Abstract: This essay explores the issue of Missing and Murdered Women (MMIW) in Canada from a perspective that problematizes not only the racializing and gendering of indigenous women, but the normative conception of the human ascribed to settler Canadians as well. By examining these processes as part of a greater juridical-biological constitution of ‘the human,’ the ways in which this differentiation works to valorize the lives of some humans whilst simultaneously devaluing
the lives of ‘others’ are revealed. This hierarchy is explored through the lens of Roberto Esposito’s book Third Person in order to illustrate how the subject-formations that have occurred and continue to occur at the intersection of Canada’s indigenous and settler populations stem
from problematic notions of personhood. Inspired by Esposito’s problematization of both secular and Catholic notions of personhood, this essay discusses and critiques the ways in which these notions, in the form of the colonial and settler state dispositif, have contributed to the devaluation of indigenous peoples, cultures, sovereignty and bodies and simultaneous overvaluation of their non-indigenous counter-parts in the specific context of the phenomenon of MMIW. In response to Esposito’s proposed affirmative biopolitics, this essay concludes by proposing a way out of this dispositif, inspired by the work of Judith Butler and Walter Mignolo, through a “universal project of diversality” premised on the shared precariousness of life.

Excerpt: In March 1913 Sally Carothers and her family made the journey from Weleetka, Oklahoma, to Edmonton, Canada, following the path that hundreds of African Americans from Oklahoma took to western Canada in the early twentieth century. Sally immediately felt the isolation of the western Great Plains in Canada: there were no churches or schools when her family settled on their homestead. But she also knew that her parents were not concerned about the absence of these institutions, because they had migrated to find freedom.

When in 1907 Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state with the merging of Oklahoma and Indian Territories, white Oklahomans, influenced by southern traditions of racial exclusion, immediately implemented Jim Crow legislation. As a result, hundreds of blacks sought freedom in Canada. “All they had in mind,” Sally recalled of her parents, “was coming to a country where we could have freedom—free to be a human being; free to be able to cope with any white person,” adding, “I never heard my dad say he regretted coming here.”

Freedom for many African Americans meant not only being “able to cope with any white person” but also having land of your own. And African Americans traveled north to Canada in search of land for their families. Walker Beaver was thirteen when his family left Oklahoma on March 21, 1910, for Athabasca, Alberta. His family traveled with a large group of people who brought all their household goods with them on a chartered freight car. Walker remembered that some people even brought their horses and wagons with them. These Oklahoma farmers were part of a larger migration of people leaving the United States for the Canadian prairies in search of cheap, productive land. As Walker recalled, “In Kansas City there was an agent telling people about Canada—the land of milk and honey—for ten dollars you could buy a hundred and sixty acres of land, a homestead. So people thought they were getting a fortune, you understand, that’s why they came.” For African Americans in Oklahoma, Canada represented an opportunity for both freedom and land.

Extract: In 1892, the American journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis published a book titled Some Strange Corners of Our Country in which he described for his fellow citizens various distinctive aspects of the landscapes and cultures of the American Southwest (a term he is credited with coining). In this book, he argued for the protection of what struck him as fascinating and unusual landscape features while simultaneously promoting a nascent tourism industry in the region. In 1950, the Australian journalist Arthur Groom published I Saw a Strange Land: Journeys in Central Australia, a book that portrayed the landscape and people of Central Australia with a similar goal of describing a vast but little-known region to his fellow citizens and of encouraging protection of the landscape and promoting tourism. Lummis and Groom, though separated by some 45 years in time and 8,000 miles in geography, were both Anglophone settler colonists engaged in a process of incorporating arid and semi-arid regions into their respective nation’s imaginaries while simultaneously championing a sometimes contradictory and morally ambiguous effort to preserve the character of the natural landscape. In each case, the author wrote for a distant urban audience that resided in a significantly more mesic climate. Each writer is a key figure in the transformation of the perception of their respective nations’ arid zones from forbidding and desolate wastelands into popular and accessible tourist destinations.

Admittedly, the appearance of the word “strange” in their respective titles may seem a slender coincidence upon which to hang a hefty thesis; however, through the use of an ecocritically informed comparative settler-colonial analysis, I wish to argue that the parallels are not accidental but rather derive from the common response of the Anglophone settler-colonial imaginary’s encounter with arid landscapes, whether in the United States or in Australia.

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