University of Manitoba President, David Barnard, addresses the audience at the Halifax National Gathering

In my last post, I wrote briefly about being a researcher attending the national gatherings and some of the difficulties in negotiating the ethics of writing about testimony. In navigating the spaces between public (the national gatherings) and private (personal experiences of the schools), I have come to wonder about the role of the University in the reconciliation process.

At the Halifax national gathering, the President of the University of Manitoba, David Barnard, addressed the crowd. With a voice that at times shook with emotion, he offered an apology to the residential school survivors. He spoke of how the University of Manitoba should have and could have done more to challenge the systematic oppression of Aboriginal peoples through the Indian Residential School system. U of M trained teachers who then went to work at the schools, he explained. As an institute of higher education, he questioned why people did not recognize the Indian Residential Schools for what they were: one manifestation of an oppressive and violent system of forced assimilation.

“Our institution failed to recognize or challenge the forced assimilation of aboriginal peoples and the subsequent loss of their language, culture and traditions. That was a grave mistake. It is our responsibility. We are sorry.”

Barnard’s apology acts as a reminder that the responsibilities for the IRS system do not lie solely with the groups named in the settlement agreement (the Churches and the State). Rather, the responsibility for the system reverberates throughout Canadian society. I wonder, though, if other sectors of Canadian society (both public and private) will follow suit. And I wonder whether public apologies about things that happened in the past can truly address the injustices of the present.

(Also, if you haven’t seen the great blog post about the Attawapiskat housing crisis and reactions to it, click here.)

Text or Testimony?

November 14, 2011

Iris Nicolas giving her testimony at the Commissioner's Sharing Panel on Thursday, October 27th, 2011.


I’ve had a lot to think about since the Halifax national gathering. This is the third event I’ve attended and the mix of questions, emotions, and concerns that arise from them do not get less complicated as time moves forward.

At the moment, I am still struggling with some of the same issues I found at the other events in Winnipeg and Inuvik. In part this has to do with my own relation to the events. As a graduate student who is conducting research while attending these events, the ethical considerations of listening to testimony and observing the dynamics at the events are a constant challenge. Although most people attending these public events believe that there should be more awareness about what happened at the Indian Residential Schools, the ways in which this awareness should be raised is still controversial.

In particular, I am currently wondering how to write ethically about testimony. How can I write about the words of another without appropriating them for my own academic purposes? As I transcribe some of the recorded testimony, I wonder how these words on my computer screen can possibly encapsulate the emotions, thoughts, and spirit of the person sharing their experiences? When people are talking about abuse or extreme hardship, or about their triumphs over overwhelming difficulty, how is it possible to take these stories, put them on paper and then analyze them in relation to a theoretical framework that often shapes them into something altogether different? At the moment, I am letting these questions and concerns guide my writing.

A few quotes that I’m thinking with and through at the moment:

Lee Maracle (Sto:lo) in “Ka-Nata” in Bent Box:

“Academic theories/ are but the leaky summations/of human stories” (107).

Shoshana Felman in Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History.

“A life-testimony is not simply a testimony to a private life, but a point of conflation between text and life, a textual testimony which can penetrate us like an actual life” (2).

(Thanks to the Aesthetics of Reconciliation in Canada research group for the great discussion about the difficulties I mention above.)

Day One in Halifax

October 27, 2011

It’s the end of the first day of the TRC’s third national gathering in Halifax. The day began with the lighting of the sacred fire, which took place on the grounds of Province House. The ashes from the sacred fire at the first gathering in Winnipeg were transferred to the sacred fire in Inuvik, and have now been brought to Halifax. According to the TRC:

The Lighting of the Sacred Fire happens before we begin each Event to ensure that it is the spirits and the teachings that guide us and protect us while the Commission does its work. The transferring of the ashes has become a symbol of national unity as it becomes lit from coast to coast to coast.

The ceremony took place in front of a statue of Joseph Howe (1804-1873), a Nova Scotian politician. Under his outstretched arm, the commission, elders, and participants watched as the sacred fire was lit. (Photos of sacred ceremonies are forbidden. The image above was taken before the ceremony began.) Shortly afterwards, the Truth and Reconciliation Walkers entered the square. The group of five walked for 2,200 kilometres from Cochrane, Ontario to attend the event in Halifax: Patrick Etherington Jr.Robert HunterJames KiokeSamuel KooseesFrances R. Whiskeychan. As they walked from community to community, they raised awareness about the Indian Residential School legacy and the truth commission’s work. I had the honour of hearing Patrick Etherington Jr. speak in Winnipeg about their journey to the first national gathering. They are a truly inspiring group. For more on their journey, click here, or here.

Hello Halifax

October 25, 2011

Occupy Halifax

The TRC is gearing up for the third national gathering in Halifax. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m still working through the complicated dynamics of the first two events. It will be interesting to see how the Atlantic National Gathering differs. Already, one interesting issue is the use of space outside the Convention Centre being used for the TRC events. Originally identified as a potential space for the TRC’s sacred fire, the space has been claimed by the Occupy Halifax movement. Although it appears that an alternative space has been identified for the sacred fire, the negotiation of public space and differing political/cultural objectives provides an interesting starting point for the event. More from the event to come soon.

Click here for information on the schedule.

UPDATE: The Sacred Fire will be located at Province House, at the corner of Hollis and Prince St.

Incomplete Archives

September 27, 2011

Balloons for Canada Day and birthday celebrations in Inuvik.

I am still sifting through the notes I took in Inuvik. I spent the last few days listening to recordings and watching footage on the TRC’s website. Unfortunately, many of my own recordings are of poor quality. During the giving of testimony, I didn’t want to be intrusive with my audio recording device. Even though it’s small, I felt that it marked me as an outsider, a researcher there to observe as opposed to participate. So, for the most part, I pressed record and left it on my lap. Because the room would get cold or warm or stuffy, the sound of doors opening and closing, and the periodic whirring of a fan muffle some parts of the testimony. But even when deciphering exact words is difficult, I can hear the emotion and strength of the Survivors come through.

The recordings are an incomplete archive of what I heard and saw in Inuvik. But I suppose that all archives are incomplete. Sometimes it is in filling in the absences of these archives where the most productive work is done. In the meantime, it reminds me of the courage of those who participated in the Inuvik event.

The IRS TRC’s next national event will be held in Halifax from October 26 – 29, 2011. More information is available here.

CEP Deadline is Looming

September 16, 2011

A reminder that the Common Experience Payment (CEP) deadline is on Monday, September 19, 2011. Former students of the Indian Residential Schools are eligible.

For more information click here.

 

The 15th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality will be held from March 28 – 31, 2012. I attended a previous Roundtable on Memory Politics and had a great experience: interesting presentations, outstanding keynote speakers and wonderful hosts at the Irmgard Coninx Foundation. The papers are selected through an international essay competition. Accommodations and flights to Berlin will be provided to the authors of the (approximately) 45 successful papers. Apply!

Borders and Borderlands: Contested Spaces

15th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality, March 28 – 31, 2012

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a new era seemed to have opened up: a world without borders and thus – potentially – a world with less conflict and more freedom. Today, more than 20 years later, we can observe that some border systems have softened while others have been consolidated, and many more border-based regulations have been created on national and supra-national levels. The nation-state has not disappeared and neither have its borders. However, borders and borderlands cannot be reduced to spaces of division and conflict but they also exist as spaces of social, ethnic, cultural and economic blending – territories of their own. In the tradition of previous Berlin Roundtables held on urban development, transnational risks, human rights, and cultural diversity the 15th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality will focus on borders and borderlands as contested spaces.

For further details please see the background paper.

Conference Format
The 15th Berlin Roundtables will be held at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) from March 28 – 31, 2012. Based on an international essay competition, approximately 45 applicants will be invited to discuss their research, concerns and agendas with peers and prominent scholars in Berlin. The Irmgard Coninx Foundation will cover travel to and accommodation in Berlin.
Discussions will take place in three workshops:

“The Social Life of Borders and Borderlands” chaired by Julie Y. Chu (Anthropology, University of Chicago) and Tatiana Zhurzhenko (Political Science, University of Vienna),
“The Politics of Borders: Security and Control” chaired by Mattias Kumm (Law, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, WZB and New York University) and Eric Tagliacozzo (History, Cornell University),
“Natural Resources and the Environment along Borders and Borderlands: Conflicts and Solutions” chaired by Michael Redclift (Geography, King’s College London) and Maria Tysiachniuk (Environmental Unit, Center for Independent Research St. Petersburg).

The conference will be accompanied by evening lectures. Guest speakers will be announced soon.

Eligibility and Application Procedure
The call for papers extends to scholars (max. up to 5 years after Ph.D.) and practitioners (e.g. workers in governmental or urban services, NGOs, journalists). Please submit your paper (maximum 3500 words including footnotes and bibliography), an abstract (max. 300 words), a narrative biography and a CV using the online submission form and the style sheets for your abstract and essay.Submission deadline is November 30, 2011. Please note that co-authorship and already published papers will not be accepted. All participants are expected to actively participate during all days of this workshop.

Irmgard Coninx Research Grant
Conference participants are eligible to apply for one of up to three short-term fellowships to be used at the WZB in Berlin. For further information on the fellowship please visit our research grant site. Conference participants will receive all necessary details on the grant application shortly before the conference.

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