- On the Difficulty of Reckoning with Settler Colonialisms: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives
By Penelope Edmonds. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
By Eva Mackey. Halifax; Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2016.
Edited by Sarah Maddison, Tom Clark and Ravi de Costa. New York: Springer, 2016.
Truth will not make us free, but taking control of the production of truth will.Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri1
In settler societies, coming to grips with historical wrongs continues to pose an enduring dilemma. Powerful scripts and events of redress, forgiveness and reconciliation are used to petition for and engage with narratives of the "post" settler nation state. The scope, substance, and politics of reckoning with settler colonial wrongs have garnered an intense controversy, and by turns, precipitated vibrant and creative scholarship. In Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada, and to a lesser extent, the United States, scholars have recognized the distinctive roles of reconciliatory efforts in settler societies, and attempted to untangle the repertoire of "moving on" and beyond the historical continuity of settler colonialism. They look at what it means to be "post" colonial and decolonized in nations that still lack a clear decolonizing moment. This essay engages with these competing perspectives as explored in the work of three recent volumes: Penelope Edmonds' Settler Colonialism and (Re)conciliation, Eva Mackey's Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, and Sarah Maddison et al., The Limits of Settler Colonial Reconciliation. Taking specific case studies across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, these comprehensive and transnational comparative studies offer rigorous evaluation of the ideas and symbolic practices of reconciliation and their interlocking relationships with settler colonial histories. Without treating the processes of "decolonization" and "reconciliation" as self-contained, isolated, or discrete units of meaningful change, these scholars address the ways in which the practices of these concepts attempt to reanimate and mobilize the past for a "post" settler condition and emancipatory moral order. The prefix "post," as Jean Francois Lyotard has articulated, conjures the conviction "that it is both possible and necessary to break with tradition and institute absolutely new ways of living and thinking."2 But in settler societies, the "post" may not mean a clearly defined moment or a "rupture" with the colonial past; instead, it may well repeat it and reinforce its diurnal residues. In different ways, these volumes interrogate these "new" realities and their chameleon-like abilities, by offering multifaceted approaches to deter what seems to be an alarming reproduction of coloniality and normative authority of the settler state. They use different and understudied analytical lenses and frameworks such as performance, ethnography of conflicts about land rights, and structural and attitudinal engagement to explore the complex and difficult conundrums and aporias of decolonization in settler societies.
In Settler Colonialism and (Re)conciliation, Penelope Edmonds draws on text-based histories and Indigenous oral traditions to disentangle present politics of reconciliation, historical reenactments and performative acts in the nascent settler formations of the postcolonial state. She uses theatrical events and performances, as analytical lenses, to juxtapose state-led aspirational calls for unity with Indigenous dispute and refusal of the idea that history was done, and a "new" postcolonial order is ripe for development and settlement. Edmonds takes direct aim at the problematic nature of the so-called "post" settler state and its reconciliatory narrative, which she argues lies within a growing production of knowledge premised on a mythic past of conciliation and peaceful covenants between Indigenous peoples and settlers. To that end, she traces the emergence and trajectory of "conciliatory" historical narratives in the United States, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to explain that (re)conciliation has been funneled as a new hope for a postcolonial moral order, masking the vulnerability that many Indigenous communities still endure. To better illustrate her argument, Edmonds contrasts state-sponsored choreographed gestures, which often reenact the past through a settler colonial prism, with Indigenous truth-telling ceremonies that account for past ghastliest episodes, established stories of nationhood, and government...