Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Othering techniques

I have recently asked an audience about the 'ethnic' core of the Canadian nation. Someone whispered: Aboriginals? Right - and wrong! It is certainly an acceptable, politically correct answer - if one does not look at the (not so distant) history of Canada. Then, along with various historians, one realizes the white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian core of the Canadian nation - a vision of an 'imagined community' which has lasted (is still there?) in policy as well as in everyday life stereotypes for a long time (think for instance of the Chinese head-tax).

As I browsed the newspaper, I was reminded not only of this conversation, but also of Billig's argument that the nation is flagged (and thus re-constructed) on a daily basis, in the little things the audience is supposed to share in common. The front page article entitled "Resignation paralyzes residential schools commission" is interestingly placed under the banner "Native Issues" (paper-based version). The long-standing and thorny issue of the residential schools - and the ensuing Apology offered by the Canadian prime minister to Canadian Aboriginals - has a thick context, involving not only institutionalized oppression but more importantly, a longstanding Canadian social imaginary in which the Aboriginal is an internal Other, to which the nation is intrinsically connected. Partly guilt, partly desire to assimilate the Other (the present reminder that this is not 'our' country, but that 'we' have only recently made this territory our own, drawn our national boundaries and took posession of it).

The article presents the problems within the Indian (?!?) Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which culminated yesterday with the demision of the chair. Apparently, the issue at stake is the positioning of the commission as merely truth-seeker (institutionalizing a particular 'official' memory) or as also reconciliatory (which, in my understanding, brings along a new set of responsibilities on both parties for the healing process). Regardless of what is truly at stake, the way in which the story is framed says a lot about who is the intended audience of this article, what is the relation between Canada and Aboriginals. It is definitely not about people's experience (and indeed a previous analysis of Canadian media coverage of the Apology that I undertook together with a colleague of mine shows that Aboriginals are positioned primarily as political subjects, with the result of re-colonizing the group as a national subject and re-assessing its demands, needs and contexts within the frame of the nation-state). It is definitely not about 'our' experience - but about 'theirs', the "Native issues". Most importantly, the article is not about the implications of truth vs. reconciliation, but about decision-making and authority lines.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Canada's Truth & Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools is a "hoax" according to Bruce Clark.
A Critique of the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

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