Land Back Now
First, I have compiled this citation of intellectual lineage to give respect, and to offer resources for my community. Second, I can only recommend what I’ve personally already read, so this will lay bare my limitations but also, establish my personal accountability to the things I share.
A big part of what makes me is that I am trained as a postcolonial literature scholar, and the way I arrived at postcolonial literature was through a second year introductory course to Indigenous Literatures, taught by Cheryl Suzack, a Batchewana First Nations English professor at the University of Toronto who has been a huge (I cannot emphasize enough how huge) influence on the way I think, read, and write.
This is to say, my earliest grappling with imperial and colonial history in the context of Turtle Island is through the imaginary power and skill of writers such as Taiaiake Alfred (Kanien’kehá:ka professor)1, Tomson Highway (Cree writer)2, Warren Cariou (Métis writer)3, Linda Hogan (Chickasaw writer)4, Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo Indian writer)5, N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa writer)6, Louise Erdich (Ojibway writer)7, Eden Robinson (Haisla and Heiltsuk writer)8 and Thomas King (Cherokee and Greek/German-American writer)9 amongst many many others.
(Please see footnotes for texts by these writers)
As a new international student and immigrant to Canada at the time, this introductory course politicized my education in a really specific way, and has since guided the way I navigate the postcolonial discipline, limitations and failures included. These texts and new ones I’ve encountered over the years, continue to be a rich narrative genealogy I return to again and again, to read and wonder, be broken and moved, contend with and wrestle, and draw wisdom and strength. I name as many of them as possible because without these people and books, I would be less.
The journey started then but has by no means ended. In graduate school, under the guidance of Cheryl Suzack, I grappled with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was also introduced by another professor to the work of Susan Blight (Anishinaabe, Couchiching artist). In 2018, while on residency at Artscape Gibraltar, I attended First Story Toronto’s story and history-telling tours. In 2019, there was Words From A Bear, by Jeffrey Palmer (Kiowa filmmaker) a documentary on N. Scott Momaday. Last year, I listened to (you kind of HAVE TO listen to Thomas King) and read Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories lecture series from 2003, and savoured the hardcopy of This Place: 150 Years Retold, a graphic novel anthology by Highwater Press, with its foreword by the fiery Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora writer). This year at Hot Docs, I caught the double feature: Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again by Kahnawake filmmaker Courtney Montour and Spirit to Soar by Anishinaabe/Polish Canadian journalist Tanya Talaga (author of Seven Fallen Feathers) and Anishinaabe filmmaker Michelle Derosier.
As I recognize and celebrate their histories, stories and talents, I also grapple with and learn from their shared resistance against the ongoing imperial nation-state projects on Turtle Island. How can I ally with, and in how many ways?
One of these ways for me is language. The response across Canada from institutional spaces and sites of power, regarding the “discovery” of the mass grave of 215 children at Kamloops residential school by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc has been of shock, grief and heaviness — a “coming to terms with” rhetoric. But the knowing preexists this discovery. The truth has always been here. The stories have been told over and over. To many these are confirmations long delayed, and old wounds reopened. Toward these stories there has been blatant, intentional, violent obfuscation, dismissal and suppression. There has been refusal, aggression, deferment, indifference, and justification. Language has been used to obscure the truth, but then and now, it can also demand it.
As I walked amongst the crowd chanting, “Land Back now!” this past weekend, those words had a tangible, graspable weight I could hold in some way. This call to justice is not a temporary sound. It is full of stories and voices, of relations and conversations, of lessons and reminders. It is also full of challenges and gaps, reminders and encouragement, things for me to continue doing.
So I read. I make effort to understand and remember. I learn. I also sign petitions, write emails, walk with in protest, keep my eyes on, cheer with and mourn with. What privilege. There are so many books, articles, resources, teachings that we can access. The names and creative works listed in this dispatch were my starting point and entry points that I can share with you to start or continue your own journeys.
And from those early days of postcolonial scholarship, toward a praxis of decolonial solidarities, Land Back now is also the work of shifting the topography and memory of this land’s imaginaries and histories in me. Against terra nullius, always toward Turtle Island.
In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.
Coyote was there, but Coyote was asleep. That Coyote was asleep and that Coyote was dreaming. When that Coyote dreams, anything can happen. I can tell you that.
So, that Coyote is dreaming and pretty soon, one of those dreams gets loose and runs around. Makes a lot of noise.
Hooray, says that silly Dream, Coyote dream. I’m in charge of the world. And then that Dream sees all that water.
Oh, oh, says that noisy Dream. This is all wrong. Is that water we see? that silly Dream says to those dream eyes.
It’s water, all right, says those Dream Eyes.
That Coyote Dream makes many sad noises, and those noises are loud and those noises wake up Coyote.
“Who is making all that noise and waking me up?” says Coyote. ”It’s that noisy dream of yours,” I says. “It thinks it is in charge of the world.”
I am in charge of the world, says that silly Dream.”
Perhaps you could be a little quieter,” says Coyote. “I am trying to sleep.”
Who are you? says that Dream. Are you someone important?”
I’m Coyote,” says Coyote, “And I am very smart.”
I am very smart, too, says that Dream. I must be Coyote.
”No,” says Coyote. “You can’t be Coyote. But you can be a dog.”
Are dogs smart? says that Dream.”
You bet,” says Coyote. “Dogs are good. They are almost as good as Coyote.”
Okay, says that Dream. I can do that.
But when that Coyote Dream thinks about being a dog, it gets everything mixed up. It gets everything backward.
“That looks like trouble to me,” I says.”
Hmmm,” says Coyote. “You could be right.”
”That doesn’t look like a dog at all,” I tell Coyote.
”Hmmm,” says Coyote. “You could be right.”
I am god, says the Dog Dream.
”Isn’t that cute,” says Coyote. “That Dog Dream is a contrary. That Dog Dream has everything backward.”
But why am I a little god? shouts that god.
”Not so loud,” says Coyote. “You’re hurting my ears.”
I don’t want to be a little god, says that god. I want to be a big god!
”What a noise,” says Coyote. “This dog has no manners.”
Big one! ”
Okay, okay,” says Coyote. “Just stop shouting.”
There, says GOD. That’s better.
“Now you’ve done it,” I says. ”Everything’s under control,” says Coyote. “Don’t panic.”
Where did all that water come from? shouts that GOD.”
Take it easy,” says Coyote. “Sit down. Relax. Watch some television.”
”But there is water everywhere, says that GOD.
”Hmmmm,” says Coyote. “So there is.”
“That’s true,” I says. “And here’s how it happened.”
— The opening chapter of Green Grass Running Water, by Thomas King, a chapter that has delighted me over and over again.
Peace, Power, Righteousness : an Indigenous manifesto, Oxford University Press (Canada), 1999.