Lisa Cooke, ‘”North” in contemporary Canadian national–cultural imaginaries: a haunted phantasm’, Settler Colonial Studies, 2015


Abstract: In this paper, I ask two questions of ideas of ‘North’ in Canadian national–cultural imaginaries. How does ‘North’ operate as a phantasm in these imaginaries? And what spaces of potentiality open up when the ghosts that haunt this phantasm come into view and are granted the due they demand? Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Canada’s Yukon Territory and looking to the emerging field of settler colonial studies for guidance, I am asking these questions in the context of Canada as a settler colonial project. I argue that the ways that ‘North’ is infused with originary qualities and held up as emblematic of senses of Canadian selfhood places it within the structure of the phantasm in ways that work to reinforce settler colonial relations and interests. This cultural production, however, is not static or stable. It can be interrupted. It is haunted by ghosts that come into view and jam up the (seemingly) smooth narrative surface of ideas of ‘North’ in Canadian settler colonial national–cultural imaginaries. This article ends in the opening created by one such interruption at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, Yukon. In a moment of incredible courage the Tr’ondëck Hwëch’in opened their doors to a powerful exhibit titled ‘Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of Residential Schools: Finding Our Way Home’. In so doing the ghosts that haunt ideas of ‘North’ as a scape of national–cultural originary pride come to life, unsettling this settler colonial cultural production by making visible the legacies and structures of displacement, dispossession, and violence that lay at the core of the project of Canadian nation-building.

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