Exxcerpt: A couple of years ago, I got a call from my oldest grandson, Jeremy. He was beginning middle school and taking his first class devoted to American history. For their initial homework assignment the teacher asked the students to speak with an older relative about their view of the American past and report on what he or she said. When Jeremy mentioned that two of his grandfathers were history professors (a complete coincidence, by the way), the teacher asked him to interview both of us. “Here’s the question, grandpa,” Jeremy said. “What does the United States of America mean to you as a historian?”

“Wow,” I stammered, “that’s big. Can you give me a little more direction?” I was stalling. “I can tell you what Grandpa Lou said,” Jeremy offered. “That would help,” I replied, grateful for a few moments to gather my wits. “He thought about it for a while,” Jeremy said, “then told me that while America meant a lot of things to him, most important was the proclamation of human rights in the Declaration of Independence and the personal liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the other amendments to the Constitution.” Grandpa Lou had taken the high road. “He’s absolutely right about that,” I said. “Those are the guarantees of our enviable rights and freedoms.” Now it was my turn. “Since Lou emphasized the positive,” I offered, somewhat tentatively, “I’m going with the dark side. America is also about taking the land from hundreds of Indian nations and enslaving millions of Africans.”

Abstract: This dissertation project serves as an inquiry into Canadian representational practices and discourses surrounding colonialism, wilderness, nature and nationhood. The written thesis presented here is part of a multidisciplinary project that also comprised of an art exhibition held at Western’s McIntosh Gallery, from June 3rd to Junes 25th, 2016. This paper, alongside the drawing, sculpture, and videos created for my exhibition, examine depictions of nature and nation in Canada through an analysis of antimodernism, primitivism, and a seeking of the spiritual connected to constructions of “white wilderness” and the spatial imaginary of Canada’s colonial frontier. This paper also explores ways in which decolonial art and theory seeks to challenge those same configurations of identity and power, including the development of settler-based decolonizing strategies aimed at unsettling dominant political and cultural narratives.

Specifically in relation to my own art practice, this means challenging the enduring colonial legacies of Canada’s settler past and the contemporary representational practices that continue to privilege and empower colonial constructions of space and place. This
dissertation project proposes a collaborative-based research practice that operates in relation to issues of the local, domestic, and lived practices of people and their interaction with the environment. As such, this paper examines mainstream articulations of nature and nation in Canada through historicized interpretations of dominant Settler/First Nation narratives and demonstrates how an understanding of this history becomes vitally important when trying to achieve performative, transformative, and collaborative understandings of the colonial experience that continues to define life in Canada.

This piece discusses Jeremy Campbell’s Conjuring Property: Speculation and Environmental Futures in the Brazilian Amazon (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2015).

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