How colonialism cuts through Canada’s Indigenous landscape

First Arts Colloquium event of the winter semester talks about improving regarding Indigenous matters

On Jan. 31, TRU anthropology professor Lisa Cooke kicked off the first of the winter 2019 Arts Colloquium sessions in the TRUSU Lecture Hall. This first session was titled Meeting in place on settler colonial terrains of encounter: Being the scissors and discussed how the colonial settlers throughout Canada’s history took land from Indigenous people, making them “the scissors.”

The session was filled with attendees, all eager to take part in what Cooke had to say. She began the session with how the conversation around the rights of Indigenous peoples needs to carry forward past simply recognizing territory.

“We’re encouraged to acknowledge territory but it just kind of falls there. We open events with an acknowledgement and that’s that,” Cooke said. “I want to introduce myself now the same way I do to my students … I grew up on Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina, Ktunaxa territory in the place most dominantly known as Calgary.”

Cooke recognizes herself as an anthropologist, someone who is curious about cultural phenomenon but also as a settler, someone who sees her own cultural forms.

Colonialism is defined as the cultural domination of one group over another, whereas settler colonialism is an articulation of when a group attempts to erase the conditions of how they became the dominant culture.

Cooke also spoke to how colonialism is ongoing, not just one event that happened in the past. Cooke added that our culture is “the structure within we operate in,” meaning that the home we grew up in is our culture and our sense of how the world works.

She also explained how space is the physical world but places are what we have carved out of these spaces. Examples of places include our homes, schools, places of work and places of relaxation.

Cooke then gave participants pens and paper to draw a place that is special to them. After, she had them stand and discuss why and how this place was special to them. Then, she said “you can have this much of your picture,” while telling participants that they can choose one corner or one spot. Cooke cut it out and that’s all the participants would get but she did not cut the piece out as she knew the pictures and places meant so much to each individual.

This act of removing a piece of a person’s sentimental place is similar to how aboriginal people’s land was taken from them and they were only given a small piece back.

Cooke shows that the “scissors” are colonialism and that they come in the form of treaties, policies, laws, languages and education systems. They are cutting pieces of their Indigenous culture away, as a pair of scissors cuts away paper.

Cooke went on to add that it’s important for settlers to come to terms with their settler role and take responsibility for it. She says that through responsibility and compassion, we can help heal the wound.

“When people talk about unsettling settler colonialism, it is about agitating the whole structure and rebuilding the house together,” she said.