Terra - Terror - Terrorism?: Land, Colonization, and Protest in Canadian Aboriginal Literature

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

This paper takes the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Constitution of 1982 as a starting point to discuss its meaning and consequences for Aboriginal people in Canada. This discussion leads to a review of the land claim settlement process, encouraged by the Constitution Act, pending land claims, and Aboriginal protest against appropriation of contested lands. The paper furthermore looks at the media coverage of this protest that was often biased and created and/or reinforced the image of the 'terrorist warrior.' In a second part, the paper examines how these issues are contextualized in four texts by Canadian Aboriginal writers: Jeannette Armstrong's Slash, Lee Maracle's Sundogs, Jordan Wheeler's "Red Waves," and Richard Wagamese's A Quality of Light. These texts make clear that Aboriginal protest is related to the issue of the dispossession of Aboriginal land, and ensuing violence to the state's reaction to such protest which became slandered as (terrorist) violence.

L'article utilise le 25e anniversaire de la Constitution canadienne de 1982 comme prétexte d'une discussion de sa signification et de ses conséquences pour les peuples autochtones au Canada. La discussion mène à un examen du processus de règlement des revendications territoriales, qui a été favorisé par la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982, des revendications territoriales à régler et des protestations autochtones contre l'appropriation des terres contestées. L'article examine aussi la couverture médiatique des protestations, qui était souvent biaisée et qui a créé ou renforcé l'image du « guerrier terroriste ». Dans une deuxième partie, l'article étudie la contextualisation des questions cidessus en examinant quatre textes d'écrivains autochtones canadiens, soit Slash de Jeannette Armstrong, Sundogs de Lee Maracle, Red Waves de Jordan Wheeler et A Quality of Light de Richard Wagamese. Les écrits indiquent clairement que les protestations des Autochtones sont liées à la dépossession de leurs terres et à la violence qui a suivi la réaction du gouvernement à de telles protestations, qui ont été diffamées comme da la violence (terroriste).

1. Introduction

Canada celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Constitution this year. This paper takes this as a starting point to discuss the meaning and consequences of the Canadian Constitution of 1982 for Aboriginal people in Canada. This discussion leads to a review of the land claim settlement process, encouraged by the Constitution Act, pending land claims, and Aboriginal protest against appropriation of contested lands. Some protests evolved into (un)armed encounters between Canadian forces, police, and protesters. In this context media coverage was often biased and created and/or reinforced the image of the 'terrorist warrior.' The paper addresses Aboriginal protest against development of 'unceded' land and illuminates the historical background of such conflicts. It furthermore looks at the media coverage of this protest and how it barkens back to historical representation of Aboriginal people. In a second part, the paper examines how these issues are contextualized in four texts by Canadian Aboriginal writers, which present an Aboriginal view on these issues. Jeannette Armstrong's Slash and Lee Maracle's Sundogs deal among others with the Constitution Act, the Meech Lake Accord, the Oka crisis, and ensuing political unrest. Jordan Wheeler's "Red Waves" and Richard Wagamese's A Quality of Light contextualize 'terrorism' in two different ways. Three of these texts make clear that Aboriginal protest is related to the issue of the dispossession of Aboriginal land, and ensuing violence to the state's reaction to such protest which became slandered as (terrorist) violence. The texts were chosen because they contextualize Aboriginal politics after the Constitution Act and the spectre of Aboriginal terrorism created through the media coverage of protests.

2. The Constitution Act and the Land Issue

When the Trudeau Government initiated the process to patriate the Constitution, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), at that time the national Aboriginal political body, recognized the opportunity to "assert their role as another order of government. …