Tag Archives: colonialism

IFLS Book Club Post #17 [Gillian Calder]

cat and computerAfter many years of teaching constitutional law with the same texts and methodology, with the same methods of evaluation, and with often the very same stories and evidence, I have changed my course.  I put “the problem” that the course is addressing at the outset, like a big, thick, smelly onion, or a moldy casserole, or a doll stuffed with money, or a buried tin box, with the aim that slowly throughout the year we will build the skills necessary to unpack that problem as a story, sometimes by peeling layers, sometimes by using knives of different lengths and sharpness to cut into the story, sometimes by turning the problem upside down, sometimes by sitting patiently and listening to how the problem is described by others.  And while the goal of the course has not changed – enable students to identify constitutional issues and to make persuasive and effective constitutional law arguments and counter-arguments  — what has shifted is the responsibility we collectively carry being asked to work with these tools; how it demands different forms of engagement with law’s texts.

This book is an extraordinary, haunting, pungent legal text.  It asks for our trust, and reveals promises along the way to alleviate our fears.  We know that Joe is going to be all right, he is telling the story.  This 13 year-old boy will grow up, go to law school, get married.  So stay with me, stay inside me – the story demands —  as I journey to understand the place where law lives.  It flirts with what it means to tell the truth, and then punishes us hard for daring to believe that finding the truth would mean some kind of resolution or catharsis.   It has an issue, an argument, reasons and a ratio, but it has a law that is constantly shifting, moving like a boy on a bike, on a dusty dirt road, in the summer.  It points a big crooked finger at the wiindigo, and offers us traditional precedent to justify the murder of a monster, but then it takes.  Childhood, parents, a best friend.  And leaves the other monsters of the story, the rapist governor, the law that protects whiteness on certain pieces of land, dreams that don’t quite help us find Mayla, hanging in the air, like the Pine-Sol, lemon polish, cigarettes and stalefish smell at Whitey and Sonja’s.

Sometimes when we turn things upside down things fall out of our pockets.  Reading The Round House threw me into a childhood cartwheel, but what I found lying on the ground beside me was a crowbar and one gold tassel.  It returned me with a crash, to my 50 year old educator self, reminded that colonialism is worn on people’s bodies, and that even if there is a doll stuffed with $100 bills to offer some form of diamond earring, “IV Education” escape (239), that money will always have be traced back to its achingly awful, misogynistic, source.  This book is a powerful reminder of the questions that need constantly to be asked and re-asked about legal pluralism in the context of colonialism.  The questions are uncomfortable.  But in the interrogation of different kinds of sources there are reminders of law’s transformative potential, that in our telling and retelling of law’s stories, we can, as Leanne Simpson writes, rebel, resist, re-imagine.

I left The Round House thinking about traditional territories, about harm, about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, about child welfare, about story-tellers and story-keepers.  I also left my time with Louise Erdrich grateful, and scheming a way for all my students to find their way to this book.


Gillian Calder is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Victoria’s faculty of law, the parent of a 13 year old fireball, and whenever possible a rock-climber.  Her research interests at the moment are critical legal pedagogy, law’s regulation of the family, and children’s literature as law.


THE ROUND HOUSE BOOK CLUB [POST #4: Andrée Boisselle] “Am I like him?”

For this post, I would like to zero in on one of the exchanges I found most compelling in The Round House. It is the one between Joe and Linda, which takes place at Linda’s house shortly after Joe has killed Lark.

The complexity of Linda’s character is at the heart of this exchange: I see her very existence as liminary, or in-between communities. She recognizes that she is a part of the Larks as much as of the Wishkobs. She owes her life and everything she has become both to the Larks’ rejection and to the Wishkobs’ care, generosity and protection. Raised as an Ojibwe, she belongs on the reservation. But she is also repugnant to Joe – and presumably to others within the community – who can’t help but privately be creeped out by her, to see her as abnormal and to periodically wonder about her sanity. On the Larks’ side, their acts and feelings toward her seem to symbolize the monstrosity of colonialism itself: there’s a basic denial of her value as a human being, both at birth and when they seek her out in adulthood to literally use her for their own survival; violence and greed accompanied both by shame and by contriving to escape that shame.

This perspective on Linda informs how I read her exchange with Joe. Her answer to Joe’s question – why did Linden Lark commit those heinous crimes? – seems to describes colonialist hubris itself, and to root it in something missing:


I saw the monster in my brother way back in the hospital and it made me deathly ill. I knew that someday he would let it loose. It would lurch out with part of me inside. Yes. I was part of the monster too. I gave and gave, but know what? It was still hungry. Know why? Because no matter how much it ate, it couldn’t get the right thing. There was always something it needed. Something missing in his mother, too. I’ll tell you what it was: me. My powerful spirit. Me! His mother couldn’t face what she did to her baby, but even more: that what she did could not destroy me. Still, Linda brooded, she could call me after telling the doctor to let me die. All those years later. Call me and say, ‘Hello, it’s your mother.’

Linda has saved Linden’s life in the past, and now Joe has killed him. Both Linda and Jow are inextricably bound to the evil that Linden represents, and both are facing up to their responsibility in relation to this evil. Joe realizes that in taking Linden’s life, he has done something that brings him perilously close to Linden. He asks Linda : Am I like him?

 No, she said. This’ll get to you. […] This could wreck you. Don’t let it wreck you, Joe. […] She shrugged. But me, that’s another story. It’s me who is not so different, Joe. It’s me who should have shot him with Albert’s old twelve-gauge.

 We can go right or wrong, or both at once, through either action or inaction… We are all entangled in webs of complicated or fraught relationships, and all carry some responsibility for how those relationships evolve. A powerful message in Louise Erdrich’s story, to me, is that seeing our responsibilities clearly, and facing them, includes trying to heal ourselves and to grow in love and compassion.


picture of Andree BoisselleAndrée Boisselle is Assistant Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.  Her research interests are in the areas of indigenous law, comparative and constitutional law, pluralism and postcolonial legal theory.  She is currently completing her doctorate in the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria.  Her doctoral research on Stó:lõ constitutionalism and the Coast Salish legal tradition has been supported by scholarships from the Trudeau Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  Her master’s thesis critically examined the development of the duty to consult First Nations in Canadian law.  It received the Quebec Association of Law Professors Prize in 2008.  Before pursuing graduate studies, she practised litigation in Québec with McCarthy Tétrault LLP and did contractual work with the Supreme Court of Canada.


The Round House Book Club [Post #3: Scott Franks]

Marci to Sonia for reaching out and encouraging me to participate in the book club for The Round House. Although I’ve always enjoyed fiction, it’s taken a backseat since I began to take “education” seriously. Thanks to a generous gift card from some friends, I’ve added The Orenda, Monkey Beach, and The Back of the Turtle to my bookshelf, and have had some progress on The Orenda and Monkey Beach since November. I worry that the thick, green tomes embossed with gold-foil lettering might be abandoned soon. I hear they have cases.

I am very grateful to be reintroduced to Erdrich’s writing through such a welcoming book club. I want to explore the question, for whom is The Round House written? I’d like to address a few themes as well, mostly in response to conversations started by Sonia and Hadley.

But before these thoughts, I want to provide a brief, partial history of the more recent activities surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the Federal government’s response thus far. I think that this history is more practical than whatever thoughts I might have about The Round House. It’s not a precise or complete history in any sense. It Starts With Us has written an excellent history of the databases for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Maryanne Pearce’s  PhD dissertation also provides a comprehensive history. However, I hope that my brief timeline brings attention to some of the activities being undertaken by Indigenous communities. I also hope it highlights the faulty “radar”    of political leaders who continue to ignore the issue.


Not on Canada’s Radar: Characterising violence towards Aboriginal women as internal to reserves

As Hadley notes, this crisis is often characterised as internal to Aboriginal communities. This characterisation limits a discussion about intergenerational trauma resulting from the 60’s scoop and residential schools, and inaccurately suggests that Aboriginal men are wholly responsible for violence against Aboriginal women. A myopic focus on the Indian Act and reserves also ignores the fact that this crisis is a truly national one.

In response to calls for an inquiry by Rinelle Harper and Aboriginal leaders in Winnipeg, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt bluntly stated in an interview, “Obviously there is a lack of respect for Aboriginal women on reserve, obviously.” Valcourt forgets that inquiries intend to go beyond the obvious. But his language is straightforward: “you know, if the [Aboriginal] guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they’re treated.” The argument is causal: provisions of the Indian Act create the structures that engender a “lack of respect” among Aboriginal men towards Aboriginal women, which is the cause of violence against Aboriginal women. On this logic a ‘lack of respect’ towards Aboriginal women would be endemic on every single reserve; we know – obviously – that this is not the case. As Betty Anne Lavallée points out in response to Valcourt’s statement, “more than 60 per cent of the missing persons cases and 70 per cent of the murders of Aboriginal women take place in urban centres.” And such a simplistic answer does not tell us anything about how violence against Aboriginal women relates to the racialization of Aboriginal women, the impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma on Aboriginal communities, the mass incarceration of Aboriginal men, the connection between violence against Aboriginal women and violence against the land, and the role of non-Aboriginal communities and men in this violence.


Over a decade ago, Amnesty International (AI) identified the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada as a national human rights crisis. AI’s Stolen Sisters (2004) report found that violence against Indigenous women occurs in the context of deep-rooted racism and discrimination at all levels of society, including within police forces. In its report No More Stolen Sisters (2009), AI continued to urge for a coordinated and comprehensive national response, but did not recommend a public inquiry. In October, 2014, AI stated that a public inquiry is necessary to “break the government inertia preventing substantive and comprehensive reform and action.”


Databases on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: From Sisters in Spirit to It Starts with Us

From 2005 to 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada [NWAC] operated a campaign called Sisters in Spirit. Although initially funded by the Liberal government in 2005, its funding continued under the Conservative government until 2010. On May 16th 2007, Conservative MP Joy Smith stated that the Conservative government would commit to funding NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit campaign at $1 million annually until 2010-11. It was one of the first major research and documentation projects to compile information on the approximately 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women. It was an innovative project, which fulfilled community, memorialization, and catalyzing purposes.


In 2010, the Conservative government reasoned that existing policing and RCMP services were sufficient, and that the funding would be better allocated to those generic services, rather than to organizations such as NWAC. However, due to delays in funding, the RCMP was unable to effectively coordinate its responses and create a database that incorporated the files of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Some suggested that the Conservative government did not want the creation of a database that specifically drew attention to these cases, especially one which could not be controlled or kept confidential.


Aboriginal community-based activism has become more visible in mainstream news. Idle No More played a part in this. But this doesn’t mean that community efforts are recent. Here, I would like to draw attention to some of the recent community activities related to violence against Aboriginal women. On February 14th, 2015 10th annual Strawberry Ceremony will take place at 12:30pm at Police Headquarters, 40 College Street at Bay, Toronto. This is the tenth year that the vigil and ceremony has been organized by No More Silence, in solidarity with similar vigils and marches across Canada.


No More Silence manages a community database called It Starts with Us. The database operates in collaboration with the Families of Sisters in Spirit, and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Audrey Huntley has discussed the work of No More Silence and the broader context of violence against Indigenous women in an interview. The database builds on the work of Audrey Huntley, and the late Amber O’Hara. Two other notable researchers are Maryanne Pearce, and the late Loretta Saunders. Maryanne Pearce’s PhD dissertation from the University of Ottawa is essential reading, and has contributed significantly to community databases.  Unfortunately, Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous Inuk woman herself, never had the opportunity to complete her her thesis on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Loretta’s sister Delilah operates a blog on homicide survivor grief and trauma, with plans to launch a website.

Creative works on violence against Indigenous women

The Round House is just one of many creative works touching on the issue of violence against Aboriginal women. Joseph Boyden, author of Through Black Spruce, has recently edited an anthology called Kwe: Standing with Our Sisters, which includes contributions from over 50 contributors including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downie, Thomas King, Lee Maracle, and Yann Martel. Walking With Our Sisters is a collaborative art project that commemorates the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women through the display of moccasin vamps. Jamie Black’s Red Dress installation has been exhibited at several Canadian universities, which consists of 130 empty, red dresses hanging in common areas. The documentaries Stolen Sisters, Highway of Tears, Finding Dawn, and Building a Highway of Hope provide accessible and compelling narratives for a variety of audiences.  Naomi Klein delivered a speech about the death of Bella Laboucan-Mclean on December 18, 2014 at The Opera House in Toronto, at a special production of the Basement Revue to to raise funds for No More Silence. Blogger Kwe Today’s response provides an important counterpoint to Klein’s speech.


Thoughts on The Round House

For whom is The Round House written? I was struck by the absence of settler worldviews in The Round House. The settler and colonial characters – Linden Lark, Father Travis Wozniak, Soren Bjerke, Sonja – have no control over the perspective crafted by Erdrich. Instead, the narrative is driven by the novel’s Ojibwe characters – Joe Coutts, his father Bazil and mother Geraldine, Whitey, Mooshum, Clemence, Randall, Grandma Thunder, Cappy, Zack, Angus and Linda Wishkob – and their relationships with each other on the reservation.


I connected with The Round House first as a Métis reader – noting how the author describes the exodus of Métis travelling South to Montana and Minnesota during the Reign of Terror after the fall of Batoche and the hanging of Louis Riel, the Ojibwe welcoming of the Métis and their aptitude for farming, and the later settler-mentality of some Métis towards their Ojibwe hosts and family. As I read this, I thought of the internalization of colonialism and colonial violence within Indigenous communities. I thought about how this story – that of the Métis – related to the story of Nanapush and the Old Buffalo Woman, the near-extinction of the plains buffalo, the establishment of reservations and allotments, the piece-meal cutting up of Indian lands by ravenous land speculators and an all-consuming Federal government. I thought of violence and hunger. I thought of gardening – whether the root you pull will crack your foundation, whether careful patience in planting will ensure a harvest. The Round House is like a patch-work blanket of interconnected stories, of human characters making decisions about how they relate to the world around them and to others, and of the long-term impact of such decisions.


The Tribal Court judge Bazil Coutts arranges a decaying casserole to illustrate the body of colonial Indian Law, balancing the sharp knives of tribal court precedent on top in the hope of grounding future tribal sovereignty. Bazil Coutts explains this to his son Joe, and Joe relates it to the story of Nanapush surviving in the remains of Old Buffalo Woman. What happens to an Indigenous lawyer who survives in the remains of a colonial state? What is the relationship between the Indigenous lawyer and his or her Indigenous laws and those of the colonial state? Is the Indigenous lawyer compromised in his or her engagement with Indigenous laws? What happens when Indigenous laws are incorporated into colonial law? Bazil Coutts nearly tests this question when he suggests that successfully arguing Wetiko laws in tribal court could ground future claims for tribal sovereignty (at 227-230). But what happens after you’ve built your foundation on hungry, invasive saplings? Can you tear them out? Or is the careful, patient, infinite pruning essential to the integrity of the foundation – in this way acknowledging the relationship between the saplings and the foundation through conscious activity. Perhaps that’s the point. Not to forget that there will be saplings in the foundation.
I certainly do not have any answers to these questions. I’ve been asking myself these things for over five years, when I first made the decision to consider attending law school and I will likely continue to do so. And this made me think about how important it was for me to be able to work out some of these questions for myself in the narrative of The Round House.




IMG_4449Scott is a second year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is co-president of the Osgoode Indigenous Students Association, a senior editor with the Osgoode Hall Law Journal, and a student member of the Indigenous Bar Association. Scott has contributed to public legal education projects related to human rights and specific claims, and worked for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General as a summer law student. Scott’s vision is to foster reciprocity between Indigenous and Canadian laws, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and within traditional Canadian legal education.  He is on twitter: @sjfranks



NIP Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004


Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004: 

Sikata Banerjee, UVic Women’s Studies & Associate Dean of Humanities

Coming April 2012. Available for Preorder.

A particular dark triumph of modern nationalism

has been its ability to persuade citizens to sacrifice their lives for a political vision forged by emotional ties to a common identity. Both men and women can respond to nationalistic calls to fight that portray muscular warriors defending their nation against an easily recognizable enemy. This “us versus them” mentality can be seen in sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalas, Serbs and Kosovars, and Protestants and Catholics. In Muscular Nationalism, Sikata Banerjee takes a comparative look at India and Ireland and the relationship among gender, violence, and nationalism. Exploring key texts and events from 1914-2004, Banerjee explores how women negotiate “muscular nationalisms” as they seek to be recognized as legitimate nationalists and equal stakeholders in their national struggles. Banerjee argues that the gendered manner in which dominant nationalism has been imagined in most states in the world has had important implications for women’s lived experiences. Drawing on a specific intersection of gender and nationalism, she discusses the manner in which women negotiate a political and social terrain infused with a masculinized dream of nation-building. India and Ireland – two states shaped by the legacy of British imperialism and forced to deal with modern political/social conflict centring on competing nationalisms – provide two provocative case studies that illuminate the complex interaction between gender and nation.

CJWL CFP: White Settler Colonialism and Indigeneity in the Canadian Context (Deadline, March 1, 2012)

Photo by Alan Wiener of Anishnaabe artist Nadia Myre's Scar Project exhibited in HIDE: SKIN AS MATERIAL AND METAPHOR 2010
Photo by Alan Wiener of Anishnaabe artist Nadia Myre's Scar Project exhibited in HIDE: SKIN AS MATERIAL AND METAPHOR 2010

The deadline for submitting articles for this special issue is March 1, 2012

(Version française ci-dessous)




Call for Papers


White Settler Colonialism and Indigeneity in the Canadian Context


Guest edited by Sherene Razack


The Canadian Journal of Women and Law (CJWL) is seeking submissions for a special issue 25(1) to be published in Spring 2013.


Some time ago Patricia Monture told us that in her thinking equality was not a high enough goal. A feminism that failed to recognize the destructiveness of settler colonialism and to work towards Indigenous sovereignty and well-being was too small a feminism for Patricia. This issue of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law is dedicated to Patricia Monture, a courageous scholar who led the way for so many of us over the last two decades. To honour her, we invite contributions on white settler colonialism. This issue seeks to profile the work of Indigenous scholars and scholars of colour. In keeping with Patricia Monture’s own contributions, we are especially interested in receiving articles that offer a feminist, anti-racist reading of Canadian settler colonialism in the areas of criminal justice, Aboriginal youth, education, and economic empowerment.


The deadline for submitting articles for this special issue is March 1, 2012. Submissions should be no more than 35 pages (10,000 words), should conform to the Style Guide available on our website: http://www.utpjournals.com/cjwl/cjwl.html and should include an abstract.
Please send your articles in Word format to:


Debra Parkes

English Language Co-Editor

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba

Robson Hall

224 Dysart Road

Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3T 2N2

Tel: 204-474-9776   Fax: 204-480-1084

Email: cjwl@cc.umanitoba.ca







Appel de textes


Colonialisme de peuplement blanc et indigénéité en contexte canadien


Avec la collaboration spéciale de Sherene Razack


La Revue Femmes et Droit (RFD) sollicite des textes pour publication dans son numéro spécial, volume 25(1), à paraître au printemps 2013.


Patricia Monture nous a dit un jour qu’à son avis, l’égalité n’était pas un objectif suffisamment élevé. Un féminisme qui n’avait pas su reconnaître le caractère destructif du colonialisme de peuplement ni poursuivre la souveraineté et le bien-être autochtones relevait d’un féminisme trop petit pour Patricia. Ce numéro de la Revue Femmes et Droit sera consacré à Patricia Monture, universitaire courageuse qui a ouvert le chemin à de nombreuses femmes au cours des deux dernières décennies. Pour l’honorer, nous invitons les contributions sur le colonialisme de peuplement blanc. Ce numéro brossera un portrait du travail des universitaires amérindiennes et des universitaires de couleur. Dans la foulée des contributions de Patricia Monture, nous désirons particulièrement recevoir des articles qui jettent un regard féministe et antiraciste sur le colonialisme de peuplement canadien dans les domaines de la justice pénale, des jeunes autochtones, de l’éducation et du renforcement économique.


La date limite de soumission pour ce numéro spécial est le 1er mars 2012. Les textes devraient respecter le Manuel canadien de la référence juridique, ne pas dépasser 35 pages (10 000 mots) et comprendre un résumé.
Veuillez envoyer vos textes en format Word à :


Louise Langevin

Corédactrice francophone

Revue Femmes et Droit

Faculté de droit, Université Laval

Québec, Qc