HIST 1715 “Looking at the Past” exam example

(shared with student permission, with thanks to Rose Grant)

This essay was written in response to the following optional final exam question:

Using the materials from this course as a guideline (articles, films and videos, lectures, podcasts, class discussions, shared notes, and writing exercises), investigate your own personal and family history in relation to histories of colonialism. Tell the story of your ancestors or family members and/or your community(ies) by speaking to your relatives and community members, by conducting family history or genealogical research, and/or by finding out what you and your family’s role has been in your own local experience of colonialism. One outcome may be that you and your family has directly participated in colonial oppression and violence (i.e., living on Indigenous land, benefiting from histories of enslavement); what responsibilities do you think you and your family have in making reparations for colonial violence? Another outcome may be that you and your family have resisted and continue to resist colonial oppression and violence; what have you learned from your ancestors, family members, and community(ies) about this resistance? Of course, these are just examples, and many family histories will demonstrate complex relations with colonialism that don’t fall easily or neatly into these two outcomes. The goal of this question is to get you to think about how colonial legacies affect every one of us in different and overlapping ways. My suggestion would be to only tell the stories that you feel comfortable sharing, and to not feel pressure in this assignment to reveal too much personal information if you don’t want to. I am happy to answer any questions that you might have about this. Please use at least one source from the course (readings, art, films, lectures, podcasts, etc.) to help write this essay.

“My family history demonstrates the ongoing legacies of colonization. It is necessary to discuss the connections between land stealing and the perpetuation of the wealth gap when discussing my family history. The myth of meritocracy is present when many discuss my family history. My grandfather, Ernie, a veteran of World War 2, bought the land I live on in the 1970s for approximately 3000 dollars. He bought the property because of his designation in society. Ernie did not grow up, just a few kilometres away, on a reserve that did not always provide clean drinking water, nor was he affected by the Indian Act, which did not allow Indigenous people proper property rights. Consequently, Ernie provided his children with generational wealth, built by the capitalist system of land division which has displaced Indigenous people. My family has benefited from the violent process of colonization, historically and presently. Until 2009, my house was directly across an island that was a racial slur against Indigenous people. The island was an important gathering place for Indigenous people for around 3,000 years. Even though the name was changed, some settlers have been hesitant to call it by a proper, new name.”

“Now I comprehended that the narrative that my grandfather worked hard, from the ground-up, to purchase property was factual, but left out reasons why he could buy the property. Like Sheelah McLean’s realization, I recognized that the stories were “narratives that reproduced the idea that our collective family wealth and status as white settlers was earned through ingenuity” (McLean, 32). The narrative that my family worked hard for what they have, to reach success, is a narrative that must be interrogated. It assumes that those who are not successful must be lazy. The narrative perpetuates the myth that Indigenous people did not work hard for what they have, and it clouds the reality that Indigenous people had land stolen, cultures removed, and worlds ruined.”

“My grandfather was able to exercise his democratic rights, have good public education, and receive low-cost loans, while all of that was taken away from individuals who lived just kilometres away on a reserve (McLean, 33). In a country that prides itself on democratic principles, law, and justice, the Indigenous people living just kilometres away were under water boils while settlers profited from land, constructing the “Canadian Dream” around the corner. My location is directly affiliated with the capitalist system that divides land into property, perpetuating individualism. The land that I reside on is a constant reminder of the connection between whiteness and the process of Indigenous elimination of land. The inheritance of the land I live on, bought by my grandfather, set conditions for my life before my birth.”

“My grandfather spent years working on the property that I reside on to this day. Many trees serve as reminders of his life since he planted them. Ernie was a soil scientist and received a master’s in his field from a generous scholarship that were rewarded to white settlers’ dis-proportionality. Tools he used to grow the property value were tools made through the “Highways of Empire,” born through the Industrial Revolution. Much of the raw materials were turned into commodities that he used to make his job easier. His place on the highway was the receiver, someone far removed from the exploitation caused by the extraction of raw goods, made into tools. During his life, multi-national cooperation’s were growing, as was globalization, making tools easier to buy at cheap rates.”

“My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Grant, whose family received a land grant, designed the Cape Breton Tartan. My great-grandmother said that the tartan was designed to exemplify “Black for the wealth of our coal mines, Grey for our Cape Breton steel, Green for our lofty mountains, our valleys and our fields; Gold for the golden sunsets, Shining bright on the lakes of Bras d’Or, To show us God’s hand has lingered, To bless Cape Breton’s shores” (P Smith and G Teall, 1992). Everything that the tartan represented had connections to colonization and imperialism. Grant designed a tartan for a “new place” that had rich history and was stolen. She designed a tartan for a new area, that had once been named the “middle of nowhere,” even though it is sacred Indigenous land.”

“When I ponder the phrase “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” I often consider my role in the colonization process. I obtain the benefits from colonization, and I am on the receiving end of colonization. As a white settler, I do not see the exploitation that comes with colonization, and the process of colonization seemed distant to me in my childhood. I do not have the lived experience of those exploited by colonization, through big systems like public education and criminal justice. Reconciliation can be attained is through “substantial transfer of power, wealth and resources” (Palmater, 2015). The statement allowed me to ponder the property I live on and the power, wealth, and resources it has allowed my family to receive. I must educate myself further on Indigenous culture and history and educate those around me.”

HIST 1715 “Looking at the Past” 13-episode podcast, 2021

Episode 13 Looks at Dayna Danger’s photography series Big’Uns with the scholarship and activism of Jas M. Morgan, and their 2017 “Kinship” issue of Canadian Art magazine.

HIST 1715 “Looking at the Past” drawing assignment

inspired by Micah Lexier’s A Minute of My Time (1997), as shown in Canadian Art’s 2020 feature “Canadian Art in the Time of Coronavirus”

Micah Lexier, A Minute of My Time (May 14, 1999 17:22 – 17:23), 1999. Paper, thread, pencil and rubber stamped ink, 21.5 x 27.9 cm. Courtesy Birch Contemporary.

After Micah Lexier…

HIST 5702 Art, Place & Popular Culture Honours Seminar Conference, 2017

  • Whiteness and Myths of Meritocracy
    • Moderated by Emily Wood, MA Candidate
      1. Henry Snyder, “White Is Money: Settler Colonialism and the Role of the Government of New Brunswick in Reinforcing Whiteness”
      2. Kevin Ouellette, “‘What Should White People Do?’: Dismantling the Historiography of Everyday White Privilege”
  • Black Freedom, Long Emancipation
    • Moderated by Carlie Manners, MA Candidate
      1. Zoe Jackson, “‘We’re Rooted Here and they Can’t Pull Us Up’: Tracing Settler Colonialism, Black Freedom, and Contested Space in the Maritimes, 1785-2018”
      2. Nicole Maxwell, “‘Policing Black Lives’: Canada and 150 Years of State Violence”
  • Indigenous Resistance to Settler Governance
    • Moderated by Emily McPherson, MA Candidate
      1. Samantha Godin, “Fishing for Equality: Mi’kmaq Treaty Rights and The Marshall Decision”
      2. Brittany Long, “‘The State is a Man’: Canada’s MMIWG National Inquiry”