Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: Harold Johnson

112e. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, concluded

denzin lincoln

Finally I arrived at the book’s final section (aside from its short epilogue): Part IV: “Power, Truth, Ethics, and Social Justice.” “Each chapter in this section connects indigenous theories, pedagogies, and modes of inquiry with emancipatory discourses,” the editors write. “Each works through and around, even if indirectly, critical theory and critical pedagogy. (The ghost of Paulo Freire is on every page.) Each chapter is a call to work through a progressive, indigenous politics of critical inquiry, and each works against the backdrop of global capitalism and neoliberal political, economic, and educational ideologies” (429). They name their decade (which has just concluded) “the Decade of Critical Indigenous Inquiry,” and suggest that this decade will bring “a thorough-going transition from discourses about and on method, to discourses centering on power, ethics, and social justice. This discourse will bring new meanings to these terms. It will also involve a rethinking of terms such as democracy, science, and education” (429-30). I don’t know how accurate that prediction turned out to be; Sage continues to publish books on methodology, so method must still be a concern in the social sciences.

I’m not interested in education, but I decided to read Russell Bishop’s “Te Kotahitanga: Kaupapa Māori in Mainstream Classrooms” anyway, because I thought it might suggests ways in which a môniyâw like me might learn from Indigenous theoretical or methodological approaches. Bishop begins by stating that kaupapa Māori “is a discourse of proactive theory and practice that emerged from the wider revitalization of Māori communities that developed in New Zealand following the rapid Māori urbanization in the 1950s and 1960s” (439). Kaupapa Māori promotes “the revitalization of Māori cultural aspirations, preferences, and practices as a philosophical and productive educational stance and resistance to the hegemony of the dominant discourse” (439). There is a connection between kaupapa Māori and education; it has become more important since the institution of Māori preschools in 1982 and now informs Māori education up to postsecondary institutions, as well as governance bodies (439-40). Kaupapa Māori is about self-determination and autonomy, although “there is a clear understanding among Māori people that such autonomy is relative, not absolute, that it is self-determination in relation to others,” something many non-Māori misunderstand (440). “It is not a call for separatism or noninterference, nor is it a call for non-Māori people to stand back and leave Māori alone, in effect to relinquish all responsibility for the ongoing relationship between the peoples of New Zealand” Bishop writes. “Rather, it is a call for all those involved in education in New Zealand to reposition themselves in relation to these emerging aspirations of Māori people for an autonomous voice” (440). “In other words,” he continues, “kaupapa Māori seeks to operationalize Māori people’s aspirations to restructure power relationships to the point where partners can be autonomous and interact from this position rather than from one of subordination or dominance” (440).

However, Bishop writes, “Māori attempts to promote this indigenous people’s understanding of self-determination has been limited to date, and the most successful Māori education initiatives have been those that, on the surface at least, have most closely approximated the majority culture’s notion of self-determination” (441). The purpose of this chapter is to examine how kaupapa Māori has responded to “the wider crisis in Māori education, particularly disparities in achievement in mainstream educational settings from Māori experiences of successful Māori innovations in education” (441). How might ideas that are fundamental to Māori education “provide a picture of what might constitute an appropriate pedagogy for Māori students in mainstream schools” (441)?

The concept of rangatiratanga, or self-determination, “the right to determine one’s own destiny, to define what that destiny will be, and to define and pursue a means of attaining that destiny in relation to others, with this notion of relations being fundamental to Māori epistemologies,” is fundamental to Māori educational institutions (441). “[E]ducational relationships and interactions, predicated on a Māori understanding of self-determination that includes nondominating relations of interdependence, could well be a means of addressing the seemingly immutable problems of disparate achievement levels within mainstream educational institutions,” Bishop writes. “In this way, issues of power relations, such as initiation, benefits, representation, legitimation, and accountability will be addressed in totally different ways than they have been in the past,” and “participation on one’s own terms brings commitment, and commitment brings about learning” (441-42). One way of implementing this approach in classrooms is “to have children participate in the process of decision making about curriculum planning to the extent of participating in a pedagogy of sharing power over decisions about curriculum content and the directions that learning will take” (442). (I wonder about that; had anyone asked me as a child about curriculum, I would have advocated that arithmetic, and later mathematics, be abolished, because that was my least favourite subject.) Bishop argues that “all students’ achievement levels need to be raised so that educators can create learning contexts that will provide students with those tools that are vital for future citizens in a democracy—the tools of planning, relationships, creativity, critical reflection, and communication,” and that in order to do this, “we need to immerse students in power-sharing relationships with their peers and their teachers from an early age” (442). “In short,” he concludes, “the principle of self-determination within nondominating relations of interdependence should be relevant to all involved in classroom interactions” (442).

Another Māori phrase, taonga tuu iho, or the cultural aspirations of Māori people, suggests “that Māori language, knowledge, culture, and values are normal, valid, and legitimate and indeed are valid guides to classroom interactions” (442). In education, this idea implies “that educators need to create contexts where to be Māori is to be normal, where Māori cultural identities are valid, valued, and legitimate”—“where Māori children can be themselves” (442). This doesn’t mean stereotyping Māori children, but rather understanding the diversity of Māori experience. “In short, a pedagogy is needed that is holistic, flexible, and complex, that will allow children to present their multiplicities and complexities and their individual and collective diversities, rather than a pedagogy that perpetuates teacher images,” Bishop writes. “Taonga tuki iho therefore teaches us to respect the tapu (potentiality for power) of each individual child and to acknowledge his or her mana (power) rather than ascribe cultural meanings to a child” (442).

Ako, or reciprocal learning, suggests “that the teacher does not have to be the fountain of all knowledge but rather should be able to create contexts for learning where the students can enter the learning conversations” (443). One implication of the principle of reciprocal learning “is that active learning approaches are preferred because in this way, the processes of knowledge-in-action are able to be brought to the interaction—indeed, for the interaction,” and this suggests that students ought to be able to participate “using sense-making processes they bring to the relationship and share these with others, as a right, and this has clear implications for the type of classroom interactions and pedagogies that will be useful in promoting this vision” (443).

Another Māori principle is kia piki ake i nga raruraru o te kainga, or mediation of socioeconomic and home difficulties (443). According to this principle, “when parents are incorporated into the education of their children on terms they can understand and approve of, then children do better at school” (443). “[T]he closer that classroom and home experiences are for students, the more likely that students will be able to participate in the educational experiences designed at the school,” and this idea “addresses the preference Māori people have for their problems to be dealt with in culturally familiar ways that intervene in the educational crisis . . . through the promotion of culturally acceptable alternatives” (443). 

Whanau, or extended family, “is a primary concept (a cultural preference” that contains both values (cultural aspirations) and social processes (cultural practices) that has multiple meanings for mainstream education” (443). While the word can mean family ties, “the most rapid growth in the application of the term whanau has been in the metaphorical use of the term to refer to collectives of people working for a common end who are not connected by kinship . . . but act as if they were” (443). “These metaphoric whanau attempt to develop relationships, organizations, and operational practices based on similar principles to those that order a traditional whanau,” Bishop continues, noting that using the term whanau means identifying “a series of rights and responsibilities, commitments and obligations, and supports that are fundamental to the collectivity” (443-44). So, when teachers imagine or theorize classroom actions as metaphorical whanau relationships, “classroom interactions will be fundamentally different from those created when teachers talk of method and process using machine or transmission metaphors” (444). Establishing whanau relationships is an essential part of the research process, Bishop suggests, and in classrooms, ideas of “commitment and connectedness would be paramount, and responsibility for the learning of others would be fostered” (444). The classroom itself “would be sen as an active location for all learners, and this includes the teachers, to participate in the decision-making processes through the medium os spiral discourse—a major means of addressing current power imbalances” (444). 

Kaupapa, or collective vision or philosophy, is another term that “provides guidelines for what constitutes excellence in Māori education” (444). According to Bishop, “mainstream institutions need such a philosophy or agenda for achieving excellence in both languages and cultures that make up the world of Māori children. Such a kaupapa is essential for the development of educational relations and interactions that will produce educational achievement and reduce disparities” (444-45).

These metaphors, “drawn from the experiences of kaupapa Māori educational theorizing and practice,” give us “a picture of the sort of alternative educational relations and interactions that are possible when educators draw upon an alternative culture than that previously dominant” (445). The idea of whanau relationships, for instance, “would enact reciprocal and collaborative pedagogies in order to promote educational relationships between students, between pupils and teachers . . . and between the home and the school as a means of promoting excellence in education” (445). Bishop suggests that this metaphor “also creates an image of classroom relations and interactions where students are able to participate on their own terms—terms that are determined by the student because the very pedagogic process holds this as a central value” (445). Using new metaphors for pedagogy, he continues, repositions teachers “within different contexts where students’ sense-making processes offer new opportunities for them to engage with learning,” which legitimates students’ experiences and “sense-making processes” (445). These metaphors lead to a sharing of power, to classrooms where culture matters and where learning is interactive and dialogic, where connectedness is fundamental to relations, and where there is a common vision of “what constitutes excellence for Māori in education” (445). The notion that “relations ontologically precede all other concerns in education,” Bishop suggests, “might well be termed a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations” (446).

What might a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations look like in practice? That’s the purpose of the rest of the essay, and to answer this question, it turns to a research project, Te Kotahitanga, “one where Māori metaphors inform educational theorizing and practice in ways that seeks to mediate the ongoing educational crisis facing Māori people in mainstream education from within a kaupapa Māori framework” (446). That project, which began in 2001, seeks to “address the self-determination of Māori secondary school students by talking with them and other participants in their education about just what is involved in limiting and/or improving their educational achievement through an examination of the main influences on Māori students’ educational achievement” (446). According to Bishop, “it is a kaupapa Māori position that when teachers share their power with students, they will better understand the world of the ‘others’ and those ‘othered’ by power differentials, and students will be better able to successfully participate and engage in educational systems on their own culturally constituted terms” (446). “Fundamental to kaupapa Māori theorizing is an analysis of that which might limit Māori advancement in education,” Bishop continues, and for that reason, this research project asks students, teachers, principals, and teachers to tell stories about their experiences “in order to develop narratives of the experiences and involvement of these groups in the education of Māori students,” which enables an understanding of students’ experiences “within the wider context of their education and their lives in general” (447). The students reported that being Māori in a mainstream school was a negative experience, and that their success was determined by the ways their teachers interacted with Māori students (447). “In so doing, they alerted us of the need for education to be responsive to them as culturally located people and, in this way, to the emerging literature on the creation of learning contexts and how these contexts might be constituted as appropriate and responsive to the culturally generated sense-making processes of students,” Bishop writes (447). 

Parents and whanau members, on the other hand, “identified that the major influence on Māori students’ educational achievement was the quality of their children’s relationship with their teachers” (447). The expect schools to provide their children with good experiences, and that teachers therefore “needed to have a greater understanding of things Māori, including the reality that Māori people have their own cultural values, aspirations, and ways of knowing” (447-48). Principals also talked about relationships and the attitudes of teachers, as well as “[t]eachers’ low expectations of Māori students and the need for teachers to adjust to the individual learning requirements of their students” (448). Recognizing “Māori students’ culture and taking cognizance of Māori cultural aspirations and notions of belonging” was one way that the principals suggested teachers “might facilitate a more responsive relationship,” as was building “Māori pedagogies that went beyond the limited inclusion of Māori cultural iconography into their curriculum and programs” (448). 

However, teachers felt that “factors from within the discourse of the child and the home” had “the greatest influence on Māori students’ educational achievement” (448). The teachers “perceived deficits within the home or problems that Māori students brought with them to school from home as having the major influence on Māori students’ educational achievement” (448). These included socioeconomic problems, the transience of Māori students, and inadequate parental support, along with other “[d]eficit influences” (448). They also stated that Māori students caused problems at school because of their “low-level aspirations . . . and their lack of motivation and poor behavior” (448). “Teachers identified that Māori students were disorganized, not prepared for their classes or for learning, and difficult to discipline” (448). A small group of teachers “did identify that positive relationships were built in their classrooms through their respecting the cultural knowledge and aspirations of Māori students,” and that “these actions resulted in improved student behavior, engagement, and involvement in learning” (448). 

“A critical reading of the narratives of experience identified that there were three main discourses within which the participant groups positioned themselves when identifying and explaining both positive and negative influences on Māori students’ educational achievement,” Bishop writes (449). The first discourse was “of the child and his or home, which included those influences that were to be found outside of the school and the classroom” (449). The second was “the discourse of structure and systems or those influences outside of the classroom but pertaining to the school itself and/or the wider education system” (449). The third, Bishop continues, “was the discourse of relationships and classroom interaction patterns,” everything taking place within the classroom (449). The stories the participants told were “coded according to idea units and the number of times those units were repeated across the schools, rather than within each school,” in order to avoid having one school dominate the data (449). The results of the coding and analysis, presented in a graph in the essay, reinforces Bishop’s more anecdotal discussion (450). “It is clear from the pattern . . . that the main influences on Māori students’ educational achievement that people identify vary according to where they position themselves within the three discourses,” Bishop writes (451). It is a problem “that it is mainly teachers who position themselves” as seeing the major influences coming from outside of classrooms, unlike students and parents, because “[i]n so doing, a large proportion of the teachers were pathologizing Māori students’ lived experiences by explaining their lack of educational achievement in deficit terms, either as being within the child or their home, or within the structure of the school” (451). That suggests that teachers are blaming “someone or something outside of their area of influence,” thereby suggesting “that they had very little responsibility for the outcomes of these influences,” and in addition, the teachers “see few solutions to solve the problems,” a “very nonagentic position in that there is not much individuals can do from this position” (451). For Bishop, “this deficit theorizing by teachers is the major impediment to Māori students’ educational achievement,” and “unless these positionings and theorizings by teachers are addressed and overcome, they will not be able to realize their agency, and little substantial change will occur” (451). “In contrast, speakers who position themselves within the discourse of relationships and interactions understand that in this space, explanations that seek to address the power differentials and imbalances between the various participants in the relationships can be developed and implemented,” and those same speakers “tend to accept responsibility for their part in the relationships and are clear that they have agency” (451). In other words, they understand “that they can bring about change and indeed are responsible for bringing about changes in the educational achievement of Māori students” (451).

The ways for Māori students to succeed, Bishop concludes, “draw on Māori cultural aspirations,” including ideas of caring, high expectations for Māori students, and “the creation of secure, well-managed learning settings . . . in terms of the mana of the students” (453-54). “The preferred discursive teaching interactions, strategies, and focus on formative assessment processes that are identified in the narratives also resonate with Māori cultural aspirations, above all the creation of whanau-type relations and interactions within classrooms and between teachers, students, and their homes,” Bishop continues. “Reciprocal approaches to learning—through cooperative learning strategies, for example, in concert with the underlying aspiration for relative autonomy—underlie that desire to improve the educational achievement of Māori students . . . through operationalizing Māori people’s cultural aspirations for self-determination within nondominating relations of interdependence” (454). How to do all of that, though, when teachers are clearly either racist and/or exhausted and burned out by classrooms that contain too many students for such personalized interactions? I don’t understand how the research results could be implemented in a practical way.

The essay’s conclusion summarizes its findings, and then suggests that “[o]perationalizing a culturally effective pedagogy of relations means implementing an Effective Teaching Profile” which “creates a learning context that is responsive to the culture of the child and means that learners can bring who they are to the classroom in complete safety and where their knowledges are acceptable and legitimate” (455). This approach “stands in context to the traditional classroom, where the culture of the teacher is given central focus and has the power to define what constitutes appropriate and acceptable knowledges, approaches to learnings and understandings, and sense-making processes” (455). “[W]hen the learners’ own culture is central to their learning activities, they are able to make meaning of new information and ideas by building on their own prior cultural experiences and understandings,” Bishop writes (455). As learners construct “learning experiences” together with their teachers, the students would learn “how to reflect critically on their own learning, how they might learn better and more effectively and ensure greater balance in the power relationship of learning by modeling this approach in class” (455-56). By “raising expectations of students’ own learning and how they might enhance and achieve these expectations,” students would be engaged “actively, holistically, and in an integrated fashion in real-life (or as close to) problem sharing and questioning,” and they would be able to “use these questions as catalysts for ongoing study; this engagement can be monitored as an indicator of potential long-term achievements” (456). Bishop describes these changes as a shift from “traditional classrooms” to “[d]iscursive classrooms” which would “have the potential to respond to Māori students’ and parents’ desires to ‘be Māori,’ desire that were made very clear in their narratives of experience” (456). Moreover, “the deficit theorizing by teachers must be challenged” by creating “more effective partnerships between Māori students and their teachers” and between parents and teachers as well (456). “Once these aspects are addressed, the culture of the child can be brought to the learning context with all the power that has been hidden for so long,” Bishop contends (456).

“The metaphors that Te Kotahitanga draws on are holistic and flexible and able to be determined by or understood within the cultural contexts that have meaning to the lives of the many young people of diverse backgrounds who attend modern schools today,” Bishop writes. “Teaching and learning strategies that flow from these metaphors are flexible and allow the diverse voices of young people primacy and promote dialogue, communication, and learning with others” (456). Such a pedagogy engages participants in collaboration, “mutual storytelling and restorying, so that a relationship can emerge in which both stories are heard, or indeed a process where a new story is created by all the participants” (456). Such a pedagogy would also address “Māori people’s concerns about current pedagogic practices being fundamentally monocultural and epistemologically racist,” and it would recognize “that all people who are involved in the learning and teaching process are participants who have meaningful experiences, valid concerns, and legitimate questions” (456). It would make classrooms into places “where young peoples’ sense-making processes are incorporated and enhanced, where the existing knowledges of young people are seen as ‘acceptable’ and ‘official,’ in such a way that their stories provide the learning base from whence they can branch out into new fields of knowledge through structured interactions with significant others” (456). That kind of classroom would “generate totally different interaction patterns and educational outcomes” from classrooms “where knowledge is seen as something that the teacher makes sense of and then passes onto students,” and in such classrooms, learning would “be conducted within and through a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations, wherein self-determining individuals interact with one another within nondominating relations of interdependence” (456).

As the Te Kotahitanga research project continues, Bishop states, “we are beginning to see significant improvements in Māori student engagement with learning and achievement along with major improvements in their enjoyment of the learning experience” (456). This suggests “that the answers to Māori educational achievement and disparities do not lie in the mainstream,” because the theories and practices associated with colonialism “have kept Māori in a subordinate position while creating a discourse that pathologized and marginalized Māori people’s lived experiences” (456-57). The answers to the “seemingly immutable educational disparities that plague Māori students,” Bishop contends, “lie in the sense-making and knowledge-generating processes of the culture that the dominant system has sought to marginalize for so long” (457). “The power of counternarratives such as kaupapa Māori . . . is such that alternative pedagogies that are both appropriate and responsive can be developed out of the cultural sense-making processes of peoples previously marginalized by the dominance of colonial and neocolonial educational relations of power,” Bishop concludes. “Such pedagogies can create learning contexts for previously pathologized and marginalized students in ways that allow them to participate in education on their own terms, to be themselves, and to achieve on their own terms as Māori” and as “‘citizens of the world’” (457).  

I’m happy that the Te Kotahitanga research project is having such tangible successes, but I wonder how the approaches Bishop outlines in this essay might be scaled up beyond 12 secondary schools, and about how they might be affected by the material limits that classroom teachers face. What about the reality of underfunded schools and overcrowded classrooms? Where are teachers to find the time to build relationships with all of their students and their families (and extended families)? What about the realities of drugs or poor attendance or fractured families, which Bishop dismisses as “deficit thinking”? (Surely those problems do exist and aren’t just imagined by classroom teachers, although they shouldn’t be allowed to become the basis of stereotypes about any group of students.) How does decentering the teacher as transmitter of knowledge work in disciplines like math or science (where storying and restorying would seem not to apply in any way) or, indeed, in English literature (aside from creative-writing courses)? 

I also wonder how the practices that Bishop advocates would change my own teaching practice. Most of my teaching takes in a required first-year composition course in a university. I do use student-centred teaching practices, but often, as the one with knowledge and experience, I often find myself explaining texts to students, and I am the one who judges their work. How might the practices Bishop discusses be implemented in that environment? Would I allow students to choose whatever they wanted to read? Would that mean being expected to read 30 or 40 different novels in order to mark a set of essays? Is that a reasonable expectation for a teacher? What about the opportunities for plagiarism that such a strategy would open up? (Plagiarism is a serious problem; some students, for a variety of reasons, cheat.) Or would we try to come to some kind of decision together about the texts we would read—which the bookstore wouldn’t be able to get to us until after the course was over? (The bookstore can barely stock textbooks when they’ve been given six months’ warning.) Or would it mean abandoning essay assignments altogether, since students don’t like them? Would it mean not asking students to read poetry, since students don’t like it, either? Would it mean ceasing to grade grammar and style, since many students find it difficult to avoid common technical errors? Would it mean abandoning the university’s requirement that all students take this course, since many of them object? And how, in the two and a half hours that we meet every week, could I get to know, in anything more than a superficial way, 40 students? (In a university environment, the students’ families are rarely involved.) The goals of the course—to improve students’ reading and writing abilities—might have to be abandoned if the approach Bishop describes were to be adopted, since students often find those goals too difficult or too abstract or unpleasant. I mean, one of my students this semester wrote in her course journal that she doesn’t want to do anything that is difficult, and that she only wants to engage in activities that are fun. What would Bishop say to a student like that? What I take away from Bishop’s essay is how hard it would be to incorporate Indigenous methodologies or epistemologies into my teaching, at least in the way he describes, which I’m sure is the opposite of the response he expected or desired. Maybe I don’t understand the practices he’s advocating because I’m not a researcher in education or a high-school teacher. I don’t know.

In “Modern Democracy: The Complexities Behind Appropriating Indigenous Models of Governance and Implementation,” Tim Begaye notes that the American colonists borrowed from “[t]he early architects of a democratic state such as the Iroquois and Wabanaki Confederacies” in order “to help develop their understandings of freedom and democracy in the new world” (459). “As it turned out, the colonists appropriated a new interpretation [of democracy] and established a new social and political system that gave further definition of participation in governance,” Begaye writes, “but the colonists had a different understanding of inclusion, equal participation, and freedom of expression because of their history with oppression and religious persecution in England” (459). Their descendants still have an interpretation of democracy that is not inclusive—“participation and access by citizens is minimal” (459)—and for Indigenous people “an assimilative mind-set serves as a mechanism in making them socially, culturally, and politically dependent using the new definition of democracy” (459). Begaye asks:

What, then, does democracy mean if the ‘founders’ theoretically espouse certain values but its practice is limited to a few?Are equality, participation, and freedom of expression values of a democracy, or are they merely metaphors of theory from the past and not achievable practices as it is often espoused in the mainstream? What lessons can be learned from such models of democracies, and could past (colonial) or current (postcolonial) indigenous communities serve as new models? What qualities and consideration are features that would promote a good model of democracy in Native communities? (459-60)

These are the questions Begaye addresses in his essay. He begins by describing Indigenous models of democracy: those of the Haudenosaunee, the Cherokee, the Penacook federation, the Wabanaki Confederacy, and the Powhatan Confederacy. “Similar examples are evident today among the Mississippi Choctaw, the White Mountain Apaches, and the Navajo Nation,” Begaye writes. “These tribal nations and others have unique structures of governance. They combine cultural traditions, norms, and rules with Western concepts to their hybrid government” (460). “Many other tribal nations have retained their traditional democratic approaches to formation and execution of governance,” he states (461).

Next, Begaye describes the American model of democracy, which began with inclusion and participation limited to White men of property. The exclusion that was part of early definitions of democracy “continues to be accepted today,” and it “is evident in the marginalization of the poor and in the treatment of ‘the other,’ which frequently turns out to be separated along racial lines” (461). As American democracy has evolved, “the political pendulum” has become more narrowly defined “into a new binary paradigm of majority and minority, left and right, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, and so on,” he continues. “If the inherent quality of expressing differences is a legitimate attribute of a democratic state, then the two-dimension effect has become a new characteristic of democracy created by the dominant political forces, whether it has the effect of diminishing any hope for equal participation of the already marginalized minority,” and “historically divided groups become further victims” (461). “[T]he founders of modern democracy didn’t anticipate, acknowledge, or account for the ensuing diversity of people through change and immigration,” Begaye writes, noting that African Americans and Indigenous peoples have been targets of discrimination and forced assimilation (461-62). “The urban poor and Native reservations in the isolated and remote corners of the United States are missing out on the social and economic benefits of a democratic society because of their status and position within the broader social and economic hierarchy,” and from the beginning Indigenous groups “were not allowed to be participants in the formation of a new government” (462).

As the United States developed, “the Natives continued to be a challenge to the ideals of democracy,” Begaye argues (462-63). Almost 380 treaties were signed between Indigenous nations and the U.S. federal government between 1778 and 1830, showing “examples of recognition and desire to establish democratic relations” (463). That period was followed by “federal policies . . . that sought to remove Native people from their homelands, so that European settlers could farm their land” (463). In 1830, the Supreme Court ruled that Indigenous nations would be considered “‘domestic dependent nations’” (Wilkins and Lomawaima, qtd. 463), which became a prelude to removing them from land east of the Mississippi. “What were once two governments treating each other as equals deteriorated to one of dependency,” Begaye writes (463). After the Civil War, policies of forced assimilation were pursued by the federal government, along with policies that stole Indigenous land and gave people incentives to leave reservations (463-64). The passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 “gave some tribes the means to control their destinies, but it also paved the way for further paternalism paths by setting up a mechanism where the U.S. government had the power to approve or disapprove all activities of tribal governments” (464). In the 1940s and 1950s, a new policy of “termination” led to the elimination of “federal benefits and support for services to tribes as nearly 109 tribes across the United States were ‘terminated’” (464). In 1975, however, Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination Act, which “loosened the reins of federal government control by allowing Native tribes to handle many of their own political and government affairs” (464-65). “The fluctuating pattern of federal government policy as it struggled to form a new viable democratic society was evidenced by its lack of understanding of its citizenry,” Begaye writes. “The policy failed to recognize the contributions and existence of the Native people who were crucial to their survival” (465). “While the need to build good relations and understanding with its entire people was going to be evident if democracy was going to be practiced,” he states, “there was clearly a different colonial mind-set displayed in attitude and treatment of Native peoples” (465).

Begaye notes that as late as the eighteenth century Indigenous leaders “were hesitant to be included in a practice of democracy that ostracized their way of life and antagonized their beliefs” (465). Instead, their forms of democracy involved relationships between different nations, clans, and communities, and individuals were allowed to participate directly in government activities (466). “The path to acknowledgement and recognition or to healing is embedded in the sense of community that was formed when tribes and groups were held together with a common bond of clan and strong community values,” Begaye writes. “Clans meant community, friendship, and respect for everything considered alive among humans and nature. The path to being inclusive means resurrecting the original deep understanding in each person, rather than relying on the aesthetics of modernism that prevails and is reinforced by materialistic and superficial ways” (466).

For Begaye, “[t]here are lessons to be learned from centuries of practicing democracy without inclusion” (467). “If democracy means the equal participation of all those citizens who live within its domain, then its breadth and depth of participation has been ignored at the cost of alternative minority views, marginalization, and dissenting expressions,” he continues, and “[a] new form of democracy could contain the essential element of a democracy that still includes the original Native conception of inclusion and participation,” in which leaders “would begin to assume responsibility and be accountable to the people,” and “would take it upon themselves to transform and practice a new value system that includes all groups regardless of past histories” (467-68). The result, he states, would be a “more effective definition of democracy where participation and expression are open to everyone” (468). 

“In a truly legitimate democratic state, the discussion of democracy and education would be irrelevant because everyone would be free to participate and express themselves regarding the welfare of the community or society,” Begaye argues (468). Indigenous societies made decisions by consensus and everyone could contribute. “The question, then, is this: What are the necessary ingredients, and what should be the prevailing political values in a legitimate democratic state?” he asks. “One thing is clear; all citizens must be participating members of the society. Inclusion should be just that—inclusive regardless of race, color, creed, beliefs, and so on” (468). “A democratic society cannot achieve effectiveness as long as groups are marginalized because of the political reasons used as justification for denying them membership and participation,” he concludes (468-69).

There’s no question that American democracy has never lived up to its expressed ideals, and that Indigenous forms of democracy were more inclusive and participatory. However, at the same time there’s a difference between decision making in a relatively small group and decision making in a country of 300 million people. How could consensus be reached among so many people? It’s hard to imagine how that would work.

Begaye’s essay wasn’t related to my work at all, unfortunately, but I had high hopes for “Rethinking Collaboration: Working the Indigene-Colonizer Hyphen,” by Alison Jones with Kuni Jenkins. “To rethink collaboration between indigene and colonizer is both to desire it and to ask troubling questions about it,” they begin. “This chapter critiques desire for collaborative inquiry understood as face-to-face, ongoing dialogue between indigenous and settler colleagues or students. Interrogating the logic of (my own) White/settler enthusiasm for dialogic collaboration, I consider how this desire might be an unwitting imperialist demand—and thereby in danger of strengthening the very impulses it seeks to combat” (471). Jones—it’s her voice we’re reading, rather than Jenkins’s—doesn’t reject collaboration, but she wants to “unpack its difficulties to suggest a less dialogical and more uneasy, unsettled relationship, based on learning (about difference) from the Other, rather than learning about the Other” (471).

Jones notes that she is Pakeha, a Settler born in New Zealand, whereas Jenkins is Māori. Jenkins is older, but Jones was her PhD supervisor; they have become friends and research collaborators, but they have very different perspectives. For instance, Jenkins tells Jones that “a well-known event: the delivery of the first sermon in New Zealand, by Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society, on Christmas Day 1814” didn’t happen (471). Jones is surprised. “Here is the first Western formal mass pedagogical event in New Zealand,” she writes; Marsden apparently delivered his sermon in front of 400 Māori people, with a young chief, Ruatara, as his interpreter (471-72). “There is no record of what Ruatara said,” Jones writes:

Kuni is unconvinced that Ruatara would have attempted any direct translation. Instead, she says, he would have spoken with passionate elegance about the benefits and status of the new settlers; he would have enjoined the people to be good to the visitors and to protect them, in anticipation of the technological, agricultural, and knowledge advantages they would bring to the iwi. (472)

Because the people couldn’t understand Marsden’s English words, Jenkins argues, they were actually responding to Ruatara’s Māori “desires, words, and authority” (472). In other words, it was Ruatara who gave that sermon, not Marsden, and it was a political meeting, not a religious discourse. Moreover, what the historians describe as “a sham fight on the beach, staged for the entertainment of the new arrivals” was actually a pôwhiri, “a very significant mass ritual of encounter, by which the local people indicate their willingness to engage and negotiate with the new arrivals, as well as signal to them that they now have some obligatory connections to the tribes in the area” (472). “Almost at once, two historical events are turned upside down,” Jones writes:

In each retelling of these familiar scenes from our shared past, their power relations shift and become dramatically more complex. The standard account implies that power lies largely with the settlers: It is Marsden who talks to the people and thereby introduces Christianity to a new land; his important arrival is marked by a vigorous bit of entertainment by excited natives. But Kuni reads these stories through a different lens: Ruatara decided on and gave a major address to the people about Pakeha settlement, which he sought to control; the Māori leaders choreographed a major welcome so that the local people would understand the significance of the settlers and their proper place within the protection of the tribe. (472)

This “play of power, knowledge, and reality” is what Jones thinks they should write about (472). And they do: they publish the resulting article.

“Several things happen through this collaboration,” Jones writes:

The stories of the relationships leading to the establishment of the first Western school in New Zealand become layered, richer, more complex. We know the different historical experiences cannot be homogenized into one single account (even though our joint academic publication is genuinely shared work, and neither could do it without the other). At the same time, our new, rich account is not produced through mutual dialogue; neither of us attempts fully to understand the other. What we do understand is that the careful, tense interplay of our histories provides an interesting account of the complexity of contemporary as well as past indigenous-colonizer relations. (472)

I’m not convinced that dialogue necessarily involves an attempt to fully understand someone else—would Mikhail Bakhtin agree with that claim?—and in fact, I’m not convinced that such a full understanding is ever possible. But at least Jones is clearly explaining her definition of dialogue so that her readers understand it and can respond to it.

“Another dynamic is played out in the micro-practice of this collaboration: the negotiation of voice,” Jones continues. “Who speaks? Does joint authorship denote harmonized voices? Is it possible to hear my Māori colleague if I am the one who writes the text, using her insights?” (472). Those are good questions; the form of the text might have to be changed, perhaps structured as a dialogue (even though Jones disavows that term) in order to convey a sense of two voices. But Jones is interested in a larger issue: 

There is never anything simple or settled about indigenous-colonizer writing collaboration. All collaborative arrangements differ depending on the personalities, the partnership, the relative power, and academic desires of the participants. Kuni and I sometimes coauthor our collaborative work; sometimes we do not. This negotiated flexibility reflects a self-consciously conditional and open approach to our joint work on Māori-Pakeha relationships in education. We agree that coauthorship, when it implies speaking with one voice, is impossible. We know that we cannot and do not have a homogenous viewpoint; I speak out of my social position as a critical Pakeha academic, and she takes a Māori/Ngati Porou cultural and political perspective shaped by her academic training. Though this means we often find enough shared ground to speak together as coauthors, it also means that sometimes we speak separately—depending on the audience, the standpoint, or the politics of the writing. (472-73)

This essay is written by Jones, and it “addresses colonizer interests in cross-cultural engagement,” and although Jones is the author, she believes that the voices of Jenkins and her other Māori colleagues and students “echo strongly here” (473).

In their collaborations, Jones writes, she and Jenkins “work the hyphen,” a phrase she borrows from Michelle Fine’s discussion of “the complex gap at the Self-Other border” (473). “For those of us engaged in postcolonial cross-cultural collaborative inquiry, this hyphen, mapped onto the indigenous-colonizer relationship, straddles a space of intense interest,” she writes (473). “The colonizer-indigene hyphen always reaches into a shared past,” she continues, and “[e]ach of our names—indigene and colonizer—discursively produces the other. In New Zealand, the local names Māori and Pakeha form identities created in response to the other. . . . Each term forced the other into being, to distinguish ‘us,’ the ordinary (the word māori means ordinary in Māori language) people, from the others, the white-skinned strangers” (473). Not only does the hyphen between colonizer-indigene, or Māori-Pakeha “hold ethnic and historical difference and interchange,” but it “also marks a relationship of power and inequality that continues to shape differential patterns of cultural dominance and social privilege” (473). That hyphen is thus a site of struggle between groups with very different interests. “Kuni and I attempt to create a research and writing relationship based on the tension of difference, not on its erasure,” Jones writes. “In that the indigene-colonizer hyphen marks the indelible relationship that has shaped both sides in different ways, the hyphen as a character in the research relationship becomes an object of necessary attention” (4730.

“The indigene-colonizer hyphen has attracted a range of discursive postures in collaborative inquiry,” Jones continues: it has been “erased, softened, denied, consumed, expanded, homogenized, and romanticized” (473). It has “stood in for an unbridgeable chasm between the civilized and the uncivilized; it has marked a romantic difference between innocent noble savage and corrupt Western man; it has held the gap between the indigenous subjects of study and their objective White observers” (473). “Modern anxieties about this gap, as well as the paradoxical desire both for difference and for its dissolution via communicative relationships, have led to calls for dialogue and mutual engagement across difference,” she writes (473). A fantasy of “respectful sharing often shapes the hyphen in contemporary liberal cross-cultural research and teaching,” and calls for “dialogue, understanding, and empathy between cultures are common” (473-74). “When mutual understanding is fundamental to cross-cultural engagement, the hyphen becomes a barrier to close empathetic collaboration,” and so the hyphen is softened  “in the interests of mutuality” (474). This reduction means downplaying “[s]tructural power differences, as well as other differences in perspective and history” (474). Education research that “focused on such shared social goods as teacher effectiveness, children’s learning needs, and multiculturalism requires a softened hyphen to allow the foregrounding of mutually shared values and outcomes” (474). “An extreme form of this approach to cultural difference is articulated by those who seek actively to erase the hyphen” through references to the unity of human experience (474). The hyphen is also denied or erased by “the language of hybridity, a code-word for sameness” (474). (Really?) Jones’s examples of that form of erasure aren’t actually about hybridity at all; they are assertions of identity. The point is that assertions of sameness erase the hyphen because it “becomes a marker of social division and a barrier to communication and democracy, something to be (dis)solved. Disavowing the hyphen in the name of sameness becomes literally a productive political act for ‘us all’” (474).

“The almost universal indigenous and Other response to the ideal of what I am calling the erased, denied, dissolved, or softened hyphen has been a firm reinstatement of the gap,” Jones contends (474). Some “colonizer researchers who work with indigenous peoples” therefore “emphasize the gap of difference” (474). “Such collaboration often elicits a posture of self-effacement in White researchers who feel that the powerful and moving colonization stories of indigenous people must speak for themselves,” Jones writes. “The hyphen becomes a bridge, a moment of translation (and sometimes romanticization) for the colonizer researcher who gives voice to the oppressed indigenous person enabling a direct and sympathetic hearing from others” (474). “To those colonizer researchers who would dissolve/consume/soften/erase the indigene-colonizer hyphen into a collaborative engagement between us, there is one, harshly pragmatic response: It does not work,” Jones continues (475). That is because “indigenous peoples—as a matter of political, practical, and identity survival as indigenous peoples—insist on a profound difference at the Self-Other border. The hyphen is nonnegotiable” (475). Indeed, it has to be “protected and asserted and is a positive site of productive methodological work” (475). That hyphen marks “a difficult but always necessary relationship,” not just a relationship between collaborators, “but also their respective relationship to difference. The relationship is also—from the indigenous side of difference—significantly one of struggle, resistance, and caution” (475). 

Jones contends that her rejection of “us” is not “a rejection of possibilities for joint work” (475). “In fact, I believe that collaborative research relationships are essential to insight, and there are far too few good colonizer-indigene collaborations; the hyphen, after all, joins as well as separates,” she writes. “My point is that ‘us’ cannot stand in place of the hyphen; it can only name an always conditional relationship-between” (475). She also notes that the colonizer-indigene binary, which marks “two fixed, radically different, apparently homogenous groups,” ignores “significant divisions and differences . . . within both groups” (475). “[T]he term indigenous may itself be a homogenizing term, produced within colonization and continuing its colonizing work by brushing over national or tribal differences,” she suggests (475). That binary also ignores the “substantial assimilation into Western cultures and languages” of many Indigenous people, although she seems to suggest that intermarriage is a sign of that assimilation (or perhaps interaction?) (475). “In addition, colonizer and indigenous peoples often do not understand themselves in these terms,” she continues, noting that “[t]he boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ on the street, in workplaces, and in classrooms have diminished substantially since our first encounters” (475-76). “Such mutual assimilation”—I can’t help thinking that influence or interaction might be better terms, since colonizers don’t really get assimilated by Indigenous peoples, do they?—“in that it marks pockets of equality, has been and should be cause for celebration” (476). “My argument is not about such interrelationships in the social and personal world,” she writes. “It is important to recognize that arguments about collaborative inquiry across the indigene-colonizer hyphen entail the assertion, as some crucial points, of an indigenous political and social id/entity distinct from that of a colonizer subject. For indigenous subjects, this is a necessary distinction and disjuncture; for collaborators, a necessary ‘between’” (476).

Jones argues that learning about Indigenous people is not possible for members of the colonizing or dominant group, but that learning from Indigenous peoples, “that is, from difference, from the hyphen, becomes the possibility we seek” (476). Non-Indigenous people might know little about Indigenous people, but the latter don’t need to learn about the colonizer: “They have achieved this learning simply as members of a colonized society” (476). “This major skew in learning needs at the indigene-colonizer hyphen has meant that, in some cases, the indigene has refused face-to-face collaboration,” Jones states (476). “How, then, is indigene-colonizer collaboration possible when learning about the Other is problematic for both groups?” she asks. “[H]ow might we think through the colonizer/dominant group request for sharing and possible indigenous resistance to it?” (477). “When the indigenous person fails to address the needs or wishes of the well-meaning, would-be collaborator-colonizer, the latter experiences a shock,” she answers:

Any withdrawal of the indigene from accessible engagement is felt as an unbearable exclusion. But the resulting anxiety for the new outsider is not from loss of social power so much as loss of ability to define the conditions or the social-political space within which, they believe, getting to know each other becomes possible. The terms of engagement are no longer controlled by the dominant group. (477)

The solution to exclusion is typically argued to be inclusion, Jones argues, and that inclusion inevitably involves listening to the voices of “the colonizer/oppressed/other” (478). But the problem with “the call for shared speaking” is that it is “a desire for the dominant/colonizer group to engage in some benevolent action—for them/us to grant a hearing to the usually suppressed voice and ‘realms of meaning’ of the indigene,” since “indigenous access into the realms of the dominant Other is hardly required; members of marginalized/colonized groups are immersed in it daily. It is the colonizer, wishing to hear, who calls for dialogue” (478). Moreover, it’s not always possible for members of the dominant group to understand the voices of Indigenous peoples, even if they possess good will, because centuries of power and privilege may leave them unable to hear: “Deafness of the colonizers to indigenous speakers is one of the necessary conditions of a colonized society. While usually unintentional, such dis-ability enables imposition on others in the name of development and engagement” (478). Perhaps my reaction to Bishop’s essay is an example of such deafness.

Even progressive Settlers “who seek collaboration with indigenous others necessarily remain only partially able to hear and see,” Jones writes:

What determines this ability is nor merely indigeneity. It is not simply that Kuni is Māori that gives her the privileged ability to see what I cannot as we work together; it is an issue of access to knowledge. One’s experience, knowledge, and recognition by one’s own people provide an indigenous person with the authority and insight to contribute as Māori to research on Māori things. With enough immersion in Māori language and culture, it may be logically possible for me as a Pakeha/settler to interpret past and current events “from a Māori point of view.” But in practical terms, outside such complete immersion, it is unlikely as a Pakeha that I will see, hear, and feel from that viewpoint or get emphatically inside, say, the story of Ruatara. (479)

“Even as an accepted collaborator,” Jones continues,

I know that, from a Māori perspective, if the settler collaborator is not of some use, she or he is politely abandoned. Kuni is often called on by indigenous colleagues to justify her working with me. She is asked to consider the extent of nonindigenous influence. We both value these sometimes bitter critiques because they remind us—as if we could forget—that this is always already contested and risky territory on which we work. (479)

“The limits to understanding between indigene and colonizer are not only rooted in our different histories, experiences, and cultures—and therefore what we can hear and what we are told,” Jones continues. “Limited understanding can also be seen as epistemologically inevitable” (479). She cites Sharon Todd’s discussion of Emmanuel Levinas’s discussion of how we make the Other in our own image: “as one who is absolutely different from me, the Other cannot be totally learned about, known, or understood by me. The relationship is necessarily much more oblique” (479). The Other, Jones contends, brings “the experience of difference” to the Self, an experience that confronts the Self with previously unimagined limits to knowledge and learning (479). 

According to Jones, “the nub of the argument” is this: 

The indigene-colonizer collaboration—if we are open and susceptible—is a site of learning from difference rather than learning about the other. The Self-Other hyphen as a positive marker of irreducible demands is a pedagogical site. The hyphen ideally demands a posture of alert vulnerability to or recognition of difference, rather than a pose of empathetic understanding that tends to reduce difference to the same. This is not a moral injunction, but one in the interests of knowledge. It is openness to difference that can provoke meanings beyond our own culture’s prescriptions—and lead to new thought. (480)

“A desire to learn from otherness is in tension with the more common desire to make room for the voices of the Other,” Jones continues. “The liberal injunction to listen to the Other can turn out to be access for dominant groups to the thoughts, cultures, and lives of others” (480). It can be a form of appropriation or colonization: “The imperialist resonances are uncomfortably apt” (480). “Some White researchers have been careful to reject the notion that their demands for dialogical engagement might simply become a form of surveillance and neocolonization,” Jones writes, but supposedly “pure motives” of respecting difference “may be more problematic than they seem” (480). Homi Bhaba, for instance, argues that “[a]ddressing the Other involves answering the colonizer’s benign, maybe even apologetic request: ‘Tell us exactly what happened. I care,’ ‘What is it like for you? I want to learn about you’” (480). Gayatri Spivak also argues “that desire for accessibility to the Other can be simply another colonizing gesture” (480). Bhabha and Spivak call on Western intellectuals “to abandon the myths of representational clarity and total accessibility to the Other” (480). “[I]t is unsurprising that indigenous scholars or researchers might be cautious about collaboration and dialogue with members of colonizer groups,” Jones writes. “If shared talk becomes an exercise only in making themselves more understandable or accessible to colonizer groups, with no commensurate shifts in real political power, then it becomes better to engage in strengthening the internal communication and knowledge, as well as self-reliance, of the people” (481).

“Nor should it be surprising that the colonizer/settler feels anxious about any refusal of indigenous collaboration,” Jones writes, noting that Todd “reminds us that learning is a psychical rather than merely an epistemological event” (481). “It is the strangeness of difference—the unfamiliar space of not knowing—that is so hard to tolerate for the colonizer whose benevolent imperialism assumes both herself or himself as the center of knowing and that everything can be known,” she continues (481). (Does anyone really think that everything can be known?) So, for Settlers “engaged in critical inquiry, there is an inevitable and disturbing moment when the indigenous teacher or informant speaks. It is a moment of recognition—perhaps unconscious—that some things may be out of one’s grasp” (481). Jones suggests that Western science (and social science) defines the unknown as “the still-to-be-known” and that this idea “has radically underpinned the impetus for exploration and colonization,” since both knowledge and colonization “are both premised on the ideal of discovering, making visible, and understanding the entire natural and social world” (481). In contrast, Indigenous cultures do not see “free access to all knowledge” as “a pedagogical or social ideal”; some knowledge, in that paradigm, can only be gained by being given, and is therefore not simply available to anyone who wants to know (481). 

“Therefore, indigenous researchers tend to look extremely carefully at potential collaborators,” Jones states (481): “Right spirit, kinship, and apprenticeship are interesting choices of terms to describe this collaborative work. Lasting loyalty as well as humility and trust were the key elements in their shared inquiry; there is no suggestion of a liberal equality, sharing, or dialogue in working this hyphen” (481). In contrast, universities are “predicated on the possibility of and entitlement to” knowledge (481):

When this fantasy of entitlement is disrupted—for instance, when access to indigenous knowledge and experience is denied, such as when indigenous students remain separate or when indigenous concepts are not adequately explained—settler inquiry experiences a threat. The threat has particular emotional force for those who feel it, I think, because it threatens the dominant group at the very point of our/their power—our ability to know. (481-82)

“These troubles at the indigene-colonizer hyphen invite both sides to avoid the relationship as too difficult,” Jones acknowledges (482). “[C]oming to know our own location in the Self-Other binary and accepting the difference marked by the hyphen” is “hard work,” she continues (482):

The desire for engagement must lead colonizer scholars to a deeper understanding of our own settler culture, society, and history as deeply embedded in a relationship with the culture, society, and history of the indigenous people. Such an orientation to the hyphen invites colonizer peoples to seek to know ourselves in the relationship with Others, to locate ourselves in the “between”—to develop a stronger sense of how our Selves are and have been formed in the troubled engagement with indigenous peoples and their lands and spaces. (482)

That kind of “cross-cultural work necessarily involves thinking about and engaging with the indigenous peoples and/or their texts,” Jones writes. “This orientation to a relationship—to the hyphen—rather than to the Other, is the most feasible posture for a colonizer collaborator” (482). The hyphen, she continues, is “that stroke that both enforces difference and makes the link between. The hyphen’s space does not demand destructive good understanding; indeed, it is a space that insists on ignorance and therefore a perpetual lack of clarity and certainty” (482). Settler scholars interested in this kind of work need to take on “a politics of disappointment and ambivalence,” as well as “a practical politics of hope and of sharp, unromantic pragmatic engagement” (483).

“The inevitable tangle of caution, passion, ignorance, ambivalence, desire, and power that attends the indigene-colonizer hyphen provides rich, though uncertain, pickings for research collaborators,” Jones concludes. “It is within this interesting space, and with a determination to proceed, that Kuni and I continue to invite each other to work the hyphen” (483). The juxtaposition of Māori and Pakeha stories about the same historical events “does not simply enable multiple voices to speak; rather, it allows the indigene-colonizer relationship to be interrogated in uneasy ways that insist on examining power and common sense, as well as the place of histories in the present. In this tension is the fecundity of collaboration” (483).

I am very happy that I’ve finally read Jones’s essay, which I had heard about before but hadn’t bothered to read. In fact, I wish I had read it a long time ago. I’d even go so far as to say that it is going to play an essential part in my project. It even makes me want to take on Levinas’s Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, which I had never considered doing, or at least Todd’s discussion of his thinking. 

I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Gregory Cajete’s “Seven Orientations for the Development of Indigenous Science Education,” but after glancing over it, I realized that it might provide a helpful discussion of Indigenous epistemology. It begins by comparing typical American and traditional Indigenous ways of educating children; then it turns to “seven guiding orientations that may guide the development of a contemporary expression of Indigenous education” (488). Any Indigenous approach to teaching science would need to follow the 12 standards for an Indigenous curriculum outlined by Eber Hampton, the focus of Cajete’s first orientation:

  1. Spirituality: Respect for spiritual relationships
  2. Service: To serve the community given its needs
  3. Diversity: respect and honoring of difference
  4. Culture: Culturally responsive education process
  5. Tradition: A continuance and revitalization of tradition
  6. Respect: Personal respect and respect for others
  7. History: A well-developed and researched sense for history
  8. Relentlessness: Honing a sense of tenacity and patience
  9. Vitality: Instilling vitality in both process and product
  10. Conflict: Being able to deal constructively with conflict
  11. Place: A well-developed researched sense for place
  12. Transformation: The transformation of Native education. (488)

“The reality is that Indigenous people’s worldviews are about integration of spiritual, natural, and human domains of existence and human interaction,” Cajete continues (489), suggesting that characteristics of this reality include:

  1. a culturally constructed and responsive technology mediated by nature;
  2. a culturally based education process constructed around myth, history, and observation of nature, animals, plants, and their ways of survival;
  3. use of natural materials to make tools and art, as well as the development of appropriate technology for surviving in one’s “place”; and
  4. the use of thoughtful stories and illustrative examples as a foundation for learning to “live” in a particular environment. (489)

The disruption of these traditional educational systems have led to “personal, psychosocial, and spiritual dysfunction,” and “a general sense of powerlessness and loss of control experienced by many Indigenous people” (489).

The second orientation, “Traditional Native American Education,” states that “[h]olistic learning and education has been an integral part of traditional Native American education and socialization until relatively recent times,” and suggests that the science curriculum he is proposing will “reintroduce the idea of holism and integrated learning in an interactive social environment such as the school or community” (489). That curriculum will include experiential learning, storytelling, the tutor and master-apprentice relationship, dreams, and ritual and ceremony (489-90).

The third orientation, “An Epistemology of Indigenous Science: A Personal Perspective,” suggests that Indigenous science “is a category of traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) that includes everything from metaphysics to philosophy to various practical technologies practiced by Indigenous peoples both past and present” (490). It can include “exploration of basic questions such as the nature of language, thought and perception, the movement of time, the nature of human feeling, the nature of human knowing, the nature of proper human relationship to the cosmos, and a host of other questions about natural reality” (490-91). It is “a tremendous inheritance of human experience with the natural world,” “a map of reality drawn from the experiences of thousands of human generations” (491). While Western science is based on objectivity, abstraction, and measurement, “the Indigenous perspective is more inclusive and moves far beyond the boundaries of objective measurement,” and “honors the essential importance of direct experience, interconnectedness, relationship, holism, quality, and value” (491).

The fourth orientation, “Border Crossings,” states that “Indigenous knowledge of nature tends to be thematic, survival oriented, holistic, empirical, rational, contextualized, specific, communal, ideological, spiritual, inclusive, cooperative, coexistent, personal, and peaceful” (491). “How can students from Indigenous cultures learn non-Native subjects such as science without being assimilated harmfully by the underlying value structure?” Cajete asks (492). Crossing the borders between these epistemological cultures is difficult but not impossible: 

Four worlds for student transitions have been identified. These include a congruent world that supports smooth transitions, a different world that requires transitions to be managed, diverse worlds that lead to hazardous transitions, and highly discordant worlds that cause students to resist transitions and in which they become virtually impossible. (492)

The first world is clearly the best: “An approach that integrates scientific, technological, and Indigenous knowledge into real-life situations and issues has the best chance of being effective. Participatory research is one way of accomplishing this” (492). Another way is through “a cross-cultural science-technology-society (STS) model,” a “dedicated student-oriented, critical, and environmentally responsible to science” which “ de-contextualizes Western science in the social and technological settings relevant to students” (492). Another way is to take an anthropological approach to Western science: “Students may act as anthropologists learning about another culture. Like cultural anthropologists, they would not need to accept the cultural ways of their ‘subjects’ in order to understand or engage in some of those ways” (492).

The fifth orientation, “A Strategy for Curriculum Modeling,” suggests introducing “the basic principles of general science by first introducing students to the ways in which these principles are communicated, used, or otherwise exemplified in Native American culture” (492-93). The process would resemble real-life problem solving (493).

The sixth orientation, “Indigenous Students,” distinguishes between three groups of Indigenous students: “rural traditional,” “transitional,” and “urban assimilated,” and their experiences in Cajete’s science classes. 

The seventh orientation, “A Model for Creative Native Science,” suggests that for Indigenous peoples, “science is an abstract, symbolic, and metaphoric way of perceiving and understanding the world,” whereas from the Western perspective, “science is essentially practiced as a rational way to solve problems” (494). However, Cajete argues that these different approaches “can complement one another” and that they are “intimately interrelated,” with each deriving its meaning from the other (494). “Science as a whole is based on both the intuitive and rational minds,” and Indigenous science curriculum needs to recognize that science is a creative process (494). He suggests that students be encouraged to explore the seven orientations of Indigenous cultures: the cardinal directions, the centre (usually the community itself), and Above and Below (494). He then explains what each of these orientations represents: the centre represents the womb, the east insight and “rational intuitive thought,” the west “the dwelling place of the self and the group mind,” the south “medicine and the quest for health and wholeness,” the north animals and “the archetypal unconscious,” Below “the archetypal elements of earth, fire, water, air, and ether,” and Above the cosmos (494). He uses these ideas when he teaches a course called “Native Philosophy” (495). “As students complete their exploration of these seven orientations, they feel the wonder and the awe of being alive in a natural place,” he writes (495). 

In the essay’s conclusion, Cajete states that the approach to science he has outlined “presents a significant departure from more conventional approaches,” because “the underlying assumptions are very different to those that have guided curriculum development in the past” (495). “Science is a form of communication and involves a kind of literacy,” he writes, and this literacy “involves the development of basic skills as tools for understanding and solving problems in reference to nature” (495). That literacy “entails an understanding of concepts and natural processes form the perspective of a particular cultural system of thought” (495). For that reason, “science must be approached as a type of dynamic literacy that must be internalized” (496). Moreover, “[i]f science is to have meaning for students, that meaning must be inherent in both the content and presentation” (496). For that reason, “[m]odern science education must widen its parameters and open up its paradigm to allow a more holistic and integrated perception of itself to take hold and grow in the minds of students” (496).

Having read Cajete’s essay, I realize that it only has a distant relevance to my work, but I wouldn’t have known that had I skipped over it. Not everything I read is going to be useful. The emphasis on relationships is important, though, and reinforces everything else I’ve read on Indigenous epistemologies (including what I’ve learned by studying Plains Cree).

Marie Battiste’s “Research Ethics for Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage: Institutional and Researcher Responsibilities” begins, like Cajete’s essay, by comparing traditional Indigenous education to “Eurocentric education and political systems and their assimilation processes,” which “have severely eroded and damaged Indigenous knowledge” (497). However, “[m]ainstream educational institutions are . . . feeling the tensions and the pressures to make education accessible and relevant to Aboriginal people” (498). “Of late, the challenge is not so much about finding receptivity to inclusion but the challenge of ensuring that receptivity to inclusive diverse education is appropriately and ethically achieved and that educators become aware of the systemic challenges for overcoming Eurocentrism, racism, and intolerance,” Battiste writes (498). What she calls “the add-and-stir model” of incorporating Indigenous education into postsecondary curricula and teaching practices “has not achieved the needed change but rather sustains difference and superiority of Eurocentric knowledge and processes,” and so the challenge for educators is “to be able to reflect critically on the current educational system in terms of whose knowledge is offered, who decides what is offered, what outcomes are rewarded and who benefits, and, more important, how those processes are achieved in an ethically appropriate manner in higher educational institutions” (498).

Battiste sets out clearly what she wants her essay to accomplish:

This chapter offers some background to the importance of Indigenous knowledge for all peoples and its vitality and dynamic capacity to help solve contemporary problems and address Eurocentric biases, the cultural misappropriations that are endangering Indigenous peoples and the benefits they receive, an over view of the current regimes of ethics that impinge on Indigenous knowledges, and, finally, a critique of institutional ethics processes that continue to hold on to individual and institutional protections and not collective Indigenous interests. (498)

In her conclusion, she continues, she offers “a process for Aboriginal communities to address protection of their knowledge, culture, and heritage, through a protocol entry process, calling to mind the protective actions taken internationally and regionally among Indigenous communities to stop the erosion of our Indigenous knowledge and heritage” (498). I’m not engaged in what might be called Indigenous research—I prefer to think of my project as Settler research—but knowing about that protocol entry process could turn out to be useful.

The essay’s next section discusses Indigenous knowledge. “Indigenous people’s epistemology is derived from the immediate ecology; from peoples’ experiences, perceptions, thoughts, and memory, including experiences shared with others; and from the spiritual world discovered in dreams, visions, inspirations, and signs interpreted with the guidance of healers or elders,” Battiste writes, noting that ideographs are often used, in conjunction with oral narratives, to transmit collective knowledge from one generation to the next (499). “Indigenous knowledge,” she continues, “represents a complex and dynamic capacity of knowing, a knowledge that results from knowing one’s ecological environment, the skills and knowledge derived from that place, knowledge of the animals and plants and their patterns within that space, and the vital skills and talents necessary to survive and sustain themselves within that environment” (499). That knowledge comes from careful observation and from maintaining “appropriate relationships with all things and peoples” (499). It is preserved in languages: Algonquian languages, for instance, “preserve those relationships in multiple dialects with the language family that acknowledges the animate and inanimate, in their acknowledged experiential knowledge of others, and in the diverse prefixes and suffixes that allow creativity in language and thought to be transmitted orally so that others may understand the deep complexity of that dynamic experience” (499-500). Indigenous knowledge is therefore “a dynamic knowledge constantly in use as well as in flux or change,” Battiste writes. “It derives from the same source: the relationship within the global flux that needs to be renewed, kinship with the other living creatures and life energies embodied in their land, and kinship with the spiritual world” (500). That knowledge “is constantly shared, making all things interrelated and collectively developed and constituted,” she continues. “There is no singular author of Indigenous knowledge and no singular method for understanding its totality” (500). 

However, colonization has resulted in “losses to Indigenous people’s cultures, languages, histories, and knowledge,” and those losses are “not without repercussions for those seeking to redefine or restore Indigenous cultures and societies” (500). For instance, “universities seeking to include Indigenous people in their research for their purposes, even when some benefits accrue to some of those individuals, are insufficient,” and “vetting research on Indigenous knowledge or among Indigenous peoples through a university ethics committee that does not consider protection issues for the collective may contribute to the appropriation and continuing pillage of Indigenous culture, heritage, and knowledge” (500-01). “How can ethics processes and responsibilities in them ensure protection for the heritage and benefits that accrue to Indigenous peoples for their knowledge and not only to the researchers and/or their institution?” Battiste asks (501). “Indigenous knowledge and issues of principles and responsibility of the researcher dealing with sensitive knowledge and protection are fraught with both ambiguity and certainty for Indigenous peoples,” she suggests (501). The ambiguity lies in “areas such as how communities can recover their languages,” for instance, and Elders and community members need to be involved in decisions about ways of achieving that goal (501). “Indigenous peoples must be the custodians of that knowledge,” not schools or institutions, Battiste continues, because “Indigenous knowledge is diverse and must be learned in the similar diverse and meaningful ways that the people have learned it for it to have continuing validity and meaning,” and educators need to respect “the fact that Indigenous knowledge can only be fully known from within the community contexts and only through prolonged discussions with each of these groups” (501). Processes for teaching Indigenous knowledge “must also acknowledge and respect the limitations placed on Indigenous knowledge by the community or people of what knowledge can be shared and in what contexts can or should they be shared” (501).

“As discussions develop regarding the principles and ethics governing Indigenous research,” Battiste writes, “the issue of control or decision making reverberates the singular most important principle—Indigenous peoples must control their own knowledge, a custodial ownership that prescribes from the customs, rules, and practices of each group” (502). That control “can only be achieved through the involvement of those groups holding the custodial relationships with the knowledge,” often not elected chiefs “but others whose responsibilities are directly related to the knowledge and teachings of the clan, family, or nation” (502). According to Battiste, “the inclusion of local community voice seems necessary for arriving at the issue of control” (503). In fact, First Nations “must train local people in the holistic understanding of issues, practices, and protocols for doing research,” so that “they will build capacity to do their own research and consequently use research for their own use and benefit, strengthening and revitalizing their communities, territories, and people while warding off the threats to their culture from those who seek to take their knowledge for benefits defined outside their community” (503). In addition, First Nations “must decide on processes that will ensure that principles of protection and use are developed, disseminated, and used as normative procedures in their territory” (503).

The essay’s third section, “Ethical Issues in Conducting Research in and With Indigenous Communities,” begins by stating that ethical research practices “should enable Indigenous nations, peoples, and communities to exercise control over information relating to their knowledge and heritage and to themselves” (503). “These projects should be managed jointly with Indigenous peoples, and the communities being studied should benefit from training and employment opportunities generated by the research,” she continues (503). Most of all, Indigenous peoples must “have direct input into developing and defining research practices and projects related to them” (503). “To act otherwise is to repeat that familiar pattern of decisions being made for Indigenous people by those who presume to know what is best for them,” she states (503). “Some Indigenous communities want to share what they know, and many have created their own protocols and procedures for doing so,” often limiting “what can be shared and the conditions for sharing” (503). “But all communities want their knowledge and heritage to be respected and accorded the same rights, in their own terms and cultural contexts, that are accorded others in the area of intellectual and cultural property,” Battiste continues (503). The research relationship has to be beneficial for the community “and to those who collectively own that knowledge” (503). For that reason, “Indigenous peoples should be supported in developing their knowledge for commercial purposes when they think it is appropriate and when they choose to do so” (503). 

In addition, “ethical research must begin by replacing Eurocentric prejudice with new premises that value diversity over universality,” and researchers need to “seek methodologies that build synthesis without relying on negative exclusions based on a strategy of differences” (503). The point is “to create ethical behavior in a knowledge system contaminated by colonialism and racism” (503). “Nowhere is this work more needed than in the universities that pride themselves in their discipline-specific research,” Battiste argues, because those academic disciplines “have been drawn from a Eurocentric canon . . . that supports production-driven research while exploiting Indigenous peoples, their languages, and their heritage” (503). There are few academic contexts in which Indigenous knowledge can be talked about without prejudice:

Most researchers do not reflect on the difference between Eurocentric knowledge and Indigenous knowledge. Most literature dealing with Indigenous knowledge is written and developed in English or in other European languages. Very few studies have been done in Indigenous languages. This creates a huge problem of translatability. (503-04)

For Battiste, “[l]inguistic competence is a requisite for research in Indigenous issues,” because Indigenous knowledge cannot be defined in colonial languages (504). Indigenous languages “offer a theory for understanding [Indigenous] knowledge and an unfolding paradigmatic process for restoration and healing” (504). Indigenous languages also “have spirits that can be known through the people who understand them, and renewing and rebuilding from within the peoples is itself the process of coming to know” (504).

“Universality is another ethical research issue,” Battiste argues. “Eurocentric thought would like to categorize Indigenous knowledge and heritage as being peculiarly local, merely a subset of Eurocentric universal categories” (504). That argument is “the result of European ethnocentrism” and an aspiration to domination (504). The term “mainstream” is also objectionable, Battiste contends, because it “suggests one ‘main’ stream and diversity as a mere tributary” (504). “Together, mainstreaming and universality create cognitive imperialism, which establishes a dominant group’s knowledge, experience, culture, and language as the universal norm,” Battiste writes (504). However, “[i]n assessing the current state of research on Indigenous knowledge, researchers must understand both Eurocentric and Indigenous contexts,” Battiste argues. “A body of knowledge differs when it is viewed from different perspectives. Interpretations of Indigenous knowledge depend on researchers’ attitudes, capabilities, and experiences, as well as on their understanding of Indigenous consciousness, language, and order” (504-05). At the same time, though Battiste argues that “Indigenous knowledge must be understood from an Indigenous perspective using Indigenous language; it cannot be understood from the perspective of Eurocentric discourse” (505). This argument reminds me of Jones’s discussion of Marsden’s sermon, or perhaps Ruatara’s translation of it: seeing an event from multiple perspectives enriches our understanding of it.

“Because of the pervasiveness of Eurocentric knowledge, Indigenous peoples today have at their disposal few, if any, valid or balanced methods to search for truth,” Battiste writes (505). Is that true? Books have been written about Indigenous methodologies. It’s true that academic disciplines have “political and institutional stake[s] in Eurocentric knowledge” (505), and that universities are arguably colonial institutions, but Indigenous knowledge is developed outside of those institutions, isn’t it? Battiste turns to the research ethics committees universities have established and argues that those institutions “must respect the committees’ identification of what comprises Indigenous cultural and intellectual property and must respect the gatekeepers of knowledge within Indigenous communities” (505). That respect would include “drawing up appropriate protocols for entering into reciprocal relationships following traditional laws and rights of ownership” (505). Universities would also have to “accept that Indigenous peoples are living entities that that their heritage includes objects, knowledge, literacy, and artistic works that may be created in the future” (505-06). The central point is that “Indigenous peoples must control their own knowledge and retain a custodial ownership that prescribes from the customs, rules, and practices of each group,” that that ownership “can only be realized if the groups that hold these custodial relationships are involved in the research” (506). The next section of the essay discusses the Mi’kmaw Ethics Watch, established by the Grand Council of Mi’kmaq, which “oversees the research protocols, on behalf of the Grand Council of Mi’kmaq, by receiving and assessing research proposals for the Grand Council, applying the principles and guidelines to the proposals, and making comments on the omissions found or on the needed clarity of the proposals for addressing the protocols” (507). The Mi’kmaw Ethics Watch is an example of a process by which a First Nation retains “custodial ownership” of its knowledge.

“Indigenous knowledge represents the protection and preservation of Indigenous humanity,” Battiste writes in the essay’s conclusion. “Such protection is not about preserving a dead or dying culture. It is about the commercial exploitation and appropriation of a living consciousness and cultural order. It is an issue of privacy and commerce” (507). Universities “should not impose standards that are not inclusive to Indigenous communities who want and should control their own knowledge,” and “any research conducted among Indigenous peoples should be framed within basic principles of collaborative participatory research, a research process that seeks as a final outcome the empowerment of these communities through their own knowledge” (508). Indigenous knowledge offers Settlers “a chance to comprehend another view of humanity as they have never have before,” and it is necessary to “understand Indigenous humanity and its manifestations without condescension” (508). “In practical terms, this means that Indigenous peoples must be involved at all stages and in all phases of research and planning,” Battiste writes (508). “[A]ny attempt to decolonize education and actively resist colonial paradigms is a complex and daunting task,” she continues, and Indigenous students must not be given “a fragmented existence in a curriculum that offers them only a distorted or shattered mirror; nor should they be denied an understanding of the historical context that has created that fragmentation” (508). There needs to be a “renewed investment in holistic and sustainable ways of thinking, communicating, and acting together” (508).

“Justice As Healing: Going Outside the Colonizer’s Cage,” by Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, begins with the Michif word “koucheehiwayhk,” or challenge: the challenge of healing communities affected by colonialism (511). “Nowhere is koucheehiwayhk more intense than in matters of what the Eurocentric society calls ‘justice,’” they write. “Even by Euro-definitions, justice is not what Indigenous peoples on this continent have experienced from the invaders-turned-colonizers” (511). Attempts at reforming the criminal justice system have left it “a shackle lined with cotton,” which “is still a shackle” (512). “The colonial concept of ‘law’—referred to for perhaps public relations reasons as ‘positive law’—is fundamentally inconsistent with and indeed opposed to the virtually universal Indigenous understanding of law,” they continue, which “is not about coercion but about learning how to move ‘in a good way’ with the order of things” (512). That conception of the law “is not imposed but organic” (512). In contrast, “legal positivism downplays its reliance on force and instead defends law on the claim that it is being ‘fair and equitable’ to all people by imposing and then protecting what it views as universal interests or values” (512). “Although it is obviously in the best interests of Western legal theory to maintain an image of its law as ‘good law,’ few Indigenous people or peoples experience it as such,” they write (512). Legal positivism (and I’m not sure why the word “positivism” is being used here, but I’m not a legal scholar) “exalts the principles of punishment and has an exotic passion to imprison lawbreakers. Instead of peeling away the layers to understand the root causes of harmful actions, positivist law locks up harm-doers” (512). For that reason, discussing issues of “justice,” as experienced by Indigenous people, requires “both a critique of colonialism and a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture[s], practices, traditions, and historical experiences” (512). “Our root purpose in this chapter,” they write, is to participate in “Aboriginal justice dialogues” by “considering the frameworks within which we seek solutions,” and in particular by reclaiming “frameworks that create space for deep healing by transforming the roots of harm and to critique those frameworks that sabotage healing efforts by reinforcing colonial power” (512).

One of the authors is Indigenous, the other isn’t; in other words, “one of us is of the colonized, and the other is of the colonizers” (513). Both are committed to decolonization, for at least three reasons. First, while (I would think) the reason Indigenous people need to decolonize is rather obvious: “we must reclaim our ways of knowing how to be in good relationships” and “remember our traditional healing ways of remedying conflicts,” and “[i]n decolonizing approaches, we must always ask ourselves whether our cultural integrity is being promoted, respected, and honored. Anything less will not be decolonizing” (513). However, “colonizers need to learn the ways of decolonization that teach respect and the honoring of all relationships” (513). By treating others as objects, colonizers end up treating themselves as objects as well: “objects that are judged successful or not, objects that command high or low salaries, objects that hold high or low positions in hierarchical societies” (513). (As someone who teaches in a university on contract, I am unsuccessful, earn a low salary, and hold a low position in the hierarchy of the university.) “We who are White, who are colonizers, desperately need decolonization too,” they write (513). Second, “rule by force is inherently oppressive and cannot somehow turn benign or benevolent,” they write (513). “Colonization denies entire peoples these inherent human rights”—“choice, consent, and self-determination”—“and the empowering responsibilities that goes with them,” because it is “rule by force” (513). “Until we address and rectify this root of harm, we are kidding ourselves if we believe lesser remedies will ‘fix things,’ whether it be patterns in the criminal justice system or in the relations between peoples,” they continue (513). Third, because “the programming that turns little babies into colonizers is very deep, very entrenched, and certainly very reinforced by rewarding colonizers with every privilege and advantage” (513). However, at some point, we, the colonizers, “knew other ways of being in relationship” (513). Our decolonization, then, “is about getting our ancestral wisdom back, so that respecting ourselves and others can once again be our way of life” (513).

“No matter who we are, rethinking justice down the the root harm of colonization is no easy task,” the authors write (514). Even though the injustices of colonization involve ideas that do not belong to Indigenous peoples, they are often internalized through the processes of colonization. “For example, because the root harm of colonization comes from power-over hierarchies and the abuse of power that follows, our internalized colonizer tends to rear its ugly head most whenever that same pattern of power imbalance is perceived among us,” they continue (514). Moreover, steps towards decolonization meet with resistance, “and not only from our dominant-society colonizers,” but from members of Indigenous communities (514). The remedy for this internalized colonization “is to peel away the layers of colonization within us, so that we can feel the lifeblood of healing justice and plant ourselves within Mother Earth by affirming who we are as peoples” (514). In addition, the emotional responses of Indigenous people to colonization “may be intense and passionate, conflicted, or sometimes even unhealthy, misdirected, or hurtful, but if we respect them for what they are and for their role in the healing, decolonizing process, they can bring us together and provide opportunities for rebalancing ourselves,” they write (515). Those who are decolonizing may be described as “angry” or “too harsh” (515). But, “as Indigenous peoples, we can call on the deep, abiding currents of our traditions, cultures, and communities. Some Indigenous peoples feel these currents more strongly than others, depending on the access we have to elders, traditional family structures, and culturally rooted communities” (515). “[T]his is our challenge as we rethink justice—namely to respond in an Indigenous way to whatever arises, including harms,” rather than responding using “remedies that were designed by and for our colonizers” (516). Therefore, “[t]o reclaim an experience of justice that is healing, we need to rely on ways that build on the millennia-old foundations of our cultural wisdom and learning as Indigenous peoples,” although doing so “is not easy, simple, or clear-cut” (516).

Restorative justice, a way of “relying on community-based Indigenous ways of healing relationships and communities,” involves a fundamentally spiritual vision of “being connected in a good way—a way that honors the intrinsic worth and good of each person” (516). “In this context, healing was not about ‘fixing’ individuals but about transforming relationships,” they write. “This depth of healing can’t be forced or managed from without; it is something that those who are involved must seek to hold a space for in themselves, so that they can respond in a good way to others” (516). Restorative justice began “with community efforts to create spaces where such values”—“honesty, compassion, harmony, inclusiveness, trust, humility, openness, and most important, respect”—“and to expressing them in relationships and communities became not only possible but also natural—simply the way to be” (516). Restorative justice does not resort to coercion, but rather responds to harms in ways that engage “everyone’s powers of transformation”; “it was a way of being together that was by nature healing and transformative for all those involved” (516). As communities have engaged in processes of restorative justice, “not only individuals but also the communities themselves have experienced healing and transformation” (517). However, “restorative justice no longer inspires” a vision “of community-based healing and transformation,” and now it simply “represents one more tool for colonizers to maintain power, hierarchy, mistrust, and imbalance” (517). Why?

A lack of funding for community justice programs is one factor, but “what has gone wrong with restorative justice goes much deeper,” because “colonization remains the ruling framework,” and it is “coercive and exploitative at its core”: the framework of colonization “is antithetical to the authentic practice of justice” (518). Healing requires “decolonizing transformation” (518). “As conceived from its Indigenous origins, healing justice calls for a profound paradigm shift from the dominant society’s ways of responding to harms,” the authors write:

Instead of handing our conflicts over to “experts” or “professionals,” everyone feels equally called to be humble, self-critical, open, self-disclosing, willing to change, and prepared to own some role in the dynamics that led to harm. These are difficult demands, and they entail responsibilities that the criminal justice system enables us to ignore and pass off to colonial institutions. Justice as a way of life is demanding on persons and communities. (518)

I find myself wondering how many people possess those virtues. How would this form of justice deal with pathological narcissists or sociopaths, people who are self-aggrandizing, blind to their own faults, closed, self-protecting, unwilling to change, and unprepared to accept their role in “the dynamics that led to harm”? What if the victim played no role in those dynamics? Surely traditional Indigenous justice systems had ways of dealing with those who weren’t interested in participating in this form of justice. What might they have been?

These responsibilities, the authors continue, “challenge colonizer thinking. Colonizer programming makes us view some people as inherently inferior to others. Its language is rampant with ‘them’ as ‘the problem’ and colonizers or colonizer surrogates as ‘the solutions’” (518). “The ‘social norm’ is that ‘those others’ don’t fit and don’t belong, and ‘their problem’ is that ‘they’ need to learn to be just like ‘us,’ namely, the colonizers,” they write (518). So my response in the previous paragraph would be considered a form of “colonizer thinking.” But such people exist; one is currently the President of the United States. What would traditional Indigenous systems of justice do with someone like him? Would Indigenous societies never produce such damaged individuals?

The core challenge, they continue, is that “[w]e cannot practice justice as a way of life and remain colonizers. We cannot avoid confronting the colonizing cage—a cage that traps both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people” (519). McCaslin and Breton write:

If there is a genuine effort to practice justice as our way of life—a way informed by values of respect, humility, inclusiveness, and all the other values essential to healing justice—then we will invariably come to a point where it is apparent to all of us that Eurocentric thought, with its inherently colonizing assumptions, expectations, behaviors, norms, and institutions, must go. After centuries of horrific experiences, even many colonizers are realizing that colonialism cannot work as justice. (519)

That realization and commitment to decolonization is what is necessary for “healing justice” (519). 

Colonizers committed to decolonization know how difficult it is to confront the roles they bear as colonizers (here the text shifts from two speakers to one, Breton speaking alone):

I know that decolonization necessarily challenges my privileged treatment, and I also know that I and my fellow colonizers have vested material interests in keeping things “as is.” But more than that, I know that my social conditioning and the socially constructed sense of who I am—all the mental, emotional, and material habits that I have been raised to accept—support oppression in a thousand subtle and blatant ways. These dynamics of oppression have been rendered invisible to me, however painfully visible they are to others. The decolonizing work begins here with naming these dynamics, so that I can engage the lifelong work of breaking their hold. (519)

Without that “persistent work,” colonizers will “lapse into the default mode of supporting the colonizer paradigm” without realizing that’s what they’re doing (519). “This seems to have been the dilemma for many well-meaning colonizers who have come into restorative justice,” the authors continue: “For those of us who were exposed to the paradigm of justice as a way of life, we were brought face-to-face with our programming as colonizers and faced a clear call to abandon that way of life—to reject and undo the power-over paradigm into which we were born. Doing this is our koucheehiwayhk” (519). 

And it’s admittedly a big challenge:

If we embark on decolonization, we know the Eurocentric worldview will lose its privileged status. Claims to racial superiority will have to go, and White supremacist programming in all its forms will have to be confronted. We as a people will also have to confront horrific wrongs in how we got to where we are as a society—the centuries of costs paid by others for White privilege and for the inheritances now being passed to White children and not to Indigenous children. Suddenly, those of us who have been the privileged people in the racially organized hierarchy are placed in the role of wrongdoers, offenders, and perpetrators of harms. It is no longer the “degraded other” who is on the hot seat. (519)

“If given a choice between confronting all these realities and running back to the colonizer model that allows denial, privilege, and marginalizing the ‘other,’ what are Eurocentric people likely to choose?” the authors ask:

Given lifetimes of programming, given the stakes, given the hard road ahead of working to make things right with peoples who know what has been done and the history of Whites getting away with horrific colonizer actions through all sorts of rationalizations, self-justifications, and academic and sociological variations of “blaming the victim,” which road is a born-and-bred colonizer likely to choose? (520)

No wonder that when the restorative justice movement reached this crossroads, it failed to confront the challenge of decolonization (520).

“What is needed is not another technique of colonizing control but a paradigm shift that takes us out of the colonizers’ cage altogether,” the authors continue (520). Colonization is the reason for the failure of restorative justice. “The core vision of ‘going to the roots of harm’ and ‘doing what it takes to make things right’ has been exposed as empty rhetoric,” they write, “invoked only when colonial power structures deem it advantageous to do so” (520):

Instead of working toward wholeness for peoples—which means addressing genocide, fraud, theft, systematic and institutional racism and abuse, and the culture-wide cover-up or defense of these crimes—restorative justice has bailed out. Insofar as it focuses exclusively on individual crimes within the criminal justice framework, restorative justice as a movement has failed to address the “elephant in the living room” of how we got to where we are as peoples, and the colonizers’ cage continues to be reinforced. (520)

As a result, restorative justice “is used to make the violence of the criminal justice system . . . seem more humane” (520). “If we want to give restorative justice a fighting chance,” they write, “then we have to call colonialism out from its pervasive invisibility as ‘the norm,’ name it for what it does to peoples and to people, name why it cannot work as justice, and commit ourselves to undoing it” (521).

Is decolonization possible? the authors ask. Can we get outside “the colonizers’ cage” (521)? They suggest that “the truth tribunals and truth commissions” that were then being proposed in Canada would challenge the legitimacy of colonial structures and rectify the past (521). (Is it possible to change what has already happened?) “As we undergo this first right of leaving the colonizer’s cage, we naturally start rethinking law and justice: How do we as Indigenous peoples choose to preserve harmony among us? How do we understand law, and how do we keep it?” they ask (521). The “prevailing Eurocentric concept of law is grounded in legal positivism,” they continue. “It defines law as a set of rules and norms that become binding insofar as some authority has the power to strictly enforce them as such” (522). But the law has “no relation to moral values, natural law, or inherent order” (522). Laws “can be arbitrary, inequitable, and unjust, or they can be idealistic, equitable, and high-minded” (522). Those who have the power to “decide which rules and norms will be treated as binding . . . will enforce them accordingly. Their binding character derives not from any intrinsic quality of connectedness to the nature of things but simply from the fact that some person or group has the external power to impose a particular set of rules as binding on everyone else” (522). In other words, the law is based on force, and because the law (in Canada) “is established within the colonial context, the law-created ‘norm’ is designed to protect the colonial status quo” (522). While sometimes the law appears to be neutral and fair, “[i]t is the colonizers’ privilege to be fair or oppressive at will . . . as it serves colonizing interests to do so” (522). But “an image of fairness is not the same as actual fairness, nor does it make a system based on force and might truly fair,” and “positive law is not by nature fair or unbiased,” because it “is by nature oppressive” and based on power (522). Because the law is based on power, it “fails to do justice for the billions of people globally who do not find themselves at the top of the power hierarchy” (523).

However, because “the Indigenous concept of law is generally described as natural law”—because “Indigenous views of law generally describe a lawfulness inherent in the nature of things—humans, the natural world, and the unseen worlds all woven together,” is “encompasses far more” than Eurocentric notions of law (523). Indigenous law “is inherent in the natural and cosmic order of which we are all a part and on which we depend for our existence” (523). “Understanding the lawfulness of things begins with the core concept of respect”: “Good relations require a way to work things out not by coercion but rather by honoring the needs, views, interests, competence, and autonomy of others” (523). “The ‘laws’ that govern how to be in a good relationship inhere in the very nature of things”: as a result, they do not need to be enforced (523). “[I]f being in a good way with others is what matters to us, then we cannot escape the considerations that our Indigenous view of the law raises,” by, for instance, passing a law that states “that disrespectful treatment will build good relationships,” or “that toxic waste is good nutrition for life forms” (523). Indigenous law acknowledges that “we are all related,” and “[u]nderstanding the lawfulness of things helps to align us with our world by making us mindful of how we are all related” (523). Adhering to moral and spiritual values is important “because they speak to our intrinsic relatedness to all that is”: “From the perspective of many Indigenous peoples, we cannot successfully have or do justice without adherence to such values” (523). 

While Eurocentric anthropologists have misinterpreted Indigenous law as a version of positive law, Indigenous peoples “adhere to lawful, hence respectful, ways of being, not because we are compelled to do so by groups or authorities through fear of punishment but because this is a sustainable way to live, and we understand that” (524). “Our ways of understanding law hold us in a good relationship with each other and the natural world,” the authors write, and “[t]o go against a lawful way of being would be to embark on a path that is inherently destructive,” because it would lead to disrespectful actions, and respect is “what sustains us” (524). “The difference in these fundamental concepts of law underscores why colonialism has been so destructive and will remain so,” they write:

Indigenous ways are based on values of respect, talking things out, patience, compassion, shared responsibilities, deep family and community bonds, and healing. They are not about giving orders or commands, coercion, or telling people what they must or must not do. Indigenous ways are not prescriptive in nature but permissive. They provide broad guidance on what we should do, and then they trust everyone’s innate learning processes to guide each person in a good way, a way that maximizes their learning as human beings. (524)

In contrast, “colonial law is all about control”:

It supports hierarchies of power, and it uses judgment and punishment to enforce compliance with win-lose, individualistic, adversarial, and divisive norms. The colonial system of laws was not designed with Indigenous values in mind or to favor Indigenous interests, nor does it inspire respect for how we as human beings are related. (524)

Such a legal system “can only damage Indigenous people and communities,” but it doesn’t benefit colonizers either: “is it good for someone who has a power advantage to hurt others for personal benefit and to get away with it?” (524). Genuine changes to the criminal-justice system “would have to honor Indigenous self-determination since this is what the value of respect requires,” and that would mean decolonization (525). The dominant system cannot “simply be made less force centred and coercive, hence less disrespectful and coercive, without changing its core paradigm” (525). Under such a system, “transformation and healing will not occur, and so patterns of harm will continue” (525). The realities of power make it unlikely that a respectful, just, and healing system of justice will be achieved in the near future, and so “our challenge—koucheehiwayhk—is to find paths from where we are to where we want to be” (525).

Truth and reconciliation commissions are a starting point. The second step, the authors continue, “is clarifying our values and goals” (525). “What is it that we want to do, and how to we want to do it?” they ask. “Which values do we want to bring to the process? Is our goal to ‘fix’ some isolated person or set of circumstances, or is it to think and work more holistically, which means addressing the larger contexts of harm?” (525). “Who we are as Indigenous peoples provides the framework we need for the thorough transformation that is required,” they write, suggesting that, for example, restoring Indigenous languages will connect “us immediately with who we are as peoples” (525). Honouring relatives is “another core expression of who we are as peoples, and this too provides a powerful framework for transformation” (526). So to does engaging in treaty relationships, which “are transformative by their very nature. Engaging our treaties as a framework for legal transformation not only transforms how we respond to harms . . . but also engages us in decolonization as peoples,” because the treaties “locate us in our precolonized culture and so serve as a beacon from our past for our present and future decolonization work” (526). Moreover, “because many treaties spell out the boundaries of jurisdiction between Indigenous peoples and modern states, they spell out who has jurisdiction over whom and under what circumstances” (526). (I think that’s true, but only if the entire treaty texts, including the oral versions of the treaties, are taken into account.) “To comply with the colonizers’ modus operandi of ignoring these documents as a means of further extending colonial power is to be complicit in the dismantling of our self-determination,” they continue. “This is why treaties speak to the core issue for restorative justice: Who has the power and authority to decide how to respond to harms in Native communities? Treaties defend our existence as sovereign nations and therefore clearly state: We do” (526).

“Given these frameworks, how do we push past the colonizer’s entrapping mazes and get to the cage’s door?” they ask (526). The 1999 R. v. Gladue ruling is one step in the right direction, the suggest, although its principles are daily “overridden by methods that reinforce the colonial status quo” (526). (Harold Johnson said the same thing on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition this week.) “Another step toward changing the criminal justice system has been to try to ‘indigenize’ the criminal justice system,” the authors suggest (527). (Harold Johnson would say that won’t work, I think, although I have yet to read his recent book on the subject.) “Efforts to reform but not to transform the colonial system further support the view of many Indigenous people that our energies are wasted in trying to make our shackles hurt a little less,” they continue. “Transformation begins with naming colonialism as the root harm. The shackles must come off, and the cage must go; this is the goal for justice that is truly healing—the end to which our means must be aligned” (528). Restorative justice, they suggest, “could still serve a vision of decolonization because it is not tied to the existing fact-based, positivistic legal protocol or to the body of case-based colonial law” (528). (What’s wrong with facts? Don’t those involved need to have some sense of what actually happened?) Instead, restorative justice operates under the premise that “a harm has occurred, and people come together with a commitment to hearing the stories on all sides and working together to put things right to everyone’s mutual satisfaction” (528). “Because the participants themselves work out which steps need to be taken for the harm to be repaired, mechanisms of coercion are not helpful,” they write (528).

Two people cannot map out a path towards decolonization, the authors acknowledge. What they do suggest, however, “is that any step of change, however well intentioned, will fall prey to the default framework of perpetuating colonial oppression if those involved to not consciously and intentionally make a paradigm shift and claim a framework of decolonization” (529). Decolonization must become “the standard for evaluating whatever is being proposed or implemented: does it move us closer [to] or farther from our decolonization?” (529). This shift “begins with naming colonialism as the root harm that needs to be healed,” as the cause of Indigenous peoples’ suffering (529). Such a shift of framework “empowers Indigenous peoples to use our own Indigenous means to respond to harms among our own people,” and “involves the serious, genuine, and difficult nation-to-nation work of rectifying the immense crimes against humanity that we have suffered and that have brought us to where we are not as peoples” (529). “We call for nation-to-nation relationships, land return, reparations, restitution, return of resources or payment for their exploitation with interest, adherence to treaties, and hence the return of our sovereign jurisdiction over our homelands and ancestral land cases,” they write. “Decolonizing is not just a big work; it is the core of healing justice for Indigenous peoples. It signifies a scope of transformation the likes of which we have not yet seen” (529). “As we move in a decolonizing direction, we will move closer to practicing justice as a way of life—a way that holds the promise of being transformative for all those involved and hence profoundly healing for both the colonized and the colonizers,” they conclude. “May the vision of this koucheehiwayhk inspire and sustain us through the rough waters we inevitably face as we move in this turbulent but fundamentally healing direction” (529).

The focus on decolonization as holding out promise for colonizers as well as colonized in this essay surprised me, but perhaps it should not have, because unless decolonization benefits Settlers in some way, the prospects of it happening (without some form of duress) are slim. And the emphasis on treaties was also helpful. I was surprised that an essay on the criminal-justice system could speak to my project the way that this one does.

My supervisor is interested in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was the model for the Canadian version, although ours focused only on one form of colonial harm: residential schools. That focus excluded everything else that colonialism has wrought in this country—deliberate starvation, loss of land, unfair interpretation of treaties, the Pass System, and genocide—but, if McCaslin and Breton are correct, it was a starting point. (It seems to have been a finishing point, too, unfortunately, since little has taken place since the Canadian TRC’s report was issued four years ago.) “The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): Ways of Knowing Mrs. Konile,” by Antjie Krog, Nosisi Mpolweni-Zantsi, and Kopano Ratele, begins by asking,

How do we read one another? How do we “hear” one another in a country where the past often still bleeds among us? How much of what we hear translates into finding ways of living together? How do we overcome a divided past in such a way that “the Other” becomes “us”? (531)

Those are excellent questions, and the authors suggest that one incident during one testimony at the South African TRC may help readers “[t]o form an idea of some of the many stumbling blocks toward understanding one another in a society with a divisive history” (531). Understanding that incident “will reveal both the barriers, as well as the extent of the trouble, one has to go to arrive at some comprehension of one’s fellow human beings,” they continue (531). They “hope to underline the necessity of making use of indigenous languages and knowledge systems to access greater understanding and respect for one another,” and they “also want to emphasize the personal enrichment and understanding our working method has brought us” (531-32).

They begin by suggesting that it’s important to remember “that some testimonies do not fit the general framework,” and that “it may be important to reread these ‘nonfitting’ testimonies in particular ways,” in order to be able to say, “[w]e know one another” (532). They briefly suggest that Eurocentric culture “places a high priority on individuality and reason and is inclined to presuppose that European values could be applied universally,” while Afrocentric culture “places the emphasis on communality and a view of a human being that presupposes interpersonal relationships as expressed in umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which means a person is a person through other persons” (532). They describe the essay’s four aims: first, they write, “we hope that our contribution will caution against any conclusion that does not take into account translation aspects as well as transcultural and philosophical knowledge and contexts” (532). Second, they want “to reconstitute the sensibility of one witness, Mrs. Konile” (532). Third, they “hope to show how using indigenous knowledge can sometimes bring one to a completely different or sometimes even opposite conclusion to the one arrived at via more usual channels” (532). And finally, they write, “we want to underscore the importance of the original version of testimonies. We are pleasing that all the original versions of the South African TRC should be transcribed,” rather than just English translations: “By having the original version available, testimonies could contribute to intercultural knowledge that will help people to live together with empathy and understanding” (532).

After a short description of apartheid, the authors turn to Mrs. Konile. In the mid-1980s, seven young men were lured by an African National Congress traitor to receive military training so they could become soldiers of Umkhonto weSizwe, the ANC’s military wing. They were killed by security forces—some shot while they were trying to surrender—and Russian weapons were planted on their bodies before the national television broadcaster was called to film the bodies. The young men became known as the Gugulethu 7 (533-34). Mrs. Konile is the mother of one of the young men, Zabonke Konile. For some reason, in the transcript of her TRC testimony, she is the only mother who is mentioned by her surname alone, and her name is misspelled (534).

Next the authors describe their working method, which they suggest is “as important as our findings” (534). First, they read the official version on the TRC web site, finding it “largely incoherent and incomprehensible”:

Among the possible explanations were bad translation and an unintelligible witness, which in turn opened up another set of questions: Was the witness apparently unintelligible because she was traumatized or because she simply did not understand what had happened and what was happening around her? Antije Krog presented a reading to the group of how she could not “hear” Mrs. Konile and indicated some of the problems she encountered when analyzing the testimony. (534)

Then they ordered the tape of the original Xhosa version of the testimony from the South African National Archives and used their “different disciplines, backgrounds, cultures, and languages to gradually devise a way to ‘hear’ Mrs. Konile” (534). Nosisi Mpolweni-Zantsi transcribed the testimony, and then she and Kopano Ratele retranslated it into English, discovering translation and transcription errors (534). According to the authors, “it became clear that incomprehension had been created at different stages of the process toward an official version, including:

ordinary interpretation mistakes (from the victim to the interpreter);

an inability, at times, to incorporate cultural codes into the interpretation, which led to additional misreadings (victim to interpreter);

transcription mistakes from the spoken English (interpreter to transcriber);

a kind of TRC framework in place that could not render the inner monologue of Mrs. Konile comprehensible (TRC to victim). (534)

(I’m curious about how anyone’s inner monologue would be audible.) The process of interpretation was, the authors suggest, akin to “an archaeological excavation—every weekly session unearthed a new reality closer and closer to a multifaceted and complex original” (534). Nevertheless, they continue, “Mrs. Konile’s testimony was so ill-fitting, strange, and incoherent that we initially assumed that it was perhaps more of an intuitive and spontaneous expression of her inner self than a deliberate and conscious construction of a narrative identity” (534). However, deeper analysis demonstrated that she “was not only narrating coherently within particular frameworks but also resisting other frameworks imposed upon her. . . . the meta-codes that could have transmitted her shared reality with many other South Africans were greatly hamstrung by language and an absence of cultural and psychological context” (534).

In the next section, Antije Krog (the author of this part of the essay) recalls that during the hearing, she was a journalist, and at that time, she found Mrs. Konile’s testimony confusing and incoherent (535). “At the same time,” she writes, “I suspected that her testimony was important, precisely because it was different from the others and that, perhaps, one needed other tools to make sense of it” (535). One process that was happening, Krog suggests, was that Mrs. Konile was “busy constituting and identity for herself” in the context of the TRC hearing (535). In addition, “[e]verybody listening to Mrs. Konile was interpreting her narrative,” even though Mrs. Konile’s story “placed barriers in the way of empathetic interpretation,” because in footage of her testimony, “one could see how restless and uncomfortable the other mothers became when she testified” (535). The “goat incident” in Mrs. Konile’s narrative “is key to her whole story,” Krog states (535). Mrs. Konile speaks of a dream of a goat looking up, “a very bad dream” (qtd. 535). She also appears to confuse Cape Town with the township where she actually lived (535). Mrs. Konile’s testimony, Krog continues, “posed problems for a possible counternarrative reading”—one that would counter “the main racist narrative of the apartheid government,” as the testimonies of the other three mothers who testified with Mrs. Konile did: 

They presented acute, yet harrowing, detail of their last interactions with their sons on the mornings of their deaths. All three articulated the unforgettable moment they saw on television: how the police pulled their sons’ bodies so that they lay face up for the television camera. All three could formulate precisely how they regarded these gross violations and what they wanted from the TRC. All three had a very clear perception of the moral questions at stake. (536-37)

“In contrast,” Krog continues,

Mrs. Konile’s testimony seemed to drift from one surrealist scenario to the next; most of her testimony had nothing to do with her son but was describing her own personal suffering in a highly confused way—leaving the impression that her son’s main value for her was monetary and that she was in any case not really aware what was happening around her. She also seemed to have no idea what to ask of the perpetrators or the commission. (537)

Krog suggests that she was not certain what this meant: was Mrs. Konile “deepening the counternarrative,” or was her testimony an exception, a narrative “that did not work out for a variety of reasons?” (537).

Krog turns to trauma theory for an explanation, citing Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub and their suggestion that the task of testimony is to impart knowledge (537). “Mrs. Konile’s testimony was clearly a firsthand knowledge of something, but was it firsthand knowledge of the death of a son, or was it perhaps more a kind of firsthand knowledge of poverty?” Krog wonders (537). There was no sense that what Mrs. Konile was saying “came from a community. Her story did not carry any mark of shared experiences. . . . She became a testifier of a solitary figure thrown around in an incoherent and cruel landscape” (537). 

Next, Krog reads Mrs. Konile’s testimony through Elaine Scarry’s work on the effects torture has on language. “Possibly the inability of Mrs. Konile to contain and lift her pain out of herself and show it to the TRC was because that pain had destroyed her language,” Krog suggests, citing Scarry’s suggestion that pain resists expression and makes language incoherent (537). While the official transcript did not suggest anything about Mrs. Konile’s pain, watching the video of her testimony “confirmed how much pain did manifest in Mrs. Konile’s language, suggesting that she had indeed lost her grip on the complexity around her son’s death. (The absence of nonverbal sounds in the transcribed version provides a further obstacle to adequately interpreting TRC texts)” (537-38).

Finally, Krog considers the effect of trauma on memory. She cites an article by Nanette Auerhan and Dori Laub that identifies nine different ways in which trauma is remembered. “One of them is called fragmentation, which means that the memory retains parts of a lived experience in such a way that they are decontextualized and no longer meaningful,” she writes (538). “Should one accept that Mrs. Konile’s life became the fragments that she was able to live with?” Krog asks. “The fact that it was incoherent to an outsider was of lesser importance than the fact that it was precisely the decontextualized and isolated fragmentation that made it possible for her to survive the death of her son” (538). On that day in 1996, before the TRC, she simply “put the fragments of her life on the table, and in the brokenness of it, one could see the chaos and pain, and only guess at the suffering” (538).

In the essay’s next section, Nosisi Mpolweni-Zantsi (the section’s author) acknowledges that when she listened to the audiotape of Mrs. Konile’s testimony and read the official transcript, she felt gaps: “Some of the reasons for the gaps could be attributed to the difficulty or challenges of simultaneous interpreting, but others seemed to be more problematic” (238). She decided “to investigate whether there was information lost in the interpretation and translation of Mrs. Konile’s testimony,” and she also “wanted to determine how this lost information influenced intercultural communication between Mrs. Konile, on one side, and the TRC officials, audience, and other possible readers, on the other side” (538). She also “wanted to determine whether knowledge of an indigenous context would lead to a fuller interpretation that would do justice to the person who testified” (538). Mpolweni-Zantsi notes that there are significant problems with the English translation of Mrs. Konile’s words. In particular, the goat she dreamed about was standing on its hind legs, not looking up. She emphasizes the strangeness of this dream by using three consecutive synonyms (539). “Bringing in the lost information via the original text allows a conclusive reading,” Mpolweni-Zantsi writes: “First, she dreamt about the goat. Then, she went with a friend to get a grant. She saw Peza there and regarded his presence as ominous. As the story unfolded, her foreboding plus the dream seemed to take on greater significance in terms of cultural habits” (539). (Peza was an ANC activist who told Mrs. Konile about her son’s death [535, 540].)

Because the translator omitted specific cultural allusions—the sense of foreboding carried by the Xhosa word umbilili, for instance—“the interpreter removed important information that could be seen as pointers to the tragic death of Mrs. Konile’s son, Zabonke. She was not only talking about her own personal forebodings, but was trying to express her own pain” (539). “[A]n interpreter who was familiar with her culture would have understood that the signs, repetition, and exclamations in her speech conveyed important information about her emotional state,” Mpolweni-Zantsi continues. “But how were these indicators to be transferred into English and afterwards into written text?” (539-40). 

The first omission made the crucial role of culture in Mrs. Konile’s testimony clear: according to Mpolweni-Zantsi, she obviously came from a rural village in the Eastern Cape, not from Cape Town, and she therefore would not have been as politically conscious as the other woman from Gugulethu who testified. Instead, she “would be more closely connected to traditional habits instead” (540):

The sequence of forebodings every time Mrs. Konile saw Peza, plus the story of the goat dream, indicate that, culturally, these incidents were connected for her,” she continues. “She obviously read them as warning signs fro the ancestors that she should expect bad news. In other words, by relating these incidents, Mrs. Konile was communicating a message to the TRC audience that effectively said, “Long before I heard of my child’s death, I was already in pain through the premonitions and the bad dream.” But the interpreter seemed to have either missed the cultural codes or was unable to effectively find a way to transfer them into English. (540)

Mrs. Konile was also unhappy because her son was not buried in her community but with his comrades in Cape Town: 

According to Xhosa culture, it is important to be buried next to one’s ancestors. This is seen as a way of maintaining a chain of communication between the deceased and the ancestors. . . . His burial in Cape Town must have left her with a deep wound because not only had she been deprived from any connection with her own child, but his burial in a far-away place cut her, as well as him, off from the ancestral chain. (540-41)

After she told the TRC about her “skirmish with the police to get the body of her child, she said, ‘And I gave up.’ These words illustrated her deepening sense of helplessness and powerlessness. . . . Symbolically, she was describing a huge loss, not only monetary, but an unbridgeable rupture had taken place” (541). This discussion, Mpolweni-Zantsi concludes, “highlights that the process of interpreting and translating should also be seen as cross-cultural communication,” and that because of the “slippages in the interpretation and translation of Mrs. Konile’s testimony, the valuable information with regard to her feelings and aspirations could not reach the TRC officials and the audience” (541). “Instead, her testimony seemed incoherent,” she writes (541). An “intimate cultural knowledge can lead to a fuller and more just interpretation of a mother tongue testimony that could restore the dignity of the testifier” (541).

The following section, “An African Psychological Reading,” by Kopano Ratele, begins with Mrs. Konile’s dream about the goat in a strange pose:

At the level of deep affect or unconscious, it is not strange when Mrs. Konile says an animal was the sign of what she would learn about the next day. But the dream also functions at a much simpler level. The word dream is the vital missing link that could have made Mrs. Konile intelligible. What she told the commission turned from incoherent to coherent through a single line missing from the official English text. In isiXhosa, this line (“Phezolo ndiphuphe kakubi”; seven words in English: “Last night I had a terrible dream”) brings Mrs. Konile back from the psychopathological wilderness—into which a reader of the English text might have put her—to a cultural embeddedness. Even if the sentence fails to make her wholly imaginable as an adult psychological subject, these words render her into somebody whose story is “followable.” She had a dream: a bad, or strange, dream. (541)

So the problem of Mrs. Konile’s intelligibility is in part a translation and transcription error. But there is more to this problem. Ratele notes that the TRC “was looking for a certain kind of story: that of a brutal regime, stoic struggle, resilient mothers and families, and an eventual triumph over evil” (541). But that’s not the story it got from Mrs. Konile. Instead, she sighed heavily at the beginning of her testimony and said she was already tired of the TRC process, and that she despaired of it. “While the TRC hearings were meant to deal precisely with ‘telling,’ its cathartic effect, and thus forgiveness, the commissioners appeared unprepared for and uneasy about Mrs. Konile—they addressed very few questions to her,” Ratele continues. “It was as if her story was resisting the imposed framework fo the hearings; as if her mind resisted easy readings” (541-42).

Ratele notes that many African people interpret their waking lives using dreams: 

dreams seem to have been an acceptable part of the existential methods many African people used and continue to employ to make sense of their lives. In this light, it is a terribly ordinary thing for Mrs. Konile to come to the hearings and talk of a dream. It makes so much sense that it would be easy for some readers to miss this part of her psychological make-up: how things are related to one another in the world for her regarding cause-effect. (542)

That dream, Ratele continues, “is a central part of the story, for it is an essential element of Mrs. Konile’s psyche, because it is a key to her world” (542). In addition, underestimating the fact that her dream and her story “are connected to language in critical ways” would “contribute to misunderstanding her and her world” (542). 

Ratele interprets the dream as, first of all, a connection to the ancestral worlds: “The goat and the dream are messengers from the other world. Dreaming of a goat, Mrs. Konile is suggesting, was like receiving a letter from the ancestors that something is amiss” (542). It is a sign that the living and the dead are not far from each other; in addition, contact with the ancestors (in dreams or at a grave side) is “not only cultural but also spiritual and, given the history of South Africa, social and political too” (542). That dream “connects Mrs. Konile to her culture, her people, her Gods, and wider society and its politics. . . . What is important is that she is reminded that she is interconnected to a wider world of her people and with other worlds” (542). The dream’s third meaning is the way it seems “to connect her to what is happening elsewhere in the world, the world of politics and wider South African society” (542). It brought the politics of the liberation struggle (which she lives far away from) into her life before her son’s death did so (542). Finally, “the dream reconnects Mrs. Konile to herself. Mrs. Konile is in the midst of (re)constituting her self and her world as an individual person of African heritage” (542). “In sum,” Ratele continues, “the dream of the goat is a guide, a connecting cable, a warning, and a psychological tool. It leads her at once to her people, her son, those in the other world, and herself” (542). It makes perfect sense that her dream is in her testimony and that she tells her testimony in the way that she does (543).

“There is no way of understanding Mrs. Konile without understanding how dominating modes of knowing rupture indigenous modes of knowing,” Ratele writes (543). He gives the example of African students from townships or rural areas who attend universities in South Africa: they must “get rid of everything they were taught about the nature of social relations and persons,” and if they don’t do that quickly, “they are bound to struggle” (543). “The phrase motho ke motho ka batho (a person is made into being a person by other persons) is seldom fully apprehended—even African intellectuals do not fully apprehend what is carried in that value,” he states (543). Psychology claims to be universal, but that individual cultures have their own ways of thinking about everything: “How do you study Mrs. Konile’s so-called incoherence if you assume that there is no difference between her and the average North American mind?” (543). You can’t. “[I]t is precisely because of a lack of understanding about the self-in-community and the unity-of0-the-world that makes Mrs. Konile sound incoherent,” Ratele contends, and colonialism and racism seek “to destroy those specific values, because it is incomprehensible that one lives for others. It is very difficult for the Western mind or psyche to accept that others make one. In Western psychology, the individual comes first and is foremost, the family is constituted by individuals, and the world is made up by individual minds” (543). 

But Mrs. Konile shows us that, “for some people, this does not hold. In fact, it is the other way round” (543). Her community needs to help her to decipher her dream or plan a ritual in response to it. But, “[o]n a deeper philosophical level, I interpret the dream as telling Mrs. Konile about a wholeness being threatened because she is not an individual, not in the way it is defined in the dominant frameworks of psychology” (544). What the dream reveals is that, in contrast, Mrs. Konile “is part of a world where she is in contact with the living and the dead,” a world with “little existential loneliness,” although her son’s death “introduces her to a deep loneliness: “She experiences it as being cut off from the community. She is sighing because she has become and individual through the death of her son—selected as it were to become an individual” (544). “So to understand Mrs. Konile, to get to a psychological comprehensibility, our approach needs to be founded on her reality,” Ratele concludes: “her notion of her position in a universe of people, animals, and things; and her thoughts and feeling of how she relates to others and the environment. In other words, meaning systems undergird the possibility of being understood by others” (544).

The essay’s conclusion notes that one of the TRC’s goals, the restoration of the personal dignity fo the victims, “could only begin when the testimonies were ‘heard’ and ‘understood’—also and especially those who fell outside the norm” (544). Their “critical qualitative research into Mrs. Konile’s psychological and cultural framework” has led them to “the opposite conclusion of the ‘Western reading’ earlier in the chapter,” in which “the constant harping on the word I initially carried selfish and obsessive undertones” (544). Instead, “in Mrs. Konile’s own context, it became a desperate plea to get rid of the sudden individualism forced upon her” (544). This analysis has taken “a radical step,” the authors continue:

We are saying that within a postcolonial context, a woman may appear either incoherent because of severe suffering or unintelligible because of oppression—while in fact she is neither. Within her indigenous framework, she is logical and resilient in her knowledge of her loss and its devastating consequences in her life. She is not too devastated to make sense; she is devastated because she intimately understands the devastation that has happened to her. However, the forum she finds herself in and the way narratives are being read make it very hard for her to bring the depth of this devastation across. (544).

Their method, they continue, “has radical and new implications regarding the study of TRC testimonies,” because some testimonies, “such as that of Mrs. Konile, are likely to reproduce old cultural, racial, and geographical divisions” (544). To overcome them, “there is almost no other way to proceed than by collaboratively working within a communally orientated, human-centered methodology” (544). That notion of collaboration isn’t what I would take from this essay; rather, you might just need someone who knows (in Mrs. Konile’s case) the Xhosa language, culture, spirituality, and psychologically intimately. After all, as the authors continue,

every narrative is rooted. In order to really “hear” that story, one has to take the rootedness into account—especially in light of a divisive past. Understanding the “ground” from which narratives sprout is sometimes only possible through the input of those who have deep knowledge of this “ground.” By ignoring the “ground” of her narrative, one is cutting Mrs. Konile from her roots as well as a larger humanity. In other words, one is trying to interpret her without all that makes her herself. (544-45)

I agree wholeheartedly about the need for rootedness; my question is whether understanding that rootedness necessarily requires collaborative work. 

Nevertheless, the authors state that their collaborative method allowed them to realize the ways that Mrs. Konile’s narrative could not be heard within “the dominant discourse”; to “make use of the fact that at least two of us are able to traverse culture and language in order to enter both the dominant and indigenous discourse or ‘ground’”; to rescue Mrs. Konile’s discourse from “the ‘incomprehensible’ into a new discourse that values her resistance to the master narrative”; to challenge stereotypes; to rethink their initial interpretations of Mrs. Konile’s story; and to “be deeply influenced in our own ‘listening’ to one another as cultural psychological work was happening in the researchers themselves” (545). “In this way,” the authors conclude, “knowledge of Mrs. Konile opens up ways for people emerging from a context of conflict and estrangement to access understanding and respect for one another. Mrs. Konile has made us hear her and, through her, one another” (545). Perhaps another way to think about this conclusion is to suggest that their research into Mrs. Konile’s story enabled them to “work the hyphen” (Jones 473)?

For me, this essay was an eye-opening experience: the description of a relationally based psychology was fascinating, and I would be interested in learning more about other culturally specific psychological frameworks (to use a word that is repeated frequently in this anthology). That notion also speaks to the shallowness of approaches that focus on the performative self alone, as in the essay on autoethnography in the anthology that I had such a hard time understanding. Performativity might be one aspect of who we are, but it’s obviously not the only one. In any case, above and beyond scoring points against essays I didn’t enjoy, this one made me think, and I’m happy I read it. 

In “Transnational, National, and Indigenous Racial Subjects: Moving From Critical Discourse to Praxis,” Luis Mirón states that he has three objectives for his essay. First, he intends “to debunk the widespread idea that the processes of globalization are so totalizing that resistance is nearly unfathomable” (547). Second, he wants to demonstrate “that despite clear racial differences that transnational, national, and indigenous subjects embody and culturally experience daily . . . these subjects are difficult to categorize” because they may “have more in common than previously theoretically imagined,” and so “the possibilities for coalition building remain strong” (547). And, finally, he will “advance a conception of performative ethnography, building on discourse theory and semiotics, in hopes of pointing a path by which the racial subjects named above”—Mexican immigrants to the United States, and U.S.-born African Americans and Latinos—“who historically have occupied the periphery, or the margins, may now enter new borderlands in dialogue and solidarity with one another,” leading to “[s]ocial action and social change” (547-48). The essay’s conclusion, he continues, will explore “the possibilities for democracy in multiple social and political spaces, including education (broadly conceptualized) embodied in the rapidly growing eco-green consciousness” (548).

The essay’s purpose, Mirón continues, is “to dialogically challenge ‘globalization,’ that is, to show how the processes of globalization are interactive—they both constrain and render possible new forms and spaces of democratic practice,” including the struggle against climate change, “in hopes of facilitating dialogue and coalition building among multiple racial subjects” (548). I’m not convinced that a theoretical essay published in an expensive anthology that only social scientists will read is the way to achieve these goals—wouldn’t actual political activism at a local level help to build such coalitions?—but what do I know? 

The next section of the essay, “Transnational Subjects,” argues that “these categories of subjectivity and identity are just that—abstract categorizations” (548). People “partly defy fixed categorization,” exhibiting “fluid lives” (548). Mirón intends to focus “on transnational flows of people, culture, capital, and knowledge, typical of the spaces all of these racial subjects occupy in the age of information and the shift in capital from production to the mode of information” through “a critically grounded look at transnational migrants, cultural citizens who defy legal designations” (548). Mirón begins this discussion with an account of Antonio Mejia, who travelled to the United States to work twice, and formed something called the Grupo Unión. He then shifts to an “avant-garde video, The Sixth Section,” which “documents the formation and successes of Grupo Unión, a Mexican community development organization in Newburgh, New York,” that is one of 3,000 such organizations in the U.S. (548). (Okay—now I understand—but Mirón needs to tell this story more effectively.) The members of Grupo Unión all come from the same town in Puebla, Mexico; together, they “help improve their hometown by combining their money and putting it toward a townwide project or need” (548). “The more the collective did for the town, the more powerful it became to the Mexican politicians,” and the governor of Puebla actually came to Newburgh to meet with the migrants, who pressured him to pave roads in that state (549). Mirón suggests that Grupo Unión is an example of “transnational organizing” and that its efforts have impacts in both the United States and in Mexico (549). “Such transnational urbanism flies in the theoretical face of structurally oriented social theorists who almost universally state that poor immigrant citizens lack the capacity to effectively resist the deleterious forces of global capital,” Mirón writes, citing David Harvey as his antagonist (549). For Mirón, “such a unidimensional view of the processes of globalization rests on empirically questionable as well as conceptually flawed models of citizenship” (549).

The “transnational migrant workers” Mirón is discussing “emphasize the importance of becoming polyglot cultural citizens, allowing them to move in spaces that transcend the nation and potentially but not as readily the state as well” (549). He is working with “a notion of cultural citizenship . . . that goes beyond legalistic definitions to encompass the more informal aspects of how people integrate into their environments, so that legal citizenship is not the end, or even the beginning, of numerous, active local mediations over the terms of the local-transnational integration of people” (549). When they have green cards, the members of Grupo Unión hold “a form of dual-culture citizenship as citizens of Mexico and legal residents of the United States” (549). From their perspective, “their economic status as U.S. workers pushes the Mexican state to be more responsive—and potentially less corrupt—to communities, and their extra earnings support their families rather than U.S. corporations” (549). Mirón uses this notion to argue that “we need a new theoretical paradigm to highlight the complexities of transnationalism, a theory that is more sensitive to cultural forces and politics on the ground” (549).

Nation-states can no longer “be bounded,” Mirón argues, because of global flows of capital and the “major demographic transformation” caused by immigration in not only the United States but other Western countries as well (549). “In other words, the nations of the West, of which the United States is one example, have been ‘invaded,’ to use a popular metaphor, but peoples from non-Western or Third World countries” (550). However, “the crucial thing about these migrants is that, quite unlike what the traditional literature on immigrations suggests, transnational immigrants have not uprooted themselves, leaving behind their homeland and facing the often-pailful process of incorporation into a new national culture”; rather, because of communication technology and transportation links, “they have been able to forge multistranded ties that link together their society of settlement and origin,” and thus should be understood as “transmigrants” (550). Citizenship needs to be rethought “in terms of the strategies migrants use to navigate transnational spaces” (550). Mirón provides other examples of “transmigrants” to support this contention; then he turns to the work of Michael Peter Smith, his primary theoretical touchstone and the source of the phrase “transnational urbanism” (551). Smith aims “to give new meaning to the everyday practices of social actors, most especially those transnational migrants and citizens exercising human agency from below,” and “transnational urbanism” refers to the ways that “migrant citizens negotiate hybridity in transnational urban spaces” (552). One absence in Smith’s writing is an attention to consciousness; because he “does not usually theoretically foreground the individual, a complete understanding of social life is not possible” (552). This absence might explain Mirón’s interest in the stories of individuals like Mejida.

In the essay’s next section, Mirón argues that “an alternative paradigm of ethnography—grounded in a theory of performativity—renders possible the everyday representation and understanding of racial subjectivities and identities” (553). This paradigm makes possible “both synchronistic difference and commonality” (553). Clearly Mirón isn’t talking about performance ethnography but something else:

this alternate paradigm allows for the possibility of constructing a new racial self. A conception of performative ethnography . . . allows for a more radical style, a style that is embodied in the practice of silence (deep listening to the racial Other), the normative goal of which is the achievement of the racial subjects’ own will to power. (553)

Aside from general discussions of “the performative/performance turn in ethnography and critical ethnography in particular,” however, it’s not clear why Mirón calls this form of ethnography “performative” (554). He suggests that “the act of considering the work”—he means a work of literature, it seems—is “a performance” (554). Reading or interpreting a work, then, is a performance. This work is not the same as a text, he continues, following Roland Barthes, because a text is “a social space and, by implication of collaboration with the reader,” it is also politically efficacious (555). “By extension, performative research texts such as ethnographies facilitate or creatively establish the social space for subject formation, subjectivity, and identity” (555). In other words, “ethnography constitutes a performative text of science that is also embedded in politics, morality, and ethics” (555). He seems to be using Barthes, and the notion of “the creative ‘play’ of the artistic work” as a “desire-full engagement,” to suggest a parallel between artistic or literary texts and the writing of social scientists, a claim I can’t help thinking Barthes would find comical at best. After all, Barthes was interested in art, and he made a clear distinction between work and text, a distinction Mirón blurs. 

Mirón contends that “[t]his conception of the performative, particularly in relation to social research, stands ideologically on the ground of a vision of social action and, ultimately, social change,” because it represents “a vision that is located in politics and praxis around which the fragmented left can hopefully coalesce” (555). He hopes that the “moral-ethical values” of “restorative justice, racial equity, and the public interest, especially in the context of public schools and other political institutions where poor citizens of color seem to suffer chronically from a seeming perpetual lack of financial and policy resources” will “become self-evident when pursued within the performance of ethnography” (555). He is particularly interested in the “political nature” of education (555): “it is in the broad space of education where the indigenous racial subject can shake metaphoric hands with the domestically indigenous (African American, Latino, and Asian American, among others) and the transnational subject” (556).

Next, Mirón sets out to “describe theoretically the dynamics of racial subject formation” (556). He extends Judith Butler’s writing on gender performativity “to issues of racialization and racial identity,” suggesting that “the act of racial subject formation should not be conceptualized as a singular action but rather as a series of reiterative practices through which discourse produces the effect that it names” (556). The “performative discourse” of “Latino transurban agents’ apparent exploitation of and political gains derived from globalization,” however, “does not so much bring into being what it names as it produces through its reiterative power the very ‘thing’ that it regulates and controls, if not dominates” (556). However, Mirón suggests that although the subject is constituted through discourse, that doesn’t mean it has no agency: “Such a discursive constitution through the uses of language creates the very possibility for agency,” which suggests, for him, that “human and political agency is a somewhat paradoxical and ironic by-product of the knowledge-power relation,” in other words, “a political outcome . . . of productive power relations” through which “the racialized subject can be reconstituted” (556). Mirón is wrestling with issues related to agency and social construction that are familiar to anyone who has read structuralist or poststructuralist theory, but his discussion is too brief and confused to be convincing, in my opinion.

Mirón turns to J. L. Austin’s definition of the performative to suggest that “[a] performative ethnography grounded in everyday cultural practices produces material consequences for the racial subject,” because “ethnography ‘performs’ the words it describes or the subjects it names” (556). Austin’s notion of performative discourse, however, involves a specialized form of speech or writing, and to claim that ethnographic discourse is always performative is a questionable conclusion to draw from Austin’s How to Do Things With Words. Nevertheless, Mirón argues that “performative ethnography embeds not only the uses of the imagination, including the postcolonial imagination and that of the indigenous, but social action as well,” and therefore “ethnographic research practices may ultimately generate the racial subjects’ own will to power” (557). Social change, he continues, “may emanate from a grounded aesthetics that locates creative self-expression in the realm of everyday cultural practice,” and those who advocate for social justice, “including ethnographers, need not necessarily mount campaigns to overthrow the capitalist system,” but rather might “transform lived cultural experience through the relentless new labor of self-expression” instead (557). But why would ethnographers, rather than racialized subjects of ethnography, engage in that kind of transformation? I am not following Mirón’s argument at all.

“On a broader social scale, the politics of a culturally grounded performativity makes possible the conditions for rewriting history,” Mirón continues (557). Class, like race, “is a historical and social construction,” and “[a] practical application derived from performative ethnographic techniques is that scientific knowledge of the racial subject may compel classroom teachers of poor, working-class minority students across the globe to join teachers and parents of White, middle-class students to revolt against economically overdetermined high-stakes testing” (557). Is he talking about standardized testing? Tests like the SATs that are part of university admissions processes? I don’t know. What about the parents of those “poor, working-class minority students across the globe”? Where are they in this “practical application”? Why “across the globe”? Is that a nod to his earlier (and quite interesting) discussion of “transnational urbanism”? I don’t know.

“A culturally grounded creativity, in summary, permits ethnographic researchers to reflexively articulate what the racial subject instinctively ‘knows’—self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her racial identity,” Mirón argues (558). But why are ethnographers involved in that articulation? The “will to power . . . is hastened by the ethnographer’s attention to the form of ethnographic research,” he continues (558). Again, why are ethnographers so important in this process? What makes them so necessary? Weren’t the members of Grupo Unión engaged in their work before ethnographers became aware of them? For Mirón, “the mooring of knowledge, creativity, and power embedded in the formation and everyday lived cultural experiences of the racial subject has profound implications for a new paradigm of ethnography,” because “racial subjects—as creative collaborators in social action on behalf of restorative justice—are potentially transformed into political agents” (558). “An emphasis on the racial subject’s own will to power casts serious doubt on the utility, if not validity, of traditional ethnographic research and perhaps even critical ethnography,” which are “disembodied from lived, culturally grounded experience” (558). “These subjects”—which subjects?—“cannot speak and, therefore, may lose their agency or become relegated to acts of resistance as passing moments in time” (558). I don’t understand Mirón’s point. What is clear is that he believes that “the conception of performative ethnography” he has described “may begin to turn this paradigm”—the paradigm of qualitative inquiry itself—“on its head” (558). That’s no small ambition, and it seems like a lot to ask from a form of ethnography that takes interpretation as a type of performance. I think that’s what he means by “performative ethnography,” but the argument is really not clear to me, particularly since, in his final sentence, he offers “critical ethnography” as a synonym for “performative ethnography” (559). 

In his conclusion, Mirón states, “[i]t is my vision and political-ethical dream that a performative ethnography described above can serve an educational purpose, a kind of grounded critical pedagogy. Such pedagogical uses of ethnography may, in fact, net practical political gains” (558). He claims that “a broad educational space” that “extends beyond schooling” exists, and that this space is one in which “multiple racial subjects may meet and coalesce around the need to save the planet from unimaginable natural and social destruction owing to intense global warming” (559). Let’s hope that dream comes true; along with Greta Thunberg, many young activists from the global south, including Ridhima Pandey, Kaluki Paul Mutuku, and Nina Gualinga are engaged in that kind of work (Unigwe). But it’s a long way from a focused discussion of one transnational community in New York to such grand claims, hopes, or dreams, and Mirón’s opening caution—that he is trying to do many things in a short space (547)—may be the reason I find this essay so confusing and poorly articulated.

Finally, the editors include a relatively brief epilogue entitled “The Lions Speak”; the title refers to an African proverb they include as an epigraph, which says, “Until the lion can tell his own stories, tales of the hunt will be told by the hunter” (563). They begin by describing their epilogue as “a punctuation mark, a semi-colon to a thought or thoughts unfinished, or a coda for themes and a series of motifs that are incomplete, partial, sometimes fragmentary” (563). Their goal in putting together this anthology was to start 

a dialogue that seeks to find common ground between critical theoretical positions, which advance discriminating and often unflattering analyses of colonial, postcolonial, and geopolitical social economies, as well as indigenous methodologies, which simultaneously seek to ‘reenchant’ social inquiry with the sacred and spiritual connections to social life and also to propose research design strategies that honor native lifeways and wrest social science away from a dominant and domineering Western model of use and commodification. (563)

There is much common ground between these two sets of theories and methodologies, they suggest, and “[a]s a consequence, there is no final punctuation, no ending stress on the statements from our authors here” (563). Instead, “[t]here are only proposals” which are important for “their potential for furthering a dialogue around the world both between indigenous and First Nations peoples, as well as between critical theorists and researchers who stand ready to help in any way that can serve” (563).

The editors suggest that “there are three precarious but urgent issues that await both more theorizing and praxis” (563). First is the question of whether the lions of their title, “having spoken, will exert a powerful voice over more than just their own ‘territory’” (563-64). What effect will those metaphorical lions have “on Western science in a broader sense” (564)? Second, “who owns the past” (564)? (They mean who owns Indigenous artifacts, art, and remains.) Third, “[w]hat constitutes ethical behavior within and among First Nations research enterprises?” (564). “Each of these issues will likely foreground indigenous methodologies for the foreseeable future,” and for that reason, “they are the genuine epilogue to the essays within these covers” (564).

The next section of the epilogue continues with the metaphor of the lions and the stories they have to tell. “Western researchers will find themselves locked out of research with indigenous peoples unless they are willing to bend themselves to the rule of law that indigenous peoples have crafted for themselves and their own protection,” the editors write (564).“The critical point is that the lion is speaking,” they continue, but the issue of who owns the past is “waiting in the wings” (566). “It is not merely indigenous peoples who are conscious of reclaiming legacies and exemplars of cultural heritage,” they write. “It is, however, indigenous peoples who have the most to lose in the cultural heritage wars” (566). By that statement, they mean that “the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples is under attack,” and they “are fighting back” (566). Tangible artifacts are not the only issue; another is “who owns the past, who is empowered to collect it—or leave it be—and for whom and under what circumstances it has meaning, spiritual power, identity, and agency” (567). The quarrel is about intellectual property, they suggest, and they note that because Indigenous peoples have their own ideas about intellectual property, Western concepts of IP “may not be the most useful ways to think about the role of research with First Nations peoples” (567). For the editors, both sides in this argument have merit: conservationists on one hand, and Indigenous peoples “for whom cultural connection and preservation are paramount” (568). 

Both of these issues are ethical issues, they write:

Many of our authors have spoken passionately regarding the need to reformulate a research ethics that enables us to participate morally and authentically with indigenous and First Nations collaborators and that permits knowledge to be cogenerated, which can then be shared with interested communities, while at the same time seeking a way for the indigenous communities to share in the benefits and the “profits” of our research. (568)

Such reconfigured forms of research “demand not only vastly different relationships with our research participants but also extreme revisioning of our ethical stances and practices,” they continue (568). One response to the inadequacy of government regulations on the protection of human research subjects “has been the formulation of a number of local, tribal-centred, or culture-centred sets of ethical principles,” they note (569). The important thing to note, they suggest, is that “[b]oth Western social scientists (who practice alternative interpretive research) and indigenous communities alike have been moving toward the same goals”; both “seek a set of ethical principles that are feminist, caring, communitarian (rather than individual), holistic, respectful, mutual (rather than power imbalanced), sacred, and ecologically sound” (569). 

The editors then address what is missing from this anthology, what they would have liked to have included, where it has gaps: they would have liked to have included more poststructuralists, a critical ecologist, voices from Asia, an Aboriginal contributor from Australia, writers from Latin and South America, European scholars on workers cooperatives (in Europe and elsewhere) (569-70). “We have simply not been able to convince some of these scholars to withdraw from the work they are doing to work for a handbook,” they write, suggesting that a second edition might “elicit a different kind of coverage” (570). Nevertheless, they are proud of the scholars who did work with them: “[b]oth individually and together, they represent a different set of research practices and an emerging globalized sensibility that undercuts the commodified, marketized, neoliberal forces of globalization sweeping the developed, developing, and underdeveloped regions of the world today” (570).

And that’s it—the last sentence of a nearly 600-page anthology. Was it worth reading this monster? Yes and no. Some of the essays were frustrating, but some were enlightening. I think my summaries will have identified which essays were which. I would have liked to have seen more clarity regarding the uses of notions of performance and performativity in many of these essays; clearly I missed the apparent “performative turn” in the social sciences. The writing on Indigenous theories and epistemologies was most useful for my project, particularly the essay by Alison Jones (with Kuni Jenkins) and the essay on TRC testimony (partly because of its description of a sense of self defined by the community rather than the individual), as well as the discussion of decolonization in the essay by Wanda McCaslin and Denise Breton. And it’s clear to me that I need to read more on autoethnography, if only to determine what I want to call the writing that comes out of my walking project(s). It’s been a long trudge, a plod, but I’m finally finished, and I can turn to the next thing. 

Works Cited

Austin, J.L. How to Do Things With Words, Oxford UP, 1962.

 Denzin, Norman K., Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, Sage, 2008.

Johnson, Harold. Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada, Penguin, 2019.

Unigwe, Chika. “It’s not just Greta Thunberg: why are we ignoring the developing world’s inspiring activists?” The Guardian, 5 October 2019.

82. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance

as we have always done

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance which I read last summer as part of the course I took with James Daschuk, isn’t exactly a book about the treaties, historical or contemporary. Rather, Simpson writes about something she calls the Radical Resurgence Project, which involves using Indigenous (in Simpson’s case, Anishinabeg) knowledge, especially about the land, in order to resist colonialism through refusal. Simpson calls that knowledge Nishnaabewin, or grounded normativity, a phrase she borrows from Glen Coulthard’s book Red Skins, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, which (as I have noted here before) I need to read. Simpson does not give succinct definitions of either Nishnaabewin or grounded normativity—deliberately, I think, since her book itself is an expression of these ideas, both in form and content—so I turned to a short article she co-wrote with Coulthard to find one:

What we are calling “grounded normativity” refers to the ethical frameworks provided by these Indigenous place-based practices and associated forms of knowledge. Grounded normativity houses and reproduces the practices and procedures, based on deep reciprocity, that are inherently formed by an intimate relationship to place. Grounded normativity teaches us how to live our lives in relation to other people and nonhuman life forms in a profoundly nonauthoritarian, nondominating, nonexploitive manner. Grounded normativity teaches us how to be in respectful diplomatic relationships with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous nations with whom we might share territorial responsibilities or common political or economic interests. Our relationship to the land itself generates the processes, practices, and knowledges that inform our political systems, and through which we practice solidarity. To willfully abandon them would amount to a form of auto-genocide. (Coulthard and Simpson 254)

Grounded normativity, then, for Coulthard and Simpson, is at the heart of what it means to be Indigenous (Dene in his case, Anishinabe in hers). It is far more important than mainstream educational success, and Simpson, who holds a PhD from the University of Manitoba, suggests that land-based educational practices would be far more valuable for an Indigenous person than a Western or colonizing academic education (160). But, more pertinent to this course, grounded normativity also informs diplomatic relationships, and therefore might have something to say about treaties between the Canadian state and Indigenous nations.

However, Simpson’s frame of reference regarding treaties is shaped by her experience of the Williams Treaties, which denied First Nations the right to hunt, fish, or gather in their traditional territories. “At the beginning of the colonial period, we signed early treaties as international diplomatic agreements with the crown to protect the land and to ensure our sovereignty, nationhood, and way of life,” she writes. “We fought against the gross and blatant injustice of the 1923 Williams Treaty and its ‘basket clause’ for nearly one hundred years, a treaty that wasn’t a treaty at all within our political practices but another termination plan” (5). That treaty resulted in 89 years without hunting and fishing rights for the Anishinabeg people of central Ontario. “My grandmother grew up eating squirrel and groundhogs because if her parents were caught hunting deer or fishing, they were criminalized,” she recalls (5). A 1994 Supreme Court decision upheld the extinguishment of hunting and fishing rights (see Blair, below). Then, in the fall of 2012, after a civil suit, the province of Ontario decided to recognize the hunting and fishing rights contained in an 1818 treaty over 100,000 acres in southern Ontario. Simpson remains skeptical, however: “We will see,” she writes. “We have been living our understanding of our rights, and nearly every year since the treaty was signed, people are charged by conservation officers for hunting and fishing ‘out of season’” (5). That is not what her ancestors expected when they made treaties with the Crown. The impetus for those treaties, she writes, was “Nishnaabeg freedom, protection for the land and the environment, a space—an intellectual, political, artistic, creative, and physical space where we could live as Nishnaabeg and where our kobade could do the same” (9). She continues, 

This is what my Ancestors wanted for me, for us. They wanted for our generation to practice Nishnaabeg governance over our homeland, to partner with other governments over shared lands, to have the ability to make decisions about how the gifts of our parent would be used for the benefit of our people and in a manner to promote her sanctity for coming generations. I believe my Ancestors expected the settler state to recognize my nation, our lands, and the political and cultural norms in our territory. (9)

That didn’t happen, as Peggy Blair’s history of the Williams Treaties makes abundantly clear. Instead, Simpson argues, the Anishinabeg experienced “decade after decade of loss” (15). 

Simpson describes a project she participated in as a graduate student, mapping the use of territory of a First Nation in northern Ontario. That was her first experience of grounded normativity as both theory and practice. The Elders she worked with “carried their Ancestors with them. They were in constant communication with them as they went about their daily lives engaged in practices that continually communicated to the spiritual world that they were Nishnaabeg” (18). Simpson didn’t understand this. She would ask them about treaties, and they would take her fishing. She would ask about colonialism, and they would tell stories about living on the land. “I could see only practice,” she writes. “I couldn’t see their theory until decades later. I couldn’t see intelligence until I learned how to see it by engaging in Nishnaabeg practices for the next two decades” (18-19). Grounded normativity, it seems, isn’t something you read about; it’s something you experience by engaging in Anishinabeg practices. “Theory and praxis, story and practice are interdependent, cogenerators of knowledge,” she writes. “Practices are politics. Processes are governance. Doing produces more knowledge” (20). These insights are created by traditional stories, she continues. “The only thing that doesn’t produce knowledge is thinking in and of itself,” she continues, “because it is data created in dislocation and isolation and without movement” (20).

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, Simpson sees treaties with the Canadian federal government as one process of settler colonialism, along with policy making, consultation, impact assessments, and the court system, which give the state the ethical justification to clear-cut a trapline, to remove an Anishinabe family from the land and thereby destroy their “grounded normativity,” economy, plant and animal habitat, medicines, ceremonial grounds, burial grounds, hunting places, libraries of knowledge, and networks of relationships (81). Resistance to this destruction “isn’t futile,” she writes, “it’s the way out” (81). She describes the 1818 treaty, along with residential schools (the first opened at Alderville First Nation in 1828), as “processes designed to clear Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg bodies from the land to the extreme benefit of settlers” (99). She also quotes Nipissing elder Glenna Beaucage, who states that the treaties turned the word “creation” into resources which are to be exploited (76)—clearly a destruction of grounded normativity. Besides, the Ontario government’s 2012 decision to honour the treaties has come too late. “Dispossession in our territory is now so complete that there is almost no place to hunt,” she writes. “The recognition of these rights seemingly poses no economic or political threat to settlers, because hunting and fishing can now really be practiced in this territory only on a microscale, as a hobby. And to keep it that way, the provincial recognition of these rights did not come with a return of land upon which these rights could be exercised” (40). Nevertheless, her people continue to express their relationship to the land through hunting and gathering. “This is in part because within Nishnaabeg thought, the opposite of dispossession is not possession, it is deep, reciprocal, consensual attachment,” she argues (43). Despite surveillance by colonial authorities, however, Anishinabe people refused to abide by the “basket clause,” and Simpson retells stories about the strength and cleverness of Nishnaabeg hunters and fishers who eluded game wardens, stories intended to illustrate her people’s resilience (167-70).

As We Have Always Done is angry, political, and theoretically dense, and it is written in a way that is intended to evoke Nishnaabeg thinking on the level of form and structure as well as in its content. It’s a difficult read, but it was an important one for me, because just as I was starting to believe there was a kind of consensus developing about the treaties and how they should be interpreted, Simpson’s book showed me that such a consensus probably doesn’t exist outside of a small group of historians. Treaties, I think, are just another thing she believes Indigenous people must refuse, must withdraw from, and that raises many questions.

One thing I found difficult about Simpson’s book is that it does not invite settlers into her circle, unlike, for example, Harold Johnson’s equally challenging book. Settlers are not part of Simpson’s intended audience, and her scornful rejection of treaties as artifacts of settler colonialism leaves me wondering what, in her opinion, might give settlers the right to live on Turtle Island. Of course, she’s not interested in that question; she’s interested in the survival of her people. But it’s a question the issue of treaty evokes, and it’s an important one—at least for settlers who reject terra nullius and other theories of Crown sovereignty, who see decolonization as the only way their presence on these lands can be justified. But why shouldn’t Simpson be angry, especially after the way settlers and their governments have behaved in her part of the country (and elsewhere, too) since at least the early nineteenth century?

Looking back at this summary, which I wrote last summer and updated this afternoon, I’m aware that it barely does justice to Simpson’s book, which is clearly something I need to reread. That’s okay; it always takes me several readings to understand difficult texts. But that rereading will have to wait until later; that’s the problem with reading to a deadline. At least I’m aware of the need to reread As We Have Always Done, and I promise I’ll get to it–later.

Works Cited

Blair, Peggy J. Lament For A First Nation: The Williams Treaties of Southern Ontario, University of British Columbia Press, 2008.

Coulthard, Glen, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. “Grounded Normativity / Place-Based Solidarity.” American Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 2, 2016, pp. 249-55. doi:10.1353/aq.2016.0038. Accessed 4 July 2018.

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

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


79. Sylvia McAdam (Sayseewahum), Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems

nationhood interrupted

Sylvia McAdam’s Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems, both “opens up the complexities and beauty of the nêhiyaw law,” as Sa’ke’j Henderson writes in the “Forward” (8), and tells part of the story of the formation of Idle No More, of which McAdam was one of the four leaders. Initially I wasn’t going to include my reading of this book as part of this project, but after thinking about Aimée Craft’s emphasis on the importance of Anishinaabe law during the negotiations of Treaty 1, I decided that McAdam’s account of nêhiyaw (or Cree) law would be useful here. McAdam’s work also leads into the next book I want to write about, one I read while I was away and haven’t yet made proper notes on: Emma Battell Lowman’s and Adam J. Barker’s Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada.

McAdam’s book begins with two warnings: one to refrain from undertaking any of the First Nations protocols and methodologies discussed in the book “without appropriate guidance from respected First Nations Elders and knowledge keepers,” and the other to pray and smudge before and while reading the book, because the knowledge McAdam shares “is of a spiritual nature” (16-17). As with Cardinal and Hildebrandt, this book reminds readers that the lines settlers draw between sacred and profane knowledge are not the same in Cree culture. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that in Cree culture such a distinction is even relevant: “We have laws as Indian people and those laws are not man-made, they were given to us by God,” McAdam states (47).

In the book’s first chapter, McAdam writes, 

The ancient echoes of nêhiyaw laws can still be heard in the languages, lands, and cultures of the Treaty 6 nêhiyawak. When the Europeans arrived in Canada, Indigenous nations lived in diverse, vibrant, and structured societies. It is likely that all the Indigenous nations had their own laws and legal systems which guided and directed the people in their daily interactions with families, communities, and other nations. Treaty 6 is created on the foundations of the nêhiyaw laws and legal systems from the understanding of the nêhiyaw people. (22-23)

Like Harold Johnson, whose work is cited in this book, McAdam sees Treaty 6 as based in Cree legal systems and understandings, rather than those of the Crown negotiators. “At the time of treaty making in Treaty 6 territory, these laws guided the process,” McAdam writes. “When treaties became binding, it became a ceremonial covenant of adoption between two families” (24). The process of negotiating the treaty was driven by Cree laws, many of which have not been recorded or understood, but which are “imperative in treaty understanding and negotiations” nonetheless (24). One sees Johnson’s influence in those words, I think, although I could be wrong about that.

But those laws go beyond that treaty. According to McAdam, everything in creation has laws: “The human laws are called nêhiyaw wiyasiwêwina. The Indigenous people are not a lawless people; the Creator’s laws are strict and inform every part of a person’s life” (23). Cree laws are clearly divinely inspired, rather than made by humans, and this is a central difference in the way settlers and nêhiyawak conceive of law. Cree laws are not written down; rather, they “are in the songs, the ceremonies, and in all the sacred sites” (23). That means the land is intertwined with the law “in a most profound manner” (23). Also interwoven with the Cree legal system is education and language and livelihood and nationhood, it seems, because McAdam discusses all of these together with the law. Again, my sense is that the divisions that settlers would make between these areas of activity do not apply in Cree, and even that the words “law” or “legal systems” may be awkward translations concepts that do not exist in English. “All the laws have a spiritual connection; each ceremony is a renewal and reaffirmation to follow them for all time,” McAdam writes. “Even when the human being corrects the laws through the remedies provided, they are reminded that the laws need to be corrected through their relationship with the Creator” (40). 

McAdam states that she will only discuss physical human laws in her book; the spiritual laws “cannot be discussed or revealed: these are the unwritten laws of the people” (39) and “must remain in the spiritual realm” (43). The first physical human laws she mentions are verbal laws, pâstâmowin and ohcinêmowin, which address the use of language against human beings and creation, respectively. Thus they govern such things as gossip, threats, and profanity (39). However, remaining silent or not taking action does not exempt one from these laws. “It’s considered a pâstâmowin to remain silent or to take no action while a harm is being done to another human being or to anything in creation,” McAdam writes (40). It seems that pâstâmowin is a subset of pâstâhowin, which means the breaking of laws against another human being (43), as is ohcinêmowin, the breaking of laws against anything that is not a human being (44). Examples of ohcinêmowin are torturing animals, polluting land, or over-harvesting resources (44). In addition, other human laws, or wiyasiwêwina, include things like murder, theft, disrespect, incest, sexual assault, or dishonouring your relatives (46-47). The seven pipe laws—health, happiness, generosity, generations, quietness, compassion, and respect (48)—seem to be the foundation of wiyasiwêwina, in that those offences are transgressions of the pipe laws.

One of the laws governing treaties is miyo-wîcêhtowin, which means “having or possessing good relations” (47). “It is this nêhiyaw law and others which are the foundation for Treaty 6,” McAdam states. “Each party applied its own laws to reach an accord” (47). Here McAdam cites John Borrows, whose work is important in this book and elsewhere. The word wâhkôtowin, or kinship, “is critical and necessary to the foundation of nationhood,” McAdam writes (59). “The emphasis on wâhkôtowin is the foundation for the farming reserves created for each family at the time of treaty making,” she continues (59). As well, there were strict wâhkôtowin laws applied to relationships within families (60-61). However, since the Cree believe they are in relationships with everything the Creator made, “[t]his adherence to wâhkôtowin is applied just as easily to the land and to creation” (61). 

According to McAdam, women—clan mothers or warrior women, known in Cree as okihcitâwiskwêwak—played a key role in making decisions in Cree law (54-55, 57-58). They also would have played a key role in the negotiation of treaties:

During and prior to treaty making, it would have been the okihcitâwiskwêwak who would have been consulted regarding the land, because authority and jurisdiction to speak about land resides with the women. The water ceremonies belong to the women. Very little is written or known about this, other than their connection is based on the understanding that the earth is female and the authority stems from this. (55)

It would seem impossible, if this is true, that the male chiefs could have surrendered land during the negotiations of treaties without consulting with the okihcitâwiskwêwak, and there is no record of such consultations or of women being present at the negotiations with the Crown.

McAdam notes that the treaty negotiations were in part about a shift from one way of living, or pimâcihowin, to another: from the buffalo to agriculture (66-67). “Throughout the Treaty texts,” she writes, “the nêyihaw and Saulteaux leadership of the day expressed their concern that the generations to come be provided for” (70). The land itself, however, was not to be sold, McAdam argues, and “First Nations treaty negotiators were not authorized to extinguish existing collective or family rights within territories established by First Nations jurisprudence” (70). She argues that according to oral history, reserves were to be surrounded by a 10-mile or 25-mile belt of land that would accommodate future generations—something the government disputes (70-71). 

From following McAdam on Facebook, I know that she’s angry about what she calls “termination tables” (74), and she explains what these are in this book. In 2014, despite the Tsilhquot’in decision, which recognized Aboriginal title, the federal government made changes to land claims policy that will, McAdam argues, “expedite the elimination of Aboriginal rights” (74). Now, “more than half of the Indian Act chiefs [are] sitting at ‘termination tables’ negotiating away Indigenous rights” (74). Women tend to be left out of the land claims negotiations, she continues, and the process relegates Indigenous nations to the status of municipalities (74-75). “That is a heavy price to pay in terms of the generations to come,” she concludes (75). The “termination tables” seem to be another way that Canada is trying to destroy its treaty relationships with First Nations.

For McAdam, all of the land in Treaty 6 

is under the jurisdiction and authority of the descendants.Compensation for lands taken up for settlement have yet to be dispersed by the Dominion of Canada or by the successor state of Canada. The belief that Indigenous peoples “ceded and surrendered” is still a disputed statement. Treaty peoples say they never ceded or surrendered their lands and resources. The treaties are unfinished business. (76)

The Crown’s claim to having “Radical or underlying title” (qtd. 74) is, she continues, based in the Doctrine of Discovery, which “no longer has legal standing in international discourse” even though Canada continues to apply it in court. That doctrine, she concludes, “was unacceptable at the time of treaty and is unacceptable now” (76).

McAdam is vehement that the treaties did not involve a surrender or cession of the land or its resources. I would agree; in my reading of Morris’s account of the negotiations, there didn’t appear to be any discussion of surrendering the land by the Crown negotiators–an argument that is supported by Sheldon Krasowski. In the Treaty 3 negotiations, there were discussions of what would happen if a mine were to be discovered in the territory covered by the treaty, and according to Morris, the Crown’s response was that other than on the reserves themselves, First Nations would receive no benefit from any mineral discoveries, unless the discovery were to be made by a First Nations person, in which case “[h]e can sell his information if he can find a purchaser” (70). That doesn’t sound to me as if the Crown understood that resources were excluded from the surrender, although it leaves open the question as to whether the First Nations negotiators agreed with the Crown’s position. In the oral history, as the Elders interviewed by the authors of Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan point out, First Nations only allowed settlers to use the land for agricultural purposes and retained the mineral rights. If that’s so, then Canada and the provinces are are in violation of the treaties.

It seems that, for McAdam, the claims made by the Crown about its possession of the land, and about the treaties, are lies, and this puts her argument alongside those of Harold Lerat and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. McAdam cites Taiaiake Alfred’s words: “Something was stolen, lies were told, and they have never been made right. That is the crux of the problem” (182). Then she moves into her last chapter, a discussion of Idle No More, which was (and is), arguably, a response to those thefts and lies.

Nationhood Interrupted is important as a beginning discussion of Cree law, and as a reinforcement of the oral history around the negotiation of the numbered treaties in the prairies. It also reinforces my sense that the consensus about the treaties among constitutional lawyers is not widespread, and that there is a lot of understandable and justified anger among Indigenous peoples about how the treaties have been implemented and interpreted by the Crown, including the Supreme Court of Canada. As settlers and descendants of settlers in this land, we need to do a lot better job of abiding by the treaties that enable us to be here.

Work Cited

McAdam, Sylvia (Sayseewahum). Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems, Purich, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

70. Harold Johnson, Two Families: Treaties and Government

This summary is another adaptation of one I wrote for Dr. James Daschuk in the course on treaties I took with him last summer. And it’s more than appropriate to post this on Canada Day, because Cree writer and former lawyer Harold Johnson calls what we mean by Canada into question in Two Families: Treaties and Government. It was one of the most radical books I read last summer, and I continue to return to it, perhaps for that reason.

Johnson begins his book by introducing himself and his relations: “I am of this land,” he writes, echoing the Anishinabe Chiefs Craft discusses. “I am of this earth” (11). “I do not say that I own this land; rather, the land owns me,” he continues (13). That land holds stories, including the stories of the relationship between First Nations and settlers (12-13). “They can help us to live here in a good way if we learn to listen,” Johnson states. That is the purpose of his book: to teach settlers what they need to know if they are to live in this place—in Johnson’s perspective, the Treaty 6 lands—in a good way: to explain Cree laws and history, to explain how they are different from what settlers might have been told, to explain how the Canadian Constitution fits into Cree supreme law, and to “suggest how we might live together as two families sharing the same territory” (14). He will never suggest that settlers should go home, Johnson continues, because we “have a treaty right to be here” (14). Immediately Johnson’s perspective becomes clear: the treaties subtend Canadian law because they give settlers the right to share this land.

The key term in Johnson’s discussion is a Cree word he was given by Elders: kiciwamanawak, or “our cousins.” That is the term they told him he should use when addressing or talking about settlers. The kinship term is important. “In Cree law,” Johnson writes, “the treaties were adoptions of one nation by another” (13). That’s the reason Canadian laws are subordinate—or should be subordinate—to Cree law, in Johnson’s perspective: settlers were adopted by the Cree, and not the other way around.

Before settlers arrived, Johnson argues, “[w]e lived according to the laws of the Creator, which incidentally look a lot like the laws of ecological order” (18). It is the Creator’s laws that are superior to settlers’ legal systems. Those systems are simple compared to the laws of the Creator; a student could spend a lifetime trying to understand the questions that the phrase “All My Relations” raises (18-19). In Cree society, people are equals, and that means that Cree people and whites are also equals. “We should be living as two families in the same territory,” he states (20). He continues, giving a glimpse of what the Cree might have expected when they were negotiating Treaty 6:

When your family arrived here, Kiciwamanawak, we expected that you would join the families already here, and, in time, learn to live like us. No one thought you would try to take everything for yourselves, and that we would have to beg for leftovers. We thought we would live as before, and that you would share your technology with us. We thought that maybe, if you watched how we lived, you might learn how to live in balance in this territory. The treaties that gave your family the right to occupy this territory were also an opportunity for you to learn how to live in this territory. (20-21).

It’s worth noting that one of the Cree words for reserve, iskonigan, also means “leftover” (Wolvengrey 39). More importantly, it’s clear that, according to Johnson, settlers were supposed to adapt to Cree ways of living and laws, rather than the other way around. That, of course, did not happen, and one of the central reasons (aside from the sheer number of settlers who arrived in the 1880s and 1890s) might have been the way settlers and their government(s) have (as Johnson would argue) misunderstood the treaties.

There is no coherent theory that explains the sovereignty of the Crown in this territory, Johnson argues, unless one relies on “the out-moded doctrine that you have a right to this territory because you are superior to my family”—a doctrine that rightfully belongs to the KKK or the Aryan Nations (23). “Discovery cannot be justification for your family’s occupation of this territory,” he continues. “Your family did not discover this place. It was never lost” (23). Nor were First Nations conquered in battle. Therefore, “the only right you have to occupy this territory must come from treaty. You have a treaty right to be here,” Johnson concludes. “The only coherent theory that provides for your sovereignty that is not based on supremacist ideology is that you obtained the right to be here through negotiation and agreement” (25). Notice that Johnson is shifting between the words “occupation” and “sovereignty,” words that are not synonyms. Otherwise, “[w]e are left to assume that the Crown stole sovereignty, and that certainly is not honourable” (25). 

One of the ceremonies given to the Cree by the Creator is adoption, and for Johnson that is what happened when the treaties were negotiated. “It was in accordance with the law of adoption that my family took your ancestors as relatives,” he writes. “We solemnized the adoption with a sacred pipe. The promises that my ancestors made are forever, because they were made under the Creator’s law. This adoption ceremony is what we refer to when we talk about treaty” (27). The Cree adopted the Queen, according to Johnson, rather than the reverse (29). Of course, the implementation of the treaties did not reflect this understanding, and Cree societal structures have been damaged as a result. That is because of the difference between the written text of the treaty and the oral histories about it (41-42). “I doubt the Treaty Commissioner explained the treaty in a way that conveyed the meaning the Crown assigned to the words, ‘cede, release, surrender and yield up . . . all rights titles and privileges,’ and the limits to be placed on hunting and fishing,” Johnson argues (42). Sheldon Krasowski would agree with Johnson on this point, and in No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, he goes beyond Johnson’s conjecture. On the contrary, Johnson argues, Elders who are familiar with the oral histories “dispute the written record of the treaties. . . . When the written record is compared with the oral history, it is clear that much of what my family members said to the commissioner has been omitted, and that which has been recorded has been perverted” (43). The word “perverted” suggested an intentional decision to mislead or misrepresent, which is the opposite of the conclusion J.R. Miller reaches in Compact, Contract, Covenant, or that Michael Asch comes to in On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada. The cultural arrogance of the recorder, the people who write things down, is the reason for this perversion, and it’s a problem that doesn’t exist in oral history, according to Johnson, because in oral history the historians are bound by the Creator to maintain an accurate record of what was said and done, or else they will suffer negative consequences (43-44). “The written text of the treaties has no more authority than the oral histories,” Johnson continues. “The authority assigned to the written text is a subversion of what really happened,” which was that settlers “came under our law when you came to this territory. That is simple. You abide by the laws, customs, and traditions of the people in whose territory you reside (45).

Abiding by Cree law would mean abolishing hierarchies and artificial entities like corporations (46, 47, 49). It would also mean understanding that good and evil are extremes best avoided. “Our way of being is our understanding of where we are in relation to our environment,” Johnson writes. “This understanding has many more possibilities than the extremes of good and evil” (51). It would also mean abandoning adversarial ways of thinking about the world (57), as well as the belief that settler society is superior to the Cree. “As long as you insist on your doctrine of superiority, you will be in breach of that law [the law of adoption], and you will not develop your understanding,” Johnson writes. “We want to talk to you but you will not listen” (53).

Other changes would be necessary if Johnson’s understanding of the treaty became widespread, including the abandonment of the concept of property, which is inconsistent with the treaty’s promise to share the land and its resources. “The concept of property is laid over the earth like a sheet of clear plastic: invisible, sterile, and devoid of human connection,” Johnson writes (64). It would also mean that Cree nations have sovereignty, rather than the Crown. “We did not give you control over the entire territory, nor did we abdicate our responsibility to the earth,” Johnson contends. “Under our law, we did not have the right to pass off our duty to your family, to surrender our choice, our authority” (67). Also, the responsibility for resources would have to lie with First Nations, not the province—that decision violates the treaties (68). 

Moreover, the Canadian Constitution would have to be understood as secondary to the treaties. “Your acknowledgement of the treaties as first documents will begin to put us back in balance,” Johnson writes. “When your family accepts that this country’s founding families are yours and mine, then we can begin to search for other truths” (84-85). The doctrine of sovereignty would be unneeded, because settlers “have a treaty right to occupy and use this territory,” granted through the ceremony of adoption. “Sovereignty is an old excuse to deny my family’s equality with yours. Your family has sovereignty and mine does not” (89). And the written text of the treaties? “Kiciwamanawak, my family did not adopt a piece of paper; they adopted you. The paper at tre aty was ancillary to ceremony. My ancestors recognized your paper as your ceremony and participated so as not to offend” (90). The Constitution therefore becomes secondary to the oral treaty record. “I cannot accept that your constitutional documents have any power,” Johnson writes. “I cannot talk to those papers and tell them of the plight of my family. I can only talk to you, Kiciwamanawak, and remind you that you have treaty rights” (90). In fact, the Constitution is a treaty right, according to Johnson (92). He disagrees strenuously with the Constitution’s language regarding existing Aboriginal rights. “The assumption that your family can determine the rights of my family is never clearly articulated in your constitutional documents,” he writes. “Neither have your courts ever articulated a legitimate theory. Authority is merely assumed. Kiciwamanawak, I can only suspect the reason that the theory of your domination is never clearly articulated is because your family does not have one. The old theories of discovery or conquest or emptiness no longer hold true” (103). In fact, the Constitution itself “is subservient to and dependent on the treaties for its legitimacy,” Johnson argues. “There is no other legitimate basis for your occupation and use of this territory. It is only by treaty that you have any rights here at all” (105). And so Johnson returns to his starting point: “If we return to the original intention of treaty and recognize that we are relatives, Kiciwamanawak, we should be able to walk into the future in a good way” (121).

Two Families is a powerful expression of an Indigenous perspective on the treaties. It turns the standard way of thinking about Canada upside-down. I think it is definitely is one of the sources Asch uses in his discussion of treaties. There is a logic to Johnson’s argument that is difficult to deny, if you accept his claim that the treaties were ceremonies of adoption. Aimée Craft doesn’t go that far, in her book on Treaty 1, although she would agree with Johnson that the treaty was about sharing territory rather than surrendering it. And, to be honest, I can’t help thinking that our history would be less shameful if Johnson’s ideas had been shared by Victorian Canadians. There would have been no Indian Act, no residential schools, no pass system. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine settlers and First Nations walking into the future “in a good way” (121), even if that’s what reconciliation actually means—although when I think about Johnson’s argument, I become ever more convinced that he’s right, and settlers are wrong.

Works Cited

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

Craft, Aimée. Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One, Purich, 2013. 

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

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

Wolvengrey, Arok. nêhiyawêwin: itwêwina/Cree: words, vol. 1, Cree-English, University of Regina Press, 2001.

69. Michael Asch, On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada

I’ve been thinking about Michael Asch’s On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada for a few days now—and, more to the point, wondering if its possible to square Asch’s argument that the numbered treaties were legitimate against Sheldon Krasowski’s argument in No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous that, because the so-called surrender clause was not mentioned during the negotiations, those treaties are illegitimate—or at least problematic. And, before I fly off later this week, I’d like to get to 70 blog posts. So please allow me to revisit a summary of Asch’s book that I wrote as part of a course I took on treaty relationships with Dr. James Daschuk last summer. If nothing else, this post will be a test of how good these summaries are—whether they allow me to remember the gist of an argument without having to reread the source text. 

Asch’s book takes its title from a statement made by Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision: “Let us face it, we are all here to stay” (3). For Asch, an anthropologist, that statement poses a problem: “it is wrong legally as well as morally to move onto lands belonging to others without first obtaining their permission” (vii). But, as Asch continues, that problem leads to another:  “reconciling this principle with the fact that Canada is on lands that belong to Indigenous peoples” (vii). What might permission from those peoples entail? he asks (vii). Would those treaties allow Canada to act in compliance with the 1960 U.N. Declaration on De-Colonization, from which he derives his first principle, that it is wrong to occupy territory without asking permission first?

At first, Asch writes, he believed that the representatives of the Crown acted fraudulently in negotiating the treaties, because the government of Canada failed to implement the terms of those treaties. However, given the importance of R v. Badger and the Supreme Court’s finding in that case that the Crown, legally, must be regarded as truthful regardless of its original intent, Asch adopted that perspective (viii). He began looking at correspondences between what Indigenous authorities render as the treaty terms now, and what the treaty commissioners actually said. And, for Treaty 4, at least (his test case), Asch found that it seems that Morris meant what he said. That discovery led him to “recalibrate” his interpretation of the treaties (viii). “[T]here is at least a case to be made for the proposition that there were those who acted in good faith in the past, and thus the possibility that, while to act honourably now is to depart from how we have acted in the past, it is also to keep faith with it,” he writes (ix). Moreover, there is the problem of the purported nation-to-nation relationship between First Nations and Canada. “A relationship between equals . . . requires (at least as modernity describes it) that each party is a state with sovereignty and jurisdiction over a territory,” he writes. “Yet Indigenous authorities inform us that we did not acquire sovereignty and jurisdiction over any territory. Therefore,” he continues, “we cannot be equals, for a party that does not have sovereignty and jurisdiction in a territory cannot have the same standing as one that does” (x). Here we see the influence of Harold Johnson’s argument in Two Families: Treaties and Government that Canada did not acquire sovereignty as a result of the treaties. These are the questions Asch takes up in his book.

What authorizes the presence of settlers in this territory, aside from our numbers and our power (3)? For Asch, this question needs to be answered; otherwise, Canada is in violation of the Declaration on De-Colonization. Moreover, the question of how the Crown gained sovereignty—since Canada has made it clear that although First Nations have rights that flow from the period prior to the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty, it will not accept that this situation “might call into question the final legislative authority of the Crown” (10-11)—needs to be answered. How did the Crown gain its sovereignty? How can that sovereignty be reconciled with the pre-existence of Indigenous societies, and not the other way around (11)?

Asch begins his exploration of these questions by looking into the history of Aboriginal rights in Canada, at least since the Calder decision. “[T]he courts to date have adhered to the same position as the government of Canada: Aboriginal rights, whatever their content, are subordinate to the sovereignty of Canada,” he writes. “And, to reiterate, this formulation begs the most fundamental question: If Indigenous peoples had legitimate sovereignty when Europeans first arrived, how did the Crown legitimately acquire it?” (32). Clearly, recent judicial decisions have not answered this question.

Next, Asch responds to Tom Flanagan’s 2000 book, First Nations, Second Thoughts. Flanagan argues that temporal priority—essentially, the principle of first come, first served—does not apply in Canada in terms of the Crown’s sovereignty, and Asch demonstrates that it does (38). Flanagan argues that sovereignty over Indigenous peoples has legitimated itself over time, but Asch shows that because First Nations have not accepted this sovereignty, it has not legitimated itself (38). Flanagan asserts that Europeans were more civilized than Indigenous peoples, and therefore deserved to exercise sovereignty; Asch compares this position to the Declaration on De-Colonization, and suggests that Flanagan is relying “on a discredited convention that is a holdover from the colonial era” (54). “The question, then, is not whether the principle of temporal priority applies,” Asch writes, “but what are the consequences of applying it?” (58).

Asch then turns to the question of whether Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. If not, then the Declaration on De-Colonization does not apply to Canada. He determines that yes, they do have the right of self-determination, despite the arguments of Flanagan and Alan Cairns. This fact, along with Crown sovereignty and the presence of settlers on Indigenous lands, presents Asch with a dilemma, one he believes can be solved through a focus on treaty rights.

But the treaties present another problem: there is an “extreme dissonance” (78) between the the understandings of the treaties of the two negotiating parties. For the authors of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, that dissonance means that there was in fact a lack of consent to the treaties, due to the cultural differences of the negotiators. “The commission suggests that the proper approach to resolving the differences is to reach a shared agreement as to the treaties’ meaning based on the assumption that both interpretations carry equal weight” (79), and this will mean considering oral evidence. Asch is following Aimée Craft’s argument in Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One here (although he doesn’t cite her book, probably because he wasn’t able to consult it as he was writing On Being Here To Stay since it had not yet been published). “[I]t is my view that, despite cultural differences, there is every chance that these parties could have achieved a degree of shared understanding at the time of negotiations to conclude an agreement based on mutual consent,” Asch writes. “In other words, one cannot rule out the possibility that the position advanced by one of the parties today more closely conforms to what actually transpired at the time of treaty making than does the other” (80). 

Asch’s test case is, as I’ve already mentioned, Treaty 4. After carefully examining the transcript of the negotiations in Morris’s book on the treaties he negotiated, Asch concludes that 

there is virtually nothing in the transcript that supports an interpretation of the extinguishment clause as resulting in the political subordination of the Indigenous parties to the government of Canada. Rather, it is more consistent with the evidence to conclude that the shared understanding of Treaty 4 resulted in a direct political alliance with the Queen. (90) 

He presents a complicated—some might say tortured—reading of the surrender clause that concludes that “First Nations are entering into the same relationship with the queen as between her and the Dominion” (91)—that, in other words, the negotiating parties ended up on a nation-to-nation basis. Asch concludes:

I think the evidence clearly shows that, on the balance of probabilities, the interpretation of the terms of Treaty 4 offered by our Indigenous partners today more accurately reflects the agreement we reached than does the version transmitted to us through the written text. That is, to gain their permission to settle on lands we recognized as belonging to them, we asked only to share the land with them (not take it over as by purchasing it). In return, we promised to do our utmost to ensure that our presence on these lands would result in benefits to them, and certainly would cause them no harm. Furthermore, whether or not we believed we had sovereignty, we treated our partners as independent political actors with their own leaders and with a right to make the final decision on our request, and there is nothing in the evidence to substantiate the proposition that, either in our minds or in theirs, the treaty terms were such that they would change the nature of our relationship. . . . Put succinctly, but perhaps too mechanically, the agreement was this: they would share the land, and we would treat them like our own brothers and sisters. (97)

If we accept the possibility that the version of Treaty 4 offered by First Nations was the product of good-faith negotiations, then that treaty is a remarkable achievement—a shared understanding, despite cultural differences, and one that offers a path to move beyond colonial relations (97-98). If, on the other hand, we think Morris and the other Crown negotiators lied, then the treaties become worthless pieces of paper and our right to be here disappears. Therefore, it’s better to treat them as legitimate (99). But the expediency of acting as if Treaty 4 is legitimate doesn’t make sense if, as Krasowski argues, the fact that the surrender clause was not discussed, mentioned, or explained renders the Crown’s claim on the land to be, well, specious and unfounded.

The treaties’ legitimacy means that Canada and First Nations are in a nation-to-nation relationship, Asch argues. “Indigenous peoples have spoken to us with one voice: using our conceptual frame, they had sovereignty and jurisdiction in their territories when we first arrived and they have not voluntarily relinquished this through treaties,” he writes. Therefore, “if we want to move ahead in implementing the treaty relationship in good faith, it seems reasonable to start by accepting that, no matter where our partners reside . . . they live on land that remains under their sovereignty and jurisdiction” (111-12). That argument leads him to agree with Harold Johnson’s position: “the only path for us to take is to join Indigenous polities as immigrants” (112). The Two Row Wampum, and the Cree principle of witaskewin, or living together on the land, emphasize the necessity of sharing the land and not interfering in the way First Nations manage their affairs (114). The treaties, in other words, bind us together permanently, even though settlers do not have sovereignty: “Two nations live together as partners though there is but one sovereign” (119). 

The linking principle demonstrated by the Two Row Wampum and witaskewin is central to Asch’s argument here. “Saying that the linking principle has the power to bind us to this land is one thing,” he writes. “Believing it to be possible is another. And while, at the end of the day, I know it is incumbent on us to take our partners at their word, the idea that sovereignty over a territory takes precedence is so fundamental in our thinking that it would be useful to attempt to conceptualize how linking could have that power in its absence” (119). Asch then turns more explicitly to Johnson’s claim that the treaties meant we became relatives. He suggests that the linking principle is similar to marriage, in which, to survive, two families have to come together and yet remain distinct, and compares this to the Two Row Wampum example, in which both partners have autonomy and equality, but need the other to survive (127-31). Or, to use another metaphor, the treaty is the foundation of a house we are building together with First Nations, a house in which we both can live (132). 

Using Anthony E. Smith’s concept of “ethnie,” a group with a common myth of descent, distinctive culture, association with specific territory, sense of solidarity, and identity (135),  Asch then demonstrates that in the 1870s, when the numbered treaties were being negotiated, First Nations on the prairies were living in multi-ethnie communities without a common sovereign or ethnie to bind them together (138). “One can readily imagine that our partners anticipated that we would adhere to the same principles; that is, we would not try to incorporate our partners into an ‘institutional-cum-territorial’ container of our own making but would rather link arms with them to shape a container in which we could all live together comfortably” (139). After all, that is what First Nations were already used to. “Looked at in this light,” Asch writes, “the treaties express our mutual commitment to that understanding” (139). That, of course, is precisely what did not happen, and Asch describes the results of our failure to act with kindness toward our treaty partners (142-48). “Nonetheless,” he writes, “I believe that returning to the promises we made in the treaties gives us a purchase on where to begin now” (149). “We must also act in accord with the spirit and intent of the treaties as they were negotiated,” he writes (150). Therefore, he suggests that in the future this understanding must orient our interactions not only with First Nations with which we have negotiated treaties, but also with those with which we have not (151). “My thesis comes down to this: Treaties offer us the means to reconcile the fact that we are ‘here to stay’ with the fact that there were people already here when we first arrived,” he concludes (152).

But that’s not the end of Asch’s argument. By examining biographical evidence, he suggests that Morris and Lord Dufferin, the Governor-General in the 1870s, honestly believed that the commitments they made in return to settle on the prairies would be kept (157). Morris advocated for faithful implementation of the spirit of the treaties, and as a result his authority over treaty implementation was removed in 1877 (161). When he continued to protest the breaking of the treaties, he was pushed out as lieutenant governor and Edgar Dewdney became Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the North West Territory. Dewdney implemented policies of deliberate starvation of First Nations (161). 

Harold Cardinal once described the treaties as our Magna Carta, but Asch notes that settlers don’t think of them that way, despite their fundamental importance. Canada’s historiography shows that we pay little attention to the treaties, and therefore do not understand them. However, he writes,

[w]hen we include in our history the position on the importance of treaty making offered by Commissioner Morris and Lord Dufferin, a different picture emerges. What then becomes clear is that, at the time of Confederation, the view taken by those who controlled treaty implementation was contested by a prominent leader in building Confederation and by the queen’s official representative. They believed that in Canada to be “here to stay” would mean making treaties amenable to all before settling on new lands and adhering to them. In this rendering, treaties become like the Magna Carta for us, for they are the foundation that legitimizes our settlement on these lands. As Morris suggested, to dishonour our obligations would be to call into question that legitimacy. And I think it fair to say that, were Settlers by and large to come to that view, then governments would be encouraged to act on the understanding that our treaty obligations are solemn commitments and not policy options. But this cannot happen so long as this debate is written out of our history. What I suggest is that, at the very least, we incorporate the perspective of Dufferin and Morris on treaty relations into the story we tell of Confederation and the settling of the west. (164)

Asch’s take on Morris is markedly different from J.R. Miller’s, in his 2009 book Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada, and I honestly don’t know who to believe. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. If we need to assume that the Crown behaved honourably in the treaty negotiations, then it doesn’t matter whether Morris actually did—although the historical precedent of honest dealing and shared understanding is encouraging. What we need to do is keep faith to the principles Asch finds in the treaty-making process: gaining consent from those who were here first, keeping our commitments to them, and rectifying any harm our actions have caused (165). That is what reconciliation would look like. And yet, I’m haunted by Krasowski’s claim that Morris, and the other Crown negotiators, did not behave honourably—that they lied by omission about the surrender clause.

When I first read Asch’s book, I believed his argument made sense, particularly regarding the purported source of Crown sovereignty. His argument could help us to imagine a different way of engaging with First Nations. Perhaps being allowed to imagine that a nation-to-nation relationship is logically possible (rather than simply a matter of power and numbers) would be yet another gift from Canada’s Indigenous partners. In any case, there is now no question in my mind that the treaties were intended to be about sharing the land—from the Indigenous perspective, and if Asch is right about Morris, from the Crown negotiators’ perspective as well. And yet, as I’ve suggested, Krasowski’s book throws my faith in Asch’s argument up in the air. I now find myself wondering if his complicated reading of the surrender clause in the Treaty 4 document isn’t too clever by half—that we need to acknowledge that, because that clause was never discussed or mentioned by the Crown negotiators, the treaty’s validity is in jeopardy. And if that’s the case, as Asch points out, then settlers are simply squatting on this land, and we have no right to be here. That’s a pretty big problem.

Oh, and to answer the question I asked myself at the beginning of this summary: yes, the summary is useful, although I will eventually have to revisit Asch’s interpretation of the Treaty 4 surrender clause, to parse through his reading of it again.

Works Cited

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

Craft, Aimée. Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One, Purich, 2013.

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

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

Miller, J.R. Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2009.