Family history as a site for settler colonial reproduction: Carolyn Morris, ‘Not-Talking/Not-Knowing: Autoethnography and Settler Family Histories in Aotearoa New Zealand’, Genealogy, 6, 1, 2022


Abstract: Critical family history analyses have generated powerful insights into the history and ongoing workings of colonization by bringing to light forgotten family histories and reframing them as stories of colonialism. Such work unsettles the descendants of early colonizers by compelling them to acknowledge the ways in which they continue to benefit from the colonizing actions of their ancestors. My family were colonizers, and some not-very-distant ancestors were part of the first wave of “settlers” who dispossessed Māori of their land in coastal Taranaki. Where my family differs from the families of many writers in the critical family history field is that they remain almost to this day on the land first taken by our direct ancestors. The question I address is how these settler farmers deal with the fact that the land that is now theirs is only recently so, and only became so through acts of violent dispossession, and that the descendants of the original possessors of that land continue to live on the Coast. I argue that one way that settler-colonizers deal with this uncomfortable history is to erase it. The erasure of this history is accomplished through the simple but effective strategy of not-talking about it, which leads to not-knowing about it. This practice, I suggest is critical for the subjective security of settlers, and it remains a crucial strategy in ongoing practices of quotidian colonization. My analysis emanates from a critically reflexive exploration of my memories, of what I know and what I do not know about the history of the farm I grew up on, and demonstrates that autoethnography as a methodology is particularly useful for interrogating and breaking the silences about colonization that contribute to its perpetuation.

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