Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"We Call That Treaty Ground": The Representation of Aboriginal Land Disputes in Wayland Drew's Halfway Man and M.T. Kelly's A Dream like Mine

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"We Call That Treaty Ground": The Representation of Aboriginal Land Disputes in Wayland Drew's Halfway Man and M.T. Kelly's A Dream like Mine

Article excerpt

IN WAYLAND DREW's Halfway Man and M. T. Kelly's A Dream Like Mine the problems of the infringement on Native land by a white, capitalist society are explored. In Drew's novel, Aspen Corporation wants to build a tourist resort in Neyashing, a community that is primarily composed of Anishnaabe, who are, from the perspective of government and the corporation, squatters with no actual claim to the land. In Kelly's novel, the central land rights infringement is the Dryden Mill's pollution of the river that runs through the Heron Portage Anishnaabe Reserve. Through their characters' reactions to this exploitation and invasion of their space by non-Native enterprise, Drew and Kelly wrestle with the challenge of how best to talk about, understand, and productively deal with struggles over land and resources. This paper examines the solutions or non-solutions offered up by each text to the historically fraught issue of land rights. In their exploration of land disputes, these writers take up the notion of resolution through peaceable dialogue, reflecting on and troubling both the possibility of such a back and forth and the possibility of a resultant resolution. As such, these texts make an important contribution to imagining ways of negotiating justice. Their contribution rests especially in the texts' engagement with the role of violence in land claim conflicts. While the liberal humanism of our society by and large condemns violence, violence becomes complicated (or receives a complicated response) when it is in reaction to a larger systemic violence, such as the ideology of imperialism or capitalism. How, then, do we represent the violence of social protest? In particular, how does a politically conscious/conscientious white writer living in a colonial country represent the violence of an indigenous person reacting against colonial power? The value of the novels of Drew and Kelly rests in their confrontation of the topic of violence within the context of land disputes. Their value also lies in a refusal of simplistic responses to this violence; the representations of violence in both texts are ambiguous and placed within the context of the larger, systemic violence of the ongoing project of colonialism.

Published in the 1980s, A Dream Like Mine in 1987 and Halfway Man in 1989, these two novels sprang from a period of growing awareness and change in terms of Canada's relationship with its Aboriginal population. Of course, the 1980s were also a time of economic boom and development in North America. It is no surprise, then, that both texts depict an Aboriginal community facing a seemingly inevitable exploitation of their land. Aside from their common historical context, the novels are also worth comparing due to their surprisingly similar plots. The manner in which the Aboriginal characters in both texts deal with the exploitation of Native land is to take the white male, who is cast as being in a position of power in regards to the exploitative activities, on a sort of journey/quest into the wilderness that is being negatively affected by the corporations' activities. Despite these initial commonalities, what makes such a comparison interesting is the different manner in which the two authors present the violence. While violence is present in both texts, Kelly's novel seems to favour an unflinching depiction of violence that avoids condoning or condemning it entirely. Drew's novel, on the other hand, does acknowledge and even contain what is cast as a kind of necessary violence, but it opts primarily to either elide the violence or simply choose an alternative path. Ultimately, A Dream Like Mine and Halfway Man warrant close readings as they take on a number of issues still highly charged today: Native land rights, violence, and the necessarily tentative position of the white writer in discussing these issues.

Scholarly discussions about the representation of Aboriginal peoples in non-Native literature often posit that, as Daniel Francis puts it, "The Indian is the invention of the European" (5) or, as Terry Goldie explains, that the Aboriginal in literature is "a reified preservation" (Fear and Temptation 4). …

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