I was honoured to share the stage with Elder and educator Sherry Copenace (Anishinaabekwe, Onigaming, Treaty 3), Kyle Powys Whyte and Julie Libarkin in this talk at MSU. Miigwech to all for their generosity.
I was honoured to share the stage with Elder and educator Sherry Copenace (Anishinaabekwe, Onigaming, Treaty 3), Kyle Powys Whyte and Julie Libarkin in this talk at MSU. Miigwech to all for their generosity.
Growing up as a white settler child in unceded Musqueam and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh territory toward the end of the 20th century, I was regularly overwhelmed with grief for beings I had never met. I was raised to ‘love animals’ and ‘nature’ at a time when it was becoming clear that they were ‘disappearing’ at alarming rates. At school and through educational programs, I was taught to be ‘aware’ of endangered species, and encouraged to raise money for conservation efforts. As gifts, I was given cuddly toys and figurines that represented – and fetishized – endangered species. Clinging to these symbols both soothed and sharpened my feelings of futility. I couldn’t reach these beings, or do anything meaningful to ‘save’ them. So, instead, I generated sadness and anxiety, as if inhabiting these states was a form of action. When it became too much, I buried those feelings for almost 20 years. This made it possible for me to get on with my life, learning and working within the colonial-capitalist systems that privileged me – and that continued to drive patterns of ecological destruction.
This is a common story. The emotions of white and other privileged children (and adults) are continually mobilized to generate support for global conservation efforts. Grief amongst white and other privileged people for the
plight of ‘endangered’ or ‘soon to be extinct’ life forms is amongst the most potent of these emotions, along with anger and frustration. The social power of these emotions became obvious in the international furore over the 2015 killing of ‘Cecil’ the lion by an American recreational hunter. More recently, video footage of an emaciated polar bear, released by photographer Paul Nicklen, went viral, igniting an outpouring of regret and anger on social media. Nicklen described the footage as ‘soul-crushing’ and related that his entire team had to ‘push through tears’ as they watched the bear scrounge for food in the last hours of its life. (See this article in which Inuk hunters peer review the video, showing how a lack of understanding of polar bears is often manipulated by conservation discourses)
The emotion generated by white and other privileged people when confronted with images of impending extinction is real, and quite powerful. It makes its participants feel as though they are involved, that they care about the beings at stake. And it may generate substantial donations to conservation organizations with good intentions and a genuine desire to ‘save’ the ‘endangered’.
But these releases of emotion can also be deeply problematic, and can entrench the forces and structures that drive global patterns of extinction – including racialized patterns of ecological violence. I am beginning to understand them as manifestations of ‘white tears’.
‘White tears’ refers to the eruption of emotion that occurs when white people are confronted with the violence and harm that our ways of life and the structures that benefit us enact against people of colour. It is an expression of distress and frustration that emerges when we find that we are complicit in deep injustices, in spite of our professed values or conscious intentions. Whether or not they are expressed as a gesture of solidarity or caring, white tears have serious and destructive implications for people of colour.
First, as Robin DiAngelo notes, they involve the appropriation of grief and other emotions from those who are directly experiencing violence and harms to their communities, relations and worlds. They divert attention and social resources such that “rather than focusing on the lived experiences and traumas of People of Color…the focus is placed on the host of emotions that white people go through when confronted with racism”.
White tears involve the colonization of emotional space, along with the labour required to attend to those experiencing grief. Indeed, one of the most insidious aspects of white tears is that they make people of colour responsible for dealing with the guilt their white friends or colleagues feel – for participating in systems that oppress them. Instead of directing this energy towards their own emotional wellbeing and healing, or performing the hard work of mourning (which I’ll return to in a moment), people of colour are pressured to shoulder the weight of white guilt in liquid form.
In many cases, white tears can be (re)traumatizing, and they can remind people of colour of the depth of white peoples’ indifference to their struggles. In particular, DiAngelo points out that white tears tend only to emerge in times of public crisis, or when harms to people of colour puncture the protective boundaries of white privilege. This downplays everyday structural violences (including environmental racism) which people of colour confront in societies constructed to privilege white needs and aspirations.
In addition, white tears are a powerful move to innocence. They offer white folks confronted with injustices in which they’re implicated release, relief and a sense of having ‘responded’ to the suffering of others. However, they do not tend to translate into concrete action against racism or other forms of structural violence, which cause the harms in question. In some cases, they might detract from this kind of work by making white folks feel as though they have already ‘done something’ (see my story above). What’s more, this sense of having ‘responded meaningfully’ may be used to mask complicity and to disavow one’s responsibility to dismantle structural violence.
How do white tears function in the context of extinction? Let’s look at each of these aspects in turn.
Appropriation, displacement and colonial crying:
When white and other privileged
people grieve for the beings destroyed by the structures and forces that privilege us, we take space from those who are directly affected. As I have discussed in previous posts (Decolonizing Against Extinction P I and P II, ) ‘extinction’ is a deeply racialising phenomenon. Driven by modes of global structural violence such as colonization and extractive capitalism, it targets and primarily impacts Indigenous and other peoples of colour – and their other-than-human relations. In particular, the plants and animals threatened with what Western science calls ‘extinction’ are the relatives – Ancestors and offspring, sisters, brothers, cousins and kin – of these peoples. Their ‘extinction’ is the destruction of these relations, and of the (human and other) peoples nourished by them. Indeed, in my research I argue that one of the hallmarks of what Western science calls ‘extinction’ is the destruction of these relationships.
For the most part, the white and other privileged people who cry ‘for’ ‘endangered species’ in the abstract simply do not have these relations with the beings in question. We are not directly experiencing the destruction of the intimate relationships – with plants, animals, Ancestors, land, water air and more – that have sustained our collective existence for millennia, and that are necessary for its continuation. We do not daily tend and depend on these relationships, or put their bodies on the line to defend them. In short, the beings targeted for extinction are not ‘ours’ to mourn.
Crying for someone else’s kin is problematic in (at least) two senses. First, as in other manifestations of white tears, this dynamic diverts attention, energy and resources away from the people (human and otherwise) who are directly affected, channeling it toward anxiety and guilt of those who benefit from the harms in question. Note that the global conservation movement focuses on protecting ‘biodiversity’ for ‘humanity’, rather than directly addressing the harms, losses and violence experienced by specific peoples whose relations face extinction. However well-meaning, these efforts are oriented more towards securing and reassuring donors and their futures – whom the term ‘humanity’ interpellates – than to addressing the direct trauma of extinction in ways appropriate to the communities affected.
Second, this kind of crying can be deeply dispossessive: it asserts proprietary claims over grieved beings. Indeed, this sentiment – worry over losing ‘our’ ‘biodiversity’, or my childhood anxieties about not ‘having’ rhinos or koalas when I grew up – embodies the colonial impulse in which the global conservation movement has its roots. As Bill Adams’ critical history shows, the global conservation movement was rooted in colonial policies, initially in southern Africa and India, then later in the west of Turtle Island, designed to protect ‘stocks’ of large game for elite hunting. Contemporary conservation organizations have largely moved away from this approach. In fact, the case of Cecil the lion demonstrates the extent to which contemporary supporters of conservation oppose the killing of what they consider to be ‘their’ endangered species, protected by their donations. Yet the proprietary impulse remains: anger and sadness over Cecil’s death relates directly to the belief, propagated by conservation organizations, that the ‘world’s biodiversity’ is a commons, to be protected as a source of enjoyment, economic stability and scientific knowledge for ‘humanity’. This is particularly clear in the case of UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’, which actively name and claim areas of ‘particular cultural and biological significance’ as the property of ‘humanity’.In a related sense, many conservation strategies – in particular zoos – involve an implicit tradeoff in which support for conservation grants open access to the life forms in question. Indeed, it is rare to hear of strategies oriented towards the protection of beings for the sole use of the communities who depend on them, or in ways that restrict the access of white and other privileged people to them. Within this global regime, conserved lives are the property of ‘humanity’.
As I have argued elsewhere, the idea of humanity enshrined in global governance discourses is framed in terms of Western ideals such as individualism (or ‘identity’-based collectives), self-sufficiency, integration into market economics and biopolitically-regulated forms of health. In other words, it is modelled on liberal-universalist norms that map well onto modern Euro-American social imaginaries – and exclude or marginalise others. So, when land, life forms or even peoples are claimed as the property of ‘humanity’, it is a very particular version of homo sapiens (one that possesses these qualities by birth or assimilation) that is intended to benefit. By mobilizing the tears of white and other privileged people, global conservation encourages these members of ‘humanity’ ‘save’, annex or accumulate other peoples’ relations for their own (future) use and enjoyment. At the same time, treating these beings as part of a ‘commons’ belonging to a ‘humanity’ defined in their image erases relations between Indigenous peoples and their kin. In this sense, the mobilization of white tears contributes to a globalised dispossession of kin that helps to sustain contemporary global colonialism.
Offloading labour onto those most affected
When white and other privileged people cry for beings who are not our relations, and whom we continue to colonize, we make our feelings someone else’s problem. Specifically, we offload them to the communities who are directly affected by the destruction of their relations, expecting them to absorb the costs and labour of protecting them for ‘humanity’ (meaning us). This is not primarily to ensure the ongoingness of these communities and their relations, their sovereignty or well-being, but rather to assuage our guilt, and our fear of ‘losing’ beings that might prove essential to our own well-being (or that of an abstract ‘humanity’).
In the context of global conservation movements, this can take many forms. One of the most common is the expectation that Indigenous people give up their land, practices of hunting, gathering and growing or other ways of life in order to create parks or other ‘protected’ spaces. Indeed, as Dan Brockington and Jim Igoe have shown, the creation of national parks in southern Africa involved the eviction and displacement of thousands of Indigenous people from their Ancestral or traditional lands, continuing well into the 1990s, in order to meet goals derived from Western conservation practices. In other cases, the process of offloading responsibility is more subtle. It may involve framing Indigenous people as ‘stewards’ of ‘biodiversity’ and simply presuming that they will take on the labour of protecting it; or encouraging Indigenous communities to engage in ‘biodiversity banking’ or offsetting. These strategies are essentially means for stockpiling biodiversity to hedge against its continued destruction and ensure the ‘sustainability’ of the systems that exploit it.
Indeed, white tears for extinction not only divert attention away from those who are directly experiencing the harms, and the violent nature of those harms, but also from the structures that perpetuate them. By outsourcing the labour of conservation to Indigenous communities, this system expects those communities to provide cushions and guarantees for the same systems that oppress, expropriate and target them.
The tears themselves are also a potent move to innocence. They enable white and other privileged people to feel that we are performing constructive emotional labour that generates empathy, compassion or solidarity with the others whom our structures have harmed. In some cases, these acts may (re-)traumatize or provoke anger amongst those whose relatives and worlds are targeted for destruction. Having to deal with this additional emotional labour, or the need to ‘educate’ and confront those shedding white tears, drains vital energy from the crucial work of resurgence and caring for one’s relations carried out by Indigenous and people of colour.
We only care in a crisis, or when it affects us
The primary reason that I and other white children were taught to ‘love’ endangered species was that we grew up during an era in which extinction had been identified as a crisis that might effect us. Specifically, extinction was, and continues to be, framed as a trend that might endanger ‘human security’ or the wellbeing of ‘humanity’ as a whole. In other words, the crisis was becoming large enough to endanger the futures of some of the most privileged people on the planet. The same kind of fear animates contemporary concerns with ‘global catastrophic risks’ – phenomena so enormous in their scale and totality that they even threaten the global elite. Indeed, if billionaires such as Elon Musk consider it necessary to colonize other planets as an ‘insurance policy’ against the total destruction of earth, then it is clear that the threat has spread to the world’s most privileged niches. Preoccupation with moments of spectacular collapse or disruption that puncture the protective bubble of white and other forms of privilege can be deeply destructive. Specifically, they draw attention away from the everyday, persistent, ‘slow’ and deep forms of everyday structural violence that drive global patterns of extinction.
Understood in this way, tearful fear and anxiety about the ‘loss of species’ is linked to the desire to protect white futures, and the beings that are considered necessary – or simply desirable – to them. The selectiveness of globalized grieving for the extinct is telling here. The poster children of conservation campaigns are disproportionately megafauna that dwell in places colonized by Europeans – from polar bears and lions to koalas and lemurs. Through colonial education systems, they have become so thoroughly embedded in cultural imaginaries that Western children are more likely to recognize megafauna from other continents than plants endemic to the lands where they live. The ‘loss’ of these beings creates ruptures in this possessive imaginary and the models of global political order it supports.
In this way, the stimulation of white tears for ‘endangered species’ privileges certain relationships and futures over others. Indeed, while it is common for conservation organisations to promote the protection of animals that white tourists find ‘majestic’ or scientifically fascinating, it is much rarer to see global campaigns to protect life forms that primarily enable Indigenous food sovereignty. For instance the decimation of the buffalo on the great plains of Turtle Island is not often held up as an example of extinction, nor are the buffalo prioritized as images of the urgency of conservation. This is almost certainly because this attempted buffalo genocide was integral to the foundation of settler colonial states of Canada and the United States, and does not fit within the passive, non-violent, ‘natural’ notion of extinction upon which global conservation focuses. More to the point, the buffalo are integral to Indigenous futures on Turtle Island, but not to white imaginaries of how this land should be occupied. This helps to explain why there is relatively little grieving for them, or demands for their urgent return, amongst the settlers of Turtle Island.
Moves to innocence, or, crying away complicity.
White tears for ‘endangered’ or ‘extinct’ life forms help to gloss over one’s complicity in the structures of destruction. As mentioned above, focusing attention on spectacular crises that affect the world’s privileged helps to distract it from the formations of everyday, cross-cutting violence – land-based, gendered, racializing and more – of which ‘crises’ are one aspect. This is one of the reasons why ‘extinction’ is so rarely understood as a manifestation of violence. Failure to recognize the nature of the oppressive relations that drive extinction precludes meaningful responses to it. In short, performing grief for beings with whom we do not have intimate relationships – either out of guilt and shame or fear of ‘loss’ – is unlikely to translate into concerted action to dismantle the systems that drive the violence in question. Instead, it enables white and other privileged people to feel that we have cared, or responded, without having to make substantial changes to our own conditions or lives.
This dynamic can be observed in the environmentalism of the rich, a system in which guilt can be translated into financial support for projects that ultimately confirm and bolster existing political economic structures. This is the case, for instance, when oil companies fund scholarships to support environmental research, or when multi-national corporations participate in corporate social responsibility measures that slightly moderate their ecological impact. It is also reflected in more seemingly grassroots initiatives. Widespread strategies such as ‘raising awareness’ and ‘building community’ to support conservation projects hide an important fact: these strategies are undertaken almost exclusively on our terms. We decide how much money or labour to give, which life forms we deem crucial, what means will be used to ‘protect them’, and what means will be used to constrain others’ interactions with them. This is another way of securing futures designed for us, rather than working against the structures that preclude the futures of others.
White tears should not be confused with mourning: the tender, brutal, intimate and collective work of remaking worlds that have been ruptured by the death or destruction of cherished relations. The settler scholar Deborah Bird Rose, collaborating with the Yarralin community in what is known as the Northern Territory of Australia, shows that mourning is a profound form of work carried out in order to “turn death back into life”. Within this world, life and death are braided and must be re-joined in order to ensure their ongoingness. Through mourning, grief is embodied in ways that make and sustain shared worlds in the absence of the beloved. For this reason, it is carried out by those who are co-constituted by their relations with the grieved. It is literally a way of renewing those relations – even with beings that Western science considers to be long-extinct, such as sabre-toothed tigers or plesiosaurs – to ensure the continuity of worlds.
Although it may involve crying, including ceremonial forms of keening, mourning cannot be reduced to the physical release of grief. According to the laws and protocols of each community, it may entail exhausting ceremonial labour, such as prayer, feasting or fasting, the performance of Ancestral songs or dances, journeys, preparation and care for the remains, and efforts to ensure the safe passage of the dead to another world. Mourning may also involve efforts to heal those surviving relations deeply hurt by their loss. For instance, Haudenosaunee communities (on whose lands I live and work) engage in condolence ceremonies in order to heal the community from the loss of loved ones and leaders. A ‘big’ condolence ceremony involves three steps: Journeying on the Trail, which recalls the installation of the original 50 Chiefs; Welcome at the Woods Edge, which prepares those who are lost (in this case, bereaved) for their return to the longhouse community; and the requickening address, in which the 15 sympathy strings of the wampum belt are offered to the grieving family in order to relieve their pain and clear their minds. The entire ceremony can take six to eight hours to perform and may be spread across two days.
These forms of mourning are specific: they express and affirm particular forms of spiritual, political and social order, upholding the laws and protocols through which humans and other beings co-constitute one another. They are oriented towards (re-)building unique relationships, and so they cannot be performed by just anyone – they are carried out by the bereaved, the kin of the deceased. What’s more, they are not performed in the abstract, for categories such as ‘species’, but rather for particular beings and the worlds they make possible. Indeed, mourning is about loss, but it is also future-oriented, promoting healing and the continuity of worlds ruptured by loss or violence.
Clearly, it is not possible for many of those who shed white tears for the ‘endangered’ or ‘extinct’ to take part in mourning – they simply do not have the necessary relationships, Ancestral knowledge or authority to participate in this work. To attempt to do so without explicit invitation by the communities affected would be highly inappropriate and damaging.
None of this means that white and other privileged people should not experience or express grief and other forms of distress when confronted by the destruction that our ways of life are driving. As Diangelo writes, “white people do [italics mine] need to feel grief about the brutality of white supremacy and our role in it. In fact, our numbness to the racial injustice that occurs on a daily basis is key to holding it in place. But our grief must lead to sustained liberatory action”. Indeed, how we choose to express and channel these emotions, and how we address the conditions that prompt them, matter greatly.
We can respond to our emotions (and begin to process them constructively) by asking ourselves a series of questions: who, and whose relations (human and otherwise), are being harmed? How can we support them, on their terms (even if this means staying out of it)? What structures, conditions and processes are enabling that harm? How, and in what ways are we involved and complicit in those structures? How, and in what ways can we identify, hold to account and, crucially, take concrete actions to dismantle these structures of harm? How, if appropriate, can we support and hold open more space, relieve excess labour, or transfer resources, to those who are carrying out the crucial work of mourning? This latter question does not suggest that those who are in a position to mourn should undertake this labour for us. Rather, it suggests that we put ourselves in service to those communities as part of our efforts to take responsibility for the structures of destruction that support our lives.In some circumstances, the work of mourning and resurgence may be supported directly through careful, respectful solidarity work carried out under the leadership of those directly affected, and only at their invitation. However, I believe that our more important role is in critiquing and weakening the structures that secure our existences at the expense of others – including colonialism, racism and extractive capitalism.
We can also direct this energy towards forming meaningful, direct relationships with, and assuming responsibility for the care of, the beings on whom our lives depend. Crucially, this will most likely involve learning to respect the laws, treaties and protocols – including those between Indigenous peoples and other life forms – that have created and sustained the land on which we are settlers, or at best guests. If we live on the land of our own ancestors (for instance, in Europe), this approach may involve working to revive land-based ways of living, including small-scale agriculture.
What matters, I think, is taking concrete responsibility not only for the violences in which we are complicit, but also for the other beings who make our lives possible. This can only happen when we form, or recognize, strong relationships and kinship bonds, ones on whom our lives and existences depend, whom we are willing to care, sacrifice and suffer for – and whom we are thus able to mourn when they die.
Western scientists* are proclaiming the start of a ‘sixth mass extinction event’ that may involve the destruction of more than three quarters of earth’s currently-existing life forms. In their attempts to explain this phenomenon, most scientists have converged around four major, interlinked drivers: climate change, habitat destruction, species exchange, and the direct killing of plants and animals. In most cases, these drivers are understood as the unintended consequences of generic ‘human’ activity, and as a result of desirable trends such as development or urbanization (Wilson 2002; Barnosky 2014; Ceballos 2016).
A crucial driver is missing from this list: transversal structural violence against Indigenous peoples and their relations, and colonial violence in particular.
‘Structural violence’ involves systemic forms of harm, exclusion and discrimination that disproportionately affect particular groups, and which can take many forms (physical, psychological, economic, gendered and others). They are embedded in and expressed through political, cultural, economic and social structures (Farmer 2009) that can persist across large spans of time and space. I use the term ‘transversal’ to refer to forms of structural violence that extend across multiple boundaries – not only those of nation-states, but also other kinds of nations (human and otherwise), communities or kinship groups, and temporalities. Prime examples of transversal structural violence include: settler colonialism, colonial genocides (Woolford et al 2014); environmental racism or ‘slow violence’, including toxification and pollution; and complexes of sexual, physical, communal, spiritual and land-based violence associated with the extractive industries.
Each of these forms of violence is ecologically devastating, and their convergence in European projects of colonisation is even more so. Many formations of transversal structural violence are significant causes of the so-called ‘four horsemen’ of extinction mentioned above. For instance, ‘direct killing’ is carried out to clear land for settlement, and it occurs as a result of ecological damage caused by resource extraction. Settler colonialism, carbon-based economies and regimes of environmental racism also support forms of socio-economic organization (for instance, carbon and energy-intensive urbanized societies) that intensify climate change and increase habitat destruction. Meanwhile, colonization has played a significant role in the ongoing transfer of life forms across the planet – whether unintentionally (e.g. the transfer of fish in the bilge water of ships); as an instrument of agricultural settlement (e.g. cattle ranching), or as a deliberate strategy of violence (e.g. smallpox).
However, transversal structural violence is a driver of extinction in itself, with its own distinct manifestations. First, it involves the disruption or severance of relations and kinship structures between humancommunities and other life forms, and the dissolution of Indigenous systems of governance, laws and protocols that have co-created and sustained plural worlds over millennia (Borrows 2010; Atleo 2012; Kimmerer 2013). Second, the destruction of Indigenous knowledges through policies of assimilation, expropriation, cultural appropriation and other strategies undermines these forms of order and the relationships they nurture. Third, the displacement of and/or restricted access to land by Indigenous peoples interferes with practices of caring for land or Country that are necessary for the survival of humans and other life forms (Bawaka Country 2015). Colonial genocides embody all of these forms of destruction by killing or displacing Indigenous communities, undermining Indigenous modes of governance and kinship systems, systematically destroying relationships between life forms and erasing knowledge. All of these modes of violence weaken co-constitutive relationships between Indigenous communities, other life forms and ecosystems that have enabled their collaborative survival. This results in disruptions to ecosystems – and climate – that Potawatomi scholar Kyle Powys Whyte (2016) has recently argued would have been considered a dystopia by his Ancestors.
In other words, transversal structural violence, and colonial violence in particular, are fundamental drivers of global patterns of extinction. It stands to reason, then, that responses to extinction that focus on managing endangered species or populations, or ‘backing up’ genetic material, are insufficient: they leave the structures of violence intact and may add to their power. Instead, efforts to address extinction need to focus on identifying, confronting and dismantling these formations of violence, and on restoring or strengthening the relations they sever.
Yet responses to global patterns of extinction are overwhelmingly rooted in Western scientific concepts of conservation – a paradigm that emerged within 20th century European colonial government structures (Adams 2004). Contemporary conservation approaches – from the creation of land and marine parks to the archiving of genetic materials – may exacerbate the destruction of relations between Indigenous peoples and their relations. For instance, conservation strategies often involve displacing Indigenous peoples from the land that they care for (Jago 2017, Brockington and Igoe 2006), or curtailing of processes such as subsistence hunting, fishing or burning that have enabled the co-survival of Indigenous groups, plants, animals and land for millennia. Meanwhile, ex situ and genetic forms of conservation (including zoos and gene banks) may violate these relationships by instrumentalizing or commodifying kinship relations. Increasingly popular conservation approaches based on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) approaches claim to center Indigenous communities and knowledges. However, they ultimately instrumentalize fragments of Indigenous knowledge systems (for instance, data on climatic change) to test or support Western approaches. As such, they leave the structures of colonization and other forms of transversal structural violence untouched, and may even exacerbate them.
All of this suggests that confronting global patterns of extinction calls for decolonization and other ethos that work to eliminate transversal structural violence – and I don’t mean this metaphorically. Enabling the restoration of relations that can enable the ongoing flourishing of life on earth will require the transfer of land and power back into plural Indigenous peoples and their distinct modes of sovereignty, law and governance (Tuck and Yang 2012). These relationships and forms of order have enabled plural Indigenous peoples and their multitude of relations to co-flourish for millennia, including through periods of rapid climate change, and they are needed to ensure the continuation of this co-flourishing. This means that decolonization is not simply related to global patterns of extinction: it is necessary to ensuring the ongoingness of plural life forms on earth.
As Canada gears up to mark 150 years of statehood on 1 July, a barrage of posters, events, advertisements, sales and other promotions urge to celebrate the country’s achievements. While there are many things to celebrate in this country, it is crucial that the congratulatory spirit of this event does not overshadow, mask or erase the violent realities of its history and present. Indeed, there are multiple occasions in which one can reflect on positive features of Canada and Canadians. July 1st specifically marks the founding of the modern Canadian state, and Canada 150 is, ultimately, a celebration of a century and a half of settler colonial statehood. Settlers – those of us whose presence on these lands is made possible by long-standing and ongoing colonial violence – need to recognize the injustices that have marked its emergence and transformation.
In particular, we, as settlers, need actively to confront the genocide that has been carried out throughout the history of the settler state, and whose manifestations shape today’s Canada. An important part of this process is to recognise genocide for what it is: systematic, structural efforts to destroy entire peoples, the conditions of their survival and the possibilities of their resurgence. By emphasising the term cultural genocide, mainstream political discourses have softened the impact of the concept, making it appear as if the violence in question targeted ‘just’ cultures, and not whole peoples. ‘Culture’ is not a qualifier, but rather a logic and means for carrying out genocide. To state that a genocide is ‘just’ cultural is similar to arguing that a murder was ‘just’ done with a hammer, versus a knife or a gun. By whatever means it is pursued, the deliberate effort to eradicate a people is genocide, period. It is also crucial to note that the continued flourishing and resurgence of Indigenous peoples, communities and cultures does NOT suggest that the genocide was any less severe or extreme than in other cases. Instead, this reflects the incredible power of Indigenous survivance – that is, survival and/as resistance – in refusing eradication. Genocide is defined by the intention and effort to destroy entire peoples, not by the degree to which it is ‘completed’.
Genocide can be difficult to grasp in its entirety, so addressing and preventing it demands constant vigilance and careful attention. It is insidious, unfolds over long periods of time and assumes multiple forms – some spectacular and some more apparently subtle, and some which even appear to be positive or progressive. A one-time recognition or apology for an aspect or act of genocide is not sufficient. Instead, daily work on a massive scale over decades or perhaps even centuries is required to dismantle the complex and enduring structures that enable genocide. To do this work, it is necessary to track, observe, bear witness to – and, of course, fight against – the development of structures and logics that support genocide across spaces and times, on multiples scales and across diverse aspects of society.
With this in mind, for each of the 150 hours leading up to 11:59 on Canada Day – 1 July, 2017 – I will tweet one major development in the history of (settler) colonization in Canada for each year since 1867. I will tweet from @AudraLMitchell, on the hour, starting at 6PM on 25 June, with the hashtag #colonial150.
The tweets each reflect an event in the Canadian settler colonial state, society, economy and culture, each of which constitutes a significant contribution to Canada’s genocide. Some of these events have been magnified by mainstream history – for instance, the founding of the state or other institutions, or the signing of major treaties. Others have been marginalized in mainstream histories, including acts of violence and abuse against students in residential schools. In addition, some of these events are punctual (e.g. the suppression of the Northwest Rebellion) while others unfold over long periods of time and/or space (e.g. the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women that has spread since the 1980s). In no way is the list of events comprehensive. Instead, by focusing on manifestations of colonial violence at different scales and contexts, I aim to reflect on the often subtle but remarkably persistent transformations of settler colonialism into multiple forms, temporalities and expressions.
The focus of these tweets is the development and transformation of the settler colonial
state in Canada, its logics and cultures, and its manifestations across various dimensions of society. This focus is by no means intended to underplay the profound acts of survivance and resurgence enacted by Indigenous communities across Canada (and elsewhere), and still less to lock these communities into discourses of ‘victimhood’. Brilliant Indigenous writers, thinkers, artists and activists across the country are living and telling these stories of survivance and resurgence, which are not mine to share. Instead, I want to bear witness to the structures and forms of power that position me in this society and country, that are part of my (hi)story. I am not doing this as an apologia for white settler politics, nor as a move to innocence (although, as Tuck and Yang argue, settlers should never be complacent about the possibility that even well-intentioned actions may be guided by this impulse). I do not for a second believe that this small act absolves me of the need actively to fight persistent structures of settler colonialism and genocide. On the contrary, this is simply one small hourly practice that can remind me of the profound violences that have made my life and my privileged status in this country possible, and my responsibility to fight against them everyday, not just on Canada day.
Thank you to Liam Kelly for his help with to compiling and checking sources, and scheduling tweets.
|1867: British North America Act gives the federal government responsibility for Aboriginal peoples and their lands.|
|1868: Wikwemikong Catholic residential school opens.|
|1869: Transfer of Rupert’s land to the federal government of Canada sparks Red River rebellion.|
|1870: Northwest Territories created and placed under federal control as Canada’s first territory.|
|1871: Treaties 1 and 2 transfer land in southern Manitoba from the Anishinaabeg and Swampy Cree to federal control.|
|1872: Metlakatla Anglican residential school opens.|
|1873: Treaty 3 transfers land in southern Ontario and Manitoba from the Saulteaux tribe to federal control|
|1874: Treaty 4 transfers lands from the Cree, Saulteaux and Assinaboine to to the fedearl government.|
|1875: Treaty 5 which transfers land in Northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario to federal control|
|1876: Indian Act is passed, making Indigenous people wards of the Canadian state|
|1877: Treaty 7 transfers lands from the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, Stoney-Nakoda and Tsuut’ina peoples to federal control.|
|1878: JS Dennis advises PM John A. MacDonald that Indigenous peoples should be trained in farming and mechanical trades to assimilate them.|
|1879: Emmanuel College (residential school) opens.|
|1800: UK gives Canada control of the Arctic islands.|
|1881: Canadian railway is incorporated; PM JA MacDonald deliberately starves thousands of Indigenous people to clear a path for it.|
|1882: full turnover of teachers at Fort Simpson residential school reflects poor conditions in these schools.|
|1883: PM JA MacDonald calls Indigenous parents ‘savages’, calls for students to ‘acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men’|
|1884: Aboriginal potlatch celebrations are made illegal under the Indian Act.|
|1885: Canadian Federal government puts down the Northwest Rebellion, extending Canadian law to the West and executing leader Louis Riel.|
|1885: Indian Pass system requires Indigenous people to carry a pass when entering or leaving a reservation.|
|1886: Election Act of Manitoba disqualifies ‘Indians’ or persons of ‘Indian blood’ from receiving annuities from the Crown.|
|1887: being an ‘Indian in a state of intoxication’ made punishable by a fine, imprisonment or both.|
|1888: St. Catharines Milling and Lumber v Regina states that Aboriginal title allowed only at Crown’s pleasure, can be revoked any time.|
|1889: New Brunswick elections act disqualifies ‘Indians’ from voting|
|1890: Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed proposes that ‘native language’ teaching in residential schools be discontinued as soon as possible.|
|1891: Jean L’Hereux, employee of Indian Affairs, allowed to resign after accusations of sexually abusing children in residential schools.|
|1892: Onion Lake Catholic residential school opens (closes 1974)|
|1893: Indian Affairs “Programme of Studies for Indian Schools” states that residential school students must be induced to speak English.|
|1894: Duck Lake residential school opens, not to close until 1996.|
|1895: Indian Agents instructed to seek permission of Department of Indian Affairs to allow residential school students to marry.|
|1896: Canadian Government funds 45 church-run residential schools across Canada.|
|1897: Kah-pah-pah-mah-am-wa-ko-we-ko-chin deposed from his position at White Bear Reserve for his vocal opposition to residential schools.|
|1898: Saddle Lake Roman Catholic residential school opens, not to close until 1990.|
|1899: Federal government signs Treaty 8 – the largest treaty by area in the history of the Canadian settler state.|
|1900: Crowfoot, St. Joseph’s, St. Trinité residential schools open, not to close until 1968.|
|1901: Proposals to construct a hospital at the Regina residential school are rejected.|
|1902: Duncan Sticks freezes to death after running away from the Williams Lake, BC residential School.|
|1903: principle of Red Dear, AB residential school scolded for allowing use of Cree language.|
|1904: Department of Indian Affairs issues two policies to quicken Indigenous assimilation, end native customs and improve ‘Indian education’, and pressure Indigenous groups to cede land to settlers.|
|1905: Federal government signs Treaty 9, which transfers much of current northern Ontario from the Ojibway and Cree to federal control.|
|1906: Federal government signs Treaty 10, which transfers lands in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta to federal control|
|1907: Dr. Peter Bryce conducts study that shows extremely high rates of tuberculosis in residential schools.|
|1908: Saskatchewan Elections act disqualifies ‘Indians’ from voting.|
|1909: Athabasca Petroleum Syndicate forms, begins drilling in oil sands north of Fort McMurray.|
|1910: Indian Affairs signs contract with churches to set standards for residential school diets and ventilation – it fails to make impact on TB crisis.|
|1911: Songhees Reserve (Victoria, BC) is relocated.|
|1912: Cross Lake, St. Joseph’s, Norway House, Notre Dame Hostel, Jack River Hostel (Cross Lake) residential school opens.|
|1913: police are called when a mother removes her daughter from Fort Resolution residential school.|
|1914: a father successfully sues the Mohawk Institute residential school for locking his daughter in a cell for 3 days.|
|1915: a report on the Roman Catholic residential school at the Blood Reserve states that education is merely ‘memory work’|
|1916: BC members of Indian Rights Association travel to Ottawa to express grievances over land rights to federal government.|
|1917: parents of children at the Shoal Lake residential school refuse to return their children when principal does not resign.|
|1918: Indian Agent John Smith reports lack of nutritious food at Kamloops residential school|
|1919: Yukon Territory Ordinance Respecting Elections disqualifies ‘Indians’ from voting.|
|1920: Duncan Campbell Scott (Indian Affairs) recommends Bill 14, which restates Canada’s right to force attendance at residential schools.|
|1921: Federal government signs Treaty 11, which transfers a massive parcel of land in the present-day Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavat to federal control.|
|1922: after deaths of students at Kitimaat residential schools, parents withdraw children, demand better food and care|
|1923: former industrial school principal RB Heron reports on inadequate education, excess labour in residential schools.|
|1924: reports of inadequate isolation facilities for tuberculosis patients in Mission, BC residential school.|
|1926: parents of children at Elkhorn residential school fail to send their children back due to poor food, clothing.|
|1926: Balfour Report declares Canada a fully independent country, confirming the sovereignty of the settler state.|
|1927: Indian Act is amended to make it illegal for First Nations peoples to raise money or retain a lawyer to advance land claims.|
|1928: Mt. Elgin residential school principal claims that ‘in the case of the Indian, a little learning is a dangerous thing’|
|1929: Big Trout Lake signing of Treaty 9, which ceded land around James Bay to the federal government.|
|1930: 75% of all Aboriginal children between the ages of 7-15 are in residential schools.|
|1931: Statute of Westminster grants the Canadian settler state full legal freedom.|
|1932: 8213 Aboriginal children are in residential/industrial schools.|
|1933: amendment to Indian Act enables federal gov’t to order forced enfranchisement of First Nations for assimilation purposes|
|1934: first of six residential schools established in Québec on Cree, Algonquin, Attikamek and Innu lands.|
|1935: Métis of Ste. Madeleine, Manitoba, relocated under the authority of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act.|
|1936: Report by D.A. Stewart states that deaths of Aboriginal people from tuburculosis in the West 10 x higher than non-Aboriginal people.|
|1937: Dr. HW McGill, director of Indian Affairs, limits Indian health-care services to ‘those required for safety of life, limb or essential function’|
|1938: The per capita grant issued for Aboriginal students was $180 compared to $294-$642 for white students.|
|1939: police officers conclude that runaway boys from Kuper residential school in BC were escaping sexual abuse.|
|1940: RA Hoey (formerly of Indian Affairs) reports on ‘dilapidated’ conditions, fire hzards in residential schools.|
|1941: named and unnamed combined death rate at residential schools is 4.9 x higher than general death rate|
|1942: First Nations Nutrition Experiments conducted on children in residential schools.|
|1943: Federal government declares compulsory military service for all ‘Native’ men of military age, despite lack of voting rights, benefits, etc.|
|1944: 31% of school-aged Aboriginal children are in residential schools.|
|1945: Indian Affairs shifts policy towards day schools as residential school system faces economic collapse from under-funding.|
|1946: Special Joint parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act explores possibility of extending suffrage to First Nations, despite worries abt loss of treaty rights, tax exemption.|
|1947: Canadian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to Aboriginal people registered under the Indian Act, with residency requirements.|
|1948: Special joint committee on the Indian Act recommends extending suffrage to Aboriginal people.|
|1949: Canada signs the UN Genocide Convention, yet residential schools continue to operate for 30 years after this date.|
|1950: Federal policy forces Aboriginal people to give up tax exemptions in exchange for the federal franchise.|
|1951: Bill C-31 defines a woman’s ‘Indian’ status entirely through her husband; and federal gov’t takes control of Indigenous child welfare.|
|1952: First Nations Nutrition Experiments conclude after 10 years.|
|1953: Trans-mountain oil pipeline completed on Indigenous land – to be approved for expansion in 2016.|
|1954: Construction on St. Lawrence Seaway begins, involves displacement of Akwesasne community.|
|1955: 23% of teachers at residential schools have no teaching certificate.|
|1956: Sayisi Dene in Northern Manitoba are relocated.|
|1957: Federal government makes Thanksgiving a national holiday, entrenching an official narrative about colonization.|
|1958: Senator Gladstone (Blood) appointed to the upper house, but could not vote in federal or provincial elections.|
|1959: Inuit of Hebron, Labrador, are relocated.|
|1960: Aboriginal people become the last group in Canada to attain the right to vote.|
|1961: National Indian Council is set up by federal government to represent non-status ‘Indians’ and Métis people.|
|1962: Father Houston of Grollier Hall residential school convicted for the sexual abuse of five boys in his care.|
|1963: Federal government commissions HB Hawthorn’s report, which concluded that Aboriginal peoples are ‘citizens minus’ in Canada.|
|1964: Gwa’Sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw (British Columbia) are relocated.|
|1965: Federal-Provincial Child Welfare Act mandated Ontario to provide welfare services on reserves as part of assimilation policy.|
|1966: Federal government and government of Manitoba begin the strategy of forced adoptions of Indigenous children (the Sixties Scoop)|
|1967: Centenary of the Canadian settler state.|
|1968: after 102 years, Len Marchand(BC) becomes the first status ‘Indian’ sit in the House of Commons.|
|1969: Federal government White Paper proposes abolishing Indian Act and treaties, assimilating all Aboriginal people in the Canadian state.|
|1970: Indian Association of Alberta (led by Harold Cardinal) rejects 1969 White Paper as ” a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation”|
|1971: between this year and 1981, c. 3400 Indigenous children in Manitoba are forcibly adopted, over 80% to non-Indigenous homes.|
|1972: first time ‘Indians’ served on a Canada jury.|
|1973: Federal government Statement on the Claims of Indian and Inuit People retains extinguishment of title as central policy.|
|1974: Federal policy reiterates that not statutory or treaty rights exist to provide health care to Aboriginal people.|
|1975: start of Comprehensive Claims Policy: Aboriginal Rights & title transferred to the Crown through agreements that define rights and benefits for signatories.|
|1976: Founding of Saskatchewan Indian Federated College as the only university in Canada under Aboriginal governance.|
|1977: Canadian Human Rights Acts excluded matters under the Indian Act (and therefore people with status)|
|1978: by this year, only 5 of 57 land claims had been settled by the Office of Native Claims (DIA)|
|1979: Federal Indian Health Policy is developed to recognizably ‘intolerable conditions of poverty and community decline which affect many Indians’|
|1980: beginning of a period in which more than 1200 Indigenous women are murdered or go missing #MMIW|
|1981: 45-55% of Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families are adopted to the US.|
|1982: Constitution Act protects a range of rights (e.g. customary practices), but not claims to land itself or assertion of Aboriginal title.|
|1983: term ‘Sixties Scoop’ coined to refer to unusually high numbers of Aboriginal children removed from their parents during that decade.|
|1984: Pope John Paul II addresses Aboriginal peoples in Yellowknife – mentions their gratitude for the work of Church, missionaries.|
|1985: the last large residential school hostel closes in the Yukon.|
|1986: United Church of Canada makes a formal apology for the destructive role of its missionaries in relation to Aboriginal culture.|
|1987: PM Mulroney proposes Meech Lake Accord; Cree MLA Elijah Harper leads resistance due to lack of attention to Aboriginal issues.|
|1988: Calgary Olympics organizers suggest staging an ‘Indian attack’ scene in the opening ceremony; medals depict ‘Indian’ headdresses|
|1989: Temagami First Nation and Algonquins of Barriere Lake blockade to stop development and clear-cut loggin (respectively) on their lands.|
|1990: Sûreté de Québec deploy teargas and grenades to break down Mohawk barricades at Oka to ensure building of a golf course.|
|1991: Report of the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Committee (Manitoba) reveals serious concerns about effectiveness of policing.|
|1992: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples established to address issues of Aboriginal status brought to light by Oka, Meech Lake.|
|1993: Nunavat Agreement marks the conclusion of the largest land claims settlement in the history of the Canadian state.|
|1994: Presbyterian Church apologizes for its role in operating residential schools.|
|1995: Nora Bernard, residential school survivor, starts registering survivors for Residential School Survivors Association|
|1996: Gordon residential schoo (Saskatchewan)l, the last federally-run residential school, closes.|
|1997: Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia supreme court decision states that Aboriginal land rights can be overridden for reasons such as economic development, conservation and other public projects.|
|1998: Syncrude becomes first producer to ship one billion barrels of crude oil from oil sands from territories of 18 First Nations and 6 Métis communities|
|1999: in Corbiere v. Canada, the Supreme Court declares unconstituation Indian Act provision that that denies band election vote to members living off reserve.|
|2000: after 111 years of negotiation and campaigning, the Nisga’a treaty (including $190 million in compensation)is the first modern treaty in BC|
|2001: Unemployment rate of Aboriginal youth twice that of non-Aboriginal youth; only 8% of 25-34 age group of Aboriginals have university degree (28% for non-Aboriginal people)|
|2002: James Bartleman, First Lieutenant Governor of Ontario of Aboriginal heritage, is appointed.|
|2003: 52.1% of all Aboriginal children living in poverty; only 24% of Aboriginal peoples under 25 able to converse in an Aboriginal language.|
|2004: Amnesty International releases report ‘No More Stolen Sisters’ drawing attention to national crisis of MMIWs|
|2005: it is estimated that 18000 law suits have been filed by Survivors of residential schools.|
|2006: Median income for Aboriginal peoples is 30% lower than median income for other Canadians.|
|2007: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is passed – Canada withholds full support until 2016.|
|2008: PM Stephen Harper states at a G20 news conference that Canada has ‘no history of colonialism’/|
|2009: in McIvor v. Canada, the BC Court of Appeal forces federal government to Amend Indian Act to eliminate discrimination against wives and children of non-status Indians.|
|2010: Vancouver Olympics games use ‘Inukshuk’ image as logo despite protests from several Indigenous leaders.|
|2011: Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says that residential schools were simply ‘education policy gone wrong’|
|2012: Idle No More is founded to oppose Bill C-45 on the grounds that it violates Aboriginal sovereignty, removes protections from rivers and lakes.|
|2013: Enbridge refuses request by Missisaugas of the New Credit to have archaeological monitors present at Line 9 sites.|
|2014: RCMP report “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Weomen” identifies 1181 MMIWs|
|2015: Truth and Reconciliation Commission report finds Canada responsible for cultural genocide.|
|2016: PM Justin Trudeau approves Kinder Morgan’s trans-mountain expansion and Enbridge’s Line 3.|
|2017: RCMP attempt to block reoccupation movement of youth organisers and water protectors from erecting a tipi on Parliament Hill.|
Several key sources consulted in compiling the list are:
The Toronto Star
The Vancouver Sun
The Globe and Mail
The Winnipeg Free Press
Below is my short response to the question “Can world politics save planet earth?’, published in a forum on the Planet Politics Manifesto hosted on Professor Joseph Camilleri’s website. You can read the full forum, including responses from Tony Burke, Shannon Brincat, Joseph Camilleri Olaf Corry, Cara Dagger, Stefanie Fishel, Cameron Harrington, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Daniel Levine, Stephen Muecke, Simon Nicholson, Margi Prideaux and Aubrey Morgan Yee. Thanks to everyone involved for organising the forum!
Instead of trying to save ‘the’ world, we need a politics of worlds, plural
Earth, and the multiple, distinct worlds, it sustains, are performing a powerful critique of International Relations (IR, along with many other fields) by refusing to conform to the categories, predictions and methods of analysis that it offers. The phenomena mentioned in the introduction – global warming, global patterns of extinction, polar melting and more – are embodiments of this critique, and IR scholars (amongst others) need to attend to them. However, this is not the revolt of ‘the’ earth against ‘human activity’ in general. Instead, these phenomena reflect the responses and conditions of plural, distinct worlds sustained on and by earth to particular, deeply destructive modes of organization and relations. Burke asks how a ‘different kind of world order’ can be imagined and created. From my perspective, the challenge is to become receptive to the existence and expressions of plural worlds. In our original argument, the authors of the ‘Planet Politics Manifesto’ wrote about the irruption of a ‘planetary real’ that is shattering the abstract structures of International Relations, both in theory and practice. I would argue that there is not one ‘real’, and it is not the expression of ‘a’ planet. Instead, what the Manifesto points to is the force-fulness of worlds, which extends far beyond the status of mere background conditions or material substrates for ‘human’ action. In trans-forming, colliding, merging, co-existing and being extinguished, these multiple worlds each express their own ‘reals’. If there is friction between the forces of reality and the abstractions of IR, it is the expression of the plurality of these worlds as they are traversed by the totalizing, homogenizing forms of worlding associated with the formation of ‘the globe’ as a sphere of action.
From this perspective, addressing the crises of today involves not simply formulating a new way of knowing ‘the’ world, but rather becoming sensitive to other worlds. My own research is pluriversal in its grounding and normative commitments. Engaging with Indigenous knowledges and cosmo-visions from across Turtle Island, Australia, Hawai’i, southeast Asia and other distinct places, it seeks to understand the transversal structures that engender global patterns of extinction. As such, it requires attunement to the various worlds that are disrupted or destroyed by Western forms of worlding that seek to elide earth with an enclosed globe. I am concerned that some of the proposed approaches to narratives of planetary crisis reinforce this impulse. For instance, the ‘planetary systems’ framework discussed in the Manifesto offers a vision very different from those embraced by traditional IR; yet it reproduces the idea that there is one, unified planet and that any single worldview can reflect it. Similarly, the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’, in its attempt to gain critical purchase on global crises, ironically encloses earth within the homogenizing envelope of ‘human’ activities, erasing the specificity of the relations and modes of organization that it encompasses. Instead of imagining ‘another’ world, I argue for a politics and ethos of co-existence that honours, expresses, protects and nurtures the plurality of worlds.
I am often asked to define the term ‘worlds’. I am happy to do so, or at least to give an account of how I deploy the term in my own work. For me, ‘worlds’ refers to plural constellations of beings that co-constitute one another and, in so doing, create and sustain the conditions for their collective existence.
Last autumn, I published a short piece – ‘Lifework’ – that reflected on my ongoing journey towards more committed, responsible, meaningful and respectful forms of research. The post provoked some wonderful responses that gave me the opportunity to learn from others’ journeys towards honouring the life of the work they’re engaged in, and of the other beings with whom they learn and create.
On a recent research visit to Darug Country (Australia), on the land of the Wattamattagal/Wallumattagal clan, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop on the theme of ‘Lifework’ with a talented group of Masters and Doctoral students from Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales. The workshop was jointly hosted by the Environmental Humanities programs at each of these universities. Special thanks to Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Kate Lloyd and Emily O’Gorman for organizing this session. This research visit was possible thanks to funds from Wilfrid Laurier University and the Independent Social Research Foundation.
During the workshop, we had the chance to share our research projects and to talk about the callings, commitments, responsibilities and aspirations that enliven our lifework, and we decided to write down our thoughts as a collective response to the ‘Lifework’ piece. Since we affirm knowledge as living, embodied and in constant motion, I am delighted to see the conversation thrive and grow.
What follows is a co-composition amongst:
Wattamattgal/Wallumattagal Country – with our gratitude to the Elders, past, present and future, who have and always will care for this land.
And, in alphabetical order:
Sabiha Yeasmin Rosy
Communication is central to our lifework. The ways we communicate, and with whom, matter deeply. We need to refuse expected modes of communication, expressing ourselves in ways that are congruent with, and respectful of, our worlds and the worlds we work with and within.
We also need to acknowledge that language cannot be reduced to written or spoken word. Instead, it is expressed by multiple bodies, relations and places, not only in marks or sounds, but also in movement, in presence and absence, in sensations that make themselves felt through all of the senses, through dreams and Ancestral knowledge. Communicating well means attending care-fully to many kinds of beings and to all the different ways they communicate with us.
It is also important to think about the ways that we communicate with plural others. This is not simply a matter of clarity or the efficient transmission of information. On the contrary, it means interacting in ways that respect and amplify the expressions of others, rather than imposing our own perspectives. This may mean confronting familiar and encouraged patterns and habits of communication that curtail the expression of others. For instance, written English, and academic writing in particular, prioritizes nouns. Meanwhile, many of the languages (human and more-than-human) with which we work are driven by verbs or by gerunds, which are noun-verbs. Working with gerunds means recognizing the constant co-becoming of beings and worlds. Resisting the priority of nouns means rejecting the fixture of identities, ways of knowing, doing and being. This also makes it possible to open ourselves more fully to other beings, whether humans, goannas, snakes, stories or waters.
Simply being able to see or recognize – without necessarily identifying, or pinning down others – is essential to our lifework. This requires cultivating our skills in noticing and our plural registers of perception. It also means suspending, as much as possible, our expectations about every encounter.
Creativity is integral to our lifework. We recognize that all forms of creativity are co-creativity, and affirm the intention of making worlds together with plural others. Lifeworking creatively means embracing playfulness and fun, not always being serious, and making expansive room for the unexpected.
Embracing co-creativity also means working to create openness and to inhabit uncertainty with purpose. It means resisting completion, or the attempt to close the trajectories of being, doing, knowing and relating. We aim to make ourselves vulnerable to uncertainty, doubt and the openings they create within ossified systems of knowledge production. This also involves accepting complexity, including working with multiple narratives, paths and questions that do not always resolve into a single theme or category. Instead of working to simplify or reduce, we welcome the complication of our lifework by the many beings who contribute to it.
Creativity is a form of resistance and a powerful political act. It entails rejecting the reduction of our relations and interactions to simple, static models and facts. An ethos of co-creativity is oriented world-affirming and world-creating; it understands everything as expansive and incubating multiple futures.
We lifework with love. This does not only mean showing care and taking pleasures in the beings and experiences to which we are oriented and with which we are familiar. It also involves accepting and even embracing what we feel we cannot relate to. This does not mean relinquishing our critical perspectives; we resist and reject through love just as much as we embrace with it. It means that our lifework is animated by attachment and affection for the worlds in which we are embedded.
Trust is essential to our lifework, but it cannot be demanded or taken for granted. We need to understand the risks and privileges that come with trusting, being trusted and being able to trust – or the inability to do these things. The risks surrounding trust differ between different beings – amongst humans, between humans and other beings, and between other beings. Becoming sensitive to the risks of trust is fundamental to life-working respectfully. At the same time, we need to recognize that not trusting others is a privilege not available to everyone as a result of structures of oppression and dependency that generate radically unequal relations. Building trust in our work means recognizing its nuances, its inequalities and the forms of power that shape it for different beings entering into co-creative relations.
We oppose violent totalisms. In particular, our work confronts the unwillingness to share space that has become integral to Western political and economic logics. In some cases, these logics take concrete, large-scale forms such as genocide, white supremacism and settler colonialism. Although our projects differ and do not all focus directly on these subjects, our ways of working contest the logics of power and stuctures that generate them.
We also contest and seek to dismantle acts of hatred against beings other than humans, including hate campaigns against particular beings (for instance, ibis, bell birds, flying foxes, magpies, foxes and lantana). We are acutely aware of discourses on ‘invasive species’ and the very real effects of the movement of beings across worlds. However, instead of mobilizing hate towards these beings, we seek to direct attention towards the conditions in which they have been displaced, and the conditions of their co-existence. Many of these beings are defined as ‘nuisances’, ‘vermin’ or ‘weeds’ by dominant settler colonial cultures because they fail to fit within instrumental logics of usefulness. Instead, we affirm their powerful efforts to survive across multiple times and spaces, and the respect this demands. In some cases, these beings even help to protect and nourish worlds. For instance, although it is considered an ‘invasive weed’ in Australia, the lantana also provides critical habitat for small woodland birds that would otherwise be threatened by habitat loss and cat predation. We affirm and respect the conviction that Country should decide whom and what flourishes with/in it, and which relations are possible.
Our lifework comes with the responsibility to recognize, call out and dismantle structures of violence. We feel powerful obligations to deconstruct dominant forms of authority that make claims to universality. At the same time, we are inspired by and learning from multiple other forms of authority, knowledge, wisdom, law and guidance.
A crucial part of this process is to reflect on the power and possibilities that come with being researchers. We need to pay close attention to the acts of amplification and erasure that our framings, theories and questions enact. In addition, we need to be aware that we must often go to meet others – in their worlds, their country, their knowledge systems – instead of expecting them to come to us. However, we need to go to others as invited guests, rather than entitled intruders. All of us – whether Indigenous or members of settler communities – need to reflect on how colonial violence shapes our worldviews and patterns of thought, how and whom it privileges and oppresses, and how we can combat it.
Although we are committed to critique of existing structures of dominance, we also affirm the need to emphasize the positive efforts, acts and relations that we are privileged to be part of in our lifework. More than this, we commit to strengthening, amplifying and contributing our energies towards these positive assertions of co-be(com)ing.
 Darug scholar and co-author Jo Rey points out that, since most clan, place and other names are transmitted orally, spellings can vary. She derives the spelling in the following way: Wallumai: Black Snapper fish; matta: place; gal: people –> Wallumattagal: Place and people of the Black Snapper Fish