- This Is Not a Peace Pipe: Towards a Critical Indigenous Philosophy
Dale Turner's This Is Not a Peace Pipe opens with the claim that if indigenous peoples want the relationship between themselves and the Canadian state to be informed by their distinct world views, then 'they will have to engage the state's legal and political discourses in more effective ways.' Underlying Turner's theoretical intervention, then, is the assumption that colonial relations of power operate primarily by excluding the perspectives of indigenous peoples from the discursive and institutional sites that give their rights content. Seen in this light, it would indeed appear that 'critically undermining colonialism' requires that indigenous people find more effective ways of 'participating in the Canadian legal and political practices that determine the meaning of Aboriginal rights.'
For Turner, one of the preconditions for establishing a 'post-colonial' relationship is the development of an intellectual community of indigenous 'word warriors' capable of engaging the legal and political [End Page 164] discourses of the state. According to Turner, because it is an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that the rights of indigenous peoples will for the foreseeable future be largely interpreted by non-indigenous judges and policy makers within non-indigenous institutions, it is imperative that indigenous communities develop the capacity to interject effectively their unique perspectives into the conceptual spaces where their rights are framed. For Turner it is through this form of participation that indigenous peoples can hope to 'shape the legal and political relationship so that it respects indigenous world views.'
The efficacy of Turner's intervention rests on a crucial theoretical assumption reflected in his text's quasi-Foucaultian use of the term discourse. I say quasi-Foucaultian because when he refers to the discursive practices of word warriors he assumes that these pack the 'power' necessary to transform the 'legal and political discourses of the state' into something more amenable to indigenous perspectives. Here Turner assumes that the counter-discourses that word warriors interpolate into the field of Canadian law and politics have the capacity to shape and govern the ways in which Aboriginal rights are reasoned about. The problem, however, is that Turner is less willing to attribute the same degree of power to the legal and political discourses of the state. This is what I mean when I claim that his use of the concept is quasi-Foucaultian. When Turner speaks of the legal and political discourses of the state, he spends little time discussing the assimilative power that these discourses potentially hold in relation to the word warriors who are to engage them. Indeed, the only place he does briefly mention this is in the concluding paragraphs of his final chapter.
There is a further limit in Turner's argument: there is little discussion of how indigenous peoples might curb the risk of assimilation inherent to his project. Although Turner repeatedly suggests that part of the answer to this problem lies in the ability of word warriors to remain grounded in the thought and practices of their communities, in the end he spends little time discussing what this might entail in practice.
Further, while Turner is right to pay attention to discursive forms of power, his analysis eclipses the role that non-discursive configurations of power play in reproducing colonial relations. My concern here is that the problem with the legal and political discourses of the state is not only that they enjoy hegemonic status vis-à-vis indigenous discourses, but that they are also backed by and hopelessly entwined with the economic, political, and military power of the state itself. Strategically, then, this means that indigenous peoples must be able to account for these material relations as well. Regarding Turner's project, this would require an exploration of theories and practices that move beyond liberal/ideational forms of discursive transformation. While I recognize that this might be beyond the scope of Turner's intellectual project, I think that speaking [End Page 165] to the diversity of forms of anti-colonial practice required to...