messy fractions” and “how to articulate dual identity markers” (105). “For the sake of ideological clarity, where within the field of hybrid racial identity does ‘queer’ fit?” Majkowski asks:

Monkman’s artistic practice guides us in the pursuit of such an answer. . . . [M]aybe, as Monkman’s aesthetic insistence with the singer/actress Cher—his veritable interlocutor—of half-breedness instructs, half-breed is the demarcation of radical alterity that is unconcerned with knowable blood quantum and neat mathematical divisions that half-Cree, half-non-native, and all-queer earnestly defy. Yes, far from an anomaly in what might be a neat, manageable spatial logic of identity and subjectivity, this notion of the half-breed is indebted to the uneven nature of identity. The uneven crossroads of the half-breed is likewise this place of contact and confluence where meanings, identities, and so forth bump up against each other; they intersect and reverberate against and through each other. (106)

“Monkman’s work is ultimately pedagogical in showing us how tinkering with the landscape of the past, of painting Cher into that past—a fitting placement as she is decidedly ageless and timeless—highlights that among the many things that colonial contact altered was an indigenous understanding of gender and sexuality replete with two-spirits and shape-shifters,” Majkowski continues. “Painting such ideas back into the landscape is part of a longing, an anticipation, not for the past but for a radically new future in which Indianness can be seen and felt as a more expansive category of art and racial demarcation” (110). 

Majkowski discusses Monkman’s painting Artist and Model, which is “so idyllic and so impeccably painted that at first the audience” at an art exhibition in Brazil “did not register the utter strangeness of the content: an Indian attired in a headdress, pumps, and loincloth standing at an easel painting a white male figure who is tied to a tree, pants at his ankles, held still for the artist with a bevy of arrows” (111). Artist and Model reorients the moment of colonial contact, and his “biting critique” of nineteenth-century North American landscape painting “in regard to the ethnographic gaze upon the Native American is not done from outside the artistic practice of landscape portraiture but, conversely, from within this tradition,” a critique that “serves to sustain the form in an effort to reengage with the content,” offering a criticism “that advocates for working with a questionable object” rather than “a flat disavowal of that object” (112). Another of Monkman’s landscape paintings, Heaven and Earth, gestures “to the impact of colonization on indigenous notions of sexuality with a playful and willful reimagining of who got to top whom in the moment of colonization and conquest” (113). That painting insists on “an indigeneity that is always ripe with a queer potentiality” (113). So too does Portrait of the Artist as Hunter, in which a warrior on horseback is wearing “a red sash and high heels” (115). “This inclusion, or aesthetic accumulation, of the red sash ushers in another modality of Indian regalia instead of highlighting the potential oddity of a feminine male Indian warrior,” Majkowski continues. “Representations and tales of two-spirited native sexuality are not absent within some of our native cosmologies and traditions, but they are sparse on the level of Native American or First Nations landscape portraiture. While this alone would warrant critical attention, it is the particular fashioning of Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle, on Cher that commands attention” (115-16).

Here Majkowski shifts to Monkman’s performance work, and she sees Cher as the key to it: “Monkman is invested in playing with the image of Indianness proffered up in relation to Cher’s ‘Half Breed’ persona,” and “he is trying to disrupt this image” (116-17). Monkman “really likes to depict Cher as already playing Indian, which highlights how simulation is used in htis work not as a mimicry of any indigenous realness but as a gesture to the always already simulated fact of Indianness” (117). “Monkman’s delicious rendering of Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle as a simulated scene of Indianness enforces his willful insistence on the legacy of two-spiritism within native cosmologies,” she continues (117). The “‘Half Breed’ persona” Majkowski refers to is related to Chef’s hit song “Half Breed,” which she performed on television wearing Indigenous regalia. Monkman is attracted to this persona in the creation of his performance alter ego, but Majkowski is less interested in why that’s the case than in “how Monkman’s work functions inside native communities and what his work essentially does within art markets” (120). 

Monkman’s performance in The Taxonomy of the European Male and its relationship to Cher’s “Half Breed” video “offers us an opportunity to witness the relationship between playing Indian and Native American performance; the relationship between the performance of Indianness, which most generally is the hyperbolic performance of the save or noble Indian à la cowboys and Indians, and the autonomous performance art made by Native Americans” (120-22). “Surely these reference vastly different modalities of performance that evoke different kinds of aesthetics and performance practices, but the dividing line is not as easily located as it might seem,” Majkowski writes. “Monkman’s tricky, evident love of Cher-turned-performance-of-Cher provides another way to think about this relationship” between “coercive mimeticism” in different kinds of performance. “If an identification of the simulacrum of Indianness is the improper identification, as opposed to the perhaps proper identification of traditional Cree or otherwise indigenous art, is Cher a deviant, impure (i.e., non-traditional) influence?” (122). Perhaps, is Majkowski’s answer: 

maybe there is an inherent danger in mistaking oneself for a popularly consumed simulation of such a self. Or, more likely, does this very question obscure the fact that one, who better than members of indigenous communities to know how their representation has failed them; and two, that turning away form these ill-fitting and often painful simulations does nothing to rid the native community—artist or otherwise—of them. Might we, then, read Monkman’s work as a biting repetition, indeed a deviant translation, of those often compassionless images of squaws, Land O’Lakes butter tub maidens, wooden cigar-store Indians, and the never-ending panoply of “Tontos” offered up to us in the genre of the western? Such a perspective would indicate how this Native American art practice defiantly translates and accumulates such images into a necessary reminder that they present the indigenous community with an uncanny image of itself. (122-23)

For Majkowski, “Monkman’s work explicates the ebb and flow, the relationship, the choreography if you will between the performative nature of Indianness and the work of Native American artists. I like to think of this choreographic event as something of an aesthetic waver” (123). “To waver is to oscillate, to shuttle between, to reverberate and often in the process to allow for something radically new and even perhaps unexpected,” she concludes. “The waver between Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle and Cher’s ‘Half Breed’ persona is ripe with the potential to make a space between the Indian-as-simulation and lived experience,” and “it might be in this vibration that a new Indianness emerges at the nexus of indigeneity and queerness,” or perhaps even “an Indianness that is always already queer; or more so a queer identity that weaves within and through histories of racial formation, colonialism, and nationalism, and as such is positioned as a queerness that is not only invested in dissident and non-normative sexualities but anti-normative formations in general” (123).

Greg A. Hill is a multidisciplinary artist and a curator. His “Performing as Someone Else and the Pied Piper Effect,” the anthology’s seventh text, discusses Hill’s recent art work. “I will look at several performances as examples of different ways the presence, deployment, documenting/archiving function, and autonomy of the camera affected the performance and/or the audience,” Hill writes (129-30). In performance art, Hill contends, “”[t]he ‘space’ of the performance is a creative zone that has fluid boundaries” that are “multilayered and overlapping, as they are defined by spatial, temporal, cultural, and personal norms” (130). Performing as someone else, as a character, he continues, involves “a release from the rules—through the character or anonymity of the assumed persona—or even freedom from personal inhibitions that constrain us in ways we may have learned to accommodate and also those we might not expect or that take us by surprise” (130). Adopting a persona, he writes, “enables me to explore the personality—real or imagined—of the character necessary to the performance” (130). The “Pied Piper Effect” he refers to in the title of his essay “is something that has occurred during several of my performances,” he writes, “where the spectacle of doing something odd—something outside of the expected norm, in public space—leads to people following you, curious to see what is going on. It is interesting to think about the desire: is it curiosity or spectacle that draws people, or something else?” (130). “The effect, however, is that an audience materializes where there was none,” he suggests, and the cameras ironically draw in the audience for the live event (130-31).

Is the camera merely a tool for documentation, or do artists perform for the camera? “A particular performance, or a performer’s entire practice, may in large part be about the performer’s relationship with the audience,” Hill writes. “How is this relationship impacted by the presence of cameras; and further, should or can the performer interact with one or the other or both? I think of the camera as another kind of spectator,” one that “represents all future viewers of the recorded live event. However, the camera is really a record of one viewer’s experience that is then shared with others” (131). Recording a performance with multiple cameras and editing the results together into a single record “would still be a mediated experience of the live performance. It would reflect the personal and professional choices of the camera operator(s) as well as those decisions made during the editing process” (131). For Hill, both the live and mediated audiences need to be considered: “How can the unpredictability of a public audience impact the performance? How does the presence of a camera affect the live audience, their relationship to the performer, and the performer’s interaction with them? What happens when the cameras documenting a performance become part of the performance?” (131). In addition, what happens when documentation becomes an art object?

In his 2005 performance Portaging Rideau, Paddling the Ottawa to Kanata, Hill writes, “the presence of the camera . . . was a major factor in the performance” (132). Multiple video crews and still photographers documented the performance. The objects in that performance came from a project “about making—or trying to make—‘traditional’ objects as an urban Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) person,” Hill continues (132). He used materials available to him in the city: cereal-box cardboard instead of birch bark, for instance. “The performance that day was about me meeting the challenge, the constant question that arises whenever the canoe is exhibited, about whether or not it actually floats,” he writes. “I had, at every occasion, strongly asserted its floatability and finally I wanted to put that question to rest” (132). “A canoe made out of a material such as cereal-box cardboard is a challenge to what is expected,” he continues. “The material is unproven and quickly dismissed as improbably, and it is reasonable to ask the question: is a canoe that does not float still a canoe?” (132).

Hill portaged the canoe from the Ottawa Art Gallery, where it was on exhibit, through the Rideau Centre and to the Ottawa River, where he got in and paddled around. During the portage, some 100 people followed Hill; he presumes that they might have figured out where he was going and what he was planning to do when they saw him carrying the canoe, but that more likely, the “multiple video crews and still photographers” tipped them off, thereby becoming “a major factor in the performance itself” (133). “In the different videos, the groups keep crossing into each other’s views,” he notes. “At times, you can see a fuzzy boom microphone in several of the shots” (133-34). No matter what clued his audience in to what was about to happen, Hill suggests that they were just waiting for him to sink: “Fortunately, it didn’t happen. I was able to paddle the canoe, that is until the cardboard started to get soggy. My foot made a hole and I ended up having to carry it to a point where I could cross the river over to ‘Victory’ Island where I planted a Kanata flag, ending the performance” (134). 

The Kanata flag to which Hill refers is a new flag he designed for Canada. “There were several performances based on this concept that took place at different times in different cities,” he recalls. “In one performance, Kanata Flag Day (Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 2001), I posed as a news reporter and showed visitors to Parliament Hill what I told them was a new flag design for ‘Canada’ to go along with a name change for our country from ‘Canada’ to ‘Kanata’” (134-35). He exhibited video, letters to and from the Prime Minister’s Office, and “a full range of Kanata products” several times over the following years (136). Another performance, Anything to Declare?, “operated from the premise that the two gallery spaces”—a space in the lobby of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and another gallery at the University of Winnipeg—“constituted ‘micro-nations’” (136). “I conceived of these galleries as tiny countries, with all the heraldry and insignia befitting a modern nation-state,” Hill continues, and to enter them visitors “had to pass through Kanata Customs” (138). During the performances, Hill wore his father’s customs officer uniform and greeted each visitor in Kanyen’keha (Mohawk), English, and French (138).

Hill’s 2005 performance in Winnipeg, Kanata Day March, was a community march from the Urban Shaman gallery to the Forks. “We had a video crew and gallery staff documenting the march,” he remembers. “This created both a sense of spectacle and a set of protective eyes and ears for all the marchers. I was a little concerned that we would run into some overzealous Canada Day celebrants who might take issue with our non-Canadian celebration” (139). There was no tension until they reached the Forks, where they were asked what they were up to. “We continued through the Canada Day revelers to our destination at the center of the park where an Aboriginal-run celebration was taking place,” Hill continues. “There, we were able to set up flags and hand out Kanata items to an engaged audience and were even invited to join in the dances and activities underway” (139). According to Hill, the event “was a great deal of fun, and some of the participants got very into the performance. It was amazing to see their willingness to take on this kind of subversion of the official day of Canada. There were times I had denied the political nature of the work . . . but of course it is political when you take a national symbol like a flag and alter it” (139-41). “The television production spanned several performances to provide a larger context for the Kanata work,” Hill writes. “The television production created another level of documentation of my performance practice,” even as the cameras sometimes became part of the performance themselves (141). 

Hill’s 2001 performance Joe Scouting For Cigar Store Lasagna was documented by a live webcast, still photos, and video. In the performance, Hill took on the persona of Joseph Brant, a well-known Mohawk leader from the time of the American Revolution. Brant is “a contested figure from a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) perspective and therefore a rich persona to explore” (143). “The purpose of this performance was to rejoin the scout”—the statue of the Anishinaabe scout that had crouched below the statue of Samuel de Champlain in Ottawa until it was removed for political reasons—“to its original location at the base of the Champlain monument. The performance sought to address this erasure of historical and contemporary context and bring these issues back into the public eye” (143-44). The performance was documented by five cameras, and local media showed up, turning the documentation of the event into an event in its own right (144).

Finally, Hill’s 2001 performance Real Live Bronze Indian addressed the scout statue as well. He built a monument base from architectural stone and “re-created the rest of the monument through slides and a video projection” (144). For the performance, he writes, “I got on the platform and did this performance where I inhabited the persona of the Anishinabe scout. I was thinking about what it might be like to be a bronze statue—frozen in place and having people come and sit on me and post for their souvenir tourist photos. I thought of myself cemented in that position but having a voice” (144). He called on audience members to come and have their photographs taken with him. “The viewers became part of the performance; in particular, they were performing as tourists for the camera as they might do with an actual statue,” he recalls. “However, in this instance the agency resided in the statue. The statue’s desire for tourist photos—photos of tourists, that is—provided the ironic twist” (146).

Hill notes that cameras can play multiple roles in his performances. “Performance artists have different views on the evidentiary role of the camera,” he writes. “I consider documentation important. It is a necessary means of creating a record of the event as part of an ongoing art practice, but I believe it is also important to create these records and have them available so that they can contribute to a body of work that will (hopefully) become part of an Indigenous art history” (146). He feels a sense of responsibility “to place ideas, objects, and actions in the public domain,” and hopes that they “will become part of a vibrant and critical discourse on and within Indigenous art” (146). He also notes that cameras are now ubiquitous and people document their own lives constantly. “That the camera and performance art have a long and inextricable history is perhaps a moot point,” he concludes; “more vital is the intersection between the camera and Aboriginal performance art, where this relatively new, lens-based medium is enmeshed with a performance practice that has ancestral roots in ceremony and ritual” (146-47).

The book’s final text is Tavia Nyong’o’s lengthy essay, “Out of the Archive: Performing Minority Embodiment.” The adoption of performance art by Indigenous and minority artists, he writes, “carries with it a number of ironies” (149-50):

What difference is there between the unmarked status toward which live art aspires, according to Peggy Phelan’s influential claim that performance “becomes itself through disappearance,” and the fate of invisibility to which racial and indigenous populations are so often consigned? What “other histories” of “coerced mimesis” might be omitted from Eurocentric narratives of performance art that consider it to have arisen only in the wake of the 1960s, and only in response to specific pressures related to the development and criticism of modernism and postmodernism? And what of the enduring importance of cultural memory to the dispossessed and devastated, for whom the melancholic attachment of live performance to an evanescent present may only preempt opportunities for a more thoroughgoing mourning of the past or a more pertinent engagement with the politics of the present? (150)

“These questions reverberate in much contemporary minoritarian performance art,” he states, citing Mūmbi Kaigwa’s They Call Me Wanjiku  as an example (150). That work “touched upon the displacement of original language and culture buy the Christianizing and colonizing process in Africa and centered on a feminist meditation upon the loss and recovery of matrilineage as a dynamic cultural principle” (150). In They Call Me Wanjiku, “the registers of ‘mind’ and ‘body’ meet and overlap,” and “[i]t is perhaps because of this intertwining that, unlike the project of decolonizing minds (at the center of which is the reclamation of native languages for literatures), decolonizing the body lacks a defined process or direction” (150-51). “Performing identity in the flesh,” Nyong’o continues, “produces a different order of temporality than does the establishment of national or ethnic literatures. For this reason, it renders the ‘archive’ as a collective repository of knowledge less an automatic solution than a vexed question” (151). “How is the indigenous body to recover from acts of erasure, misunderstanding, and territorial dispersion of the body itself is not ever, except in fantasy, capable of the full and stable self-representation that the recording and preserving function of the archive expects of its privileged  objects?” he asks (151). Answering that question, he continues, might involve Michel Foucault’s “principle of enunciability, shaping what can be known, shown, thought, or said” (151).

“These questions,” Nyong’o writes, “should resonate within the field of Native American performance art and scholarship” (151). He suggests that race, sexuality, and gender should be considered as “unstable assemblages of revolving and devolving energies,” citing Jasbir Puar, rather than “intersectional coordinates” (qtd. 151). “There is a growing interest in investigating the categories of ‘woman,’ ‘native,’ and ‘other’ as precisely such unstable assemblages, and not essences, that operate unexpectedly to link and relay otherwise dispersed experiences,” he continues (151). The “instructive metaphor” in postcolonial space and time, he suggests, “is less convergence than it is justaposition,” and his focus in this essay, he states, is on “a complexly spatial and temporal predicament into which successive waves of conquest, empire, colonization, and now globalization have thrust racialized and nativized communities” (152-53). His hope is that this discussion will be useful “to the artists who struggle to embody and rearticulate those experiences against the amnesiac imperatives of much of contemporary society” (153).

Nyong’o suggests that juxtaposing They Call Me Wanjiku with James Luna’s The Artifact Piece “illuminates the drama of interpellation,” an Althusserian term which, for Nyong’o, appears to mean “the reclamation of names, cultures, and identities,” even though such reclamations “can no longer be a straightforward, singular event—much less a dramatic rupture with the institutional structures of empire” (154). “Between the kinship matrix and its postmodern rearticulation there emerges a kind of indwelling, immanent, and performed critique of the symbolic order that calls out o[u]r names and fixes us in our place,” he states (154). In The Artifact Place, “[t]he gap between what visitors initially took Luna to be and the breathing, listening ‘specimen’ they were confronted with was held open by the playful display cards they were invited to peer in to read” (154-55). He suggests that Rey Chow’s notion of “coercive mimeticism” helps us think about “the conditions placed upon native and black performance art” (157). “It also offers a small history of modernity, within which overlapping categories like native, primitive, and indigene figure as emblems of a project to interpellate and dominate the non-white world,” he writes (157). “Coercive mimeticism” is “an indispensable theoretical tool for fleshing out the complexities faced by performers engaged with embodying themselves, their names, and their histories in museums, galleries, and beyond” (157).

Although mimesis may be associated “with an outmoded approach to culture,” the “fraught terrain between ‘representation’ and ‘imitation’ that it so explicitly navigates remains at issue, often as the issue, for a range of aesthetic and political strategies of minority and indigenous artists” (158). “Performance art’s promise to deliver the presence of the body without the burdens of representation that bedevil prior art forms like painting, photography, and sculpture . . . has been less a point of departure for indigenous and racialized performance artists than a bone of contention,” Nyong’o writes. “Insofar as the body upon which art is performed, for these artists in particular, is interpellated in the social and symbolic order as a site of difference, otherness, and exotic expectation, it necessarily carries with it a history and, in a manner of speaking, an archive” (158). So, if performance wants “to abandon the admittedly crude concept of imitation for the subtler range of meaning conveyed by repetition, restoration, reenactment, even repertoire, that repressed term, ‘imitation,’ tends to return as a symptom in any discourse that adjudicates the ethical or political efficacy of ethnoracial and/or indigenous performance art” (158). 

The term “coercive mimeticism” helps to explain why “[w]ork that fails to meet those ethical or political standards can be cast off as ‘imitative’ of a (white) avant-garde or critical practice,” Nyong’o suggests. Chow sees mimesis in a three-part sequence. The first level, according to Nyong’o, is the simplest, “but also the level at which the colonizing and racializing project is exposed in its starkest form. At this level, the white male is the only true and original subject, and the Indian, native, or colonial other is always construed as attempting but failing to reproduce this image” (158-59). The second level of mimeticism, he continues, “retains this dualistic structure of colonizer and colonized,” but “shifts the focus to what the subject undergoes through her or his attempts at mimetic whiteness,” with failure “redefined as a productive ambiguity and uncertainty that ultimately reflects back on the supposedly stable subject of whiteness, distorted in the fracturing mirror of the ‘not quite white’” (160). A third development of mimeticism “in our present era of globalization characterized by an increasingly officious multiculturalism” is the level where “the ethnoracialized or indigenous subject is officially relieved of the burden of imitating whiteness, only to have the emphasis shift to the demand that he or she represent otherness. Be Asian! Be native! Be black! these are the commands that bind the subject coercively, not to what she is not, as was the case with colonial mimesis, but to what she is” (162). “The irony of coercive mimeticism is that to perform who you are, to represent the traditions, cultures, and language of one’s people, is to be everything that the avant-garde, cosmopolitan, iconoclastic performance artist is not,” Nyong’o writes. “It bifurcates the public’s understanding of native and minority performance into either authentic cultural performances or derivative imitations of a Eurocentric avant-garde,” a “direct mimetic imperative to represent otherness” that “endures despite repeated critiques” (162).

“Elaborating Chow’s account of coercive mimeticism across the terrain of contemporary performance art, we can see how it situates the indigenous and/or ethnoracialized artist in a double bind,” Nyong’o continues. “On the one hand, to accede to the command and to be what you already are—the authentic racial self uncolonized by the white world—is in effect to accede to the exoticist gaze of the tourist eager to consume the spectacle of otherness” (163). However, to refuse “any relation between identity and performance would be difficult for an artist in any medium,” but particularly hard for artists whose bodies “remain so defiantly, obstinately present” in their work (163). Chow’s historical approach situates coercive mimeticism “within an archive of embodied articulations and enunciations of subjectivity. If the tactic of so much minoritarian performance art is to somehow name and make visible this archive and thereby move the body outside or beyond it, then Chow’s concept of coercive mimeticism is useful for evaluating the efficacy of such tactics within the constantly shifting strategies of cultural dominance” (164-65). On the other hand, “an attention to the aesthetics and phenomenology of performance qualifies some of the more absolute characterizations of coercive mimeticism”: “the compulsion to perform the truth of your ethnic self . . . is not a self-evident reality but an ideal that . . . must be constantly and anxiously cited in order to maintain itself as a stabilizing fiction” (165).

Chow’s work doesn’t “deny the possibility of authentic difference within a global economy” (165). Rather, “it works to show how the possibility of difference transforms into an imperative, and with what consequences” (165). “In the fetishistic logic of coercive mimeticism, the ethnic other can never be different enough,” Nyong’o writes. “Or rather, since in fact even a relatively perfunctory display of otherness is sometimes acceptable to a distracted audience, its fetish is that there always be more difference to be revealed, displayed, and consumed” (165). For Nyong’o, two examples of this “mimetic imperative” are Adrian Piper’s Funk Lessons (1982-1984) and The Golden Age (2008) by performance collective My Barbarian (165-66). “Visual art works together with performance to interrupt the logics of coercive mimeticism, leading many artists to work multidisciplinarily,” as in Erica Lord’s Tanning series, which uses “photographic, digital, physiological, and theatrical techniques of disguise and display to foil the taxonomic logic that seeks to fix the body as either/or” (166). This work exposes “the coercive nature of interpellation by imprinting it directly on the body. Such acts of ‘impression’ present the body as archive. From the neutral or descriptive to the pejorative, these photographs document less the ‘truth’ of the bodies captured by the camera than the ‘fictions’ that are lived as routine and unquestioned realities” (167). “In refusing to provide evidence to placate the voyeuristic hunger of coercive mimeticism,” Nyong’o writes, Lord’s series offers “a testimony that offers a way out of its archive” (167).

In his conclusion, Nyong’o turns to Foucault’s way of thinking about the archive as “‘the system of its enunciability’” (qtd. 167), as “both embodiment and the event,” even as performance (167). What does Foucault intend in locating the archive “not in institutions or documents, but at the root of statements and events and in the performances that embody them?” Nyong’o asks:

What he intends, I believe, is that we abandon the positivist distinction between what we can know and how we come to know it. That is to say, he proposes that we abandon the assumption that discourse is a transparent layer over reality and begin to confront its thickness, its layers and folds, its ruptures, and especially its frayed edges, that is to say, its silences. He invites us to imagine how discourse speaks the body in its division from the flesh. (167-70)

According to Nyong’o, Foucault’s approach to the archive “is the inverse of the normative imperative of the historical discipline, which is to use the former to reveal the latter ever more fully and legibly to us, to restore the past, in some manner, to itself” (170). In contrast, Foucault’s proposal for a genealogy of the body would “estrange the past from itself” (170). I don’t understand Nyong’o’s point, but it’s been ages since I attempted to read Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge, which I’ve always found extraordinarily boring compared to his other work. In any case, Nyong’o continues:

After Foucault, we can no longer retreat to the quaint vision of the past as an exotic locale to which one might pay a visit. His work insists that encountering the past is not a beneficent cross-cultural exchange, but a disorienting confrontation with the historicity of categories we routinely experience as natural. It is an encounter that furthermore gives knowledge, not of an empirical other, but of a shifting discursive grid. (170)

The archive “tells us what we can no longer say,” he states, quoting Alex Scott (170).

“Performance studies has been among the fields that have taken up and creatively used Foucault’s reconceptualization of the archive as an active, ordering principle rather than a passive, empirical resource,” Nyong’o continues:

While it is common in performance circles to claim that the body takes over at the point discourse ends, I would suggest that the silence of discourse is not yet the perpetuation of performance. If performance remains in and through the body, it is a body that, as Foucault argued, is already “totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body.” The image of history’s destruction of the body should not, however, be taken as justifying the disciplinary priority of history over performance. If we follow Foucault’s definition of the archive as a system of enunciability, of an ordering of the relation of the body to speech, then what the image returns us to is the life of the body in performance. If the process of the imprinting and destruction of the body is not taken as the melancholic victory of time over the body’s liveliness, but rather as witness to the constellation of forces brought to immense tension in the present, then it might provide a slant view upon a principle by which the archive is undone. (170-71)

Nyong’o suggests that two principles of the Foucauldian archive need “to be kept constantly in mind”: the archive is both “the law of what can be said and the principle that ensures that the accumulation of what is said can never order itself into an efficient or total system” (171):

That is, while it is certainly true that the archive operates as a principle of social authority, its power is not unidirectional, transparent, or stably reproducible over time. It does not even . . . stably reproduce the fiction of its stability over time. It has so frequently served as a site of tactical minoritarian intervention, for example in the interventions of the curator and artist Fred Wilson, because its official edifice so quickly crumbles when its elisions and contradictions are probed. By insisting upon a distribution of archival power across society, rather than restricting it to the specific institutions and objects that constitute what we ordinarily think of as the archive, Foucault both extends and qualifies its influence. (171)

“And by making it possible for what it actively produces, and not simply what it passively retains against the erosions of time,” Nyong’o writes, Foucault “helps articulate what is at stake for artists and scholars seeking its reformation” (171).

“The fragmentary, layered, and discontinuous nature of the archive poses a specific challenge and opportunity to the perpetuation of performance,” Nyong’o continues. Because the archive is unstable over time, “it undermines the oft-valorized evanescence of performance. If everything dissolves, especially immutable concepts, then what does the special disappearance of performance consist of?” he asks (171-72). Documenting or reenacting performance “presents as many problems as it solves if it does not confront the survival of positivist conceptions of the archive seeking to reclaim the terrain it prematurely abandoned to discourses of the live” (172). 

Nyong’o also suggests that Giorgio Agamben’s theory of testimony, developed in response to Foucault’s archive, might help to explain what it means to embody “culture’s vestibule,” an experience that “[r]acial, indigenous, and female subjects” know well (172). “If the archive is an historical repository of systems of enunciability,” Nyong’o writes,

then testimony, Agamben argues, acts as a witness to what cannot be said. It is to the unspeakable, rather than the speakable, in other words, that testimony must address itself. In so doing, it produces an outside to the archive, not in the realm of reality, but in potentiality. Testimony speaks, as the late African philosopher Emmanuel Eze puts it, to “this past [which] must address its future.” It does so not by supplying its evidences, not by restoring the past to itself, but by estranging the past from itself in positing a subject of enunciation suspended between life and the language, between body and the flesh. (172)

“For racialized and/or indigenous artists, the challenge posed by the archive is at least threefold,” Nyong’o continues:

First, there is the strongly articulated demand to counter the dominant narrative through the construction of stable institutions, artistic genealogies, and collections that define alternative histories “on our terms.” Second, there is the fraught question of how artists, individually or collectively, will respond to the governing statements of the majoritarian archive, through their own work. And third, there is the temptation to mark the archive as solely a site of trauma, loss, and melancholia. These three challenges serve to regulate a great deal of artistic production. But when embodied performance can testify to that which is not yet speakable, to a future grounded in an unrealized potential, then performing the archive need not be limited to the past as it was. It points to the performing body as a virtual archive of what might have been. (172-73)

At this point, Nyong’o suddenly shifts direction to discuss the work of Kalup Linzy. The connection between Linzy’s video, installation, and performance work, on the one hand, and embodied performance as testimony, is not clear. It’s almost as if a paragraph has been left out during the editing of Nyong’o’s essay. I recallibrate. I move on. Nyong’o suggests that Erica Lord’s Artifact Piece, Revisited witnesses a prior work by substituting her body for Luna’s. Artifact Piece, Revisited “neither documented nor preserved the original so much as it testified to the impossibility of doing better,” he suggests (174-75):

In the palimpsest of history that the now in-the-know visitor brings the the piece (unlike the original, the reenactment occurred in a dramatically lit setting in which it was unlikely that even the casual visitor could have stumbled upon the performance supposing it to be an ordinary ethnographic diorama), the particularity of the present is joined to the past in what Walter Benjamin called a dialectical image, bringing history as ordinarily perceived to a standstill. (175)

“To come out of the archive is to emerge into its antechamber, or vestibule,” Nyong’o writes, “which is a place ‘saturated with tensions’; that is to say, a place redoubled with the potentiality of the virtual” (176). 

“Performance art cannot of course unilaterally alter the conditions of coercive mimeticism,” Nyong’o concludes. “As a discourse, it conditions what can be said, shown, and performed of native and minoritarian lives, desires, and struggles” (176). The power of performance “lies at the boundary of our present language, in what cannot yet be spoken” (176). For Nyong’o, thinking of performance art in this way, “as condensing past and present into an explosive ‘now’ that presages a future that cannot yet be given words, is a much more promising method than the always burdensome expectation that artists preserve or transmit their culture against the ravages of time and the dilutions of cross-cultural contact” (176). “Even better,” he states, “it gives performance exciting new vocations within the political field, ones for which more collaborations and experiments are urgently needed” (176).

Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art is a useful discussion of contemporary Indigenous performance. It also fleshes out some of what I’ve read about performance art as part of this project. And Nyong’o’s essay encourages me to return to Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge and try to find something interesting there—as well as to read Giorgio Agamben, since the notion of testimony has been recurring throughout my reading over the past year, and it might be time to grapple with that term. I wonder if there’s a bluffer’s guide that might point to the parts of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge that would be useful? Or if I would have to make one for myself by generating another one of these summaries? I hope it’s the former; I fear it’s the latter.

Work Cited

Blomberg, Nancy J., ed. Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art, Denver Art Museum, 2010.

122. Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World

hogan dwellings

Writer and naturalist Trevor Herriot lent me his copy of Linda Hogan’s Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World, a book of essays, and as I get close to the end of this project—or, at least, this phase of it—I thought I would turn to it, finally. Hogan is Chickasaw, and I wonder whether her sense of the living world might connect or relate to Bruno Latour’s sense of the world as made up of agents and actors rather than objects. Dwellings begins with a preface, in which Hogan explains the questions that motivated the writing of this book: 

As an Indian woman I question our responsibilities to the caretaking of the future and to the other species who share our journeys. These writings have grown out of those questions, out of wondering what makes us human, out of a lifelong love for the living world and all its inhabitants. They have grown, too, out of my native understanding that there is a terrestrial intelligence that lies beyond our human knowing and grasping. (11)

Hogan writes that her “lifelong work” has been “to seek an understanding of the two views of the world, one as seen by native people and the other as seen by those who are new and young on this continent” (11). “It is clear that we have strayed from the treaties we once had with the land and the animals,” she continues. “It is also clear, and heartening, that in our time there are many—Indian and non-Indian alike—who want to restore and honor these broken agreements” (11). It’s easy for a môniyâw like me to forget that First Nations peoples talk of their treaties with their animal relations and with the land. Their treaties with Settlers are just one part of the treaties they’ve made.

Hogan states that these essays are tempered by her work with animals, her love for earth, her “hunger to know what dwells beneath the surface of things,” and that “it also stretches te reflect the different histories of ways of thinking and being in the world” (11-12). The essays in this collection, she writes, “search out a world of different knowings, enter a doorway into the mythical world, a reality known by my ancestors, one that takes the daily into dimensions both sacred and present” (12). She is interested in exploring “the human place within this world,” but she also recognizes “that humankind is not separate from nature” (12). “Some of this work connects the small world of humans with the larger universe, containing us in the same way that native ceremonies do, showing us both our place and a way of seeing,” she writes (12). If only we recognized our connection with nature, and that our world is small compared to the universe; instead, we see ourselves at the centre of everything, as the only being that matters. Hogan concludes the preface by suggesting that these lessons have been learned from the land, and that the essays included in Dwellings are “both of and about this alive and conscious world. Its pages come from forests, its words spring from the giving earth” (12).

The first essay, “The Feathers,” begins with Hogan’s desire for an eagle feather: one from a living bird, because “[a] bird killed in the name of human power is in truth a loss of power from the world, not an addition to it” (15). Her first eagle feather was a gift from a traditional healer she had consulted when she was ill. He told her a story about how, after his childhood home burned down, the only things to survive the fire were eagle feathers. The feather he gave her was one of those survivors.

Hogan lives in a mountain canyon, she writes, and she often sees golden eagles there. One morning, after years of praying for an eagle feather, she dreamed of being inside a temple. The ceiling was “engraved with gold designs of leaves and branches” (16), and she told the others in the temple to look up at them. “I spoke these words out loud, and the sound of my own voice woke me up,” Hogan writes. “Waking, I obeyed my own words and looked up, seeing out the open window of my room. Just as I did, a large golden eagle flew toward the window, so close that I could see its dark eyes looking in at me for a moment before it lifted, caught a current of air, and flew over the roof of the house” (16). She ran outside. The eagle was gone, but a feather was lying in the road. She acknowledges the improbability of her story, that it takes a long time for falling feathers to reach the ground, and yet, she says, the feather was there. “I know there is a physics to this, a natural law about lightness and air. This event rubs the wrong way against logic,” she admits (16-17). How, then, can this incident be explained? “I can only think there is another force at work, deeper than physics and what we know of wind, something that comes from a world where lightning and thunder, sun and rain clouds live,” she writes. “Nor can I saw why it is so many of us have forgotten the mystery of nature and spirit, while for tens of thousands of years such things have happened and been spoken by our elders and our ancestors” (17).

Of course, there are physical explanations for lightning and thunder, for sun and rain, and coincidences exist. I have such trouble following people into spirituality. It’s not a place I can go. 

Next, Hogan tells the story of the birth of her granddaughter, and the way she kept and dried her granddaughter’s umbilical cord in a tall, black pot. A few months later, her parents visited, and during that visit, she discovered that the umbilical cord was missing from its pot. She searched the house for the cord, which she calls “the most valuable thing in our home” (17). She looked in the cedar box where she keeps her first eagle feather. It wasn’t there. While she was searching, a Blackfeet friend called from Montana to invite Hogan to a ceremony. She explained what was happening. Her friend told her about a ceremony that might work, and she went outside to make the offering. When she returned, she checked the cedar box again. This time, the feather was gone. It was lying under a chair, pointing at the umbilical cord, “so mysteriously on the floor I had already searched” (19). “It was the feather that took me to the baby’s umbilical cord,” she writes (19).

“Perhaps there are events and things that work as a doorway into the mythical world, the world of first people, all the way back to the creation of the universe and the small quickenings of earth, the first stirrings of human beings at the beginning of time,” Hogan writes. “Our elders believe this to be so, that it is possible to wind a way backward to the start of things, and in so doing find a form of sacred reason, different from ordinary reason, that is linked to forces of nature” (19). That “kind of mind,” like the feather, contains “the power of sky and thunder and sun, and many have had alliances and partnerships with it, a way of thought older than measured time, less primitive than the rational present” (19). Others have tried to use science to understand the world, but they have “not yet understood animals, finite earth, or even their own minds and behavior” (19). (Is that entirely true?) “The more they seek to learn the world, the closer they come to the spiritual, the magical origins of creation,” Hogan continues (19). 

“There is a still place, a gap between worlds, spoken by the tribal knowings of thousands of years,” Hogan writes. “In it are silent flyings that stand aside from human struggles and the designs of our own makings. At times, when we are silent enough, still enough, we take a step into such mystery, the place of spirit, and mystery, we must remember, by its very nature does not wish to be known” (20). The power of a feather, of something living within that feather, “is perhaps in its dream of sky, currents of air, and the silence of creation” (20). That feature “carries our needs and desires, the stories of our brokenness. It rises and falls down elemental space, one part of the elaborate world of life where fish swim against gravity, where eels turn silver as moon to breed” (20). Hogan’s prose turns poetic here, and she seems to be suggesting that there are relationships between human “needs and desires” and “the elaborate world of life” which includes weather, birds in flight, and fish beneath the water.

The essay ends with questions: “How did the feather arrive at the edge of the dirt road where I live? How did it fall across and through currents of air? How did the feathers survive fire?” (20). Hogan cannot answer these questions: “I know only that there are simple powers, strange and real,” she concludes (20).

The next essay, “The Bats,” begins with a memory of seeing mating bats in a zoo. A few years later, she found a bat in a park in Minneapolis on a cold spring day. She stopped to look at it: “At first I thought it was dead, but as I reached toward it, it turned its dark, furrowed face to me and bared its sharp teeth. A fierce little mammal, it looked surprisingly like an angry human being. I jumped back” (22). Then she found another bat lying on the ground. “[T]he recent warm spell had been broken open by the cold and the bats, shocked back into hibernation, had stopped dead in flight, rendered inactive by the quick drop in temperature,” she writes (23). She found a box and took both bats home. When she arrived and opened the box, the bats were mating. She left them in a warm corner outside, “nestled safe in dry leaves and straw,” and checked on them several times a day (23). The bats mated at least three more times. On the fourth day, the male, “thin and exhausted,” died, “and the female flew away with the new life inside her body” (24). She told the neighbourhood boys about the bats, and they stayed out of her yard; in that way, her house escaped being vandalized.

Hogan’s family lived in Germany when she was a child, and one day, while exploring a forest with a friend, they found a cave filled with bats. Later they were told that the cave had been used to store ammunition during the war, and that the American military had tried to use bats to carry bombs. The experiment failed, because the bats’ flights could not be predicted or controlled, and they “gave up on their strategy of using life to destroy life” (25). Recently, she visited a cave near San Antonio with another friend. Since people began visiting the cave, the bats had left, but it was still full of guano.

“Bats hear their way through the world,” Hogan writes. “They hear the sounds that exist at the edges of our lives. Leaping through blue twilight they cry out a thin language, then listen for its echo to return. It is a dusky world of songs a pitch above our own. For them, the world throws back a language, the empty space rising between hills speaks an open secret then lets the bats pass through, here or there, in the dark air” (25-26). Everything answers the bats; everything talks back to them. Their world is “alive in its whispering songs, the currents of air loud as waves of an ocean, a place rich with the music of trees and stones” (26). “It is no wonder that bats have been a key element in the medicine bundles of some southern tribes,” she continues. “Bats are people from the land of souls, land where moon dwells. They are listeners to our woes, hearers of changes in earth, predictors of earthquake and storm. They live with the goddess of night in the lusty mouth of earth” (26). The bones found in those medicine bundles come from bats that had been found dead, rather than bats that had been killed or trapped.

“I believe it is the world-place bats occupy that allows them to be of help to people, not just because they live inside the passageways between earth and sunlight, but because they live in double worlds of many kinds,” Hogan contends. “They are two animals merged into one, a milk-producing rodent that bears live young, and a flying bird. They are creatures of the dusk, which is the time between times, people of the threshold, dwelling at the open mouth of inner earth like guardians at the womb of creation” (27). Bats are holy, and “they are intermediaries between our world and the next. Hearing the chants of life all around them, they are listeners who pass on the language and songs of many things to human beings who need wisdom, healing, and guidance through our lives, we who forget where we stand in the world” (27). 

Hogan sees bats at night, out of the corner of her eye. They are secret creatures. “What an enormous world,” she writes. “No wonder it holds our fears and desires. It is all so much larger than we are” (28). She sees them, but she cannot hear “the high-pitched language of their living”; she doesn’t know “if they have sorry or if they tell stories longer than a rainstorm’s journey” (28). How can humans get to the centre of the world, she wonders, “to the place where the universe carries down the song of night to our human lives” (28). “How do we learn to trust ourselves enough to hear the chanting of earth?” she asks. “To know what’s alive or absent around us, and penetrate the void behind our eyes, the old, slow pulse of things, until a wild flying wakes up in us, a new mercy climbs out and takes wing in the sky?” (28).

The third essay, “The Caves,” begins at a cave on a rainy evening. There is a creek flowing there; its water “smells of iron and tastes of earth’s blood” (29). Hogan notes that before caves and springs were privately owned, “they were places of healing for Indian people, places where conflict between tribes and people was left behind, neutral ground, a sanctuary outside the reign of human differences, law, and trouble” (29-30). Hogan enters the cave. She describes it as “a sacred place, one of land’s quiet temples where hot water journeys upward after years of travel through deep earth” (30). “Barefoot, naked, I go down the stone pathway and lowermyself into the hot water,” she writes. “Surrounded by stone, this body of mine is seen in the dim light for what it is, fragile and brief” (30). She writes that she loves “what will consume us all, the place where the tunneling worms and roots of plants dwell, where the slow deep centuries of earth are undoing and remaking themselves” (30).

Hogan recalls a family trip when they stopped near the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. Hogan went for a walk. She saw a cave in the rocks above her. An African lion was in the cave’s mouth. She told her father, and he went up to investigate. He looked inside and shook his head. No lion. “But he did not go in,” she states. “He didn’t enter the dark” (31). She smelled the lion on her father, and concludes that even if he didn’t see the lion, the lion saw him. “I must have known, even then, that caves are not the places for men,” she continues. “They are a feminine world, a womb of earth, a germinal place of brooding. In many creation stories, caves are the places that bring forth life” (31). Since then, she has dreamed about caves; in one dream, the cave’s mouth was guarded by a skull with light shining from its eyes, and inside the cave “was warm, steaming water and chambers where women were working, sewing together bodies, stitching legs and arms, making life” (32). In that dream, she was looking for her mothers: “the earth, my human mother, my own life as a women” (32). Hogan returns to the hot spring in the cave. She sees, or imagines, animals in the cave, as in a creation story: rabbits, deer, owls, a puma, eagles. “There are the fetal beginnings of life to come, of survival,” she writes. “I want this to be true” (33). She’s not the only one: another woman, real or imagined, “felt the earth’s heartbeat” and left offerings of sage and tobacco.

Next, Hogan considers the bombing of Hiroshima. The city was made of clay bricks; the clay came from nearby mountains. She tells a story of a woman who went to Hiroshima after the bombing looking for her daughter and son-in-law. When she saw the pain of the survivors, she went into the mountains and lived in a cave for a year. “She returned bony and wise,” Hogan writes. “From her eyes shone a light. She was the first woman to become a Shinto priest. What she knew she had learned from the cave, heard spoken by it, she had seen in the darkness” (33-34). She writes of a cave in Spain where burned offerings and paintings were found. The paintings depicted a man, and facing him, a lion. She remembers the day she saw a lion outside a cave. “There was something deeper than human that day, I think now, something of the world of myth,” she continues, and she believes that her father would now say that a lion lived in that cave (34).

Hogan returns to the hot spring one last time. Other women enter; some are Indigenous, others are Japanese tourists. One of the women begins to sing, “a long clear not that fills the whole tunnel” (34). From the men’s cave she hears “the howling of wolves” (35). “I think that these are the songs of lives struggling against extinction, even translated through human voices, they are here inside the earth, inside the human body, the captive, contained animals,” she writes (35). One of the Indigenous women talks about rediscovering “the medicine ways” (35). “I love this inner earth, its murmuring heartbeat, the language of what will consume us,” Hogan concludes. “Above is the beautiful earth that we have come from. Below is heat, stone, fire. I am within the healing of nature, held in earth’s hand” (35).

The fourth essay is called “All My Relations.” It begins in a kitchen, an Indigenous household where food is being prepared. “I am asked if I still read books and I admit that I do,” Hogan recalls. “Reading is not ‘traditional’ and education has long been suspect in communities that were broken, in part, by that system, but we laught at my confession because a television set plays in the next room” (36-37). There are beds in the living room for guests. She talks to the man who will “put together the ceremony” Hogan has “come to request” (37). She offers him tobacco and explains about the help she is seeking. Telling her story, she says, “is the first part of the ceremony, my part in it” (37). She is sent home to prepare: to make 50 tobacco ties, prayer ties, and to get wood and food. On the day of the ceremony, the man and his wife pick her up in town. He doesn’t speak: “He is moving between worlds, beginning already to step over the boundaries fo what we think, in daily and ordinary terms, is real and present. He is already feeling, hearing, knowing what else is there, that which is around us daily but too often unacknowledged, a larger life than our own” (38). They see an eagle and stop to watch it. They arrive at the place where the ceremony, a sweat lodge, will take place. The fire is already burning. Her tobacco ties are placed inside the lodge, on its cottonwood framework. The hot stones are brought into the lodge. Water is poured on them and steam rises. “In a sweat lodge ceremony, the entire world is brought inside the enclosure,” Hogan writes. “The soft odor of smoking cedar accompanies this arrival. It is all called in. The animals come from the warm and sunny distances. Water from dark lakes is there. Wind. Young, lithe willow branches bent overhead remember their lives rooted in ground, the sun their leaves took in” (39). The wind and sky arrive. “It is a place grown intense and holy,” Hogan continues. “It is a place of immense community and of humbled solitude; we sit together in our aloneness and speak, one at a time, our deepest language of need, hope, loss, and survival. We remember that all things are connected” (40).

Remembering that connection is the ceremony’s purpose: “It is part of healing and restoration. It is the mending of a broken connection between us and the rest. The participants in a ceremony say the words ‘All my relations’ before and after we pray; those words create a relationship with other people, with animals, with the land” (40). Ceremonies restructure the human mind; in ceremony, “we bring together the fragments of our lives in a sacred act of renewal, and we reestablish our connections with others. The ceremony is a point of return. It takes us toward the place of balance, our place in the community of all things. It is an event that sets us back upright” (40). But the real ceremony begins when “the formal one ends, when we take up a new way, our minds and hearts filled with the vision of earth that holds us within it, in compassionate relationship to and with the world” (40-41). 

During the ceremony, “the animals and ancestors move into the human body, into skin and blood. The land merges with us. The stones come to dwell inside the person” (41). “We who easily grow apart from the world are returned to the great store of life all around us, and there is the deepest sense of being at home here in this intimate kinship,” Hogan writes. “There is no real aloneness. There is solitude and the nurturing silence that is relationship with ourselves, but even then we are part of something larger” (41). After the ceremony, everyone goes home. The tobacco ties are placed in nearby trees. “Everything returns to ordinary use,” she concludes. “It’s evening. The crickets are singing. All my relations” (41).

“What Holds the Water, What Holds the Light” is Hogan’s fifth essay. It begins with the author climbing a damp hill in the hot sun. She is walking with a friend. On the way, they stopped to drink rain water collected in a bowl of stone. Hogan thinks about “how earth and sky are generous with their gifts, and how good it is to receive them” (43). She recalls how friends had once filled a Mexican clay jar with water for her. She thinks about the time when Mexico City was called Iztapalapa, about the invasion of that place by Cortez’s army, the destruction that followed. She thinks about De Soto’s murderous rage and his “relentless, ongoing war against land” (44). “Humans colonizing and conquering others have a propensity for this, for burning behind them what they cannot possess or control, as if their conflicts are not with themselves and their own way of being, but with the land itself,” she writes (44). She thinks about how looters stole artifacts from the Spiro burial mounds in Oklahoma during the 1930s; two men dynamited the mounds when they were forbidden to continue stealing. “It seems, looking back, that these invasions amounted to a hatred of life itself, of fertility and generation,” Hogan continues:

The conquerors and looters refused to participate in a reciprocal and balanced exchange with life. They were unable to receive the best gifts of land, not gold or pearls or ownership, but a welcome acceptance of what is offered. They did not understand that the earth is generous and that encounters with the land might have been sustaining, or that their meetings with other humans could have led to an enriched confluence of ways. (44)

But she sees a similar way of thinking and behaving when men from the Department of Fish and Wildlife stock the Colorado River with rainbow trout: rather than using nets, “they poured the fish into the bed of their truck, kicked them out and down the hill, and then into the water. The fish that survived were motionless, shocked, gill slits barely moving, skin hanging off the wounds” (45). Treating the lives of those fish “with dignity and respect” would have taken only a few minutes more (45). 

“These actions, all of them, must be what Bushman people mean when they say a person is far-hearted,” Hogan suggests. “This far-hearted kind of thinking is one we are especially prone to now, with our lives moving so quickly ahead, and it is one that sees life, other lives, as containers for our own uses and not as containers in a greater, holier sense” (45). “Even wilderness,” she continues,

is seen as having value only as it enhances and serves our human lives, our human world. While most of us agree that wilderness is necessary to spiritual and psychological well-being, it is a container of far more, of mystery, of a life apart from ours. It is not only where we go to escape who we have become and what we have done, but it is also part of the natural laws, the workings of a world of beauty and depth we do not yet understand. It is something beyond us, something that does nto need our hand in it. As one of our Indian elders has said, there are laws beyond our human laws, and ways above ours. (45).

Our language of trade, “of laws that can be bent in order that treaties might be broken, land wounded beyond healing,” is “a language that is limited, emotionally and spiritually, as if it can’t accommodate such magical strength and power” (45-46). “The ears of this language,” Hogan writes,

do not often hear the songs of the white egrets, the rain falling into stone bowls. So we make our own songs to contain these things, make ceremonies and poems, searching for a new way to speak, to say we want a new way to live in the world, to say that wilderness and water, blue herons and orange newts are invaluable not just to us, but in themselves, in the workings of the natural world that rules us whether we acknowledge it or not. (46)

Hogan imagines that the Mexican clay jar “might have been made of the same earth that housed the birds of Iztapalapa,” that the trout might have lived in water it contained (46). It was not just “a bridge between the elements of earth, air, water, and fire,” but it was also “a bridge between people, a reservoir of love and friendship, the kind of care we need to offer back every day to the world as we begin to learn the land and its creatures, to know the world is the container for our lives, sometimes wild and untouched, sometimes moved by a caretakers hands” (46). Until we learn to be guests in the world, “the land will not support us, will not be hospitable, will turn on us” (46). That water jar reminds Hogan that “water and earth love each other,” “dissolving in each other, in the give and take that is where grace comes from” (46).

The sixth essay, “A Different Yield,” begins with listening. It starts with a woman’s description of a friend “as being such a keen listener that even the trees leaned toward her, as if they were peaking their innermost secrets into her listening ears” (47). Hogan remembers listening to the sounds of corn plants in the wind as a child. Pigs, too, could hear the corn: at the end of the season, when they were let into the field to eat any corn left behind, they would “make straight for any plant that still held an ear of corn, bypassing the others. They would listen, it seemed, to the denser song of corn where it still lived inside its dress of husk” (48). This memory leads to Barbara McClintock, a biologist who won the Nobel Prize for her work on corn genetics. “Her method was to listen to what corn had to say,” Hogan writes, “to translate what the plants spoke into a human tongue” (48). Hogan cites Evelyn Fox Keller’s book A Feeling for the Organism, which describes McClintock’s intimate knowledge of corn. “Her approach to her science was alive, intuitive, and humane,” Hogan states. “It was a whole approach, one that bridged the worlds of woman and plant, and crossed over the boundary lines between species” (48). McClintock’s “respect for life allowed for a vision expanded enough, and sharp enough, to see more deeply into the mysteries of matter than did other geneticists who were at work on the same problems. . . . She saw an alive world, a fire of life inside plants, even plants other than the corn” (48). In Adam’s Task, Vickie Hearne writes about the same kind of approach, only in relation to animals. In fact, Hogan writes, in recent years scientific research “is in search of a new vision, and of renewed intuitive processes of discovery that go beyond our previous assumptions about knowledge” (49).

Hogan recalls meeting a Jamaican artist, Everald Brown, who is “what Jamaicans call an ‘intuitive artist,’ though he himself says only that the doves have taught him his craft” (50). “Many creative people have called their inspiration ‘the muse,’” she notes. “Often they say their ideas come from a spirit world, from a life other than their own human life. Even the Bible is a work so described by its authors; it is the voice of God” (50). She cite’s Paul Klee’s suggestion “that we must return to the origins of things” (50). “This organic center, the center of creation, comes down to us through long traditions of learning the world’s own songs,” she writes. “In American Indian traditions, healers are often called interpreters because they are the ones who are able to hear the world and pass its wisdom along. They are the ones who return to the heart of creation” (50). But listening can also be found in Western traditions: Orpheus could communicate with animals, plants, water, and minerals; Psyche was given the solution to an impossible task by the ants and by the river reeds. Many traditions speak of stones that give guidance.

“In recent times, the term ‘myth’ has come to signify falsehood, but when we examine myths, we find that they are a high form of truth,” Hogan continues. “They are the deepest, innermost cultural stories of our human journeys toward spiritual and psychological growth” (51). Myth allows for a return to creation; it lets us “hear the world new again” (51). In mythic time, there was no gap between a word and the thing it represented, according to Octavio Paz. Now that connection has been broken, not only in language but in “our philosophies of life” (52). “There is a separation that has taken place between us and nature,” she writes. “Something has broken deep in the core of ourselves” (52). But, as we lose the planet’s wild spaces, that wilderness is entering our minds, resulting in “a spiritual fragmentation that has accompanied our ecological destruction” (52). But in a time of such destruction, our lives depend on listening to the earth; the world’s voices “infuse our every act,” and “give us back ourselves, point a direction for salvation” (52-53). Sometimes, she writes, those voices “even shake us down to the bedrock of our own human lives” (53). When chimpanzees were taught American Sign Language in the early 1970s, for instance, becoming fluent, our relationships as human beings to other creatures were revealed. “[I]f we are forced to accept that animals have intelligence, language, and sensitivity to pain, including psychological trauma, this acceptance has tremendous consequences for our own species and for our future actions,” she states (53). The unsettling results of those language experiments might suggest a potential liberation, “for not only the animals of the earth, but for our own selves, a freedom that could very well free us of stifling perceptions that have bound us tight and denied us the parts of ourselves that were not objective or otherwise scientifically respectable” (54). She notes that scientists who showed compassion for animals undergoing painful experiments are considered to lack objectivity: “We have arrived despairingly at a time when compassion and care are qualities that do no lend themselves to the world of intellectual thought” (55). “Not only have our actions revealed us to ourselves, and sometimes had dire results, but among many peoples educated in many European philosophical traditions, there has been an intense reaction to the bad news that cruelty is cruelty,” Hogan continues (55-56). It is simple to feed people, to work for peace, she writes, yet we are unable to do these things (56-57): “And even when animals learn to speak a language, and to communicate their misery, we still deny them the right to an existence free from suffering and pain” (57).

“I want to make two points here,” Hogan states. “One is about language and power. While we can’t say what language is much beyond saying that it is a set of signs and symbols and communicates meaning, we know it is the most highly regarded human facility” (57). But there are non-linguistic forms of communication: “We read one another via gesture, stance, facial expression, scent. And sometimes this communication is more honest, more comprehensible, than the words we utter” (57). These “inner forms of communication” might be “the strongest core of ourselves. We have feelings that can’t be spoken” (57). That speechlessness leads to poetry, painting, music, and to the “inner language that Barbara McClintock tapped for her research” (57). 

“Another point that needs to be made is that when issues become obscured by distorted values or abstract concepts, we lose a clarity that allows us to act even in our own best behalf, for survival not just of ourselves but of the homeland which is our life and our sustenance,” Hogan continues (58). We are searching for a language that heals our relationship with the natural order, “one that takes the side of the amazing and fragile life on our life-giving earth. A language that knows the corn, and the one that corn knows, a language that takes hold of the mystery of what’s around us and offers it back to us, full of awe and wonder” (59). This language “is a language of creation, of divine fire, a language that goes beyond the strict borders of scientific inquiry and right into the heart of the mystery itself” (59). “We are looking for a tongue that speaks with reverence for life, searching for an ecology of mind,” she writes. “Without it, we have no home, have no place of our own within the creation” (60). We want a language that “returns us to our own sacredness, to a self-love and respect that will carry out to others” (60). She notes that Indigenous peoples sing to their growing corn, which they call their grandmother. She wears a bracelet made of 49 kernels of corn, and imagines that when she dies, that corn will germinate: “My life inside the green blades of corn, the stalks and tassels and flying pollen? That red corn, that corn will be this woman” (61). Perhaps a woman scientist will listen. “Cornmeal and pollen are offered to the sun at dawn,” Hogan continues. “The ears of the corn are listening and waiting. They want peace” (61-62). At night, “you hear the plants talking among themselves. The wind passes through. It’s all there, the languages, the voices of wind, dove, corn, stones. The language of life won’t be silenced” (62). “Do you remember the friend that the leaves talked to?” Hogan asks at the end of the essay. “We need to be that friend. Listen. The ears of the corn are singing. They are telling their stories and singing their songs. We knew that would be true” (62).

Hogan’s seventh essay, “Deify the Wolf,” begins in northeastern Minnesota in February. It’s wolf country, and Hogan is with a group of people searching for timber wolves, “those howling ones the Anishnabe people say human beings descended from long ago, back in the days when animals and people spoke the same tongue” (64). One member of the party wants to see the threatened animals before they are extinct; another is a trapper; a third, a woman, thinks seeing wolves “would be ‘like in the movies’” (64). “I can’t say why I am here, but I have followed a map in the blood, an instinct I don’t know,” Hogan writes (64). But everyone in the group is keen on seeing, or at least hearing, wolves.

“The land cries out the thefts that have taken place,” Hogan states: the forests cut down and shipped to Europe, the iron ore mined and smelted to become, among other things, bear traps (65-66). “A holdover from the iron mining days is ‘the dump pack,’ a group of wolves that grew accustomed to the presence of miners and were tame enough to accept balogna sandwiches from the men’s hands,” she continues. “Recently the lives of wolves and men have begun to cross in new ways. A group of wildlife biologists is here to conduct a study of wolf populations. The townspeople, uncertain about what the biologists are up to, worry that they are here to save the wolves” (66). They complain that environmentalists want to “‘Deify the wolf,’ to make it holier, they say, than the sacred cow of India, a perception both extreme and irrational” (66). It’s a long-term conflict, based on the belief that wolves and human cannot co-exist: 

The local sentiment ‘there is no wolf like a dead wolf’ does not seem likely to change, no matter what the researchers  find, and there is very little assurance that this last substantial population of timber wolves will survive. The leading cause of death for wolves is contact with the human world. Our presence means tragedy to them. They are shot by hunters, trapped, poisoned, and hit by logging trucks as they travel the human roles. (67)

Not long ago, wolves could be shot from aircraft, and trappers baited animal carcasses with strychnine, killing not only wolves but birds and other animals. Once a group of Nakota people in South Dakota, starving when food promised by treaty did not arrive, were poisoned after eating poisoned meat that had been set out for wolves. 

The biologists set traps for the wolves, to immobilize them so they can be studied. They try to make the traps safe, but there are sometimes casualties. Some wolves chew off their legs rather than remain trapped. “There is a mystique about these wolves that lose a leg,” Hogan suggests. “Because they fight for live, they are worthy of human respect. They are called ‘Ghost Leg’ and ‘Phantom’ and other names that give these wolves significance because they want to live and we can identify with that; these wounded wolves are like us, freedom and life mean something to them, something important, as it does to us” (68-69). The biologists take blood samples, and a radio telemetry collar is attached to the animal, which allows the biologists to track it. The wolves have learned to chew the collars off each other; one pack even taught another how this was done. “A few of us wonder if the interference of this study isn’t as bad for the wolves as the ongoing presence of hunters and trappers has been,” Hogan continues. “The biologists share that concern” (69). They know their activity is stressful for the wolves, but they hope that the outcome of their study will be the wolves’ long-term survival. Some of their findings have helped to dispel myths about wolves: the idea that wolves are responsible for declining deer populations, or that they kill domestic animals.

One of the biologists brings wolf carcasses from his truck for the group to look at. One had been hit by a truck after being caught in a trap—a fox trap, he lies. Hogan forgives the honesty: “His tact, his opinion on either side, is liable to have a serious effect on the wolves” (71). That’s because environmental research tends to generate a backlash from the local community:

This situation is especially fragile, complicated by the psychological fact that wolves carry much of the human shadow. They contain for us many of our own traits, ones we repress within ourselves. More than any other animal, they mirror back to us the predators we pretend not to be. In that way, we have assigned to them a special association with evil. (71)

Close up, the wolves are beautiful. Hogan recalls seeing a photo in a newspaper in Colorado—a woman walking a captive black wolf on a leash. It looked afraid. Passersby wanted to touch it. “What need we humans have, a species lonely and lacking in love,” she writes. “These are gestures reserved for animals because the distance between one human and another is often too great to bridge” (72). The biologists pose with the dead wolves for photographs, and Hogan sees “the wolf invaded even in death” (73). It reminds her of the way American soldiers treated the bodies of the Indigenous people they killed.

“I’ve worked with death and I respect it, so it is hard to understand these human beings, let alone come close to knowing the inner terrain of the wolf,” Hogan states. “I believe people fear their own deaths, so they must belittle it. There are lessons to be learned in our behaviour” (73). She realizes she won’t learn about the wolves: “They are too complex for that” (73). She returns to the way people want to touch wild animals. “Something wild must hold such sway over the imagination that we can’t tear ourselves away from any part of wilderness without in some way touching it,” she writes (73).

The next day, the group flies in a plane, hoping to spot wolves from the air. They see three: “They are curled up like dogs, sleeping beside the enormous moose they have killed” (74). The wolves ignore the plane: “They have forgotten, or they have given up” (74). For Hogan, “[f]lying above them this way is like being part of a destruction” (74). The airplane is part of what separates humans from animals and from each other. 

That evening, Hogan is still thinking about that separation: “This far into the animal we find the human, and this far into the human we find the animal. Thinking long and hard about wolves, I feel as if they have possessed me—taken me in. I feel lost, transported” (74). The group is outside in the cold darkness, listening to the sounds around them, walking the road near the dump. “I’m thinking of how the elaborate ritual of one wolf greeting another is called a ceremony,” she writes. “It’s ceremony we want a share of. We are walking here to speak with the wolves. That’s what we want. We want to reach out to them, to tell them we are here. We want them to answer, acknowledge us, maybe even to like us. We think they will see our souls” (75). She looks up and sees the northern lights: “Magic is above us. Underneath us, beneath these lakes and islands, is some of the oldest rock in the world, more than three billion years old” (75). The group hears one wolf howl. A man answers “[i]n a language he only pretends to know” (76). “We wait. We are waiting for the wolves to answer. We want a healing, I think, a cure for anguish, a remedy that will heal the wound between us and the world that contains our broken histories,” Hogan writes. “If we could only hear them, the stars themselves are howling, but there is just the man’s voice, crying out, lonely. Not even those of us standing behind him answer. It is a silence we rarely feel, a vast and inner silence that goes deep, descends to the empty spaces between our cells” (76).

“We have followed the wolves and are trying to speak across the boundaries of ourselves,” Hogan concludes. “We are here, and if no wolf ever answers, or even if no wolves remained, we’d believe they are out there. And they are” (76).

At the start of the eighth essay, “Creations,” Hogan is travelling: “It is the day after spring equinox, and as we near the ocean, whiteness is the dominant feature. Salt beds stretch out at water’s edge. Beaches, made of sea-worn limestone and broken-down coral, are nearly blinding in the early spring light” (77-78). They are in the Yucatán, “a hungry place with dwindling resources” (78). With the end of the henequen industry, “a plant used to make hemp rope,” rope replaced with nylon and polypropylene, “the people have been relocated without consideration for what their presence would mean in this region, or how they would make a living out of the land” (78). 

Hogan shifts to the Mayan creation account. “In nearly all creation accounts,” she writes, “life was called into being through language, thought, dreaming, or singing, acts of interior consciousness” (80-81). For the Maya, time is alive and the world around them is sacred. Humans were first created from clay, which dissolved in the rain. Then, in the second creation, they were made from carved wood, but those people became hollow and, forgetting compassion, “transformed the world to fit their own needs,” leading the world to turn against them (81). Finally, the people were made from corn, “the substance of the gods,” and they saw what the gods saw; in order to make them more human, less god-like, “some of this vision was taken away so there might be mystery, and the mystery of creation and of death inspired deep respect and awe for all of creation” (82). Hogan suggests that the story of the hollow people “speaks against human estrangement from land” (82). “Emptiness and estrangement are deep wounds, strongly felt in the present time,” she writes:

We could have been split from what we could nurture, what could fill us. And we have been wounded by a dominating culture that has feared and hated the natural world, has not listened to the voice of the land, has not believed in the inner worlds of human dreaming and intuition, all things that have guided indigenous people since time stood up in the east and walked this world into existence, split from the connection between self and land. (82)

“Like the wooden people, many of us in this time have lost the inner substance of our lives and have forgotten to give praise and remember the sacredness of all life,” Hogan continues. “But in spit of this forgetting there is still a part of us that is deep and intimate with the world. We remember it by feel. We experience is as a murmur in the night, a longing and restlessness we can’t name, a yearning that tugs at us” (83). “For,” she writes, “it is only recently, in earth time, that the severing of the connections between people and land have taken place. Something in our human blood is still searching for it, still listening, still remembering” (83).

Hogan is in the Yucatan because of “this deep, unspoken remembering” (83). She is “searching out my own beginnings, the thread of connection between old Maya cultures and my own Chickasaw heritage” (83). Some oral traditions of the Chickasaw say that they originated in Mexico and paddled dugout canoes to Florida. “Here, there is a feel for the mystery in our being in all ways, in earth and water,” she writes. “It is a feel for the same mystery that sends scientists to search for the beginning of the universe. We seek our origins as much as we seek our destinies” (84). And, she continues, “we desire to see the world intact, to step outside our emptiness and remember the strong currents that pass between humans and the rest of nature, currents that are the felt voice of the land, heard in the cells of the body” (84). It’s “the same magnetic call” that brings sea turtles back to Yucatán’s beaches every year (84).

“In the traditional belief systems of native people, the terrestrial call is the voice of God, or of gods, the creative power that lives on earth, inside earth, in turtle, stone, and tree,” Hogan writes. “Knowledge comes from, and is shaped by, observations and knowledge of the natural world and natural cycles” (85). Beliefs like this are sometimes inventions of the mind; other times, Hogan contends, “they are inventions of the land” (85). “The Western belief that God lives apart from earth is one that has taken us toward collective destruction,” she continues. “It is a belief narrow enough to forget the value of matter, the very thing that soul inhabits. It has created a people who neglect to care for the land for the future generations” (85-86).

Not far from where Hogan is, Fray Diego de Landa tortured and killed Maya people and burned their libraries of knowledge: history, sacred stories, medical knowledge, mathematics, astronomy. Perhaps those books held a clue to our own survival. “This burned and broken history is part of the story of the land,” she notes. “It is the narrative of the past by which we still live. But the memory of an older way remains. It is stored in the hearts and blood of the people and in the land” (86-87).

Hogan now turns to the coast itself, the estuary and the wetlands and mangrove swamps, which they explore by boat. “This red estuary is alive and breathing, moving with embryonic clay and silt,” she says (87). She describes the mangroves and their importance to the ecosystem. A white egret steps along the edge of the water; on the other side of the water’s edge a solitary blue heron stands. Herons sometimes die of stress, like the Hmong men, “forced to leave their country and rootless in America” who “die of no apparent cause when they are sleeping” (89). “I understand the loss that leads to despair and to death,” Hogan writes. “It has happened to us and is happening to land, the breaking of the heart of creation” (89). Still, land is being returned to Indigenous peoples, and animal species are coming back: buffalo, flamingos. Then the group sees the flamingos, “red as volcanic fire breaking open from black rock” (90). The flock stretches for a mile along the shore. “We are drawn to these birds the way air is pulled into fire,” she says. “They are proof of how far blood will travel to seek its beginning” (90). 

The group sees a termite nest in a mangrove. The nest “is a contained intelligence, made up of lives that work together with the mind of a single organism” (91). The termites “break down wood, forming rich soil in a place that would otherwise be choked” (92). They step onto the shore to explore the mangrove swamp on foot, looking for a place where an underground river rises to the surface: 

here, where the underground river ends, other beginnings are fed, other species and creations. If it were time, instead of space, scholars would call it zero date, that place where, as for the Maya, the end of one world is the beginning of another. As they interpret the world, time is alive and travels in a circle. There were other creations and worlds before the one we now inhabit; the cosmos re-forms itself.

For those who know only this one universe, to think of its origins is an overwhelming task. It means to think before time, before space, all the way back to the void that existed before creation. And for people of science, as for those of religion, the universe in its cosmic birth originated from small and minute beginnings. There was nothing and then life came into existence. (93)

“If endings are foreshadowed by their beginnings,” Hogan continues, “it is important that we circle around and come back to look at our human myths and stories” (93). The Maya believed time was cyclical; “the Western tradition of beliefs within a straight line of history leads to an apocalyptic end. And stories of the end, like those of the beginning, tell something about the people who created them” (93). We can imagine endings, extinctions, but not continuations. “From this position, fear, bereavement, and denial keep us in the state of estrangement from our natural connection with land” (94). Not surprisingly, then, Hogan states, “[w]e need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of the land, a new narrative that would imagine another way, to learn the infinite mystery and movement at work in the world” (94). “Indian people must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us,” she continues. “We need to reach a hand back through time and a hand forward, stand at the zero point of creation to be certain that we do not create the absence of life, of any species, no matter how inconsequential they might appear to be” (94-95).

For Hogan, the world is a mystery, and that’s important: “The immeasurable quality of this world has depth and breadth we can’t measure. Yet we know it’s there, and we believe in it, the whole of it has been revealed only a small piece at a time. Cosmologists now surmise there are other universes. Creation is still taking place. As the story becomes larger, we become smaller. Perhaps that is why we shape belief around mystery” (95). “We come from the land, sky, from love and the body. From matter and creation,” Hogan continues. “We are, life is, an equation we cannot form or shape, a mystery we can’t trace in spite of our attempts to follow it back to its origin” (95-96): 

We do not know the secrets of stars. We do not know the true history of water. We do not know ourselves. We have forgotten that this land and every life-form is a piece of god, a divine community, with the same forces in creation in plants as in people. All the lives around us are lives of gods. The long history of creation has shaped plankton, and shaped horseshoe crabs, has shaped our human being. Everything is Maker; mangroves, termites, all are sources of one creation or another. Without respect and reverence for it, there is an absence of holiness, of any God. (96)

“The face of the land is our face, and that of all its creatures,” she writes. “To see whole is to see all the parts of the puzzle, some of which have not even been found. . . . What grows here and what grows within us is the same” (97). “What does god look like?” Hogan asks at the essay’s conclusion. “These fish, this water, this land” (98).

In her ninth essay, “Stories of Water,” Hogan writes, “[e]arth is a water planet. It is a world of salt oceans, cloud forests, underground springs, and winding rivers” (99). Water has made caves and, in the form of glaciers, has remade landscapes. Water shapes the mountains where she lives. It carves canyons. It pushes stones out of the topsoil. “Everywhere water travels, life follows,” she states (100). Indigenous peoples “have ceremonies to bring rain clouds to arid lands,” she continues, and there are stories about water (100-01). She recalls a trip to the Caribbean—the journey to the Yucatán she writes about in the previous essay?—where, either snorkeling or scuba diving, she saw colourful fish, barracuda, jellyfish. “It was a world apart from our world,” she writes. “I was taken in by it, taken almost away, surfacing to find no sight of shore, no memory of how I had arrived in this suspension of life” (101). Hogan recalls how, when she was a girl, a creek she often visited flooded, and that afterwards the earth was changed: “We had no choice but to bend down before water’s will; it was stronger than ours” (102). 

A man recently told Hogan about a journey by canoe along a river to Hudson Bay. The travellers were tormented by clouds of mosquitoes; the days were hot; the nights were freezing. But they also saw freshwater beluga whales playing underneath their canoes. This story leads to a recollection of Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, a story about a whaling boat sunk by a whale. Why do men take such risks? “Perhaps they knew that water would carry them full circle face-to-face with themselves, or maybe they searched for a light stronger than that produced by barrels of sperm whale oil,” Hogan writes. “The sea is a primal magnet, and maybe theirs were journeys into mystery and wilderness, a pull toward healing, toward a baptism in the enormous world of life, a coming together of land creatures with the holy waters of earth that carry not only ships and giant fish, but also our own hidden treasures” (104).

The previous summer, Hogan travelled across Lake Superior to Isle Royale, “an island most well known for its wolf and moose population” (104). The boatman told her a story about a luxury liner’s shipwreck. He and his father participated in the rescue efforts; witnessing the disaster caused him to lose his memory. “His first recollection, a few weeks later, was of a room in his home that was filled with sweet-smelling fruit,” Hogan writes. The ship “had carried a cargo of fresh fruits, and the water of Lake Superior was the precise temperature needed to preserve the fruit in the hull of the capsized boat” (104-05). For months after the wreck, divers brought fruit up from the depths, perfectly preserved.

“The last traces of older civilizations are beneath the water,” Hogan continues. She once found a tile on the beach which she imagined came from Atlantis. “But after all these stories, the most amazing tale of all belongs to water’s own voice, telling a story of it’s [sic] unbroken orbit from itself to itself” (105-06). The amount of water on the planet is always the same: “This is a story of circular infinity, of a planet birthing itself” (106). Someone told her a story about travelling the Amazon River and encountering a tree covered with what appeared to be pink blossoms but that turned out to be flamingos perched on the branches. Stories about the rainforest, she continues, seem supernatural, and those forests are endangered, even though they “are the place our air is born” (107). And as the forest is destroyed, the people who live in it die: “Since 1900, more than half of the tribal people of Brazil have become extinct” (107). “The journey of water is round, and its loss, too, moves in a circle, following us around the world as we lose something of such immense value that we do not yet even know its name,” she writes (107-08). Outside, the ice is melting on a spring day. Hogan thinks about the places that water has been. The water’s protean nature “reminds us that we are water people,” and that “everything [is] a round river, in a circle, alive and moving” (108).

Hogan’s tenth essay, “The Kill Hole,” begins with an ancient people who once lived in New Mexico, the Mimbres. “Like the Anasazi and other ancient nations, these were people of the mystery, having abandoned their place and vanished into a dimension that has remained unknown to those of us who have come later,” Hogan writes. “But before they disappeared into the secret, the Mimbres ‘killed’ their pots by breaking a hole in the center of each one. It is thought that the hole served to release the spirit of the pot from the clay, allowing it to travel with them over land and to join them in their burial grounds. It is called a ‘kill hole’” (109-10).

The third funeral Hogan attended made her think about the kill hole, “how life escapes the broken clay of ourselves, travels away from the center of our living” (100). The woman died in California, near the place “where Ishi, the last Yana Indian, was found in 1911” (110). The Yana had hidden themselves from Settlers, but as logging progressed, they were discovered, “finally, by surveyors who must have believed he was not a man in the way they were men, for they carried away his few possessions as souvenirs for their families” (110). For four years, Ishi was a living exhibit in a museum, studied by experts, until he died of tuberculosis, “one of the diseases of civilization” (111). Ishi’s story tells us about the flaws of civilization, the “loss and emptiness that will never again be filled, of whole cultures disappeared, of species made extinct, all of these losses falling as if through a hole, like a spirit leaving earth’s broken clay” (111). 

Hogan thinks (again) about how apes were taught sign language, creating “a dialogue that bridged the species barrier” (111). The animals “spoke a world of emotion, of feelings similar to our own,” until the project ended and they were “sold into scientific research” (112). “From these studies, we learned that primates have a capacity for love and resistance, that they not only have a rich emotional life, but that they are also able to express their pain and anguish,” Hogan writes. “This is an event whose repercussions astonish us with their meaning, whose presence throws us into an identity crisis equal to that in Galileo’s time when the fabric of belief was split wide open to reveal that Earth was not the center of the universe” (112). It speaks of “our responsibility to treat with care and tenderness all the other lives that share our small world” (112). Many scientists ignored the importance of the research, taking refuge in new definitions of intelligence that excluded apes. For Hogan, this “armor of defense” might come from “the downfall of our beliefs about who and what we are as human beings” (113). “One by one, in our lifetimes, our convictions about ourselves and our place within the world have been overturned,” she writes (113). Using tools, altruism, even art-making, have been discovered to be practiced by animals. Animals even have humour. “Still wanting a place of our own, a place set aside form the rest of creation, now it is being ventured that maybe our ability to make fire separates us, or perhaps the desire to seek revenge,” she continues. “But no matter what direction the quest for separation might take, there has been a narrowing down of the difference between species, and we are forced to ask ourselves once again: what is our rightful place in the world, our responsibility to the other lives on the planet?” (114). She acknowledges that this question, this time, is strange and confusing, but she is certain of something: “We are of the animal world. We are part of the cycles of growth and decay. Even having tried to hard to see ourselves apart, and so often without a love for even our own biology, we are in relationship with the rest of the planet, and that connectedness tells us we must reconsider the way we see ourselves and the rest of nature” (115). 

“A change is required of us, a healing of the betrayed trust between humans and earth,” Hogan writes:

Caretaking is the utmost spiritual and physical responsibility of our time, and perhaps that stewardship is finally our place in the web of life, our work, the solution to the mystery of what we are. There are already so many holes in the universe that will never again be filled, and each of them forces us to question why we permitted such loss, such tearing away from the fabric of life, and how we will live with our planet in the future. (115)

Ishi is one of those losses, one of those holes. Hogan notes that “ishi” means “man” in the Yana language, that Ishi kept his real name to himself: “It was his only possession, all that remained for him of a lost way of life” (115). “The kill hole where everything falls out is not just found in earth’s or the body’s clay,” Hogan continues. “It is a dusky space between us and others, the place where our compassion has fallen away, our capacity for love failed” (115-16). “What we are,” she writes, “lives in that abyss” (116). Some of us, though, have taken steps to create “a bridge across that broken world,” like those who enabled communication between apes and humans (116). The essay concludes with the California condors and their return from the brink of extinction: “A mending is taking place, a life emerging like the thread out of a Navajo rug’s pattern of loss” (116).

Next is the title essay, “Dwellings,” a series of fragments about the places where beings live, particularly the places they construct for themselves. It begins with a meditation on an eroded hill where bees live. She discovered those bees one summer day. “Sitting in the hot sun, watching the small bees fly in and out around the hill, hearing the summer birds, the light breeze, I felt right in the world,” Hogan writes. “I belonged there. I thought of my own dwelling places, those real and those imagined” (118-19). She remembers living in a town called Manitou, where a hot mineral spring “gurgled beneath the streets and rose up into open wells” (119). “A few years after that, I wanted silence. My daydreams were full of places I longed to be, shelters and solitudes,” she continues. “And how often I’ve wanted to escape to a wilderness where a human hand has not been in everything. But those were only dreams of peace, of comfort, of a nest inside stone or woods, a sanctuary where a dream or life wouldn’t been invaded” (119).

Years before, a man lived in a cave in a nearby canyon, “like a troglodite” (119). He became lonely and found a wife, but she tired of living in the cave. First they installed a door, then heat, then air-conditioning, “and after that the earth wanted to go about life in its own way and it didn’t give in to the people” (120). Once houses were built from trees felled in one part of a forest so that “the house would hold together more harmoniously” (120). An Italian immigrant in Chicago built marvelous birdhouses like cathedrals. One afternoon, Hogan “waited for barn swallows to return from their daily work of food gathering” (120-21); she thinks about their nests, “perfect as a potter’s bowl” (121). Abandoned housed begin to sag without occupants. Hogan recalls raking the gravel floor of a flight cage at the raptor rehabilitation facility where she works and finding two fetal mice in a pile of bones. They were being bitten by ants, screaming, and Hogan tried to save them by drowning the ants: “I was trading one life for another, exchanging the lives of ants for those of mice, but I hated their suffering, and hated even more that they had not yet grown to a life, and already they inhabited the miserable world of pain” (122). There are other lives than the mice in those rooms—wasps, spiders, ants—but she thinks most of the mice and their nests. “The mice have adapted to live in the presence of their enemies, adapted to living in the thin wall between beak and beak, claw and claw,” she writes (123).

Hogan recalls how tourists at the corn dance at Zia Pueblo began picking up shards of the old pottery that had been made and broken there: “The residents of Zia know not to take the bowls and pots left behind by the older ones. They know that the fragments of those earlier lives need to be smoothed back to earth, but younger nations, travelers from continents across the world who have come to inhabit this land, have little of their own to grown on” (123). Those fragments of pottery, she continues, “provide the new people a lifeline to an unknown land, help them remember that they live in the old nest of earth” (123).

Hogan remembers a hike in February, during the mating season of great horned owls. She wanted to hear the owls, “the voices so tender, so deep, like a memory of comfort” (123). Halfway up the trail, she found a fallen nest: “Holding it in my hand in the rosy twilight, I noticed that a blue thread was entwined with the other gatherings there” (123-24). It was from one of her skirts. She liked the way “that a thread of my life was in an abandoned nest, one that had held eggs and new life,” and she took the nest home. There, studying it more closely, she found that it held “a gnarl” of her daughter’s hair (124). She didn’t know what kind of bird had made that nest:

It didn’t matter. I thought of the remnants of our lives carried up the hill that way and turned into shelter. That night, resting inside the walls of our home, the world outside weighed so heavily against the thin wood of the house. The sloped roof was the only thing between us and the universe. Everything outside of our wooden boundaries seemed so large. (124)

She lists the beings living outside: wild grapes, “burrowing ones,” horned owls, mice, skunks, fox, porcupine, bees (124). “The whole world was a nest on its humble tilt, in the maze of the universe, holding us,” she concludes (124).

The twelfth essay begins with a memory of Hogan lying “on the moist spring earth” beside her mother, looking up at the night sky (125). “There seemed to be two kinds of people; earth people and those others, the sky people, who stumbled over pebbles while they walked around with their heads in clouds,” she writes:

Sky people loved different worlds than I loved; they looked at nests in treetops and followed the long white snake of vapor trails. But I was an earth person, and while I loved to gaze up at night and stars, I investigated the treasures at my feet, the veined wing of a dragonfly opening a delicate blue window to secrets of earth, a lusterless beetle that drank water thirstily from the tip of my finger and was transformed into sudden green and metallic brilliance. (125-26)

Years later, finding her way home on New Year’s Eve by following the North Star, Hogan thinks “that learning the sky might be a practical thing” (126). “But it was the image of earth from out in space that gave me upward-gazing eyes,” she continues. “To dream of the universe is to know that we are small and brief as insects, born in a flash of rain and gone a moment later. We are delicate and our world is fragile” (126). 

Hogan recalls the 1977 launch of the Voyager probes and the greetings to aliens they contained in different languages. “There is so much hope in those greetings, such sweetness,” she writes. “If found, these messages will play our world to a world that’s far away. They will sing out the strangely beautiful sounds of Earth, sounds that in all likelihood exist on no other planet in the universe” (127-28). When, if, those recordings are found, it’s probable that “the trumpeting bellows of elephants, the peaceful chirping of frogs and crickets, the wild dogs baying out from the golden needle and record, will be nothing more than a gone history of what once lived on this tiny planet in the curving tail of a spiral galaxy” (128). She thinks about the recorded sounds and images included with those spacecraft: “To think that the precious images of what lives on earth beside us, the lives we share with earth, some endangered, are now tumbling through time and space, more permanent than we are, and speaking the sacred language of life that we ourselves have only just begun to remember” (129). 

“There is so much hope there that it takes us away form the dark times of horror we live in,” she writes, considering the genocides we have perpetrated (130). “At second glance, this vision for a new civilization, by its very presence, shows us what is wrong with our world,” she continues. “The underside of our lives grows in proportion to what is denied. The darkness is made darker by the record of light” (130). For Hogan, “[t]he broken link between us and the rest of our world grows too large, and the material of nightmares grows deeper while the promises for peace and equality are empty, are merely dreams without reality” (130). 

Hogan considers a time when Catholic missions “were being erected in Indian country,” when a white woman showed paintings of Jesus and Mary to an Indigenous woman. When the white woman showed a picture of the crucifixion, however, “the Indian woman hurried away to warn others that these were dangerous people, people to fear, who did horrible things to each other” (131). Hogan notes that no images of the crucifixion are included with Voyager, “for fear we earth people would ‘look’ cruel” (131). “There are no political messages, no photographs of Hiroshima,” she writes. “This is to say that we know our own wrongdoings” (131).

She notes that pictures of a naked man and a naked pregnant woman were not included on Voyager because it was “‘smut,’” “as if our own origins, the divine flux of creation that passes between a man and a woman, are unacceptable, something to hide” (131). “[T]his embarrassment about our own carriage of life and act of creative generation nevertheless reveals our feelings of physical vulnerability and discomfort about our own life force,” she contends (132). “From an American Indian perspective, there are other problems here,” she continues: the selection process itself “bespeaks many of the failings of an entire system of thought and education. From this record, we learn about our relationships, not only with people, but with everything on earth” (132). “We inhabit only a small space in the house of life,” she writes (133). 

Will the “time capsule” aboard Voyager be found (133)? “We barely even know our human histories, so much having unraveled before our time, and while we know that our history creates us, we hope there is another place, another world we can fly to when ours is running out,” she writes. “We have come so far away from wisdom, a wisdom that is the heritage of all people, an old kind of knowing that respects a community of land, animals, plants, and other people as equal to ourselves. Where we know the meaning of relationship” (133). And yet, “[t]he people of earth are reaching out. We are having a collective vision. Like young women and men on a vision quest, we seek a way to live out the peace of the vision we have sent to the world of stars” (134). Hogan returns to the memory with which she began the essay: “That night we were small, my mother and I, and we were innocent. We were children of the universe. In the gas and dust of life, we are voyagers” (134).

The fourteenth essay is called “The Snake People.” “One green and humid summer, my father and I were driving through the hot Oklahoma countryside,” Hogan writes, when “something that looked like a long golden strand of light leapt up, twisted in the wavering air, and flew lightning fast across the road” (135). It was a golden racer snake. “That flying snake, that thin flash of light, brought back a store of memories,” she continues. “Our lives have been peopled with snakes and stories of snakes: there was my Chickasaw grandfather who, riding his stocky, thick-muscled horse, could smell the reptile odor from a distance,” and her Aunt Louise, who “had a reputation for swimming among water moccasins so smoothly that they did not take note of her” (135-36). Hogan and her father, while fishing for worms in an abandoned well, discovered a blue racer: “Quickly, my father caught it. He held it just behind the head for a while, then put it into my hands” (136). There are other stories, too, about rattlesnakes, and in most of those stories, the snakes ended up being killed, “with shovels, hoes, sticks, and sometimes with guns” (137). She thinks that the blue racer her father caught must have ended up being killed as well. “But its graceful life, not its death, is what has remained in my memory,” she writes. “And down through the years, I have come to love the snakes and their long, many-ribbed bodies” (137).

That love was strengthened by a dream “of a woman who placed a fantastic snake over her face” (137-38). The woman and the snake became one: “Her breath became the snake’s slow breathing, and they lived through one another, inhabiting a tropical world of wet leaves, vines, and heavy, perfumed flowers” (138). The woman began to dance and “other people emerged from the forest wearing feathers, deep blue and emerald green, like human birds” (138). Then the music and the people disappeared. “The woman removed the snake and placed it on a wall where it hung alive and beautiful, waiting for another ceremonial dance,” Hogan continues, and in the dream, the woman told Hogan that everyone has pieces of that snake’s skin, and if everyone saves those pieces, “it will remain alive” (138). At first, she thought the dream was about tradition and history, but since then she has expanded her vision: “Now, it seems that what needs to be saved, even in its broken pieces, is earth itself, the tradition of life, the beautiful blue-green world that lives in the coiling snake of the Milky Way” (138-39).

Hogan recalls walking along a road in spring and seeing a snake. “It moves off the road so carefully and mysteriously, an inch at a time, as though it is sliding off ice,” she remembers (139). A friend tells her that he once saw a black racer carried into the sky by a red-tailed hawk. The snake was still alive. Another hawk appeared and the two birds fought over the snake. During the fight, the snake was dropped. Hogan wonders if the snake survived its fall. Hogan herself once say an eagle carrying a snake through the sky to its nest. Another time, she saw a snake swallowing a bird.

When floods happen, snakes seek refuge from the water by moving uphill, wrapping themselves around branches to wait for the waters to recede. “Gold-eyed, they stretch across limbs, some looping down, some curled tight and nestlike between branch and trunk, their double tongues darting out like weather vanes,” Hogan writes. “They remind me of women who know they are beautiful” (140).

Human cultures once considered snakes to be symbols “of healing and wholeness,” but more recently, “the snake has symbolized our wrongs, our eating from the tree of knowledge, our search and desire for the dangerous revelations of life’s mystery” (140-41). We have been damned by “[k]nowledge without wisdom, compassion, or understanding” (141). Hogan writes of the Hope snake dance, which celebrates “the old ones, immortals who shed a milky skin to reveal the new and shining” (141). “[T]he image of snakes twined about a tree or one another looks surprisingly like the double, twisted helix of DNA,” she suggests (142). 

“I call them people. That’s what they are. They have been here inhabiting the same dens for tens of thousands of generations,” Hogan writes. “They love their freedom, their dwelling places, and often die of sadness when kept in captivity” (142).

Hogan recalls walking on a road and seeing a snake that has been hit by a car. It is dying. The snake’s belly has been cut open, and from the wound a baby snake that has been swallowed but is still alive escapes. “It leaves a winding, thin path in the road dust,” she concludes. “Maybe it is writing a story of survival there on the road, of what is left of wilderness, or of what has become of earth’s lesser gods as one by one they disappear” (143).

In the next essay, “Porcupine,” Hogan considers “the dark old porcupine” she sees walking on the edge of the road (144). “This one is torn and lame and her undignified quills are broken on one side, as if she has slept them tangled,” she writes. “She hobbles and limps away from her many batterings. She wears her history, dark and spiney, and there is a light in her, a fire around the dreary sharp halo of quills” (145). One evening Hogan finds the porcupine dead beside the road: “Her face is sweet and dark, her inner light replaced by the light of sky. The drifting clouds are in her eyes” (145). She offers sage to “this animal old woman who lived on earth, who breathed the same air that for years I have been breathing, and that breath prays for all creatures on earth” (145). The next morning, she notices that the porcupine’s body is being eaten by maggots which are turning into beetles and flies. “In that crossing over, that swallowing, the battle of life with life, the porcupine lives on,” she concludes. “In its transformation, life continues. My life too, which stopped only for a small moment in history, in that great turning over of the world” (146).

The fifteenth essay is “Waking Up the Rake.” Hogan remembers her grandmother’s hair. When she was a child, Hogan would sometimes brush her grandmother’s hair. “We were the old and the new, bound together in front of the snapping fire, woven like a lifetime’s tangled growth of hair,” she writes. “I saw my future in her body and face, and her past was alive in me” (147-48). Years later, when Hogan was sick, she went to a traditional healer. They prayed together at dawn for several days. A year later, she returned, and the healer told her, “‘Our work is our altar,’” words that have remained with her (148).

“Now I am a disciple of birds,” she writes, the birds whose cages she cleans at the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Foundation (148). She considers the carcasses and skins she sees as she cleans those cages. “Over time, the narrow human perspective from which we view things expands,” she suggests. “A deer carcass begins to look beautiful and rich in its torn redness” (149). So too do the bone fragments in the cases she cleans. “This work is an apprenticeship, and the birds are the teachers,” she writes (150). “There is a silence needed here before a person enters the bordered world the birds in habit, so we stop and compose ourselves before entering their doors,” she continues. “The most difficult task the birds demand is that we learn to be equal to them, to feel our way into an intelligence that is different from our own” (150). The birds know “that as humans we have somehow fallen from our animal grace, and because of that we maintain a distance from them, though it is not always a distance of the heart” (150). Nearly all of the birds have been “injured in a clash with the human world”: shot, hit by cars, caught in traps, poisoned, ensnared by fences (150-51). “To ensure their survival, they must remember us as the enemies that we are,” she writes. “We are the embodiment of a paradox: we are the wounders and we are the healers” (151).

In cleaning the cages, Hogan begins “to see the larger order of things. In this place, there is a constant coming to terms with both the sacred place life occupies, and with death” (151). In death, life returns in the form of ants and maggots, which “are time’s best and closest companions” (151). “To sit with the eagles and their flutelike songs, listening to the longer flute of wind sweep through the lush grasslands, is to begin to know the natural laws that exist apart from our written ones,” she writes” (151). Intuition is one of those laws, she contends: “It’s a blood-written code that directs us through life” (151). 

There are rewards to her work: seeing snakes, turtles, reminders “of all the lives beyond these that occupy us” (152). “One green morning, an orphaned owl perches nervously above me while I clean,” she writes (152-53). It accidentally lands on the end of her rake before flying off to a safer perch. “The word rake means to gather or heap up, to smooth the broken ground,” Hogan continues. “That’s what this work is, all of it, the smoothing over of broken ground, the healing of the severed trust we humans hold with earth. We gather it back together again with great care, take the broken pieces and fragments and return them to the sky. It is work at the borderland between species, at the boundary between injury and healing” (153). Her work, her raking, “becomes a road to what is essential,” she writes. “Work is the country of hands, and they want to live there in the dailiness of it, the repitition [sic] that is time’s language of prayer, a common tongue. Everything is there, in that language, in the humblest of labor” (154). In that work, “all earth’s gods are reborn, and they dance and sing in the dusty air around us” (154).

The book’s last essay is entitled “Walking.” It begins with a plant growing on a hillside. “I saw it first in early summer,” Hogan writes. “It was a green and sleeping bud, raising itself toward the sun. Ants worked around the unopened bloom, gathering aphids and sap. A few days later, it was a tender young flower, soft and new, with a pale green center and a troop of silver-grey insects climbing up and down the stalk” (155-56). The sunflower “grew into a plant of incredible beauty” (156). As summer progressed, new insects visited that sunflower every day. Eventually “birds arrived to carry the new seeds to another future” (156). “In this one plant, in one summer season, a drama of need and survival took place,” Hogan continues. “Hungers were filled. Insects coupled. There was escape, exhaustion, and death. Lives touched down a moment and were gone” (156-57). Hogan acknowledges that she was an outsider, that she “never learned the sunflower’s golden language or the tongues of its citizens” (157). She understood little of the flower, the insects, and the birds, “[b]ut they knew what to do, how to live” (157).

Hogan notes that “[t]here are other summons and calls, some even more mysterious than those commandments to birds or those survival journeys of insects” (157). Once every hundred years, a certain species of bamboo flowers, no matter where it is, in Malaysia or in a Minnesota greenhouse. “Some current of an inner language passes among them, through space and separation, in ways we cannot explain in our language,” she writes. “They are all, somehow, one plant, each with a share of communal knowledge” (157). Sometimes Hogan hears that language: “The light of the sunflower was one language, but there are others more audible” (158). She recalls “a beat, something like a drum or heart coming from the ground and trees and wind” in a redwood forest, and the “booming voice of an ocean storm thundering from far out at sea” (158). 

“Tonight I walk,” Hogan writes. “I am watching the sky. I think of the people who came before me and how they knew the placement of stars in the sky, watched the moving sun long and hard enough to witness how a certain angle of light touched a stone only once a year. Without written records, they knew the gods of every night, the small, fine details of the world around them and of immensity above them” (158). She can almost hear “the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark, considering snow” (158). She passes the place where that sunflower grew and wonders if it will return the next summer. It’s winter. “It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood,” she continues. “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands” (158-59).

I began this summary wondering how Hogan’s version of the world might compare to Latour’s object-oriented ontology. I would have to reread both texts much more carefully, teasing out similarities and differences, but after quickly reading both texts, I think that their emphasis on the aliveness, or at least agency, of everything around us is a similarity between them. The difference, though, is in Hogan’s emphasis, her insistence, on the idea of relationships—both between humans and the world, and between everything in that world. Even to say “between humans and the world” is a mistake, the product of an epistemology and ontology that imagine, incorrectly, a separation between us and our surroundings. That’s what Hogan would say, I think, and I believe Latour would agree, perhaps. There is much to think about in these essays, and Hogan’s beautiful prose is certainly worth rereading. I hope I get a chance to return to this book.

Works Cited

Hogan, Linda. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World, 1995, Norton, 2007.

Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, translated by Catherine Porter, Polity, 2018.

121. Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime

bruno latour down to earth

I first heard about philosopher of science Bruno Latour at the Walking’s New Movements conference in Plymouth, England, where I gave a paper at the beginning of November. I thought I might read his book Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime eventually, but a friend raves about this book and tells me that it is directly connected to my project. So here I go.

Down to Earth is a book-length essay. It begins by explicitly addressing Trump’s election in order to bring together three phenomena whose connections have been missed. The first is the claim, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that history had ended. The second is the history that was happening, despite denials: a history defined by “an increasingly vertiginous explosion of inequalities” (1). Those two phenomena “coincided with a third that is less often stressed: the beginning of a systematic effort to deny the existence of climate change” (1). “This essay proposes to take these three phenomena as symptoms of a single historical situation: it is as though a significant segment of the ruling classes (known today rather too loosely as ‘the elites’) had concluded that the earth no longer had enough room for them and for everyone else,” Latour writes. “Consequently, they decided that it was pointless to act as though history were going to continue to move toward a common horizon, toward a world in which all humans could prosper equally. From the 1980s on, the ruling classes stopped purporting to lead and began instead to shelter themselves from the world” (1-2). “The absence of a common world we can share is driving us crazy,” Latour continues (2).

Latour’s hypothesis is simple: 

we can understand nothing about the politics of the last 50 years if we do not put the question of climate change and its denial front and centre. Without the idea that we have entered into a New Climatic Regime, we cannot understand the explosion of inequalities, the scope of deregulation, the critique of globalization, or, most importantly, the panicky desire to return to the old protections of the nation-state—a desire that is identified, quite inaccurately, with the “rise of populism.” (2)

“To resist this loss of a common orientation,” Latour continues, “we shall have to land somewhere. So, we shall have to learn how to get our bearings, how to orient ourselves. And to do this we need something like a map of the positions imposed by the new landscape within which not only the affects of public life but also its stakes are being redefined” (2). The word “affects” is interesting, and Latour repeats it in the following paragraph when he suggests that his reflections “explore the possibility that certain political affects might be channeled toward new objectives” (2). Is Latour influenced by affect theory, another thing I learned about at Walking’s New Movements?

For Latour, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord makes a statement that the U.S. no longer belongs to the same planet as everyone else. In other words, “no longer is there an ideal of a world common to what used to be called ‘the West’” (3). Brexit was the first historic event leading in this direction: it is a decision “to stop playing the game of globalization” (3)—or at least to play that game in a different way, one that does not require the free movement of immigrants from Europe. Trump’s election is a second historic event: 

The country that had violently imposed its own quite particular form of globalization on the world, the country that had defined itself by immigration while eliminating its first inhabitants, that very country has entrusted its fate to someone who promises to isolate it inside a fortress, to stop letting in refugees, to stop going to the aid of any cause that is not on its own soil, even as it continues to intervene everywhere in the world with its customary careless blundering. (4)

Both of these events confirm “the end of one concept of globalization” (3). Latour suggests that the third historic event is “the resumption, extension, and amplification of migrations,” caused by war, the failure of economic development, and climate change” (4). These three phenomena “are simply different aspects of one and the same metamorphosis: the very notion of soil is changing. The soil of globalization’s dreams is beginning to slip away” (4). And, he continues, “each of us is beginning to feel the ground slip away beneath our feet. We are discovering, more or less obscurely, that we are all in migration toward territories yet to be rediscovered and reoccupied” (5). This discovery is related to Latour’s fourth historic event: the Paris Climate Accord. This agreement is important because “all the signatory countries, even as they were applauding the success of improbable agreement, realized with alarm that, if they all went ahead according to the terms of their respective modernization plans, there would be no planet compatible with their hopes for development. They would need several planets; they have only one” (5). If the planet is destroyed, then “there is no longer an assured ‘homeland,’ as it were, for anyone” (5).

For that reason, each of us “faces the following question: Do we continue to nourish dreams of escaping, or do we start seeking a territory that we and our children can inhabit?” (5). That is our choice: “Either we deny the existence of the problem, or else we look for a place to land. From now on, this is what divides us all, much more than our positions on the right or the left side of the political spectrum” (5). “In other words,” Latour continues, “the migratory crisis has been generalized” (6). In addition to migrants leaving their countries to find new places to live, “we must from now on add the migrants from inside who, while remaining in place, are experiencing the drama of seeing themselves left behind by their own countries” (6). Both groups share a common ordeal: “finding oneself deprived of land” (6). “This ordeal accounts for the relative indifference to the urgency of the situation, and it explains why we are all climate quietists when we hope, while doing nothing about it, that ‘everything will be all right in the end,’” Latour writes. “It is hard not to wonder what effect the news we hear every day about the state of the planet has on our mental state. How can we not feel inwardly undone by the anxiety of not knowing how to respond?” (6). That’s a good question: the news over Christmas—especially of the fires in Australia—has reduced me to tears.

For Latour, “this unease, at once personal and collective,” gives Trump’s election “its full importance” (6). The United States had two options: to acknowledge the reality of climate change and the extent of its responsibility in causing it, thereby becoming “realistic” and leading “the ‘free world’ away from the abyss, or it could plunge further in denial” (6-7). “Those who conceal themselves behind Trump have decided to keep America floating in dreamland a few years longer, so as to postpone coming down to earth, while leading the rest of the world into the abyss—perhaps for good,” he states (7).

“The question of landing somewhere did not occur earlier to the peoples who had decided to ‘modernize’ the planet” (7)—the European colonizers of every other continent. “It arose—ever so painfully—only for those who for four centuries had been subjected to the impact of the ‘great discoveries,’ of empires, modernization, development, and finally globalization,” Latour writes. “They knew perfectly well what it meant to find oneself deprived of land. . . . They had no choice but to become experts on the question of how to survive conquest, extermination, land grabs” (7). The novelty of the current situation, for “the modernizing peoples,” “is that this territorial question is now addressed to them as well as to the others” (7). This new situation “adds an unexpected meaning to the term ‘postcolonial,’ as though there were a family resemblance between two feelings of loss” (7). “In other words, the sense of vertigo, almost of panic, that traverses all contemporary politics arises owing to the fact that the ground is giving way beneath everyone’s feet at once, as if we all felt attacked everywhere, in our habits and in our possessions,” Latour continues (8).

Here Latour arrives at a question that is central to his argument. “Have you noticed that the emotions involved are not the same when you’re asked to defend nature—you yawn, you’re bored—as when you’re asked to defend your territory—now you’re wide awake, suddenly mobilized?” he asks (8). What accounts for that difference? “If nature has become territory,” he writes,

it makes little sense to talk about an “ecological crisis,” “environmental problems,” or a “biosphere” to be rediscovered, spared, or protected. The challenge is much more vital, more existential than that—and also much more comprehensible, because it is much more direct. When the rug is pulled out from under your feet, you understand at once that you are going to have to be concerned with the floor. (8)

The uneasiness this situation causes for everyone, both colonizers and colonized alike, “gnaws at everyone equally” (8). “What is certain is that all find themselves facing a universal lack of shareable space and inhabitable land,” Latour contends (9). And this feeling of panic comes from “the same deep feeling of justice felt by those who found themselves deprived of their land at the time of the conquests, then during colonization, and finally during the era of ‘development’: a power from elsewhere comes to deprive you of your land and you have no purchase on that power” (9). “If this is globalization, then we understand retrospectively why the colonized have always been right to defend themselves,” he continues (9). This feeling, this realization, is the new human universality, “the only one available to us,” and it “consists in feeling that the ground is in the process of giving away” (9). This new universality “is our only way out: discovering in common what land is inhabitable and with whom to share it” (9). “The alternative is to act as though nothing were happening and to protect ourselves behind a wall while we prolong the waking dream of the ‘American way of life,’” Latour writes (9). 

“Migrations, explosions of inequality, and New Climatic Regime: these are one and the same threat,” Latour argues. “Most of our fellow citizens underestimate or deny what is happening to the earth, but they understand perfectly well that the question of migrants puts their dreams of a secure identity in danger” (9-10). The populist desire to put up borders against immigration cannot address the climate emergency, however, which “has been sweeping across all our borders for a long time, exposing us to all the winds, and no walls we can build will keep these invaders out” (10). To defend ourselves, we need to identify these formless migrations—“climate, erosion, pollution, resource depletion, habitat destruction” (10)—for what they are. “The most basic right of all is to feel safe and protected, especially at a moment when the old protections are disappearing,” Latour suggests. “This is the meaning of the history that remains to be discovered: how can we reweave edges, envelopes, protections; how can we find new footing while simultaneously taking into account the end of globalization, the scope of migration, and also the limits placed on the sovereignty of nation-states that are henceforth confronted by climate change?” (11). And, above all, “how can we reassure those who see salvation only in the recollection of a national or ethnic identity, always freshly invented? And, in addition, how can we organize a collective life around the extraordinary challenge of accompanying millions of foreigners in their search for lasting ground?” (11). The “political question” is how to reassure and shelter everyone who is “obliged to take to the road, even while turning them away from the false protection of identities and rigid borders,” but to reassure them, “we would have to be able to succeed in carrying out two complementary movements that the ordeal of modernization has made contradictory: attaching oneself to a particular patch of soil on the one hand, having access to the global world on the other” (11-12). “Up to now, it is true, such an operation has been considered impossible,” Latour acknowledges: “between the two, it is said, one has to choose. It is this apparent contradiction that current history may be bringing to an end” (12).

Next, Latour asks what it means to talk about “the ravages of globalization” (12). Globalization, he argues, consists “in two opposing phenomena that have been systematically confused” (12). “Shifting from a local to a global viewpoint ought to mean multiplying viewpoints, registering a greater number of varieties, taking into account a larger number of beings, cultures, phenomena, organisms, and people,” he writes:

Yet it seems as though what is meant by globalization today is the exact opposite of such an increase. The term is used to mean that a single vision, entirely provincial, proposed by a few individuals, representing a very small number of interests, limited to a few measuring instruments, to a few standards and protocols, has been imposed on everyone and spread everywhere. (13)

For that reason, it’s not a surprise “that we don’t know whether to embrace globalization or, on the contrary, struggle against it” (13). The battle to multiply viewpoints in order “to complicate all ‘provincial’ or ‘closed’ views with new variants,” Latour argues, “is a fight that deserves to be fought” (13). But if it means the opposite, “a matter of decreasing the number of alternatives regarding the existence and the course of the world,” it needs to be resisted “with all our might” (13). Latour suggests that it’s necessary to “distinguish between globalization-plus and globalization-minus” (13).

Complicating “any project of landing someplace is that this definition of the inevitable globalization will lead, in a backlash, to the invention of the ‘reactionary’” (13). “The advocates of globalization-minus” have accused those “who resist its deployment” of being archaic and backward and defensive (13). “It is to stir up this backward-looking people that globalizers have subjected them to the great lever of modernization,” Latour writes. “For two centuries, the arrow of time has made it possible to locate on one side those who are moving forward—the modernizers, the progressives—and on the other those who remain behind” (14). Any resistance to globalization was thereby deemed illegitimate and irrational (14). “Advocacy of this type of modernization defines, by contrast, the taste for the local, the attachment to the land, the maintenance of traditions, the attention to the earth” as archaic and “‘obscurantist’” (14). “The call to globalization is so ambiguous that its pliancy contaminates what can be expected from the local,” Latour continues. “This is why, since the beginning of modernization, any attachment to any soil at all has been read as a sign of backwardness” (14). 

However, just as there are two ways to look at globalization, there are “at least two ways, equally contrasting, to define the attachment to the local” (14). The elites who have profited from globalization “have so much trouble understanding what upsets those who want to be held, protected, assured, reassured by their province, their tradition, their soil, or their identity,” and tend to label such resistance as “populist” (15). But “[t]o reject modernization is also to resist courageously by refusing to trade one’s own province for another . . . that is even narrower and above all infinitely remote, thus much more indifferent to local interests” (15). Such resistance is normal and just, Latour suggests, because it is a way to continue to register “more differences more viewpoints, and above all not to begin by reducing their number” (15). So, in the same way that there is a globalization-plus and a globalization-minus, Latour suggests that it’s necessary to distinguish “the local-minus from the local-plus” (15). “In the end, what counts is not knowing whether you are for or against globalization, for or against the local; all that counts is understanding whether you are managing to register, to maintain, to cherish a maximum number of alternative ways of belonging to the world,” he writes (15-16).

The point is that the modernization project has become impossible, “because there is no Earth capable of containing its ideal of progress, emancipation, and development. As a result, all forms of belonging are undergoing metamorphosis—belonging to the globe, to the world, to the provinces, to particular plots of ground, to the world market, to lands or to traditions” (16). “We must face up to what is literally a problem of dimension, scale, and lodging: the planet is much too narrow and limited for the globe of globalization,” Latour writes, while at the same time “it is too big, infinitely too large, too active, too complex, to remain within the narrow and limited borders of any locality whatsoever. We are all overwhelmed twice over: by what is too big, and by what is too small” (16). “And thus no one has the answer to the question ‘how can one find inhabitable land?’” Latour states. “We don’t know where to go, or how to live, or with whom to cohabit. What must we do to find a place? How are we to orient ourselves?” (16).

“Something must happened, some truly extraordinary event, for the ideal of globalization to have changed valence so quickly,” Latour writes (17). How did this happen? Latour suggests that an “avant-garde” of “activists, scientists, artists, economists, intellectuals, political parties” has “grasped the increasingly endangered status of the formerly more or less stable relations that the Earth maintained with humans,” beginning in the 1980s (17). The question of the limits to development was obvious, but the modernizers ignored it. Nevertheless, that question continued to resonate, and “we find that under the ground of private property, of land grabs, of the exploitation of territories, another ground, another earth, another soil has begun to stir, to quake, to be moved” (17). At this point, “the hypothesis of political fiction comes in,” Latour suggests:

Suppose that other elites, perhaps less enlightened, but with significant means and important interests, and above all with extreme attentiveness to the security of their immense fortunes and to the durability of their well-being, each and every one of them, heard this thread, this warning.

We have to assume that these elites understood perfectly well that the warning was accurate, but did not conclude from the evidence, which had become more and more indisputable over the years, that they were going to have to pay, and pay dearly, for the Earth’s turning back on itself. They would have been enlightened enough to register the warning, but not enlightened enough to share the results with the public. (17-18)

Rather than taking on their burden, however, those elites decided that others would have to pay, and that they would deny the existence of what Latour calls “the New Climatic Regime” (18). “These two decisions would make it possible to connect three phenomena,” Latour continues: deregulation and the dismantling of the welfare state since the 1980s; climate change denial; and the “dizzying extension of inequalities” over the last 40 years (18). “If the hypothesis is correct, all this is part of a single phenomenon”: 

the elites have been so thoroughly convinced that there would be no future life for everyone that they have decided to get rid of all the burdens of solidarity as fast as possible—hence deregulation; they have decided that a sort of gilded fortress would have to be built for those (a small percentage) who would be able to make it through—hence the explosion of inequalities; and they have decided that, to conceal the crass selfishness of such a flight out of the shared world, they would have to reject absolutely the threat at the origin of this headlong flight—hence the denial of climate change. (18-19)

This description, or explanation, seems to fit the evidence: the extreme nihilism of the wealthy elites who support liars and climate-change deniers in return for tax cuts. For Latour, the wealthy have decided to reserve the Titanic’s lifeboats for themselves, and to let the rest of us drown.

Latour calls the wealthy “the obscurantist elites” and suggests that they “understood that, if they wanted to survive in comfort, they had to stop pretending, even in their dreams, to share the earth with the rest of the world” (19). This hypothesis explains, for Latour, “how globalization-plus has become globalization-minus” (19). Until the 1990s, he contends, it was possible to “associate the horizon of modernization with the notions of progress, emancipation, wealth, comfort, even luxury, and above all rationality” (19)—a claim that runs aground on the exploitation of people outside of the West, but never mind—but after that point, “the rage to deregulate, the explosion of inequalities, the abandonment of solidarities have gradually associated that horizon with the notion of an arbitrary decision out of nowhere in favor of the sole profit of the few. The best of worlds has become the worst” (19-20). The reaction to this betrayal by the elites is rage. “[O]ne can imagine that those left behind also understood very quickly that if globalization were tossed aside, then they too would need gated communities,” Latour writes. “The reactions on one side led to reactions on the other—both sides reacting to another much more radical reaction, that of the Earth, which had stopped absorbing blows and was striking back with increasing violence” (20). The origin of these overlapping reactions “must be sought in the Earth’s reaction to our enterprises,” he continues. “We are the ones who started it—we of the old West, and more specifically Europe. There are no two ways about it: we have to learn to live with the consequences of what we have unleashed” (20). The growth of inequalities, the “wave of populism,” and the “migration crisis,” he states, cannot be understood unless we grasp “that these are three different responses, basically comprehensible if not effective, to the powerful reaction of the earth to what globalization has done to it” (20-21). We have all, in different ways, decided to flee from this problem: into “the gilded exile of the 1%,” into the fantasy of “secure borders,” or, for “the most wretched of all,” exile (21). No wonder globalization—as globalization-minus, that is—has lost its “power of attraction” (21).

Latour admits that his hypothesis about the obscurantist elites “appears implausible”: “too much like a psychoanalytic interpretation, too much like a conspiracy theory” (21). “It is not impossible to document it, however, if we make the reasonable assumption that people are fairly quick to suspect what some are seeking to hide from them, and are prepared to act accordingly,” he writes (21-22). The effects his hypothesis explains are obvious, particularly “the epistemological delirium” that has taken hold since Trump’s election. Denial means lying, and lying means remembering one’s previous lies, and this is “draining,” Latour argues (22). Lying eventually drives liars crazy: they, and those who believe their lies, “become attached to ‘alternative facts’ to the point of forgetting all forms of rationality” (22). But it’s important to remember that the people who seem to have abandoned rationality (not the elites, but the people themselves) have been betrayed “by those who have given up the idea of actually pursuing the modernization of the planet with everyone, because they knew, before everyone else, that such modernization was impossible—precisely for want of a planet vast enough for their dreams of growth for all,” Latour writes (22-23). “Before accusing ‘the people’ of no longer believing in anything, one ought to measure the effect of that overwhelming betrayal on people’s level of trust,” he continues. “Trust has been abandoned along the wayside” (23). “Facts remain robust only when they are supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by more or less reliable media,” Latour contends. The effect of the betrayal by the obscurantist elites has been the erosion of all of those things.

“But the epistemological disaster is just as great among those who are in charge of carrying out this extraordinary betrayal,” Latour states, suggesting that the chaos of the Trump White House as evidence. “How can one respect the best-established facts, when one has to deny the enormity of the threat and wage, without acknowledging it, a full-scale war against all the others?” he asks (23). Lying, “denegation,” “poisons those who practice it as well as those who are presumed to be duped by it,” he suggests (23). The difference is that the obscurantist elites have committed an unforgivable crime: “their obsessional denial of climate change” (24). “Because of this denial, ordinary people have had to cope within a fog of disinformation, without anyone ever telling them that the project of modernizing the planet was over and done with, and that a regime change was inevitable,” he writes (24). “[I]f there were to be any hope of dealing with this fact in time, ordinary people would have had to push politicians to act before it was too late,” he continues. “At a point when the public could have found an emergency exit, the climate skeptics stood in their way and denied them access” (24).

The denial of climate change “organizes all politics at the present time,” Latour argues (24). People know their leaders are lying, and as a result “they are suspicious of everything and don’t want to listen any more” (24-25). Meanwhile, the “rational thinkers” continue to believe that “facts stand up all by themselves, without a shared world, without institutions, without a public life”; they are “just as caught up as the others in the tangles of disinformation,” because they themselves “live in an alternative world, a world in which climate mutation occurs, while it does not in the world of their opponents” (25). “It is not a matter of learning how to repair cognitive deficiencies, but rather of how to live in the same world, share the same culture, face up to the same stakes, perceive a landscape that can be explored in concert,” Latour continues. “Here we find the habitual vice of epistemology, which consists in attributing to intellectual deficits something that is quite simply a deficit in shared practice” (25).

“[T]he key to the current situation,” Latour writes, “has to be sought in the form of the world” (25). That’s the problem: “there are now several worlds, several territories, and they are mutually incompatible” (26). The movement into modernization was a movement away from the local and towards the Global; in fact, the Local was abandoned. “Once these two poles have been identified, we can trace a pioneering frontier of modernization,” he continues. “This is the line drawn by the injunction to modernize, an injunction that prepared us for every sacrifice: for leaving our native province, abandoning our traditions, breaking with our habits, if we wanted to ‘get ahead,’ to participate in the general movement of development, and, finally, to profit from the world” (27). People were torn between two opposing injunctions: to move “forward toward the ideal of progress,” or “backward toward the old certainties,” but “this hesitation, this tug-of-war, ultimately suited them pretty well” (27). They could determine where they were on the vector that runs between the Global and the Local. “There were of course protestors, but they were located on the other side of the modernization front,” Latour continues. “They were the (neo-)natives, the antiquated, the vanquished, the colonized, the subaltern, the excluded. . . . one could treat them unassailably as reactionaries, or at least as anti-moderns, as dregs, rejects” (27). “It was brutal, perhaps, but at last the world had a direction. The arrow of time was going somewhere,” Latour states (27). 

The vector from Local to Global was also where the Left/Right distinction was projected (27). On economic matters, the Right usually wanted to go further toward the Global, whereas on moral or sexual issues, the Left usually wanted to go in that direction. “[P]eople ended up finding common ground in spite of everything, for the good reason that all these positions continued to be situated along the same vector,” Latour writes. “Which made it possible to identify them the way one reads the temperature of a patient by following the gradations of a thermometer” (28). “Depending on the topics under dispute, the import of the positions could vary, but there was always a single direction that derived from the tension between the two poles of attraction, the Global and the Local” (28-29). However, “[w]hat happens to this system of coordinates if globalization-plus becomes globalization-minus?” Latour asks. “If what has been the pole of attraction drawing us with the force of self-evidence, pulling the whole world in its direction, becomes a counterforce that pushes us away, leaving us with the confused feeling that only a few will profit from it? Inevitably, the Local, too, in a counterreaction, will become attractive again” (30). But it is no longer the same Local; it is now the Local-minus (30). Neither is plausible; neither is livable (30). “Nevertheless, this second pole attracts as powerfully as the first, especially when things are going badly and the ideal of the Globe seems to be more and more remote,” Latour writes (31). In fact, “[t]he two poles of attraction have finally pulled so far apart that we no longer have the luxury of hesitating, as before, between the two. This is what the commentators call the brutalization of political discourse” (31). “Instead of tension, there is henceforth a yawning gap” (32). 

It is as if, “everywhere at once, a third pole of attraction has come in to turn aside, pump out, absorb all the objects of conflict, making any orientation along the old flight line impossible, Latour suggests (32). And this is where we are now: “Too disoriented to array the positions along the axis that went from the old to the new, from the Local to the Global, but still incapable of naming this third attractor, fixing its position, or even simply describing it” (32-33). “Everything has to be mapped out anew, at new costs,” he continues. “What is more, this is an urgent task that must be carried out before the sleepwalkers, in their blind headlong rush forward, have crushed what we care about” (33). 

It’s possible that the American decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord was caused by this “third attractor” (33). But for Latour, “[i]t is as though Trump had managed to identify a fourth attractor,” which Latour names “the Out-of-This-World,” “the horizon of people who no longer belong to the realities of an earth that would react to their actions. For the first time, climate change denial defines the orientation of the public life of a nation” (34-35). “It is unfair to the Fascists to compare the phenomenon of which Trump is the symptom to the movements of the 1930s,” he continues, since the Fascists existed along the old Local/Global vector, whereas “in the current innovation,” “the State is in disgrace, the individual is king, and the urgent governmental priority is to gain time by loosening all constraints, before the population at large notices that there is no world corresponding to the America depicted” (35). Latour contends that “Trump’s originality is to link, in a single gesture, first the headlong rush toward maximum profit while abandoning the rest of the world to its fate” to “the headlong rush backward of an entire people toward the return of national and ethnic categories” (35). Trump’s supporters behave as though these two movements—towards the Global, on the one hand, and towards the Local, on the other—“could be conflated. Such a fusion is obviously possible only if the very existence of the conflict between modernization, on the one hand, and the condition of being terrestrial, on the other, is denied” (35-36).

This denial demonstrates for Latour “the constitutive role of skepticism about climate science, which is otherwise incomprehensible” (36). “We can well understand why denial prevails: the total lack of realism of the combination—Wall Street pulling millions of members of the so-called middle classes toward a return to protection of the past!—is unmistakable,” Latour writes. “For the time being, the project depends entirely on the requirement of maintaining utter indifference to the New Climatic Regime while dissolving all forms of solidarity, both external (among nations) and internal (among classes)” (36). “For the first time, a large-scale movement no longer claims to address geopolitical realities seriously, but purports to put itself explicitly outside of all worldly constraints,” he continues. “What counts above all for the elites behind this movement is no longer having to share with the others a world that they know will never again be a common world” (36). Why wouldn’t this denial of reality coalesce around a failed businessman “who became famous by way of reality television, another form of unreality and escapism” (36)? “This movement defines the first government totally oriented toward the ecological question—but backwards, negatively, through rejection!” (37). The elites who support Trump have, for the past 40 years, understood that climate change would leave “no room for them and for the nine billion left behind”; they intend to make their money and say they will be dead before the disaster arrives (37). Trump is therefore playing the role of Bernie Madoff for the entire country (37).

What needs to be understood, Latour continues, is that the United States “had the most to lose from a return to reality. Its material infrastructures are the most difficult to reorient quickly, its responsibilities in the current climatic situation are the most crushing,” even though “it possesses all the scientific, technological, and organizational capabilities that could have led the ‘free world’ to take the turn toward the third attractor” (38). Trumpian politics is “a politics with no object, since it rejects the world that it claims to inhabit” (38). Faced with the obstacle of climate change, the United States has “simply refused to proceed—at least for the time being” (38). Given this situation, we can either wake up or “the whole business will end in a fiery deluge” (38). “Contrary to Marx’s dictum,” he writes, “history does not go simply from tragedy to farce, it can repeat itself one more time in a tragic farce” (38).

“It seems ridiculous to advance the claim that we have no more precise indications about the third attractor than the one offered by those in flight from it,” Latour writes (38-39). Yet that is the situation we face: “The terrifying impression that politics has been emptied of its substance, that it is not engaged with anything at all, that it no longer has any meaning for direction, that it has become literally powerless as well as senseless, has no cause other than this gradual revelation: neither the Global nor the Local has any lasting material existence” (39). The Global/Local vector now “resembles a freeway without any beginning or end,” and “we now find ourselves, in a 90º shift, suspended between the old vector and a new one, pushed ahead by two temporal arrows that are no longer going in the same direction” (39). For Latour, “[t]he main concern is to establish what makes up that third term. In what way can it become more attractive than the other two—and why does it appear so repellent to so many?” (39). What is that attractor called? Latour decides to name this “new political actor” “the Terrestrial” (40). “The massive event that we need to sum up and absorb in fact concerns the power to act of this Terrestrial, which is no longer the milieu or the background of human action,” he continues. “People generally talk about geopolitics as if the prefix ‘geo’ merely designated the framework in which political action occurs. Yet what is changing is that, henceforth, ‘geo’ designates an agent that participates fully in public life” (40-41). “The current disorientation derives entirely from the emergence of an actor that reacts and will continue to react to human actions and that bars the modernizers from knowing where they are, in what epoch, and especially what role they need to play from now,” he states (41).

It’s no longer possible to distinguish between physical and human geography, Latour suggests:

As long as the earth seemed stable, we could speak of space and locate ourselves within that space and on a portion of territory that we claimed to occupy. But how are we to act if the territory itself begins to participate in history, to fight back, in short, to concern itself with us—how do we occupy a land if it is this land itself that is occupying us? The expression “I belong to a territory” has changed meaning: it now designates the agency that possesses the possessor! (40-41)

“If the Terrestrial is no longer the framework for human action, it is because it participates in that action,” Latour continues. “Space has become an agitated history in which we are participants among others, reacting to other reactions. It seems that we are landing in the thick of geohistory” (42). The new attractor, the Terrestrial, “is at once known to everyone and completely foreign”; it is not “a res nullius, ready to be appropriated” (42). “On the contrary,” Latour writes,

the Moderns find themselves migrating toward an earth, a land, a country, a turf, whatever one wants to call it, that is already occupied, that has been populated from time immemorial and that has more recently undergone repopulation by the multitude of those who have felt, well ahead of the others, the extent to which it was necessary to flee posthaste from the injunction to modernize. In this world, all modern minds encounter a kind of exile. They are going to have to learn to cohabit with those whom they used to deem archaic, traditionalists, reactionaries, or simply “locals.” (42-43)

This space is new for everyone, Latour states, “since, according to the reports of climate specialists, there is quite simply no precedent for the current situation. Here it is, that ‘wicked universality,’ that universal lack of earth” (43).

Our civilization was founded on the relatively stable climate of the Holocene, but in the Anthropocene, “we are no longer dealing with small fluctuations in the climate, but rather with an upheaval that is mobilizing the earth system itself” (43). Humans are no longer the central figures in their drama: “Today, the decor, the wings, the background, the whole building have come on stage and are competing with the actors for the principal role. This changes all the scripts, suggests other endings” (43). The only certainty “is that we can no longer tell ourselves the same old stories. Suspense prevails on all fronts” (44). “We understand nothing about the vacuity of contemporary politics if we do not appreciate the stunning extent to which the situation is unprecedented,” Latour writes. “At least it is easy to understand the reaction of those who have decided to flee. How can anyone agree to turn voluntarily toward the third attractor when one was headed tranquilly toward the horizon of universal modernization?” (44). 

“If there is any subject that deserves lucid attention, it is that of the condition of ecology in the modern world,” Latour continues. “This territory, so ancient and so tragically new, this Terrestrial on which one would need to land, has already been crisscrossed in all directions and in all senses by what can be called the ‘ecological movements’” (45). For the Moderns, “time’s arrow pulled everything toward globalization,” but for political ecology—Green parties in Europe and elsewhere—the Local was the destination (45). “Ecology has . . . succeeded in running politics through its mill by introducing objects that had not previously belonged to the usual preoccupations of public life,” Latour writes:

It has successfully rescued politics from an overly restrictive definition of the social world. In this sense, political ecology has fully succeeded in changing what is at stake in the public sphere.

To modernize or to ecologize: this has become the crucial choice. Everyone agrees about this. And yet, ecology has failed. Everyone agrees about this too. (46)

Part of the problem is that ecologists have tried to avoid taking a position on the Right/Left political spectrum, although they have not been able “to get out of the trap set by the Moderns’ temporal arrow” (46). The only ways out of the Right/Left division are to “take a position in the middle between the two extremes by settling in along the traditional vector,” or to “redefine the vector by attaching oneself to the third attractor, which makes it necessary to redistribute the range of Left/Right positions according to another viewpoint” (47). Getting beyond the Left/Right division “is a matter of tilting the front line while modifying the content of the disputed objects that are at the origin of the Right/Left distinction—or rather of the various Rights and Lefts, so numerous today and so intermingled that not much remains, when these labels are used, of the ordering power allowed by this classic system of coordinates” (48). What is needed, it seems, is another vector.

Latour calls the Right/Left division a “mental hemicycle that sets up like a row of toy soldiers first the far left, then the left, the center, the right, and finally the far right” (48-49). “[H]owever rudimentary and contingent it may be, this gradation organizes every poll, every political proclamation, and every categorization; it is operative in every election as well as in every historical narrative, and it governs even our most visceral reactions,” Latour writes. “It is hard to see, at least for the moment, how to get along without such affect-laden terms. Public action must be oriented toward a recognizable goal” (49). Latour’s hypothesis—“that the needle has turned 90º and is now oriented toward the powerful attractor whose originality strikes us today,” an attractor that “has none of the same properties as the two others between which politics has been situated since the dawn of the so-called modern era”—suggests that:

[t]he rift introduced by the Terrestrial attractor makes it necessary to open the packaging and re-examine, piece by piece, what was expected of each component—which we are gradually going to learn to call “movement,” “advance,” or even “progression”—and what goes clearly in the other direction—which we shall have the right henceforth to call in fact “regression,” “abandonment,” “betrayal,” or “reaction.” (50)

“This move will perhaps complicate the political game,” Latour continues, “but it will also open up unforeseen margins for maneuvering” (50).

Two angles will “allow us to identify the delicate negotiations that will have to be undertaken in order to redirect the interests of those who continue to flee toward the Global and those who continue to take refuge in the Local, in order to interest them in feeling the weight of this new attractor,” the Terrestrial (51). This negotiation will lead to a definition of the new politics. “Allies have to be sought among people who, according to the old gradation, were clearly ‘reactionaries,’” Latour writes. “And, of course, alliances will have to be forged with people who, again according to the old reference points, were clearly ‘progressives’ and perhaps ‘liberals’ or even ‘neoliberals’” (51). How could such a miracle take place? “For a simple reason that is bound up with the very notion of orientation,” Latour answers. “Despite the appearances, what counts in politics are not attitudes, but the form and weight of the world to which these attitudes have the function of reacting” (52):

Politics has always been oriented toward objects, stakes, situations, material entities, bodies, landscapes, places. What are called the values to be defended are always responses to the challenges of a territory that it must be possible to describe. This is in effect the decisive discovery of political ecology: it is an object-oriented politics. Change the territories and you will also change the attitudes. (52)

For Latour, “[t]he only reassuring element in the current situation is that another vector is gradually gaining in realism,” which he identifies as “[t]he Modern/Terrestrial vector,” which “could become a credible, perceptible, palpable alternative to the Left/Right dichotomy that remains so acute” (52).

The antagonists in this political realignment would be those who continue to direct their attention towards the Local, the Global, and the Out-of-This World. “But these adversaries are also the only potential allies,” Latour contends. “Thus, they are the ones that will have to be persuaded and converted” (52-53). That would mean figuring out” how to address those who rightly feel abandoned by the historical betrayal fo the ruling classes and are clamoring for the security of a protected space” (53). Their energies would have to be shifted from the Local to the Terrestrial (53). Belonging to a particular place has only become “‘reactionary’ . . . by contrast with the headlong flight imposed by modernization. If we stop fleeing, what does the desire for attachment look like?” (53). But that recognition would have to take place without confusing belonging to the land with “what the Local has added to it: ethnic homogeneity, a focus on patrimony, historicism, nostalgia, inauthentic authenticity” (53). “On the contrary,” Latour continues, “there is nothing more innovative, nothing more present, subtle, technical, and artificial (in the positive sense fo the word), nothing less rustic and rural, nothing more creative, nothing more contemporary than to negotiate landing on some ground” (53). The distinction to be made between the Local and the Terrestrial is that “the Local is designed to differentiate itself  by closing itself off,” while “the Terrestrial is designed to differentiate itself by opening itself up” (54). 

It is here that “the other branch of negotiation comes in, the one addressed to those who are rushing full speed toward the Global” (54). Those who are “rushing toward globalization-minus will have to be shown how much that globalization differs from access to the Globe and the world,” Latour continues. “For the Terrestrial is bound to the earth and to land, but it is also a way of worlding, in that it aligns with no borders, transcends all identities” (54). According to Latour,

This is the sense in which it solves the problem of place we noted earlier: there is no Earth corresponding to the infinite horizon of the Global, but at the same time the Local is much too narrow, too shrunken, to accommodate the multiplicity of beings belonging to the terrestrial world. This is why the zoom lens that purported to align the Local and the Global as successive sightings along a single trajectory has never made any sense. (54)

In any case, the necessary alliances will never be achieved “as long as we continue to speak of political attitudes, affects, passions, and positions while the real world toward which those attitudes, affects, passions, and positions are directed has completely changed,” Latour continues. “In other words, we have fallen behind on revamping our political affects. This is why we need to restart the process and put the new magnetic mass in front of the traditional compass: to discover the direction it will indicate and see how our attitudes, affects, passions, and positions will turn out to be redistributed” (54-55). This process will be difficult. “The time lost in continuing to pace up and down along the old Right/Left vector has delayed the necessary mobilizations and negotiations,” Latour admits (55). “What is important is to be able to get out of the impasse by imagining a set of new alliances,” he continues—to shift the terms from Left or Right to Terrestrial or Modern (55-56). This shift has to happen “before the militants of the extreme Modern have totally devastated the stage” (56).

Political ecology has never been able “to mobilize on a scale adequate to the stakes,” Latour argues (56). “Having failed to figure out how to join forces effectively, socialism and ecology, each of which sought to alter the course of history, have only managed to slow it down,” he continues (56-57). The problem, according to Latour, is that they were defining their choices too narrowly, “when what was really at stake was a different and much more decisive choice having to do with two directions of politics: one that defines social questions in a restrictive manner, and another that defines the stakes of survival without introducing a priori differences between humans and non-humans” (57). “The choice to be made is between a narrow definition of the social ties making up a society”—by that I think Latour means the Local-minus—“and a wider definition of associations that make up what have been called collectives”—which I think refers to the Local-plus (57). “The question then becomes the following: why did the social movements not grasp the ecological stakes at the outset as if they were their own, which would have allowed them to avoid obsolescence and to lend their strength to a still-weak ecology? Or to turn the question around, why did political ecology fail to take up the baton from the social question and forge ahead?” Latour asks (57).

The revolts of socialism, ecology, and even feminism have not merged; instead, they have submitted, “in almost total impotence,” to what has been called the “Great Acceleration” of the past 70 years, which has led to “the triumph os globalization-minus, the sterilization of socialism,” and then the election of Donald Trump (58). “During all these events, we have been stuck with a scarcely attenuated opposition between ‘social’ conflicts and ‘ecological’ conflicts—as if we were dealing with two distinct entities between which, like Buridan’s legendary ass, we have to continue to hesitate while dying of hunger and thirst,” Latour states. “But nature is no more a sack of grain than society is a bucket of water. If there is no choice to be made, it is for the excellent reason that there are not naked humans on one side and nonhuman objects on the other” (58). Ecology, Latour states, is really “a call for a change of direction: ‘Toward the Terrestrial!’” (58).

What explains “this interruption in relaying a collective struggle”? Latour asks (58). Since the nineteenth century, politics has been organized around social classes, and “[d]espite all the efforts to attenuate class oppositions and even to claim that they no longer made any sense, politics was nevertheless organized around them” (59). “If these definitions have begun to spin their wheels in a vacuum, it is because the analysis in terms of social classes and the materialism underlying that analysis were clearly defined by the attractor called Global, above, in opposition with the Local,” Latour writes:

The great phenomena of industrialization, urbanization, and occupation of colonized territories defined a horizon—sinister or radiant, it hardly matters—that gave meaning and direction to progress. And for a good reason: that progress was pulling out of poverty, if not out of exploitation, hundreds of millions of human beings whose contrivances were supposed to lead toward an emancipation that seemed inevitable. (59-60)

Of course, at the same time, those phenomena were condemning hundreds of millions of others to poverty and exploitation; a nodding acquaintance with the work of Frantz Fanon, among others, would tell Latour that progress had two sides. Both the Left and the Right, he continues, were focused on modernization, on “which side would reach the Global world first,” and whether reform or revolution was necessary (60). “But they never took the time to explain to peoples undergoing modernization what precisely described world progress would end up putting them in,” he writes (60). Indeed, progress became “a mere horizon, a simple regulating idea, a sort of increasingly vague utopia, as the gradually evolving Earth would fail to give it substance” (60). The conclusion of the Paris Climate Accord “made it official . . . that there was no longer an Earth corresponding to the horizon of the Global” (60). The limitations of the Earth were ignored by twentieth-century political movements, a failing Latour finds hard to understand when those movements considered themselves to be materialist. What was their material? They paid little attention to it (60-61). “The question thus becomes how to define class struggles much more realistically by taking into account this new materiality, the new materialism imposed by the orientation toward the Terrestrial,” he writes (61).

Class struggles, Latour continues, “depend on a geo-logic” (62). The prefix “geo-” “obliges us to reopen the social question while intensifying it through the new geopolitics” (63). “The difficulty is that to find principles that will allow us to define these new classes”—the new classes of “geo-social loci”—“and trace the lines of conflict between their divergent interests, we shall have to learn to distrust definitions of matter, the systems of production and even the reference points in space and time that had served to define ecological struggles as well as social classes,” he writes. “In fact, one of the oddities of the modern period is that we have had a definition of matter that is hardly material, hardly terrestrial at all. The Moderns take pride in a realism that they have never been able to put to work” (63). How can people who are capable of allowing the temperature of the planet to rise by 3.5º, or allow a sixth extinction to take place, be called materialists (63-64)? Obviously, they can’t.

The reason socialism and ecology have not been able to amalgamate has to do with “the role that both groups have attributed to ‘nature,’” Latour writes:

A certain conception of “nature” has allowed the Moderns to occupy the Earth in such a way that it forbids others to occupy their own territories differently. For, in order to mold a politics, you need agents who bring together their interests and their capacities for action. But you cannot make alliances between political actors and objects that are external to society and deprived of the power to act. (64)

Nature, as it is typically understood, is such an object:

If we swallow the usual epistemology whole, we shall find ourselves again prisoners of a conception of “nature” that is impossible to politicize since it has been invented precisely to limit human action thanks to an appeal to the laws of objective nature that cannot be questioned. Freedom on one side, strict necessity on the other: this makes it possible to have it both ways. Every time we want to count on the power to act of other actors, we’re going to encounter the same objections: “Don’t even think about it, these are mere objects, they cannot react,” the way Descartes said of animals that they cannot suffer. (65)

However, he continues,

if we claim to be opposing “scientific rationality” by inventing a more intimate, more subjective, more rooted, more global—more “ecological,” as it were—way of capturing our ties to “nature,” we lose on both fronts: we will be left with the idea of “nature” borrowed from tradition while being deprived of the contribution of positive knowledge. (65)

“We need to be able to count on the full power of the sciences, but without the ideology of “nature” that has been attached to that power,” Latour writes. “We have to be materialist and rational, but we have to shift these qualities onto the right grounds” (65). 

“The difficulty is that the Terrestrial is not at all the Globe,” Latour continues. “One cannot be materialist and rational in the same way in these two sites” (65-66). Indeed, “it is clear that one cannot praise rationality without recognizing to what extent it has been abused by the quest for the Global” (66): he notes the failure of modernization to take into account the reaction of the planet to human activity, the failure of economic theories premised on inexhaustible resources, the failure of our civilization to avoid making “a forecasting error so massive that it prevents parents from leaving an inhabited world to their children” (66). No wonder “rationality” has become a frightening word. “To restore a positive meaning to the words ‘realistic,’ ‘objective,’ ‘efficient,’ or ‘rational,’ we have to turn them away from the Global, where they have so clearly failed, and toward the Terrestrial,” he writes (66). The Globe, he notes, “grasps all things from far away, as if they were external to the social world and completely indifferent to human concerns,” whereas the Terrestrial “grasps the same structures from up close, as internal to the collectivities and sensitive to human actions, to which they react swiftly” (66-67). “The idea—the revolutionary idea—of grasping the earth as one planet among others . . . can be traced to the birth of the modern sciences,” he continues, including cartography and physics (67). Unfortunately, this idea “is also very easy to distort,” and “some thinkers go on to conclude that it is necessary to occupy, virtually, the vantage point of the universe to understand what is happening on this planet” (67). “Such a conclusion is in no way obligatory,” Latour contends. “No matter how far out they send their thoughts, researchers always have their feet firmly anchored in clay” (68). 

Looking at the Earth from the outside “has the disadvantage of limiting to just a few movements . . . the whole gamut of movements grasped by the positive sciences,” Latour writes. “Yet on the Earth seen from the inside, there are many other forms of movements that have become harder and harder to take into account. Little by little, it has become more cumbersome to gain objective knowledge about a whole range of transformations: genesis, birth, growth, life, death, decay, metamorphoses” (68). “The detour by way of the outside introduced into the notion of ‘nature’ a confusion from which we have still not been extricated,” Latour suggests. “[N]ow, the word ‘natural’ is increasingly reserved for what makes it possible to follow a single type of movement viewed from the outside. This is also the meaning that the word has taken on in the expression ‘the natural sciences’” (68-69). Many scientists have decided to distance themselves from a range of phenomena, “to discern in all these easily accessible movements only those that one could have seen from Sirius,” and “[a]ll other movements have become subject to suspicion. Considered from the inside, on the Earth, they could not be scientific; they could not be really naturalized” (69). “If the planet has ended up moving away from the Terrestrial,” Latour continues,

it is because everything has happened as though nature seen from the universe had begun to replace, bit by bit—to cover over, to chase away—nature seen from the Earth, the nature that grasped, that could have grasped, that should have continued to include, all the phenomena of genesis.

The grandiose Galilean invention has come to take up all the space by making people forget that seeing the earth from Sirius is only a tiny part—even if the infinite universe is involved—of what we have the right to know positively. (70)

“The inevitable consequence,” for Latour, is that “we have begun to see less and less of what is happening on Earth” (70).

“Such a bifurcation between the real—external, objective, and knowable—and the inside—unreal, subjective, and unknowable—would have intimidated no one, or would have been taken for a simple exaggeration on the part of savants not very well acquainted with the realities here below,” Latour writes, “had it not been superimposed on the notorious vector of modernization” (70-71). “It is on this point that the two meanings, positive and negative, of the word ‘Global’ turn out to diverse entirely,” he continues:

The subjective side begins to be associated with the archaic and the outdated; the objective side with the modern and the progressive. Seeing things from the inside comes to have no value other than being traditional, intimate, archaic. Seeing things from the outside, on the contrary, becomes the only way to grasp the reality that counts, and, above all, the only way to orient oneself toward the future. (71)

This “brutal division” made “the illusion of the Global as the horizon of modernity” consistent (71). “From this point on it was necessary, even if one stayed in place, to shift one’s position virtually, bag and baggage, away from subjective and sensitive positions toward exclusively objective positions, finally freed of all sensitivity—or rather of sentimentality,” Latour states. “This is where, by contrast with the Global, the necessarily reactive, reflexive, nostalgic figure of the Local comes in” (71). The only way “to gain access to nature as an infinite universe” was to lose “one’s sensitivity to nature as process”: “To progress in modernity was to tear oneself away from the primordial soil and set out for the Great Outside, to become if not natural, at least naturalist” (71).

“Either one speaks of ‘nature,’ but then one is far away; or else one is close by, but one expresses only feelings,” Latour writes:

Such is the result of the confusion between the planetary vision and the Terrestrial. It is about the planetary vision that one can say, considering things “from above,” that it has always varied and that it will outlast humans, making it possible to take the New Climatic Regime as an unimportant oscillation. The Terrestrial, for its part, does not allow this kind of detachment. (72)

The term “nature” also explains the failure of political ecology:

When the so-called “ecological” parties try to interest people in what is happening “to nature,” a nature that they claim to be “protecting,” if by the term “nature” is meant the nature-universe seen from nowhere that is supposed to stretch from the cells of our bodies to the most distant galaxies, the answer will be simply: “That’s too far away; it’s too vague; it doesn’t concern us; we couldn’t care less.” (73)

Those responses make sense, according to Latour:

No progress will be made toward a “politics of nature” as long as the same term is used to designate, for example, research into terrestrial magnetism, the classification of the 3,500 exoplanets that have been spotted to date, the detection of gravitational waves, the role of earthworms in soil aeration, the reaction of shepherds in the Pyrenees to the reintroduction of bears, or the reaction of bacterial in our intestines to our latest gastronomic overindulgence. That nature is a real catch-all. (73)

For Latour, “nature” is the reason “the slow pace of mobilizations in favor of nature-as-universe” (73). It is not a political idea: objects cannot mobilize us in geo-social conflicts. “In order to begin to describe objectively, rationally, effectively, in order to paint the terrestrial situation with some degree of realism, we need all the sciences, but positioned differently,” Latour writes. “In other words, to be knowledgeable in scientific terms. . . . [i]t is essential to acquire as much cold-blooded knowledge as possible about the heated activity of an Earth finally grasped from up close” (73-74).

But everything depends on what one means by “heated activity” (74). It’s easy, from the perspective of “the nature-universe,” to think of “the earth’s agency” as “a subjective illusion, like a simple projection of feelings onto an indifferent ‘nature’” (74). Thus nature became an externality in economics: whereas humans were agents in systems of economic production, anything deemed “natural” could not be an agent or an actor (74). “It was vaguely felt that everything else depended on them and that they were inevitably going to react, but—here’s the hitch—because nature-as-universe had so fully obscured nature-as-process, those who were seizing control of these resources, sometimes fearfully, were left devoid of words, concepts, and directions” (74-75). Any attitude, myth, or ritual that was not touched “by any notion of ‘resource’ or ‘production’” was taken as “mere vestiges of old forms of subjectivity, of archaic cultures irreversibly outstripped by the modernization front” (75). “It is only today that these practices have become precious models for learning how to survive in the future,” he writes (75).

“The relation to the sciences can change,” but only if the natural sciences “that focus on nature-as-process” are “carefully distinguished from those that focus on the universe” (75). “Whereas the latter start with the planet taken as a body among bodies, for the former the Earth appears wholly singular,” Latour writes, suggesting that a world “composed of agents” could be called “Lovelockian,” after James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia thesis (75). According to Latour, Lovelock’s point is that “it is necessary to consider, on Earth, living beings as agents participating fully in the processes of generating the chemical, and even in part the geological, conditions of the planet” (75). “If the composition of the air we breathe depends on living beings, the atmosphere is no longer the environment in which living beings are located and in which they involve,” Latour continues. Instead, that atmosphere “is, in part, a result of their actions. In other words, there are not organisms on one side and an environment on the other, but a coproduction of both. Agencies are redistributed” (76). Thinking of “the natural sciences as encompassing all the activities necessary to our existence” would make possible “political orientations” (76-77). Latour summarizes the conflict he is trying to describe:

there are those who continue to look at things from the vantage point of Sirius and simply do not see that the earth system reacts to human action, or do not believe it possible; they still hope that the Earth will mysteriously be beamed to Sirius and become one planet among others. Basically, they do not believe that there is life on Earth capable of suffering and reacting. And there are those who seek, while keeping a firm grip on the sciences, to understand what is meant by distributing action, animation, the power to act, all along the causal chains in which they find themselves entangled. (77)

“The former are climate skeptics,” Latour writes; “the latter consent to face up to an enigma concerning the number and nature of the agents at work” (77). Latour might be giving climate skeptics too much credit here: the ones I see on Facebook simply refuse to believe the evidence, preferring to believe fairy tales sponsored by oil companies instead.

We need science—science “extended to encompass all processes of genesis, in order to avoid imposing a priori restrictions on the agency of the beings with which we shall have to work”—“[y]et the empirical sciences must also be subjected to certain limits” (78). “In particular, it is important to try to single out the sciences that bear upon what some researchers call the Critical Zone(s),” Latour writes (78). “Seen from space, everything that has to do with knowledge of the third attractor, the Terrestrial, is in fact limited in a surprising way to a minuscule zone a few kilometers thick between the atmosphere and bedrock,” he continues. “A biofilm, a varnish, a skin, a few infinitely folded layers” (78). Everything that concerns us “resides in the minuscule Critical Zone. This is the point of departure and also the point of return for all the sciences that matter to us” (78). “This is why we need to circumscribe, among the fields of positive knowledge, those that have to do with the Critical Zone, so that we will not have to weigh ourselves down with the entire universe every time we talk about territorial conflicts,” he writes (78). The “sciences of nature-as-process that bear upon the Critical Zone” involve confronting “conflicts for each of the agents that populate the zone and that have neither the privilege nor the possibility of remaining uninterested” (79). Everyone has an interpretation of what happens within the Critical Zone. It is not a classroom: “the relationship between researchers and the public is anything but purely pedagogical” (79). 

“If we still had any doubts on this point, the pseudo-controversy over the climate suffices to dispel them,” Latour continues, noting that no corporation has spent anything to disprove the detection of the Higgs boson, “[b]ut denying the climatic mutation is another matter entirely: financing floods in. Ignorance on the part of the public is such a precious commodity that it justifies immense investments” (79-80). “In other words, the sciences of nature-as-process cannot have the same somewhat lofty and disinterested epistemology as that of the sciences of nature-as-universe,” he writes. “The philosophy that protected the latter will be of no help to the former. With no hope of escaping the controversies, the sciences of nature-as-process would do better to organize themselves in order to resist all those that do take an interest—a great interest—in them” (80). The point—the political point—“is that the Earth’s reaction to human action looks like an aberration in the eyes of those who believe in a terrestrial world made up of Galilean objects, and it appears self-evident to those who see it as a concatenation of Lovelockian agents” (80). Therefore, the Terrestrial has less to do with “nature”—“in the sense of nature-as-universe”—as people used to imagine (80):

It is through the Terrestrial that we must henceforth understand the conjoined action of the agents known through the sciences of the Critical Zone, which are struggling for legitimacy and autonomy against countless other concerned parties that have contradictory interests, and all of which possess other bodies of positive knowledge. The Terrestrial is literally drawing another world, as different from “nature” as from what used to be called the “human world” or “society.” The three are all political entities, but they do not lead to the same occupation of the soil, to the same “land-grabbing.” (80)

Discovering this new world “requires different psychological equipment” as well (81). “Innovating by breaking all limits and all codes is not the same as innovating by profiting from these limits,” Latour notes. “Celebrating the forward march of progress cannot have the same meaning when one is heading toward the Global as it does when one is heading toward ‘decisive advances’ in taking the Earth’s reactions to our actions into account” (81). 

“The period opening up before us is indeed a new epoch of ‘great discoveries,’ but these resemble neither the wholesale conquest of a New World emptied of its inhabitants, as before, nor the headlong flight into a form of hyper-neo-modernity,” Latour writes; “instead, they require digging deep down into the Earth with its thousand folds” (81). That Earth “is insinuating itself as a third party in all our actions,” he continues. “In both cases it is a matter—to hold onto one of the mainsprings of the modern tradition—of moving beyond, but buy violating different taboos, by passing through different Pillars of Hercules” (81-82).

For Latour, “[r]edirecting attention from ‘nature’ toward the Terrestrial might put an end to the disconnect that has frozen political positions since the appearance of the climate threat and has imperiled the linking of the so-called social struggles with those we call ecological” (82). “The new articulation between the two struggles correlates with a shift from an analysis focused on a system of production to an analysis focused on a system of engendering”: the difference between these analyses is in their principles (freedom for the first, and dependency for the second); in the role they give to humanity (central for the first, distributed for the second); and, finally, in the movements for which they take responsibility (mechanism for the first, genesis for the second) (82). The system of production was based on a materialist conception of nature and of the role of the sciences, and “it assigned a different function to politics and was rooted in a division between human actors and their resources” (82). “At bottom, there was the idea that human freedom would be deployed in a natural setting, where it would be possible to indicate the precise limits of each property,” Latour writes (82). In contrast,

[t]he system of engendering brings into confrontation agents, actors, animate beings that all have distinct capacities for reacting. It does not proceed from the same conception of materiality as the system of production, it does not have the same epistemology, and it does not lead to the same form of politics. It is not interested in producing goods, for humans, on the basis of resources, but in engendering terrestrials—not just humans, but all terrestrials. It is based on the idea of cultivating attachments, operations that are all the more difficult because animate beings are not limited by frontiers and are constantly overlapping, embedding themselves within one another. (82-83)

“If these two systems enter into conflict, it is because another authority has appeared, making it necessary to raise all the old questions again, no longer starting from the project of emancipation alone, but starting from the newly discovered value of dependency,” Latour suggests (83). Dependency limits, complicates, and then reconsiders “the project of emancipation, in order finally to amplify it” (83). This “new form of obligation” is emphasized “in the assertion that there is no planet (one should say Critical Zone) that can shelter the utopia of modernization or of globalization-minus” (83). “How can we deny that we find ourselves facing another power that imposes barriers different from the old so-called ‘natural limits’?” Latour asks (83). 

This is the conflict of authority that the obscurantist elites identified “when they decided no longer to share the planet with the rest of the nine billion good folks whose fate—at least so they claimed—had always been their chief concern” (83). The same conflict, or contradiction, broke out at the end of the negotiations for the Paris Climate Accord: “What power then secured the signature of those 175 states, if not a form of sovereignty to which they consented to bow down and that propelled them to reach agreement?” Latour asks. “If it is not a power that dominates the heads of state, and to which they grant a still-vague form of legitimacy, what should it be called?” (84). It is the same contradiction summed up by the term Anthropocene, which “is indeed the symptom of a repoliticization of all the planetary questions” (84). And this conflict was clarified when the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord: Trump’s statement “was a declaration of war authorizing the occupation of all the other countries, if not with troops, at least with CO2, which American retains the right to emit” (84). “Acknowledging that contradictions drive political history, we can see that what fuels the contradiction between the system of production and the system of engendering is dependence on this new form of authority, which is at once very old and freshly minted,” Latour writes (85).

“Another difference between the two types of systems is the role attributed to humanity, a direct consequence of this emerging principle of authority,” Latour continues. “People have been fighting for a century to determine whether questions about nature would make it necessary to exit from anthropocentrism or whether, on the contrary, humans should remain at the center—as if one had to choose between a more or less deep ecology and another more or less ‘humanistic’ version” (85). The question, though, according to Latour, “has always been about the form and the composition of this human” (85). “What the New Climatic Regime calls into question is not the central place of the human,” he writes; “it is its composition, its presence, its figuration, in a word, its destiny. Now if you modify these things, you also change the definition of human interests” (85). The Moderns found it impossible “to situate the human in a precise landscape. The term human referred either to a natural being like all the others (in the classical sense of nature-as-universe) or else to the being par excellence capable of extricating itself from nature (again conceived in the old way), thanks to its soul, its culture, or its intelligence” (85-86). No one has “ever managed to stabilize this oscillation by giving humanity a stable shape” (86). If that is changing now, “it is because the climate crisis has driven both sides off the rails: the notion of nature on the one hand, that of the human on the other” (86). The choice for or against anthropocentrism is implausible now because, Latour suggests, of “the assumption that there is a center, or rather two, man and nature, between which one has to choose. And even more bizarre is the idea that this circle has such well-defined boundaries that they would leave everything else outside. As if there were an outside!” (86). But climate change tells us that there is no circle: no inside, no outside. Instead of talking about humans, Latour suggests, we need to talk about terrestrials, the Earthbound, which “does not lead to the same politics as saying ‘We are humans in nature’” (86). We cannot continue to separate ourselves from the rest of the occupants of the Critical Zone.

The third difference between a system of production and a system of engendering “has to do with the possibility of multiplying the actors without at the same time naturalizing behaviors” (86-87). “To become materialists is no longer to reduce the world to objects, but to extend the list of movements that must be taken into account, precisely the movements of genesis that the view from Sirius did not allow us to follow closely,” Latour argues. “Terrestrials in fact have the very delicate problem of discovering how many other beings they need in order to subsist” (87). (It’s a long list and many of the beings on that list are endangered because of our activities.) Making that list would allow us to “sketch out their dwelling places”—Latour prefers that term to “territory” (87). “To track the terrestrials”—and, remember, these aren’t just humans—“is to add conflicts of interpretation regarding what a given actor is, wants, desires, or can do, to conflicts about what other actors are, want, desire, or can do—and this applies to workers as well as to birds in the sky, to Wall Street executives as well as to bacteria in the soil, to forests as well as to animals” (87). It’s not a question of living in harmony with these other creatures, Latour insists; it’s a question of “learning to be dependent on them” (87). “The list of actors simply grows longer,” he states; “the actors’ interests are encroaching on one another; all our powers of investigation are needed if we are to begin to find our place among these other actors” (87).

“In a system of engendering, all the agents, all the animated beings, raise questions about descendants and forebears: in short, the question of how to recognize and insert oneself within lineages that will manage to last,” Latour writes (87-88). This operation is counter-intuitive for the Moderns, who always felt it necessary to choose “between the old and the new,” with the past defined as “what was simply surpassed, outdated” (88). “The perversity of the modernization front was that, by ridiculing the notion of tradition as archaic, it precluded any form of transmission, inheritance, or revival, and thus of transformation—in short, of engendering,” he continues. “And this is true for the education of human offspring as well as for landscapes, animals, governments, or divinities” (88). (Divinities?) In the system of production, humans alone have the ability to revolt; in a system of engendering, “many other protesters can make themselves heard—before the catastrophe” (88). In a system of engendering, “not only points of view but also points of life proliferate” (88). Therefore, “[b]y shifting from a system of production to a system of engendering, we are going to be able to multiply the sources of revolt against injustice and, consequently, to increase considerably the gamut of potential allies in the struggles to come for the Terrestrial” (88). I find myself wondering, though, whether humans would accept those other sources of revolt—or whether they would just ignore them.

But Latour has anticipated my question. If it were only a philosophical decision, he states, the shift from a system of production to a system of engendering would have no strength: “Before the New Climatic Regime, it seemed . . . to be implausible, convoluted, apocalyptic” (88). But now, we will benefit “from help offered by unleashed agents that oblige us to revisit the definition of what it means to be a human, a territory, a politics, a civilization” (88-89). Our current situation is a contradiction between a system of production and a system of engendering: “It is not simply a matter of economics but rather of civilization itself” (89). Still, though, will farmers or politicians or bureaucrats listen to the bees dying because of neonicotinoids? Or will they continue to close their ears and endanger the food plants we rely upon? Neonicotinoids boost, temporarily, the GDP; short-term thinking triumphs over the long view. What Latour is saying makes sense, but how can we get out from under the tyranny of GDP, of economics, of growth?

“What has been the object from the beginning of this essay can now be named: the Terrestrial is not yet an institution, but it is an actor whose role is clearly different from the political role attributed to ‘nature’ by the Moderns,” Latour writes. “The new conflicts do not replace the old ones; they sharpen them, deploy them differently, and above all they finally make them identifiable. Fighting to join one or another utopia, the Global or the Local, does not have the same clarifying effects as fighting to land on Earth!” (89). Latour also suggests that the word “ecology” should be retired in favour of the word “political,” since “[t]here are only questions of dwelling places inhabited with or defended against other terrestrials that share the same stakes” (90). 

We are in a war, but it is “a conflict between modern humans who believe they are alone in the Holocene, in flight toward the Global or in exodus toward the Local, and the terrestrials who know they are in the Anthropocene and who seek to cohabit with other terrestrials under the authority of a power that as yet lacks any political institution” (90). And that way, “at once civic and oral, divides each of us from within” (90). So my questions about GDP and neonicotinoids are determined by the war against Modernists, against those “who believe they are alone in the Holocene.” 

Or is that all my questions amount to? “The Achilles’ heel of any text that purports to channel political affects toward new stakes is that the reader can justifiably ask, at the end: ‘All that is well and good. The hypothesis may be attractive, though it still waits to be proved, but what are we to do with it, practically speaking, and what does it change for me?’” (90). What should we then do? “The goal of this essay is certainly not to disappoint, but one cannot ask it to go faster than the history that is under way: the Terrestrial is known by all . . . and, at the same time, the New Climatic Regime has no institutional embodiment,” Latour writes. “It is in this in-between position, in this phony war, that we find ourselves, at once mobilized toward the front and demobilized toward the rear” (91). The situation is even more uncertain, because “the Terrestrial is at once empty and populated” (91). And “the third attractor doesn’t look very attractive. It requires too much care, too much attention, too much time, too much diplomacy” (91). The Global still seems shinier; it arouses more enthusiasm regarding our emancipation (91). “Only it does not exist,” Latour contends. “It is the Local that reassures, that calms, that offers an identity. But it does not exist either” (91-92). Still, Latour believes that the questions he began the essay with can now be answered: “How can the feeling of being protected be provided without an immediate return to identity and the defense of borders?” (92). The answer is: “By two complementary movements that modernization has made contradictory: attaching oneself to the soil on the one hand, becoming attached to the world on the other” (92). “The attractor designated as Terrestrial . . . brings together the opposing figures of the soil and the world,” he continues. “A soil that has nothing to do with the Local and a world that resembles neither globalization-minus nor a planetary vision” (92).

“From the soil,” Latour continues, the Terrestrial “inherits materiality, heterogeneity, thickness, dust, humus, the succession of layers, strata, the attentive care that it requires. Everything that cannot be seen from Sirius. Just the opposite of a plot of ground that a development or real estate project has just grabbed. The ground, the soil, in this sense, cannot be appropriated” (92). We belong to the Terrestrial; it belongs to no one. The Terrestrial also inherits from globalization-plus “the recording of forms of existence that forbid us to limit ourselves to a single location, preclude keeping ourselves inside whatever boundaries there may be” (92). “The soil allows us to attach ourselves,” he continues; “the world allows detachment. Attachment allows us to get away from the illusion of a Great Outside; detachment allows us to escape the illusion of borders. Such is the balancing act to be refined” (93).

“What brings us closer to the solution, fortunately, is one of the properties of this new agent of history proper to the New Climatic Regime”:

It makes no sense to force the beings animating the struggling territories that constitute the Terrestrial back inside national, regional, ethnic, or identitary boundaries; nor does it make sense to try to withdraw from these territorial struggles so as to “move to the global level” and grasp the Earth “as a whole.” The subversion of scales and of temporal and spatial frontiers defines the Terrestrial. This power acts everywhere at once, but it is not unifying. It is political, yes; but it is not statist. It is, literally, atmospheric. (93)

The Terrestrial reorganizes politics in a practical way: “Each of the beings that participate in the composition of a dwelling place has its own way of identifying what is local and what is global, and of defining its entanglements with others” (93). Different things are spatialized differently: CO2, aquifers, and antibiotics are not spatialized the same way as transit systems, bird flu, or terrorism (93). We need to understand this point.

Still, “[t]he Global and the Local alike afford us an inadequate purchase on the Terrestrial, which explains the current hopelessness: what can be done about problems at once so large and so small?” (94). Well, first, “generate alternative descriptions” by thinking about “the stuff that makes us the Earth for us” (94). “Any politics that failed to propose redescribing the dwelling places that have become invisible would be dishonest,” he states. “We cannot allow ourselves to skip the stage of description. No political lie is more brazen than proposing a program” (94). We must investigate, from the bottom up, our dwelling places, defining dwelling place as “that on which a terrestrial depends for its survival, while asking what other terrestrials also depend on it?” (95).  That territory will not likely “coincide with a classic legal, spatial, administrative, or geographic entity,” Latour suggests. “On the contrary, the configurations will traverse all scales of space and time” (95). This inventorying is difficult, particularly in a system of engendering, “because the agents, the animate beings, the actors that compose it all have their own trajectories and interests” (95). When we ask questions about the beings we depend on, that depend on us, that live with us, “we notice our own ignorance”: “Every time one begins such an investigation, one is surprised by the abstract nature of the responses. And yet questions about engendering turn up everywhere, along with those of gender, race, education, food, jobs, technological innovations, religion, or leisure” (96). In asking those questions, we discover the causes and effects of our own subjections, which have been hidden from us by globalization-minus (96).

“The question is whether the emergence and description of the Terrestrial attractor can give meaning and direction to political action—forestalling the catastrophe of a headlong flight toward the Local along with the undoing of what has been called the world order,” Latour writes. “For there to be a world order, there first needs to be a world made more or less shareable by this attempt to take stock” (98). Still, in 2018, as Latour is writing, “those who are somewhat sensitive to the situation” are asking themselves, “with unconcealed anguish,” whether “it will be possible to avert another August 1914, another suicide—this time worldwide and no longer just European—of nations, under which such a deep depression has been dug that they will all plunge headlong into it—with enthusiasm and delight” (99). And this time, the Americans won’t help (99).

Latour ends by taking stock of himself: who he is, his attachments, particularly his attachment to Europe, a place whose history of imperialism has delivered it from any sense of innocence, “from the idea that one could either make a new and different history by breaking with the past, or escape from history once and for all” (102). (The unspoken comparison is clearly to the United States.) He wonders how Europe can get out of globalization-minus (104), what knits it together (104-05), what it shall do now that the protection of the United States has been withdrawn (105). Latour is offering this exploration as an example of the kind of inventory he is proposing, and when he concludes, he writes: “Now, it’s your turn to present yourself, to tell us a little about where you would like to land and with whom you agree to share a dwelling place” (106). Surprisingly, that’s what my current project seeks to do.

What I take from Latour’s book—after this first, quick reading—is what he appears to be doing with affect theory and object-oriented ontology (two things I need to learn more about). I like the notion of the Terrestrial as a way of tying humans to their surroundings; it’s obvious—to me if not to others—that we depend on those surroundings, and that we (along with most of the creatures with which we share the Critical Zone) will die if we carry on the way we are going. We’re not separate from what we’ve been calling “nature”; we’re entangled in it, and we need it to survive. Still, I’m not sure how the notion of taking an inventory of our dwelling place will do much. Perhaps I’ve missed something important, but I still feel powerless. Perhaps I would feel differently if I tried to take an inventory of my dwelling place? It’s possible. I guess I’ll have to find out. But while I think Latour’s analysis makes a lot of sense, I’m not sure it necessarily opens a pathway to action, as he expects it to do.

Work Cited

Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, translated by Catherine Porter, Polity, 2018.

120. Rachel Adams, ed., Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys, 1967-2017

adams wanderlust.jpg

Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys, 1967-2017 is a big catalogue—no expense was spared in its publication, although it wasn’t copyedited very well—that documents a 50-year-survey exhibition on the theme of exploration “and how artists engage this theme in various ways including walking, performative actions, land use, endurance, and the consideration of public space” (4) that was presented at the University at Buffalo Art Galleries in 2017. It’s hard to tell how Adams is using the term “performative” here: does she mean “performative” in J.L. Austin’s sense of the word, as an utterance that causes something to happen, or does the term “performative actions” merely mean “performances”? The catalogue proper begins with an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. That quotation, which occurs early in Solnit’s book, describes walking on the coast of the Pacific Ocean near the Golden Gate Bridge, and it uses that experience to consider the cognitive and creative effects of walking on the walker:

thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It is best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing, it is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals. After all those years of walking to work out other things, it made sense to come back to work close to home, in Thoreau’s sense, and to think about walking.

Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts. . . . Moving on foot seems to make it easier to move in time; the mind wanders from plans to recollections to observations.

The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the minds [sic] is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete—for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can. Walking can also be imagined as a visual activity, every walk a tour leisurely enough both to see and to think over the sights, to assimilate the new into the known. Perhaps this is where walking’s peculiar utility for thinkers comes from. The surprises, liberations, and clarifications of travel can sometimes be garnered by going around the block as well as going around the world, and walking travels both near and far. Or perhaps walking should be called movement, not travel, for one can walk in circles or travel around the world immobilized in a seat, and a certain kind of wanderlust can only be assuaged by the acts of the body itself in motion, not the motion of the car, boat, or plane. It is the movement as well as the sights going by that seems to make things happen in the mind and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile: it is both mean and end, travel and destination. (qtd. 6-7)

I know that many practitioners of radical or artistic walking would find Solnit’s comments excessively Romantic, and therefore wrongheaded or merely out of fashion, and yet I would venture to guess that many of those same critics have had experiences like the ones Solnit describes here, in which walking has been an aid to thinking. Just because the connection between thinking and walking—or even creativity and walking—was recognized by Wordsworth doesn’t make it less true. The connection Solnit makes in this long quotation between walking and thinking is borne out by my own experiences of walking. More importantly, however, for this book and the exhibition it documents, Solnit’s thinking on walking establishes a context for the work included here and the exhibition’s curatorial approach to that work. After all, it wasn’t called Wanderlust for no reason. If Solnit’s take on walking is Romantic, I would expect the curatorial approach to the exhibition documented by this book to be Romantic as well.

Rachel Adams’s introduction begins with a visit to Walter de Maria’s sculpture The Lightning Field, 400 stainless steel poles installed in a grid covering half a square mile of New Mexico desert. She notes that The Lightning Field is intended to be walked as well as seen, and describes the effect the sculpture had on her as she journeyed through the sculpture:

my journey through the sculpture was calming, dramatic, poetic, and performative. At one point, I found myself ignoring the poles and skipping—my body floating above the earth for half seconds, and then flattening the rough desert vegetation as I landed. Another time, I found myself in line with my husband, who was walking two poles down from my location. We locked eyes and suddenly engaged in a non-verbal performance of walking the grid from pole to pole in step with each other. This lasted for several poles until we came to the outer edge of the sculpture and turned toward each other. However, the most vivid memory I have was the sunset. As the sun lowered in the west, brilliant color slowly crept all around us, engulfing the landscape until all 360 degrees were activated by its disappearance below the horizon. (11)

During Adams’s experience at The Lightning Field, she writes, “this exhibition solidified and the subtitle first entered my mind” (11). Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967-2017 began with walking artists, but broadened to consider“the creative processes of artists who make work outside the confines of an indoor space” (11). The 41 artists included “departed from the studio, the stage, the gallery, the museum,” Adams continues. “They found themselves wandering, sometimes with a purpose, and at other times not. The exhibition presents a variety of performative artistic projects that have taken place over the past fifty years, and includes works that are narrative, conceptual, poetic, and political” (11). The photographs, videos, films, texts, sculptures, and installations presented in the exhibition “are documented actions, traces, and journeys” (13). Not just walking, then, but other forms of movement are included in this exhibition catalogue as well.

Adams historicizes the exhibition by suggesting that humans have an “innate need to walk, traverse, travel and experience newness,” and that “artists follow in the footsteps of our ancestors’ early quests as they circumnavigate the globe” (13). From those prehistoric journeys, she leaps ahead to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s claim that walking stimulated his thinking, and from there she moves to “[p]erformative action in contemporary artistic practice” which began to change art making in the 1950s (13). “The move from art object to art action led to the experimental artistic practices of the 1960s and ’70s,” Adams writes. “Crossing the boundaries of Conceptual, Performance, and Land art, the works in this exhibition focus on the radical reorientation of art practice, beginning specifically in 1967” (13). Adams notes the contributions of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and the members of the Lettrist International and Situationist International, but the most important text in establishing this shift from object to action, for her, was Allan Kaprow’s “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” an essay “which provided a theoretical springboard for future artistic practice—establishing the idea of the happening, and widening the scope of what was considered art” (13). Kaprow’s essay “became a call, an invitation for artists to abandon the object-based disciplines for the limitless investigation of relationships between ideas, acts, and everyday life” (13). At the same time that Kaprow was creating “happenings” and “activities,” “the Fluxus Movement came into focus, which included street theater, tours, and impromptu performances with artists such as George Maciunas, George Brecht, Yoko Ono, Mieko Shiomi, and Nam June Paik. These practices and artists were the precursors to the beginning of this exhibition” (14).

The “ease and availability of photography and video” by the mid-1960s “allowed artists to capture their performances, interactions, and engagements, helping to create a documentary within performance” and generating the material that is included in this exhibition, which “serves as both a record of the performance and the object within the gallery” (14). The documentation of “these formative artworks,” which showcases “the body’s movement through urban and rural landscapes,” include “both the solitary action of the artist and the artist performing for and/or with an audience” (14). Adams includes Richard Long’s 1967 A Line Made By Walking in this category: Long flattened “the grass beneath his feet” and recorded “the remnant of the action” (14). “While we do not see the artist repeatedly walking to flatten the grass, the viewer comes to imagine the action through its documentation,” she writes (14). “In a similar bucolic environment in 1969, artist Nancy Holt traveled to England and made Trail Markers—a document of a walk she took through Dartmoor National Park,” Adams continues (14), Holt’s work consists of colour photographs of trail markers in the park: “Her interest in these markers made her both a tourist and an explorer” (14-17). In 1967, Arte Povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto performed Walking Sculpture in Turin, Italy: “With his large papier-mache globe in tow, Pistoletto both strolled and drove from gallery to gallery, where he was watched and joined by passersby. This performance might be considered a precursor to what is not termed social practice” (17). The action was documented in black-and-white photographs which “reference film stills, and show Pistoletto’s body and the ball moving through an urban landscape” (17). Rosemarie Castoro (whom I haven’t heard of before) and Vito Acconci (who is often discussed in histories of walking art) “participated in the Street Works exhibitions in New York City that transpired throughout 1969) (17). Castoro rode her bike through the streets, “marking her path with white paint dripping from a can off the back fender” (17); she also “appeared to create a crack in the sidewalk using aluminum tape” and physically wrestled with “an industrial roll of aluminum. The documentation reveals the artist grappling on her own, surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers” (17). Acconci created nine separate works for Street Works, the most famous of which is Following Piece (17-19). Other artists whose work took place outside the studio included John Baldessari and the OHO Group in Slovenia.

“While these works act as starting points for the exhibition, there is a seamless transition to artworks over the next four decades,” Adams continues. “In the 1970s, the Israeli artist Efrat Natan walked through Tel Aviv with a T-shaped wooden box on her head, one of her better known ‘action sculptures’” (19). Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta created “intimate, personal earthworks by physically embedding her body into the land” in locations in the U.S. and Mexico (19). “In 1985, with her Doc Martens tied around her ankles, Mona Hatoum walked barefoot through the Brixton market,” Adams writes. “This performance was a response to racial conditions in the UK at the time, and specifically the market—a site of one of the race riots” (19). African-American artist David Hammons “kicked a metal bucket down the darkened streets of New York, creating value from a discarded object while employing a variety of meanings from the performance title—Phat Free” (19). Adams also cites Night Canoeing, by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, and Roberley Bell’s Still Visible, in which the artist tried to find 18 trees she had photographed previously in Istanbul “via her daily journeys and her memories” (19). All of these works and artists were included in the exhibition.

“Each artist included in this exhibition merges creative practice with elemental forces—either by chance or by instruction—and the varied documents of these movements remain,” Adams writes. “When venturing outdoors, these artists transcend the physical confines of the studio, finding inspiration in both the natural and urban landscapes” and employing “performative strategies that engage with the landscape” (20). The movement outside of the studio “fuses art with life, aestheticizing a space and an action rather than an object. With one foot out the door, artists’ actions, traces, and journeys continue to expand contemporary art practice, just as they did fifty years ago” (20).

All of the works represented in this book, which are organized in alphabetical order by the artists’ surnames rather than chronologically or thematically,  are accompanied by short essays. The first is Vito Acconci’s Following Piece, from 1969, which is discussed by Kate Green. Acconci began as a poet, but “he began stretching beyond the boundaries of his newly acquired discipline,” moving into conceptual art (24). Acconci’s Following Piece was a daily practice of following passersby until they entered somewhere he couldn’t go (a taxi, a private residence). Acconci kept a written log of these wanderings. Eventually, though, he realized that he would have to document these actions in photographs if he wanted them to reach the visual art world. “So an episode was re-enacted and captured in black-and-white photographs—shot by Betsy Jackson—that give drifting a psychological valence,” Green writes. “The photographs helped the circulation of the activity, as did Acconci’s decision to ‘dedicate’ episodes to dozens across the art world—Kaspar Koenig, Lucy Lippard, Seth Siegelaub—who received letters that further extended the reach” (24).

Next is the work of Janine Antoni, explored by Jason Foumberg. “Janine Antoni’s body parts are tools for her sculptures,” Foumberg writes. “She has made art with her hair, her back, he tongue, her teeth, so naturally her feet followed” (29). Her 2002 video installation Touch “demonstrates the practice of physical discipline in the shape of tightrope walking. Arms like a bird, Antoni baby-steps her way across the horizon line—the seascape of her childhood in the Bahamas—on a rope stretched where sky meets sea” (29). Walking a tightrope involves “a muscular sense of balance—that invisible organ,” Foumberg continues. “What do the toes know? Feet are an intelligent technology. Antoni learned tightrope waking so she could cultivate an innate skill that resides in her body’s midline, her posture, her gravity, her mass. The harmony of balance was already inside her, she just had to discover it” (29). Because of the location, and the camera angle, “the artist’s feet momentarily, illusionistically, walk on water, and it is so perfect that you can believe in it for a second” (29). “The audiences’ gasps keep a funambulist afloat,” Foumberg concludes. “It is a daring feat of buoyancy. Among this history of extremes, Antoni’s tightrope is more metaphor than measure. She is not high but she desires and cultivates the impossible, which tightrope mastery represents. The camera’s tight frame cuts off her context and she is not at peril, but she is balancing on the tightrope of believability” (29).

Kim Beck’s 2017 There Here billboard project, located in Buffalo, depicts “arrows rendered in the sky by a skywriting plane,” Toby Lawrence writes, drawing attention “to the physical and psychological space held by the border and relationships between the United States and Canada” (33). The arrows “also allude to the history of Buffalo as the traditional land of the Seneca people, as a migratory and economic gateway, and as a site of resistance and revolution through significant markers of history, such as the War of 1812 and the Underground Railroad” (33). The multiple billboards, scattered throughout Buffalo, are “highly visible markers” that “instill another layer of directionality, as they echo the large concrete arrows that accompanied beacons installed across the United States and utilized by the Air Mail Service in transcontinental navigation before the development of radar” (33-34). But unlike those concrete arrows, the arrows on Beck’s billboards are inversions that “hold the ability to influence the activity on the ground, in contrast to the arrows providing direction for those in the sky” (34). “This notion of directionality plays a key role in Beck’s work,” Lawrence concludes, “drawing the continually shifting human influence that overlays the urban and natural landscapes to direct and redirect history and movements” (34).

Rosemarie Castoro’s 1969 Gates of Troy (the work in which she wrestled with an industrial roll of aluminum) follows next. The title of the work, Andrew Barron points out, “alludes to the Homeric myth of Achilles dragging the corpse of Hector behind his chariot. Castoro assumed the role of an enraged Achilles and imbued the material with a corporeality at once mastered yet uncontained. As she wrestled with the object-as-body, Castoro continuously interrupted the urban landscape, interfering with oncoming traffic and pedestrians along the way” (38). Interference, as a theme, “animates Castoro’s decades-long practice,” Barron writes. “Most known for her connections to Minimalism and Conceptualism, she transgressed artistic boundaries and disrupted conventional notions of categorization” (38). As a student at the Pratt Institute, Castoro participated in Yvonne Ranier’s avant-garde dance performances, and that influence “informed her early paintings and drawings, which were preoccupied with structure and perception, examining the ways in which geometric edges intersect in and move through space” (38). “Castoro understood spatial limitations as instantiated power relations,” Barron continues, and by taking her work outside of the studio, “she challenged and remapped impositions forced upon the city and body alike, always attending to the constructed nature of those forms” (38). Castoro was one of the few women artists active in New York’s Minimalist art scene, and “despite leaving behind an oeuvre as formally advanced and conceptually rigorous as her male counterparts’, her status as a woman is why she remains vastly under-recognized in relation to her peers” (38). For Barron, “Gates of Troy is perhaps Rosemarie Castoro’s most emphatic protest” against the inequalities she experienced (38).

The art collective Fallen Fruit’s 2017 installation The Grass is Always Greener is a planting of fruit trees in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighbourhood. The collective, which works exclusively with fruit trees, has recast fruit and fruit trees as “noble and generous component[s] of a community’s eco-system” (45). They work with “governments, museums, and creative initiatives around the world to plant public fruit parks as part of the serial project The Endless Orchard,” Jamilee Lacy writes (46). They also create “social artworks, such as Public Fruit Jam, Neighborhood Infusions, and Lemonade Stand, wherein diverse publics come together to pick, harvest, and concoct edible art at free-form festivals celebrating the crop of their own communal labour” (46). As part of this exhibition, they presented “a new edition of an ongoing series of photo-collaged, fruit-patterned wallpaper” that they call “‘fruit portraits’” (46). “Designed using images of fruit and flora found in and around Buffalo, the latest wallpaper portrait cites a regionally specific narrative of fruit to symbolize the joy of abundant fruit in the modern world,” Lacy concludes (46).

Kenneth Josephson’s photographic series Images Within Images is discussed next. Josephson “is considered a pioneer in regard to conceptual photography,” Adams writes (50). His practice “combines humor with a visceral awareness, and his conceptual experiments are playful while exploring and questioning the medium of photography” (50). In Images Within Images, “the photographer’s hand juts into the frame, holding out a related image in the foreground with that in the background,” Adams continues, such as (in 1970’s New York State) a photograph of an ocean liner juxtaposed against the sea’s horizon (50). “This simple gesture is at once funny and poignant,” Adams writes. “The viewer can imagine that ocean liner actually chugging along on open water, yet Josephson compresses the three-dimensionality of the space he is in with the snap of the camera” (50). Josephson thereby allows audiences to laugh “while constructing visual puzzles that showcase how he encounters the world at large” (50).

The inclusion of Allan Kaprow’s 1989 Taking A Shoe For A Walk in Wanderlust links that exhibition to the beginnings of contemporary performance art in the 1950s. In her discussion of that work, Adams returns to Kaprow’s essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock” and its call for artists to “‘put a bit of life in art’” (qtd. 54). She notes that after a decade of conducting happens, Kaprow adopted the term “activities” instead: “Less abstract, more personal and with smaller groups, activities became the forefront of Kaprow’s practice. He thought of these activities as a form of inspired play and even ventured to call himself an ‘un-artist’” (54-55). Activities often took place outside of galleries. For instance, his 1968 Round Trip “involved rolling a ball of paper garbage tied with string through city streets, collecting and adding more garbage to it until it became a huge ball, then gradually stripping the ball to nothing” (55)—an instance of walking art. “As an early proprietor of action outside of the studio”—surely Adams means “proponent,” not “proprietor”—Kaprow “was and continues to be extremely influential” (55). “In Taking A Shoe For A Walk, Kaprow returns to the street, eliciting humor and play once again,” she concludes (55). The score for the activity follows: it asks participants to pull a shoe on a string through the city, checking from time to time to see if it’s worn out (55). However, the relationship to Mona Hatoum’s work is not made explicit here for some reason; didn’t she drag boots behind her before Kaprow’s activity? Perhaps it’s rude to ask such questions of such an important figure, or perhaps originality isn’t the point, or perhaps the differences—Hatoum was barefoot, while Kaprow’s participants wear shoes—are important.

Mary Mattingly’s House and Universe (2012-2013) depicts “in poetic terms what Mattingly’s public interventions advocate for outside the studio,” writes Jennie Lamensdorf (61). Mattingly’s works “seek to raise awareness and actively contribute to social change,” and the photographs and sculptures included in House and Universe “are powerful demonstrations of over-consumption, waste, and the burden placed on the environment in the race to stay current among objects subject to planned obsolescence” (61). “In her series of bundles, Mattingly gathered up and bound together her life’s possessions,” Lamensdorf writes (61). “She then took the bundles to the street, moving them, with great effort, across public spaces in a gesture of cleansing self-flagellation. For example, the photograph Pull (2013) depicts Mattingly physically moving her personal baggage across the Bayonne Bridge to the Port of Newark” (61). That work was an elegy for the Bayonne Bridge, which was about to be replaced by a taller structure “that would allow larger container ships to bring more goods into New York City” (61-62). “In her work, Mattingly seeks to reconcile her own participation in the structures she critiques with the principles of her ambitious projects, Lamensdorf concludes. “Mattingly’s practice is a tool against apathy, seducing the viewer into considering the larger subjects at hand: over-consumption, food security, and land use” (62). Strangely, the connection between Mattingly’s work and Kaprow’s is not noted here: in the documentation of Pull that is included in the book, Mattingly is seen dragging a large ball of possessions tied with string along a sidewalk, a reference (I think) to Kaprow’s Round Trip (since those possessions appear to be mostly made of paper).

Landscape for Fire (1972) was one of Anthony McCall’s experiments with ephemeral activities, which were documented on film. Flammable materials were arranged in a grid in a field, and performers—members of the British artist collaboration Exit—“were instructed to torch and extinguish each fire according to a predetermined sequence” (66). “McCall—encouraged by the serial conceptualism of Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner and the rise of live performance as a way to navigate sculptural concerns—attempted to impose the precision and controllable configurations of the modernist grid upon the indeterminate and capricious nature of fire, wind and outdoor space,” Holly Shen writes. “He created score-like drawings to dictate every detail, from the amount of petrol used to the walking speed of the performers” (66). However, because “McCall shrewdly understood the inability of the medium to transmute a live event beyond its durational form,” rather than documenting the event, “Landscape for Fire is formulated as a discrete film that adopts cinematic devices uncommon in other recordings of happenings and live events of the same era,” such as varying the speed of sequences and inverting the image (66). “McCall regarded these outdoor performances as a primary experience and the film as a secondary record,” Shen concludes, “a fact that ultimately led him to make Line Describing a Cone a year later, his now-iconic work in which the film is the event itself, as projected light slowly reveals a volumetric form” (66).

Teresa Murak’s 1974 Procession documents the artist wearing a plant, cardamine pratensis, also known as lady’s smock, as a shawl as she walked around Warsaw for several hours, including the city’s central square and the hallways of its art academy.“The aesthetic elements of lady’s smock, including its color and texture, are included in many of Murak’s photographs, films, and graphic works,” writes Hannah Cattarin (70). In Procession, Murak bumped into passersby, “at times evoking angry reactions from observers,” and for Catterin, even though Murak was weighed down by “the heavy layer of greenery,” the action “that now exists in photographs was a demonstration of freedom—a disruption of the public realm by a female body covered in nature that could not be ignored” (70). “In Procession, Murak brings the intimate ritual of cultivation and the beauty of growth to our attention asking that our relationship with nature be examined,” Cattarin concludes. “That question makes Murak’s ecologically engaged work as significant today as it was more than forty years ago” (70).

Wangechi Mutu’s 2004 video Cutting “invites viewers to consider the acts of cutting and collage as reparative gestures, a response to issues of representation of violence,” writes Allison Glenn (75). In the video, Mutu hacks at a log with a machete: “Each strike of the machete onto the surface of the wood creates a deep, resonant sound of metal striking metal, the high-pitched echo reverberating” (75). After her breathing reaches a crescendo, Mutu discards the machete and climbs a nearby hill. In interviews, Mutu connects the action to the mutilation of civilians by rebel fighters in places like Rwanda and Sierra Leone; she suggests that such violence led her to consider collages as “‘a formal solution for how I viewed the world’” (qtd. 75). “This unique moment in Mutu’s oeuvre is a combination of her own disdain with the political climate, and her resolution of this through the performance of a distinct collage aesthetic that will will appear time and again in her career,” Glenn writes (75).

In Efrat Natan’s 1973 Head Sculpture, the artist walks around Tel Aviv wearing a t-shaped box over her head. According to Lisa J. Sutcliffe, “Head Sculpture is now one of Natan’s best known works, epitomizing her pursuit of ‘action sculpture’ that made her one of Israel’s pioneers of conceptual art” (78). The shape of the box, Sutcliffe continues, “references multiple disparate subjects including a plus sign, an airplane, and the children’s house on a kibbutz,” as well as the Christian cross (78). “The act of photographing Natan’s Head Sculpture was carefully planned to provide a document for future publication, ultimately transforming the active event to a static relic,” Sutcliffe notes (78). The photographs are taken from above, and “[t]he flattened aerial perspective transforms the human form into a sculptural object and suggests modes of surveillance and mapping, which are emphasized by the function of the sculpture itself” (78). The box physically obscures Natan’s identity “and accentuates the power of the senses of sight and sound,” Sutcliffe concludes; “her performance suggests a framing and reduction of the senses and the ambiguity inherent in collecting a narrow field of vision and hearing” (78).

The OHO Group’s 1969 Summer Projects falls within “global conceptualism, touching upon several artistic principles found within Arte Povera, Land art, Process art, and performance,” writes Adams (82). The Summer Projects was a group of “experimental, small-scale ephemeral performances and sculptures” that were “created with simple, low-cost materials, including string, paper, mirrors, and plastic tubing” (82). Wanderlust included seven images from the Summer Projects series; they “document the artists claiming public space through playful actions, extending beyond traditional ideas of what art is and where it is located” (82).

Gabriel Orozco’s work was represented in Wanderlust through photographs of his 1992 Yielding Stone and his 1993 Island within an Island (Isla en La Isla). According to Jamie DiSarno, Orozco’s practice “involves an often mundane encounter with the geography of a locale while his photographic documents frequently offer up the residue of such meetings” (88). Island within an Island, for instance, is a photograph of “detritus found on location” with the New York skyline in the background (88). “The skyline accessible to us is that of debris—the other exists in a space of privilege,” DiSarno writes (88). In Yielding Stone, Orozco rolled 150 pounds of Plasticine clay through the streets of New York: “the weight of the material pressed itself into the spaces of the ground and picked up impressions from what the object happened upon. The city and the clay body become opposing weights, impaling each other by their respective heft” (88-89). For DiSarno, “[b]oth works speak to more than simply walking the city. They suggest how locales imprint themselves upon bodies through encounters, accesses, borders, blockages, and what threatens to slip through the cracks. They reference the city that continues to consume itself and spit back out the presumed useless” (89). “Our attention in the images is given not to places we might choose,” she concludes. “[R]ather, we are asked to consider what might otherwise be ignored, a reminder of what was, and in fact what might still be” (89).

In John Pfahl’s Altered Landscapes series, a pieces of string is stretched into a lightning bolt shape in a variety of different landscapes. “We follow this unnatural line as it zigzags over difficult terrain, the only clear sign of human presence in otherwise seemingly undeveloped and unwelcoming land,” Natalie Fleming writes. “Pfahl literally marks the territory where he has journeyed, with tape and string outlining his chosen symbol. We cannot ignore that he has been there, unlike those traveling photographers of the nineteenth century, who deliberately created landscapes to appear untouched for their metropolitan audiences” (92). Unlike other examples of land art, Pfahl’s intervention is temporary and sometimes almost hidden. “Although his designs ay not endure onsite, within his photographs, the lightning bolts will always stand in our way and interfere with our sense of depth in a medium that already makes such spatial evaluations difficult,” Fleming continues. “Pfahl reinforces our inability to enter the landscape by turning his lens to the ground to capture compositions in which the sky is either completely cut off or just a sliver in between tree branches and hills. This is not a landscape made available through Pfahl’s markings, but a wall of dirt and vegetation that denies our wanderlust any satisfaction” (92).

Adams discussed Michelangelo Pistoletto’s 1967 Walking Sculpture in some detail in the book’s introduction.In her brief essay on the work, Eve Schillo places Pistoletto’s work firmly within the Arte Povera movement. “Arte Povera artists created work from non-traditional, ‘impoverished’ materials, thus—in theory—freeing their work from the conventions of the art market and a perceived corporatization of art,” she writes (96). Pistoletto trained as a painter but soon decided to pursue “the breakdown of the hierarchies of everyday life object versus art objects” (96). Walking Sculpture is one example: Pistoletto uses a mass consumable (newspapers) to make a “singular, anti-commodity” object (96). “This work exists fully during its performance and then laterally, once documented photographically,” Schillo writes. “As a temporal piece, Walking Sculpture epitomizes the Arte Povera directive: of little value in materials; disavowing the singular maker; and requiring no exhibition space per se, just a foothold in the real world. Walking Sculpture comes into the ‘art world’ only after Pistoletto shares his snowball-like accumulations of newspapers with the street, initiating a walk” (96). Walking Sculpture combines elements: a universal shape (a ball), the assistance of passersby, and “the collective performance” (96). “Pistoletto used the terms ‘walking art,’ but also transportable art, street collective performance, and simply, a collective walk,” Schillo writes. “While mimicking the wave of radical political rallies and marches occurring worldwide at the time, there is also a reference to more traditional religious processions common in Europe. . . . Still an active sculpture to this day, we would now likely group this kind of art activity under a ‘social practice’ rubric” (96). According to Schillo, “Pistoletto’s legacy is in his embrace of the concept that art could indeed affect social change. In altering the forms art can take (a walk), he forces us to recalibrate our perceptions. In perfecting the communal performance that occurs each time Walking Sculpture comes into being, he allows us to witness society in unity, in collaboration and—most underrated—in play” (96).

Mary Ellen Strom’s 2013 Tree Lines creates a replica of the NTSC video colour bar spectrum from 22 portraits of pine trees in a Montana forest. The trunk of each tree has been painted: “Marked out from their sisters, these trees are either dying or ‘dead standing,’ the effects of the mountain pine beetle visible even though a thick layer of pigment,” Ariel Pittman writes. “Once considered part of natural conditions, changes to the global climate have resulted in a loss of homeostasis in these ecosystems and bark beetle infestations are decimating forests from Mexico to Canada” (101). By transforming the trees into a test pattern, Strom’s photographs “alert the viewer to the urgent need to adjust the human in puts that affect this forest, and the ever more fragile wild” (101). Strom’s other photographic and video work “memorialize the lost forest and project a vision of tender efforts towards remediation,” Pittman concludes. “Her exhortations are a nod to the consequences, both deleterious and healing, of human action” (101-02).

One of the text’s two critical essays appears at this point, disrupting the series of artists and works with historical analysis. In “Keep on Walking,” Lori Waxman discusses the walking art of the Dadaists and Surrealists as precursors to contemporary walking art. Her starting point is a 28-mile walk between the French towns of Blois and Romorantin, conducted by André Breton, Louis Aragon, Max Morise and Roger Vitrac in May 1924. “They’d picked the towns at random on a map and, beginning at Blois, continued haphazardly on foot for close to ten days, detouring only for the sake of eating and sleeping,” Waxman writes. “Wandering without a goal was their goal, and over the course of the journey they encountered a few phantoms, came close to fisticuffs, and eventually decided to cut the excursion short due to mounting hostility, fatigue, and disorientation” (107-08). Nonetheless, the trip was considered a success: “They had left the studio, the gallery, the theater; taken to the road; and discovered the marvelous in the places and actions of everyday life. They had not merely represented movement in poems or paintings, as did artists in the past, but had endured actual experiences in real space, using their own bodies in time” (108). When they returned to Paris, Breton wrote the Manifesto of Surrealism. 

Visual artists were late in discovering wandering or walking as a practice: “Ancient philosophers, medieval craftsmen and scholars, and Romantic poets all got going first” (108). Waxman notes that “it took the innovations of the twentieth century—the ready-made and found materials, the rapprochement of art and life, the rise of performance, the attention to process—for walking itself to become art” (108). The Surrealists, and before them, the Dadaists, were the first twentieth-century art walkers. “The Surrealists wanted a revolution, one that would provide access to the combination of dream and reality that the four friends had approached on their 1924 ramble,” Waxman writes. “Breton’s manifesto called for individual liberation from moralistic and capitalistic pressure, from the obligation to work, from relentless modernization and consumption and rationalization and common sense” (108). Resistance to these forces took many forms, “but walking was chief among the strategies that served them in their goal of transforming the human condition by tapping the unconscious. If it has remained a less visible part of the Surrealists’ historical production, walking for them was never akin to a final product, though it was often as not an essential part of the process” (108-09). Walking remains part of the process of many artists: “a means, not an end” (109). 

“So Breton kept on walking, and so too did his Surrealist colleagues,” Waxman writes (109). As well as walking as transportation, they walked, she continues, “in hopes of a chance encounter with the outmoded objects and places, the magnetic people, the uncanny situations that fill memoiristic books like Breton’s Nadja (1928) and L’Amour fou (1937), Aragon’s Paysan de Paris (1926), and Philippe Soupault’s Les Dernières nuits de Paris, as well as the photographs in Brassaï’s Paris de nuit (1933)” (109). There were principles behind this walking activity: “The more trivial and under-appreciated the locale, the greater the possibility of sudden revelation and re-enchantment. The ‘quotidian mystery’ of the night, as Soupault called it, made this all the more so: daylight was workaday, darkness the time of alternative economies, peripatetic and streetwise, shadowy and shimmery” (109). Two people walking together was better than one, and the Surrealists liked walking with women, whom they viewed as “mediums through which to tap the unconscious and even hysterical aspects of the city and oneself” (109). “The itineraries mapped by these Surrealist writers, though full of sometimes unbelievable coincidences, happenstance and strangeness, were inextricably tied with what happened to their bodies and minds in space,” Waxman continues (111). She suggests that Brassaï’s photographs capture “a fusion of revolution, nighttime journey, and the refusal to work: “Under his framing and lighting, prostitutes, scavengers and beggars do not disappear into the margins but rather glow at the center; a silent, sleeping Paris is yet full of living electric lights and strange industrial structures; a peculiar anthropomorphism haunts the city, come alive through the shadows of gates, trees and pillars” (111). Brassaï documented “the mystery he found, within the realm of everyday observation, on the streets of Paris while rambling” (111). 

In the 1950s, another group of young people “found themselves roaming the less popular districts and immigrant neighbourhoods of the city fo hours, days or even longer”: they called themselves the Lettrists and, later, the Situationist International (113). Their goal was to succeed where they believed Surrealism had failed: achieving a better life for everyone (113). According to Waxman, “they focused their activities on improving the quality of everyday mass existence: its stilted routines, its uninspiring architecture and urban planning, its limited situations” (113). The Situationists “left behind the Surrealist tactics of chance, the unconscious and the marvelous; did away with anything that could be commodified as an art object; preferred the collective to the individual,” she continues. “But they kept on walking” (113). Wandering around the city was a game for them, as well as “a form of study and a revolutionary device” (113). “Changing the world was only possible by being an active participant, and drifting was one of the most accessible means for doing so,” Waxman writes. “It provided a playful, passionate way to engage the urban landscape; a direct route for acquiring knowledge about it; and a rejection of the obligation to live a life limited by work, consumption, privatization and passivity” (113). They described their activity using a new word, la dérive, “and eventually distributed journals, political pamphlets, artist books and maps theorizing its practice and recording related findings” (113). 

“With the city as their theater and medium, the SI set about devising a series of playful yet constructive methods for reshaping its buildings, streets and the lives lived among them,” Waxman contends. “Walking provided a central tactic again and again” (114). The dérive had two overlapping purposes: “1) emotional disorientation achieved via ambulatory play, and 2) the study of a terrain in terms of its psychological influence, which they dubbed ‘psychogeography.’ It was tricky, but not impossible, to achieve both at once” (114). They were seriously playful and used a variety of games that would create disorientation during their drifts, such as using a map of one city to navigate another (114). The goal was the despectacularization of the city, making it “a place that could be actively and creatively explored” (114). However, not all of the Situationists could drift freely: its Moroccan and Algerian members, for instance, or the few women associated with the group. Abdelhafid Khatib’s psychogeographic study of Les Halles was interrupted because Khatib was arrested for breaking the curfew imposed on North Africans (114-16). Another tactic was the détournement, “a rerouting of pre-existing elements into a superior situation, many of them conducive to disorienting dérives” (116). The Situationists “published lists of suggestions for reclaiming Paris for a ludic and mobile citizenry” (116), all of which seem silly now (partly because of the liability issues their suggestions would create) and got  drunk or high before going on drifts (116). “For all that mischievious, even delinquent behavior, the dérive also had a more serious scientific side,” Waxman writes (120). They were serious about psychogeography as a way to study “the effect of the city on its inhabitants. . . . They believed that the moods and directions of pedestrians were influenced in a predictable and therefore observable manner” (120). They published reports that “indicated the psychogeographic contours of a city” and maps that “without conforming to any kind of official delimitations . . . constituted a cohesive and coherent place in terms of shared atmosphere” (120). “The SI believed that their methods portended a level of objectivity, but it is impossible to ignore the tension between the objective and the subjective parts of their practice,” Waxman notes. The paradox of psychogeography is that “it is both about the self and getting beyond it, to a consciousness of how the city or the world feels” (120-22). “But the only way to know how a place feels is through one’s own subjective, terrestrial experience of it,” she concludes. “These limitations nevertheless have a positive counterpart: they insist on the need for the rest of us, artists and non-artists alike, to go out and walk the streets and pay attention to how it affects us all” (122).

After Waxman’s essay, the text returns to an alphabetically organized discussion of artists included in the exhibition—but beginning at the start of the alphabet again, with Nevin Aladağ’s 2013 Session, a three-channel video installation that presents a musical portrait of Sharjah, a city in the United Arab Emirates. The work’s soundtrack “features a cast of diverse Arabic, African, and Indian percussion instruments that take us along a discordant symphonic journey, from the quiet desert to a cacophonous industrial district and old city center,” writes Katherine Finerty. “They move with adventurous power yet a vulnerable lack of control, beckoning us to question: what is playing? What is being played?” (129). The sounds break through hierarchies, generating a sense of freedom, while at the same time a “dissonant yet resonant composition emerges, narrating the borders and beats of the city in a symphony ultimately free from narration” (129). “Aladağ’s work explores the textures of socio-spatial environments and global cultural identity,” Finerty concludes. “In Session we are thus invited to become not only viewers and listeners, but also voyagers and cartographers, navigating the enigmatic edges of our surrounding environments through surfaces and socially active gestures” (129).

Francis Alÿs’s 1997 Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing is video documentation of an action: the artist moving a block of ice through the streets of Mexico City for nine hours. Alÿs’s work often features walking “as an essential component. It is here that we come to know the importance of the pedestrian’s sense of time, scale, and scope to the artist,” writes Sean Ripple (133). That rectangular block, which is “suggestive of the cube—a prevalent motif found throughout the history of minimalism—is, over the course of the day, reduced to little more than a small and shallow puddle of moisture,” Ripple continues. “By performing an action that brings to mind the punishment that King Sisyphus endured in the Greek myth, Alÿs equates the work an artist does with an exercise in futility. However, another reading suggests that the artist is wrestling with minimalism as a modernist high point” (133). As an act of erasure, Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing may untether both artist and viewers “from the constraints of art historical precedent, which often dominates our experience of art” (133).

John Baldessari’s 1969 California Map Project Part 1: California and 1973 Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts) are works of conceptual photography. “Baldessari’s images still capture a distinct sense of place and time, driven by his desire to get out of the studio,” Joshua Fischer writes (138). The California Map Project was classified “as both an earthwork and ‘information’” (138). Baldessari’s ambition was to make each letter spelling CALIFORNIA using “found and ephemeral materials, such as a telephone pole and faked shadow to make an L” (138). The sequence of photographs also documents a road trip throughout California, and as the images change “from brown desert to green forestry,” they capture “the immense geographic variation of the state through modest, temporary gestures” (138). Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts) is an experiment with change relationships and systems which the artist described as an “absurd exercise” that parodies “traditional photography’s relationship to the decisive moment when a photo might be valued for capturing something of great importance or gravity” (138). 

“Every summer, without a set plan or imposed pressure for results, Blue Republic sets out to the rocky shores of Lake Huron to perform what they refer to as ‘invisible gallery of drawings,’” writes Karen Patterson:

Archaeological records reveal an Aboriginal presence in this region dating back 11,000 years, and this backdrop—rife with power, history and change—becomes Blue Republic’s outdoor laboratory every summer. As the artists shift into a more meditative rhythm of the natural environment, they hone on to what is most important to them and to society: global warming, economic failure, and threats of terrorism begin to emerge in these water drawings. (143)

“In the ephemeral museum of the Canadian Shield, the scale of artwork is altered to be something more corporeal, theatrical, and less focused on the product and more on the process,” Patterson continues. “Blue Republic performs on this historic canvas, without rehearsal or expectation, transposing and layering ore histories, events and concerns onto this ever-changing landscape. The fact that the drawings disappear does not mean they do not exist” (143-44). (They are documented on video, like the work shown as part of Wanderlust.) “The issues rendered in the drawings—the corporate ladder, the stock exchange, clear-cutting of our forests, 9/11—are abstractions of pivotal moments in contemporary society, yet in this moment of ‘extreme present,’ these issues threaten to move from the forefront to the background of our collective memory,” Patterson concludes. “With these water drawings, Blue Republic communicates the importance of chaos, emotion, and loss. These interventions act as rebellions against the pursuit of perfection and quantification, and underscore the human equation in this digital age” (144).

Zoe Crosher’s series of photographs, LA-LIKE: Transgressing the Pacific (2008-2010), “investigates mysterious narratives of fictional deaths as portrayed in Hollywood films, alongside real-life disappearances,” Melanie Flood writes. “The portfolio of seven large-scale, square-format photographs invokes an eerie sense of nostalgia through depictions of desolate beaches, ominous pier sunsets, and jagged coves, while descriptive titles act as clues” (149). Crosher’s work depicts “the vastness of the unknown—tragic crimes without resolution” (149).

Richard Long’s 1967 A Line Made By Walking has been the subject of much critical work, including a book by Dieter Roelstraete. In her essay, Laura Burkhalter calls Long’s work “a poetic and communicative response to nature,” and suggest that it “continues a British tradition of artistic landscape explorers that goes back to Constable, Turner, and Wordsworth” (152). “Particularly concerned with movement—the changes in natural elements due to weather and time, as well as his own movement through the landscape—Long continues the aims of his forefathers, as well as those of his contemporaries in the land, conceptual, and performance art genres,” Burkhalter continues (152). Long’s photographs are records that capture “the ephemeral results of Long’s practice and presence,” and A Line Made By Walking “represents the artist’s first venture into this type of art, simply presenting a line made in a nondescript English meadow by Long’s repeated pacing” (152). Later works by Long exist only as text, “offering a few specifics on distance and sights seen, but focusing on action in the same direct language” as the text below Long’s 1967 photograph. “The exact conditions of those walks, as with the day referenced in A Line Made By Walking, are left to the viewer’s interpretation,” Burkhalter continues. “We are free to guess at the meadow’s sounds and weather, as well as the thoughts of a young artist deliberately retracing his own steps. Only the elegant geometry of this image remains” (152). Another work by Long, Coyote Stones (A Five Day Walk in the Sierra Nevadas) was included in the exhibition: “It features a circle of stone, which, like the line, has become a trademark form in the artist’s oeuvre. The photograph’s title offers the duration and location of Long’s walk, as well as a poetic moniker for the stones he chose and placed” (152). “Ingrained in visual culture from Ansel Adams photographs to Hollywood films, the Sierra Nevada mountains epitomize the ideal ‘Western’ vista, and the expanse of landscape captured in this image seems deliberately chosen to celebrate that mythology,” Burkhalter concludes (152).

Ana Mendieta’s 1977 Silueta Works in Mexico is a series of photographs documenting “interventions in the land” (158). According to Liz Munsell, “[t]he merger of the human figure and nature became the signature gesture of Mendieta’s intimate earth works, which she made in solitude while traveling in Mexico and exploring the landscapes of her adopted home state,” Iowa (158). “Mendieta’s sculptural interventions were as transient as she was; as a child her parents sent her to Iowa from Havana in the midst of revolutionary transitions in Cuba,” Munsell writes. “The jarring experience of separation from her family and culture would later serve as the primary impetus of her art made while wandering” (158). Her interest in Santeria informed Mendieta’s actions, “carried out for the Silueta series as physical exercises or rituals in which she becomes one with her materials” (158). The series “documents her own personal process of healing by inserting her image into the land through incisions, gun powder, and materials resembling blood—only then to have evidence of such rituals heal over and disappear back into the land” (158). “While the Silueta series was propelled by a personal experience of transiting of the earth, it came into being only as Mendieta paused to commune with a singular site,” Munsell concludes. “There, her body—that of the maker—and her drawn, dug, and explosive figures became embedded in the earth, rather than merely gliding upon its surface” (158).

In the series Roadstains, Michael x. Ryan’s process “materializes the dark matter of life observed in his daily treks through his studio-cum-home, the bustle of raising two kids, teaching young artists, and moving about as a body in the corporeal city of Chicago,” Ross Jordan writes. Roadstains, Jordan continues, “started in the streets and sidewalks of the city, early in the morning and late at night,” where Ryan “meticulously traced the discovered liquid contours of the small disappointments of a dropped coke or beer dripping from a block party’s key” (165). “Ryan transforms splats and splotches of these incidental moments into cataclysms of undetermined scale,” and “his rigorous attention to the impressions of life reveal an interest in capturing the energetic ghosts that are in constant contact. Ryan’s gesture embalms what are mistakenly thought of as limited and fleeting moments with a faithful and devoted power” (165).

Guido van der Werve’s 2011 Nummer dertien, effugio C: you’re always only half a day away, documents the artist’s running practice, which is “part of a long lineage of endurance art,” although it does more “than test the limits of his body,” according to Charlie Tatum (169). Van der Werve’s “performances and subsequent documentation reframe repetitive physical exercise as a meditative process—one that channels the simultaneous exhilaration, exhaustion, loneliness, and boredom of everyday life” (169). Nummer dertien, effugio C: you’re always only half a day away documents a 12-hour run around van der Werve’s residence in Finland, a distance of about 65 miles. “In the equally long video, the artist, clad in a black t-shirt and black athletic shorts, appears and disappears around the corners of an orange wooden house,” Tatum writes. “The clomps of van der Werve’s sneakers interrupt the quiet sounds of nature—trees rustling, birds chirping” (169). The action is futile: “It’s unclear why he’s running, what he’s running to or from. Who is only half a day away?” (165). “Here, the unknown intentionality of exercise creates a space for reflection, imagination, and desire—for van der Werve and for us,” Tatum concludes (165).

Jane McFadden’s essay, “Trips, Tours, Traces Trespassings (And Other Tropes for Wandering)” begins with van der Werve’s work. Each time the artist passes the “middle-class, middle-brow home in Finland,” the rotation “is a dance of expectation between the pass in front of the house, which we see, and the disappearance behind,” McFadden writes:

The result is monotonous and funny—the futility of contemporary life and its routines played against possible disruptions. Such possibility is shadowed in the sounds—at one time a seeming exotic menagerie of jungle noise displaces us from this flat nether land and brings the role of mediation into view. For not only in the art of wandering, but also in our contemporary lives, is it possible to comprehend anywhere, or elsewhere, distinct from mediation. Van der Werve’s sonic compositions across his practice speak to these constructions even as the temporal duration of his video itself, as a medium, begins to forge a new place of experience for the viewer to be locked into, if only momentarily. (173) 

For McFadden, van der Werve’s work recalls the Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, “whose tragic wanderings are well known” (173). Ader’s documentation of falls suggest the way that both artists’ bodies “take on the domestic space as a material encounter—around, against, down, behind—while the site of a house/home becomes ground for futile action—a going nowhere. Each artist in turn matches such mundane experimentations against seemingly grander possibilities of elsewhere” (173).

Van der Werve’s video, McFadden continues, “is part of a series from 2010-2012 that includes a feature-length work representing an epic traversal of Europe and its histories,” and his Nummer negen, The day I didn’t turn with the world, from 2007, “similarly promises epic possibility in a twenty-four-hour stand by the artist against the turning of the globe” (173). “Filmed on the North Pole on April 28, 2007, when nothing happens, the world turns in its indifferent grandeur,” McFadden explains. “The record of this feat is accompanied by a piano composition played and recorded by the artist. At first a seeming soundtrack to make the artist’s stand heroic, it quickly becomes dissonant to the place—a marker of the history of Western civilization (its genres, its instruments) at odds with a site not yet civilized” (173-75). At the same time, McFadden continues, “it is impossible to see a sea of arctic ice without thinking of its tragic destruction at the hands of human-caused climate change, a harbinger of civilization’s possible end, against which we have little left to stand” (175). “Ader offered similar romantic explorations in his work,” McFadden continues (175). In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles), from 1973, documents a crossing of the city in the course of one evening; in the 1975 version of In Search of the Miraculous, Ader sailed off to his death (175). “The call of Wanderlust echoes here and along this spectrum—from the grounded mundane tasks of life, to the epic elsewheres of travel and its difficulties,” McFadden continues. “Neither cohesive nor collaborative, this exhibition presents a diaspora of wandering-physical, conceptual, visible, imaginary—in our global age” (175).

The second part of McFadden’s essay, “Tours,” begins with this statement: 

A sense of wanderlust evokes the possibility of vistas both literal and figurative, shifting perspectives and opening minds; yet we immediately recognize hindrances to such a view: the wanderings of this exhibition might most easily be anchored in those that marked the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—grand imperial and colonial adventures linked as well to the closed views and stifled movement of the slave hold, among other savagery. (175)

I was waiting for a recognition of the Romanticism inherent in Adams’s take on the exhibition, and perhaps in her curatorial approach as well, and here it is. For McFadden, exploring and exploiting were interconnected; that link “is obvious in retrospect and at Alexander von Humboldt’s legendary explorations during this period, especially those in South America, led to an original cohesive vision of world ecology succinctly illustrated in his stunning Naturgemälde of 1807. Rarely to we find such a singular visualization of a complex idea” (175-76).  But the journeys that enabled this vision “also offered views of morally corrupt and environmentally destructive aspects of colonial practices, including exploitation of labor, especially in mining industries, slavery for agriculture, and resource depletion of other sorts as well” (176). “Humboldt noted the effects of this exploitative human activity on the global ecology he was also documenting—an early voice recognizing impending climate change,” McFadden writes (176).

Two centuries later, McFadden continues, “we still struggle with how to accept and act within these interrelated circumstances of ecology and industry” (176). One example is the link Wangechi Mutu makes between collage and machetes used in genocide. Her 2004 video Cutting “restages her primary practice of collage—in which she cuts images from contemporary media and reworks them into complex images of gender, race, ecology, and violence—as a physical bodily act of hacking with a machete” (177). The violence of that gesture is echoed in the contemporary refugee crisis: “Indeed, if one were to consider the appropriate contemporary analogy for wanderlust, it might be the refugee—a brutal correction of the myth of the wandering body as enlightened ideal” (177). But one doesn’t have to be a refugee to face restrictions on movement. David Hammons’s Phat Free, from 1995, in which the artist kicks a bucket down the street, “conflates a certain idleness with death” through the expression “kicking the bucket,” “an understated metaphor for the volatile danger some may face, particularly black men in America, in heading out for a walk” (177). “Constraint resonates as well in Francis Alÿs’ trudging through the contemporary urban environment in Something Making Something Leads to Nothing, 1997,” McFadden continues. “Pushing a massive block of ice through Mexico City, the artist’s labor is materially futile, ephemeral, meaningless, while also difficult” (177). The same could be said of Mona Hatoum’s 1985 Roadworks, which “evoked the struggle of moving in this space in general,” and of Pope.L’s The Great White Way, “a tortuous journey down the historic grand avenue of Broadway in Manhattan” (177). Pope.L’s “slow crawl over many years questions the exchange between power, place and access: Who has the liberty to stroll where and how?” (177-79). “Embedded, restricted, and laborious, it is a symbolic journey betraying the weight some bear in order to move,” McFadden continues. “What in turn might it mean to view these struggles within a gallery space, to tour them ourselves with a liberated glance? Do we bridge one experience and another, or perhaps, more accurately, consider an unapproachable divide? Do we see in ourselves the role of perpetrator as Mutu’s [work] suggests, if we can see at all?” (179).

The essay’s third section, “Traces,” begins with Nancy Holt and her 1969 work Trail Markers, which explores, according to McFadden,“the limits of our seeing,” and the way “[t]he camera hides as much as it reveals” (179). Trail Markers’ images, “focused low as to avoid the perspective of a broad horizon, obscure any broad vision of this place,” and the orange trail markers “direct the viewer, yet provide no logic for the grand moor and its ancient histories” (179). In contrast, Zoe Crosher’s LA-LIKE: Transgressing the Pacific “uses the vagueness of photography to construct” by “[d]ocumenting supposed sites of disappearance from stories both actual and fictional” and thereby encouraging viewers ‘to build a narrative from such limited ground” (179). Crosher’s images “play with the meaning of place in real and imaginary narratives” (181), while Sophie Calle’s work “constructs narratives where one might not have been—targeting a stranger to become a protagonist in her work,” as in her 1980 Suite Vénitienne, in which “an unknown figure takes on the potential of a fictionalized thriller despite its mundane reality” (181). Calle’s work, McFadden suggests, “is a reversal of the uncomfortable gender roles in Vito Acconci’s earlier work Following Piece” (181). “Each work, in turn, is strangely intimate and deliberate in light of our contemporary realm, where an educated populace would expect at almost all times to be surveyed visually and digitally,” McFadden notes. “To follow someone no longer requires a wandering through space and time but the mere click of button to witness their own self-surveillance and construction” (181). “Within all this visibility of our contemporary world and an exhaustion of images, it is perhaps the invisible to which we should stay attuned,” McFadden writes (181). She suggests that Millie Chen’s 2014 Tour, where the artist travels to four locations in which horrific events have occurred—Murambi, Rwanda; Wounded Knee, South Dakota; Choeung Ek, Cambodia; and Treblinka, Poland—is one example of such attention. “This work is one in a careful dialogue regarding the necessity of representing the unrepresentable or making visible the invisible, and the perils of doing so, most clearly anchored in the philosophical devastation of the Holocaust” (181). “[A] recurring trope in Chen’s own video tour, which itself revisits the Holocaust as well in the site of Treblinka, is the use of grasses and reeds to obscure vision, blocking a horizon of escape,” she notes (181-84). 

The fourth section of the essay, “Trespassing,” links land art to the Western film and TV genre. McFadden cites Dave Hickey’s critique of land art as “an elaborate form of ‘trespassing’” (184). For Hickey, the media construction of the Western “was a key to works made of elsewheres” (187). Meanwhile, at about the same time, André Cadere, a Romanian artist working in France, “was constructing simple wooden rods, ‘barres de bois rond,’ that he would take to the street for ‘promenades’” (187). Sometimes Cadere “would stage exhibitions in various locations, and even assert his work in galleries and exhibitions, an act of occupation. Such tactics speak to the placelessness of his work against the more cogent strategies of the established art world—deliberately so” (187). Gabriel Orozco “stages the ephemerality of belonging often in his work, particularly in the famous Yielding Stone, 1992, which takes wandering as its principle,” McFadden continues. The Plasticine ball “serves as material and visual metaphor for the traveling artist himself (originally from Mexico, now a global citizen), as a physical manifestation of a complex web of negotiation, much less grounded” (187). Orozco’s “rolling mass” reminds McFadden of “Michelangelo Pistoletto’s earlier Walking Sculpture, 1969, a spherical volume of materials, a ‘minus object’ that he rolled through the streets” (188). And that work makes McFadden think of Rosemarie Castoro’s Gates of Troy. “Held in a liminal space, ‘at the gates’ of the art world, she, like Achilles, displays rage,” McFadden writes. “And why not? Decades later, Mary Mattingly again hauls sculpture through the street, accumulations of the soul-stuffed American Dream, and a later yet resonant image of a woman struggling against the waste and corruption of contemporary society” (189). “Is one logic of wanderlust, then, that of escaping the global traps of capital?” McFadden asks. “Here we could even return to Ader’s early fall and loss, as somehow inevitably grounded by the execution of his father at the hands of the Nazis for providing shelter for refugees?” (189). “A term that began with the promise of vision and seeking might end in shadow,” she concludes. “It is perhaps no surprise, in turn, that Janet Cardiff and Georges [sic] Miller’s Night Canoeing, 2004, which records a murky evening on the water, with vision blinded by fog and light, the rhythmic sounds of the oars only a reminder of our displacement, might become a guide to the whole endeavor” (189). For, McFadden writes, “the essential feature of human wanderlust is the embrace of the unknown, as alternative to what we already see” (189).

Now the text returns to the third group of artists included in Wanderlust, beginning with Bas Jan Ader’s 1975 In Search of the Miraculous. Ader, writes Lynnette Miranda, “investigates the limits of humanity through documented performance work that practices vulnerability and embraces the persistence of failure. In his endless search for the unknown, Ader’s work focuses on the psychological journey of the everyday by connecting body, mind, and site in each of his explorations” (192). In Search of the Miraculous was supposed to involve a solo voyage in a small sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean, from North America to Europe: “This voyage, a deliberate conceptual artwork, would lead to his disappearance, and eventually establish him as a cult figure in contemporary art” (192). The work was supposed to be in three parts: one walk across Los Angeles at night to the ocean; the voyage across the Atlantic; and a walk through Amsterdam. Photographs documenting the walk across Los Angeles, completed in 1973, were exhibited in 1975, before Ader set sail for Europe. Three weeks into his voyage he disappeared. In Search of the Miraculous, Miranda continues, “exists as physical remnants from this multipart project, but more importantly, the work itself is the enigmatic narrative around Ader and his true intentions behind the voyage. His disappearance becomes part of the work, serving as a poignant metaphor for our collective existential pursuit of the sublime” (192). Ader, a “tragic, yet romantic figure,” according to Miranda, “remains forever wandering in the contemporary art psyche, reminding us of the significance, beauty, and melancholy that is wrapped into the physical, mental, and emotional journey through daily life” (192).

According to Lexi Lee Sullivan, Roberley Bell’s work questions “our increasingly complicated relationship to the natural world” (197). The Wanderlust exhibition included photographs from Bell’s 2015 series of photographs, Still Visible, After Gezi. During a sojourn in Turkey in 2010, Bell began photographing “the city’s gnarled trees, knotted and stumped with time” (197). She returned five years later, hoping to find and document the trees she had photographed during her daily walks in 2010. “The series takes its name after Gezi Park in Istanbul, the site of demonstrations in 2013 when the government attempted to raze the park to construct a commercial mall—a protest that grew into a massive public sit-in against the prime minister in an appeal for civil rights,” Sullivan notes (197-98). It was harder than Bell had expected to find the trees, but the search “became a means for Bell to reconnect with her adopted community” (198). “It also acquired a political dimension as city residents lamented their growing frustration with urban planning and more expressly the Turkish government, a dark foreshadowing of the years of unrest and the failed governmental coup in 2016 to follow,” Sullivan concludes. “As such, Bell’s steps ultimately became part of a larger project, an experiential mapping of the city. In her hunt for these natural symbols of an idealized past, Bell assembles an allegory for Istanbul” (198).

Sophie Calle’s 1980 Suite Vénitienne has already been discussed by McFadden, but Lucy Ainsworth examines the work in more detail. Calle’s practice involves randomly selecting subjects to follow, “who unwittingly reveal snapshots of their lives to the artist as she photographs them and takes notes from afar,” Ainsworth writes:

In Suite Vénitienne (1980), Calle sets herself a new objective—to travel to Venice to follow a man she previously trailed and coincidentally met in Paris. Calle plays detective on a case with no clear directive. She is uncertain what it is she wants to discover yet is driven by a sense of lust and the journey of possibility. The outcome is a series of images with dialogue that piece together a deductive narrative about a man named Henri B. (202)

For Ainsworth, “Suite Vénitienne is the ultimate endurance work,” and “Calle gives herself entirely to the process, exploring all possible opportunities to discover more about her subject” (202). Calle also discovered how far she was prepared to go to make the work: “She dresses in disguises, performs stakeouts and draws unknowing assistants into her master plan. She is brave in pursuit, yet always remains fearful of being discovered” (202). The physical act of walking—of “roaming the streets, covertly observing Henri B.’s movements” (202)—is central to the project. Henri B.’s activities are mundane, yet “the viewer becomes engrossed and shares in Calle’s thrill of the chase” (202). “Like many of Calle’s works,” Ainsworth concludes, “Suite Vénitienne ultimately reflects on what it means to be human with all our idiosyncrasies” (202). And, I have to add, despite the different gender dynamics, Suite Vénitienne is just as creepy as Acconci’s Following Piece—at least Acconci’s documentation is a reconstruction of what happened, whereas Calle’s photographs appear to be images of her actual quarry.

In 2004’s Night Canoeing, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller “read three-dimensional space through observation and the character of heard sound,” writes Pamela Campanaro. “Their video and three-dimensional sound fields, known as ‘audio walks,’ explore how the spatial qualities of sound can elicit a physical presence and range of sensations that affect the perception of reality” (207). They use binaural audio recordings to reproduce sound the way we hear it, overloading the viewer’s (or auditor’s?) senses, “allowing them to escape or transcend their body or self” (207). Night Canoeing is an audio and video installation “that sculpts reality into cinematic fantasy during a middle-of-the-night canoe trip” in which Cardiff and Miller travel across a body of water “lit solely by a bright lamp that unsteadily illuminates floating lily pads and tree debris along the riverbank” (207). Their presence is recorded by ripples in the water and “the audible contact of the canoe paddle pulling through the water” (207). According to Campanaro, “[t]his soundtrack is flooded by a rhythmic tempo or cadence that punctuates the journey as they explore how sculpture can exist as a physical gesture or durational experience” (207).

Millie Chen’s 2014 video Tour, according to Anna Kaplan, “is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, mundane and extraordinary, simple and complex, exhilarating and numbing” (211). “The imagery is straightforward both in concept and execution—a narrow view of the ground over which the camerawoman (Chen herself) traverses at a moderate pace,” Kaplan continues. “The land is slightly overgrown, ignored, and unremarkable. The view through the lens of the handheld camera is shaky as it responds to Chen’s movements across the landscape,” a technique that “allows for a certain empathy with the person behind the camera; it is easy to imagine oneself in Chen’s place, walking the terrain” (211). But that terrain is the space of genocide: Murambi, Rwanda; Choeung Ek, Cambodia; Treblinka, Poland; and Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Chen describes these places using the term “lament geography” (qtd. 211). “While the film’s transitions are seamless, a brief text, identifying the exact place and dates that the atrocities occurred, alerts the viewer to the change in site,” Kaplan writes. “Vocalists respond without using words to traditional lullabies from the native languages of the four sights [sic], lulling the viewer into a mesmerized state of serious contemplation” (211). “Through Tour, we as viewers become witnesses to the process and therefore to the history of the land the artist wishes to reveal,” Kaplan concludes. “As witnesses, we cannot deny or ignore what has happened on this land, or we are doomed to be accomplices” (212).

David Hammons’s video documentation of his performance Phat Free, influenced by Arte Povera, Conceptual Art, and the ready-made, shows the artist kicking a bucket down a New York street at night. “The title of the video, Phat Free, is representative of how Hammons employs colloquialisms, idioms, and wordplay to elicit multiple readings of quotidian objects and actions,” Zoë Taleporos writes. “In this case, the artist is referencing processed diet foods that have become ubiquitous in American culture, while also indicating musical genres with African American origins. ‘Phat’ refers to slang incorporated in rap and hip-hop meaning ‘cool’ or ‘good,’ with ‘Free’ referring to the improvisational, unrestricted nature of jazz” (217). But the act of kicking the bucket also suggests death (through the phrase “kick the bucket”), which may, Taleporos suggests, allude to “a dismal fate often accompanying the black urban experience,” while at the same time the action refers to the children’s street game “kick the can” (217). For Taleporos, Hammons’s work creates “entertainment and value from discarded objects of the urban landscape” (217).

Mona Hatoum’s 1985 Roadworks is video documentation of a performance in south London, in which the artist walked barefoot “across rough pavement with Doc Martens bound to her ankles” (220). Conor Moynihan suggests that this work is important in both the history of performance and of feminist art: “Roadworks responds to very specific political and social conditions experienced in the United Kingdom—London in particular—during the 1980s: Margaret Thatcher’s stop-and-search police tactics, England’s 1981 race riots, and the racism of National Front skinheads” (220). “More broadly,” Moynihan continues, “Roadworks interrogates the politics and complexity of public space and the urban environment” (220). The performance took place in Brixton Market, one of the sites of the 1981 riots. It was “a working-class, vastly Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood struggling with unemployment, crime, and a lack of resources; a neighborhood pinned between Doc Martens-wearing skinheads and similarly clad police” (220). For Moynihan, “Hatoum’s feet become metaphoric: bare and unprotected, vulnerable to the hard press of the pavement beneath them” (220). Roadworks, he continues, “demonstrates attention to a more generalized human vulnerability and perseverance,” and from this perspective, it addresses the conditions of Britain in the middle of the 1980s “from the vantage of objects and motifs more universally accessible: in this case, the human feet and the act of walking” (220). “Through this joining of specificity and universalism—and despite significantly changing social and political contexts—her performance finds as many resonances today as it did in 1985,” Moynihan concludes, “demonstrating how Hatoum’s masterful use of ordinary objects and simple gestures can speak powerfully across temporal, spatial, and social lines of demarcation and separation” (220-21).

Nancy Holt’s 1969 Trail Markers photographs have been discussed at length by Adams and McFadden. Whitney Tassie notes that Holt is a land artist, one of the few women associated with that movement. Holt’s use of photography in Trail Markers “was integral to land art and Holt’s practice alike,” Tassie writes (224). Holt’s photographs of trail markers in Dartmoor National Park demonstrates “longstanding interest in human interventions in the landscape as well as her participation in the new conceptual photographic strategies of the time” (224). “For Holt, a pioneer of time-based media, the camera is crucial to her exploration of space, sculptural form, and subjective perspective,” Tassie continues. “Her photographs, films, site-specific installations, earthworks, public sculpture, and even her personal flashlight and audio tours transform our perception of place, space, and time. Focusing our vision and challenging our understanding of our environment, Holt’s work draws attention to the complexities of our relationship with the landscape we inhabit and act upon” (224).

“William Lamson is best known for his performances in the landscape, human-scale actions, and aesthetic gestures, all of which help categorize him as a performer with a filmmaking practice or, perhaps, a filmmaker with a performative practice,” writes Ian Cofre. “In Untitled (Infinity Camera), the distinction is stretched as he removes himself as an actor and relinquishes control of the camera” (229). In these photographs, Lamson repurposes “two halves of a canoe” to build “a mirrored, lens-based system to record this optical experiment” (229). “The imposed constraints interact with the physical forces of this estuary, its variance and monotony, impacting the film’s time dilations and reductions, whereby, as the artist proclaims, the ‘drama is the speed,’” Cofre continues. “The current helps to capture the natural border’s surroundings: urban space that includes buildings from different periods of history, bridges, passing cars, and pedestrians or joggers on their daily routes” (229-30). For Cofre, the result resembles a dérive, and “the work is the river’s own psychogeography, cataloging time through subtle and unexpected encounters with the terrain. In one frame, the device reflects and translates an image and object, which allows us to bear witness to the reverie of the rivery perspective” (230). Lamson’s project sounds interesting, but it’s hard to understand what the device he built to take the photographs actually looked like from Cofre’s description. I would have to do more research to understand exactly how these photographs were made.

Marie Lorenz’s 2017 Gyre is related to her practice of building and sailing hand-made boats. It presents casts of objects she has collected from the waterways she has sailed. According to Cattarin, Gyre “gives the viewer a chance to experience a part of her journeys, to feel like they’re floating along with her” (236). That’s a rather obtuse reading of a work that is clearly about the effect of plastic garbage on the environment, isn’t it? Or is plastic garbage in rivers and canals just taken for granted now?

Carmen Papalia’s 2017 Blind Field Shuttle is a “perceptual tour,” “a piece in which up to fifty people can accompany the artist on a walk with eyes closed through urban and rural spaces,” as Jamilee Lacy writes (241). Papalia is blind, and works like Blind Field Shuttle “dismantle the hierarchy of sensory perception to build trust and interpretive skills among audiences” (241). The work was commissioned for Wanderlust, and it was part of his Open Access project, which “positions the support-seeking individual as the expert who can define and author his or her own accessibility measures” (242). For Lacy, Blind Field Shuttle constructs “a new paradigm of disability and agency as experientially liberating, creative forces within the built and natural environment” (242).

In The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street (Whitney Version #2), performance artist Pope.L, wearing a capeless Superman costume and with a skateboard tied to his back, “crawled, and sometimes wheeled, his way down Broadway—New York City’s longest street” (247). Pope.L’s installation that documents this action both uses and dismantles “new media conventions of display,” according to Andy Campbell (247). “The Great White Way is shown via a monitor resting on a hardened pool of black resin,” Campbell writes. “The installation’s materials compress time in the same way that the performance’s documentation must too, stringing together segments of a performance carried out over a period of nine years” (247). For Campbell, the installation addresses the problem of performance art’s liveness versus its documentation: “Brilliantly, Pope.L’s installation turns this on its head, suggesting that an aesthetic education (which Gayatri Spivak has defined as ‘training the imagination for epistemological performance’) can still be a rebuke from the ground” (247). The focus on the installation is interesting, but Campbell unfortunately says little about what it might mean for an African-American man wearing a Superman costume to crawl down Broadway.

Teri Rueb’s 2017 Times Beach is a response to “the varied history of the Times Beach Nature Preserve, located on the outer harbor just east of downtown Buffalo,” Adams writes. “The site was a vital resource for Native Americans who, for centuries, lived along Lake Erie and the Niagara River. As Buffalo grew into a mega city in the late 1800s through its massive industrial prowess, the site was transformed to an urban beach, but eventually closed due to contamination” (251-52). The site has been cleaned up and is now a nature preserve. Rueb’s sound walk “is designed to weave sonic traces of the site’s history as the participant walks through the preserve,” Adams continues. “Through a free downloadable app, the participant is invited to wander the site, allowing for an overlapping history of the site to come into focus” (252).

In his 2017 work U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Todd Shalom takes participants on an artist-led walk. He “structures walks, like poetry, around a planned route with an established concept and (sometimes narrative) arc,” writes Lamensdorf. “But, also like poetry, the walks encourage individual participants to have subjective experiences. The participatory walks are a framing system in which to explore and expand how people interact with and experience public space” (257). According to Lamensdorf, Shalom’s “practice of poetic decision-making” is foundational to his work, “and participants often experience and engage with this in the performative and improvisational aspects of a walk” (257). U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which was commissioned for Wanderlust, took participants over Buffalo’s west side and ended at the Peace Bridge, which crosses the Niagara River to Canada. “An artistic practice built on walking evokes the legacy of the Situationist International and Guy Debord’s theory of the dérive, which centred on drifting through urban spaces as an act of resistance to material and commercial culture,” Lamensdorf continues. “Shalom’s walks hinge on this tradition and incorporate the medium’s inclination towards physical exploration, immediate experience, and creating spaces for communal engagement and personal reflection. Yet, he furthers the work by structuring it enough to be repeated, while leaving it open to interpretation” (258). Shalom’s approach “expands on the idea of site-specific or site-responsive art practices, which are typically rooted in architecturally, culturally, and historically resonant facets specific to a stationary position,” Lamensdorf concludes. “Shalom’s walks incorporate the fluid ballet of everyday life, moving through neighbourhoods, changing environments, and incorporating chance into the work by inviting participants to actively make the work. There is no walk if Shalom has no one to prompt into movement” (258).

Greg Stimac’s 2009 Driving Photographs series captures and aestheticizes “the bug splatter he accumulates on his own travels” during long car trips (265). Natalie Fleming notes that Stimac’s works “are almost identical, constellations of tiny bodies broken on glass, distinct like the stars above that rotate as the earth moves” (265). His large photographs put “the human experience in perspective: a thousand lives lost for a road trip at night, a car rushing through the air, as others have done and will do, under an infinite sky” (265). As with Cattarin’s discussion of Lorenz’s Gyre, though, there’s something obtuse here: insect populations are in freefall due to human activity, (Carrington) and Stimac’s photographs arguably also document a small part of the ongoing ecocide. Is aestheticizing an ecocide an ethical activity? I’m not sure.

Wanderlust isn’t just about walking art, although there is enough walking art included in the book’s pages (and on the exhibition’s walls) to make reading it worthwhile. I wish I’d had a chance to see the show. As with other catalogues of exhibitions of walking art, I am struck by the array of practices that use or allude to walking in some way or another, although I think that most of what is included here belongs in the category of performance. The longer essays are useful for my project, particularly Waxman’s account of the proto-Surrealists’ walk between Blois and Romorantin, which I didn’t know about previously. One of my immediate responses to Wanderlust is to think about the importance of photography as a way of documenting walks, but also the importance of sound recording. Perhaps I could make use of both of those techniques. It’s worth considering.

Works Cited

Adams, Rachel, ed. Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys, 1967-2017, MIT Press, 2017.

Austin, J.L. How To Do Things With Words, Oxford University Press, 1962.

Carrington, Damien. “Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature.’” The Guardian, 10 February 2019.

Roelstraete, Dieter. Richard Long: A Line Made By Walking, Afterall, 2010.

119. Ben Anderson, “Preemption, Precaution, Preparedness: Anticipatory Action and Future Geographies”

ben anderson

I wanted to read Ben Anderson’s “Preemption, Precaution, Preparedness: Anticipatory Action and Future Geographies” because I discovered that the definition of futurity that Eve Tuck and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández take from Andrew Baldwin’s “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda” is actually a quotation from Anderson’s essay. Baldwin’s essay is important, but if I’m going to come to a complete understanding of the idea of “futurity,” I’d better chase it back to its source. And, as it’s turned out, I did need to do this extra reading, either because I’m too dull-witted to grasp things quickly, or because others have a bad habit of not defining terms clearly.

As his title suggests, Anderson is interested in opening up “questions for research in human geography on preemption, preparedness and other forms of ‘anticipatory action’” (777). “I argue that anticipatory action matters because geographies are made and lived in the name of preempting, preparing for, or preventing threats to liberal-democratic life,” Anderson writes (777). Well, geographies would be made and lived in the name of preempting, preparing for, or preventing threats to all kinds of ways of living, but at least Anderson is making his politics clear at the outset. He notes that “[r]uined landscapes of damage and destruction” have been made in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of “preempting the threat of terror”; that western countries have culled bird populations in order to prepare for avian flue’ and that “[a] set of mitigation policies based on global carbon trading are being rolled out as precautionary measures to combat the threat of climate change” (777). On these issues, “acting in advance of the future is an integral, yet taken-for-granted, part of liberal-democratic life,” Anderson writes. In those examples, “bombs are dropped, birds are tracked, and carbon is traded on the basis of what has not and may never happen: the future” (777). 

Anderson’s question about activities based on the future is simple: how should geographers respond, “analytically, methodologically, politically,” to “the making of geographies through anticipatory action?” (777). “My starting point is that preemption, preparedness and precaution post a problem to some of human geography’s most ingrained habits and techniques of thinking,” he contends. “Anticipatory action perplexes us, or at least it should, because it invites us to think about how human geography engages with the taken-for-granted category of ‘the future.’ Common to all forms of anticipatory action is a seemingly paradoxical process whereby a future becomes cause and justification for some form of action in the here and now” (777-78). That process generates specific questions: “how is ‘the future’ being related to, how are futures known and rendered actionable to thereafter be acted upon, and what political and ethical consequences follow from acting in the present on the basis of the future?” (778). “Addressing these questions,” he continues “requires that we explicitly reconceptualize the relation between space-time and futurity” (778). However, while geographers have studied the past—and haunting, which is interesting for my research: Anderson’s bibliography may help with thinking about that phenomenon—they tend not to be directly engaged with the future. The risk of this lack of engagement with the future “is that we repeat a series of assumptions about linear temporality; specifically, that the future is a blank separate from the present or that the future is a telos towards which the present is heading” (778). “More specifically,” he continues, “to understand how anticipatory action functions we must understand the presence of the future, that is the ontological and epistemological status of ‘what has not and may never happen’” (Brian Massumi, qtd. 778). He notes the number of ways in which the future is present in the present: in futures contracts, in investments, in contracts, in clock time, in the prophecies of evangelical Christians and fortune-tellers, and in the imaginations of science-fiction writers (778).  

In this paper, Anderson intends to offer “a conceptual vocabulary” to address the task of understanding how geographies are made based on anticipatory action (778). This vocabulary, he writes, “sits in the juncture between a Foucaultian analytic of how futures are now governed and the emphasis in non-representational theories on the presence of the future” (778). Futures, he continues, “are anticipated and acted on through the assembling of” three phenomena (778). These include styles, which consist of “a series of statements through which ‘the future’ as an abstract category is disclosed and related to,” statements which “condition and limit how ‘the future’ can be intervened on” and which “function through a circularity, in that statements disclose a set of relations between past, present and future and self-authenticate those relations” (778-79); practices, which “give content to specific futures, including acts of performing, calculating and imagining” and make present the future “in affects, epistemic objects and materialities” (779); and logics “through which action in the present is enacted” (779). Anderson helpfully provides a definition of the term logics (which has been in so much of what I’ve read merely a buzzword of sorts): “A logic is a programmatic way of formalizing, justifying and deploying action in the here and now. Logics involve action that aims to prevent, mitigate, adapt to, prepare for or preempt specific futures” (779). This conceptual vocabulary, Anderson writes, “enables a mode of inquiry that aims to understand the multiform presence of the future in any and all geographies. By this I mean that inquiry would attend to how futures are: disclosed and related to through statements about the future; rendered present through materialities, epistemic objects and affects; and acted on through specific policies and programmes” (779). 

Next, Anderson turns to the types of anticipatory action he is interested in, which (as his introduction suggests) are related to terrorism, pandemics and biosecurity, and both “global warming and ozone depletion” (779). There are commonalities between the way these phenomena “have been enacted as threats”:

First, in comparison to systemic interruptions, ruptures and breakdowns, they are potentially catastrophic. That is, each threat may irreversible alter the conditions of life at both the microscopic and pandemic levels. Second, in each the “malicious demon” that is heralded as the source of disaster is a somewhat vague spectral presence that cannot easily be discerned. Third, in each the disaster is imminent. Not only is the present on the verge of disaster, but disaster is incubating within the present and can be discerned through “early warnings” of danger (whether through the “harbingers” of climate change or “radicalization” in anti-terror legislation). (779-80)

“Without some form of action, a threshold will be crossed and a disastrous future will come about,” Anderson continues, although because that future is “incubating within the present, life will remain tensed on the threshold of disaster even if an immediate threat is acted against,” which means that “[a]nticipatory action must . . . become a permanent part of liberal democracies if disaster is to be averted” (780). Again, I would think that other forms of government would also be concerned with forms of anticipatory action: what about the Soviet Union and its weapons stockpiles during the Cold War, or Turkey’s current incursion into Syria as a way to prevent future Kurdish political or military activity? 

The problem of anticipatory action, in any case, opens up the question of how the future relates to the past and the present (780). “Every attempt to stop or mitigate a threat holds certain assumptions about ‘the future,’” Anderson writes. “It is worth recalling just a few other ways of acting on the future in order to be specific about how ‘the future’ is related to in contemporary anticipatory action” (780). These include ideas of the future as apocalypse, indefinite progress, or utopia, each of which authorizes different forms of action in the present (780). One of the characteristics of contemporary anticipatory action, Anderson continues, is “the assumption . . . that the future will diverge from the past and present. It is neither a perpetuation of the present, nor an imminent-transcendent End outside of time. Instead, the future will radically differ from the here and now” (780). “On the one hand, the future will be uncertain in the sense that it will exceed present knowlege (or the capability to generate knowledge,” Anderson writes. “On the other hand, the future will be indeterminate in that perfect knowledge is impossible. The future is the realm of troubling and unforeseen novelty. It will be qualitatively different from the past and present and may bring forth bad surprises” (780). Acting in conditions of indeterminacy is not a new problem, but, Anderson writes “anticipatory action is now imbricated with the plurality of power relations that make up contemporary liberal democracies,” which means, for him, “that any type of anticipatory action will only provide relief, or promise to provide relief, to a valued life, not necessarily all of life. Certain lives may have to be abandoned, damaged or destroyed in order to protect, save or care for life” (780). 

In addition, “the proliferation of anticipatory action, and the emphasis on an open future, is inseparable from a spatial-temporal imaginary of life as contingency. Three elements in this imaginary are particularly important” (780-81). The first is the idea that “the life threatened is understood in terms of its irreducible complexity, complexity being a function of a globalized world of transnational flows and connections” (781). Terrorism, pandemics, and climate change have all been understood through “the problem of the relation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ circulations and connections” in this network (781). Therefore, “[t]he future is open, first, because threats emerge from a complex world of flows and connections” (781). Second, “the problem is the heterogenesis of the bad within the good. The future is open for a second reason: life is imagined as unpredictable, dynamic and non-linear. Change cannot be understood as the linear outcome of past conditions or present trends” (781). For terrorism, pandemics, and climate change, “events are themselves complex, singular, occurrences that are not necessarily temporally bound by a start, middle and end, or spatially bound in a given national territory” (781). For that reason, it is important “to act on catastrophic processes as or before they incubate, and certainly before they cross a threshold to become catastrophic events” (781). In addition, because “the causes of disaster are presumed to incubate within life,” they are not “mysterious, external, acts of God visited upon that life” (781). It is hard to care for life by anticipating disasters, however, when the causes of those disasters are difficult to identify (781). Third, “events are ‘de-bounding,’” a term which means “that their effects are not necessarily localized spatially or temporally” and will “extend in non-linear ways across space-times” (781). “[D]isasters are themselves emergent phenomena,” Anderson states, by which he means that “the effects or impacts of disaster change as they circulate” (781). 

Anderson suggests that it might be possible to identify the causes of this equation between life and contingency, but what he wants to emphasize “is more modest: anticipatory action has emerged in a situation where it is precisely the contingency of life that is the occasion of threat and opportunity, danger and profit. Preemption, preparedness and precaution are, therefore, caught in the productive/destructive relation with uncertainty that characterizes liberalism” (782). He cites Foucault on this point, suggesting that:

On the one hand, life must be constantly secured in relation to the dangers tha tlurk within it and loom over it. Life is tensed on verge of a catastrophe that may emerge in unexpected and unanticipated ways. On the other hand, the securing of life must not be antithetical to the positive development of a creative relation with uncertainty. Liberal life must be open to the unanticipated if freedoms of commerce and self-fashioning individuals are to be enabled. Uncertainty is both threat and promise: both that which must be secured against and that which must be enabled. (782)

Anderson is drawing on recently published lectures Foucault gave at the Collège de France, and since I haven’t read that material, I can’t comment on his interpretation of it. However, his insistence on the connection between anticipatory action and liberal democracy clearly comes from those lectures. “In this context the pragmatic question for anticipatory action becomes: how to act in a way that protects and enhances some forms of valued life?” he continues. “The response has been to govern and secure on the basis of possible or potential futures that threaten some form of disruption to an existing social-spatial order” (782). In other words, anticipatory action “aims to ensure that no bad surprises happen,” and therefore “the here and now is continuously assayed for the futures that may be incubating within it and emerge out of it” (782). Citing Hacking, Anderson suggests that two links between “uncertainty and liberal rule are well known: first, styles of foresight based on good judgement as a means of acting against Fortuna; second, probabilistic prediction based on induction from the past distribution of events” (782). Those two styles of foresight are “in the midst of being supplemented by a third” through “the proliferation of possibilities about the occurrence and effects of events, alongside an attention to improbably but high-impact events” (782). Well, climate change (as we are learning very quickly) is not improbable, although terror attacks and pandemics might be. In any case, Anderson suggests that the indeterminism characteristic of this new style of foresight “is not only epistemic—that is, based on a restriction of knowledge that could in principle be overcome” but rather “an irreducible fact about a ‘pluri-potential’ world of complex interdependencies, circulations and events” (782). For Anderson, the best term for this emerging style is “premeditation”: it “names a set of statements that disclose and relate to ‘the future’ as a surprise” (782). Those statements shape how the future can be acted upon in two ways. First, “disclosing the future as a surprise means that one cannot then predetermine the form of the future by offering a deterministic prediction”; rather, “the future as surprise can only be rendered actionable by knowing a range of possible futures that may happen, including those that are improbable” (782). Second, “statements about the future as a surprise do not enable the future to be grasped and handled through a process of induction from the past distribution of events,” and instead “anticipatory action must be based on a constant readiness to identify another possible way in which a radically different future may play out” (782). Premeditation emphasizes knowing the future directly “because there could always be another radically different way in which events could evolve” (782-83). For Anderson, “[s]tatements about ‘the future’ as a surprise underpin preemption, preparedness and other forms of contemporary anticipatory action” (783). 

Next, Anderson turns to the ways that contemporary anticipatory action understands life as contingency. “To act before the disaster takes place, futures must somehow be known and made present,” he writes. “But relating to the future as a surprise that may being forth unforeseen novelty rather than, say, a perpetuation of the present, might initially seem to lead to an impasse”: how can one “render futures actionable when the future cannot be known through the past frequency and severity of events?” (783). To address that question, “a range of practices have been invented, formalized and deployed for knowing futures and therefore attempting to ensure that there are no ‘bad surprises’” (783). These include “the ubiquitous calculations that form a constant background to life” through such techniques as “threat-prints, data mining, impact assessments, trend analysis, and complexity modelling of various forms” (783-84). He hasn’t included algorithms, but perhaps because social media was less important when this article was published, the reliance of big corporations on the predictive power of algorithms was less understood. These diverse techniques, he continues, are about measuring the world, he writes, “by which I mean that statements about the indeterminacy of the future are combined with non-linear, or stochastic, calculations of relations, associations or links,” which make specific futures present through numbers, represented as charts, tables, or graphs (784). The insurance industry relies on such calculations to make the future actionable. Predicting various (and typically catastrophic, in Anderson’s argument) futures through such calculations, “a ‘bond of uniformity’ is imposed on the catastrophic event by drawing together a set of effects that vary spatially and temporally,” and “the future event is disentangled by sorting out and ranking the effects” of its different elements (784). 

Second, while “[c]alculation, whether through CAT models or other techniques, renders complex future geographies actionable through the numericalization of a reality to come—numbers that may thereafter circulate, be reflected on and take an affective charge,” another “way of making futures present is through practices based on acts of creative fabulation, including techniques such as visioning, future-basing, link analysis and scenario planning” (784-85). These techniques enable future events to be imagined as if they were real (785). Their outcomes “differ from forms of mechanical objectivity; they range from forms of visualization (such as images, symbols and metaphors) to forms of narrativization (such as stories). Making the future present becomes a question of creating affectively imbued representations that move and mobilize” (785). Such practices “make the future present in ways that are quite different from calculation” by using scenarios, case studies, and pictures rather than graphs and charts (785). They make the future actionable “through two effects” (785). First, “a horizon of expectation is created that is composed of a set of hypothetical possibilities that the scenarios refer to. The scenarios organize and categorize while affirming the openness of the future” (785). Second, “the scenarios evoke without predicting the suspension, and disruption, of life that may follow climate change,” to use one of Anderson’s examples (785). 

Finally, “[f]utures are also made present through practices that stage an interval between the here and now and a specific future through some form of acting, role play, gaming or pretending” (786). The inclusion of “pretending” in this technique suggests its connections to imagining, but they “use the creative capacities of embodiment more explicitly” (786). Various kinds of performance, including exercises, war games, and simulations, can generate knowledge of a future event even when historical evidence is absent (786). “Here the future is made present and rendered actionable in a third way: ‘as if’ futures are created through the ‘anticipatory experience’ generated through both the acts of performance or play and the material organization of particular stages or sites,” Anderson writes (786). These three “modes of practice,” he continues, “enable specific futures to be made present while remaining absent, whether through a graph of future losses, a story of a journey or a feeling of shock” (786-87). 

Anderson now turns to logics. “Styles and practices enable open futures to be rendered actionable,” he writes. “They are, therefore, a necessary component of anticipatory action” (787-88). But such action requires a logic: “a coherent way in which intervention in the here and now on the basis of the future is legitimized, guided and enacted” (788). He focuses on three of these logics—precaution, preemption, and preparedness—although he notes there are others. “The goal of each is to care for a valued life by neutralizing threats to that life,” he writes. (788). Critical engagement with these logics “must turn on questions of what life is to be protected or saved, by whom, and with what effects. And, conversely, what life has been abandoned or destroyed, by whom, and with what effects” (788). 

Precaution, he continues, “is perhaps the best known of the three logics, as it is formalized in the ‘precautionary principle,’” which emerged in European environmental law in the 1970s. Precaution, he writes, “can be understood as a preventative logic with two characteristics (788-89)”:

First, preventative action is separate from the processes it acts on. The object of precaution could develop a catastrophic outcome if the precautionary was was not to take place. Precaution begins once a determinate threat has been identified, even if that threat is scientifically uncertain. Second, precautionary logics act before the identified threat reaches a point of irreversibility. The key question thereafter concerns proportionality: is the response in proportion to the scope of the threat? There is a need, therefore, to constantly assess the balance between what the threat could become and the costs of (in)action in the present. (789)

Climate change is where calls for precautionary action have emerged: “Urgent action is called for because of, rather than despite, the uncertainty of the links between emission scenarios, temperature changes and impacts” (789). Today, of course, such expressions of uncertainty appear rather quaint, given the increasing effects of climate change on our world, but this essay was published 10 years ago, and perhaps the situation seemed more uncertain back then.

Preemption, Anderson’s second logic, is similar to precaution: both emphasize “action under conditions of uncertainty about a future event, a focus on emergent threat ina  world of interdependencies and circulations, and a generative role given to collective apprehension” (789-90). Their shared emphasis on “potential or actual threat means that both break with the logic of risk . . . as ‘calculable uncertainty’ based on the induction of frequency and harm from the past distribution of events” (790). Despite those similarities, there is “a difference in how each intervenes in life”: while precaution focuses on “the stopping or halting of something before it reaches a point of irreversibility,” preemption “acts over threats that have not yet emerged as determinate threats, and so does not only halt or stop from a position outside” but is “incitatory and . . . is justified on the basis of indeterminate potentiality” (790). Anderson’s example of preemption is the preemptive wars waged by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 (790). “In comparison with the emphasis on continuity that we find in precaution, preemption unashamedly makes and reshapes life,” he suggests, causing a range of unintended effects (790). Those effects are not mistakes, “because in a preemptive logic inaction is not an option so unintended effects are unavoidable”; in fact, “preemption is indifferent to those generative effects” because “the proliferating effects of preemption may generate something else: opportunities to be seized” (790). “Unlike precaution, which aims to preserve a valued life through prevention, preemptive logics work by proliferating effects and creating life, albeit in the case of the ‘war on terror’ lives that have been abandoned and dispossessed,” Anderson writes (790), a statement that is unfortunately confusing because (I think) the theoretical language demands that it be so.

Finally, Anderson turns to preparedness. “If preemption and precaution are based on action that aims to prevent the occurrence of a future,” preparedness “prepares for the aftermath of events” (790-91). It shares, with preemption and precaution, the same problem: “how to act on indeterminate/uncertain futures emergent form a complex set of flows and connections” (791). Preparedness responds differently, however: “Its sphere of operation is a series of events after a precipitating event” (791). Rather than trying to stop an event from happening, it “aims to stop the effects of an event disrupting the circulations and interdependencies that make up a valued life” (791). Preparedness is about building resiliency (in infrastructure, for instance) “as a way of preparing for the occurrence of unpredictable events” (791).

For Anderson, “[p]recaution, preemption and preparedness are all means of guiding action once the future has been problematized in a certain way—as a disruptive surprise—and each are deployed once specific futures have been made present through practices of calculation, performance or imagination” (791). They do something else as well: they redistribute “the relationship that lives within and outside liberal democracies have to disaster. To protect, save and care for certain forms of life is to potentially abandon, dispossess and destroy others” (791). This leads Anderson to a series of questions: “First, how are different forms of anticipatory action imbricated with sovereign actions, such as violent interventions, or the implantation of emergency measures?” (792). Second, “what form of life is valorized now and in the future?” (792). Third, “how is conduct conducted in relation to different types of anticipatory action, and the specific networks of governance through which precaution, preemption and preparedness are deployed?” (792). Answering such questions “demands detailed empirical work sensitive to the operation of anticipatory logics in relation to plural relations of power” (792). He suggests that “[a] logic does not have a primary actor, primary target or characteristic spatial form”; in a logic, those are simply contextual (792). Determining those contexts is clearly something Anderson thinks human geographers ought to be doing.

Finally, Anderson reaches his conclusion on the relationships between space and futurity—in other words, between geography as a discipline and futurity as he has been discussing it. What implications does a study of the styles, practices, and logics of anticipatory action have for human geography? “First, work could attend to the presence of the future in any and all geographies,” he writes (793). Second, “we should reflect on the assumptions about the future that are embedded in our extant habits and techniques of thinking” (793). First, “work could supplement how futures are made present by anticipating other desired futures through a range of utopic sensibilities, skills and techniques,” he suggests (793). Second, “word could aim to scramble attempts to create desired futures by welcoming the unanticipated and thereafter cultivating the irruption of virtual or to-come futures” (794). Experimenting with our relations to the future “is necessary because to fold alternative futures into the here and now is to open up the chance of new possibilities; just as recovering overlooked pasts has long been recognized as a means of disclosing new and different future geographies” (794).

I didn’t read this article because I’m interested in future research directions for human geography. I decided to read it because Eve Tuck and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández cite quotations from it (through Andrew Baldwin) as the source for their use of the term “futurity” in the phrase “settler futurity” (80). They note that futurity suggests the ways in which the future is rendered knowable—or at least imaginable—through the anticipatory logics of precaution, preemption and preparedness (80). Their point is “to emphasize the ways in which replacement is entirely concerned with settler futurity, which always indivisibly means the continued and complete eradication of the original inhabitants of contested land” (80). Therefore, for Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández, as well as Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, settler futurity seems to be a synonym for the genocidal process that Patrick Wolfe describes as a logic of elimination, or the replacement of Indigenous peoples by Settlers. No wonder Tuck and Yang suggest that settler futurity is a bad thing. They describe incommensurability as “an acknowledgement that decolonization will require a change in the order of the world” (31), and suggest that “[t]o fully enact an ethic of incommensurability”—an ethic that is, they argue, central to decolonization—“means relinquishing settler futurity, abandoning the hope that settlers may one day be commensurable to Native peoples” (36). Commensurable, according to the O.E.D., means “measurable by the same standard or scale of values,” or “[p]roportionable in measure, size, amount, etc.; having a suitable proportion, proportionate to.” For Tuck and Yang, then, Settlers cannot be measured by the same standard or scale of values, because their futurity is based on the genocidal fantasy, or ambition, or replacing Indigenous peoples through the logic of elimination, whereas the futurity of Indigenous peoples is based on a resistance to the logic of elimination. Settler futurity, in this context, is thus a synonym for replacement or the logic of elimination. Perhaps I should’ve figured that out without having to read Anderson or Baldwin, or perhaps Tuck and Yang, or Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández, could have defined that term more clearly. At least I now know what they’re talking about. I’ll take that as a victory. But I think that if I’m ever tempted to use the term “settler futurity,” I’ll refer to Wolfe’s logic of elimination instead. It just seems simpler and clearer.

Works Cited

Anderson, Ben. “Preemption, Precaution, Preparedness: Anticipatory Action and Future Geographies.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 34, no. 6, 2010, pp. 777-98.

Baldwin, Andrew. “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 36, no. 2, 2012, pp. 172-87.

Tuck, Eve, and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández. “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, vol. 29, no. 1, 2013, pp. 72-89.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 8, no. 4, 2006, pp. 387-409.

118. Andrew Baldwin, “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda”


Still on the trail of a decent explanation of the term “futurity,” your intrepid cub reporter turns to geographer Andrew Baldwin’s “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda,” which Eve Tuck and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández cite as the source of their discussion of that term. Yes, I’m still avoiding studying for my Cree linguistics examination by doing other work. Yes, I know that’s a terrible idea. Yes, I promise to stop after I finish Baldwin’s essay.

Baldwin begins by stating his paper’s argument: “research on whiteness and geography is oriented almost exclusively around some notion of the past,” and that “privileging the past when researching geographies of whiteness risks overlooking the ways in which whiteness and hence various forms of racism are configured in relation to a different temporal horizon: the future” (172). By “analyzing discourses of ‘the future,’” geographers “can reveal important insights about the ways in which white geographies are configured that might otherwise be foreclosed if the past if privileged as the exclusive time-space through which such geographies are produced and maintained,” Baldwin writes. “As such, any politics seeking to challenge whitenesses and their hold on racist social imaginaries may benefit by analysing how the future is invoked and how such future-oriented articulations of all kinds” (173).

“By future I refer to an imagined time that is yet-to-come,” Baldwin continues. “The future can be understood to follow sequentially from a past-present trajectory, or it can be understood as a form of absent presence” (172). The future exerts a force on the present, as in religion (“moral judgements in the present are shaped by a concern for one’s safe passage into a future afterlife”) or finance (“the pricing of securities necessarily entails some calculation of future risk”) (173). Baldwin cites an article by Ben Anderson (the source of quotations Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández use in their essay): “His point is that the future is rendered knowable through specific practices (i.e. calculation, imagination and performance) and, in turn, intervenes on the present through three anticipatory logics (i.e. pre-caution, pre-emption and preparedness)” (173). Okay, so that’s the future. But futurity, Baldwin writes, is “an important feature of the affective dimensions of daily life” (173). His examples are fear and hope: “Both are simultaneously embodied experiences and atmospheric qualities animated by imagined futures: one fears the yet-to-come and the other hopes for better things to come. In both, the here-and-now of the psyche or of collective mood is shaped by the yet-to-come” (173). He cites Brian Massumi’s argument that “affect occurs precisely in the overlap between the actual and the virtual, which I take to mean an overlap between that which is and a very specific form of the virtual—the yet-to-come” (173). If the virtual is “things that are real but not actual,” then “the future is exemplary of the virtual,” he writes, citing Rob Shields (173). The future, he continues “can be known and hence real, as Anderson suggests, but because it can never be fully actualized as the future, the future remains a permanent virtuality” (173). By analyzing “atmospheres of fear and hope,” one might learn something “about the way politics takes shape through the conjugation of the actual and the virtual, or at the threshold of the future event” (173).

However, “the future as an object or orientation of inquiry is not limited to the affective, and nor is it confined to an actual-virtual binary,” Baldwin writes (173). “This essay argues for a research agenda that situates the future at the centre of analyses of white geographies,” he states. “It shows how the geographic literature on whiteness is past-oriented and suggests how this literature might benefit by attending to the ways in which white geographies are infused by notions of futurity”—that is, and this clarification is for me, not anyone reading this summary, notions of “embodies experiences and atmospheric qualities animated by imagined futures” (173). By whiteness, Baldwin is referring “to a racialized subject position that is remarkable for its seeming invisibility” (173). Whiteness is only partly about skin colour; more importantly, it “plays a foundational role in racist epistemology by serving as the norm against which others come to be viewed as different” (173). For that reason, Whiteness is “a set of ‘narrative structural positions, rhetorical tropes and habits of perception’ that stand in for the normal,” he writes (Richard Dyer, qtd. 173-74). He cites Dyer as arguing that “the power of whiteness lies in its capacity for almost infinite variability” and suggests that “the power of racisms rest in their capacity to normalize their corresponding whitenesses” (174).

Geographies of whiteness are simply geographies that “are assumed to be white or are in some way structured, though often implicitly, by some notion of whiteness” (174). Research on whiteness tends to be focused on the past, “as an expression of social relations that took shape in the past” (174). That work “is dominated by an orientation that looks to the past as the temporal horizon through which research and learning about past or present white racial identity occurs. . . . The racist past is . . . used to explain the racist present” (174). He cites Alastair Bonnett (a psychogeographer, among other things) and his argument that “whiteness ought to be understood as a function of historical geography” (174) (Hooray! An example! Actually, Baldwin furnishes a lot of examples to support his claims.) But Baldwin wonders “whether a past-oriented approach to the study of white geographies reproduces the teleological assumption that white racism can be modernized away,” an assumption that “privileges an ontology of linear causality in which the past is thought to act on the present and the present is said to be an effect of whatever came before” (174). (Any historian would assert the truth of that kind of ontology.) But, according to such a past-oriented temporality, “the future is the terrain upon or though which white racism will get resolved,” a perspective that “cleaves the future from the present and, thus, gives the future discrete ontological form” (174). “[T]his kind of temporality disregards the ways in which the future is very often already present in the present not as a discrete ontological time-space, but as an absent or virtual presence that constitutes the very meaning of the present,” Baldwin writes (174). Geographies of whiteness are, he argues, “not simply a function of the past but of the future as well” (174).

This statement leads Baldwin to several questions: “To what extent are geographies of whiteness a function not just of the past but of the future? How are white geographies maintained in relation to the future? In what ways is the future already present in various forms of whiteness?” (174). The “geographic literature on whiteness is silent on these questions,” because of its orientation towards the past (174). “[T]he task for a future-oriented geographic research on whiteness might be to understand how both contemporary and past forms of whiteness relate to the future, or how specific geographic expressions of whiteness are contingent on the future,” he states (175). For instance, how do “discourses of futurity shape various forms of white supremacy from right-wing xenophobias to left-nationalisms to practices of liberal humanitarianism, and how these shape, for instance, geographies of place, nature, space, mobility, bodies and so on” (175)? How are “discourses of white crisis” related to or shaped by “notions of futurity? They do relate to the future. The question is: how and to what effect?” (175). 

Baldwin cites three reasons why these questions are important. First, “the future is an important site through which individuals and societies are governed,” he writes, citing Anderson again. “A focus on whiteness and futurity provides scope for thinking about the way in which governing through the future might inaugurate new or reconfigure old forms of whiteness,” he continues, citing eugenics as one example, and “future-oriented technologies, like genetic screening and nanotechnology,” as another (175). Second, “understanding how white geographies articulate with discourses of futurity opens up new terrains for conceptualizing and challenging racism,” he states (175). “If white supremacy is, in part, reproduced through shared practices of futurity, what then are these practices?” he asks. “What kinds of futures do such practices seek to expunge or produce, and how can they be resisted?” (175). Third, “a focus on whiteness and futurity points to the idea that affect shapes white racial formation,” he writes. “For the future can never exist except as a form of virtual present, and affect can be understood, in part, as a generalized attitude towards the presencing of particular futures”—although he acknowledges that it can also involve an attitude towards the presenceing of the past as well (175). “Thus, we might ask: what futures infuse the affective logics of whiteness? How does this future presencing occur? And how, if at all, are these futures constitutive of specific white spatio-temporalities?” he wonders (175). “These reasons together provide a rationale for a research agenda concerned with understanding how the future works as a resource in the geographic expression of whitenesses” (175).

Baldwin looks at labour history, postcolonialism and identity, and critical whiteness and anti-racism as examples of phenomena understood through orientations towards the past but that could also benefit from “attention to futurity” (175-76). He begins with labour studies texts that “illustrate how white privilege operates as as form of economic currency, or ‘cash value’” (176). “[B]eing white has meant (and continues to mean) greater likelihood of employment, higher wages, access to finance capital and mobility,” he writes. “This line of research is further developed in work that recognizes a ‘possessive investment in whiteness,’ the idea that white people invest politically, economically, culturally and socially in a racialized value system that confers material advantage” (Lipsitz, qtd. 176). “Whiteness here operates as a form of property,” he continues, and in the U.S. “an identifiable system of legal and social norms has evolved” to ensure “that the asset value of whiteness is not undermined” (176). According to Baldwin, this work is important to his argument because it recognizes “that the economic value that attaches to whiteness is historically constituted and that confronting white racism in America necessarily entails exposing the historical production of whiteness as a form of economic value” (177). He cites many examples of geographical research that set out to expose that historical production of whiteness, particularly studies of white flight and white nostalgia (177). “How then might attending to the future shape the labour history of whiteness?” he asks. “What is missing from this approach such that it requires attention to discourses of futurity?” (177). The interests of the White workers benefitting from higher wages, for instance, “of which the future forms an indispensable part, are not objectively expressed in the wage but are indeterminate and worked out in struggles over the wage,” he states. “As such, the future, specifically how it might be configured, is an object of struggle in wage politics. But so is whiteness, if we follow the logic that whiteness is a form of economic value. Whiteness, in this sense, has a stake in the future, and hence wage politics, to the extent that white people seek to maintain the future value of whiteness” (177-78). 

Covenants intended to exclude African Americans from owning suburban houses is another example (although not specific to labour studies): “the covenant can be interpreted as a form of white asset protector that safeguards against the ever-present possibility but never materialized future of Black homeownership” (178).  “In this sense,” Baldwin continues, “the covenant is the political expression of an affective logic itself produced through the conjugation of an actual value of white home ownership and the virtuality of future Black homeownership” (178). Another geographic example (not connected to labour studies either) is the delinking of property taxes from the financing of municipal services, “which allowed suburban housing associations greater local control over zoning and thereby the capacity to insulate home values through exclusionary zoning,” and which meant that “affluent, white suburban homeowners no longer had to pay for the municipal services associated with low-income areas” (178). According to Baldwin, restrictive covenants and delinking taxes from services expressed “similar white anxieties about the virtual event of Blackness,” although “while the former was a defensive strategy that ‘priced’ the future into the economic value of whiteness through a restrictive policy, the later ‘priced’ the future into the economic value of whiteness by way of regressive taxation” (178). Both are “expressions of white anticipation where what is anticipated are the effects on the economic value of whiteness of an always present but never realized virtuality of Blackness,” and therefore “we might understand the economic value of whiteness not simply as the accrual of value over time, but as an anticipatory system of valuation in which the value of whiteness is preserved through the imagined effects and infinite deferral of undesirable Black futures” (178-79).

Next, Baldwin takes on poscolonialism and white identity. He begins by distinguishing between two forms of racism. One is biological, focused on innate racial difference, and is associated with eugenics and Naziism. The other is cultural, and it claims that differences between peoples is cultural; this version “finds expression in the denigration of cultural others, but also, paradoxically, through tropes of tolerance and accommodation (i.e. multiculturalism)” (179). Both forms of racism work together, but what is important about them is that, “through each, difference comes to be understood as a function of time”: biological racism understands difference as “a function of natural history,” whereas cultural racism sees it as “a function of cultural history” (179). “Moreover, each privileges a corresponding form of whiteness also expressed as a function of historical time,” Baldwin writes. “In this sense, white identity is either biologically or culturally prefigured, lived out temporally through either determinist or historicist teleology, respectively” (179). In that way, “white identity is said to be essentialist to the extent it accounts for its existence not through any constitutive relation with an Other, but through genetics, common ancestry and/or national history” (179). White essentialism is non-relational; its “epistemological system . . . presupposes its boundedness held together through a belief in shared origins” (179).

Another “route into the study of whiteness works against such non-relational epistemology, which, for better or worse, I refer to as postcolonialism and identity,” Baldwin continues (179). In this case, “the methodological orientation” isn’t towards whiteness as an economic value, but rather “more towards understanding the meaning of whiteness as a function of colonial otherness” (179). “In this line of thought, the various meanings of whiteness, alongside its various collateral concepts (i.e. European, Occidental, Eurowestern, colonial settler and white settler, to name only a few) are constructed through specific historical narratives in relation to an Other,” Baldwin writes (179). He cites the work of Edward Said and Judith Butler to suggest that “whiteness can be said to be performative”; that is, “whatever object white identities take as their foundational points of reference (i.e. history, language, ancestry and genetic lineage) are fully contingent on their ‘founding reputations’” (179-80). “Thus the story of whiteness is not internal to itself but forged in relation to that which has been excluded from it, for instance, blackness, indigeneity or all manner of ethnicities,” he continues. “Moreover, that the meaning of whiteness shifts and changes as a function of time and place further underscores the contingency of whiteness” (180). Postcolonial analyses are about exposing that contingency, “about showing how forms of identity that aspire to domination are constituted in relation to the perceived inferiority of others,” although they are also interested in demonstrating how “contingent forms of domination” endure even after “the period of formal colonialism came to a close” (180). In that way, postcolonial analyses are “another good example of a methodological orientation to the study of whiteness that is past-oriented” (180). He cites examples from feminist scholarship and from work on “postcolonial social formations in white settler societies” (180). 

However, Baldwin suggests that “[t]he geographic literature that examines whiteness from the vantage of postcolonial geography is surprisingly sparse” (180). Nevertheless, the work he has found “looks to past (colonial) signification to understand how white identities are constructed both historically and in the present in relation to Others,” and “[m]uch of it also seeks to foreground the contingency of whiteness in both the past and present” (181). He finds this ironic, “given how future-directed notions of progress, betterment and modernity have been and remain so foundation to colonial ontology” (181). “What, then, might be gained by examining constructions of postcolonial whiteness through futurity?” he asks. One possibility is “the issue of climate change and migration” (181). Climate change-induced migration (due to, for instance, rising sea levels) “is almost always configured as a future phenomenon,” as in the case of a Museum of London exhibit called London Futures, “a collection of magical realist photographs that depict London under conditions of climate change” which included a photo of Buckingham Palace surrounded by a shantytown (181). “[T]he image works, in part, as an affective technology by conjuring the white anxieties of postcolonial Britain in order to mobilize the environmental citizen to action,” Baldwin writes. “As such, the image tethers the politics of climate change and environmental citizenship to those of race and whiteness through an appeal to the future” (181). The image, “alongside the entire discourse of climate change and migration, offers a way of thinking about how whiteness is constituted through an imagined future, even if that future is itself a colonial artifact. What this suggests is that while postcolonial white identity in Britian is, indeed a contingent formation, it is contingent not solely on the events of an imperial past, but on some form of future other as well” (181). In that sense, Britain’s postcolonial identity “is forged as much through anticipation as melancholy, as much through a glance forward as a citation of past signification” (181-82).

Finally, Baldwin turns to critical whiteness and anti-racism scholarship, another route into whiteness studies that is oriented to the past. “One of the most important insights four in this work is the idea that the anti-racist white subject is a political impossibility,” he writes, citing an article by Sara Ahmed (182). “Although a potentially paralysing analysis for white people wishing to engage in anti-racist struggle, this work is important for showing how whiteness scholarship engages in a form of dis-affiliation,” he continues. “It argues that whiteness scholars gain distance from the violent legacies of white supremacy through the act of disrupting or historicizing the category of whiteness while simultaneously reproducing their white privilege” (182). This work’s orientation to the past “lies in its use of genealogy,” and therefore “this work is concerned less with the ways in which whiteness is socially or historically constructed than with the way in which whiteness scholars themselves obtain material and cultural benefit by analysing discourses of whiteness” (182). For Ahmed, for instance, “whiteness scholarship is replete with ‘declarations of whiteness’ that are non-performative. What she means is that declaring one’s whiteness or even one’s racism in critiques of whiteness is not a route to anti-racism, nor does it make one an anti-racist” (182). What such declarations do, rather, is “nothing more than position white subjectivity as a central agent in anti-racist politics where the declaration is figured not as something beyond race, but as a speech act that merely reconfigures the way in which the politics or race are spoken” (182). Whiteness studies, in this account, is “constructed as an object of analysis, the meanings fo which are themselves effects of past and contemporary racialization” (182). Such work “is deeply self-reflexive” but “has been taken up only sparingly in geography,” since it would, among other things, prevent “white people from retreating into a position thought to be anti-racist” (182). “Instead of allowing white people the comfortable experience of being anti-racist (as opposed to the discomforting experience of acknowledging one’s racism or being perceived to be racist), this body of scholarship asks that white people get used to the uncomfortable experience of being white,” Baldwin writes (182-83). He does not exempt his own writing on whiteness from this critique (183).

“Perhaps one of the important contributions critical whiteness scholarship makes to whiteness studies is to recognize the way in which the meaning of whiteness rests, in part, on the mobility of whiteness: whiteness moves,” Baldwin continues. “It disaffiliates from ‘old’ racisms” and “gains distance from racists” (183). Both “white anti-racists and the British National Party share in common the view that they are avowedly not racist,” he suggests (183) (of course, the BNP are either deluded or lying). Whitness also “gains distance from blackness” as well as “from whiteness itself” (183). “What might futurity mean to a critical whiteness approach to whiteness studies?” Baldwin asks (183). Answering such a question might begin with positioning futurity “at the centre of reflexive engagement on questions about whiteness by both people of colour and white people” (183). “Ahmed offers the beginnings of such an exercise,” Baldwin suggests, since she argues that “in asking ‘what can I do’ upon hearing about racism, white people shift the politics of racism from the present ‘what is’ to the future ‘what can be done’” (183). For Ahmed, that movement “blocks white people from hearing the message of racism. The fact of racism thus gets deferred into the future through the hope of its future reconciliation, abolition or even absolution” (183). “A reflexive engagement with futurity might therefore build on Ahmed’s insight by asking how whiteness studies rely on some notion of the future,” Baldwin states (183). Thinking carefully about how the future of whiteness “is integral to ways in which the meanings of whiteness scholarship shift and change” might “disrupt the power of whiteness,” he continues (183), a suggestion that grants far too much power to a relatively minor academic discipline in my opinion, although that overestimation of the efficacy of scholarship seems to be common in the work I’ve been reading for this project.

Baldwin’s conclusion summarizes his argument. “[A] past-oriented approach to accounting for geographies of whiteness often neglects to consider how various forms of whiteness are shaped by discourses of futurity,” he states (184). Focusing exclusively on the past “obscures the way the category of the future is invoked in the articulation of whiteness. As such, any analysis that seeks to understand how whitenesses of all kinds shape contemporary (and indeed past) racisms operates with only a partial understanding of the time-spaces of whiteness” (184). Baldwin’s argument, he continues, “is that we can learn much about whitenesses and their corresponding forms of racism by paying special attention to the ways in which such whitenesses are constituted by futurity” (184). What would be involved in such a project? “For one, geographers would do well to identity whether and how the practice of governing through the future inaugurates new and repeats old forms of whiteness,” he suggests:

It would also be worth comparing and contrasting how the future is made present in various dialectical accounts of whiteness. For instance, what becomes of whiteness when understood through the binary actual-possible as opposed to an actual-virtual binary, which has been my main concern? Alternatively, what becomes of the category of whiteness if it is shown to be constituted by a future that has no ontology except as a virtual presence? And, perhaps more pressing, how might whiteness be newly politicized? (184)

“Futurity provides a productive vocabulary for thinking about and challenging whiteness,” he continues. “It does not offer a means of overcoming white supremacy, nor does it provide white people with a normative prescription for living with their whiteness guilt- or worry-free. Futurity is, however, a lacuna in the study of whiteness both in geography and outside the discipline, and this alone suggests the need to take it seriously” (184). More urgent, however, “is the need to study whiteness and futurity given how central the future is to contemporary governance and politics” (184). “[H]ow people orient themselves towards the future is indelibly political,” he writes. “The future impels action” (184). “Attention to whiteness and futurity may at minimum enable us to see more clearly the extent to which the pull of whiteness into the future reconfigures what is to be valued in the decades ahead,” he concludes (184).

“Whiteness and Futurity” could end up being an important part of my exegisis—or at least an important point of entry into fields of scholarship that might be important when I come to write that thing. For the present, though, I like the way that Baldwin provides a clear definition of the term “futurity” as an affective anticipation, a simultaneously embodied experience and an atmospheric quality “animated by imagined futures,” the affective product of an overlap between the actual (what is) and the virtual (what is known and real but never fully actualized) (173). I don’t know if that’s the only definition, or even the best definition, but it’s one definition, and that will do for this afternoon. The connotations of the term “settler futurity,” though, given this definition, aren’t quite clear to me, particularly given the way that it tends to be used in settler colonial theory as something terrible that must be destroyed. Somebody somewhere must give a clear and useful definition of that term. I just haven’t found it quite yet.

Work Cited

Baldwin, Andrew. “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 36, no. 2, 2012, pp. 172-87.

Tuck, Eve, and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández. “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, vol. 29, no. 1, 2013, pp. 72-89.