Théorie politique

H19(d) - Memory and Political Critique: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations

Date: Jun 14 | Heure: 01:45pm to 03:15pm | Salle:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Will Kujala (Huron University College)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Siobhan Byrne (University of Alberta)

Theorists of collective memory often note that the politics of memory attests to the difficulty of fully distinguishing the past from the present. In settler colonial contexts, this is especially true, as the ongoing project of settler colonialism sits jarringly alongside apologies for ‘past’ injustices. The papers in this panel come at this conjunctural problem of ongoing injustice and memorialization by evaluating and examining memory as a site of political and social critique. The panel combines theoretical reflections on the basic concepts of memory studies such as collective memory, the imagination, and reconciliation and empirical reflections on particular cases of memory politics such as debates about Canada Day and the memory of colonialism and the Holocaust in Canada.

“The story of the St. Louis and its passengers is no isolated incident”: Canadian Memory of the Voyage of the St. Louis in a Multidirectional Memoryscape: Elise Sammons (University of Alberta)
Abstract: In 1939, the Mackenzie King government ignored calls to provide safety to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany aboard the M.S. St. Louis. The ship was refused entry in Cuba and the United States, and a group of Canadians petitioned the government to accept the refugees. The Canadian government made no public response and the refugees returned to Europe where 254 of the 907 passengers died in the Holocaust. When Canada’s rejection of the passengers was brought into public memory in 1979 (Abella & Troper, 1979; 1983), it offered an important critique of the contemporary government narrative of Canada as a welcoming, multicultural society. Since then, various Canadian governments have engaged with the memory of the voyage, agreeing with a critical interpretation of the memory of the event, remembering the St. Louis as emblematic of discriminatory decisions and policies on the part of Canada’s government; however, at times, this is used to construct a problematic narrative that puts racism and discrimination firmly in Canada’s past. By tracing the memory of the voyage of the M.S. St. Louis over time and analyzing key commemorative efforts (including the 2018 official apology and the Community Historical Recognition Program which ran from 2008-2013), this paper examines how political memories are shaped and reshaped over time to serve different purposes, at times challenging power structures, at times reinforcing them. The paper argues for more attention to memory as a site of political contestation and demonstrates the valuable insights that multidirectional (Rothberg, 2009) and longitudinal (Conway, 2010) approaches to studying memory can offer.

The political purposes of Canada Day: Daisy Raphael (Huron University College), Christine Funk (University of Victoria)
Abstract: The commemoration of Confederation each July 1st began in 1879 as a celebration of British imperialism. Scholars have traced historical shifts in the political goals of July 1st, describing these imperial origins and tracing its transformation into a national spectacle of multiculturalism. Recently, Indigenous decolonization movements have disrupted this multicultural image, emphasizing the inherent colonialism of Canada Day and campaigning for its cancellation. In the summer of 2021 as news emerged of physical evidence of unmarked graves at former residential schools, calls to cancel Canada Day went mainstream as individuals and governments pondered the appropriateness of proceeding with events. Around eighty municipalities opted to cancel, issuing statements arguing that celebrating Confederation as usual would be disrespectful of Indigenous communities in mourning. On the other hand, some governments called for Canada Day events that balanced celebrating Canada with respect for reconciliation. Whether by positioning Canada Day as incompatible with reconciliation or by implying that Canada Day could be meaningfully balanced by the inclusion of reconciliatory gestures, these statements implicitly recognize that the celebration of Confederation is symbolic of the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. By examining justifications for its cancellation or continuation in 2021, we identify how the political goals of Canada Day are articulated in the present moment by a variety of actors, from volunteers, to mayors, to first ministers, to Indigenous leaders. Is Canada Day being reimagined as a reconciliatory event? Can Canada Day be reconciled?

Settler colonialism, the category of religion, and strategic forgetfulness in the Canadian Courts: Stacie Swain (University of Victoria)
Abstract: In the Supreme Court of Canada case Ktunaxa Nation v. B.C., the Ktunaxa First Nation fought to prevent a sacred mountain, Qat’muk, from being developed into a ski resort. To do so, they sought a declaration that “the Ktunaxa people’s freedom to learn, engage in, teach and transmit to future generations their traditional religious beliefs and practices involving grizzly bears and Grizzly Bear Spirit” be considered a fundamental freedom protected by section 2(a) of the Charter. While Ktunaxa Nation was unsuccessful in the courts, Qat’muk was later declared an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area. In this paper, I perform a discursive analysis of Ktunaxa Nation that draws on the anthropocentric study of religion and relational Indigenous social research paradigms. According to the latter, ceremonies and songs that relate to Qat’muk should be understood not solely as “religious beliefs and practices,” but as modalities that constitute and perpetuate Ktunaxa nationhood and place-based governance. Drawing on the former, I show how the court’s construction of the category of religion as distinct from that of politics was instrumental to the depoliticization of the Ktunaxa Nation and the legitimization of Canadian governance over “Crown land.” Canadian claims to power, however, rely upon what Klassen (2015) calls a “selective forgetting” of the state’s own metaphysical foundations. Ktunaxa Nation therefore offers an example of how the category of religion serves as a technique of settler colonial statecraft, where a politics of strategic forgetfulness can be deployed to domesticate Indigenous claims and consolidate settler authority.