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Reviewed by:
  • Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America ed. by Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Laban Hinton
  • Karen Bridget Murray
Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, edited by Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Laban Hinton. Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2014. 360 pp. $94.95 US (cloth), $26.95 US (paper).

Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America is sure to become a crucial tool for furthering discussions of genocide as Canada confronts its dark past. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, described the treatment of Indigenous peoples in residential schools as “cultural genocide” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015). Some might find the qualifier “cultural” as downplaying the applicability of the more common understanding of genocide as the physical destruction of people. Others will take issue with any use of the term genocide. Still others might find the phrase cultural genocide as opening up an analytical space for clarifying different forms of genocide. These various lines of debate invite further research and analysis, especially with respect to the residential school system in Canada.

The introductory chapter situates the emergence of the term genocide in historical vantage point by asking if genocide research might launch the “unsettling dialogue and the arduous process of fashioning decolonizing forms of redress and reconciliation” (p. 3). Is genocide an accurate descriptor? How might we pursue genocide research across different times and spaces in a way that accounts for contextual specificities while demonstrating common purposes and effects? By asking questions like these, the text provides crucial tools for situating Canada’s residential school system in its global context, while also providing a basis for theoretical advancement. [End Page 555]

The book’s first section provides an overview of the historical and theoretical terrain of genocide studies. Andrew Woolford (chapter one) focuses on the residential school systems in Canada and the United States. He introduces the notion of the “colonial mesh” to account for complex dynamics of mass violence aimed at annihilating Indigenous peoples. Robbie Etheridge (chapter two) trains attention on violence in Mississippi from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. He introduces the notion of genocide “shatter zones” as a lens for studying specific incidences of genocide and their connection to wider political processes, such as slavery, imperialism, and global capital. Both Woolford and Etheridge see genocide as fostering certain norms, expectations, and ways of living and being. Threats to these ideals become targets of genocide. Christopher Powell and Julia Peristerakis (chapter three) stress how seemingly disparate institutional milieus operate relationally to shape a cumulative annihilating force threatening a group’s survival.

The second section brings together empirically grounded studies that encourage the reader to think of genocide histories as a form of memory. Benjamin Madley (chapter four) and Gray Whaley (chapter five) provide accounts of events insufficiently assessed as genocide. Madley’s study of violent campaigns against the Modoc in California and Oregon highlights the frequency with which genocide is “sanitized” under the rubric of war. Whaley’s examination of western Oregon Territory highlights how racialized assumptions naturalized abject violence. Tricia Logan (chapter six) and Jeremy Patzer (chapter seven) focus on how discussions about genocide are often shaped by forgetting and willful ignorance. For Patzer, the dominant discourses around contemporary debates and responses to the residential school system hinge on an individualizing ethos. Individualization obfuscates group-based violence and oppression. For Logan, the potential for integrating the role of genocide in Canada’s history is stymied by official narratives at national museums, including the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The third section further complicates the progress of history narrative by emphasizing continuances and legacies. Margaret Jacobs (chapter eight) assesses the enduring genocidal effects working through child welfare systems, within which Indigenous children are over-presented in Australia, Canada, and the United States. Jeff Benvenuto (chapter nine) assesses the early modern Atlantic world through the experiences of the Choctaw. He emphasizes the importance of including Indigenous peoples’ “survivance” in assessments of genocide. Kiera Ladner (chapter ten) revisits her work on “political genocide.” She underscores the relationship between the attempted physical destruction of Indigenous peoples and the erasure of [End Page 556] Indigenous forms of governance...


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pp. 555-557
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