Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Resisting Canada Montreal Launch

The Montreal launch of Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry edited by Nyla Matuk was on December 1, 2019 in Concordia University's 4th Space. It took place during the Holiday Pop-up Book Fair sponsored by the Association of English-Language Publishers of Quebec and the Quebec Writers' Federation. (Photos by Susan Moss)

Jesse Arseneault of Concordia's English Department welcomed us to the 4th Space

Nyla Matuk introduced the poets

Derek Webster
Shane Rhodes
Ingrid Ruthig

Janet Marie Rogers

Friday, 29 November 2019

Resisting Canada Toronto Launch Part 2

More photos from the November 28, 2019 Knife | Fork | Book Toronto launch of  
Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry edited by Nyla Matuk

[Photos courtesy of KFB]



Resisting Canada Toronto Launch - Part 1

It was a capacity crowd at Kirby's Knife | Fork | Book on November 28, 2019 for the Toronto launch of Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry edited by Nyla Matuk. Kirby started things off by reading a statement from Signal Editions editor Carmine Starnino, who was unable to attend. Kirby was followed by Nyla Matuk who talked about the book and then introduced the readers.

A few words from Carmine Starnino:
 I feel terrible for not joining you all to celebrate a book that I consider a highwater mark of my time at Véhicule as poetry editor. The seeds for this anthology were planted four years ago, in 2015, after Collen Fulton, a poet and academic now teaching at Concordia, released a report on the make-up of Canadian poetry juries. Fulton’s findings showed that the odds of winning a prize as a person of colour were very limited. It depressed the hell out of me. I realized that something about our system, and my place in it, was broken. Fulton’s report prompted calls on social media for jury diversification, but I realized that changing the power structures which underpin what happens in Canadian poetry—and who it happens to—also required raising tough questions about what we, as a community, valued. This was a conversation that had to be to be sparked by many voices, and it needed to go much farther, and cut more deeply, than an essay or a panel discussion. After talking to Simon Dardick, we envisioned an anthology of poets who would be chosen for their strengths and reputations around engaging questions of cultural belonging, environmental values, and racial privilege. I’m grateful to Sonnet L’Abbé for early conversations that helped us think through these issues and I’m especially grateful to Nyla Matuk for making this idea her own, and creating something bold, combative and marked by moral purpose. I believe anthologies can be vehicles for disruptive ideas and believe that Resisting Canada will make its own powerful claim on the scene for many years to come.



Introductory remarks from Nyla Matuk:
 In a 2017 issue of the UK journal The Poetry Review, the Jamaican UK-based poet Kei Miller wrote, “this being the time of manifestos, here is mine: that poetry, at its best, does not speak on behalf of the self. It speaks on behalf of the Other. It speaks on behalf of community. It speaks the self only insofar as the self is part of something larger.”
    I think it’s easy to disagree with this manifesto—to stake a claim for poetry against collectivity and shared consciousness. And it’s easy to disagree because of the legacy of the European Romantics in Western culture, who put forward an idea of the poet or the artist as a lone genius, a god-like special being, often isolated, illuminating the world for us with a singular vision. But Miller’s declaration bears a resemblance to a number of ideas I encountered as I prepared and edited Resisting Canada. The legacy of an egotistical sublime of the English Romantics – “on behalf of self” poems and confessional poetry, which narrate an individual, seemed at odds with the words of resistance I was collecting; it was poetry with a view to shared memory, consciousness-raising, and politics not necessarily exclusively of identity and identity’s fraught subjective realities, but telling “history from below.”
    I see the book not so much articulating a position on a set of issues, but rather as various understandings of positions and identities as they might react to a framework such as the settler-colony that is the Canadian state. The idea was to really point at the ruling class-whether that is manifest as the current neo-liberal government, the ongoing implementation of settler-colonization, or inequality and racism. It’s less about individual political identity and it’s certainly not about being victims.
    And, I think we have to bear in mind, as well, that Kei Miller’s “something larger” hints at a writer’s political agency. It need not always circumscribe blatant resistance. It may be about insisting on existing, on belonging, or not going away.
    My hope is that this book’s contents will help with a deeper understanding of the unfolding history of wrongs perpetrated onto people by the Canadian state. It seems to me that understanding history is the most important work of resistance. Every unfolding situation of injustice I see in the news and on social media is attached to what came before, and until people see the trajectory, pattern and roots of the injustice, they won’t fully understand the explosive present or a path to justice. The political underpinnings of this book are about a move away from the idea of insisting on subjective identity, and toward finding the root of the injustice which usually turns on actions of the state, on decisions made in pursuit of powerful interest groups, money and economic growth, or imperialism at the expense of human rights. So what I am saying is that the political, which is personal, still needs to stop being only personal.
    And as far as the state goes? Maybe it’s time to be thinking beyond the state, and beyond the status quo and apparatus of the state. Social and political movements committed to economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, and ecological justice have to imagine it, and do away with legal trappings like the “Indian Act,” which is still in place, an instrument of settler-colonial statecraft that has allowed injustice to continue. There are countless examples of the law being created and then manipulated politically. Think of apartheid. Think of Colten Boushie. Resistance with poetry is one way to imagine a way out.
    I am grateful to all the contributors to this anthology: to Carmine Starnino, Simon Dardick, Nancy Marrelli, and everyone else at Véhicule Press, for all the hard work and help in getting it from manuscript to finished product. I’d also like to thank the Canada Council’s New Chapter Fund for the awarding the grant that made the publication of this book possible.



JIM JOHNSTONE           

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Resisting Canada --An excerpt from the Introduction

Considering Bardia Sinaee's review of Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry in the November Quill & Quire, we thought it would be interesting to occasionally feature excerpts from Nyla Matuk's introduction.

"What makes Resisting Canada stand out among other recent anthologies is not simply it's editor's unapologetic polemicism or the defiant spirit of its poems but the way those strands are inextricably integrated." - Bardia Sinaee

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

"The poems I’ve selected are not about cultural or ethnic personal identity; they consider social conditions created by the settler-colonial state and how such conditions may impinge on identity. But as I started to think about the effects of resistance on identity, I also began to question the frequently drawn distinction between, on the one hand, poems of private consideration (such as those communing with nature, an object of romantic love, or other loci of meaning English-language readers often associate with the English Romantics or the American Transcendentalists), and poems of public concern in which political agency and resistance are the subjects. I have started to see poetry straddling both; that indeed the distinction is false,

even as both registers must be considered. “My poetry was often dismissed as protest poetry,” Lee Maracle has observed. “My answer was that the term was coined to dismiss the work of Indigenous and Black dub and hip-hop poetry, so I pay no attention… I write the way I write because it is the way I think and feel about the world.” The personal is political for me too."

Friday, 21 June 2019

Zebedee Nungak on fighting for Inuit rights

Zebedee Nungak's Wrestling with Colonialism on Steroids: Quebec Inuit Fight for Their Homeland was published by Véhicule Press in 2017. In Spring 2019, Éditions du Boréal published the French language edition, Contre le colonialisme dopé aux stéroïdes: Le combat des Inuit du Québec pour leurs terres ancestrales.

Each season, Boréal publishes Le Boréal Express, a magazine which presents their new titles. A feature of the publication are "Four Questions" they ask their authors. Zebedee Nungak's response to the questions posed to him were too important not to present in their entirety (because they had been published in the magazine in an edited version).

Four Questions

Are the fights you have fought for your nation a painful memory?

Yes. Fighting for our rights is a painful memory on the following counts:

We had to contend with governments, provincial and federal, who in their arrogance inherited from colonial times, allowed major development on Indigenous lands without any regard for the rights of the original occupants of these lands: the Cree and the Inuit.

Development corporations were given permission, and free reign, to blast and bulldoze lands and rivers, which its Indigenous occupants depended on for life itself, without even a notice to these people.

What should have been rights-based negotiations between only the governments and Indigenous parties, included, from beginning to end, direct, at-the-table participation of development corporations. These entities had even less regard for Indigenous rights than governments, but were allowed to promote their interests.

The draconian terms and conditions, especially that of surrender and extinguishment of rights in and to the land, imposed by governments upon the Cree and Inuit caused irreconcilable divisions among the Inuit. These divisions were deep and profound. Close to forty-four years later, reconciliation between the Inuit of Nunavik over these divisions has yet to take place.

40 years after the fact, what is your assessment of the James Bay Agreement? Did more bad than good come out of it?

The James Bay Agreement became a marker of necessity in a relationship, however lopsided, between Indigenous peoples and unenlightened governments. It established, for the first time in the Canada’s existence, highly imperfect co-existence arrangements based on the colonial legacy of superiority/inferiority equations.

The worst feature of the Agreement was imposition of surrender and extinguishment of rights upon Indigenous peoples treated as inferiors by governments, who simply dictated their superiority on this fundamental point. Governments operated, as the title of my book says, on the basis of “colonialism on steroids”, generally treating Indigenous people as inferior.

The government of Quebec congratulated itself for being “progressive” and generous enough to produce this Agreement. However, it overlooked the fact that it had been totally absent from the territory it had gained jurisdiction over in 1912 for fifty-two years, until 1964.

Quebec should have been providing government services, and governing the territory and its people since 1912. Quebec belatedly agreed to provide health, education, and municipal services only in 1975, through this Agreement. Quebec was extremely delinquent on this matter.

After the benchmark of the James Bay Agreement was established, Canada as a country started progressing toward some positive thresholds in its legal and political systems, by favorable rulings and decisions. The recognition of the Aboriginal rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in section 35 of the Canadian constitution in 1982, and the Tsilqot’in decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014, are examples of this progress.

However, the need to correct the forced imposition of extinguishment and surrender of Aboriginal rights to establish agreements between governments and Indigenous peoples is still outstanding, unfinished business.

The worst by-product of the Agreement is the broken harmony of Inuit which resulted from its signing. Some Inuit supported the Agreement, but many opposed it vividly, and wholeheartedly.

In what way were the stakes of the Inuit people in the James Bay Agreement different from that of the other First Nations?

Inuit were not defined by Canada as having a legal status of their own. The only mention of Indigenous peoples in the British North America Act, 1867, was section 91 (24), whereby Canada’s federal government was assigned responsibility for “Indians, and lands reserved for Indians”.

In a legal dispute between the Province of Quebec and Canada, triggered by Quebec’s refusal to pay an invoice sent by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1936 for welfare the company issued to Inuit during times of famine, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision, called In RE: Eskimo in 1939, which declared that the Eskimos (Inuit) of Quebec were “Indians” for the purpose of legal definition.

In addition to the lack of clarity of the legal status of Inuit, the James Bay Project directly impacted the lands and rivers of the Cree of James Bay. Inuit were less directly impacted, and were regarded by governments and development entities as a “secondary” Aboriginal party.

This, in part, caused Inuit negotiators to work harder to be included in all substantial parts of the negotiations.

The Inuit of Nunavik were the very first Inuit group in Canada to cross the threshold of surrender and extinguishment of Aboriginal rights in a formal land claims agreement. For this, Inuit unity was dramatically broken, when many dissidents disagreed with the terms and conditions under which the James Bay Agreement was signed.

No such division was experienced when Inuit from other regions of Arctic Canada reached their own respective agreements in subsequent years. [Inuvialuit in 1984, Nunavut in 1993, and Nunatsiavut in 2005]

Do you believe that true reconciliation is possible in Quebec between the different communities?

If reconciliation between different communities (Inuit of Nunavik and French Quebec) is possible, it will take perhaps decades to achieve. Here is why:

Although political developments have placed Nunavik in Quebec’s jurisdiction since 1912, the Inuit of Nunavik have not shared in French Quebec’s mainstream history and culture. It is obvious that French Quebecers are not in their natural element in Nunavik. The climate is Arctic. The staple food is wildlife harvested from the land and sea. The language is Inuktitut. The people are Inuit; not descended from immigrants from across the ocean. Nunavik is not the natural habitat of French Quebecers.

Conversely, Inuit are not in their natural element in French Quebec. They are a miniscule minority in Quebec’s total picture. Even with scores of the younger generations gaining facility in the French language, most Inuit consider the French people, language and culture, “foreign”, and do not easily embrace the “Quebecois” identity, and all it entails.

Perhaps Quebec can help facilitate further reconciliation by making provision in the Quebec National Assembly for one seat for each of the eleven “Amerindian” nations living within the Province; and demonstrate its willingness to accommodate them in its legislature.