August 9, 2012
I’m happy to report that an article I’ve written about reconciliation in Canada has recently been published in Culture, Theory, and Critique (Taylor and Francis/Routledge). It is entitled “Before Truth: The Labors of Testimony and the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission” and appears in a special issue focusing on the “Crossroads of Memory.“
Here’s the abstract:
“Truth commissions are based on the premise that dialogue about past crimes, violence, and abuse can alleviate the suffering of victims and ease the relationship between oppressed and oppressor. They also assume a certain relationship between history and memory, presuming a duty to remember and the need for a re-articulation of history through memory. This paper examines the context and dynamics of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) established in Canada in 2008. By exploring the uses of testimony at the IRS TRC’s first national gathering, the essay focuses on the interplay between constructs of nationhood and forms of public intimacy. In considering both the public testimony given at the gathering and the larger, nascent narratives formed there, the essay demonstrates how survivors participating in the IRS TRC negotiate and challenge colonial relations of power while also strengthening and repairing intimate, familial relations.”
The article is largely based on field research I conducted in Winnipeg in 2010 at the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national gathering. I’d be happy hear feedback on the article!
November 14, 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.)
March 11, 2011
Why a research blog?
Here are some of the reasons that I am a fan of blogging:
1. Forget the big words:
There is a particular style of academic writing. Citations are required, specialized terminology is often necessary, and styles of argumentation and critique often, although certainly not always, close off academic writing from a larger audience. My hope is that this blog allows me to participate in a wider discourse.
2. Blogging as process:
Blogging is also about documenting the academic experience as a process. Often, the end result of one’s work is a research article or two, academic presentations, or hopefully, a book. But there is so much more involved in the academic experience. I wanted to document some of the day-to-dayness (or week-to-weekness) of the process.
3. Track this!
Blogging has helped me to keep track of relevant articles and discourses currently happening in relation to the IRS TRC. It has also helped me tie in other more tangentially related issues that, although interesting, will likely not make it into my dissertation or longer pieces of writing. Still, they are relevant and blogging gives me a small space to share those thoughts.
4. The joys of writing in short form:
I am a slow writer. So when faced with a large project like a dissertation, giving myself the task of writing a short blog post often helps me get in gear to write longer pieces.
5. Sometimes people post comments:
This makes me happy. It reminds me that people are out there who agree or disagree with me, who want to know more, or just want to share a word of support.
6. Reconciliation requires many voices:
Not only do I want to do research on reconciliation, I want to be a part of it. My hope is that by sharing resources and reflections, I can contribute as a witness and participant in this process.
Thanks for stopping by to read this.
February 18, 2011
I recently wrote a review essay for e-misférica, an online academic journal, for a special issue on Truth Commissions (forthcoming). (UPDATE: The issue is now online. Click here: After Truth.) My review focuses on three books: Julia Emberley’s, Defamiliarizing the Aboriginal: Cultural Practices and Decolonization in Canada; Jo-Ann Episkenew. Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing; and Gregory Younging, Jonathan Dewar, and Mike DeGagné (eds.) Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey.
So I was pleased to see that the recently published special edition of Topia, on The Cultures of Militarization included a special section for discussion on Emberley’s Defamiliarizing the Aboriginal. The section includes essays written by a number of respondents, and Emberley contributes to the discussion as well. One author in particular, Deana Reder, uses an interesting form of engagement. She asks the reader to imagine Emberley’s text as a living room. Because Emberely gives a series of readings of images, books, films and texts, Reder is able conjure a room filled with framed photographs, manuscripts and knick knacks that represent the various components of Emberley’s work.
“Given the premise that Emberley’s text can be imagined as a living room, we can imagine on the feature wall a fireplace, fueled by gas, ignited by the flick of a switch. There are the typical furnishing and knick-knacks that do not seem ill-placed unless more closely inspected. For example, as you enter, some of the first objects noticed are the somewhat charming picture frames perched on the mantle of the fireplace – with images first of a woman with a baby and second of a mother and child. But these are not family photographs of people with names and histories. If you peer closely at the photos you will see that both are of Indigenous people and that they been damaged through scratches inscribed upon them: the first is titled “Indian Woman with Papooose” and the second bears the title “The Indian Madonna,” even though the woman with the relaxed and sunny smile bears little resemblance to the icon in European paintings” (407).
Reder goes on to draw on the work of other authors, such as Carol Williams, Mique’l Askren and Michelle Raheja, to suggest other interpretations of the photographs Emberley reads.
Although Reder recognizes Emberley’s work as innovative and critically generative, she also notes that the “living room” constructed through her work is “haunted by indigenous absence” (413). The exercise of imaging a text as a space filled with objects struck me as an interesting exercise in working through the connections between the objects of the text and the way they are represented. I’m storing this technique in my reserve for future reading.
December 10, 2010
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. It was an inspirational evening and I felt so honoured to be a part of the event and this amazing book.
Earlier in the week, I had decided that I wasn’t going to read an excerpt from my short story, “On the Train”. The idea of standing up in front of a room full of strangers to share this story made me too nervous. But as I sat in the audience and heard all these amazing women read their poems and stories, I gathered the courage and decided to read as well. I’m glad I did.
Thank you to the editors, Adebe D.A. and Andrea Thompson, the publishers Inanna Press (York University), and all the contributors who made the collection possible. I’m looking forward to reading the book from cover to cover.