Recently, a discussion came up in a class that I'm taking that presumes how Indigenous literature must be a facet of Canadian literature and part of Canada's overall identity. I'm challenged by this claim to ownership of culture, both historically to present, and I would like to articulate how Indigenous ideology as an amalgamation within the Canadian Lit canon is troublesome in its recognition of Indigenous autonomy of culture.
Here's a response that I provided regarding, "What is Canadian Children's Literature?":
It is problematic to refer to Indigenous literature as a component of Canadian identity as many First Nations do not consider Canada as their Nation. Using Indigenous literature as a facet of the Canadian literature canon is to claim ownership of Indigenous people within the cross-national identity of settler culture; this is the basis of theory and thought by a number of Indigenous academic writers. Indigenous identity requires its own framework that is separate from settler culture and while there is an intersection of these type's of literature and identities, I argue that it should not exist within the Canadian descriptor as it ultimately parallels colonial claim -- in this sense to culture, ideology and creative thought.
I appreciate the author of Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing specifying their description of Canadian Cultural Identity in Chapter 9 and how problematic it may be with providing a homogeneous description of Canadian culture that includes Indigenous writers. The author briefly mentions Francophone people but this does not suffice as an adequate description or parallel to the issue of including Indigenous literature into Canadian literature, as Francophone people still fall within the same category as "settler" literature. Indigenous people, who are indeed First Peoples of this land, and who are tied closely to their Nations do not consider themselves “Canadian” but have a Nation to Nation (That is, the First Nation community such as Musqueam or Sto:lo or Mohawk to Canadian Nation) relationship with the Canadian Federal Government. Therefore, to assume that Indigenous literature must be included in the Canadian identity as an overall pan-identity is a political decision and reiterates ongoing settler and colonial claim to Indigenous people and history. This raises a very interesting question for educators to consider. I am glad that the author took time to explain the complexity of this pan-Canadian identity and how it is challenging to focus this description considering the diversity and political complex circumstances within Canada, but I am unsatisfied with this chapter that attempts to address an incredibly important concern within the Canadian identity framework.
When considering the question, what is Canadian literature? I often think about how Canadian literature focuses primarily on the pastoral within the story and by this I mean, land. Land is a theme consumed by settler culture and Canadian identity, it is a primary identifier of self for most Canadians. It is the original reason that compelled settlers to arrive to this land; land reflects the sheer geographical scale versus the smaller population of citizens that reside on this land -- which is a characteristic that defines different that Canada may have with the United States. Geography and place plays a big part in much of Canadian literature - whether this is based in natural territory or urban environments facing a collision of culture, diversity and tension. Sometimes land and geography acts as a vehicle or sub-"character" to move the plot forward or metaphorically reflect aspects of the plot within the protagonist’s life. In Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, the expanse of the prairies as a reflection of both freedom and loneliness which passively weaves its way in and out of the storyline over the course of the novel, almost as a character that separates the protagonist from her immediate present environment to the outside world or her future. In Arthur Slade's Dust, the prairies act as an allegory of economy and wellness within a narrative that ebbs on horror and the supernatural. Both weather and geography serve as a foreboding warning to the community in Dust that informs survival and livelihood within the Dust Bowl period. I think geography is a common aspect of Canadian literature and I do think it is valuable for author’s to use this as story device for defining a separate identity to the territory of the United States. An understanding of one’s place and immediate surroundings is key to questioning politics, values, identities developed within predominant media and culture. Land and nature as a primary identity-based attribute used in Canadian literature could potentially act as a more meaningful and telling point of intersection to Indigenous literature. Meaningful in the sense that this difference is acknowledged, and in that sense it is respected, rather than the simple assumption that Indigenous literature is just another identifying attribute to be consumed and commodified with the overall canon of Canadian identity.
Bainbridge, Joyce; Oberg, Dianne; Carbonaro, Mike. No text is innocent: Canadian children’s
books in the classroom. Journal of Teaching and Learning, Volume. 3, No. 2, 2005.
Slade, Arthur. Dust. CNIB, 2002.
Toews, Miriam. A Complicated Kindness. Faber and Faber, 2004.