Cultural production is more than about textual artifacts: Warren Cariou, Isabelle St-Amand, ‘Environmental Ethics through Changing Landscapes: Indigenous Activism and Literary Arts’, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 44, 1, 2017, pp. 7-24


Excerpt:  aIn her story “Salmon Is the Hub of Salish Memory,” Sto:lo writer Lee Maracle reminds the reader of the relationship between the fish and the women, and she foregrounds the vital importance of honouring and nurturing these living entities and their interrelatedness amongst one another and within the environment that sustains them. Attentive to the context in which she writes, Maracle reiterates the story’s warning that failure to do so will result in their disappearance. She further ponders what “the story does not say” (51), that is, with regards to responsibility when settlers are the cause of the devastation. Her text immediately calls to mind ongoing struggles for the protection of Indigenous lands and lives against the combined forces of global capitalism and settler colonialism. It brings out the necessity for a recovery that Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have described as a fundamental decolonization imperative, one that “must involve repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted” (Tuck and Yang 7). With her re-telling of the Salish story, Maracle puts forth the idea that caretaking—under all circumstances—remains a vital element in the struggles for Indigenous peoples and for the continuation of life in all its forms. Moreover, as Kyle Powys Whyte and Chris Cuomo observe, it is precisely “[a]s enactments of complex commitments to care [that] indigenous environmental movements have made great strides in protecting indigenous lifeways against the parties who are responsible for the environmental problems they face” (5). These parties include “international bodies, nation-states, subnational governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations” (Whyte and Cuomo 5-6). The question of responsibility therefore remains at the heart of an understanding of Indigenous environmental ethics and of their actualization in today’s neoliberal globalized colonial settler contexts.

Often, and in many ways, the contemporary productions of Indigenous scholars, activists, writers, and filmmakers relate to Maracle’s assertion that “violence to earth and violence between humans are connected” (53). In their respective works, for instance, Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine (2014), Blood and Sámi filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (2011), and Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson (2016) have exposed the intricate connections between the settler colonial project, the devastation of ecosystems, and the lives of Indigenous women and girls. Their poetic, filmic, and scholarly narratives contribute to ongoing conversations on environmental ethics and social justice at times of climate crisis by exposing the planetary and the community implications of the state of relationships between the land and the people. Tailfeathers makes this explicit when describing her short experimental film Bloodland, which is broadcast on YouTube, as “a social statement on the irreversible and detrimental impact of gas and oil exploration on our planet; and in particular on the impact that hydraulic fracturing has and will have on Kainaiwa, or Blood land” (Tailfeathers). Drawing on aesthetics of gore, Bloodland shows interspersed images of drilling into the earth and into the body of a young woman. The two sets of images rapidly mingle together to denounce the concomitant taking of Indigenous lands and lives while pointing at the gendered quality of this extractive violence.

%d bloggers like this: