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Countering Colonial Control: Imagining Environmental Justice and Reconciliation in Indigenous and Canadian Writer-Activism

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Title: Countering Colonial Control: Imagining Environmental Justice and Reconciliation in Indigenous and Canadian Writer-Activism
Author: Follett, Alec
Department: School of English and Theatre Studies
Program: Literary Studies / Theatre Studies in English
Advisor: Ferguson, Jade
Abstract: This dissertation considers the role of Indigenous knowledge in Joseph Boyden’s, Thomas King’s, and Rita Wong’s counter-discourse to the colonial control over Indigenous peoples’ land relations. Boyden, King, and Wong are part of a long history of Canadian and Indigenous writer-activists who have turned to literature to comment on the intertwined social and ecological violences caused by mapping colonial and capitalist relations onto Indigenous land; however, I argue that Boyden’s, King’s, and Wong’s early-twenty-first century writing has been constructed in relation to the notion of reconciliation. As such, their writing not only demonstrates that the recovery and enactment of Indigenous knowledge without interference from state, corporate, or settler actors is a precondition for environmental and epistemological justice, but also that justice requires the participation of non-Indigenous peoples who are willing to partake in non-colonial acts of relation building. In addition, I also address each writer-activist’s extra literary efforts—some of which have proved contentious. I argue that studying the strategies and challenges associated with their cultural work is necessary to develop a critical understanding of the complicated and influential figure of the writer-activist. I conduct my analysis, as a white-settler scholar, by turning to environmental justice scholarship, which provides a framework for connecting social and environmental issues, as well as for understanding the function of self-positioning and marginalized knowledges in the justice and research processes. In chapter one, I consider how Thomas King (Cherokee) offers an intercultural alternative to resource extraction projects that are grounded in Indigenous cultural stories. In chapter two, I read self-proclaimed Indigenous author Joseph Boyden’s Mushkegowuk novels (after his fall from stardom) for the way food functions as an accessible but limited means of making legible alternatives to colonial institutions that have controlled Indigenous land relations. In chapter three, I engage with Rita Wong’s self-reflexive activism and poetry, in which Wong places knowledge systems in conversation to generate sustainable and equitable intercultural relations with water. In doing so, this dissertation contributes to the study of Canadian environmental literature, which has yet to adequately consider the relationship between activist literature, reconciliation, and environmental injustices affecting Indigenous peoples. 
Date: 2020-04
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