Week One – Introduction

This week begins the ongoing process of better understanding the relationship between settler colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty. In this session of Reading to Decolonize, we will learn to listen to some of the different ways that Inuit communities have enacted their own sovereignty, in relation to land and media production in particular, and in this way highlight (and unlearn) those characteristically  southern/settler ways of representing “the North.”

To make this distinction clearer, between what we are and are not doing,  we are happy to share and open up for discussion this policy brief produced by the Yellowhead Institute (2019). This represents the first 4 pages of preparatory reading for this week’s discussion.

We will start our meeting Thursday by sharing a brief round of introductions, asking you to say something about where are you coming from? How you learned about this project?

We will then have a brief discussion of our projects’ proposed Guidelines to Decolonization, which we invite you to read ahead of time and bring thoughts about. This is the fifth page of preparatory reading for this week’s discussion. (Click on the link below to download)

We will introduce the key questions that should guide our discussions and reflections, throughout the session.

  1. How can media be used to support the goals of settler colonialism (which begs the question of what is settler-colonialism, as represented in the films and texts we’ve curated)?
    • How is access to it controlled? 
    • Who makes and finances media?
  2. How, on the other hand, can media serve, instead, the decolonizing interests of Indigenous (here, Inuit) sovereignty?
    • What elements of this or that film or text allow us to identify its relatively colonizing or decolonizing?
  3. How can we read film in particular as a historical text, in this way, as the document of very particular points of view, rather than simply as a direct and unmediated representation, for instance,  of “the North”?

In other words, we want to ask:

  1. How might we read films to decolonize?
  2. How is reading film in this way an extension of the ways we normally read written documents?
  3. How does reading film in this way change how we think about reading text?

This week’s Films

NB. Given the licensing restrictions and archival permissions, we can not at this point post all the films themselves on the website and so are limited to screening them in person at the Coop Café. Special thanks to the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and the head archivist James Gordon, for making HBC Centenary Celebrations available to us this week.

We will begin our discussion of those questions this week by screening two very different films depicting Qikiqtaaluk/Baffin Island (Nunavut).

1. We begin with Natsik Hunting (1975; click the link to view on the NFB site), a short film made by Mosha Michael Michael after he took a Super 8 workshop in Frobisher Bay in 1974. Natsik Hunting depicts a seal hunt in Frobisher Bay and the soundtrack features his own  acoustic guitar music. This amateur film is considered by the National Film Board of Canada to be one of the first Inuk-made films in the country.

The hunters of Ikajurtauvik, out on the water in Frobisher Bay.

2. The second film we’ll watch is a very different kind of picture, shot nearly fifty years earlier. Hudson’s Bay Company Centenary Celebrations (1919) was sponsored by the Hudson’s Bay Company to commemorate the 250th anniversary of its charter as a Crown corporation, and generally promote the HBC’s corporate image and its trading operations across Canada. Shot by Harold M. Wyckoff (of the New York-based Educational Films Corporation) and Bill Derr, HBC Centenary Celebrations begins in Montreal and moves north, following the HBC ship S.S. Nascopie on its annual supply run north. 

We’ll watch the first two reels of the archival print, recorded between the summer/fall of 1919 as the Nacopie traveled through the Eastern Arctic and Hudson Bay. Significantly for our purposes, the reels include rare footage of Inuit communities settled in Port Burwell on western Killiniq Island and Qikiqtaaluk/Baffin Island, in modern-day Nunavut.

The Hudson’s Bay Company post at Port Burwell (courtesy of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba)

The filmmakers’ overtly ethnographic gaze and fascination with the Inuit of Port Burwell says a lot about both the time period and the HBC’s strategy of advertising itself as a “Company of Adventurers” using images of Indigenous Peoples and their territories. To contemporary viewers, these depictions – and the intertitles, since this is a silent film – can be upsetting, reflecting paternalistic and colonial attitudes towards its Indigenous subjects. We’re certainly not endorsing the film by screening it. Instead, we’re asking the group to think about how it functions as a historical document, as a record of settler/southern anxieties and beliefs about Inuit, “the North,” and the project of settler colonialism. 

As always, please send any questions to richard@readingtodecolonize.ca or rjekanowski@mun.ca.

If you haven’t already, do share the Facebook event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/227906168137170