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Race, Ethnicity, Indigenous Peoples and Politics

L17(a) - Decolonizing Refugee Studies, Decolonizing ‘Rights’, and Decolonizing Political Theory

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 305

Chair/Président/Présidente : Nisha Nath (Athabasca University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Nisha Nath (Athabasca University)

“These Waters Belong to the Salmon”: Fish Farms and “Colonial Unknowing” on the West Coast: Brydon Kramer (University of Victoria)
Abstract: On September 5, 2018, six wild salmon defenders boarded a vessel at a shipyard in Victoria BC to hang two banners calling for the removal of fish farms from coastal waters. Re-presenting the action as an act of “protest,” local and national media outlets cited dwindling stocks of wild salmon as the primary motivating factor for the action and emphasized that all six “protestors” were eventually removed and arrested. However, media coverage neglected to mention that this action was led by a Kwakwaka’wkaw matriarch, nor did sources acknowledge that Kwakwaka’wkaw waters continue to be used and polluted by fish farms without their consent. This paper connects the presence of fish farms in Kwakwaka’wkaw waters to how media and police responded to the salmon defenders’ action. I argue that all three can be understood as acts of containment and enclosure that contribute to what Vimalassery et al (2016) call “colonial unknowing”—in other words, media and police responses to the action are understood as functioning in conjunction with the presence of fish farms to (re)produce epistemological counter-formations that seek to render Kwakwaka’wkaw relationalities and knowledges unknowable. In fact, by re-presenting salmon defenders as protesters—and even criminals—media and police responses constitute an act of (willful) ignorance that works to occlude the fact that this action is an example of a Kwakwaka’wkaw elder attempting to honor her relations with the salmon, which are not only an important source of food in Kwakwaka’wkaw society but also a way of life.


Naming the Elephants in the Room, Decolonizing Refugee Studies: Sedef Arat-Koc (Ryerson University)
Abstract: This paper proposes two analytical steps to contribute to the decolonization of refugee studies and dominant refugee discourses. One step is to identify and critique its Euro/West centrism. The other is to question and challenge the curious and conspicuous gap (which we may call a “parallax gap”) between refugee studies and international politics. Regardless of the specific analytical perspective they take (conservative, liberal or neo-Marxist) or the political position they may express (pro or anti), refugee studies and discourses share a Euro/West centric outlook and concerns, focusing on nation-state specific arguments and concerns regarding whether to accept or reject entry to refugees. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Euro/West centrism in refugee studies and discourse goes side by side with an academic and political blindness regarding the relationship between the factors that lead to refugee movements and Western foreign policy. The absence of such analysis has become especially conspicuous in the post-Cold War period. Even though critical scholarship and discourse have to some extent addressed the impacts of economic globalization, they have not addressed the ways in which Western politics have been implicated in the wars and conflicts that have resulted in mass displacement. The paper argues that the absence of discussion on foreign policy in turn feeds the Euro/West centrism in refugee studies, perpetuating the dominant notion that refugee admission on the part of Western states is simply an act of charity –which may be extended or denied.


Called to Witness: Methodology and the Ethical Imperative for Storytelling in Indigenous Political Theory Scholarship: Kelly Aguirre (University of Victoria)
Abstract: In Pacific Northwest Indigenous societies, including the Coast Salish nations, there is a protocol of calling formal witnesses at momentous events who are tasked with committing their details to memory, providing commentary and recalling them as caretakers of history. This paper will consider how this protocol can inform storytelling principles for Indigenous political theory scholarship recounting flashpoint political events, methodologically and ethically. That is, how theorists’ ways of retelling an event’s stories, linking them with others through time to suggest patterns and significance, can model the responsibilities this protocol entails. Hannah Arendt’s reflections on political theorists’ role as storytellers, particularly in contexts where totalizing power bears on the reproduction of facts and truths, will be drawn upon to address questions around the risks of publicly disclosing Indigenous stories, including appropriation and deformation. Concern tends to focus on sacred knowledge carried in oral tradition or regarding more immediately experiential stories, those testifying to colonial violence and trauma - as in the setting of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose official mandate and reporting included reference to the witnessing protocol. Yet such questions are equally applicable to affirmative stories of resilience, resistance and resurgence. Rather than withdraw from speaking for the risks involved, we can work critically against harmful modes of theorizing that denigrate or minimize Indigenous achievements, while aiding their amplification or resonance without assuming an authorial or interventionist posture that aims to fill silences, ignores refusals and imposes meaning. We can act as respectful witnesses of and for decolonial transformation.


Palestinian Women’s Activism: Decolonizing Rights, Decolonizing Palestine: NW | NND ()
Abstract: For Seyla Behnabib, “human rights are uncoerced democratic iterations among peoples/cultures of the world” (Benhabib, 2011: L2309). However, Palestinians are excluded from the supposedly free public sphere[s] within which democratic iterations define human rights. Further, Ariella Azoulay (2014) contends that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deliberately excludes the right of Palestinians to their homeland. Within this context, how do community-based Palestinian women activists define and claim their rights to decolonization of Palestinian identity, land, and leadership? Through the life histories of five Palestinian women aged 17-85, this paper explores how community-based activism can be used to disrupt dominant human rights discourses, subvert formal political processes, and create civil society microspaces in which human rights can be (re)defined and decolonized. Thawra, Khalida, Nur, Aisha and Majida reject the colonial misframing (Fraser, 2008) which results in refusal to expand human rights to address their lived experiences of violations. Instead, they employ strategies of community protection, acts of solidarity, awareness-raising, organizing and mobilizing not only to advance the decolonization of human rights by stretching notions of rights to accommodate the liberation of Palestine, but also the decolonization of Palestine through building a critical mass of Palestinians struggling for liberation. Azoulay, A. (2014). Palestine as symptom, Palestine as hope: Revising human rights discourse. Critical Inquiry, 40(4): 332-364. Benhabib, S. (2011). Dignity in adversity: Human rights in turbulent times [Kindle Cloud Version]. Cambridge: Polity Press. Fraser, N. (2008). Scales of justice: Reimagining political space in a globalizing world. New York: Columbia University Press.