Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Suzanne MacKenzie Memorial Lecture Conceptually Unclad: Feminist Geography and Aboriginal Peoples *

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Suzanne MacKenzie Memorial Lecture Conceptually Unclad: Feminist Geography and Aboriginal Peoples *

Article excerpt


In a March 2002 essay in the Globe and Mail introducing George Erasmus's LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, (1) Gerald Friesen, a historian at the University of Manitoba, noted the urgency of resolving Aboriginal peoples' place in Canada. With examples from a variety of cases where the justice system had failed Aboriginal people, Friesen asserted: 'Aboriginal people still do not possess the full rights of Canadian citizenship. They do not see the institutions of the country as reflecting their view of their history and status'. This was a story, he said, about place and the culture of places. These stories were:

   not the reality of Toronto, Hamilton, London, Windsor,
   Montreal, Sherbrooke, Fredericton, Halifax. But
   the story is familiar in Labrador, northern Quebec,
   northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta,
   British Columbia, the three territories. [They are] the
   story of the North and the West, on the one hand, and
   aboriginal people, on the other. Numbers of aboriginal
   people, often great numbers, make these places
   different. (Friesen 2002; p. A17)

He went on to say, 'It's hard to make the urgency of this circumstance clear in Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal. It must receive national recognition'. The following day, also as an introduction to the lecture, John Ralston Saul had this to say:

   Something that exists does not go away because we
   pretend it isn't there. Much of the past 150 years of
   our history has been troubled ... by an almost childlike,
   head-under-the-blanket approach toward the
   central role of aboriginals in the ongoing shape of
   Canadian society ... We have long regarded our
   society's origin as bipolar. But it is triangular, its
   foundations influenced by anglophone, francophone
   and aboriginal cultures. (Saul 2002; p. A11)

In his essay in The Canadian Geographer for the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Association of Geographers, Cole Harris (2001, 193) provided a more sophisticated argument for what Ralston Saul was trying to say. 'Canada,' Harris said, 'is an evolving human geography that has nurtured difference and made a unitary state impossible'. According to Harris, the historical-geographical construction of Canada encouraged a type of confederation that ingrained deeply different identities in the fabric of this country.

This brings up some very important themes. The first is the continuation of a distinct Aboriginal identity in Canada that, while it has changed over time, shows no signs of disappearing. Canadians are increasingly challenged to respond, in the words of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, to restructure the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples (Royal Commission 1996). The second theme is the deeply geographic roots of this evolving relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. From Friesen's local geographies of difference, to Saul's and Harris's national geographies of difference that constitute the identity of Canada, geography matters.

In this context, I am struck by the fact that Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal realities are so poorly represented in our discipline. While I know Aboriginal graduate students and faculty in English, sociology, history, politics, public administration and, of course, native studies, I know of almost no Aboriginal faculty, staff or graduate students in geography in Canada. Aboriginal people are only occasionally mentioned in undergraduate geography textbooks and are generally not mentioned in most of geography's subdisciplines. (2) After writing a review of recent work by Canadian geographers on Aboriginal people in Canada, I reviewed earlier journals out of curiosity and found a paucity of geographic research on Canadian Aboriginal people (Peters 2001).

Several decades ago, feminist geographers noted the absence of women in geography. Since that time, feminist geography has changed the discipline. …

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