Digging Up Discovery: Indigenous Literary Responses to Canadian Law

Christina Turner - Digging Up Discovery Lecture

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 4:00pm
Christina Turner, 2018-2019 NFC Doctoral Fellow 
Northrop Frye Centre, VC102, Old Vic, 91 Charles st. West

The Doctrine of Discovery is an international law which originated in the Middle Ages and enabled European nations to ostensibly claim the lands they discovered in the Americas. While discovery as a legal doctrine has been formally repudiated in both Canadian and international law, it continues to structure the way the Supreme Court in Canada understands both Indigenous rights and legal systems. Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson takes up the ways in which legal discovery continues to influence Indigenous-settler relations in Canada in her 2013 collection Islands of Decolonial Love. Through an analysis of Simpson’s work, I argue that discovery is not only a legal doctrine, but a particular way of seeing the land which entails erasing Indigenous law. Indigenous literary texts illuminate both how the violence of discovery accumulates through time and the difficulties of reviving Indigenous legal systems in the wake of discovery. 

Christina Turner is a PhD candidate and settler scholar in the Department of English. Her dissertation examines representations of human rights in contemporary Indigenous writing from Turtle Island (North America). She argues that Indigenous writers such as Eden Robinson, Shirley Sterling, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Jordan Abel critique normative definitions of human rights as conceptualized around the visual recognition of alterity. Instead, these writers propose that freedom, political autonomy, and Indigenous sovereignty is represented and realized through sound -- through certain postures of listening and through echoes and impressions which travel across the borders of settler polities and endure through time.

Christina is also the books editor at rabble.ca and is always trying to perfect her recipe for sourdough bread.