About the Author

Sophie McCall

Sophie McCall is an associate professor in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches Indigenous literatures and contemporary Canadian literature. Her most recent publication, with co-editor, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, is The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation (2015).

Books by this Author
First Person Plural

First Person Plural

Aboriginal Storytelling and the Ethics of Collaborative Authorship
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Devil in Deerskins

Devil in Deerskins

My Life with Grey Owl
by Anahareo
afterword by Sophie McCall
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Cultural Grammars of Nation, Diaspora, and Indigeneity in Canada

Cultural Grammars of Nation, Diaspora, and Indigeneity in Canada

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Excerpt

Excerpt from Cultural Grammars of Nation, Diaspora and Indigeneity in Canada edited by Christine Kim, Sophie McCall, and Melina Baum Singer

From the first chapter Diaspora and Nation in Métis Writing by Sophie McCall

For the past several years, a growing split has become increasingly evident in critical studies of diasporic and Aboriginal literatures in North America: while most critics of diasporic literatures engage with questions of migrancy in an era of transnational corporatization, the majority of critics of Aboriginal literatures have turned to the language of sovereignty and nationhood in an era of land claims, self-government agreements, and modern-day treaties. On the surface, this gap may seem appropriate. Theories of diaspora may be best suited to address immigrant experiences of displacement, while sovereignty, nationhood, and cultural autonomy are key terms to address current trends in Native politics. Many Aboriginal literary critics, such as Lee Maracle (1996), Craig Womack (1999), and Lisa Brooks (2006), directly link their arguments for “intellectual sovereignty” to current political negotiations over land and governance. Meanwhile, in the work of critics engaged with studies of diaspora—such as James Clifford (1997), Diana Brydon (2000), and Lily Cho (2006)—the language of nation is an unresolved tension, as these critics attempt to grapple with complex transnational formations of identity, labour, technology, and security. It is possible, as Brydon has argued, that “concepts of diaspora reach their limits in the claims to indigeneity” (23), especially in light of current decolonization movements in Aboriginal communities.

However, in this chapter I argue that a diasporic-Indigenous-sovereigntist critical approach may be best suited to address Métis writing, which paradoxically enacts national (i. e. , the Métis nation) and diasporic (i. e. , Métis-sage) identifications. 1 The work of Gregory Scofield, a Métis poet and writer whose ancestry can be traced back five generations to the Red River Settlement, and whose father he recently discovered was Polish-Jewish and German, underlines the necessity to articulate a flexible critical framework that explores both diasporic and national imaginings. Reading the poetry collections Native Canadiana: Songs from the Urban Rez (1996), I Knew Two Métis Women (1999), and Singing Home the Bones (2005), as well as his memoir Thunder through My Veins: Memories of a Métis Childhood (1999), I argue that nation and diaspora cannot be understood as binary opposites, but rather should be viewed as interdependent and mutually constitutive. More pressingly, I argue in favour of bringing in conversation discussions of diaspora, Aboriginal literary nationalism, and Métis subjectivity for the following reasons. Theories of diaspora may offer some vital insights into the history of displacement of Aboriginal peoples in Canada (i. e., the creation of reserves, the forced relocation of Aboriginal communities, and the scattering of Aboriginal communities and families through residential schools and foster care). By countering the tendency to look at specific diasporas separately, and to hierarchize them according to unspecified criteria, as Lily Cho warns against, we have an opportunity to build coalitions between disparate minority histories and to produce a model for relational history writing (Cho 13). Diaspora may also help address experiences of mixed-race, urban, or off-reserve Native peoples, who may or may not maintain strong ties to a sovereigntist nation based on a defined territory. We might garner a better understanding of sovereignties-in-motion, or confederacies, and develop new ways of conceptualizing Native nationalisms that address the wide range of relationships that Aboriginal peoples have to their ancestral territories. 2 By the same token, theories of Aboriginal nationhood have much to contribute to conversations about diaspora. Indigenous sovereigntist perspectives may help articulate community-based processes of participatory citizenship. Diasporic and Indigenous-sovereigntist standpoints share the desire to challenge settler nationalisms and expose the exclusions that have produced Canadian citizenship, even as they grapple with the often devastating effects of a highly mobile, neo-liberal, global capitalism. And theories of diaspora, in conjunction with theories of Indigenous sovereignties, potently acknowledge the underlying maps of Native North America and how First Nations territories traverse the 49th parallel.

It is my hope that the very awkwardness of a cobbled-together diasporic-Indigenous-sovereigntist critical perspective will produce a critical jostling that will question both Nativist and neo-colonial leanings that sometimes surface in these critical debates. In Scandalous Bodies: Diasporic Literatures in Canada (2000), Smaro Kamboureli states that her efforts to “trace the possibilities of diaspora” is reflective of her “desire to release [herself] from the hold that Nativism has on Canadian literature”(8). What she means by Nativism here is a false claim to belonging in settler-nationalist discourses, based on a manufactured one-to-one relationship between land, language, literature, and community. 3 Nativism produces a fairly high degree of anxiety in the work of other theorists of diaspora, most notably in the work of Paul Gilroy, who argues that diaspora furnishes an alternative to “primordial kinship and rooted belonging,” as well as a principled critique of “the disabling assumptions of automatic solidarity based on either blood or land” (Gilroy 123, 133, qtd. in Chariandy, “Postcolonial” par. 4). Similarly, in Nations without Nationalism (1993), Julia Kristeva speaks forcefully against Romantic-nationalist constructions, arguing that the “cult of origins” creates “a weird primal paradise family, ethnicity, nation, race” which, combined with “the soil, the blood, and the genius of the language,” are the roots of a xenophobic national idea (Kristeva, qtd. in Hoy 127). Yet as much as I support these critiques of Nativism, the question must be asked: What are the ramifications of the portrayals of claims to Indigenous belonging in light of Native peoples’ current struggles over land, resources, and development in Canada? Though none of these critics is talking about Indigenous populations in their hopes that diaspora as a critical tool may critique “a positivistic image of the ethnic imaginary” (Kamboureli xii), or offer a way to think “against race” (Gilroy), or imagine “nations without nationalism” (Kristeva), this silent space between Indigenous and diasporic theories demonstrates that bringing into conversation theories of diaspora, Aboriginal sovereignty, and Métis subjectivity is highly contentious; I need to proceed with caution in moving within and between these overlapping yet explosive discourses.

 

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Read, Listen, Tell
Excerpt

The Way of the Sword

Dawn Dumont

 

Dawn Dumont is a Plains Cree comedian, actor, and writer born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. She says of her reservation, the Okanese First Nation, that it is "quite possibly the smallest reservation in the world but what it doesn’t have in terms of land area, the people make up for in sheer head size" ("Dawn Dumont"). Trained as a lawyer, Dumont has said (in a tongue-in-cheek interview) that she decided to follow the talk show host Oprah’s advice to "follow your bliss” and become a writer instead" ("Dawn Dumont"). The story included in this anthology is from her collection of linked short stories, Nobody Cries at Bingo (2011). Three of Dumont’s plays, The Red Moon (Love Medicine), Visiting Elliot, and The Trickster vs. Jesus Christ, have been broadcast on CBC. She has also published a novel, Rose’s Run (2014). In addition to her work as a writer, Dawn has performed as a comedian at comedy clubs across North America, including New York’s Comic Strip, the New York Comedy Club, and the Improv.

Dumont has no trouble bringing her prodigious talents as a comedian to the page—while also using her sharp wit to make us think more deeply about serious issues, such as the legacy of residential schools, poverty, racism, bullying, and the stereotypical ways that Native people often are represented in books, films, and media. "The Way of the Sword" is a story about a young girl, also named Dawn, who obsessively reads Conan the Barbarian comics. Dawn loves Conan because, as she says, the story of his people "mirror[s] the story of Native people" (16). Finding her own experiences "mirrored" in Conan’s stories sustains Dawn and helps her find a way to counter the stereotypes of Native people that she contends with on a daily basis. But when Dawn is confronted with a real-life challenge by a group of older, stronger girls, she needs to find a solution other than hand-to-hand combat.

EXCERPT

When I was growing up my hero was Conan the Barbarian. He wasn’t just a comic book character—Conan was a way of life, a very simple way of life. When Conan wanted something, he took it. When someone stood in his way, he slew them. There were no annoying grey areas when you were a barbarian.

Uncle Frank introduced me, my siblings and all my cousins to Conan. He arrived from Manitoba one day with a bag filled with clothes and a box full of comics. I was ten and had no idea who Uncle Frank was. "This is your uncle, " Mom said pointing at the thin man with no hair sitting next to her at the table.

" Yeah, hi, okay, " I said, breezing by as I polished an apple on my T-shirt.

I would have kept walking had I not overheard the words, "horse ranch. " I stopped short, reversed and sat to my uncle’s right as he laid out the plans for possibly the greatest single thing that has ever happened to the Okanese reserve—Uncle Frank’s ranch.

Frank had no children but his interests in horses, comic books and candies guaranteed that they would always surround him. From the first day he arrived, all the kids within a three-kilometre radius spent all our free time at Uncle Frank’s—a fact, which delighted our bingo-addicted mothers to no end. When the horses weren’t available, or the weather was inclement or we had stuffed ourselves with too many cookies and potato chips, my cousins and I gathered in Uncle Frank’s living room where we would leaf through his Conan collection. Each week, we’d fight over who got to read the latest issue, but it was just as easy to lose yourself in an old comic while a slow reader mumbled his way through the new one.

Uncle Frank had hundreds of Conan comics from various different series. You see, Conan led such a long and complex life that it had to be told from several different angles. There was Conan the Barbarian, Conan the King, Young Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan. The Savage Sword was my favourite because it was more of a graphic magazine than a comic book. On these pages, the artists took extra time and care to bring across Conan’s heroic form, stylized muscles and the blood splatters of his foes. These stories were savoured; each word would be read, each panel would be studied, to achieve maximum Conan absorption.

Every time I opened a new comic, I read the italicized print above the first panel that described the world of Conan, "The proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet. "

Through these magazines we learned all we needed to know about Conan and his life philosophies. There was a recipe for living in those comics: love those who love you and conquer those who don’t. My cousins took this to heart and ran headlong into adventures like chasing down the bantam rooster until he turned on them and flew at their faces with his claws. They emerged from their adventures with bruises, scrapes and confident smiles. I always hung back, afraid of breaking a limb or scratching my smooth, plump skin. I knew I could be like Conan too, but in the distant future, far away from sharp claws and bad tempered chickens.

Part of the reason we loved Conan was we believed he was Native. The story of Conan mirrored the story of Native people. Conan was a descendent of the Cimmerians, a noble warrior people who made swords yet lived peaceably. They were attacked and annihilated by an imperial army who murdered the men and women and enslaved the children. Conan was one of those children and the only one to survive slavery (according to the movie). He was the last of his kind.

This was exactly like our lives! Well, except for the last of our kind business. We were very much alive and well even though others had made a concerted effort to kill us off. Later, I learned that throughout the world, people thought that Indians had been killed off by war, famine and disease. Chris Rock does a comedy bit about this point, claiming that you will never see an Indian family in a Red Lobster. This is a misconception: my family has gone to Red Lobster many times. (However, we are most comfortable at a Chinese buffet.)

In Saskatchewan, most non-Native people were very much aware that nearly a million Native people still existed, mainly to annoy them and steal their tax dollars.

But someone had tried to annihilate us and that was not something you got over quickly. It was too painful to look at it and accept; it was easier to examine attempted genocide indirectly. We could read about the Cimmerians and feel their pain; we could not acknowledge our own.

excerpted from "The Way of the Sword," by Dawn Dumont, in Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island.

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The Land We Are

The Land We Are

Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation
edition:Paperback
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