Place and Replace: A Joint Meeting of Western Canadian Studies and St John’s College Prairies Conference
,” University of Manitoba, 16-18 September 2010: Abstracts
Marlene R. Atleo
University of Manitoba
Re-envisioning, re-claiming, and re-naming: Aboriginal education a requirement for teacher credentials in Manitoba.
Teacher candidates in Manitoba are currently required to receive instruction in Aboriginal Education and/or Aboriginal Perspectives to satisfy credentialing requirements set by the Ministry of Education. As an faculty member instructing such a course the challenge is to provide ways and means for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to re-envision Manitoba, its history, people, events and achievements to include Aboriginal voices. In this presentation, I illustrate how I use my own Nuu-chah-nulth experience with territory, treaty, culture and formal ritual activity as an orienting lens to work with students to read Manitoba. The orientation is to the landscape, the territory, the history and the present so that they too can see their surround with fresh eyes and a new vision that includes Aboriginal peoples in an integral manner. I employ a strategy of metaphorical mapping to help students learn phenomenological orienteering so that they can further develop their own professional strategies in an ethical and respectful manner as they deal with Aboriginal people, ideas and processes. Teacher candidates are in a unique position to work with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to develop new narratives of hope, healing and success in the classroom but they first must understand the field in which they labor to facilitate change.
Laurie K. Bertram
University of Toronto
Edible Ethnicity: The Rise of Vínarterta in Popular Icelandic-Canadian Cultural Expression
The Icelandic scholar Jón Karl Helgason once wrote, “If Icelanders are made out of fire and ice, then Icelandic-Canadians are made out of pastry and paste.” This paper traces the role of 20th century pluralism, national defense, and familial commemoration in the rise of vínarterta, a labour intensive seven-layered Icelandic prune torte, as the definitive symbol of modern Icelandic-Canadian identity. Though vínarterta is a relatively well-recognized symbol of Icelandic identity and character in Western Canada, the dessert is seldom made or served in Iceland today. The lone appearance of this dessert in Canada and the United States suggests that its popularity lies as much in the North American context as the 19th century Icelandic society from which migrants departed.
Using images, recipes and oral testimony, this paper contends that the success of vínarterta stems from its ability to mediate external relations in North American society and perform mnemonic functions within the community. It begins by tracing the emergence of the torte as a definitive culinary symbol in the 1940s in relation to the Allied occupation of Iceland and the rise of Cold War pluralism in North America. The use of vínarterta in cookbooks, films, and magazine articles during this period reveal that it was part of a politically-charged project that used spectacles of tolerance and “hospitality” to further North American defense interests. The use of vínarterta as an external cultural marker helps to explain the centrality of the torte in community spectacles since 1940, but Icelandic-Canadian literature and oral histories suggest that it is also closely tied to the performance of matrilineal family identities. Community members interviewed about debates surrounding torte ingredients often discussed the importance of observing often-absent “Ammas” or grandmothers in its ritualistic production and consumption. Rather than a strange culinary survivor from a seemingly anglicized Scandinavian community, this paper reveals that vínarterta production is a culturally-loaded phenomenon that reflects the importance of food-based media in ethnic expression in the 20th century.
University of Saskatchewan
University of Saskatchewan
Peyote on the Prairies: Religion, Scientists and Native-Newcomer Relations in 1950s Western Canada
In October 1956 four scientists and one journalist were invited by the Canadian government and First Nation leaders to attend a religious ceremony at the Red Pheasant reserve in western Saskatchewan. Organized by the America-based, Native American Church of North America, the ceremony featured the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic substance found in the peyote cactus from Mexico. The scientists involved had recently developed expertise in the medical use of hallucinogenic drugs and had published claims that drugs such as LSD and mescaline (the chemical constituent in peyote) were effective in treating alcoholism. The scientists and journalist were asked, by both the government and Native participants, to evaluate the use of peyote, its legitimacy to the religious ceremony of the Plains Cree and – from the government’s perspective – its potential dangers for the Native community. Unbeknown to the scientists, their visit to the Red Pheasant reserve embroiled them in a complex debate about Native religious and political rights, racialized discourses about alcoholism, and wider concerns about hallucinogenic substances as agents of moral decay. Our paper unpacks this complex debate by explaining how each player – scientist, journalist, Native participant and government – understood peyote use and its application to the Red Pheasant situation. We argue that the competing understandings of peyote use shed light on both the changing form of Plains Cree spirituality and politics and the role of medical scientists in Native-newcomer relations in 1950s western Canada.
Robin Jarvis Brownlie
University of Manitoba
University of Manitoba
Stories of Resistance in Winnipeg’s North End: An Oral History Pilot Project at Ndinawe
This presentation will discuss an oral history pilot project the researchers recently conducted at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre, a resource and drop-in centre for Aboriginal youth in Winnipeg’s North End. The project was designed to work with Aboriginal oral history and storytelling to engage young Aboriginal women in dialogue and connect them with Aboriginal women who have stories of strength and resistance to share. Aboriginal women who were activists, artists and community organizers were invited to meet with the youth to offer their stories, songs, and art. Working in collaboration with staff at Ndinawe, where the project was also physically located, we held two sessions of 6 weeks each with two groups of young Aboriginal women, one group aged 16-20, the other 12-15. These sessions involved storytelling and discussions of survival, struggle, community organizing and political activism. The youth then made art in response to the stories they heard.
For the researchers, this project entailed asking questions about the relationships between decolonizing practices and academic knowledge. We were exploring ways to pursue research that could also function as a program for Ndinawe, that would give something to the community. In reflecting on this pilot project, we are posing a number of questions about the role of oral history in bringing injustice to light, fostering dialogue, and sparking political action. What can oral history offer in this particular place - the North End, Winnipeg, the prairies - and in the particular situation of Aboriginal people in Canada, where colonization and genocide are ongoing processes? What is the relationship of non-Aboriginal researchers to these oral histories of resistance and to the processes of colonization and decolonization? What are the possibilities offered by art and new media in engaging the public to dialogue about these issues?
University of Calgary
The Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage: A “Negotiated Landscape,” a Journey of Healing, and the Reassertion of many Communities
In 1887, Father Jean-Marie Lestanc, a Catholic missionary with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, returned to his dwindling Lac Ste. Anne Mission, Alberta, from a family visit to his native Brittany, France. While in Europe, Father Lestanc had visited the shrine of St. Anne d’Auray, and while prostrate in front of the statue of Sainte Anne, he had experienced a personal vision so powerful that upon returning to Alberta, he reinvigorated his mission, rebuilt the church and, in June of 1889, initiated the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage. Today, this pilgrimage remains the major First Nations spiritual gathering north of Guadalupe, Mexico, and the largest annual Native gathering in Canada, attracting during a week in July 40-50,000 people, most of First Nations or Métis heritage.
Before the Oblate order transformed this site into a place of Catholic healing, renewal and confession, Lac Ste-Anne was an indigenous sacred meeting and healing place. Known to the Cree people as Manitou Sakahigan or “Spirit Lake” long before Catholic priest Father Thibeault baptized it Lac Ste-Anne in 1844, various bands belonging to the Woodland and Plains Cree peoples, the Nakoda (Stoney), as well as the Blackfoot Confederacy, had been travelling along well-known pathways, and gathering at the lake to hunt and to trade for centuries. However, the Oblates, as Catholic missionaries in a frontier land, had inherited an age-old legacy of initiating pilgrimages among what they perceived as “pagan” and “superstitious” peoples dating back to the medieval era, and were inspired by two powerful precedents from the seventeenth century: the pilgrimages dedicated to Ste Anne, at Beaupré in Quebec, and to Auray, in Britanny, France. Over time, Aboriginal people travelling to this “negotiated landscape” have adopted and adapted the practices of these French antecedents, and a new religion to their activities.
This paper is based on archival research undertaken at the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton for my MA thesis in Canadian History at the University of Calgary, with particular focus on the Codices Historici of the pilgrimage, as well as on the personal correspondence and journals of key Oblate priests operating in and around the area from 1889 to 1929. Interviews with people who have travelled to the lake for many years, and whom I met while observing the 2009 and 2010 pilgrimages will also be incorporated.
In order to establish Catholic spiritual power at the site, the Oblates drew on the European medieval pilgrimage belief in saints’ relics, and miracles. They also benefited from the participation of a specific group of Iroquois Métis Catholics. However, the traditional local stories that indigenous people have transmitted surrounding the power of Lac Ste. Anne concern creatures and objects that mark the return to an earlier, healthier time, before their traditional way of life changed. These stories reveal the limits to the Oblates’ power in maintaining a purely Catholic space, and show how the Métis and /or indigenous peoples, to varying degrees, influenced, interfered with, and even resisted a monolithic Catholic event.
‘The Root of all National Greatness’: Domesticity, Health, and State Health Care Workers in Southern Alberta First Nation Communities, 1890-1940
The negotiation of the Numbered Treaties and the relegation of Aboriginal people to reserves was an integral part of the federal government’s efforts to impose a liberal agrarian order on the Prairie West. This paper analyzes the important roles European-Canadian women health workers played in the state’s efforts to impose this new social order on Aboriginal communities across southern Alberta during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the establishment of western health care regimes. Throughout these decades, the work of female health care workers became explicitly tied to concerns about health and sanitation. For example, programs like mothering classes and baby shows linked household management and childcare practices to ill-health and high infant mortality rates. As a result, European-Canadian women, in addition to their nursing duties, were required to inspect residents’ homes, keep track of expectant mothers and children, and to promote European-Canadian norms regarding cooking, childcare, and sanitation. It was in this manner that female health care workers became part of the state’s apparatus to classify and transform First Nations’ culture. Thus, non-Aboriginal female health workers played key roles in both the hardening of the colonial regime in Western Canada and the management and monitoring of Aboriginal bodies.
The health of Aboriginal communities and the use of western medicine became sites where the progress of indigenous people was measured and contested. Aboriginal women who choose to use western medicine were symbolically reforming not only themselves but their families as well. Ill-health, according to the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), was a result of poor cooking methods, the lack of proper domestic space, the failure to segregate the sexes, dirty floors, and the want of proper furniture. The DIA identified domestic virtues as “the root of all national greatness,” and thus, the efforts of local DIA personnel and missionaries to transform Aboriginal bodies and ameliorate Indigenous peoples’ domestic circumstances must be understood in the context of broader discourses of nation and empire.
Westwood Presbyterian Church
The Church Union of 1925 as a Crisis of Place and Re-place on the Canadian Prairies
Christian gathered communities become connected to a place. The word “church” is slippery in the mouths of congregants, meaning both the gathered community (people) and the physical space in which the community meets (building). The place where the community gathers takes on a meaning beyond being a geographical meeting point. In the last decade has seen increased scholarly conversation about religious understanding of place, this paper uses the work of Philip Sheldrake, John Inge, and Mark Wynn in its discussion of place and re-place in the wake of Church Union.
On June 10, 1925 the United Church of Canada, an organic union of the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregationalist Church of Canada (12 congregations stayed out of Union), and the Presbyterian Church in Canada (about 1/3 of its membership stayed out of Union), was created. On the Canadian Prairies this created a crisis of place and re-place. Among the scenarios played out were:
Scenario 1: Presbyterians and Methodists in a community united under one roof becoming a single congregation. (In the Canadian West the Congregationalists were insignificant in comparison to the other two.) Such amalgamations created new larger churches (people), as a group of believers left behind a spiritual place (building) and replaced it with a new church (building and people) as a locus for spiritual life.
Scenario 2: Sometimes Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in a community voted to go into union but no amalgamation of congregations took place. Such decisions often resulted from congregants’ unwillingness to join with another congregation in the other congregation’s building. Place and faith experience were so closely tied people were unwilling to re-place their spiritual locus.
Scenario 3: In some communities a group of Presbyterians or Unionists (it was usually Presbyterians) lost their church (building) to the other side and chose not to join the winning side in forming a new church (people). Those losing their buildings gathered other “refugees” of like mind and formed new churches (people and building). Having lost the previous place, these groups created new spiritual places, re-placing what had been. The newly constructed spiritual places often spoke to their struggle to re-place what had been lost.
The paper will explore examples from the Canadian Prairies of each of these “place and re-place” scenarios. In the process it will seek to frame ways of understanding the role of place in the lives of Protestant congregations in Western Canada.
University of Manitoba
The Importance of Place; or, Why We’re Not Post-Prairie
The publisher’s blurb for Post-Prairie: An Anthology of New Poetry (Talonbooks, 2005) asserts that the Canadian prairies are undergoing a fundamental shift in conceptualization, “marked by the transition of a cultural identity primarily rooted in place, to one that is rooted in a rapidly fragmenting, urbanizing, technology-based globalization.” In articulating the idea that we are moving away from “real” environments and into virtual ones, the publisher’s copy echoes much popular thought. But is this idea really true, and what are the implications of calling such a shift “post-prairie”? If by “prairie” one means a particular mode of vernacular writing that features rural settings and characters, then yes, we may be post-prairie. But if we take “prairie” to mean a set of ideas that snapped into place when Europeans first encountered a particular environment, and which is inextricable from colonizing practices that are inseparable from the environment that they have come to define, then no, we are not post-prairie at all. My paper examines the consequences of adopting the “post-prairie” idea, arguing that without attending to the specifics of particular places, literary and cultural analysis perpetuates the very colonizing maneuvers that its practitioners explicitly seek to counter. Further, severing place from literary analysis has implications for the discipline of Canadian literature at large, as scholars define themselves differently (as scholars of Aboriginal literature rather than prairie literature, for example), leading to fields that are both fragmented and impoverished. Finally, my paper will briefly examine Annette Lapointe’s 2006 novel Stolen as an example of a text that represents a “rapidly fragmenting, urbanizing, technology-based” culture, and yet is intimately linked to a specific Saskatchewan setting. In the fluidity of its characters’ identities, its connections between rural and urban settings, and its depiction of competing communities’ attempts to define and control space, the novel describes a postmodern prairie that is both porous and unique. Such a model, I argue, attends to both the transnational and the local, and in doing so, shows the importance of continuing to ground literary and cultural analysis in specific locations.
University of Alberta
University of Athabasca/University of Saskatchewan
When First Nations are Farmers/Settlers: Vexing Problems in the Fabrication of a White Settler West
Well before the era of treaties and reserves there were First Nations agricultural settlements in Manitoba. This agriculture reflected three influences: 1) the Aboriginal agricultural complex that first brought farming to the West over 2,000 years ago; 2) fur-trade post agriculture and 3) mission agriculture. First Nations of Manitoba also developed specialized techniques well beyond “gathering” that increased the harvest of preferred resources. These agricultural products and the knowledge of First Nations were critical to the fur trade and to the survival of the early non-Aboriginal traders and settlers. Centres of First Nations agriculture included Netley Creek, Garden Island, Fort Alexander, Fairford, St. Peter’s and the “Indian Gardens” along the Assiniboine.
The First Nations farmers of Manitoba proved vexing to Canadian authorities, missionaries and others involved in the task of establishing colonial rule in the aftermath of the treaties. It was vital to the entire enterprise to cast First Nations of the West as the antithesis of agriculturalists, as incapable and ignorant of farming, as having no concepts of land ownership. It was important to draw clear distinctions between the “settlers” who were the farmers, and would have virtually unrestricted access to farm land, and the “Indians” who would need very little and have no opportunities to expand their holdings. But the First Nations farmers of Manitoba stood outside of or between these categories. This paper focuses on the deliberate and strenuous efforts that were required to ensure that no one defined as “Indian” farmed or possessed land outside of a reserve, even in cases where land was occupied and farmed before the treaties. At the same time however, and in contradiction, government authorities used the existence of First Nations agriculture at the time of the treaties as a rationale for limiting the amount of agricultural assistance provided to Manitoba treaty communities, compared to those further west.
Joyce M. Chadya
University of Manitoba
Home Away from Home? Zimbabwean diaspora’s experience of death in Canada.
Drawing on interviews and newspaper articles, the paper explores how Zimbabwean immigrants in Canada have experienced death of Zimbabwean Canadian immigrants as well as death of family left behind in Zimbabwe. Examining Zimbabweans’ experience of death provides us with a glimpse into some of the challenges that first generation migrants of Zimbabwean descent in particular, and African migrants in general, have faced in a new cultural space as well as their experience of the socio-economic stresses of their country of origin. Although many of these first generation immigrants are already citizens of Canada, the strong links they still have with Zimbabwe are such that when they die their cadavers are shipped back “home.” Simultaneously, the same strong connection with Zimbabweans left behind means that they have to “participate” in funerals of family taking place in Zimbabwe. Thus Zimbabwean diasporans in Canada, like the rest of other Zimbabwean diasporans elsewhere, have largely shouldered the cost of many funerals as they wire money “home” for such occasions. The “foreign currency-laden” Zimbabweans living abroad have inadvertently contributed to socio-economic difference which has manifested itself in many settings especially the funeral/burial practices. However, that “assistance” has also left them overwhelmed by the financial contributions they have to make as they try to meet the expectations of family left behind.
University of Prince Edward Island
Preventing the Loss of Imported Labour: Trains, Migrants, and the Development of the Canadian West, 1896-1932
This paper will examine the political dynamics of organised settlement in the Canadian West through an exploration of a set of cases in which Canadian federal agents and CNR/CPR railway officials struggled to enforce the onwards migration of East European travellers who tried to disembark prematurely. European emigrants who “signed up” for Western Canadian destinations as a part of their contract with the Federal Government were expected to stick to their original plans—regardless of any incentives they might have encountered en route to do otherwise. Individuals who demonstrated a desire to leave their trains in Toronto, because family members there had requested that they join them in that city, were vigorously dissuaded from leaving. Similarly, migrants who were offered well-paying jobs by like-ethnic employers waiting to recruit them at the train station at Sioux Lookout were carefully guarded by immigration officials and CNR “police” to ensure that they would not “escape.”
Immigrants slated for work as domestic servants or farm labourers were considered valuable commodities by government bodies tasked with ensuring the social and economic viability of the Canadian West. The post-Confederation colonization of the West required a heavy investment by the state in the permanent settlement of immigrants in that region; movements to undermine that investment were typically understood by state officials to be unjustifiable on any grounds. The government’s stake in this migration gave state employees the right to overrule Central Canadian interest groups and the migrants themselves concerning their place of settlement. For the federal agents, the CNR/CPR was merely a means by which migrants were transported from ships to pre-determined destinations. For the migrants, the journeys by train offered both welcome opportunities and a denial of their right to self determination. These railway case studies thus highlight tensions between Canada’s Anglo-centric nation builders and the aspirations of other-ethnic social networks.
University of Saskatchewan
“Who opposes parks, after all?”: Sliammon First Nation, BC Parks, and Settler Conservation
When Captain George Vancouver visited the area just north of present-day Powell River, British Columbia in 1792, he named it Desolation Sound. He noted the multitude of Native settlements, almost all “abandoned,” amongst a wilderness that “afforded not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye….” Move forward 170 years, however, and non-Native tourists to Desolation Sound wrote much the same about the absence of a human presence on the landscape and its pristine condition, though they appraised its worth quite differently. In fact, the main scene desolate to local eyes was the increasing number of yachts ruining the area’s “natural” and “wild” beauty. After years of public recommendations and departmental economic studies, British Columbia’s government created Desolation Sound Marine Park as well as smaller “satellite” parks nearby in 1973 to preserve the area, prevent the further privatization of its shores, and to capitalize on a growing tourist market. Integral to both these narratives was the cultural construction of a landscape that was seen much differently from its original Coast Salish – in this instance Sliammon (Tla’amin) – inhabitants.
Against this backdrop, my presentation explores the contested histories of the construction of human and environmental place in this ongoing, academically ignored, “contact zone.” Viewscapes of Desolation Sound represent a microcosm of power relations in flux between competing colonial and subaltern cultural structures. These competitions turned on controlling a master discourse of what constituted a “desirable desolation.” For BC Parks and other conservationists, “desolation narratives” were a means by which to perpetuate and justify a dominant and paternal relationship to the area’s First Nations. BC Parks and conservationists argued that the presence of Aboriginal people “using” the environment for resource extraction or settlement despoiled it, and, more importantly, ruined visitors’ experiences and expectations of an untouched, unclaimed wilderness; such use threatened to deconstruct Desolation Sound and satellite parks as a “desirable desolation.” For the Sliammon, their own narratives of desolation-making provided a means for critiquing unequal power relations. According to local First Nations, park boundaries, infrastructure and historical narratives participated in a colonial project that turned their homeland into a different sort of desolation, one infrequently visited by the place’s indigenous inhabitants yet overcrowded by – and thus despoiled by – outsiders. For the Sliammon, parks and conservationists made Desolation Sound an “undesirable desolation.” Both the above groups thus shared the perception that the presence of the “Other” ruined the environment, while both also were secure in their belief that their own presence in Desolation Sound was fitting rather than ruinous.
University of Chicago
“Dakota is Everywhere”: The Microgeographies of ‘Here’ in Thomas McGrath’s Letter to an Imaginary Friend
In weighing the poet’s vocation, Tom McGrath surmises, “North Dakota / is everywhere / …This poverty. / This dialectic of money—” Here, the poet becomes for McGrath “a device of memory / to call forth into this Present the flowering dead and the living.” This “here” is defined by his shifts over, across, and into the Dakota prairie as it “turns” in his memory. The poem begins with a distinct “here,” “Los Angeles, at 2714 Marsh Street,” then explodes into the pre- and post-war Americas.
McGrath’s process is defined by the prairie. It is relentlessly embodied, from the “blesséd blood hung like a bell in my body’s branching tree” to the “real and farting horses” that define the “true run of the seasons.” Yet, it is also defined in the moment, in the “little lost towns go[ing] by.” In this “here,” the poet “turn[s] around the dead center of some unnamable loss: Nowhere and nowhere.” “Here” as space shrinks and explodes; it is as wide as the prairie and as focused as the poet’s breath.
This paper will attempt a reckoning of the Dakota prairie’s measure on McGrath’s work, how the poet’s memoried “here” exists between a real and remembered America, the stars that turn in the poet’s California backyard and those that mark the “zodiac of the dead.” In these spaces, McGrath invokes “periphery” as a poetic space—“that brightness trapped in the black ice.” How does the measure of these spaces become a defined marking of microgeographies in the poem’s work? Are these microgeographies more material or immaterial in the poet’s work? Finally, what implications do these microgeographies leave on the work of the contemporary poetries of G.S. Giscombe, Gloria Anzaldúa, Jeff Derksen, and Michael Anania?