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Indigenous Literature and the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- Author / Creator
- Moran, Richard
In this dissertation, I demonstrate that the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) history of residential schooling is fundamentally incomplete for a variety of reasons, many out of the TRC’s control. This incompleteness necessitates further investigation into the history and legacy of residential schooling. I also query the TRC’s approach to reconciliation, which I suggest – along the same lines as David Garneau and others – fundamentally asks Indigenous peoples to reconcile themselves to the power of the state within the current settler colonial structure. However, this theory of reconciliation is not the only one that has been proposed or is possible in Canada, which provides grounds for an extended critique of the TRC. I undertake further investigation into the legacy of residential schooling and critique the TRC’s approach to reconciliation through analyzing several literary texts about residential schooling and settler colonialism in general, primarily through close reading.
In Chapter One, I identify three ways in which the TRC’s approach to the history of residential schools in the Final Report suggests its own incompleteness: repetition of testimonies, arguments made about the TRC as genocide, and inattention to the issues with the Common Experience Payments and Independent Assessment Process. I then contextualize the TRC’s approach to reconciliation as they express it theoretically, through a broad definition of reconciliation, and practically, through the Calls to Action. I argue that the theoretical definition of reconciliation and the Calls implicitly exclude political self-determination for Indigenous peoples and thereby fundamentally re-inscribe colonial state power.
In Chapter Two, I analyze Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls, arguing that Alexie’s novel sets up a theory of reconciliation centered around Indigenous self-determination. I conclude that this text suggests that any version of reconciliation will only be possible once Indigenous peoples can exercise autonomous decision-making in spiritual and political matters. In Chapter Three, I present a close reading of Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen, focusing on the ways in which it follows and departs from an Aristotelian tragic structure. I first establish that the text calls for this reading through its paratext. I then argue that the novel constitutes a tragicomedy in the sense that the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Settlers is narrated as a tragedy throughout, but the relationship between Indigenous peoples within the text begins as a tragedy, but ends as a comedy. These differing narratives require different types of reconciliation, as Hayden White argues in Metahistory. Highway’s novel therefore suggests that reconciliation between Indigenous peoples is possible and must be prioritized, but reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and Settlers is not possible within the current social and power structures in Canada. In Chapter Four, I first read Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Education is Our Right” and James Bartleman’s As Long as the Rivers Flow as demonstrating the impossibility of dialogue-based reconciliation in the wake of residential schooling. I then pivot to three other texts – Bartleman’s The Redemption of Oscar Wolf, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers’ A Red Girl’s Reasoning, and Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls – that depict violent retribution for settler colonial harm. I conclude that, taken together, these texts suggest that more radical responses to settler colonialism than the TRC could posit must be considered if reconciliation is ever to take place in Canada.
- Graduation date
- Fall 2018
- Type of Item
- Doctor of Philosophy
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