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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Storied Communities: Narratives of Contact and Arrival in Constituting Political Community edited by Hester Lessard, Rebecca Johnson and Jeremy Webber (UBC Press) Political communities are defined and often contested through stories and storytelling. Scholars have long recognized that two foundational sets of stories narratives of contact and narratives of arrival helped to define settler societies. We are only beginning to understand how ongoing issues of migration and settlement are linked to issues of indigenous-settler contact.

In Storied Communities, scholars from multiple disciplines disrupt the assumption in many works that indigenous and immigrant identities fall into two separate streams of analysis. The authors do not attempt to build a new master narrative they instead juxtapose narratives of contact and arrival as they explore key themes: the nature and hazards of telling stories in the political realm; the literary, ceremonial, and identity-forming dimensions of the narrative form; actual narratives of contact and arrival; and the institutional and theoretical implications of foundation narratives and storytelling. In the process, they deepen our understanding of the role of narrative in community and nation building.

Editors Hester Lessard and Rebecca Johnson are professors of law at the University of Victoria and Jeremy Webber holds the Canada Research Chair in Law and Society at the University of Victoria and is also a Trudeau Fellow. Contributors to Storied Communities include: Kim Anderson, Bain Attwood, Michael Asch, Brenna Bhandar, J. Edward Chamberlin, Susan Bibler Coutin, Donald Galloway, Anne Godlewska, Sneja Gunew, Johnny Mack, Audrey Macklin, Martha Nandorfy, Jacinta Ruru, Blanca Schorcht, S. Ronald Stevenson, Patricia Tuitt, and Richard Van Camp. The contributions in the volume draw on Canadian, Australian, Aotearoa/ New Zealand, and American experiences.

Communities are constituted partly through narratives about their origins. This is especially and most obviously true of national communities, which assemble stories as a means of consolidating a vision or imagined community. These narratives position people in relation to each other, communities, and the state through discourses about citizenship, sovereignty, and belonging. The overarching purpose of Storied Communities is to examine the relation between two foundational sets of narratives that continue to shape settler societies namely, narratives of contact and of arrival.

This book is the second produced under the umbrella of the Consortium on Democratic Constitutionalism (Demcon), an international and inter-disciplinary network of scholars whose work engages with fundamental questions pertaining to constitutional theory, design, and practice. The first volume, Between Consenting Peoples: Political Community and the Meaning of Consent, delves into the adequacy of consent as the foundation of political community and explores alternative ways in which consent might be conceived. This second book shifts the focus to the role of narrative, of storytelling, in the formation and shaping of political community. The editors aspiration is to inquire into the nature and texture of the narratives that have shaped, sometimes clearly and sometimes in hidden or bewildering ways, understandings of political community in settler societies. Moreover, the editors have complicated the nonindigenous by foregrounding narratives of arrival and their uneasy positioning between those of the already settled and those of the indigen. This key juxtaposition, of narratives of contact with those of arrival, casts new light on the role of stories in shaping membership, belonging, inclusion, and collective self-definition. Too often, scholars of the transnational subject (the migrant, the refugee, the guest worker) and scholars of indigenous struggles operate in separate worlds despite sharing many of the same questions about the nature of political community indeed, despite focusing on communities that are characterized by both indigenous presence and successive arrivals.

In juxtaposing these narratives, the editors do not aspire to create an overarching story to which everyone agrees. Rather, the aim is to complicate our purchase on the world by embarking on a project that entails not the erasure of histories, either indigenous or nonindigenous, but the recasting and repositioning of the stories that comprise our histories. Juxtaposition is illuminating, given that our current politics are simultaneously profoundly inter-connected and profoundly fractured.

Storied Communities is divided into seven parts. The book begins with "Narratives of Contact and Arrival in the Canadian Political Space; in which the authors introduce the book's key themes. In Chapter 2, Michael Asch retells the origin story that characterizes many popular conceptions of the foundation of the Canadian state as well as their legal analogues, the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius. This is a story of arrival namely, the arrival of Europeans in a land they considered vacant and unoccupied at law. As Asch points out, the land was not only populated with myriad indigenous political communities but densely overlaid with their stories. For Audrey Macklin, in Chapter 3, stories of arrival are similarly crucial in elucidating the nature of the Canadian political community. She focuses on the 1914 arrival of the Komagata Marts in Vancouver Harbour and on the legal proceedings this set in motion to determine whether the ship's 376 Indian passengers, who hoped to settle in Canada, were admissible or not, as it turned out. Chapter 4, by Brenna Bhandar, finishes this part of Storied Communities with a direct confrontation of the paradox underlying this literature. Bhandar agrees with the argument that modernist conceptions of sovereignty and the sovereign subject have little purchase in a contemporary politics in which power is diffuse rather than centralized and in which property, resources, and even sovereignty itself are deterritorialized. However, she questions whether post-colonial critiques of sovereignty provide the conceptual ground for building a more just post-colonial order.

Part 3, "Narratives and Narrative Form;" begins with a piece by Richard Van Camp, a storyteller and writer from the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation whose work fuses Euro-Canadian literary conventions with the tropes and styles of indigenous oral traditions. This is followed, in Chapter 6, by a conversation between Blanca Schorcht and Van Camp in which Van Camp reflects on his craft and on the relation between the imaginary communities of his fictional work and the communities of the Northwest Territories in which he grew up. Diasporic communities are the focus of Chapter 7. In it, Sneja Gunew, brings readers attention to the way in which traditional stories in such communities can imprison and confine marginalized members such as women. Chapter 8, by J. Edward Chamberlin, concludes Part 3 with an exploration of how language and stories grounded in the local simultaneously divide and connect us. By focusing on the ceremonial dimension of storytelling and on the dimension of wonder Chamberlin argues that stories can open up common ground rather than closing people off from each other.

Parts 4 and 5 examine narratives of contact and of arrival respectively. In Chapter 9, Anne Godlewska introduces the theme of Part 4 by juxtaposing seventeenth-century Jesuit accounts of eastern North American indigenous peoples with two contemporary works of fiction, one by Thomas King and the other by Daniel David Moses. Godlewska seeks to demonstrate how indigenous people talked back in the Jesuit accounts and how that talking back has been taken up and reinvigorated in the later stories, thereby disrupting imperial authority and offering a way to envision a future. In Chapter 10, Kim Anderson explores the often toxic intertwining of sexual violence and conquest expressed in shifting images of indigenous women's bodies in popularized narratives of contact. In Chapter 11, Bain Attwood examines contact narratives in the Australian context, focusing on how settler histories shift over time and are as much about forgetting as remembering. Finally, in Chapter 12, Jacinta Ruru moves readers focus to Aotearoa/New Zealand and the stories that layer the landscape, particularly mountainous landscapes. Through her discussion of narrative constructions of one particular mountain, Tongariro, Ruru concludes that, although contemporary legal stories attempt to retell the meaning of such landscapes in terms of a partnership, as yet this retelling has not been accompanied by a shift in power or the recognition of Maori claims.

Part 5 picks up the theme of the doctrine of discovery with Chapter 13, in which Patricia Tuitt reveals how the old modes of colonial governance and assumptions about civilized and backward polities have shaped the development of the European Union. Tuitt argues that invocations of the new Europe cast the refugee in the role of the outsider who is too contaminated by antecedent (and despised) conceptions of political community to be included in the new European Union. The uneasy positioning of the migrant subject is also the focus of Chapter 14, by Susan Bibler Coutin. Drawing on a series of interviews, she examines the insider/outsider status of El Salvadorans who moved to the United States as small children and spent the bulk of their lives there. In doing so, Coutin sheds light on the complexities of conceptions of citizen, self, and state produced through emigration.

Part 6 of Storied Communities is titled "Institutional Implications: How Would We Do Things Differently If We Took Narrative Seriously?" It opens with Chapter 15 in which S. Ronald Stevenson takes up this issue in relation to Aboriginal rights. He examines the Supreme Court of Canada's Aboriginal rights jurisprudence. Although much work remains to be done, Stevenson sees the encounter with narratives playing a productive role. In Chapter 16, Johnny Mack also centers on indigenous rights but is more skeptical in his assessment of current institutional responses. Mack draws on an extended conversation with Wickaninnish, a senior member of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, to reflect upon the limited political and legal responses available to indigenous peoples with respect to the current treaty process in British Columbia. Part 6 closes with Chapter 17, by Donald Galloway, who shifts focus to the current immigration and refugee regime in Canada. Galloway parses transformations in the refugee determination process that fail to understand the distinction between the oral and the written, between stories about experiences and stories that are recitals of key events and dates, and the contradiction between the demand for such incident reports and credibility determinations that view resemblances to previous claims with suspicion.

Part 7, "Theoretical Implications: Where Do We Go from Here?" consists of an essay by Martha Nandorfy that reflects on the themes of Storied Communities and some of the key questions raised. Nandorfy contrasts indigenous and non-indigenous modes of storytelling, urging readers to resist the idea that there is a level playing field for narrative. Rather, narrative can be deployed to reinforce domination or as a counter-hegemonic, liberatory act.

Nandorfy's reflections echo Boaventura de Sousa Santos' emphasis on the importance of taking seriously, and carefully attending to, the ways of knowing of indigenous peoples and the global South, including the genres and styles through which that knowing is expressed. The alternative, the abyssal thinking of Western modernity and dominant conceptions of law, is premised on the assumption that nonindigenous Western knowledge is the only true knowledge, thereby erasing, by definition, all that exists on the other side of the line.

Delightfully original and daring ... Storied Communities presents the most original and challenging uses of narrative methodology as a tool for legal and political analysis. Constance MacIntosh, Faculty of Law, Dalhousie University

It is neither easy nor commonplace in contemporary Canada to realize a coming together of storytellers and scholars immersed in Aboriginal identities on one hand and recent immigrant identities on the other. That is what this book promises and largely delivers. Shauna Van Praagh, Faculty of Law, McGill University

By bringing to light the links between narratives of contact and narratives arrival, Storied Communities, an innovative volume, opens up new ways to imagine, sustain, and transform political communities.

September 11: Consequences for Canada by Kent Roach (McGill-Queen’s University Press) is the first book-length examination of the after effects of September 11 on Canadians. In September 11, Kent Roach, professor of law at the University of Toronto , provides a critical examination of the consequences of September 11 for law, democracy, sovereignty, and security. He assesses a broad range of anti-terrorism measures including the Anti-terrorism Act, the smart border agreement, Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan , changes to refugee policy, the 2001 Security Budget, and the proposed Public Safety Act. Roach evaluates both the opposition of many civil society groups to the Anti-terrorism Act and the government’s defense of the law as necessary to prevent terrorism and consistent with human rights. He warns that exceptions to legal principles made to fight terrorism may spread to attempts to combat other crimes and suggests that Canadian law may not provide adequate protection against invasions of privacy or discriminatory profiling of people as potential terrorists.

With reference to controversial comments about September 11 made by Prime Minister Chretien and others and the debate about “anti-Americanism,” Roach examines whether September 11 has chilled Canadian democracy. He also examines the challenge September 11 presents for Canadian sovereignty on key components of foreign, military, and immigration policy and the possibility that Canadian Forces participated in violations of international law in Afghanistan . With specific reference to the threat of nuclear and biological terrorism and aviation safety, Roach argues that more emphasis on administrative and technological measures and less emphasis on criminal sanctions and military force may better protect Canadians from both terrorism and other threats to their security.

A fresh and readable analysis of the remarkable Canadian Government and public reactions to the events of September 11. Roach puts the events and Canada ’s reaction to them in perspective and many of his suggestions on how to increase security are excellent. – John Higginhotham, Canadian Centre for Management Development

September 11 provides American readers an independent perspective on the affects of September 11 on citizens’ rights and freedoms as well as on security issues.

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