Rymhs (2016). Appropriating Guilt: Reconciliation in an Indigenous Canadian Context. (Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures.)

Rymhs, D. (2016). Appropriating Guilt: Reconciliation in an Indigenous Canadian Context. In D. Reder & L. M. Morra (Eds.), Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (pp. 325–339). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

“Guilt, in effect, becomes a dissolute concept, swept into colonial history, attributed to past government policies, or directed at faceless institutions rather than being individually or personally owned. At times bypassing the attribution of responsibility altogether, the process of reconciliation overlooks the logic that asking for forgiveness does not imply the granting of it. The success always implied by the act of reconciliation dissolves the wronged subject’s agency as the public, the government, and its institutions forgive themselves.” (p 327)

[“Guilt in a Colonial Context” (p 328) …]

“Justice, notes Kanien’kehá:ka law professor Patricia Monture-Angus, is a word that has no direct equivalent in some Indigenous languages (her examples are Blackfoot, Musqueam [Salish], and Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk]).” (p 328)

[“Guilt in a Legal Context” (p 329) …]

“These authors explore guilt as a cultural construct, showing that guilt is not necessarily correlated to criminality. In its forced relocation and confinement of Indigenous children, the residential school was historically a precursor to the prison system in Canada, used to control and contain Aboriginal subjects for colonial as well as penal purposes.” (p 331)

[“Reconciliation and Liberal Guilt” (p 331) …]

“Reconciliation has often been faulted for its failure to recognize the autonomy of the wronged parties. These failures point to a necessary recognition that reconciliation is a cultural [page break] concept that may not always respect the ideological and political differences of individuals asked to participate in its process. … With its overlapping therapeutic, ethical, political, religious, legal, and historical registers, reconciliation can in fact obfuscate notions of guilt and responsibility.” (p 332-333)

“Heidi Grunebaum makes a similar observation in her discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

“‘While rituals of confession, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation were facilitated by TRC, encouraged by the faith communities, enacted by individuals, widely disseminated by the national and international media, and assimilated into public discourse, the teleology of such parties transformed reconciliation into a fetishized claim that both devalues and displaces the experiences of those who were wronged.’ (308)” (p 334)

[“Literary Criticism and Its Contingencies” (p 335) …]

“Critics like Gerald Vizenor observe that academic discussions of Indigenous people and history [page break] often dwell on tragic narratives rather than on the ways that Indigenous people have re-imagined themselves in the present.” (p 335-336)

Selected References

  • Grunebaum, Heidi. “Talking to Ourselves ‘among the Innocent Dead’: On Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Mourning.” PMLA 117.2 (2002): 306–10.
  • Monture-Angus, Patricia. “Native America and the Literary Tradition.” Native North America: Critical and Cultural Perspectives. Toronto: ECW, 1999.
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