Emma Barnes has published an article entitled ‘Another Settler Move to Innocence: Unmarked Graves and Discourses of Discovery’ in the PSA Newsletter for Feb 2022.
In light of the uncovering of mass graves in Canada, the most recent PSA newsletter is dedicated to foregrounding Indigenous voices through literature, art, storytelling, and articles about reconciliation initiatives and decolonising projects. Emma was invited to contribute, and opens the newsletter with an article that examines the recent rhetoric of “discovery” that characterises the reporting of the recovery of unmarked graves and the remains of Indigenous children near residential schools in Canada.
Drawing upon the words of First Nations chief, RoseAnne Archibald, who states that ‘I don’t like to call them discoveries – they are recoveries of our children’ (2021), Emma makes the case that the term ‘discovery’ is once again being used in colonial discourse to obscure Indigenous histories. After being used to narrate Columbus’s arrival to North America, to construct the ‘Age of Discovery’, and constitute the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, the article conveys how even in our contemporary moment, discourses of discovery are still being used to sanitise the role of settlers in enacting genocide against Indigenous peoples of North America. Paralleling the ways in which the attribution of ‘discovery’ to Columbus’s arrival to North America obscures the violence committed against the Indigenous populations, Chief Archibald’s statement conveys how the concept of ‘discovery’ is again working to distort the role of settlers, including missionary works, nuns, priests and teachers, in the systemic abuse, neglect and murder of Indigenous children.
Turning to Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s foundational article, ‘Decolonisation is not a Metaphor’, Emma makes the case that the discourse of discovery surrounding the mass graves is another form of what Tuck and Yang refer to as ‘settler moves to innocence’ that seek to reconcile settler guilt without facilitating systemic change or reparations. The article conveys how, in reporting the recovery of children’s remains as a ‘discovery’, the identification of mass graves is constructed as unexpected, unprecedented, and outside the realm of settler knowledge or awareness. This emerging narrative of discovery thus serves to deny knowledge of this state-induced violence, and construct the government and government workers as removed of responsibility.
Emma concludes by foregrounding Chief Archibald’s sentiment: that the recovery of these graves is not only an opportunity to reflect on Canada’s oppressive history, but to be a catalyst for a settler move to reparation and reconciliation.
The full article is available for members of the PSA.