Sophie McCall and Gabrielle Hill, The Land We Are.

Citation: McCall, Sophie, and Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill. “Introduction.” The Land We Are: Artists & Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation. Winnipeg: ARP Books, 2015.

Argument:   Canada’s recent promotion of reconciliation as the correct direction for Indigenous-settler relations has included funding for arts projects, meaning that the settler state is attempting to incorporate artistic expression. Meanwhile, the authors argue that Indigenous (and sometimes settler) artists are using collaboration and artistic production to resist and subvert Canada’s reconciliatory turn, and the types of remembering, forgetting, and modes of moving forward that the State relies upon to maintain the status quo. Land is of central importance, as reconciliation often allows for speaking and acting, but not claiming space.

Scope/Organization/Main Points:

I’m just going to read through the look for parts where they talk explicitly about land. (I might have to eventually read this whole book; maybe during my dissertation work!) “Belmore’s work foregrounds the importance of such activism [artistic], frames barricades as places of creativity and community, and asserts a role for art and artists at sites of dissent between Indigenous people and the settler colonial system” (1).  “Not only does the subject matter” of the TRC” exclude land rights or restitution, the terms of the discussion are set” when the TRC states that artists must be included in conversations about “truth and reconciliation” (2).

Consequently, publically funded exhibits have likewise been constricted by the discourse within which the TRC works. It is within this context that “artists and writers explore how art and the narrative of reconciliation have been shaped by these funding bodies, and furthermore they assert the potential of art to contribute to a project which, through a critical take on reconciliation, foregrounds issues of land, spiritual and epistemological resurgence, and ideological struggle” (2).

Artistic collaboration has “address[ed] the rewards and challenges of working through difference within collaborative relationships, often highlighting the divergence among their voices as much as their confluence” (3).  There are “many fracture lines within discourses of reconciliation: fractures created by and through the struggle for decolonizing Indigenous lands, peoples, and histories in Canada. To Canada’s offer of a reconciliation based on closure and unity, the artists in this book make a counter-offer of conflict and disjuncture; they acknowledge the experience of colonialism as ongoing, and dissent as a righteous and productive space from which we might continue to forget a world together” (4).

Throughout the book “is an insistence on the importance of land to any discussion of the relations between Indigenous people, settlers, and the state. Another commonality is a belief in the role that art can and must play – whether that role is one of healing, disruption, or contributing to an ideological shift” (6).  “Many contributors draw attention to the uneasy relationship between ongoing struggles over land and the demand to embrace reconciliation as if it were an alternative to addressing land rights” (10).

“While the official terms of reconciliation often distract from more materially grounded demands for restitution and social change, the artists and writers in this book insist that Indigenous land rights are central to reimagining the future between Indigenous and settler peoples” (12).  Conversely, “galleries, museums, universities, and other art institutions have taken on art and reconciliation as a theme” (12).  Some art spaces act as “spaces of ‘perpetual conciliation’ (38)” and “these sovereign display territories have potential as places of cross-cultural exchange, in which historically entrenched roles are consciously challenged and re-imagined” (13).

Embodiment and collaboration are key: “The goal of many of the works collected in this volume is to get a diverse range of people engaged in a process of reconceiving a future in the relationship between Indigenous peoples, settlers, and the Canadian state, and to think through in an active, embodied way the contested discursive terrain surrounding reconciliation and decolonization. Land emerges as an important recurring theme – one that exposes as disingenuous a supposedly ‘new’ era of reconciliation. Rather than accepting overly idealistic notions of art as a balm for the wounds created by a colonialism situated in the past, the contributors have asserted a place for art in the conflicts created by the ongoing project of settler colonialism in Canada” (18).

Points of Importance/Interest: 

  • Art as constituting a relationship with place is particularly useful for me as I find ways to think about art as treaty.
  • The role of “certainty” in land claims (7-8).     



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