- Aboriginal Canada Revisited
Academic publishers have distanced themselves largely from the production of conference proceedings and Festschrifts because of the shortcomings characteristic of these volumes. The former are often unfocused thematically, featuring, as they do, the diverse contributions from several conference sessions. Both types of anthology may be uneven in quality, featuring the work of both neophytes and seasoned researchers side by side. And both run the risk of becoming dated upon release, because of the logistical issues associated with editing the work of several different authors that must be resolved before publication. However, these works also contain nuggets of gold that might be lost without careful reading, and Aboriginal Canada Revisited is no exception.
This anthology comprises the conference proceedings from the third Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Symposium entitled 'Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in the 21st Century,' which was held in April 2005 at the University of Greifswalf, Germany. The conference theme, as the title suggests, focuses on continuity and change. More specifically, the anthology sets out to address the following questions: How much has the status of Aboriginal peoples within the nation and their relation to mainstream Canada changed? How much have Aboriginal people been able to decolonize Canadian institutions and public discourses? What has been achieved on the way toward emancipation of Aboriginal Canada? The volume serves a second, but no less important, purpose, in that its publication is also intended to honour the career of German scholar Helmut Lutz, an internationally known pioneer in Aboriginal cultural studies and literary criticism.
While the questions themselves suggest a certain bias to the volume from the outset, portions of Kerstin Knopf's introductory chapter might appear to confirm the view that social and economic conditions in 'Aboriginal Canada' have progressed very little over the last few decades. Despite the availability of more recent (and more positive) statistical data as cited in her bibliography, the editor chooses to emphasize figures cited from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), which present a depressing and dated snapshot of life.
Fortunately the essays that follow provide much clearer, if sometimes uneven, snapshots of the situation. The contributions have been divided into five sections: 'Health, Social Issues, and Politics,' 'Education,' 'Imagining and Imaging the "Indian,"' 'Literature,' and 'Print Media and [End Page 553] Film.' There are fifteen essays in this collection, all of which have something unique to offer. However, like all anthologies, certain sections are perhaps more engaging than others, depending one one's personal interests. Rather than attempt to discuss every single essay in this anthology, I have chosen to focus on one section - 'Imaging and Imagining the Indian' - that stood out for me.
Geneviève Susemihl's 'The Imaginary Indian in German Children's Non-Fictional Literature' provides a perceptive glimpse into the persistence of stereotypic images of Aboriginal people among German youth, arriving at the regretful conclusion that the traditional, nostalgic stereotypes of the past have now been replaced by more modern, dysfunctional notions of aboriginality. This is followed by Siobhán Smith's 'The Art of Exclusion: The Status of Aboriginal Art in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection,' which examines the decades-long struggles over the collection mandate of Ontario's McMichael Canadian Art Collection. This is a fascinating morality tale of wealthy patrons, Canadian art history, government legislation, and aesthetic racism all rolled into one.
As mentioned earlier, it is hard to develop an anthology of such broad thematic scope and maintain a consistently high standard throughout. Some additions to this collection would have enhanced the overall quality. For example, a commissioned essay dealing with the Kelowna Accord, to be included at the conclusion of the volume, would have provided a timely update to several of the works in the anthology, as would an article devoted to the 2008 official federal government apology for residential school abuse. A cursory review of the catalogues of the major Canadian academic publishers, particularly UBC Press, would have identified a number of current books that should have been included in the citations of these articles (Richard Daly's Our Box Was Full: An...