by John Reid
I recently returned from a ten-day sojourn in India, giving lectures on imperial-Indigenous relations in Mi’kmaw and Maliseet contexts, and other Atlantic Canada topics. In Delhi, I spoke to a group drawn from Canadian Studies and a variety of disciplines at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Many insightful comments and questions followed, especially on current issues facing First Nations – which I am hardly qualified to comment on, but managed as best I could. One graduate student wondered why First Nations leaderships would be preoccupied with the eighteenth-century treaties when there is an available body of international law on global Indigenous rights. I responded by recalling the efforts of the future New Brunswick lieutenant-governor Graydon Nicholas to take action through the United Nations during the 1980s, but also the qualifications attached to Canada’s subscription in 2010 to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was an interesting question, probably better answered by someone with a lot more legal expertise than I can muster up.
John Reid (image source: http://www.smu.ca/)
Then on to Goa University, where I spent five days by invitation of the Canadian Studies program and its coordinator, Dr. Nina Caldeira. I gave a formal series of three sequential lectures on imperial-Indigenous relations, highlighting the need to construct a narrative reflecting Indigenous chronologies in the early modern era rather than privileging the chronologies of empires. My suggestion – a layered sequence of phases including an era of continuing Indigenous centrality despite a peripheral non-Indigenous presence (1500-1725), an era of imperial-Indigenous friendship extending to both French and British empires (1725-1782), and an era of dispossession (1782-1820). With, I also suggested, a direct linkage to the emergence of conflicting historical memories, exemplified in the long dispute over Edward Cornwallis. I also gave a talk on the outlines of Acadian history to a French Studies group, and a general seminar for faculty and graduate students. Every session was invigorating, with comments and questions from colleagues in disciplines ranging from Philosophy to English and French literature, as well as from History, and always the thoughtful, engaged, and perceptive graduate students.
Travelling this far afield to talk about Atlantic Canada history, it seems to me, is profoundly worthwhile in more than one sense. For me as a sabbaticant, reaching an entirely different and highly responsive audience is refreshing in a way that I will undoubtedly bring to future teaching. I would like to think too that a visit such as this makes a contribution to international understanding of Canada’s history and cultures – a modest contribution no doubt, but one small example of the potential that lies in Canadian Studies programs overseas and their associated scholarly linkages to make a real difference in this area. Very sad, in that context, that the cancellation of the Government of Canada’s “Understanding Canada” program in 2012 has left Canadian Studies programs in India and elsewhere in a fragile state and facing an uncertain future. But, for now, the insights and the collegiality of Indian scholars and graduate students are what I mainly take away from this experience, and they will stay with me for a long time to come.
John Reid is a Professor in the Department of History at Saint Mary’s University, and co-editor of Acadiensis.