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  • “My! What Big Teeth You Have!”: On the Art of Being Seen and Not Eaten
  • Jill Carter (bio)

Professor Weetahgo: Use it or lose it. That’s the law! Do you really want to be in a course where everybody gets an A? No! You want the A! You want to excel! You want to be boundless! Do you really want to live in a world where everybody drives a Hyundai—or worse, walks or takes the bus? No! You want your Beamer. You want your Ferrari! You want your Hermes, Louboutin, Chanel, Ferragamo, Versace, Bur-berrrrrry, Gooooooocheeee. Don’t you? You want to dance like nobody’s watching! Sing like nobody can shut you up! Eat your steak without asking the cow’s permission! Eat your steak, your veal, your lamb … your juicy, sizzling, scrumptious…. You want…. You take…. You want…. You eat…. Want…. Take…. Eat…. Boundless…. (Collective Encounter)

Four of the ninety-four calls to action presented by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its Final Report (2015) challenge Canada and its agencies to unequivocally repudiate the Doctrines of Discovery and Terra Nullius. These specific doctrines, dating back to the fifteenth century, evolved from a series of earlier papal bulls, beginning with Pope Innocent IV’s declaration in 1240 that while non-Christians do possess natural rights, these rights could be stripped from them since the Pope was invested with divine authority to “oversee the spiritual needs of all people” (Reid 338). As Catholic Europe wrestled with ethical questions around the appropriation of others’ homelands, the division of the spoils of war, and the enslavement of human beings, the Vatican (with each successive Pope) would issue a decree to settle international squabbles and ease troubled consciences. Over time, these compounded papal bulls gradually became the ‘doctrines’ that directed European expansion, acquisition of title, and recognition of sovereignty over stolen lands. Under the Doctrine of Discovery, non-Christians (and, hence, Indigenous peoples) lost underlying title to their lands once those lands had been ‘discovered’ by agents of a Christian nation (Reid 339). Terra Nullius strengthened Discovery’s foundation and provided a justification for land theft by asserting that if land and resources were not being harvested in ways that could satisfy the ‘Old World’ appetite for profit and pleasure, the Europeans who had planted their flag could (with permission of the Pope) claim sovereignty over that land (Reid 340).

Today, every policy in Canada through which the Canadian government deals with Indigenous people is supported by three doctrines, which lie at the base of every land-claim decision. Discovery and Terra Nullius are the pillars on which the Royal Proclamation (1763) rests, while Extinguishment1 (resting on these) has supported the continued expropriation of Indigenous lands and state control over Indigenous bodies. Canada retains underlying title to all lands and all resources within its borders, while ‘reserves’ (as the word suggests) are lands held in reserve for the use of Indigenous peoples whose interest in (i.e., long-standing occupation and stewardship of) these lands is recognized by the state and in treaty. So, while the Royal Proclamation (and the treaties) recognize that Indigenous presence on and stewardship of these lands predate European occupation and the Canadian state, and while the Proclamation and the treaties (from the Robinson Treaties of 1850 up to but excluding the Williams Treaties of 1923) guarantee protections for traditional ways of life (hunting and fishing rights), these protections have only remained in place at the state’s “pleasure” (King George III). If Canada decides that only another pipeline, another hydroelectric dam, another mine, or another mall will momentarily sate its prodigious appetite, Indigenous hunting grounds are disrupted and despoiled, habitats are flooded, watersheds are poisoned, treaties are violated, and Indigenous rights are swept aside to clear-cut the pathways toward economic growth and the realization of boundless potential. [End Page 16]

Just as Indigenous lands continue to be targeted for resource extraction and blighted for development, the Indigenous body is targeted for extraction and consumption. We are exoticized in life and onstage; we are researched, and our knowledge is appropriated and patented by corporate interests; our ceremonial items are displayed in museums; our...


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