Knowing ignorance: Anna Cook, ‘Recognizing Settler Ignorance in the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 4, 4, #6


Abstract: The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been mandated to collect testimonies from survivors of the Indian Residential Schools system. The TRC demands survivors of the residential school system to share their personal narratives under the assumption that the sharing of narratives will inform the Canadian public of the residential school legacy and will motivate a transformation of settler identity. I contend, however, that the TRC provides a concrete example of how a politics of recognition fails to transform relationships between Native and settler Canadians not only because it enacts an internalization of colonial recognition, but because it fails to account for what I call “settler ignorance.” Work in epistemologies of ignorance and epistemic oppression gives language to explain sustained denial and provide tools to further understand how settler denial is sustained, and how it can be made visible, and so challenged. For this task, Mills’s articulation of white ignorance should be expanded to a consideration of white settler ignorance. Over and above an account of white ignorance, such an account will have to consider the underlying logics of settler colonialism. This characterization of settler ignorance will show that the denial of past and ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples, through the reconstruction of the past to assert the primacy of settlers, is not explainable in terms of a lack of recognition but is rather structural ignorance.

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