Relating/Related

Content warning: mental illness; suicide

In 1877, Mary Huestis Pengilly and her husband, Robert, lost their home and business in the Great Fire of Saint John. They had five sons and one daughter. The couple separated soon after, and Mary moved to Lowell, Massachusetts with her daughter, Clara, who died in 1882 at the age of 12. In 1883, several of Mary’s sons had her committed to a Saint John-area psychiatric hospital.

For six months, Mary kept her Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum (1885), recording her neglect and mistreatment at the hands of institutional doctors and staff while unwillingly inhabiting the asylum in the parish of Lancaster, now west Saint John. The diary is also a plea, in the end, to “the ladies” of New Brunswick, those who might better “understand the weakness or the misfortunes” that brought women like Mary “under the necessity of being protected by the public” (25). By capturing the attention and sympathy of her “fellow-sisters,” Mary believed she could rally enough concern to reach the Governor and to reform the asylum’s Board of Commissioners.

Image: source

It’s easy to relate to Mary’s needs for warmth, kindness, rest, and nourishing food, which are consistent across this text, reflecting the essential structural failures of a system and a society that either could not or would not provide her with the support or comfort she required in the wake of such rupture and loss. One of the primary villains of the narrative is medical superintendent James T. Steeves — who may or may not have gifted a straitjacket to Henry Houdini in 1896, providing “an essential prop in Houdini’s popular escape routines” (See Mike Wong, “Centracare: A History,” 16). From Mary’s perspective, Steeves is a jailer who assures her sons that she is “a lunatic” while quietly warning her, in other moments, that patients who leave the hospital “hang [themselves]” (12, 22).

As a reader, I can relate to Mary, but as a human being, I am related to Steeves. He is my cousin, connected to me through my father and through the family descended from Heinrich and Regina Steif, who crossed the Atlantic in the mid eighteenth-century and settled, eventually, in Sikniktuk, Mi’kma’ki. This is a useful distinction: I cannot relate to Steeves here, but I am related to him. And because of my relation to Steeves, which remains indifferent to my unwillingness or inability to relate to him, I can’t read Mary’s narrative as I might be tempted to otherwise. Certainly, it would be easier to allow my revulsion for a bad actor to isolate that figure outside of the relational framework that I construct while reading. Instead, while I relate to Mary and her suffering, I also feel a kind of responsibility for her narrative.

I am still working through my relationship to this text and to this history. But as I prepare several new classes for the fall, I am thinking about how this principle might apply in other contexts. What does it mean, for example, when a Settler reads a residential school narrative and relates only to the children and the Indigenous families? I see this kind of failure in self reflection everywhere, in and outside of academia — and so how do we want non-Indigenous students to understand their own relationship to such narratives, and how might we help lead them there? What does it mean when a white person relates to a Black man murdered by police without ever pondering their relationship to the violent act? ‘

Can we ever be changed or transformed if the bad actors that we encounter are continuously cast outside of our relational frameworks? I am not talking about finding the humanity or the complexity in history’s or society’s bad actors. We do not need to relate to their ugliness, but we need ways to understand and explore how we may be related to it.

Research Notes: “‘Camp Nature’ Nerepis, N.B.” (poem on birch bark, 1900)

Loyalist City Coin in uptown Saint John is a great place to find regional materials long out of print, and last week I spent over an hour flipping through their document bins, pulling out whatever I thought might be of interest to friends and family. For myself, I was delighted to find Joleen Gordon’s book on Edith Clayton’s market baskets, which I hoarded from the UNB library for most of the duration of my PhD, perennially hoping for the time and opportunity to write something about splintwood basketry as an important literary tradition in Nova Scotia.

This poem, written on birch bark and dated August 7, 1900, also stood out to me.

1900 Aug. 7 “Camp Nature” Nerepis N.B.

We sit and look each other at
And feel that we could fly
Because we’re content and all that
Just having done blueberry pie

Mrs. McKenzie kind and good
Some luscious pies did make
And sent to “Camp Nature” in wood
One that just simply took the cake

As long as Mrs. Mack’s on earth
May she be blest with all that’s good
‘Tis wished of Pies there’ll ne’er be dearth
By those in “Camp Nature” in wood.

“Argole”

Provincial, county, university, and museum archives remain closed at this time, and so the amount of digging I’ve been able to do into the various contexts for this document remains limited. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my Google search for “McKenzie+Nerepis+Pie” was fruitless.

In an essay from The Creative City of Saint John, Donald McAlpine describes Camp Nature as a “summer retreat” on the Nerepis River that “was built between 1899 and 1902 by William McIntosh and Gordon Leavitt on property owned by McIntosh. The camp was the site of Natural History Society of New Brunswick outings, and both McIntosh and Leavitt pursued entomological activity in the surrounding area, Leavitt collecting species of sawflies new to science” (38). We know that Settlers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sometimes wrote on birch bark: in 1862, for example, Alex Monro prepared the table of contents for his Native Woods of New Brunswick: – 76 Specimens on bark; and in the 1940s, some soldiers wrote letters home on bark, generally making use of whatever materials were available to them.

Image source: Rodney Arthur Savidge Milham Lecture, March 22, 2000. Link

If it is likely, then, that the date of 1900 on the poem is accurate, and that it was written by someone either summering or visiting at Camp Nature in Nerepis, then other Nerepis (or Nalihpick/N’welihpick, meaning “the place where I eat well”) contexts may be relevant. Micah Pawling has written about seasonal camps throughout the Wolastoqey homeland, and he cites the camp at at the confluence of the Nerepis and Wolastoq rivers as one of many instances in which, after the establishment of reserve lands, Wolastoqi people maintained connections with the southern river valley.

Image source: Micah Pawling, “Wəlastəkwey (Maliseet) Homeland:
Waterscapes and Continuity within the Lower St. John River Valley, 1784-1900
,” Acadiensis 46.2 (2017) Link

Anne Sacobie, who lived at St. Mary’s, is but one person who is said to have returned to the camp at Nerepis, along with other camps throughout the southern Wolastoqey homeland, for many years. The following image of her at Evandale is featured on an historical display midway across the Nerepis bridge, which I drove out to examine shortly after finding the poem:

Image source: Link

The Wolastoqey camp at Nerepis was active until the 1970’s. Its inhabitants would harvest fiddleheads, ash, and sweetgrass, trap muskrat, fish, and sell or trade materials with other local residents. I do not yet know to what degree the populations from Camp Nature and the Wolastoqey camp might have socialized, but it would not surprise me to learn that the inhabitants of the former benefited — in terms of both materials and information — from the proximity of the latter. At this point in my inquiry, all I can do is speculate, which is not especially useful.

When I first saw this poem in the bin, I immediately intellectually placed it in the tradition of awikhiganak, the writings on birch bark that predate European literary systems in this land. For the Wolastoqiyik, awikhigan had many uses, but one was to communicate survival information, including information about where to find food. I love this poem — about how to stave off blueberry pie scarcity — as an awikhigan, and I am pondering the degree to which this context remains intact and relevant whether it was penned by a Wolastoqi person or not.

Because there is a possibility, however small, that this poem was written by a Wolastoqi person, I am sharing this information early in the research process. It feels ethically ambiguous to keep it to myself, and certainly, if there is any chance that this is a piece of Wolastoqiyik material culture, then I would like to return it to a citizen of that nation as soon as possible. Please e-mail me at rbryant@dal.ca (or send me a message wherever we may be connected) if you have any thoughts or concerns about this aspect of the project.

If, as I currently suspect, the poem was written by a Settler, I am interested to pursue the questions of how Settler and Indigenous communities related to each other in Nerepis at the turn of the 20th century, and in what spirit Settlers in this region, including Monro and others, have participated in the tradition of awikhiganak.

Update: Shortly after publishing this note, I was grateful to hear from Peter Larocque at the New Brunswick Museum: “Just saw your research note regarding Camp Nature. I am not completely certain, but almost convinced that the author, Argole, is one of Camp Nature’s founders, Arthur Gordon Leavitt. ARGOLE is most likely an acronym using the first two letters of each of his names.”

Remembering Each Other

My children are young, and I am responsible for remembering their lives – from the elaborate baby books to the time my three-year old, now six, identified the contents of a ground beef package at the grocery store as meat noodles.

If I don’t record these moments, these milestones, they will dissipate like dandelion spores. There will never be another source for this information. Nobody will ever know these dandelions like I do. Google baby book guilt – it’s a whole thing, this feeling that their childhoods are slipping away unrecorded, this fear that I will, as a parent, be someday held to account over my handling of these details. When did I first wave? my third-born adult child will demand, sadness and accusation in his eyes. How big was my head?

There are apps that will text me specific questions about my children, recording the answers for posterity so that even if I forget, even when I’m too busy, the archiving process will continue. What is [Child A’s] favourite bedtime story? Does [Child B] collect anything? These companies will turn my answers into books and keepsakes if I pay them enough, but what I use instead are large, grey Rubbermaid totes, stacked in a tower in the basement and filled with the material fragments of my children’s lives, from NICU wires and hospital bracelets to locks of hair, post-its with scrawled measurements from doctor’s appointments, daycare crafts, gifts, awards, handprints. If these fragments can someday become offerings then I might, in the end, be found worthy.

What will our children remember about this time? Home for weeks or months, cut off from friends and grandparents, suddenly barred from the beach but allowed on the iPad. Will they remember the cracks in us – our sadness, our fear? What will we remember for them, and what will we forget?

Look for the helpers, we have learned to say, invoking Fred Rogers’s famous words to divert children’s attention away from the horrors on the news and back to goodness and security. There are helpers in every tragedy, we know, so focus on them. But the people who were killed in Nova Scotia last week were the helpers – the nurses, the front line workers leaving their families behind to nurture strangers, the teachers. Ordinary people doing their best, doing what was right or going about their lives. These were our good neighbours, looking out for each other, keeping others safe, risking their own lives, running toward the burning buildings, stopping because they were asked, stopping to help.

Gathered at the end of our driveway last night, we lit candles and sat on the ground. I told my son, 22 people died in Nova Scotia last week, and the people in Nova Scotia want us to be sad with them tonight.

What were their names? he wanted to know.

Tom, my mom said.

Heidi, I said, but that was all, because I couldn’t remember the others.

There is a concrete slab in our back yard where, two years ago, just after it had been poured, we wrote our kids’ names with sticks. Likely thinking of that, he asked if we could pour new concrete and write the names of the people who died so that we can remember and not forget.

Research Notes: Thomas Carleton, Charter of the City of Saint John (1785)

This evening I read the Charter of the City of Saint John (1785; reprint 1811) for the first time. Its author, Thomas Carleton, was the first Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, and he oversaw the arrival of the Loyalists in the final decades of the eighteenth century. If you live in New Brunswick, you’ve seen his name everywhere — on school buildings, towns, and counties. The tallest mountain in the province is named after him.

But until tonight, I don’t think I’d ever actually read something that he authored. Two sections of this document jumped out at me. The first, from the preamble, articulates Carleton’s desire to unite “the inhabitants of the Town or District of Parr, lying on the east side of the River Saint John” with those “of Carleton on the west side thereof, at the entrance of the River Saint John aforesaid, both which Districts are in our Province of New Brunswick, in America.” He describes a people who “have, by their exertions, conquered many of the difficulties attending the settlement of a new country” and who are now “anxious to remove the remaining evils they at present labor under.” Those who know me will understand why I find this combination of language — America, evil, conquest — very compelling; but also, this does not strike me as Loyalist sentiment.

And then, much later, there’s this:

. . . for us, our heirs and successors, we do will and hereby declare, that although the people of colour are black persons now residing in our said City, and hereafter to come and reside therein, are by these presents excluded the privilege of being or becoming free citizens thereof, yet it is not our pleasure that those who should be found good, discreet and honest persons of that description, should be wholly deprived of the means of getting and having a comfortable support for themselves and their families; and therefore we do will and grant, that the Mayor of the said City, for the time being, may from time to time, as he shall think proper, by warrant under his hand and seal, license any of the said people of colour to reside in the said City, and to carry on any business or occupation which he shall think fit, and express in such license; and the same license and licenses at his pleasure to suppress, any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding.

Some might argue that this kind of language and policy in a document from this era isn’t surprising — since, around the same time, U.S. officials drafted a Constitution that ascribed a value of “3/5 a person” to each black slave within its borders. But I can’t recall having read anything in the historiography of this region about municipal governments using licence systems to control the presence, movements, and actions of black people within or around major settlements, and I could not find similar sections in the town charters for Shelburne or Halifax. I have read work on “black codes” in both southern and northern states in the nineteenth century but nothing on similar laws in British America in the eighteenth century. I’d be happy to hear from any of my colleagues on this point.

An Act in further amendment to the Charter of the City of Saint John, passed in 1849, contains a section titled “Coloured persons may be made free.” That amendment reads, “Notwithstanding any thing in the said Charter to the contrary contained, any black person or person of colour may become a free citizen of, and be admitted to the freedom of the said City.”

Update: Zoe Jackson wrote a fabulous blog post on this topic last year that contains much more context and information. She writes, “the 1785 document can be considered one of earliest acts of institutional discrimination against Black individuals in Atlantic Canada. The Saint John Charter was based upon the 1686 Dongan Charter of the Province of New York, which officially incorporated New York as a city.”

More cultural storytelling in Peskotomuhkatik

This morning brought a new piece by one of my favourite local authors, Julia Wright — one about Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Testaments, which apparently concludes with a scene on Campobello Island, a Canadian island that is connected by bridge to the state of Maine at the entrance of the Passamaquoddy Bay.

From Wright’s piece:

Kate Johnston, manager of marketing and visitor services at Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which preserves the summer home of late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, called the literary salute “pretty cool.”

. . .

“Margaret Atwood has been pretty upfront about the fact that she is inspired by the events that have been happening in the United States.”

“Campobello is such an interesting place — so Canadian, but at the same time it has such a tie to the United States.”

McLean said that in the context of the plot, Campobello Island is the “perfect” setting for the novel’s conclusion.

The Testaments is not on my immediate to-read list, but I find these ideas very interesting, and I can’t help but wonder whether Atwood’s plot, and the mythologies upon which it presumably rests, engages or further obscures the actual place currently called Campobello.

Campobello is home to Friar’s Rock (or Skitap Man Rock), a “rock formation” on the sea coast that has “a Romeo and Juliet style story attached to it.” This story is from Passamaquoddy oral tradition, and you can read a version of it, as told by Donald Soctomah, in Siobhan Senier’s Dawnland Voices anthology. I am currently teaching an Indigenous Literatures course at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, and I carefully walked my students through this story in class just last week.

In Soctomah’s telling, Campobello is not a fragment of New Brunswick or an island on the margin of Canada but rather a Passamaquoddy summer village where Passamaquoddy people have been gathering for thousands of years. Over the course of some of these summers, a young girl named Sipsis and a boy named Posu fall in love, but each winter they retreat to their respective families’ hunting camps. As Sipsis and Posu grow older, their families begin to notice and disapprove of their summer bond, and Sipsis is sent to live on an island across the bay. For every year after, Sipsis and Posu gaze longingly across the water, dreaming of one another.

Soctomah writes:

Years passed and time flew by; they each called to Gloscap to grant them a wish, and both asked that their love would last through eternity. He heard their songs of love and felt their passion, but their families did all they could to prevent this. One day Posu was walking along the shore and suddenly his wish was granted: he had become a large rock in the shape of a man looking across the Bay, and Sipsis on the shore of the other island at the same instant also became a large rock in the shape of a woman; she too was looking across the Bay to her love. Forever they would look across the Bay to each other as symbols of true love. (p. 179)

The Sipsis rock is on what some today call Moose Island, Maine; the rock is called Pilsqehsis Woman Rock. Here is a Google map image of how Campobello and Moose islands are situated in the bay:

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.59.39 AM.png

 

One island in Maine, another in New Brunswick. One rock formation in Gilead, one in Canada. But both islands are actually in Peskotomuhkatik, which is Passamaquoddy territory, home of the Passamaquoddy tribal nation. I have written elsewhere about how Canada and the United States (or northern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick) are violent impositions on Peskotomuhkatik. The borderline that non-Indigenous people drew through this territory after the American Revolution effectively clarified the spheres of dominance for two resource-hungry settler colonial societies but it failed to actually rupture this territory, where Passamaquoddy people have lived for centuries, where the rocks tell their own love stories, and where people and place are inseparable despite any and all artificially imposed divisions.

And so we, Settler people, are again telling stories about Peskotomuhkatik.

But what stories are we telling about this land and what it represents, and who are we to tell them? Do our stories actually have anything to do with Peskotomuhkatik, a place where Indigenous people have an average life expectancy of forty-eight years, or are we once again using Passamaquoddy land to tell our own stories about settler colonial political culture or about the supposed differences between Canadians and Americans? Historically, the stories that we have told about this place have been much louder in our shared public discourse than the stories of this place itself. I hope questions of Passamaquoddy cultural and territorial sovereignty do not get lost in conversations about Atwood’s widely anticipated new novel.

Hiatus

Welcome, and thank you for your interest in my work. Please note that I am on leave from summer, 2018 until mid-2019. During this time, I will be slow responding to e-mails, but I will do my very best to get back to you. Thank you for understanding!

Family Separations, John Smith’s General Historie, and our Empathy Crisis

Halfway through John Smith’s General Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), the Powhatans and the English colonists exchange children. By this point in Smith’s text, the English have been customarily adopted into the Powhatan nation, a sophisticated polity that, before the arrival of the Virginia Company, consisted of more than thirty distinct peoples.

Smith describes the exchange as follows:

The next day [Christopher] Newport came a shore and received as much content as [the Powhatans] could give him: a boy named Thomas Salvage was then given unto [Wahunsenaca], whom Newport called his sonne; for whom [Wahunsenaca] gave him Namontack his trustie servant, and one of a shrewd, subtill capacatie. (p. 107)

In a forthcoming special issue of AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples — one dedicated to adoption and Indigenous citizenship orders, edited by Damien Lee and Kahente Horn-Miller — I discuss this moment in the context of Powhatan kinship and adoption protocols. This is just one of many scenes from Smith’s text that captures Wahunsenaca and the Powhatans in the process of solidifying social bonds that subsequent generations of colonists and Settlers should have had a difficult time breaking, had they at all understood or respected what was happening around them.

Time and again in Smith’s text, the English colonists struggle to glean or take seriously the implications of the Powhatans’ actions. Always teetering on the brink of starvation, the colonists remain frustratingly and, at times, absurdly oblivious to the able willingness of the Powhatans to demonstrate how to live happily and healthfully in Tsenacomoca.

Largely, my article is about the specific narrative process through which Smith disparaged, destroyed, and moved to supplant Powhatan kinship structures and obligations, consolidating patriarchal governance structures against existing Indigenous laws. When discussing the above mentioned scene in which the two sides trade children, I use sources from Mattaponi oral history, along with this excellent thesis on Indigenous customary adoption practices, to argue that through the exchange, the English entered into a common Powhatan familial arrangement — one that was generally reserved for close relatives, and one in which the needs of children and adults were weighted pretty much equally. From the perspective of the Powhatans, “a period of time living with another family member” would have been “a regular part of the upbringing and education of a child” (Trerise, p. 172). Such exchanges maintained and strengthened kinship relations within and across the diverse Powhatan polity, valuing and empowering children as useful and important diplomatic agents, building intimacy across distance and difference, and providing valuable opportunities for each community to learn more about the other through peaceful (or non-threatening) intermediaries.

Because I couldn’t discuss every aspect of this scene in my article, which, again, focuses primarily on Smith’s descriptions of Powhatan customary adoption practices, I wanted to explore another angle here — specifically, the idea that Smith, Newport, and the other English colonists would have been familiar with their own practice of exchanging children, and that their culturally specific practice might have been a significant part of what prevented them from understanding or empathizing with the Powhatans.

Briefly, in early modern England, family units were structured to uphold the power and authority of the state. Patriarchy infused and policed dominant social views, acting as what Stephanie Coontz calls, in her History of American Families, “the glue that bound individuals to households and households to communities” (p. 79). The primary function of colonial households was to mold children into subservient adults who would likewise reproduce the authority of patriarchal governance. In these structures, fathers — like political leaders — essentially had no hard and fast obligations to the people they ruled over. They were simply the authorities, and their households were the rigidly stratified, highly regulated environments that could train children to live obediently within the established hierarchies of English society.

This is why English families would commonly exchange children — not to forge or to deepen kinship relations or to empower children as important members of society but to actively circumvent parents’ natural instincts or impulses to respect or care tenderly for their own kids. Parents immersed in this political culture found it much easier to raise, train, and indeed abuse children who were not their own — children who they themselves did not love. Thus, for the good of the state and its structures, English children would be routinely separated from their families and sent to live among strangers. These separations would in turn help perpetuate the continuous and systematic reproduction of a society that, as a whole, lacked certain essential qualities — such as empathy.

[Here’s just one article about how childhood trauma and/or abuse affects empathy.]

Anglo-American colonial literature is in many ways the story of one society’s collective failure to extend empathy to another. But this legacy of childhood trauma also manifests today in the structures and functions of settler state bodies. In the context of contemporary U.S. political theory, the patriarchal family unit is in many ways similar to what George Lakoff describes as the “strict father” family model, which he locates at the “center of the conservative worldview.” In Moral Politics, he writes,

This model posits a traditional nuclear family, with the father having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall policy, to set strict rules for the behavior of children, and to enforce the rules. The mother has the day-to-day responsibility for the care of the house, raising the children, and upholding the father’s authority. Children must respect and obey their parents; by doing so they build character, that is, self-discipline and self-reliance. Love and nurturance are, of course, a vital part of family life but can never outweigh parental authority, which is itself an expression of love and nurturance—tough love. Self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority are the crucial things that children must learn.

Once children are mature, they are on their own and must depend on their acquired self-discipline to survive. Their self-reliance gives them authority over their own destinies, and parents are not to meddle in their lives.

According to Lakoff, this model is where contemporary conservative morals come from, and it informs the way in which today’s conservatives view government. But Anglo-American Settlers of all political stripes have been using and abusing children to uphold, reproduce, and demonstrate the authority of this governance model since before Jamestown, and one of the most chilling ways in which we have always done this work is through the removal of children from their parents.

These separations help carry our empathy crisis into forever. And so we respond to refugees by closing our borders or by ripping babies from their families. We find new and creative ways of illegitimately removing Indigenous children from their communities and kin. And we live quietly under laws like the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees only up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to new parents, systematically frustrating breastfeeding efforts and/or confounding the production of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the regulation of “social memory and cognition, emotion recognition, empathy, and attachment.”

Settlers urgently need to step back from their lives and think about the kind of world they want to live in. We do not understand what we are doing to others and to ourselves and why, what our governments are doing and why, or how much violence and suffering stems from our refusal to face or heal from our own suppressed histories.

Could a better understanding of those histories help us finally stop treating others so shamefully? I don’t necessarily know the answer to this, but it’s what I want to try.

 

Yes, Canada Did Burn Down the White House in the War of 1812

Yesterday, the New York Times published a fairly smarmy piece by Daniel Victortitled “No, Mr. Trump, Canada Did not Burn Down the White House in the War of 1812.” Here is the crux of Victor’s argument:

“No, Canada did not burn down the White House during the War of 1812, which was fought with Britain over maritime rights. What is now Canada was not yet a country in 1812, but rather British colonies.

Canada didn’t become a nation until 1867, long after British troops did, in fact, burn down the White House in 1814. The fire gutted the president’s house along with several other crucial structures in Washington, which was still a relatively small town when the seat of government moved there 14 years earlier.

[…]

So you can’t really pin that on Canada, considering that Canada didn’t exist.”

Who is responsible for history? Reading Victor’s piece, I was reminded of another article that ran in the New York Times — this one by the Irish Member of Parliament William Trant, originally published in The Westminster Review in 1895. “Canada has never fought the Indians,” Trant argued in that piece,

“and she will not begin to do so now. Never has Canada had an Indian war; an Indian massacre is unknown in the annals of her history. She is too poor to seek glory by slaughtering the natives born of her soil, and too proud to defame her character or stain her escutcheon.”

In the first chapter of The Homing Place, I discuss how this kind of logic was developed to intentionally absolve Settler Canadians of everything that happened on Turtle Island prior to 1867. If the people who today call themselves “Canadians” spontaneously manifested with Confederation, then Settler Canada can’t be implicated in wars fought before that date — we remain pure and guiltless in everything from the Pequot War to Father Le Loutre’s War and beyond, even if the people who fought in those wars were our direct biological or cultural forebears.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this kind of framing makes it very difficult for Settler Canadians to understand or historicize contemporary eruptions and ongoing conflicts, such as the clash at Elsipogtog in 2013. When we protect our societies against their histories, we make our present offences, systematic or otherwise, mostly unintelligible and even unpredictable to ourselves. And this makes us bad neighbours.

In Red Ink, Drew Lopenzina talks about how important the idea of continuance is for Indigenous writers and scholars seeking to help heal the cultural and historical ruptures that have been inflicted on their communities. Many Indigenous scholars are invested in the work of demonstrating continuity — demonstrating that their cultures and nations are the same cultures and nations that were here before colonization. Meanwhile, it seems that societies like mine have been involved in the reverse work — in establishing or maintaining our discontinuity with a past that we can’t bear to claim or associate with. 

We aren’t the only settler society who has changed its name and formation over the course of time, and I can’t help but wonder if Victor would extend this same disassociative logic to the United States, rendering history of the New England and Virginia colonies (for example) suddenly and exclusively British. Who owns the history of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans or the Salem witchcraft trials? What nations were produced by and through the New England colonial wars? Which chapter of my British history textbook contains the story of Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment?

I understand that poking fun at Donald Trump’s endless gaffes can be a fun activity, even if it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But given the historical mythology that pieces like Victor’s are helping to perpetuate this week, I wonder if we should’ve just left this one alone.

Features from The Miramichi Reader

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of electronically “meeting” James Fisher, The Miramichi Reader himself, after he wrote a generous review of my book, The Homing Place.

After I thanked him for his review, he asked if we could arrange an interview to chat more about where I’m coming from and what I’m working on, and I was grateful for the opportunity. Here is a link to that interview in its entirety.

Thank you again, Jim, for your thoughtful questions and your kindness!