CHAPTER I

Ethnicity, Race, Colonisation

Everything in front of us is virgin land. From the beginning
of time, the grass along this stretch of prairie has not been cut.
About a mile east is a spot which was once an Indian buffalo
jump, a high steep cliff where the buffalo were stampeded and
fell to their deaths. All the bones are still there, some sticking
right out of the side of a fresh landslide.

Uncle could be Chief Sitting Bull squatting here. He has the
same prairie-baked skin, the deep brown furrows like dry river
beds creasing his cheeks. All he needs is a feather headdress,
and he would be perfect for a picture postcard–'Indian Chief
from Canadian Prairie'–souvenir of Alberta, made in Japan.

Joy Kogawa, Obasan1

Racial and ethnic identity and the history of colonisation are among the most intriguing, yet complex, subjects of Canadian writing. Joy Kogawa captures some of this complexity in this passage from her 1981 novel about the Canadian government's persecution of its citizens of Japanese origin during the Second World War. At first adopting the vocabulary of the White coloniser, the narrator, Naomi, refers to 'virgin land', meaning land which has been neither cultivated nor subdivided according to White systems of ownership, and to 'Indians', the name which colonists used for the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. But this apparent alignment with a colonising perspective is immediately subverted by Naomi's

-25-

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Canadian Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Abbreviations x
  • Chronology xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Ethnicity, Race, Colonisation 25
  • Chapter 2 - Wilderness, Cities, Regions 61
  • Chapter 3 - Desire 96
  • Chapter 4 - Histories and Stories 133
  • Conclusion 167
  • Student Resources 177
  • Index 215
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