Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Afterword

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Afterword

Article excerpt

The essays in this special issue of English Studies in Canada employ a variety of scholarly approaches to engage with Canada's unfolding reconciliation process--clearly no small undertaking. Yet, this work, and this collection, is of monumental importance to Indigenous people and to the future of our relationships with the people of Canada. It is also of great importance to the descendents of settlers and other immigrants who make up the rest of Canada's population. Unfortunately, most know little about residential schools, and too many do not care. As my mother used to tell me, "Ignorance is bliss." Bliss, in this instance, is predicated on erasure and denial of Canada's colonial past and present. Worse yet, the Government of Canada continues to perpetuate this ignorance through its public denial of our shared history.

In their introduction, Pauline Wakeham and Jennifer Henderson confront Canadian policies, practices, and strategies of denial by holding up for critical examination Prime Minister Stephen Harper's claim that Canada has no colonial history. They go on to theorize the ideological foundation of Canada's apology to residential school survivors and find it lacking in substance and action. They argue that the limitations placed on the mandate and operations of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) serves to preserve and protect Canada's liberal reputation and continues to deny its history of privilege and oppression. Indeed, the Government of Canada has effectively muzzled the survivors through its design of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's processes, in which all truth telling that names victimizers must be done in camera. Wakeham and Henderson's analysis reveals that reconciliation, Canadian style, has been distorted into a hegemonic process whose ideological foundation is an "implied phantasmatic past of harmony and equitable relations between Canada and First Peoples" (xxx). Clearly, this does not bode well for the many residential school survivors who are placing so much hope in the TRC.

For better or for worse, the truth and reconciliation process is specific to the damage done in the Indian residential schools, not in the colonial system that created them. As Wakeham and Henderson aptly point out, Prime Minister Harper's apology makes no mention of residential schools as an oppressive "colonial technology strategically and violently employed" (McKegney 21), nor does he ever use the term "colonialism." It is hard to imagine how anyone could claim that Canada has no history of colonialism, given that the new nation-state of Canada was built on Indigenous peoples' land. Hard to imagine, but that is precisely what Prime Minister Harper has said. Prime Minister Harper's 2008 apology was a momentous gift to the Aboriginal people of Canada, especially those who attended residential schools. By denying Canada's colonial past in 2009 and refusing to continue funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in 2010, the Prime Minister is, in effect, talcing that gift back. I'm embarrassed to say that, when I was a child, we labeled people who gave something and then took it back as "Indian givers"! As children, we reproduced the colonial stereotypes that surrounded us, the colonial stereotypes that rewrote the incredible generosity of Indigenous peoples toward colonizing "newcomers" as a narrative of European benevolence and superiority. In today's Canada, this irony is further crystallized: it is the Prime Minister who has taken back Canada's gift of apology. How shameful. Clearly, scholarly engagement in the discourse surrounding the truth and reconciliation process is critical.

In 1993, Anishinaubae scholar Kimberly Blaeser published her groundbreaking article "Native Literature: Seeking a Critical Center." In it, she advised us to look within the stories for the keys to interpretation of Indigenous literature. Following her advice, I have tried to apply her theories to my studies and have found that one work of literature can often inform my reading of another. …

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