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Barry Stephenson 🫐

Barry Stephenson 🫐

Mar 11
28 tweets

🧵 1/28 In situations of intercultural conflict words are seldom enough. They ought to spring from or principate action; occasionally, they become actions that mark resolutions, proffer apologies, alter attitudes; words can also cut.

2/28 Indigenous identity is a ‘complex topic,’ and Indigenous people talk about it and need to be heard. But an admittedly non-Indigenous person educating people on the complexities of Indigenous identity is not the best move, especially during a crisis of identity,
3/28 to say nothing of doing it to try and avert or wiggle out of that crisis. What is at stake in this latest crisis at MUN - and it is a crisis for individuals and for the institution - is not that Indigenous identity is “complex,” but that white identity is a complex.
4/28 So, being white, let me talk about that. It would be safer to be quiet. I hear the words of Harold Cardinal, “Who can understand the whiteman? What makes him tick? Why does he talk so much?” I’ll talk, or at least write, a little.
5/28 I’ve never much liked the term ‘whiteman.’ But we need such terms to connote group, collective actions and experiences, and it evokes, reflects my people’s historic role as oppressor.
6/28 I am settler. The term describes how I came to be here, living on/in this land. My ancestors were from Europe. They came seeking a better life: Norwegians, Swedes, English, Irish and Germans. The Norwegians left in the 1840s, fleeing a situation little better than serfdom.
7/28 The estates that comprised Norway were that of King/nobility, the Church, and wealthy landowners, like the Liens, one of the farm estate families that imputed its name onto my ancestors, who happened to be born on that farm, as intergenerational tenant labour.
8/28 When the chance came to get out, they got out, and eventually wound up on the prairies during the era of ‘land grants,’ in the 1920s.
9/28 My English ancestors were Northumberland coal miners. The work was brutal. Men, women, & children as young as eight worked 12-hour days. The children were ‘trappers,’ opening and closing vents. The women were ‘hurriers’ they pushed & pulled the wagons out of the mines.
10/28 In 1842 there was a government report published by the Children’s Employment Commission, revealing the oppressive, dehumanizing conditions faced by coal labour. So, these English ancestors, when they had the chance to get out, they got out.
11/28 They arrived in the east, and, in generational steps, kept going west, winding up in Alberta on those same land grants.
12/28 And so on, down the line. My ancestors were Europe’s poor & exploited, who served as knowing or unknowing or half-knowing agents of violent conquest & colonization.
13/28 They were handed land taken by force and legitimized and maintained by religion, the police, and law, in what was mostly Cree territory, in east-central Alberta.
14/28 When we whites first ‘encountered’ Indigenous peoples on this continent, we had to ask ourselves questions about our own identity. For various reasons & with varied motives, often malignant, we wanted to know not only who ‘they’ were, but who we were in relation to ‘them.’
15/28 Are we Friend of Enemies? Are ‘they’ obstacles? Helpers? Partners? Shall we join them, learn from them, live alongside them, negotiate with them, listen to them? Shall we try to conquer them? Abuse them, exploit them, ignore them? Are we superior or inferior or equals?
16/28 Are we guests or owners? Where is our place? With them, on this land? Or back home? If they are from here, where are we from?
17/28 Identity is both a personal and social event. We are who we are in relation to others. And we whites trying to understand the ‘other’ while actually engaged in trying to understand ourselves can be deadly – literally deadly.
18/28 Since arriving in this land, settlers have assumed a variety of postures towards Indigenous peoples: aggression (informing conquest, conversion, exploitation); detachment (studying); apathy (unconscious); receptive (appreciating, learning, appropriating, assimilating).
19/28 History tells the tale of which postures carried the day. Receptivity is what was & is needed; I’d like to think I embody it; but it is not without problems. Openness to Indigenous peoples, to narratives, to ceremonies may be little more than a prelude to appropriation.
20/28 We came for land & resources, then stories & the bones of the dead and ceremonies, & now, in the ‘pretendian’ era, the latest version of wannabeism, we come for identities.
21/28 John Collier, the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1933-1945) wrote that the “Southwestern Indian tribes have a message for the world… [one] of unexpected urgency.” For Collier, a dead or dying white, industrial civilization could be revived by embracing Indigenous
22/28 spirituality. But spirit catching is a double edged sword. In the 19th century, some of we whites started joining groups akin to the “Friends of the Indian,” established in 1833. That group became a driving force behind the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887.
23/28 Thinking they we were helping Indigenous people, the result of the Act was devastating. I support the Indigenization of the University, but let's remember the Irish saying about what paves the road to hell.
24/28 White people, settlers, must join (ally with, be friends with) Indigenous people, in questioning the nature of white attitudes, intentions, programs. As I see it, there are at least two questions: Whether good intentions have, in fact, been good. And, what to do when
25/28 there is a pervasive, on-going disconnect between intentions and results. Good feelings, good intentions, good will – these may be terribly misinformed, terribly misguided, even should those intentions wind up doing some good.
26/28 The implications for we white people of appropriating or nestling up to Indigenous identities are enormous: not just for the Indigenous, but for whites. We ought to stop doing it. Being a friend or ally is hard enough; but if we can more of a friend,
27/28 we might actually come to live in this land alongside its First peoples. It works the other way, too. Indigenous people are often enough friends of settlers. And what friends do is listen to one another. Right now, there are some very high-level, authentic Indigenous voices
28/28 who have a laid down a path forward out of the mess we are in. We settlers should listen to them. President Timmons should step aside, while an investigation is conducted. We cannot sweep this under the rug without losing whatever legitimacy we have left.
Barry Stephenson 🫐

Barry Stephenson 🫐

son, brother, husband, father + more, incl. Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Memorial University.
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