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!

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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 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. I don’t get out much these days. 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).

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 people used for trade and travel. This is the view from the top of Bentley Street, facing the Saint John harbour:

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Before this road existed, the Wolastoqiyik would travel this route on foot so they could reach the supekuk (the ocean) from the 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.

Based on recovered artifacts, archaeologists have very roughly estimated that for over 10,000 years, Indigenous people 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 in their collections. I am comfortable and happy in this building.

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On the other side of this massive building are the riverbanks where the Wolastoqiyik would camp. This is now a protected archaeological 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 built this archive, dropped this massive rock, in the middle of this portage route. There is a metaphor here about the ways in which the settler 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 an archive over more than 10,000 years worth of stories and memories and materials that developed continuously on and with this soil across millennia.

In Support of Wolustukyik Mothers and Grandmothers

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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.

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. 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 other-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 understand and learn. 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:

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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.

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. Mention Ricardo Duschesne, but also 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 re-consolidate 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? How is multiculturalism itself a fraught concept in this context? Can a Settler Canadian formulation of nationhood respect Indigenous knowledges, or are we using this construction to legitimize our claim to stolen land?
  2. Do white people really have a right to be here in this territory? What are the checks on those rights? How do most Maritimers understand their rights? Talk about the pre-confederation (Peace and Friendship) treaties.
  3. What other signs challenge the claim that Indigenous people 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.

Weighing in on “Canadian exceptionalism”

I really love the group blog and #twitterstorians movements in History, and I wish we were similarly motivated in literary studies. Historians know how to generate energy online.

And it finally occurred to me to contribute something. This week’s Borealia post is mine, drawn from material that is developed further in my forthcoming book. In the post, I discuss exceptionalism as a deeply ingrained and inescapable part of Settler Canadian identity, exploring its contemporaneous presence in political, religious, and nationalist discourses.

I’m grateful to Keith Grant and Denis McKim for allowing me to hang out with the historians for the week. Click through to their site to read the whole piece.