By Billy-Ray Belcourt
It’s tough: knowing that you might not get the world you want and the world that wants you back, that your bones might never stop feeling achy and fragile from the wear and tear of mere existence, from the hard labour of getting through the day. Ours are bodies that have been depleted by time, that have been wrenched into a world they can’t properly bend or squirm into because our flesh is paradoxically both too much and not enough for it. In the wake of both eventful and slowed kinds of premature death, what does it mean that the state wants so eagerly to move Indigenous bodies, to touch them, so to speak?
Reconciliation is an affective mess: it throws together and condenses histories of trauma and their shaky bodies and feelings into a neatly bordered desire; a desire to let go, to move on, to turn to the future with open arms, as it were. Reconciliation is stubbornly ambivalent in its potentiality, an object of desire that we’re not entirely certain how to acquire or substantiate, but one that the state – reified through the bodies of politicians, Indigenous or otherwise – is telling us we need. In fact, Justice Murray Sinclair noted that the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report on December 15, 2015, puts us at the “threshold of a new era in this country.” I am interested in how life might be lived willfully and badly in the face of governmental forms of redress when many of us are stretched thin, how reconciliation, though instantiating a noticeable shift in the national affective atmosphere, doesn’t actually remake the substance of the social or the political such that we’re still tethered to scenes of living that can’t sustain us. What I am trying to get at is: reconciliation works insofar as it is a way of looking forward to being in this world, at the expense of more radical projects like decolonization that want to experiment with different strategies for survival.
This way of doing things isn’t working and, because of that, optimism is hard to come by. According to cultural theorist Ann Cvetkovich, political depression emerges from the realization “that customary forms of political response, including direct action and critical analysis, are no longer working either to change the world or to make us feel better.” It is the pestering sense that whatever you do, it won’t be enough; that things will continue uninterrupted, teasing you because something different is all you’ve wanted from the start. To be politically depressed is to worry about the temporal reach of neoliberal projects like reconciliation, to question their orientation toward the future because the present requires all of your energy in order to feel like anything but dying. Political depression is of a piece with a dispossessory enterprise that remakes the topography of the ordinary such that the labour of maintaining one’s life becomes too hard to keep up. We have to wait for the then and there in the here and now; how do we preserve ourselves until then?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs residential school survivor Eugene Arcand during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in Ottawa, December 15, 2015. Source: CBC
As Leanne Simpson points out, reconciliation has been reparative for some survivors, encouraging them to tell their stories, to keep going, so to speak. But, what of the gendered and racialized technologies of violence that created our scenes of living, scenes we’ve been forced to think are of our own choosing? Optimism for the work of reconciliation disappeared in the face of multiple crises: of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, of HIV infection rates, of mass incarceration, of diabetes, of suicide. Reconciliation, at once a heuristic and a form of statecraft, fakes a political that doesn’t actually exist as such, one that not only presupposes that we – Indigenous peoples, that is – are willing to stay attached to it, but that we are already folded into it, that we’ve already consented to it. What does it mean, for example, to consent to a nation-to-nation relationship if there are no other options to choose from? Continue reading