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Keynote Speakers

Armand Garnet Ruffo (Queen's University)


A Matter of Fact and Feeling

In light of what Indigenous literary scholar Dian Million calls “felt scholarship,” I will begin with my childhood in remote northern Ontario and consider what led me to a literary career with a lifelong interest in Indigenous histories.  I will trace the impact of hidden family and community histories on my work and the trajectory that led to my poetic-biography Grey Owl: the Mystery of Archie Belaney.  By way of problematizing the relationship between “measured” objective historicism and “personal” literary subjectivity, I will reference my biography Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing Into Thunderbird and my libretto "Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow." Lastly, I will refer to my latest project, which considers mid-19th century Upper Canada by merging history and literature in the application to understand and feel a period of tremendous change for Indigenous peoples.

Armand Garnet Ruffo is a member of the Chapleau Cree First Nation in northern Ontario. He is the author of Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird, a finalist for a 2015 Governor General’s Award, and five books of poetry, including Treaty #, a finalist for a 2019 Governor General’s Award.  He has written an award-winning feature film, A Windigo Tale (2010), and has edited (Ad)Dressing Our Words: Aboriginal Perspectives on Aboriginal Literatures (Theytus Books, 2001), An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English (OUP, 2013), Introduction to Indigenous Literary Criticism in Canada (Broadview, 2016) and An Anthology of Indigenous Literature in Canada (OUP, 2019). Other projects include a libretto for the musical Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow (2018) and On The Day the World Begins Again (2019), video-poem about Indigenous peoples’ incarceration.  His current project is set in mid 19th century Upper Canada.  Ruffo is the Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Literatures at Queen’s University in Kingston, On.

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Brenna Bhandar (University of British Columbia)

Cultivating the Soil: Use, Improvement and the Colonial Conditions of Our Present


Cultivation would come to function, throughout the British colonial world, as a justification for the appropriation of Indigenous lands. Narrowly defined by a political imaginary of private ownership and market exchange, cultivation was intimately tied to an ideology of improvement. The ideology of improvement that characterised settler colonialism in British Columbia, as elsewhere, bound together the twin ideas that land not cultivated was legitimately open for appropriation, and that its inhabitants required civilizational improvement so they too could enjoy the fruits of possessive individualism. This use of the concept of improvement to impose private property relations where they did not previously exist, in conjunction with a racial order of white supremacy, is captured by the term “racial regimes of ownership”. Indigenous lands – designated as waste and therefore ripe for appropriation – continue to be laid waste by modern forms of use that privilege extraction and exploitation at the expense of myriad forms of life, in a moment of intensified speculative accumulation that has land at its centre.

Dr. Brenna Bhandar is Associate Professor in the Allard Law Faculty, UBC. Prior to joining Allard she was Reader in Law and Critical Theory at SOAS, University of London. She is author of Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land and Racial Regimes of Ownership (DUP: 2018) and co-editor (with Rafeef Ziadah) of Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought (Verso: 2020). 


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Cannon Schmitt (University of Toronto)

Notes Toward a Water Acknowledgement

In Canada, particularly in academe, one outcome of the work undertaken by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 2008-15) has been the widespread adoption of land acknowledgements. Modelled on Indigenous practices of recognizing one’s relation to the ground on which one stands, land acknowledgements disallow settler amnesia by reminding those of us who are not Métis, Inuit, or members of one of the First Nations that we live our lives in places that originally belonged to someone else—in the case of Vancouver, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh). From its inception in the 1950s, Victorian Studies has documented and explored the consequences of nineteenth-century British dispossession of non-British peoples; land acknowledgements highlight the increased importance of this activity as a central vocation of the field. But they also suggest the possibility of a supplement that would recognize it’s not only land that was and is home, contact zone, and contested inheritance. For example: the three Indigenous nations on whose unceded territory this conference will be held belong to a group of peoples known collectively as the Coast Salish, and the city that has come to occupy part of that territory bears the name of a British naval officer, George Vancouver. Indigenous relations with seas and rivers, the ocean as a site and vector of conquest, and much else besides confirms the need for something like a water acknowledgement. Imagining what such a thing might look and sound like, this talk hopes to show one way to do Victorian Studies, per Christina Sharpe, in the wake—of the TRC, of empire, of settler colonialism.​

Cannon Schmitt is the author of two monographs: Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (Pennsylvania, 1997) and Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (Cambridge, 2009). With Nancy Henry, he co-edited the collection Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Indiana, 2008). With Elaine Freedgood, he co-edited a special issue of Representations titled Denotatively, Technically, Literally (2014). His essays have appeared in Representations, ELH, Victorian Studies, Victorian Literature and Culture, Genre, and elsewhere. He has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Currently, he is completing a book on the ocean, the Victorian novel, and the possibility of literal reading.

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