All my non-relations explores kinship and reconciliation

The indigenous term “all my relations” refers to the notion of interconnectedness in all aspects of life. Clint Burnham, professor and chair of the English graduate program at Simon Fraser University (SFU), will discuss this concept in a lecture at the Coach House, Green College, University of British Columbia (UBC) on March 28.

All my non-relations” will explore indigenous ideas about kinship and family, how both indigenous and non-indigenous writers and academics approach these topics, and the role of literature in achieving reconciliation.

Burnham is the founding member of the Vancouver Lacan Salon, a psychoanalytic study group based in Vancouver. The purpose of the Salon is to share, discuss, and promote psychoanalytic discourse by creatively reading and engaging with the works of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. By combining an exploration of indigenous literature with Lacanian psychology, Burnham hopes to create awareness of a plurality of textual meanings and the idea of Lacan’s “non-relation.”

Influence of other writers

Clint Burnham, professor and graduate program chair, Department of English, SFU. / Photo by Lincoln Clarkes

Burnham uses the work of various writers to show how marginalized people in indigenous culture is explored by others. Quoting Daniel Heath Justice, “sometimes Indigenous people, queer, trans or other marginalized people relations aren’t readily available,” says Burnham. “There’s this desire for Indigenous people to act with
responsibility to their community, their family or all my relations in a broader sense, but then what about those who feel like they don’t have any relations, who have been thrown out by their family because of their sexuality or other reasons?”

Another writer Burnham cites is Wendy Rose, author of the essay Neon Scars. Rose writes “I’ve heard Indians joke about those who have acted as if they don’t have relations i.e. no relations. I have no relatives they live but they threw me away so I do not have them I am without
relations.”

Burnham stresses that he is not saying that relations don’t matter, but that they are very difficult, even if we do not have any of our own. “Settlers are still living with indigenous people on indigenous land so we have to figure how to work that out,” he says.

Connection with Antigone

Burnham’s talk will also link post colonialism and Sophocles’ play Antigone. He points out that many playwrights such as Kamau Brathwaite, Félix Morisseau-Leroy, and Femi Osofisan have explored the colonial challenge to authority through the play, since Antigone experiences unresolved conflict between her state and her family responsibilities. Burnham also mentions versions of Antigone that appear in a Canadian context – for example, Deanne Kasokeo has written an Antigone play set on a Cree reserve in Saskatchewan. “What’s interesting me is that there’s all these de-colonial attempts to take the same story to find a way to think about its relevance to the present day.”

Possibility of reconciliation

Burnham believes that his talk ultimately aims to achieve reconciliation between settlers and indigenous people. He understands that Canada is multi-
cultural society where many nationalities have immigrated, but feels that some immigrants may not be able to fully grasp the issues of colonialism in a Canadian setting. “Maybe they themselves were in a country that was colonized. Maybe people think reconciliation has to do with the past, but the last residential schools closed in 1996. That’s not that long ago,” he explains. “This is why we need a historical consciousness.”

Burnham believes that while reconciliation is possible, it takes time for healing to happen. He also thinks that social awareness, along with exposure to indigenous writers, will eventually pave the way. He hopes that his talk will help “colonized people, indigenous or not, to see there’s value in thinking about the non-relation.”

For more information on the talk, check out www.greencollege.ubc.ca.

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