bibliography 3: getting at identity in the Canadian context


The Aboriginal Studies Reading List posted below was devised to allow for an examination of identity as a concept.

The notes on various texts from the list, posted on an ongoing basis over a number of weeks and beginning with “Notes on 1st Text for Aboriginal Studies Reading List: Barth“, reflect that interest.

A paper, as explained below, arose out of that interest in how identity works. A link to the text will follow the explanation, eventually, when it is ready.

My interest in identity as a concept arose out of my interest in the history of the Métis of Red River Settlement. After completing my undergraduate and master’s studies — during which a good deal of my reading dealt with Aboriginal history, and producing a thesis that was critical (I hope politely), of the ways in which the people of Red River Settlement had been portrayed within nationalist Canadian historiography — I was concerned that there was something amiss with the concept of identity. There was no question that it posed problems for me when it came to both naming and describing past people in Red River — problems that were difficult to explain, let alone resolve. Though I thought the problems were intensely interesting, I found that not everyone understood why I considered identity to be problematic — well actually, I didn’t find anyone who entirely ‘got it’. Nobody seemed perturbed with the way things stood. I did not encounter anyone else who saw an identity problem anywhere that hadn’t already been solved. This struck me as odd. I did notice, however, that, with the exception of Doug Sprague, who oversaw my master’s thesis, most everybody else was averse to having to engage with theory deeply enough to decide whether the logic that was assumed to underpin Western Canadian historiography was in fact logical.[1] I suspected that this disinclination explained my feeling of being ‘odd one out’ when it came to an interest in problematizing identity.

On embarking on my doctoral studies, I was fortunate enough to have Dave Natcher, at the time the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, oversee my Aboriginal Studies reading field. He was not put off by my interest in arriving at an understanding of identity, but rather, encouraged it, designing the reading list to address the problem, and supervising the production of a lengthy paper on identity that presented my findings. The paper was subsequently cut to to meet various department and seminar guidelines. For the purpose of re-presenting my findings here I am reworking the paper, restoring it to a length more in keeping with the original. In my experience, lengthy papers on theoretical topics are not well accommodated, nay seldom tolerated, in academe, because, I gather, they are not well liked. Knowledge is, apparently, expected to conform to standardized formats if it is to be acknowledged.

Yet, to explain the paradox that identity presents in historiography, I found it necessary to adopt a number of measures foreign to standard practice among the historians I am familiar with.

  • As noted above, I found that explaining each of the convolutions encountered required writing more pages than most readers of graduate papers want to wade through.
  • I struggled with readers who wanted plain language and distrusted terms borrowed from other disciplines (terms I borrowed for their conciseness), but these same readers, I knew full well, would object even more if my resorting to plain language lengthened the paper further.
  • I supplied more footnotes than was normal (and my normal is to footnote more heavily than most). The footnotes were, however, necessary to answer objections about where I had derived my notions, or what scholarly work might lend credence to these notions, and to supply a running glossary/dictionary of potentially unfamiliar terms, concepts, personages, and bodies of knowledge.
  • I broke the paper into sections, despite being told that sections are indicative of a historian who can’t write [narrative history still rules].
  • I also borrowed a convention that, though used by scholars who discuss the history of terminology, apparently, is unfamiliar to many readers of history. I italicized the term identity to distinguish it from the concept identity. A number of readers objected.

The various short incarnations of the paper were not particularly popular. I still like it though — not because I am fond of the presentation — I am not a fan of my own writing, though believe me, I do try to write intelligibly. I like this paper because it records what I learned while researching and writing it. It explains what talk about identity really means, and it explains how to avoid being inadvertently misinterpreted if caught in an identity talk situation. It cleared up the identity crisis that I thought marred my master’s thesis. I no longer find dealing with the métis-metisse-Metis-Métis-‘halfbreed’ and the whole ‘blooded’ settler mess to be a problem.

In many respects, presenting the text electronically suits my identity paper. Compared to printed paper, e-texting is much the easier means of presenting a right brain solution to left brain thinkers. Perceptions of unhappy length are subverted when there is no immediate stack of paper attesting to it. A great many footnotes are done away with, replaced by links that serve the reader better. Surely, very few of those who are familiar with electronic interfaces are overly touchy about whether narrative is formatted according to any particular convention. And, making use of links accommodates the circularity of a subject that was so difficult to deal with in a paper, which in accordance with custom, had to be structured to progress in a linear manner. This text allows points to be examined in any order a reader desires. Finally, unlike its past academic incarnations, this e-piece is not required reading for anybody who would rather not.

Interpreting “Identity: A Case Study of Semantic Paradox in Red River Historiography,” Part I: Introduction, is available here.

[1] Sprague, thankfully, excelled when it came to questions of logic and the underpinning of arguments. I learned a lot.


Reading Field: Aboriginal Studies

Section I: Identity

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso Press, 1983.

Anderson, Kay. “Sites of Difference: Beyond a Cultural Politics of Race Polarity.” In Cities of Difference. ed. Ruth Fincher, and Jane M. Jacobs. 201-225. New York: Guilford Press, 1998.

Baird, W. David. “Are the five tribes of Oklahoma ‘real’ Indians?” The Western HistoricalcQuarterly 21, No. 1 (1990): 4-18.

Barth, Fredrick ed. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1969.

Bayly, C.A. “The British and indigenous peoples, 1760-1860: power, perception and identity.” In Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600-1850. Edited by Martin J. Daunton, and Rick Halpern. 19-41. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Bennett, John W. Northern Plainsmen: Adaptive Strategy and Agrarian Life. New York: Aldine, 1969.

Bieder, Robert E. “Scientific Attitudes Toward Indian Mixed-Bloods in Early Nineteenth Century America.” Journal of Ethnic Studies 8, no. 2 (summer, 1980): 17-30.

Blaut, James M. The Colonizer’s Model of the World: geographical diffusionism and Eurocentric history. New York: Guilford Press, 1993.

Brow, James. “Notes on Community, Hegemony, and the Uses of the Past.” Anthropological Quarterly 63, no. 1 (January, 1990): 1-6.

Brown, David. “Ethnic Revival: perspectives on state and society.” Third World Quarterly 11, no. 4 (October, 1989): 1-17.

Clifton, James A., ed. The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies. New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Publishers, 1990.

Dearborn, Mary V. Pocahontas’s daughters: gender and ethnicity in American culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Donnan, Hastings, and Thomas M. Wilson. Borders: frontiers of identity, nation and state. Oxford: Berg, 1999.

Duncan, James, and David Ley, eds. Place, Culture and Representation. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Gilroy, Paul. “Cultural studies and ethnic absolutism.” In Cultural Studies. Edited by L. Grossberg, C. Nelson, and P. Treichler. 187-198. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Hall, Stuart. “Ethnicity: Identity and difference.” Radical America 23, no. 4 (June, 1991): 9-20.

_____. “Gramsci’s relevance for the study of race and ethnicity.” In Stuart Hall: critical dialogues in cultural studies. Edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen. 411-440. New York: Routledge, 1996.

_____. “New ethnicities.” In Stuart Hall: critical dialogues in cultural studies. Edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen. 441-449. New York: Routledge, 1996.

_____. “The formation of a diasporic intellectual: An interview with Stuart Hall.” In Stuart Hall: critical dialogues in cultural studies. Edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen. 484-503. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Harris, Cole. Making native space: colonialism, resistance, and reserves in British Columbia. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002.

Herb, Guntram H., and David H. Kaplan, eds. Nested Identities: Nationalism, Territory, and Scale. Lanham MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

Hollinger, David A. “Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the History of the United States.” American Historical Review 108, no. 5 (December, 2003): 1363-1390.

Lamont, Michèle, and Virág Molnár, “The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences,” Annual Review of Sociology 28 (2002): 167-195.

Mackey, Eva. The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

McLaren, P. “Border Disputes: Multicultural narrative, identity formation and critical pedagogy in postmodern America.” In Naming silent lives: personal narratives and the process of educational change. Edited by J. McLaughlin and B. Tierney. 201-235. London: Routledge, 1993.

Nagel, Joane, and C. Matthew Snipp. “Ethnic Reorganization: American Indian Social, Economic, Political, and Cultural Strategies for Survival.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16, no. 2 (1993): 203-235.

_____. “American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Politics and the Resurgence of Identity.” American Sociological Review 60, no. 6 (December, 1995): 947-965.

Posey, Darrell A. “Origin, Development and Maintenance of a Louisiana Mixed-Blood Community: The Ethnohistory of the Freejacks of the First Ward Settlement.” Ethnohistory 26, no. 1 (1979): 177-192.

Sanders, Jimmy M. “Ethic Boundaries and Identity in Plural Societies.” Annual Revue of Sociology 28 (2002): 327-357.

Spicer, Edward H. “Persistent Cultural Systems.” Science 174, no. 4011 (November 19, 1971): 795-800.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Land, Labor, and Difference: Elemental Structures of Race.” American Historical Review 106, no. 3 (2001): 866-905.

Section II: Miscellaneous but Important Readings on Identity with Specific Reference to Métis

Anderson, Chris. “The formalization of Métis Identity in Canadian Provincial Courts.” In Expressions in Canadian Native Studies. Ron F. Laliberte, Priscilla Settee, James B. Waldram, Rob Innes, Brenda Macdougall, Lesley McBain and F. Laurie Barron, eds. 95- 115. Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan Extension Press, 2002.

Ens, Gerhard. “Dispossession or Adaptation: Migration and Persistence of the Red River Metis, 1835-1890.” Historical Papers. 120-144. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association. 1988.

Dickason, Olive Patricia. “From ‘One Nation’ in the Northeast to ‘New Nation’ in the Northwest: A look at the emergence of the métis.” In The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Edited by Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown. 19-36. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985.

Judd, Carol. “Mixed Bloods of Moose Factory, 1730-1981: A Socio-Economic Study.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 6, no. 2 (1982): 65-88.

Kennedy, John C. “The Changing Significance of Labrador Settler Identity.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 20, no. 3 (1988): 94-111.

_____. “‘Our Culture, Our Identity’: The Case of the Labrador Métis Association.” Acta Borealia 13, no. 1 (1996): 23-34.

_____. “Labrador Métis Ethnogenesis.” Ethnos 62, nos. 3-4 (1997): 5-23.

Peterson, Jacqueline. “Ethnogenesis: The Settlement and Growth of a ‘New People’ in the Great              Lakes Region, 1702-1815.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 6, no. 2 (1982): 23-64.

Valentine, Victor F. “Native Peoples and Society: A Profile of Issues and Trends.” In Cultural Boundaries and the Cohesion of Canada. Edited by Raymond Breton, Jeffrey G. Reitz, and Victor Valentine. 35-136. Montreal: The Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1980.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. “Tracing the Fortunes of Five Founding Families of Victoria.” BC Studies: Native Peoples and Colonialism, Special Double Issue, 115/116 (Autumn/Winter, 1997/98): 148-179.


2 Responses to bibliography 3: getting at identity in the Canadian context

  1. B. Menard says:

    I’m very surprised you’ve not done a bio on Francois Jacques BRUNEAU. He was a Metis magistrate in Manitoba. He as born March 08, 1810 Green Lake Sask: From the BRUNEAU family Book: Obituary taken from the Nor’-Wester, Red River Settlement, Tuesday July 14 1865.

    Death of Mr. Bruneau
    Mr. Francois Bruneau died at his residence on Monday 26th of June at 6am, the cause of death being bilious fever with inflamation of the bowels. Few, we know will read the above announcement without feeling they have suffered a great loss, and that his death has left a vacancy which will not be easily filled. Upright, sensible and just, the public respected him; social, intelligent, and kind hearted, his friends loved him; and now that we have lost him, his good qualities stand out in bolder relief, and make our grief the greater. We hope at some later period to give an account of the public service of Mr. Bruneau, and in the meantime many will, after paying the last honours to the dead, keep in sorrowful remembrance the kind heart and wise head of him who has so lately gone out from among us. A deeper gloom surrounds this melancholy event from the fact that two days after his decease his wife died also. And the two coffins were borne away together from the house of mourning to their last resting place – affording a sad spectacle and as startling a commentary on the vanity of life as has ever appeared in the Settlement.

    “Francois Bruneau is remembered for the works he had done for
    the people of that part of the country”. From; Bruneau family book.
    “Francois and his wife Marguerite both died within an hour of
    each other from Typhoid fever and are buried west of the old St. Boniface
    Cathedral”. Bruneau family book
    “The remains of this great Manitoban, along with those of his
    wife, were laid to rest in the cemetery of La Cathedrale next to
    Jean-Baptiste LAGIMODIERE and his wife Marie-Anne GABOURY . A monument indicates the place”. Bruneau family book.

    He has many descendants and much history. I am one of his descendants.
    Hope to see him posted here .

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