Settler Colonialism in Quebec: a blind spot of academic research? Part 4: The Men

By Kathleen Villeneuve

Translated by Robert Twiss from an original publication in HistoireEngagé

On November 25 to 26, 2021 the Université de Montréal hosted the workshop “Settler Colonialism in Quebec: a blind spot of academic research?” Organized by professors Catherine Larochelle and Ollivier Hubert, the aim of the workshop was to survey the state of research in settler colonial studies, a field which, while it is more developed outside the province, is still in its infancy in Quebec. The workshop was therefore conceived as a first step in the development of the study of Quebecois colonialism, in a context in which “colonial agnosia” still limits debate, in this province perhaps more than elsewhere. The presentations were grouped into thematic panels representing the physical and symbolic spaces through which settler colonialism carves a path.

Today, in the fourth of this five part series, Catherine Larochelle, Daniel Rück and Brian Gettler explore how the construction of gender, especially masculine gender, is intertwined with colonialism.

In her presentation, Catherine Larochelle explains how the discourse praising the oblate Albert Lacombe after his death in 1916 makes no distinction between the missionary’s religious work and the “progress” he facilitated in the colonization of the country. Lacombe, who travelled to western Canada in the nineteenth century to found missions and evangelize among Indigenous nations, also played a role as an agent of colonialism for French Canadians, as a peacemaker, while the transcontinental railroad was being built, and as a mediator for the signature of some treaties; in other words, he exceeded his religious role and acted as a facilitator of colonization.

Highly admired in Quebec at the time, father Lacombe was celebrated by a biography published after his death and distributed in all the Francophone centres in Canada and the United States. Could the heroization of colonial figures and the values it communicates—by women in particular—constitute an “ideological reproduction” of colonialism?

For Daniel Rück, masculinity is a key factor in the implementation and perpetuation of settler colonialism. He cites the Christian creation narrative, in which the man monopolizes agency and dominates nature, while women are an “afterthought,” Eve being created by God to satisfy Adam’s desire for companionship. What Rück calls “settler patriarchy” appears as the natural result of such a hierarchical imaginary that permits those at the top to decide “who is expendable and who is given priority,” paving the way for the exploitation of the land and its human and non-human creatures.

However, this colonial patriarchy “made itself unseen and taken for granted;” it is an invisible force that determines social relations and orients the development of the State. Reading the intimate journals of Otto Klutz (1852-1921), a middle-class surveyor of German origin working for the Canadian government, Rück discovers a man who measures the land to be taken away from First Nations and given to the colonists, a man whose journal is filled with racism and misogyny, but is nevertheless preserved for posterity and often shared with those close to him.

Daniel Rück invites us to recognize the profound historical imbrication of patriarchy and settler colonialism, and to develop positive masculine models to hopefully shake up the colonial-patriarchal order as it endures today.

Brian Gettler explores the complexity of masculine expression in a colonial context through the personage of  Louis-Philippe-Ormond Picard Arôsen (1879-1930), an illustrious member of the Huron-Wendat nation at Wendake. An amateur photographer, he left photos with his own captions, which provide an overview of his ideas and of his representational universe through an analysis at once iconographic and textual.

He was a complex and contradictory person in many respects, who could be justly described as a “colonised coloniser.” A businessman from one of the few middle-class families of Wendake, he would be one of the founders of Picard Gold Mines. He mainly spoke English, and he was a dedicated patriot and a career soldier, proud of serving the British crown. Military themes recur often in his photos: parades, monuments, medals.

Although Wendat himself, Picard appears to celebrate the crushing of the North-West rebellion. His photos provide evidence of what Gettler calls a “settler’s gaze,” though possibly an ironic one:  photos of Wild West shows, of Indigenous people on horseback, portraits of him posing near an Indigenous chief or a building he calls an “Indian hut.” Despite this, he also sometimes took on the role of an activist engaged in Indigenous politics. A contradictory figure, he fought for his rights as an Indigenous person while at the same time profiting from what colonial society had to offer. In this sense, Picard blurs the lines separating the categories of settler colonialism.

Kathleen Villeneuve is a masters student at the Université de Montréal.

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