Settler memorialisations: Jason Chalmers, National Myth in Canada: Reproducing and Resisting Settler Colonialism at Memorial Sites, PhD Dissertation, University of Alberta, 2019


Abstract: This dissertation examines myth and memory in settler colonial contexts. In particular, it explores the way Canadians engage with national mythology at sites of genocide commemoration. It focuses on three national sites that together constitute a memorial network: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), which opened in Winnipeg in 2014; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which released its final report in 2015; and the National Holocaust Monument (NHM), which was unveiled in Ottawa in 2017. These sites are ideal case studies because each addresses the history and memory of the Holocaust or Residential Schools. The history and memory of genocide, and especially Indigenous genocide, is an integral part of settler colonialism and settler mythology. In this dissertation, I ask how sites of genocide memory reproduce – or resist – settler colonialism in Canada. I consider how memory functions as an aspect of settler colonialism and, especially, how Canadians use commemoration to reinscribe settler mythologies, identities, and relationships. Furthermore, I address how these memories can become sites of resistance that destabilise settler colonialism. My analysis is guided by the framework of difficult knowledge. The theory of difficult knowledge posits that learning occurs when marginalised narratives (difficult knowledge) disrupt dominant ones (lovely knowledge). This study considers how the CMHR, TRC, and NHM frame histories of genocide as difficult and/or lovely knowledge. I demonstrate that, while the NHM reproduces lovely knowledge, the TRC and CMHR both generate potentially difficult knowledge, albeit in limited ways. However, they use different techniques to do so: the TRC promotes a subversive counter-narrative whereas the CMHR encourages visitors to engage in the interpretation of national history. I contend that they are likely to produce difficult knowledge about Canadian history and myth when they engage with Indigenous peoples and perspectives. Furthermore, I argue that the framework of difficult knowledge can work as a critical – and potentially decolonising – research methodology. This study offers several findings regarding the relationship between settler colonialism and memorial networks. I argue that, while Holocaust memory and the memory of Residential Schools can – and do – inform one another, both memories emerge from and are shaped by settler mythology. In other words, settler colonialism plays a significant role in the production of genocide memory in Canada. Furthermore, I argue that the CMHR, TRC, and NHM are points of rupture that force Canadians to confront the myths and memories that undergird settler society. That is, these sites cultivate identity by enabling people to engage with, re-enact, and institutionalise myth and memory. At the same time, however, memorial sites are places of resistance that can disrupt national myth and destabilise settler colonialism.

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