Friday, October 29, 2010

John Lutz, Getting the Indians out of Town

On October 21, which seems a year ago now rather than simply a week, I attended the presentation by UVic's John Lutz in the "The City Talks" series at the Legacy Cafe in downtown Victoria, entitled "Getting the Indians Out of Town: Race and Space in Victoria’s History."

Lutz covered the 60-year effort of Victoria politicians and business leaders to move the Songhees First Nation out of downtown Victoria. Their primary reserve, between 1850 and 1911, was in what's now referred to as Vic West, where the Ocean Pointe Resort and the so-called Songhees developments now stand. As Lutz explained, there's a wealth of material evidence for the establishment of the reserve, for the persistence of the drive to boot the Songhees out, and for the complexity of the Songhees' integration into settler culture (which includes their complicated response to the ejection efforts). As recently as 1858, the settler community in Victoria was barely above vestigial, with considerably more First Nations residents and long-term visitors than there were settlers. Indeed, it's sometimes estimated that around 1860, between 5% and 10% of the entire North Coast First Nations population spent some time in Victoria, most of them making money through the roles they played in relation to the Cariboo Gold Rush. The at best callous (and at worst nearly murderous) response to the 1862 smallpox outbreaks meant that the North Coast connection took a significant hit, but the Songhees themselves remained.

During the question period, much of the discussion centred around the point of this research, and presenting it in this venue. Really, the consensus was that when the City of Victoria inevitably throws some sort of bash in 2012 for its 150th anniversary, the City needs to include the Songhees somehow in planning as well as in execution of the event; it needs to acknowledge the warts in its history; and it needs to remember just how short a time 150 years is, beside the duration of First Nations presence and history on the West Coast.

What about you? Been to anything interesting lately?

If you're in Victoria on November 24, by the way, I'm confident that the next one will be pretty great as well -- Michael Brown from the University of Washington, on the topic of "The Queen City Comes Out: An Historical Geography of Gay Seattle."

Under Western Skies

I was very disappointed not to be able to attend Under Western Skies, the super-conference hosted by the inestimable Rob Boschman this month at Mt. Royal University in Calgary. It's SO not like being there, certainly, but here's a gathering of links to assorted notes online about how people experienced the conference:
  • Holly Friesen's short note about her paintings exhibited there (with images!)
  • Rachel Ott, on the "hot and not" of UWS
  • Rachel Ott, on Andrew Nikiforuk's keynote address, "Canada Over a Barrel"
  • Frances Widdowson's summary of her own paper (plus link to the full text), "'Indigenous Ways of Knowing' and the Environment: Does Epistemological Relativism Contribute to the Protection of Western Lands?"
  • Catherine Szabo's brief news article in The Reflector
Anyone got another link out there?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Conferencing and the new eco-reality

We said before, during and after the 2010 ALECC conference in Sydney the same things that we said before, during and after the 2009 ASLE conference in Victoria: in the artistic, activist, and academic literature/environment community, it really has to matter that we're together. It's not enough to sit in a series of quiet rooms and listen to a series of papers being read aloud. If we're going to go to the trouble of getting together, there need to be real intellectual, material, and/or ecological benefits to doing so.

That said, I can see a few different approaches we might take to helping this come to pass:
  • First, we can follow the lead of the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), that other Canadian-based eco/culture group, and embrace the use of technology to sustain conversations across long distances.
  • Second, we can travel shorter distances, intensifying the more local conversations and eco-communities through such means as colloquia, discussion circles, and workshops.
  • Third, we can make something special out of our big conference. (It's being planned for 2012. Drop us a note if you might be interested in hosting!).
I suspect that we'll be doing all these things, but in the short term, ALECC will be exploring the first two options in some detail, and working toward doing something pretty great with the 2012 conference. To that end, there are two things worth announcing at this point:
  1. Some of ALECC's executive will be participating in a webinar through the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, later in October, and others will be holding a somewhat informal online colloquium in November. Our hope is that these experiences will help the executive plan out how we might start using the available technologies for our benefit, so we'd appreciate any feedback you'd want to give us about that (either in the comments or by email).
  2. Individual ALECC members will be hosting small, local colloquia and other events this year, partially sponsored by ALECC. For example, I'm planning to hold one at UVic in late January that will place the research from separate disciplines beside each other, to talk about how we each approach the relationship between environment and culture. Details are still to be worked out for these sponsorships, but do contact us if you're interested in organizing such an event with an ALECC badge on it.
Happy autumn, all!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding Our Way (documentary)

In our disparate places across Canada and other countries (hi, Beth Giddens in Georgia!), we're all regularly attending really interesting events: conferences, but also one-off sessions. If you think that ALECC's members might want to hear about something you attend, why not ask if you can post a summary or comment here?

Tonight, for example, I dragged my brother-in-law along to Leonie Sandercock's presentation at the Legacy Art Gallery and Cafe, a downtown operation owned by the otherwise suburban UVic (legacy donation: kind of a long story). Her presentation had the somewhat generic academic title, complete with mandatory colon, of "The Legacies of Colonization: Apartheid in Small Town BC," but really it involved the Victoria premiere of (the middle third of) her documentary Finding Our Way, about recent but historically informed events in the village of Burns Lake, BC. This was the first session in the university's new The City Talks series, affiliated with the new Urban Studies Committee, and I'm seriously looking forward to the next one. (By the esteemed, learned, and very nice John Lutz.)

The set-up: in 1999, the BC municipality of Burns Lake shut off water and sewer services to members of the Burns Lake Band, or the Ts'il Kaz Koh, for non-payment of assessed annual fees. These fees represented the total amount of tax that the Ts'il Kaz Koh had begun collecting from the Babine Lake mill, which operated on land leased from the band but had in previous years represented about one-third of the village's tax base. So the municipality was asking the Ts'il Kaz Koh for $400,000, which for the 20 houses involved meant $20,000 per house per year. For some reason, the Ts'il Kaz Koh felt this was maybe not the fairest arrangement. They didn't pay the amount in full, the municipality cut them off, and the conflict was on.

Sandercock did a great job of explaining the long history of imposed settlements and shifting "entitlements" for the Ts'il Kaz Koh that lay behind both the taxation change and the municipality's unilateral actions. This is a land-use issue, an aboriginal rights issue, and a question of how to define and develop a local community. Her film portrays the efforts of high school students (and their teachers) to change the nature of community relations between Aboriginal and settler groups and individuals; the Ts'il Kaz Koh's decision to open a large daycare centre in their gathering place not restricted to Aboriginal children; and the consequences of large-scale landscape and economic change, such as the volatility (in every sense) of the forest industry in north-central BC.

A wonderfully thought-provoking event to kick off the school year. I wish you'd been able to attend with me, but then maybe you'd now be suffering the same angst about your comparatively immaterial research work that I am!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Touchstone songs

A story, and a call for song suggestions:

Freshly back home from ALECC's Cape Breton sojourn, I took my daughter to see my extended family in Errington, whose wonderful farmer's market has been running continuously since 1973. It's a great story of ongoing community engagement, starting with an uneasy union between back-to-the-landers and longer-time locals, and now with pretty deep roots in the local food movement (and left politics generally, but like all political issues in British Columbia, it's a little more complicated than that!).

In Sydney, of course, we'd heard Ken Chisholm play for us during the socializing portion of the literary evening. One song he played was John Prine's "Paradise," a sing I've known since who knows when but haven't really recognized as important to me -- though of course it is. (Lyrics here if you don't know them: "Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County, / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay...".)

In Errington, the Vancouver Island bluegrass duo Skagway (on Facebook, and on MySpace) was playing. In amongst their own tunes, like the great little tune "Fancy Blues," they played what else but Prine's "Paradise," in a slowed-down and stripped-down version.

Bookended across the country, in coal country and logging country, uptempo in Sydney and downtempo in Errington, "Paradise" worked its considerable magic on its audiences, and not just me but everyone else too. (Okay, not everyone in Sydney, because there was an awful lot of warm chatter going on, but the listeners were happy with it!)

And it got me to wondering: what other songs might be touchstones for us in the literature/environment community, shared without our really knowing it? Suggestions in the comments, please!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

mary robinson sources and related issues that I'd like to talk about more

Several people at the conference asked me for more info about Mary Robinson so I thought it might be easier to post that here:

Pascoe, Judith, ed. Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Peterborough: Broadview, 2000.

Robinson, Mary. Poems, 1793.

---. Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson Written by Herself. 2 vols. London: Richard Phillips, 1803.

---. Poetical Works, 1806.

The Robinson works are all accessible through online sources, maybe all through ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) - most university libraries subscribe to this.

The Pascoe text is great, very helpful bio and cultural context stuff and comprehensive selection of poetry from all of R's collections.

Pickering and Chatto also has published an 8 vol. complete works that also includes the novels (Walsingham;Or The Pupil of Nature is the most famous). General editor is William D. Brewer.

I teach a wide variety of Robinson's poetry and many of her poems are well-suited to ecocriticism classes especially as part of 'green romanticism'. I like teaching "Oberon's Invitation to Titania" and "Titania's Answer to Oberon", "The Negro Girl", all of the poems that deal with marginalized (aka feral?) figures - there are many, including the two I presented on - "The Maniac", "The Savage of Aveyron" ("Poor Marguerite" and "The Fugitive" are good too). There are also sonnets that celebrate birds and flowers, etc.

There are also some schlocky biographies and historical fictions that feature Robinson. These mostly focus on her affair with the Prince of Wales but if you like reading that sort of thing...


There were, though, a couple of things that I raised in my paper and hoped to get more feedback on but didn't really. I think these are important things for us to discuss - especially in reflecting on our first ALECC conference (and where we're going with this).

The first issue was what I call "feral ecocriticism". My view is that in defining the field and finding our places in and out of the academy as ecocritics, we might want to resist merely 'fitting in' and I wondered in my paper about what a 'feral ecocriticism' might look like.
Is it an institutional resistance?
Is it beautifully bad behavior?
Is it unapologetically bringing environmental justice issues to the forefront of literary studies?
I'd love to talk about this more!

The second issue I really wanted to sink my teeth into at the conference was ecofeminism which wasn't raised in any of the sessions I attended (although I heard that someone talking about Atwood's new novel did talk about ecofeminism). My ecofeminist contribution in the Robinson paper was mostly just to say that Robinson's feminist critics up to now have engaged in recovery work and canonization and that I'm trying to get to the next step and read individual poems using ecofeminist methodologies.
Currently my fallback ecofeminist methodologies are:
"interlocking oppressions" which I use to read women and nature as critically intertwined: marginal/other/oppressed/powerful
"strategic essentialism" which came in really handy when talking about Robinson's orientation to the feral both as a beauty (with a self constructed by the public gaze) and as a disabled woman
I'd be very interested in other tools that ecofeminist critics are using to read women's literary and cultural productions.

Bring it on...
p.s. I had lots of fun at the conference too! Thanks to everyone who made it happen so smoothly!

The Conference in Review

I had high hopes of blogging throughout the conference, but I was too busy enjoying the conference and the surrounding landscape of Cape Breton to be on the computer!! I know a "highlights" post after the fact isn't quite the same, but here goes.

The conference kicked off with Thursday afternoon field trips. We selected to go on a tour of the Syndey Tar ponds reclamation site and found it quite interesting. It was fascinating to get a first-hand look at the site and to hear about the clean-up efforts. Seeing the site up close really helped me to get a handle on the scale of the operation. The site, the debate around the clean-up efforts and the different perpectives about both in the community kept resonating through my mind for the rest of the conference.

Thursday evening was a fantastic amount of fun and a chance to both catch-up with old friends and to meet some new ones. The literary evening has been blogged about below, but I wanted to echo Richard's comments about the richness and diversity presented through the readings. Fascinating stuff! I also really appreciated the music of Ken Chisholm and could have happily listened to at least one more set that evening at the Syndey Yacht Club.

The sessions on Friday and Saturday dealt with a wide range of subjects -- I heard so many great papers throughout the weekend and can't possibly blog about them all. Some highlights for me included:

-the "Ecological Art" panel which included Heather Davis's paper on the Spiral Garden at Bloorview and Linda Revie's paper on Hetty Kimber and Louise McClennan, two artists who were part of the Sydney Painters Club. I was especially taken with Tia McLennan's presentation on the Woodhaven EcoArt Project that she and Nancy Holmes worked on with their students at UBC Okanagan. Ever since that presentation I've been thinking about how a similar project could be set up in the Niagara region.

-the "Generating Story Through Place" panel. In this panel Edie Steiner talked about how photography can be used as a tool of auto-ethnography, Elizabeth Giddens discussed the often-contradictory uses of image and text in the campaign to create Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Wanda Baxter made a very compelling case for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) as a form of ecocriticism through her discussion of the EIAs that were recently completed in Digby Neck. I absolutely loved her point about how the Humanities have such a crucial role in these kinds of processes, helping communities tell and frame their stories. In the case of Digby Neck, Baxter argued that by coming together in this way the community was able to successfully resist a mine development and have, instead, focused on making environment of the region a priority.

-I am also still thinking about Jenny Kerber's paper on Jim Lynch's Border Songs. I've not yet had the opportunity to read this book, but after hearing this presentation it is on the top of my "must read" list for the fall.

-Andrew Mark's paper on "The Shock Doctrine of Bob Wiseman" is another one that keeps running through my mind. I am most familiar with Wiseman's work when he was with Blue Rodeo, but haven't kept up with it in recent years. It seems I've really been missing out! During his presentation Andrew showed us the short film made to accompany Wiseman's song, Uranium. Andrew was careful not to give too much away when he talked about this film before he showed it to us and I'm going to follow suit. All I will say is I'd encourage you to take a moment to watch it.

In short, a wonderful conference and I was delighted to be able to travel to Cape Breton to participate in it. Big thanks are due to all the organizers and, in particular, our local hosts, Afra Kavanagh and Sheila Christie.