On settler colonialism as a relation: Avril Bell, ‘Entangled Worlds: ontology and relationality in a settler society’, Inter-Disciplinary.Net, 2015


Abstract: Settler colonialism involved joint processes of destruction and substitution by which colonists set out to replace indigenous worlds with European/western worlds. But indigenous worlds continue to exist in numerous spaces, moments and interactions where distinct ontologies and ways of being-in-the-world persist. In Aotearoa New Zealand these spaces of the indigenous/Māori world are largely invisible to the mainstream settler society, persisting most obviously on marae, the complex of buildings located on Māori land that are at the heart of community life. Māori and western worlds also briefly come together in public contexts where Māori protocols are used to mark openings of various sorts, temporarily governing public space and sociability. In this paper I explore a different case where, I argue, Māori and western worlds are entangled or knotted together in the atrium space of a community building in a small rural community. In this atrium stand a circle of seven carved posts (pou), each representing one of the seven peoples of the community – five Māori tribes, Pākehā (settlers) and Dalmatians (descendants of migrants from Croatia). With reference to work on indigenous ontologies, new materialism and Lévinasian ethics, I follow various threads of how these pou do more than simply mark the identity and belonging of each of these peoples, but entangle Māori and western worlds. The pou enact a reclamation of public space for Māori, long marginalized within the community. More profoundly they bring Māori ontology into the building, an ontology with its own space-time relationality evident when Māori address the ancestors carved on the pou. Finally, the co-existence of Māori and western ontologies is a provocation to the non-Māori community to consider their own relationship to the Māori world, a provocation I explore by considering what it means to have one of my own ancestors carved on the Pākehā pou.

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