Category Archives: aboriginal

Donna Haraway: Staying with the Trouble. Book Review by Juan Guevara

Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin with the Chthulucene London: Duke University Press. 2016.

Staying with the Trouble compiles Donna Haraway’s latest thoughts.  In the book, Haraway calls for the need to reflect and think on the possibilities for facing the era post-Anthropocene, the era of, what she calls, the Chthulucene. The book is divided in eight chapters that can be presented in three parts: the first 4 chapters of the book are mainly ‘theoretical’ and serve to conceptualize String Figures-SF, Tentacular Thinking, Sympoiesis and the Chthulucene; the second part (Chapters 5, 6, and 7) provides practical examples of becoming-with other species and elements to show how the Chthulucene can shape and transform our human ways to relate with other species and the planet (Terrapolis in the Chthulucene); the last part builds on science fiction (Speculative Fabulation-SF) and storytelling as a way to present the forms the Chthulucene may have (Proctor, 2017). Response-abilities is one of the main and most important elements of the book alongside with String Figures-SF, Becoming-with, Tentacular Thinking and Sympoiesis; these concepts are explored in this review.

I am not particularly engaged in Haraway’s work. However, in this book, I observe how the author engages with Northern aboriginal perspectives, Feminist theory, Biology, Ecology, and Postmodern theory. I found intriguing the way the Nomad is presented in the process of becoming, that for Haraway is always becoming with other species. The book has the merit of exercising imagination and for bringing some Northern Aboriginal wisdom to thinking the post-Anthropocene.

For Haraway, the Chthulucene is an era (with no time nor history) in which human race will confront its arrogance and ‘superiority’ and humbly make kin with the biological critters coming from the under-ground. The Chthulucene is the era in which humans will make kin with tentacles, spiders, bacteria, different ways of perceiving, living and dying, and becoming-with in n-dimensional time-spaces.

I observe that some concepts of the Chthulucene, especially its n-dimensional time-spaces and becoming-with, are inspired in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming. In her conceptualization of the Chthulucene, Haraway forgets Deleuze’s exploration of the Tick in Difference and Repetition to deconstruct and dissolve the static and unity of the self, to open up the possibilities of becoming. The Tick relies on different structures outside of itself, at the organic level, to perceive the world (Posteraro, 2016). The idea of the Tick is explored by Deleuze inspired by the work of von Uexhüll. Von Uexhüll suggests that each living cell perceives and acts but also “has perceptual or receptor signs (Merkzeichen) and impulses or effector signs (Wirkzeicheri) which are specific to it” (von Uexhüll, 1934, pp. 322-323). From this idea, von Uexhüll (1934) argues that “perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt” (p. 320).

What is really important in von Uexhüll’s work for this book review is the acknowledgement of n-dimensional time-spaces of the Umwelt. This category is relevant in Haraway’s book but not well developed. The recognition of n-dimensional perceptual spatio-temporalities in each “soup bubbles (perceptual and effectors living cells) which intersect each other smoothly, because they are built up of subjective perceptual signs” (von Uexhüll, 1934, p. 339), plus the way in which time regards a succession of moments by different subjects are key elements of the Umwelt. This is indeed related to the entanglements of species and the actual existence of n-dimensional time-spaces that Haraway suggests for the futuristic Chthulucene.

Continue reading Donna Haraway: Staying with the Trouble. Book Review by Juan Guevara

Eduardo Kohn: How Forests Think. Book Review by Anthony Fisher

Kohn, E. (2013). How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

When people think of trees they most certainly would not associate them with having the ability to create thought processes. This is, of course, because trees have no brains. However, in his book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (2013) Kohn indicates that trees (and other beings) have the ability to think and discusses how they accomplish this. He pushes the reader to step out of an anthropocentric view and re-evaluate how humans can interpret the world. Indeed, the author stresses that the field of anthropology has been too short sighted and has not yet fully explored how other beings constitute what it is to be human. Therefore, by studying the world outside of the human this gives insight towards what it truly means to be human. Kohn explores this idea by conducting an ethnographic study of the Runa people in Avila, Ecuador.

Kohn builds his case that trees and other nonhuman entities think by delving deep into semiotics. He explains that all beings can represent, produce, and interpret signs. Thus, the entire world is made up of semiotics. All beings, in their own way, respond to these signs and subsequently grow and adapt to these sensory inputs. Kohn repeatedly emphasizes that signs go further than just simply the realms of human symbolic interpretation. The author recognizes that even evolutionary success is dependent on responding or not responding to particular environmental signs. An “ecology of selves” is then used to explain how relationships between individuals, through the process of sign interpretation, is how individuals are defined. Individuals then can be said to “represent and are represented by other beings” (p.78). Therefore, “if selves are thoughts and the logic through which they interact is semiotic, then relation is representation” (p. 83). This is made clear by examining tree characteristics and spatial orientation. Trees that have specialized characteristics “form relatively more nuanced and exhaustive overall representation[s] of the surrounding environment” (p.81). Pest resistance is an example of these specialized characteristics and this shapes where a tree species can be naturally found. This is how trees think. Relationships amongst trees (and other beings) form repeated arrangements that can be predictably exploited. Modern and historical forestry markets are one example of humans’ understanding environmental relationships or misunderstanding in the case of over-logging. These misinterpretations or simply ignoring environmental associations is called soul blindness where “treat[ing] other selves as objects” (p. 119) and being “[unable] to see beyond oneself or one’s kind” (p.117) is the cause of not understanding the interconnectedness of nature.

The author explores complicated topics, such as the ecology of selves, by using examples in everyday Runa life. Metaphors as well as pictures are used to emphasize key points. Consistently referencing and referring back to environmental examples firmly grounds this theoretical work. Kohn does a fantastic job in explaining how understanding relationships amongst various beings can sometimes be quite complex and that the virtual can be sometimes used to understand the perspective of other beings. The Runa often use dreams or the hallucinogenic properties of substances to make sense of the living, material world. Continue reading Eduardo Kohn: How Forests Think. Book Review by Anthony Fisher

The Politics of Scale: David and Goliath

Is that Salmon versus LNG or LNG versus Salmon?

Like David and Goliath, there is a mismatch between the scale at which environmental impacts are assessed under Canadian legislation and the geographical scale of environmental, human rights and economic risks. The Provincial Government of British Columbia is promoting the development of liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River estuary by Petronas.   Based on both cultural attitudes to the environment and scientific research, the proposal and and offer of $1.5B compensation has been rejected by the Lax-Kw’alaams First Nation on whose territory the LNG terminal would be located.  Effectively this would be a form of expropriation approved by the Provincial government and is reminiscent of 19th century scrip practices in Canada, by which indigenous individuals were offered rations and money to extinguish their aboriginal rights to land and traditional hunting and gathering.  An article published in Science (7 Aug 2015) by Jonathan Moore and others (Moore et al 2015) notes that this estuary is the site of the second-largest salmon-production in Canada, largely by First Nation communities. ‘Although terminal proponents and government have recognized interests of First Nations from the estuary during environmental assessment, they have ignored interests of upriver First Nations who also harvest salmon’ (see Stantec Consulting Ltd. Pacific Northwest LNG Environmental Assessment Certificate Application (Burnaby BC 2014) cited in Moore et al 2015).

Lax Kw’alaams in title action on Lelu Island
LNGWorldNews.com: Lax Kw’alaams in title action on Lelu Island

‘Identifying the proper spatial scale for environmental decision-making is a fundamental challenge for environmental policy and ethics. Whether it is migratory animals like salmon that transmit impacts, hydro-electric dams that deprive downstream farming communities of water (see Glenn et al 1995 in Biology 10.1175), or carbon emissions from industrialized countries that raise ocean levels and threaten low-lying islands (see Barnett et al 2003 in Climate Change 61, 321), decisions can impact distant ecosystems and people. Science can and should inform the scale at which environmental decision-makers weigh risks to the environment and human rights against potential economic benefits’ (Moore et al 2015)

-Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

After Moore et al 2015 Selling First Nations down the river. Science (7 Aug) Online: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/349/6248/596.1 accessed 20 Mar. 2016.

See Lukacs, Martin 2016 By rejecting $1bn for a pipeline, this First Nation has put Trudeau’s climate plan on trial Guardian (20 Mar.) Online: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2016/mar/20/by-rejecting-1-billion-for-a-pipeline-a-first-nation-has-put-justin-trudeaus-climate-plan-on-trial accessed 20 Mar. 2016.

Re(building) to heal: La Loche, Residential Schools, Reconciliation in Canada

By Adriana Boffa

How does one heal a community after trauma? A difficult question, especially after the horrific events that occurred on the afternoon of January 22, 2016 in the small north-western Saskatchewan community school of La Loche where four people were killed and seven were injured by a young boy of 17, who is also of that community (La Loche Shooting, n.d.).

Now is the difficult time, where questions are being asked and a search for someone(thing) to blame begins; the answers do not emerge easily and are evasive. La Loche is a small isolated North-Western Saskatchewan Dene community that has experienced great amount of trauma, and not solely from this incident. It is a community that has been living the intergenerational effects of colonialism; many in the town have been directly and indirectly affected by the legacy of residential schools (Residential Schools, n.d.). As such, La Loche is a community where a people are struggling to find their way back to their Dene cultural and historical roots. It is also a community where: the young are beginning to outnumber the old; there is little hope or opportunities in town for their youth’s future; the social supports and resources are continually lacking and being cut back (Tait, 2016); and, they suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the province (Tait, 2016; O’Connors, Hall, & Warick, 2016; Mandryk, 2016; White, 2016). This community needs to heal in more ways than one.

Where does one even begin to heal?

One proposed way was put forth by Georgina Jolibois (MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River) and by La Loche’s acting Mayor Kevin Janvier, both calling for the demolishing of the school (White, 2016; Tait, 2016). Georgina states, “Tear down the building, rebuild the building. There’s so much pain, so much trauma. They need to rebuild. The families are hurting, the youth are hurting, the community is hurting. The north is hurting” (Tait, 2016).

Dene Building, La Loche Community School, La Loche Saskatchewan

Is this the answer? How can a place hold such power over a community’s healing? A potential response might be found in the newly released document by the Government of Canada, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada‘s (TRCC) report, detailing the injustices of “cultural genocide” (p. 55) committed upon the Indigenous peoples of this country through their forced assimilation and absorption via the residential school system. According to this report, residential schools are responsible for a “loss of pride and self respect” of and for Indigenous peoples in Canada (p. VI). This “loss” and “cultural genocide”, as can be surmised by engaging with this document, is firmly connected to a profound disconnect from place, which consequently led to a disconnect from history, culture, language, and family.

Residential schools that are still left standing remain an imposing fixture (physically and emotionally) in various Indigenous communities. While some have been re-claimed and re-purposed by the community, others lay empty acting as ghostly reminders of a horrific past. These structures are places of great trauma and unsettling memory. They are not merely buildings; rather, they are places that conjure temporal and spatial disturbances for all who are in their presence. The school buildings evoke memories, recall histories or pasts, generate affects (physical and emotional), transform the spaces around them, and create potential becomings (positive or negative) for all who engage with them.

Beauvais Indian School during construction 1931, Northern Saskatchewan

The heart of the TRCC report is regarding reconciliation, not only for the survivors and their families, but also for Canada as whole. It is about developing a mutual respect, reciprocity, and a recognition that we are all interconnected in this process of healing that requires all of us learning from our shared and difficult past. Reconciliation is not just one thing we do to make ourselves feel better, it is something that needs to be adopted into our ethics of how we might engage with life differently. Therefore, one needs to do more than just talk about reconciliation, “[one] must learn to practice reconciliation in our lives” (p. 21).

In terms of reconciling and healing through the tragic events of January 22nd, there is a need to look beyond this single event and realize that it is not a simple fix and it requires a look at the past – no matter how uncomfortable that will be. It is a realization that this community school building is not just a simple building, rather a conduit to the past, present, and future of and for this community. Reconciliation begins with how we enter a place and interact with it. Healing, therefore, might also being with how we choose to engage with this community and respect their path towards reconciling their trauma. Georgina Jolibois, stated “when you listen to the community, when you listen to the youth, when you listen to the elders, and the pain – they will say that [they wish the building to be demolished] also” (Tait, 2016, n.p.). The fate of the building is tied to the community and listening to the community is where one might begin.

Adriana Boffa (University of Alberta)

Resources

La Loche shootings: The victims, the town, the school and the tragic tale so far​. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-shootings-the-victims-the-town-and-the-tragic-tale-sofar/article28368674/

Mandryk, M. (2016, January 26). La Loche shooting tragedy seemed almost inevitable. Regina Leader Post. Retrieved from http://leaderpost.com/opinion/columnists/la-loche-shooting-tragedy-seemed-almost-inevitable

O’Connor, J., Hill, A., & Warick, J. (2016, January 25). La Loche fights to find hope. National Post, In Edmonton Journal, pp. NP1-NP3.

Residential Schools – History of La Loche. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/site/portagelaloche/history/6-residential-schools

Tait, Carrie. (2016, January 24). La Loche turns to forgiveness, healing in wake of shootings that killed four. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/it-hurts-for-everybody-la-loche-residents-in-mourning-after-school-shooting/article28363770/

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/201/301/weekly_acquisition_lists/2015/w15-24-F-E.html/collections/collection_2015/trc/IR4-7-2015-eng.pdf

White, P. (2016, January 24). La Loche: A beautiful town with a rough reputation. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-a-beautiful-town-with-a-rough-reputation/article28367474/

Ferdinand von Hayek on Pipelines

The aspirations of the great mass of the world’s population can today be satisfied only by rapid material progress… At this juncture we are therefore not only the creatures but the captives of progress… At some future date when, after a long period of world-wide advance in material standards, the pipelines through which it spreads are so filled that, even when the vanguard slows down, those at the rear will for some time continue to move at an undiminished speed, we may again have it in our power to choose whether or not we want to go ahead at such a rate.  (The Constitution of Liberty 1960)

Thanks to Joerge Dyrkton for bringing this to my attention.  Flows (mobilities), cultural transmission, leaders and followers in the global space and time assumed by Hayek.  Empirically, the dependency of the Chinese economy on the US consumer for continued growth puts these preconceptions in doubt.

Pipelines and progress are central images in my colleagues’ local narratives and a central topic of  judicial decisions and debates in Canada, with the government and the oil and gas industry on one side and the indigenous nations and environmental critics on the other.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

 

World of Matter: Exposing Resource Ecologies

Exhibition at Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University. February 20 – April 18, 2015.

The world of matter has been forcefully sculpted in the last several centuries by the twin projects of colonialism and capitalism. The very movement of human activity under modernity has rested on the formation of a standing reserve of nature, a category whose flexibility has variously expanded and contracted to include both humans and non-human others as targets for exploitation and extractive energy. Carbon industries, forestry, mining, agribusiness, construction, mega-farming and fishing participate in worlding the world as mere matter, asserting deep and unforgiving property rights in dispersed territories around the globe. Nevertheless, at each point in this cartography of extraction one finds committed points of resistance and un-ceded terrains, both material and symbolic. This symposium and exhibition asks how the fields of contemporary art and media studies, indigenous studies and resistance movements, critical environmental studies, new ethnography and science and technology studies might bring into focus the globalizing dynamics of extractive ecologies. It seeks to build substantive discursive grounds for resisting incursions into sovereign land, denials of the rights of nature, and the persistent dispossession of indigenous and First Nation peoples. It asks, What un-ceded terrains precede and interrupt the depths of imperial ecologies? What interventions ensure the defense of land, labour, survival and species diversity in the globalized present?

World of Matter is an international art and media project investigating primary materials (fossil, mineral, agrarian, maritime) and the complex ecologies of which they are a part. Participants: Mabe Bethonico, Ursula Biemann, Emily Eliza Scott, Uwe H. Martin & Frauke Huber, Paulo Tavares, Elaine Gan, Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer, Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan. Visit our multimedia web platform here.  

February 20 – April 18, 2015  Organized by Krista Lynes and Michèle Thériault.

Review by Brian Holmes here

-Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Bare Nature – Industrial Development and Ontological Destruction

Bare Nature
Bare Nature  Photo copyright Andriko Lozowy 2007

What are the theoretical and practical connections that exist between genocide and ecocide? Both terms indicate processes involved in the systematic and rational destruction of particular ways of being-in-the-world. While the physical destruction of bodies and ecologies is starkly visible (think of the piles of bodies at Auschwitz or aerial photos of the Tar Sands) these processes seek to penetrate and to annihilate the essence of life more generally – ontological destruction (Woolford 2009). The violence enacted upon different people and spaces has a lot to do with their relation to the sovereign power of the state – or in the case of ecocidal developments, their relation to multinational corporations that governments so often cater to and collaborate with. In Canada this is evidenced in the way that indigenous people have been displaced from the land, migrant workers are granted temporary status to fill labour demands, and corporations are given huge subsidies.

Genocide and ecocide are not aberrant social phenomena, nor are they carried out by inherently evil people; rather, they exemplify the destructive potential internal to modernity itself and illustrate the human capacity for psychological justification (Martin and Short 2014). Both genocidal action and ecological destruction are implicitly legitimated through public discourses of rational self-interest (jobs, national purity) and through the technological triumphalism that accompanies new capacities for extraction. The outcome of genocidal systems is not just death, but the production of ‘bare life’ – in which apparently ‘living’ bodies are turned into mere husks from which the divine spark of life has been extinguished (Agamben 1998). A similar ontological destruction is also evidenced in the evisceration of vast tracts of nature at a scale heretofore unprecedented in the history of human civilization – the production of ‘bare nature’ (Shields 2012). The connection between the ontological destruction of land and people is all too clear for many indigenous peoples for whom there is no distinction, linguistic or ontological, between people and the land, as both are connected to the same source of creation (Coulthard 2014).

As mass industrial developments like the Tar Sands continue, they require the creation of legal states of exception through zoning practices and legal-economic policies that render millions of acres of land violable bare nature. These projects are a continuation of historic dispossession and genocidal actions that have targeted indigenous peoples for cultural, spiritual and physical annihilation (Patzer 2014). The impact of these colossal developments also contribute to increasingly frequent climate catastrophes that regularly displace tens of thousands of people. As Canada does not recognize the ‘climate refugee’ as a valid legal category, neither does it assume no responsibility for its role in the production of bare life (Walia 2013). The ontological connection between bare life and bare nature characterizes the increasingly pervasive threshold spaces where cultural and natural objects, human and other-than- human subjects are all positioned in precarious relation to each other (Chakrabarty 2009).

Dr. Jobb Arnold is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Affect Project at the University of Manitoba (affectproject.ca).

References

Agamben, Giorgio.  Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Bauman, Zygmunt.  Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh.  “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009): 197-222.

Coulthard, Glen. “From ‘Wards of the State’ to Subjects of Recognition?” pp. 56-99, in Andrea Smith and Audra Simpson (eds.), Theorizing Native Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Crook, Martin and Damien Short. “Marx, Lemkin and the genocide–ecocide nexus.” The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 18, No. 3 ( 2014): 298-319.

Jeremy Patzer, “Residential School Harm and Colonial Dispossession: What’s the Connection?” pp. 166-189, in Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Hinton (Eds.) Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Rob Shields. “Feral suburbs: Cultural topologies of social reproduction, Fort McMurray, Canada.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. Vol. 15, No. 3, (2012): 205-215.

Harsha Walia. Undoing border imperialism. Oakland: AK Press, 2013.

Woolford, Andrew. “Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Canadian Aboriginal Peoples.” Genocide Studies and Prevention Vol. 4, No. 1 (2009): 81–97.