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Archive for April, 2010

Leo Panitch on what socialism is, and liberalism isn’t

The socialist ‘utopian goal’ is built around realizing our potential to be full human beings. What separates this ideal from its liberal roots is not only socialism’s commitment to extending this principle to all members of society, but also its insistence that the flowering of human capacities isn’t a liberation of the individual from the social, but is only achievable through the social. Ideals are always linked to some notion of justice and freedom. Notions of justice revolve around the egalitarianism of certain outcomes (like distribution of income or wealth) or the legitimacy of a process for reaching goals even if the ultimate results are unequal (equal access to opportunities). Notions of freedom generally divide into freedom from an external arbitrary authority (the state) or the freedom to participate in setting the broad parameters that frame the context of our lives (as in current liberal democracies). The socialist ideal does not exclude these other moral spaces, but locates them on the specific terrain of capacities: capitalism is unjust and undemocratic not because of this or that imperfection in relation to equality or freedom, but because at its core it involves the control by some of the use and development of the potential of others, and because the competition it fosters frustrates humanity’s capacity for liberation through the social.1

  1. ”Transcending Pessimism”, Socialist Register 2000 []

Greg Albo “Neoliberalism, the State, and the left: A Canadian Perspective”

In the entries in this series I am writing about my current readings on left writings relating to neoliberalism in Canada.

Greg Albo’s1 essay sets out to analyze the state of neoliberalism in Canada in order to analyze the state of the left. As such, this essay is situated within the body of left work that is theorizing about how to have a successful mass movement to construct a socialist alternative. Rather than having an explicitly Gramscian analysis, Albo focus specifically on the contest between neoliberalism and the left as being a class struggle, and points out early that neoliberalism does not describe just a set of economic and financial policies, but rather a “particular form of class rule within capitalism” and that “neoliberalism developed out of an important shift in the balance of class forces and the defeat of the left” (48). Albo highlights three aspects of neoliberalism that he believe are important for the left to consider in its work to confront the neoliberal social order.

First, its is important to recognize the global economic developments of the last thirty years, and the entrenchment, internationally, of capitalists and their technical economic policies, and also the lack of a left alternative. Second, there have been transformations within the ruling block in Canada. Financialization and growth in export-oriented and multinational capital in Canada means that “the political terrain for another grand social compromise with a national bourgeoisie has evaporated” (51). Third, as most other left authors point out, it is “entirely misleading to see neoliberalism as an attack on the state in favour of the market, or as a hollowing out of the state to the global and local, or a bypassing of the state by corporate power” (51). Rather, control and use of the state has been and is an important tool for neoliberal class power. Albo, like Saad-Filho concludes that defeat of neoliberalism cannot come via electoral process: “the political role of the market is being strengthened to offset any democratic initiatives being fought through the state.” (52) And, he recognizes that important non-parliamentary action-oriented groups have already formed and done work, including union groups, the anti-globalization movement, anti-racist campaigns, and other. But, Albo believes that “the constructive challenges of a viable socialist politics remains—the capacity to wage strikes for class-wide demands, electoral gains advancing a radical political program, and building egalitarian social alternatives in our everyday lives” (53). His visions seems to be the creation of a radical political culture.

  1. Albo, Greg. “Neoliberalism, the State, and the Left: A Canadian Perspective.” Monthly Review 54, no. 1 (May 2002): 46-55. []

William Carroll and Murray Shaw “Consolidating Policy Neoliberal Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996”

In the entries in this series I am writing about my current readings on left writings relating to neoliberalism in Canada.

William Carroll and Murray Shaw’s essay “Consolidating Policy Neoliberal Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996”1 interrogates the activism of five prominent organizations that led, and continue to lead, the “consolidation of neoliberal hegemony in Canadian public policy”(195). These five organizations are the Conference Board of Canada, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Business Coalition on National Issues, the Fraser Institute, and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. Carroll and Shaw outline political and policy backgrounds of these five organizations, with a focus on the contexts that gave rise to each organization, and on the particular niche role that each organization plays in advancing neoliberal policy. For example, the Fraser Institute functions to create more legitimacy for far-right views by publishing a lot of material and disseminating it widely; the C.D. Howe Institute, in contrast, has an image of more academic rigour and functions as a mainstream legitimator of the economic principles of neoliberalism (fiscal responsibility, international competitiveness, etc.). In the final section of the paper, Carroll and Shaw, both sociologists, undertake to map the connections in the “corporate policy network,” particularly the instances of interlocking directorships between the five main policy activist groups and leading corporations. This is reminiscent of Ryerson’s analysis in ___, but with a focus on connections to neoliberal policy leaders. The study is also situated within a Gramscian framework, which the authors describe on pp 196-197, specifically outlining “four concepts which converge on a view of neoliberalism as a political and cultural accomplishment: a hegemonic accomplishment” (196).

  1. Carroll, William and Murray Shaw. “Consolidating a Neoliberal Policy Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996.” Canadian Public Policy 27, no. 2 (2001). []

Alfredo Saad-Filho “Marxian and Keynesian Critiques of Neoliberalism”

In the entries in this series I am writing about my current readings on left writings relating to neoliberalism in Canada.

In Alfredo Saad-Filho’s essay “Marxian and Keynesian Critiques of Neoliberalism,”1 he outlines the main thrusts of these two political-economic systems and assesses their relative strengths, accuracy, and usefulness. His point of departure is the observation that despite its recent unpopularity and political defeat in some parts of the world, neoliberalism remains “the dominant modality of social and economic reproduction in most countries” (337). Saad-Filho argues that by delineating the analyses of Keynesians and Marxists it becomes clear that only Marxism can adequately understand the continued dominance of neoliberalism. Specifically, Keynesianism fails in its level of analysis, in its underestimation of the agency of neoliberals in support of their (class) interests, and in its prescription for overcoming neoliberalism. Keynesianism analysis does not go deep enough in understanding the influence of neoliberalism: “Keynesian analyses tend to describe conflicts around the process of accumulation, while obscuring or ignoring completely conflicts about the nature of capitalist accumulation” (341). As a result it does not criticize capitalism. Keynesianism fails to appreciate the extent of the agency of those promoting neoliberalism, who will act in their own interests to ensure their continued wealth. Neoliberalism is “not merely a set of economic and social policies,” it “combines an accumulation strategy, a mode of social and economic reproduction and a mode of exploitation and social domination based on the systematic use of state power to impose…a hegemonic project of recomposition of the rule of capital in all areas of social life” (342). Finally, Keynesianism predicts that a strong government with the correct policies could overcome the neoliberal agenda. This both ignores the embeddeness of the state in the social, political, and economic forces that have been taken over by neoliberalism. Recognition of this embededness means acknowledging that change must involve popular movements that challenge the state.

  1. Saad-Filho, Alfredo. “Marxian and Keynesian Critiques of Neoliberalism.” Socialist Register, 2008: 337-345. []

Review of Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe

Rudy Wiebe. Big Bear. Extraordinary Canadians Series. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2008. pp. 208.

Rudy Wiebe’s Big Bear is the author’s contribution to John Ralston Saul’s “Extraordinary Canadians” series. Out of the fifteen biographies in the series, Big Bear is the only First Nation’s person to be profiled. This is particularly notable given that Saul’s recent book A Fair Country specifically argues for the importance of Indigenous knowledge in shaping Canada’s unique historical consciousness.

In the 200 pages of Big Bear, Wiebe tells the story of Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa), from the carefree days of his childhood until his death in 1888 following imprisonment. The first chapter opens with the striking sentence, “This story happened more than a century ago, but it is still going on” (1). With this, Wiebe immediately signals to the reader that he is challenging individualistic interpretations of history, interpretations which are colonizing insofar as they undermine indigenous interpretations of history in which the individual cannot be removed from the collective. Wiebe is thus asserting that the story of Big Bear is the story both of one man and of a whole people, of an individual and of a collective.

The majority of the book covers the time when Big Bear was the chief of his band, including the development of his political and spiritual leadership, his thoughtfulness in resisting making a treaty too rashly, his various interactions with colonial authorities, and the gross misunderstandings and misinterpretations of him by the white media. Wiebe constructs a complicated and profound character, a man with great physical and spiritual strength, derived on the one hand from having overcome smallpox as a child, and on the other from having been visited by the Great Parent of Bear during his adolescent spiritual quest.

What is most immediately striking about Wiebe’s telling of Big Bear’s life is his blending of two types of history. On the one hand, Wiebe clearly draws upon typical Western facts-and-dates history. But on the other, in his writing style and in his approach to what counts as important and what counts as valid, he is clearly drawing upon an Indigenous storytelling tradition. The latter of these two, I think, is what makes the book more interesting, and what raises the more interesting questions.

Wiebe, throughout the book, attaches great significance to Chief’s Son’s Hand, which is the main spiritual object in Big Bear’s life. It is a bundle of sacred objects, including a large bear paw, which was revealed to him by the Great Parent of Bear during his vision quest. The significance that Wiebe describes Chief’s Son’s Hand as having is spiritual in nature, but is also historical—Wiebe makes it clear that Chief’s Son’s Hand is an object of great historical importance not just because it belonged to Big Bear, who is an important historical figure, but because of its great spiritual significance in its own right. Wiebe does not trivialize or denigrate this importance. Nor does he qualify his description of the importance of Chief’s Son’s Hand:

[Great Parent of Bear] instructed [Big Bear] how to make the core of his sacred bundle. All his life, this sacred object was to be his sign that his prayer had been answered, that, under the Creator, the most powerful Spirit known to his People had come, and would come again, to help him whenever he prayed for guidance and strength, especially in war. (13)

Though Wiebe is a writer of historical fiction, his description of the powers of the sacred object is meant to be an accurate description, not fiction.

Any person writing about Indigenous peoples in Canada, and elsewhere, must be scrutinized with reference to the relationship of their work to the struggle for decolonization. Dawn Martin-Hill (2008) reminds us that, “a lot of past research has reduced Indigenous people to objects and dehumanized them to the point that they cannot recognize themselves. Today, part of Indigenous resistance is to speak and represent self, with no ‘expert’ Eurocentric analysis and authority”.1 With this in mind, it is important to ask ‘Who is Rudy Wiebe?’ And, ‘Who benefits from his writing?’

Weibe, born in 1934, is a white male Canadian of Mennonite descent who grew up in Saskatchewan, not far from the area where Big Bear was born. He has completed formal training in theology and has been a successful fiction writer, winning a Governor General’s prize for his 1973 book The Temptations of Big Bear. Wiebe is also the co-author of Stolen Life: The Journey of Cree Woman, which traces the life of the book’s co-author, Yvonne Johnson, who is Big Bear’s granddaughter, and who served 17 years in prison for murder. In short, Wiebe is a non-Indigenous writer who is sympathetic to the anti-colonial struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. He is also a writer with wide appeal, and who is in a position of being able to represent Indigenous peoples to a broad, mostly non-Indigenous, audience. As well, in his previous books he has worked closely with Indigenous communities, and seems to have made more than a token effort to understand historical narratives based on Indigenous knowledge.

That Wiebe is a non-Indigenous person writing in a style that attempts to make Indigenous versions of history more acceptable to a mainstream audience puts him in a delicate position. He treads the line between cultural appropriation and cultural solidarity. But, to suggest that no non-Indigenous person can or should write about indigenous subjects also seems problematic—it suggests that there is a line in the sand that cannot or should not be crossed. Wiebe’s work plays a role in encouraging contact with and understanding of Indigenous understandings of history. He embraces the complexity of the characters but also the complexity of history itself, including the complexity of combining Indigenous and Western historical methods. Wiebe is attempting to transcend the modernist dichotomy of fact versus fiction; he rejects this dichotomy because he knows that it does not exist in the intellectual tradition of the Cree, and thus it is not relevant to a telling of Big Bear’s story.

  1. Dawn Martin-Hill. The Lubicon Lake Nation: Indigenous Knowledge and Power, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 47. []

An Essay on Indigenous and Non-Indigenous views of Place

What role do places have in defining us, in making us who we are, and in reminding us who we are? In this essay, I want to explore what differentiates indigenous and non-indigenous experiences of place. Indigenous cultures in North America and the people who constitute them are generally seen to be intricately involved with place. What is the basis for this generalization of Indigenous culture? Where are there divergences and meetings between indigenous and non-indigenous relationships with place. Particularly, in thinking and reading about ‘place’ there are a few themes that emerge: the past, identity, learning and knowing, responsibility and morality, and wisdom. I argue that what differentiates indigenous and non-indigenous conceptions of place is the role and importance of building relationships. That being said, though I say ‘argue’, I want to try and get away from an oppositional approach, by which I do not at all want to presume that there is or could be a binary opposition between two generalized monolithic views of place.

Keith Basso (1996) writes about the connection between wisdom and places in the culture, or the way of being (the ontology), of the Western Apache. By looking at Basso’s work and the work of other indigenous authors I want to try to sketch an idea of what place is in indigenous philosophy. I mean place in a very broad sense, one that encompasses the landscape and all that goes into it. For example, my dad used to have a home on top of a hill outside of Peterborough. When I think of or write about that ‘place’ I am referring to the house, the locations of the different trees, the fences, the fields, the view in the distance, etc. But I also am referring to the memory of how the trees used to look, the memory of a tree before it became a stump, the knowledge that the field is also where baseball games happened, the lawn where parties happened, and the feelings associated with these events. So when I say place I mean the physical objects that make up that place but also the effects, emotional or otherwise, of what is known to have happened in that place. I think this could be called a holistic view of place, because it seeks to include as many aspects as possible in understanding place, rather than trying to distil an essential definition. I think that this is the same as what Brian Yazzie Burkhart (2004) means when he writes that “in American Indian philosophy we must maintain our connectedness, we must maintain our relations, and never abandon them in search of understanding, but rather find understanding through them” (p. 25). And so in this sense I intend to not restrict what I mean by ‘place.’

In writing about indigenous philosophy “in general” it seems to me that there is a risk of essentializing or generalizing the diversity of views found across Native American groups. That being said, different indigenous authors do write of a general Native American world view as being something that we can talk about without it being an act of colonializing generalization. For example, Vine Deloria Jr. (1999) asserts that it is possible to both recognize the diversity of First Nations and to advance ideas about a general Native American worldview: “two great truths exist side by side: (1) Indian nations are quite distinct from each other and (2) there is a great unanimity among native peoples when they express their views on the natural world and on the behaviour of humans within that world” (p. v, see also Smith, 2005, p. 117). So, keeping in mind the diversity of Native American cultures, it is possible to talk about indigenous views of place in a general way. As well, there is a risk that as a result of being afraid of generalizing, essentializing, or misrepresenting, no work will actually be done on discussing what constitutes ‘indigenous philosophy’ or ‘indigenous thought.’ I have these caveats in mind as I proceed.

Connections to place are fundamental to Indigenous ways of being. Marilyn Notah Verney (Diné) (2004) poses the question, “what is American Indian philosophy?” and, in trying to answer this question, her first principle is that relationships to the land must be central to any conception of Indigenous philosophy: “To understand American Indian Philosophy one must first understand our spiritual relationship, our connection with the land” (p. 134). Where does this spiritual connection come from and what is it? N. Scott Momaday writes:

From the time the Indian first set foot upon this continent, he centered his life in the natural world. He is deeply invested in the earth, committed to it both in his consciousness and in his instinct. The sense of place is paramount. Only in reference to the earth can he persist in his identity. (qtd. in Basso, p. 35)

So, deep spiritual connection is the result of the indigenous person centering her life in the natural world. As a result of this centering, the person’s identity, indeed her consciousness, is fundamentally tied to places. But still, what is this spiritual connection to the land; how does this centering in the natural world function? Basso writes of the connections between place, the past, identity and knowledge:

For Indian men and women, the past lies embedded in features of the earth—in canyons and lakes, mountains and arroyos, rocks and vacant fields—which together endow their land with multiple forms of significance that reach into their lives and shape the ways they think. Knowledge of places is therefore closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including one’s own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person. (Basso, p. 34, italics mine)

A person knows herself through knowing the land, and the land is the primary record of the past. Stories of the land, of specific places, pass on memories and knowledge of the past because they are tied to the land which, though it changes, is much more enduring than the lives of humans. And because of this, the land becomes the ultimate frame of reference. As Deloria, Jr. says, “American Indians hold their lands—places—as having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements are made with this reference point” (qtd. in Basso, p. 37). In an oral culture, the land becomes the ‘reference section’ for a community’s knowledge. Increasing your vocabulary then requires increasing your knowledge of places, your recognition of places. But, how does one have ‘knowledge of places’? What do I mean by this?

I think that in Native American philosophy the origins of ideas matter a lot more than they do in the western intellectual tradition. Indeed, one of the more exciting political-philosophical movements in the 20th century in the west is social constructivism, which seeks to gain knowledge and truth through tracing the genealogy of ideas back to their origins. The meanings of concepts like ‘freedom,’ ‘citizenship,’ ‘terrorism,’ etc., become taken for granted very quickly by the general public, and we forget the origin of these ideas as they become abstract concepts. Vine Deloria, Jr. (2004) contends that this does not happen in Indigenous cultures because of “the requirement that Indians place on themselves to have some kind of empirical verification for statements [which] precludes them from making the kind of statements the West takes as knowledge, and it keeps their minds open to receive the unexpected and to remember it” (p. 7). At first it may seem odd that Deloria, Jr. seems to be calling Indigenous epistemology some kind of strict empiricism akin to what was attempted by logical positivists. I do not think that this is what Deloria, Jr. means though. Rather, if every belief has to be justified by an appeal to experience or empirical statements, this requires physical objects, i.e. places, to play a major role. What role then do places play in Indigenous epistemology?

Basso explains how for the Western Apache (at least), the relationship with place goes further than identity and the past, moving to wisdom and morality. He says:

The knowledge on which wisdom depends is gained from observing different places ([so as] to recall them quickly and clearly), learning their Apache names (thus to identify them in spoken discourse and in song), and reflecting upon the traditional narratives that underscore the virtues of wisdom by showing what can happen when its facilitating conditions are absent. (p. 134)

So, wisdom depends upon knowledge, and knowledge depends upon place. Place—the land—is a medium for learning, for knowing, and I think that this is what Deloria, Jr. means by his empiricism—that knowledge is more valuable when it is rooted in something observable, i.e. the land. Earlier I made an analogy between the land and the reference section (of a library), and I think that this analogy can be expanded here. To learn more things about more places is like reading more books. Places are like books—the more you can read and whose contents you can remember and utilize, the more knowledgeable you are. And so places as holders of knowledge become especially important in an oral tradition because, not having written documents, places help stories to be remembered, to be passed on. The oral tradition itself, as opposed to a written tradition, is important because, “once ideas are written down, in black and white, those ideas become objects, something to be studied and taken apart. This process of writing separates our being in the world, an we can lose touch and become isolated from all our relations.” (Verney p. 138) On the other hand, stories which are about the land or take place on the land, and which, because they are not written down, cannot be dissected and thus encourage first hand place-based experiences. More importantly, stories in an oral tradition put you in contact with ancestors who have gone before in the same place.

Knowledge and collective memory are passed down not only through stories but also through ceremony. Gregory Cajete (2004) writes that, “Ceremony us both a context for transferring knowledge and a way to remember the responsibility we have to our relationships with life. Native ceremony is associated with maintaining and restoring balance, renewal, cultivating relationship, and creative participation with nature.” (p. 54) ‘Nature’, I think, encompasses place and all that happens in places. As well, ceremonies are often tied to particular places—places that have an important history and add meaning and significance to the ceremonies. Maureen Smith (2004) writes that, “Most tribal religions were land-based, with their cosmologies founded on the land, water, sky, and all of creation. Religion was geographically bound to sacred spots integral to spiritual practice” (p. 117). To explore the significance of ceremony and place further, a connection to morality and responsibility can be made. Ceremonies, in so far as they are about building relationships with other beings, involve strengthening or deepening social practices. John Dufour (2004) writes about how indigenous morality and responsibility are related to epistemology in the sense that ‘having beliefs’ is a morally regulated action—it is possible to have a morally irresponsible belief. Dufour says, “if systematized thinking about understanding or belief involves social practices, then if we are concerned about particular normative merits for belief or understanding, such merits will probably be rooted in such organized social practices” (p. 35). How this relates to ‘place’ is that if there is such a thing as “morally responsible believing” (p. 34) or understanding, and this believing is tied to social practices, like ceremonies, and ceremonies happen in places and involve attachment to places, then responsible, i.e. moral, learning depends on a having a certain, socially validated relationship to place.

I hope then that up to this point I have been able to sketch a image of the role of ‘place’ in indigenous culture in general. It is an image that involves interconnections between identity, collective memory, oral tradition, learning, knowing, morality and responsibility, all of which are rooted in some important way in places—in the land.

In thinking about indigenous conceptions of place I could not help but try to relate them to my own experiences of place. I recently returned to Peterborough, Ontario, the city where I passed my childhood. Since returning, after an absence of several years, as I have passed by familiar places I have been flooded by memories from childhood and youth of events, stories, and lesson-learning that occurred in these places. One evening I went walking through my old neighbourhood, and to the park behind the house where I grew up. What follows are my thoughts and reflections that evening; they are meant to help in this exercise of conceptualizing my relation to place.

I am visiting my old neighbourhood. I came in up behind the Fairhaven retirement home, where I played as a kid. It has changed a lot, but it is still a wild place there. Scraggly trees and thick vines on ground. Makeshift forts, garbage, a ruin of an old structure. Grassy bits in other places, and dried out waist-high plants that have burs that stick to your clothes. Another section there has little sumacs, with their fuzzy bark. Then there is the big hill. Then more tangle and then the road and it’s over. All of this was familiar to me. I expected it to be there and it was.

Heading the way I used to walk from middle school I reach my mom’s old house. New owners. New cars. Stacked wood. They are settled in. I looked in from a distance, from the edge of the property line and then continued to the park behind the house.

I don’t have a name for this place. I am here trying to think about ‘place’ and how this place, so strong in my memory of childhood, affects me, has affected me, continues to be a part of me. I don’t know when the last time I came back here was. Five years? But, I am surprised to feel mostly sadness, or loss, or perhaps it is absence. Maybe I am missing the people who made this place with me, or for me. It seems ghostly right now. It is cold, around zero, and getting dark. The sun has set. There is no one else around.

I went to bigrock, down in the brush by the creek, but it is not as big as I remember it being. I couldn’t get into it the way I used to. The entrance was overgrown. I had to go around. Everything seemed smaller. Especially the rock. I remember it being huge. But still it is all very familiar. The way the stream runs and curves. The vines above the rock. All very familiar. It was the same with my mom’s house, in a way. Familiar, but now someone else owns the house, so I can’t enter. In the same way I couldn’t enter bigrock the way I entered it as I did when I was a kid. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel like it was my place anymore. I was just visiting.

On the way here, on the trail behind Peter Robinson College, pointing to the ditch a man said to his granddaughter as I passed, “See that computer monitor down there? People shouldn’t do that should they?” Will she remember that spot and that lesson together?

Farther along the trail, crossing Antrim St., a teenager pulled up in a truck, jumped out and started running down the trail after a girl. She saw him and started running too. He stopped, giving up, looking upset and desperate. Will he remember this spot as a lesson in losing love?

What do I remember about this place, this tuft of wildness behind my childhood home? Lessons learned? Some, but mostly just snippets. Partial pictures of hiding in the grass, breaking rocks, catching crayfish, falling into the creek, sandwiches on white buns, no parents. I remember one incident well. We got caught throwing stones at the machinery on the roof of the strip-mall that is below the park. The owner of the convenience store yelled at us, and chased us. Someone lost a shoe and he grabbed it, using it to force us all back in order for its owner to reclaim it. After that I never contemplated damaging other people’s property for fun.

This was our world, our space. What is it now? It doesn’t even have a name. There is no one around. The swings and the slide are gone. All that’s left is the one lonely bench where I’m sitting.

A friend talked to me about ceremony and how that is what ties indigenous people, his people, to the land, in time and over time. What ceremony do I have to connect me to this place? Sitting alone on a bench in the cold looking at the 200 ft. t.v. tower in the distance on the hill, that broadcasts to the houses around me. This is sad. I have armchair philosophy; bench-thinking solitude.

What do I learn about my own relationship with places from these reflections? My experiences that evening seem to have some of the characteristics of ‘place’ that were highlighted as being important in Indigenous thought, but in a watered-down form. Of course this exercise is ‘flawed’ from the beginning in the sense that what I reflected upon that evening could not possibly be taken as an archetype for all experiences of place of non-indigenous people. Indeed, they cannot even necessarily be taken as representative of how I always relate to place, for I have different experiences of place at different times, and the influence of the time of day, the lack of company, and the temperature demonstrate how my reflections are not absolute but are relative. But these reflections can provide a way to think about at least one instance of an experience with place, in order that I might make comparisons with what I have previously written about indigenous concepts of place.

In terms of identity, I see my conception of myself as having been formed, to a large extent, in that park behind my mother’s old house. When I think about what makes the ‘me’ that I am now the same ‘me’ that I was when I was six and playing in that park I think back to activities mentioned in my reflections—the breaking rocks, catching crayfish, etc. And, I try to distil something fundamental about me out of the way that I approached those activities. I try to seek out the character traits that I have held throughout my life through trying to see them in those activities. But this attempt to distil something fundamental seems to be counter to what Burkhart says about an indigenous approach being to seek understanding by embracing as widely as possible. Though my ‘becoming who I am’ occurred in that park, I‘m not sure that I think of it as being a part of me beyond just having a sentimental fondness for it.

In terms of collective memory and oral tradition, as is clear in my reflections, I visited that place alone, and remarked upon a sense of absence that I was feeling. It may be that if I were to visit the park again, but this time with my childhood friends, it would be an entirely different experience. Perhaps all of our individual connections to the place would be strengthened by hearing the memories of the group. This would be a process of strengthening relationships with each other and that place, akin to what Cajete attributes to ceremony, though in this case it would be much more shallow. And if this meeting of childhood friends were to take place, we would not be feverishly writing down all that was being said. Rather we would be telling stories, stories intimately attached to specific places. Bigrock would take on greater and greater significance through the telling of more and more stories of events that took place there. This seems to highlight the social characteristic of indigenous relations to place.

In terms of learning and knowing, for indigenous philosophy it seems that learning or coming to know can only happen via places, or at least this is the type of knowing that builds and respects relations. In my walk back to my old neighbourhood I observed two interesting interactions, one between a man and his granddaughter and the other between two upset teenagers. Both of these events seem to be obvious cases of learning a lesson, in the first case a lesson in not littering, and in the latter a lesson in the fleetingness of love. Both of these events, as all events do, occurred in a particular place; but, will the lessons learned be tied to these places through what Basso describes as a process of observing, learning names, and reflecting? I do sometimes think back to the stone throwing property damage incident that I described, but what is lacking is the name. As Deloria, Jr. says, “most American Indian tribes embrace “spatial conceptions of history” in which places and their names—and all that these may symbolize—are accorded central importance” (qtd. in Basso, p. 34). The reason that names, as labels, are important is that they only come to be required in social situations, i.e. when there is more than one person. Naming allows people to refer to the same object or place. And, as Dufour has pointed out, in social situations morality comes into play. In indigenous philosophy, I have argued, morality requires a certain socially validated relationship to place, and this validification comes (at least) through ceremony. In my reflections, though there are examples of lesson learning that relates to places, the lack of naming of these places and the lack of socially validated process of believing shows a difference between indigenous and non-indigenous approaches.

What conclusions can be drawn about the differences between indigenous and non-indigenous conceptions of place? I think that what underlies the differences between the two is the idea of relations—with other humans, with the land, with ancestors, and all other beings. The non-indigenous penchant for abstraction facilitates a lack of being grounded in the ‘beingness’ of all beings. As Marilyn Notah Verney says, “We came to be from within the womb of Mother Earth. Mother Earth is home for all living beings: human people, animal people, plant people, everything in the universe” (p. 134)

Works Cited

Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Burkhart, Brian Yazzie. “What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us: An Outline American Indian Epistemology,” in Anne Waters ed., American Indian Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Cajete, Gregory. “Philosophy of Native Science,” in Anne Waters ed., American Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Deloria Jr., Vine. preface to Norbert S. Hill, Words of Power: Voices of Indian Fulcrum Publishing, 1999.

Deloria, Jr. Vine. “Philosophy and the Tribal Peoples,” in Anne Waters ed., Indian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

DuFour, John. “Ethics and Understanding,” in Anne Waters ed., American Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Smith, Maureen E. “Crippling the Spirit, Wounding the Soul: Native American Spiritual And Religious Suppression,” in Anne Waters ed., American Indian Thought. Malden,MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Verney, Marilyn Notah. “On Authenticity,” in Anne Waters ed., American Indian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.