Pioneer Lies & Propertied Lives

Pioneer Lies and Propertied Lives: Cultures of Colonial Unknowing on Turtle Island brings together visual culture specialists from across northern Turtle Island to examine the overlapping colonial histories on this land. We pay attention to the familiar legacies of Canadian art historical scholarship, by focussing on visual and material sources that explore land through what Goenpul scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson has termed “white possessive” logic (2015), only to seek out new avenues for understanding visual creativity.

Our research focusses on how the visual evidence of white European settlement’s “violent placidity” suggests that there has been no disruption in settler colonial violence despite the ways in which settlers like to creatively reimagine Canada: as innocent, exceptional for its benevolent apologies, and as a less violent place than the United States. What has resulted is an ongoing expansion of settler colonial violence that has directly followed earlier imperialist violence through the continued over-exploitation of non-human animals, plants, waterways, and land. And throughout, white settler artists emerged to produce creatively nostalgic visions of settler violence as the placid foundations of the white settler state.

The visual histories of settler colonialism are complex and crucial, and they demonstrate how settler legacies of Indigenous elimination and erasure intersect with legacies of slavery and anti-Black racism and what Chicasaw scholar Jodi Byrd (following African-Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite) calls “arrivant” colonial encounters — which Byrd refers to as “people forced into the Americas through the violence of European and Anglo-American colonialism and imperialism around the globe…” (2011, xix). Our project research pays particular attention to these intersections as we explore the visual record of these interrelated colonial encounters of settlement, slavery, and post-colonial and anti-colonial struggle.

Erin Morton, Principal Investigator
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Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Jodi A. Byrd, “Is and Was: Poststructural Indians without Ancestry,” Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

Let your back bone rise

Featured Artwork:
Brandy Saturley, Let Your Backbone Rise, 2016.  Acrylic on canvas (91.5 x 91.5 cm)