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.


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!

News & gratitude

Last month, Lara Minja of Lime Designs was honoured for the absolutely stunning work she did on my book, The Homing Place, which will be showcased during the 2018 Association of University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show in recognition of Lara’s beautiful typographic design. Lara is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and I am so grateful for the work that she did with this project!


Even more recently, the book was selected as a finalist for two regional awards: the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction and an Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing. I was extremely surprised and humbled by these announcements, and more than anything else, perhaps, I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet and chat with other shortlisted authors at events in May and June. Peter J. Clair’s incredible book Taapoategl & Pallet, the best new novel I’ve read in some time, is a finalist for a New Brunswick Book Award in the fiction category, and there’s a question about periwinkles I’ve been dying to ask him.

My experience working with the team at Wilfrid Laurier University Press continues to be fantastic, and I’m grateful to Clare Hitchens for submitting my book for consideration in these competitions!

I’ll be reading from The Homing Place at the Central Branch of the Saint John Free Public Library on Tuesday, May 8 at noon as part of the Atlantic Book Awards Festival (the event  will be co-presented by Fog Lit Festival).

Canadian Literature is a System of Enclosure

I’d been planning to deliver this paper on a panel dedicated to Canadian Exceptionalism at the Modern Language Association convention in New York City, January 5, 2018. Due to a massive winter storm, travel plans have been cancelled, but here is the text of my talk.

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When John Locke wrote, in around 1689, that “in the beginning all the world was America,” he did not mean that all the world was the United States.[i] He was instead invoking a common rationale for the expropriation of Indigenous land and resources – the biblical ethos that would enable the founders of American settler states, like the US and Canada, to view the lands and resources they desired as the natural domain of a chosen people who carried their rights inside of them as they traversed the globe, seeking new land to convert into the service of their missions. When Locke wrote that “in the beginning all the world was America,” he meant that all the world was waiting to be converted into parcels of property by a chosen, exceptional people.

As cultural ideology, exceptionalism exists to systematically justify Settler peoples’ occupation of land and control of resources, but there are ways in which we used to be a whole lot more explicit about this. In the late 1620s, the Mayflower invader Robert Cushman justified his presence in New England by explaining that “[the] God of old did call and summon our fathers by predictions, dreams, visions, and certain illuminations to go from their countries, places and habitations to reside or dwell here or there, and to wander up and down from city to city, and land to land, according to his will and pleasure.”[ii] According to Genesis 1:28, the Judeo-Christian God had instructed his people to “‘fill the earth and subdue it,” to “‘Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground,’” and the Mayflower Settlers, Cushman believed, were simply furthering that mission, just organising their lives around that sacred directive.[iii] Because American settler societies today are comparably secular, it can be more difficult to recognize this rationale at almost constant work; some Canadians might actually recoil from any suggestion that as a society we’re still just trying to act out a command from the Old Testament, and yet this exceptionalism remains fundamental to our extractive structures and economies.

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On the day in November when I started writing this paper, the Supreme Court of Canada greenlit the development of a massive ski resort on sacred Indigenous land in British Columbia. And this is just another day in Settler Canada – because in 2018, Canada’s highest governing structure maintains that section 35 of its Constitution Act does not grant Indigenous nations veto power over our God-given right to pursue development projects. Nothing will get between us and our sacred mission to “subdue” unsettled environments, to convert stolen Indigenous land and resources into our own properties.

Like the US, Settler Canada is an extractive, expropriative state whose unshakable belief in its own essential entitlement to land and resources is so ingrained that we no longer even recognize the historical ideologies informing our behaviours and governance decisions. The early Americanist Drew Lopenzina refers to this phenomenon, the process through which the colonizing culture legitimizes ongoing “violence and oppression by relying on intrinsically ahistorical narrative frameworks,” as unwitnessing – “the largely passive decision to maintain a particular narrative structure by keeping undesirable aspects of cultural memory repressed or inactive.”[iv] Today I’d like to speak about exceptionalism as a deeply undesirable aspect of Settler Canadian cultural memory – one that we have tried to obscure beneath popular invented narratives of peacekeeping and multiculturalism. To facilitate this discussion I’ll be referring to Oliver Goldsmith’s 1825 The Rising Village, known today among Canadiansts as “the first poem to be published in book form by an English Canadian.”[v] In what is perhaps my favourite piece of criticism on this poem, David Jackel argued against Goldsmith’s prominent position in the Canadian canon, concluding that “the poem has historical value, but it is neither a very good poem nor a Canadian documentary. What it ‘documents’ is a state of mind, and that state of mind is not Canadian but colonial.”[vi] For Jackel, as for many others, Canada was something much nobler than a colonizing culture, and Canadian Literature was much more than a settler colonial power structure.

But the colonial mechanisms of this poem are precisely what make it so enduringly Canadian. The poem manifests Settler exceptionalism – through the speaker’s invasion and seizure of land – and then Goldsmith unwitnesses that same exceptionalism through the assertion of a peacekeeper myth. Here’s the point where I’m picking up the thread of Goldsmith’s vision of early Canada – he’s describing the so-called “savage tribes” here:

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So he’s got a cottage at this point, but the woods around his dwelling place are filled with these unsettling people who “maintain / Their right to rule the mountain and the plain.” He’s being told repeatedly and explicitly that the land he’s trying to steal is already someone else’s home, and yet he’s buoyed by an enduring sense of his sacred mission to convert this soil into his property. In accordance with the ideology of exceptionalism, he “retains possession of the soil” no matter what dissenters may say, because the rights he carries inside of his body always trump those of peoples who were not chosen by his God.

Goldsmith offers an important and deeply conventional vision of how to assert and normalize these imported rights, which is fundamentally a matter of outnumbering Indigenous peoples on the ground and of holding or occupying land against competing interests. Here’s how Goldsmith describes the progression of Settler Canadian settlement:

Around his dwelling scattered huts extend,

Whilst every hut affords another friend.

And now, behold! his bold aggressors fly,

To seek their prey beneath some other sky;

Resign the haunts they can maintain no more,

And safety in far distant wilds explore.

Here we’ve got a classic “vanishing race” trope – the Indigenous people just pack up and leave because, in time, they too recognize the Settler’s inherent right to this soil. In deference to those rights, the Indigenous people vacate their ancestral land, the land their Creator gave to them as a gift, the land to which they have important responsibilities — they leave their homes and go west. Because in Settler mythology, Indigenous peoples aren’t really rooted anywhere, they are just wanderers. Goldsmith continues:

His perils vanished, and his fears o’ercome,

Sweet hope portrays a happy peaceful home.

You eradicate Indigenous peoples from your vision, since they’ve been the only thing, to your mind, contesting your title. You drive them from their territory, and then you amend your cultural memory by establishing an idea of yourself as peaceful.

On every side fair prospects charms his eyes,

And future joys in every thought arise.

He has rescued Settler Canadian futurity by eradicating unsettling knowledge from his vision.

His humble cot, built from the neighbouring trees,

Affords protection from each chilling breeze;

His rising crops, with rich luxuriance crowned,

In waving softness shed their freshness round;

By nature nourished, by her bounty blest,

He looks to Heaven, and lulls his cares to rest.

The arts of culture now extend their sway,

And many a charm of rural life display.

Where once the pine upreared its lofty head,

The settlers’ humble cottages are spread;

Where the broad firs once sheltered from the storm,

By slow degrees a neighbourhood they form;

And, as its bounds, each circling year, increase

In social life, prosperity, and peace,

New prospects rise, new objects too appear,

To add more comfort to its lowly sphere.

And here we have the systematic establishment of “home” for the Settler populace. Again, the Settler’s violence is elided from this vision – he has driven Indigenous people from their land just by maintaining his own natural rights. They’re OK – they’re safe! – they’re just gone. It was their choice to leave! There was no war, there were no scalping proclamations. And there are no treaties in this vision because there’s no one left to treat with. All that exists in this vision is the realization of this sacred covenant between the chosen ones, the soil they’ve subdued, and their god in heaven.

So the Settlers convert Indigenous land into their own homes first by building houses and cottages, then by expanding their comfort zones through systematic enclosure, and finally by planting crops on their land. This is a deeply English way of claiming, holding, and thinking about space.

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In Ceremonies of Possession, the American historian Patricia Seed describes the peculiar systems of enclosure that the first English settlers brought to bear on this continent. Anglo-American people created property through a three-part process – first we’d build houses or dwellings, then we’d draw a line or build a fence around the swath of land we were stealing, and then we’d plant gardens inside those boundaries to very clearly and literally mix our labours with the stolen soil. This highly ritualized sequence consisted of actions that were so conventional by the seventeenth century that their meanings could be easily understood by English people on both sides of the Atlantic “without elaboration” and “often without debate.”[vii] In the sixteenth- and early seventeenth centuries, what Seed calls the “enclosure movement” had converted huge sections of England and Wales into private, individually-held properties, pockets of land that individuals suddenly owned against their neighbours; through these rituals, some people produced property for themselves, but at the same time, “a considerable number of people” became “landless.”[viii] The historian Alan Taylor estimates that “about half [of England’s] rural peasantry lost their lands” through enclosure “between 1530 and 1630.”[ix] And some of those people came here.

Like their forebears across the pond, the first English Settlers on Turtle Island enclosed parcels of land in an effort to replace any existing ideas of shared or collective ownership with English expressions of individual ownership.[x] Over centuries, American colonizing cultures intellectually disavowed enclosure, rendering it effectively invisible to themselves.[xi] Of course, we still practice and benefit from enclosure – when we “buy a house in the suburbs” or in the country, for example,

“we are doing more than engaging in a private financial transaction: we are purchasing the idea of that land as ours – our own circumscribed space with attendant amenities like a backyard and privacy fences. Our purchase is a benefit of our placement on the inside of the structures of settler colonialism, and also a denial of Indigenous claims to those same lands.”[xii]

We enclose land to hold it as property against our neighbours. We pushed Indigenous peoples outside the boundaries of our enclosures, and then we normalized ahistorical narrative frameworks to make it very difficult to understand or imagine what Indigenous rights might look like within our settled environments. Through enclosure, we identified ourselves as the mediators of Indigenous presence within settled environments. Our daily behaviours actively carry forward the enclosure movement from sixteenth century England and yet enclosure itself has been disavowed as an undesirable aspect of Settler Canadian cultural memory – we maintain a murky sense of how enclosure dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their land during a far-off colonial period, but we cannot so easily accept that our lives and societies carry forward the same action and consequence. We cannot be those violent invaders, damnit, we are Canadians, we are peacekeepers, but those invaders are nonetheless who we are.[xiii] By unthinkingly living our lives inside these systems of enclosure we continue to hold huge sections of land against Indigenous peoples, interests, and claims.

To conclude, I want to think about this line where Goldsmith says that within the settled environment, “The arts of culture now extend their sway.” Because for me, this is a chilling and direct reference to how the arts function institutionally to reinforce and normalize structures of settler colonial occupation. Simply the words “Canadian Literature” or “CanLit” invoke enclosure – the physical borders of the settler state. The clearest example of this for me, and the one I use in my book, is how non-Indigenous scholars have collectively decided to define what an early Canadian author is today. If you scan the table of contents in any anthology that includes an “early Canadian” section, you’ll see that we define an “early Canadian” writer as an English, French, or Indigenous person who produced alphabetic text within the physical borders of what became the Canadian state. These borders didn’t even exist in the early period in question, but we compulsively impose them onto maps and onto history retrospectively. Because when we say “CanLit,” we are invoking these borders, this contained sphere of dominance, this system of enclosure that only exists to hold this section of northern Turtle Island apart and against competing claims.

This is the Canadian enclosure, the frame that supports our extractions. Settler Canadians view themselves as governors and as mediators of the contents of this frame, the boundaries within which we have established all our rights as an exceptional people. Without this frame, unbearably, we’re just Americans or Europeans. And so we intuitively proceed as though this frame contains the soil that we have subdued, peopled, and mastered, and this is why our exceptionalist ideology surfaces and resurfaces in the mechanisms of our society –  not only in our violent and expropriative development projects and Supreme Court decisions but also in our daily behaviours and in our most fundamental intellectual frameworks. And we struggle to treat others with love, respect, or generosity within the confines of an enclosure that was created by Settlers to hold space against Indigenous claims and interests.



[i] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government. Edited by C.B. Macpherson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980. 121.

[ii] Robert Cushman, Reasons and Considerations Touching the Lawfulness of Removing out of England into the Parts of America, from Remarkable Providences: Readings on Early American History, Edited by John Demos. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. 4-10. 4.

[iii] Genesis 1:28. For more on the Old Testament as a basis of colonial claims to ownership, see William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983): 69.

[iv] Drew Lopenzina, Red Ink: Native Americans Picking Up the Pen in the Colonial Period (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012): 12, 9.

[v] Desmond Pacey, “The Goldsmiths and Their Villages,” The University of Toronto Quarterly, 21 (October, 1951): 27-38. 38.

[vi] David Jackel, “Goldsmith’s Rising Village and the Colonial State of Mind,” Studies in Canadian Literature, 5.1 (1980):

[vii] Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995): 3.

[viii] Ibid., 20.

[ix] Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Penguin Books, 2001): 120.

[x] On the distinction between common gifts and commodities, see Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful discussion of strawberries in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013): 22-32.

[xi] Emma Battell Lowman and Adam J. Barker identify disavowal as “a key part of the Settler identity” that “marks Settler people as benefitting from the dispossession and destruction of Indigenous peoples while at the same time vehemently denying complicity in the events and processes that make that happen.” Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada (Black Point and Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2015): 16.

[xii] Ibid., 32.

[xiii] For a thorough discussion of the peacekeeper myth, see Ibid., 44-47.

Maritime Urban Planning and the Interruption of Indigenous Life Ways

While out on a walk through Menahkwesk (Saint John, New Brunswick) yesterday, I took this picture from the top of what Settlers call Bentley Street. This street was built over top of a Wolastoqiyik portage path, a key part of an extensive and ingenious transportation network that regional Indigenous peoples used for trade and travel. This is the view from the top of Bentley Street, facing the Saint John harbour:


Before this road existed, the Wolastoqiyik would travel this route on foot so they could reach the supekuk (the ocean) from the Wolastoq river while strategically avoiding the treacherous rapids at what Settlers usually call Reversing Falls — the mouth of the Wolastoq where the most powerful ocean tides in the world dramatically reverse the current of the river twice a day. (Jason Hall’s fantastic 2015 dissertation is by far the best resource I have found on this river system.)

Based on recovered artifacts, archaeologists have very roughly estimated that for over 10,000 years, Indigenous peoples carried their canoes, babies, and cargo up and down this hill. After the Europeans arrived, Wabanaki peoples frequently used this route to bring furs and trade goods to the Settlers at Fort LaTour.

From the same spot on Bentley Street, I turned around and took this picture of the New Brunswick museum archives. This building is directly between the Bentley portage route and the river. I’ve been inside this building many times — the cover image of my book is actually an iPhone photo of a text that is currently held by this archive.


On the other side of this massive building are the riverbanks where the Wolastoqiyik would camp. This is now a protected archeological area that the NB government hasn’t figured out what to do with yet.

Every time I walk here, I think about the fact that New Brunswick chose to build its archive, to drop a massive rock, in the middle of this important portage route. There is a metaphor here about the ways in which the colonial archive interrupts the life ways of the Wolastoqiyik — and about how we have built our archives over existing archives. Literally, in this case, we built our archive over more than 10,000 years worth of stories and memories and materials that developed continuously on and with this soil across millennia.

Actively Supporting the Wolustukyik Mothers and Grandmothers


About thirty minutes north of Stanley, near Napadogan, New Brunswick, a group of Wolustukyik land and water defenders are building a culture and language camp. I was grateful for the invitation and opportunity to visit them a few weeks ago with my family, and they’ve not only built an impressive foundation for a lodge, but they’ve also successfully bartered for additional construction materials.

It’s cold and getting colder, and until they can get their winter shelter up, these women are living full time in a collection of tents and camping trailers. It’s very cozy in the trailers, but they have a continuous need for fuel (firewood + gas and propane for their generators), not to mention other essential supplies. Other ongoing construction projects include the installation of plumbing services — and everything costs money!

As Settlers who live and make our family’s living in this territory, my partner and I have been doing what we can to support the mothers and grandmothers and their camp. We are uninvited guests in this territory, and these women are protecting the land and water for ALL of our babies and grand babies. This is what true leadership looks like. The price of tungsten has recently rebounded, and this camp is already an active frontline of defence against Northcliff Resources’s plans to poison crucial headwaters in this region. Please understand that as of today, the mothers and grandmothers are being actively bullied, intimidated, and surveilled by industry representatives, by RCMP, and by Settlers who support the mine — and all this while the Sisson Brook project sits (for the time being) dormant.

As the Wolustukyik have always done, these women are showing us how to live in balance in this territory, how to be good neighbours, how to live in concert (rather than in power) with the more-than-human beings of the land, and how to take care of one another in the long term. As Settlers, we need to show that we’re listening and that we are doing our best to learn and to follow their important lead. So it was an honour and a privilege to cozy into one of these trailers, to sit with these women for a few hours, to talk about measurable ways in which we could lend our skills and show our support, to chat and to listen to their stories. My son watched a Toy Story DVD while my daughter crawled around happily with a runny nose, and when we left, we did so with a new jar of bear grease that quickly soothed the raw skin on her upper lip.

I left behind two copies of my book, and one of those copies is currently up for grabs, along with many beautiful items, in a basket raffle. Here’s an image of just some of the items included in the basket:


Most of these items were made by the mothers and grandmothers, and every dollar raised will support the construction of the camp. Tickets are $20 CAD and can be easily purchased through Andrea Polchies on Facebook.

A beaver was killed near the camp this week. He had been working hard alongside his kin relations to flood a key road leading to the proposed mine site. For taking measures to protect his land, water, and medicines, someone shot him — and they left him dead in the roadway for the the mothers and grandmothers to find. They are understandably heartsick, and yet they are working, as ever, to build their winter shelter.

Our actions and inactions reveal important things about what we value, how we see the world, how we see ourselves and our neighbours within worlds. What do the actions of this killer tell us about the settler society’s capacity for violence? What might silence and inaction say about where a person stands on this issue and about who they support? If you live in Wolustukyik territory, are you actively supporting the mothers and grandmothers, or are you acting as though they aren’t there? Irving acted like the mothers and grandmothers weren’t there when they sprayed them (twice) with glyphosate through arial applications.

As of today, the mothers and grandmothers are being actively bullied, intimidated, and surveilled by industry representatives, by RCMP, and by Settlers who support the mine. Please take this opportunity to support them actively!


Thanks Giving and the Homing Place

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and my first book is about to come out. My good friends at Wilfrid Laurier UP cut a deal with the printer last week to rush a few copies out to me by mid-week so that I’d have them in time for a weekend conference.

The book will be a strange thing to hold in my hands. Even in this seemingly solid, seemingly final form, The Homing Place will remain, for me, a work in progress. Homing is how I will spend my career. It is about deep listening — listening through interruptions. It’s about about transforming the relationships between Settlers and place and between people and texts; about moving away from proprietary relationships of all sorts and toward a continuous process of engagement and learning; about actively participating in an academy that is much more than just a site of Settler power consolidation; and about the ongoing intellectual labour that Settler scholars must undertake and model if we truly wish to become better neighbours to Indigenous peoples.

And because it’s Thanksgiving weekend, I’m giving thanks today for four wonderful people whose fingerprints are all over my book. Elizabeth Mancke supervised and contributed to this project at the dissertation stage, meeting with me once a week for over a year to talk through these ideas over coffee and/or supper. She showed me how to map my ideas out on paper and always challenged me to think further and more deeply. I will never forget the things she taught me in those sessions — not only about my own work but about contributing to students’ intellectual development with respect and generosity. As I’ve mentioned before, I truly love historians, but I love Elizabeth the most.

Lisa Brooks graciously stepped in and helped me rewrite, from the ground up, a chapter dedicated to Wabanaki wampum protocols. With characteristic kindness, she pointed out fundamental issues with my approach to this material and showed me how I was producing the same kind of scholarship that I was trying to critique! I’m so proud of that chapter now, which, for me as a northeastern Settler, proves once more the incredible and transformative power of Lisa’s work on this region. And I am extremely excited to read her new book, which will be out in January.

Drew Lopenzina first taught me how to read early American literature “against the grain.” Seven years later, there are still ways in which I am merely emulating the way he reads and teaches literature — with equal parts creativity, respect, and empathy. I am forever grateful for the example.

And my partner Charles Bryant mulled over every sentence in this book with me. He is my silent co-author on this and all other projects.

I wanted to specifically recognize these people today because they deserve more credit than I give them in the book, and that’s something that has been bothering me. They each receive blanket thanks in the acknowledgements section, but there are a few key places where I wish I had recognized their contributions with endnotes. Today and every day, I am deeply thankful for my family and friends and for the generous contributions of senior scholars like Elizabeth, Lisa, and Drew, who actively foster the development of emerging voices in their respective fields. I’m a better scholar for knowing them and for reading their work, which you can check out at these links:

Responding to Hate Speech on UNB and STU Campuses

This week, the CBC reported that

The University of New Brunswick has confirmed that [white supremacist] posters were found on its campus. This comes after posters directing people to alt-right websites were posted on a Maliseet welcome sign at St. Thomas University.

As my colleagues think about how to best address these posters in the classroom, I thought I’d throw some of my own ideas out there, which may or may not prove useful. I’m not teaching currently, but if I were, this is what I’d do.

Directly acknowledge what the posters mean, the specific kind of hateful rhetoric that they further, and the role of that rhetoric across Canada in the present moment. These are not alleged posters; the people on the posters do not appear to be white; there is no confusion about what these posters mean. They have been showing up on campuses and in Canadian cities for years now, so talk about that. Say words like “white supremacy” and “Canadian white supremacists.” Explain that there are white supremacists at UNB and at STU in both the student and faculty bodies. Explain how white supremacy functions systemically in the institutions of settler colonial power — in power structures  like Maritime universities.

Talk about the kinds of fears that inform these posters. Talk about the differences between Indigenous and EuroWestern ways of knowing — and about the kind of knowledge that Canadian universities have traditionally valued and protected. Talk about what it means to teach students to value knowledge that originated in Europe over knowledge that originated in the ground under their feet. Read and assign this important essay by the Anishnaabe/Haudenosaunee scholar Vanessa Watts.

Talk about how the beneficiaries of white supremacy and EurroWestern dominance react when they feel beset upon by Indigenous thought and resurgance. Talk about how those fears will increase as we continue to collectively work toward the transformation of entrenched Settler understandings of history and of place. Talk about how white supremacists adopt and distort the discourses of minority groups to reconsolidate their power.

And talk about the CBC article I linked to above. A useful classroom exercise would actually be to unpack that article, which raises all kinds of questions, like:

  1. Is it responsible to invoke Canadian multiculturalism when the hate speech we’re dealing with is anti-Indigenous? Isn’t multiculturalism itself an extremely fraught concept? How can a Settler Canadian formulation of nationhood respect Indigenous knowledges?
  2. Do white people really have a right to be here in this territory? What are the checks on those rights? Talk about the pre-confederation (Peace and Friendship) treaties.
  3. What other signs challenge the claim that Indigenous peoples are “welcome” on these campuses? According to a 1788 report called “Progress of New Brunswick,” the schools in this province were created “with a view of Civilizing the Indian natives and thereby making them useful inhabitants.” How, specifically, have the goals of our education system changed, and is assimilation into Settler Canadian society truly no longer one of those goals? How many UNB and STU departments employ Indigenous people? What percentage of UNB and STU courses are primarily designed to respect and further Indigenous thought? How are BIPOC students to infer, from the all-and-majority white makeup of most of these departments, that they are in fact “welcome”? We (settlers) rip down these signs when we find them, we “investigate,” and we distance ourselves from their hateful messages, but in what ways are we simultaneously complicit in their rhetoric?

Scat Theory

Yeah, scat. You know, animal droppings. Bear with me here.

Recently, my three year old came home from forest school talking excitedly about scat. My kid is a big talker so this went on for hours. I began texting casually about this with one of his former forest school teachers, the wonderful Breanne Card, who recently moved to Iqaluit. She said that scat is important and that it can tell you many things about an animal — what it is, what it eats, and whether it is healthy.

She then mentioned that she and her husband had just seen some northern lights and that they were spectacular. My funny partner, Charles, quipped, “I’ve always thought of the northern lights as the scat as the ionosphere!” (It’s possible that he meant the magnetosphere. This is neither of our areas of expertise.) This all makes perfect sense if you think of the northern lights as a living being that communicates information about the health of the atmosphere.

There are so many possible applications of this idea.

Scat is what a being emits or leaves behind to communicate information about its wellness. Think about the recently published articles in the National Post and other major Settler Canadian media outlets by authors like Conrad Black, Barbara Kay, Jonathan Kay, and others. (I am not linking to these pieces, since as someone recently pointed out on Twitter, hate shares+clicks look the same to analytics programs as interest and support). Think about Frances Widdowson’s so-called scholarship.

Like scat, each of these articles communicate information about the state of their author’s health. And in important ways, they speak directly to the state of Settler Canada’s health. They are scat that powerful members of this social body are emitting and leaving behind for others. They communicate important information about who we are as a collective — as members of this vast society that continues to consolidate itself against the lands that comprise northern Turtle Island. The things that our members write, publish, and read communicate what we value and what we consume.

It’s time Settler Canada took a good hard look at its scat.

Yeah, scat.

Buying local, the rhetoric of “buy local,” and buying Indigenous

This weekend, while raking up last year’s leaves, I noticed a “thank you for supporting local business” message typed across our paper yard waste bags. We bought the bags at Kent Building Supplies, which is an Irving-owned, New Brunswick-based company with headquarters here in Saint John. But the brown bags themselves were produced by a Prince Edward Island paper company. So which “local” business was I supporting with my bag purchase? I like to know what I’m being thanked for!

Back in January, premier Brian Gallant came to Saint John, hyping a “major economic announcement.” The announcement, as it turned out, heralded the opening of a new Sears call centre for the city. Don Darling, the mayor of Saint John, welcomed the news and suggested the centre would help Saint Johners “buy local” — by which it actually appears he meant “shop at our local Sears,” a company based in Chicago.

Here in Menahkwesk/Saint John, my family lives across the harbour from a traditional Maliseet meeting place called Ouigoudi. In the words of Pat Paul, editor of the Wulustuk times, 

In this village, traditional pre-contact, inter-tribal bargaining, exchange, and trading was conducted regularly. It was the first known Indigenous trading centre of its kind in the east. Within a close proximity to Ouigoudi was a vast abundance of food that consisted of moose, deer, bear, caribou, beaver, muskrat plus many other smaller wildlife species of every description. . . . It is no wonder that after Champlain visited this important and strategic location other Europeans were drawn to Ouigoudi to witness and partake in the abundance and [in] indigenous trade and barter. . . . And the fact that Saint John claims to be one of the oldest cities in the country lends credence and proof to its drawing power for immigrants and settlers from earliest times to the present.

So many people gathered here seasonally at the mouth of the Wolastoq – to fish, to hunt, and to trade – that there is still debate in historical scholarship about who it was that the French encountered in 1604 when Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor and promptly re-named the mighty Wolastoq in honor of St. John the Baptist. Early 17th century writers placed the Mi’gmaq at the mouth of the river; others identified the so-called “Etchemins,” or the Passamaquoddies and the Maliseet/Wolastoqiyik, as this land’s original inhabitants.

As a guest of the Maliseet, I still think of this land as a meeting place, and one of the ways in which Settlers can honour this association is by supporting traditional economies and purchasing Indigenous goods.

C9hrWvbUIAA5isU.jpg-largeAt Maliseet Studios, Gina Brooks and Susan Sacobie produce clean, chemical free, colour free, and additive free soaps and bath products. In Gina’s words:

We use essential oils and infusions that we harvest in our own territory, and also bear grease, moose grease, coconut oil, avocado oil, shea nut oil, sweet almond oil and Epsom, sea and Himalayan pink salts, pine sap, cedar and of course cedar, sweetgrass & Sage infusions, as well as PEI red clay and our clay. We don’t want to compete with large company’s and other diy people who may use colorant and or chemicals. Our work is always about accessing the land and the ingredients we use will be harvested by us, and made by us as much as possible. Obviously there are things we can’t grow here but we get the best quality we can from reputable merchants.

At this point in my life, these are the only products I’ve knowingly consumed that contain bear and moose greases. They’ll ship these fantastic products anywhere in the province or beyond (you cover shipping). Email them at maliseetstudios at gmail.

This is also the right time of year to stock up on fresh maple syrup, which is my family’s sweeter-of-choice for baking and even for coffee. Passamaquoddy Maple is tribally owned and operated, and you can read all about them (and even order a few bottles) here.

I’ll add to this list of other Wabanaki vendors and artisans periodically: