'Land of rape and honey' : settler colonialism in the Canadian West
Ward, Kathleen E. B.
Canada is widely regarded as a liberal, multicultural nation that prides itself on a history of peace and tolerance. Oftentimes set up in contrast to the United States, Canada’s history of colonialism has been popularly imagined as a gentler, necessary, inevitable, and even benevolent version of expansion and subjugation of Indigenous populations. In recent decades scholars in the social sciences and humanities have challenged the rhetoric of Canada as a consistently benevolent and peaceful nation. They have pointed to the discontinuity between Canada’s rosy image, drawn from foundational nation-building myths of benevolence, and the deeply rooted colonial narratives of necessity and inevitability that underpin those nation-building myths. This discontinuity manifests itself in far reaching patterns of social and economic disparity between Indigenous and settler populations over time across the nation. This reality is acutely seen in the Canadian West, as Canada’s historic frontier. This thesis re-problematises narratives of Canadian nation-building from a regional perspective. It is argued that positioning the West as the frontier peripheral to Canadian ‘civilisation’ is part of a broader settler colonial logic that sees the contemporary manifestation of disparity between Indigenous and settler populations as emanating from uniquely backward, peripheral places in Canada, rather than challenging the fundamental benevolence of the Canadian nation. Through a close reading of two trials pertaining to an instance of multiple perpetrator sexual assault that occurred in Saskatchewan in 2003, I demonstrate how the complex web of interlocking systems of domination that oppress and privilege in trials do not emanate from the backwardness of the place in which they occurred, but are rather indicative of broader societal processes and power relations indicative of settler colonialism. This thesis argues there is a conflation between western Canadian identity, and settler identity, owing to the foundational nation-building myths in which the West became Canadian. In moving forward, this thesis proposes an acknowledgment of the settler colonial nature of westward expansion and suggests practicing openness to considering different ways westward expansion might have been understood and experienced. Key to this process is learning to listen, learning to hear, learning to believe, and learning to see oneself implicated in the stories of those who experienced westward expansion differently from how it is popularly constructed in settler society. I begin here by proposing the complainant’s voice in the trial be heard, and be believed. Her voice and her silence provides insight into understanding the oppressive power of settler-colonialism.