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  • Facing the Difficulty of Inheritance:Unsettlement in Mechanisms of Settler Colonialism
  • Maria Relucio
Dean, Amber. 2015. Remembering Vancouver's Disappeared Women: Settler Colonialism and the Difficulty of Inheritance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

In analyzing the narratives of disappeared women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Amber Dean highlights the significance of the processes of recollection, of memory and truth-telling, and of not letting go despite the difficulty of inheriting these disappeared women's stories. In this book, Dean situates the subject of her work within the limits of proximity and time, aspects which make a difference to the processes of recollecting, remembering and reckoning past events, the effects of which are inherited in the present and for the future. She appeals to reckoning and recoiling as integral progressions we must pursue instead of choosing only the passive process of bearing witness.

Dean uses Gordon's (1997) conceptualization of reckoning as "about knowing what kind of effort is required to change ourselves and the conditions that make us who we are, that set limits on what is acceptable and unacceptable, on what is possible and impossible" (quoted in Dean 2015: 141). While reckoning may initially appear to be individually reflective, the process can be expanded to the collective. Reckoning may produce conscious social efforts that can resolve situations where some are subjected to violence and human suffering. Connected with reckoning is recoiling, a term which Dean borrows from Rosenberg (2009), which means to stay in relation and to grapple with the responsibility of how, as individuals, we are implicated by the violence experienced by others (Dean 2015: 144).

In her discussion about the optimisms carried by reckoning and recoiling, Dean illustrates her own experience of being haunted after watching a film about Serena Abotsway, one of the many Indigenous women from Downtown Eastside who advocated for the resolution of cases of missing and disappeared women. For Dean, watching the film—which, she argues, may have also predicted Abotsway's tragic death, mirroring those of the film's subjects (54–57)—caused her to experience [End Page 225] "haunting" as a form of transformative recognition (58). Watching the film also engendered, for Dean, a feeling of unsettlement (64). Dean evokes the term "unsettlement" to describe uneasy, disrupted and disturbed feelings that may cause us to contemplate how the death of the Other implicates us not only as a viewer or spectator but as a potential discussant of what lives on after this death. Particularly, Dean mentions that if not for her settler roots, it is unlikely that she would "experience encounters with spectral traces of Vancouver's disappeared women as haunting" (62).

Dean clearly explains that her book is not an investigation of what happened to the disappeared women who once resided and worked in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside; it is a work designed to "trace what lives on from the violent loss of so many women who have called the Downtown Eastside home" (xviii). In the process of tracing, Dean connects the past to the present and the future, examining how those left behind by these women, and those who would later come to know their stories, can develop a shared understanding of the violence that these women experienced. Dean's work is more than a nominal remembrance of these disappeared women. By merely naming those who disappeared and died, we may forget their stories; however, by tracing what lives on, we can instead highlight how the forms of violence these women experienced were and are produced by socio-historical conditions that still have systemic links to the present and the future.

Dean considers the shared and intersecting social categories of the many disappeared women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as crucial to understanding their stories. In engaging with their narratives, she demonstrates that many of these women were mothers caring for their children and families; most of them were also engaged in outdoor sex work; some were challenged with addiction to criminalized drugs; and the majority of them were Indigenous (xxiii). Acknowledging these shared social categories allows Dean to claim that "the disappearance of women from the Downtown Eastside is a project of racialized, sexualized and colonial violence" (xxiii...


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pp. 225-229
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