Sympathetic settlers: Erin Akerman, Unsettling Sympathy: Indigenous and Settler Conversations from the Great Lakes Region, 1820-1860, PhD dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 2021


Abstract: Situated at the intersection of Indigenous, Canadian, British, and settler colonial literary studies, this dissertation is a transatlantic analysis of the personal and textual interactions of Drummond Island Métis interviewees, Ojibwe poet Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, British travel writer Anna Jameson, and British Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada Francis Bond Head in the Great Lakes region in the nineteenth century. During the period after the War of 1812 and leading up to Confederation, settler narratives of sympathy for Indigenous peoples proliferated in politics and literature, yet what remains largely unexamined in the Canadian context is how this sympathy supports “the settler-colonial logic of elimination,” meaning “the dissolution of native societies” alongside the creation of “a new colonial society upon the expropriated land base” (Wolfe 2006, 387, 388, 388). Jameson’s and Head’s declarations of exceptional sympathy for Indigenous peoples in their travel writings situate Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838) and Head’s “The Red Man” (1840) and The Emigrant (1846) as ideal case studies of this colonial phenomenon. Through archival research and Indigenous literary nationalist theory, I interrogate Jameson’s and Head’s sympathy by reframing their texts within the community- and land-based knowledges of the Drummond Island Métis (The Migration of Voyageurs from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in 1828 1901) and Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (various letters and poems), speakers and writers who are still relatively unstudied in the Canadian literary field. In revealing how Jameson and Head promote the “logic of elimination,” I simultaneously consider how the Drummond Islanders and Johnston Schoolcraft posit in their texts the possibility of “ethical space[s] of engagement” (Ermine 2007, 193) between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Each of the following three chapters interrogates an aspect of settler sympathy (sympathetic aesthetics, sympathetic geographies, and the settler colonial malady) in relation to important socio-political issues in the Great Lakes region (Indigenous representation, sovereignty, and wellness) by considering the perspectives of all of these writers and speakers while attending to the voices of the Drummond Island Métis and Johnston Schoolcraft to unsettle canonical literary and colonial narratives.

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