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Rethinking the Prairie Page in Print Culture

Paper Presented at the Prairie Print Culture Colloquium
by L. M. Findlay
Department of English
University of Saskatchewan

Two epigraphs from Aboriginal leaders, one a reponse to impasse and the other to opportunity.

Let us behold the turtle. He moves forward when he sticks his neck out.
Chief Joe Mathias of the Nun-chaah-nulth, in Dancing Around the Table (1987)

There will be no ivory towers in Nunavut.
Anawak, Inuk MP and mediator, cit. Duffy, Saskatoon Star Phoenix (January 23, 1999)

The project called The history of The book is an example of strategic singularity. It holds out the promise of a history that will seek out diversity of all sorts and bring it into a multi-authored but cohesive narrative, the definite article twice over. I want to support that endeavour by seeming to resist it, my resistance taking the form of a focus on materials that seem more pictorial than print and whose production occurs on both sides of the Canada/US border. In pushing the definition of what constitutes a noteworthy book–in this case account books produced by the thousand and used mainly by the military and Indian agents–and also what constitutes the specifically Canadian prairie, I hope to show both the latent meaningfulness of apparently unremarkable examples of bookmaking, and also the power and limitations of territorial borders. This illustrated talk will discuss ledger drawings made by Aboriginal men in the later nineteenth century. These drawings, a kind of idle defacement or proto-graffiti, some might say, are made on pages printed with lines and grids designed to facilitate manual recording of financial transactions and the movement of goods. I will examine their meaning, and their implications for the celebrated argument about print culture advanced by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities.

However, I begin with a story.

During the installation of Peter MacKinnon as President of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in the fall of 1999, one of those who celebrated the occasion from the platform and podium, in accordance with the printed programme, was Perry Bellegarde, Grand Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. In the course of a rivetting speech of welcome from the first nations of the territory, Chief Bellegarde made the claim on behalf of his people that several of their leaders have also made, namely that “Education is now our Buffalo.” Most assuredly, all academic occasions such as this are saturated with values well as symbolism. After his remarks, Chief Bellegarde proceeded to summon from the wings a stunningly beautiful starblanket made specially for the occasion. He then draped the newly minted President of “the People’s University” in the blanket, enveloping but not quite concealing his new academic togs and leaving him smiling nervously and looking for help in dealing with this unscripted gift and challenge to academic protocol. Help was not long in arriving, and the blanket was removed from a gifted and principled man already perspiring under the stress of the event and the heat of the spotlights. The University Registrar took the blanket away but, rather than, say, for instance, draping it over the podium, stuffed it out of sight. What a moment! This resolution of a challenge to academic protocol should not be over-read, though the temptation is great to do just that, and to do it from several distinct and conflicting vantages. I simply use this incident to remind us of our academic traditions and ceremonies, and our responsibility for how they are maintained and amended, and how the colonial encounter continues to replay itself within every aspect from the most formal to the most apparently trivial within our elite institutions. Leaving the starblanket in its impromptu and undeserved closet, I turn rather to the challenge in Chief Bellegarde’s words, “Education is now our buffalo.”

This turn is for me an act of strategic deference to Indigenous authority, an authority captured in a discourse both sustained and dignified by the knowledge of prior Aboriginal occupancy (see Macklem 77) of the campus and city territory, and of the collective rights deriving from that occupancy and its unresolved legacies (see Cardinal and Hildebrandt). “Education is now our buffalo.” What did Chief Bellegarde mean by this statement? What did I want him to mean by it? It has haunted me since I first heard it.

There was daring in Chief Bellegarde’s making such a pronouncement on an occasion when he had little time to elaborate what he meant by it and had to trust that all those smart people on the stage and in the audience at the Centennial Auditorium in Saskatoon would be able to figure it out for themselves. Was he suggesting that Education will follow the buffalo into extinction, at least as far as aboriginal peoples are concerned? I think rather that this metaphor exemplifies what I will call the political imagination, an imagination no less learned in the ways of material culture and communications than say, Harold Adams Innis’s or Jean-Claude Guedon’s, but coming from a different tradition than either of these fine Canadian scholars. The buffalo, and its move from populousness and largely unencumbered movement across the great plains to paddocks and near extinction, was the crucial fact in the sustainable culture of the ancestors of Chief Bellegarde. Such intense dependency bred respect and patterns of responsible use, a far cry indeed from the effluent society now considering where to relocate its piles of garbage–while wondering which Aboriginal group to blame for threatening yet another wildlife population or fishery which colonizers themselves have brought directly or indirectly to acute endangerment.

Using all the resource, using only as many animals as one’s group required, and using these animals for the good of everyone in the community–these principles of responsible use are only too relevant to the public university in Canada today. Chief Bellegarde recognizes that his people, to too great a degree, themselves went the way of the buffalo until very recently, dwindling in numbers, territorially confined, curiosities of the colonial past with no clear role in the potentially postcolonial future. So education has become the only alternative as principal source of physical and cultural sustainability for the first nations and metis of Saskatchewan. Now, this recognition can be seen as admitting to the inevitability of assimilation as the solution to Canada’s “Indian problem.” According to this reading, Chief Bellegarde has simply shifted dependencies in that project of modernity which has the new knowledge economy as its defining context and educational catchup as the fate of Indigenous peoples hitherto reluctant or unable to adapt from outmoded ways of life. But such a reading is signally impoverished in a couple of ways. It suggests that Chief Bellegarde is speaking only about and for his own people, and that the dependency he identifies is derivative, the minor and belated version of what mainstream society has for sometime now known to be the case. But what if the Chief, and other aboriginal leaders currently addressing the importance of education to the future of their teenage nations in the land of Freedom 55, what if they are inviting us non-Aboriginals to countenance the possibility that they for a change might be speaking for all of us and that the dependency they recognize can help transform what we mean by a knowledge economy? Can we not learn from them, and in a way different for a change from the ripping off and commercial exploitation of Aboriginal knowledge and heritage (Battiste and Henderson)? Is it so clearly the case that education today has a more secure future than the buffalo? And if so, what kinds of education, of whom, and in whose interests? Or is it the case that certain narrow kinds of training and information transfer are what is curently meant by ‘education,’ and not community access and community benefit stemming from respectful use of a key resource for the benefit of all. This latter communitarian and respectful reading of Chief Bellegarde’s words is the one I wish to promote, and I wish to argue that for this reading to prevail over neo-colonial, paternalistic options, there has to be a new kind of listening to Aboriginal stories about what people have learned, from the inside, about the rapid and largely irreversible disappearance of a way of life thousands of years old and about the place of Aboriginal knowledge and culture at the heart of any Treaty Federalism worthy of the name. This kind of listening needs to be combined with a concerted decolonizing of education as it is too often understood and defended in this country. And first and foremost this requires the decolonizing of our universities where excellence is defined, legitimacy produced.. And what do I mean by that?

Honouring Indigenous knowledge is an increasingly necessary gesture in the contemporary Canadian university. But it has to be more than a gesture; it has to be connected to the work of understanding and respecting “Indigenous difference” (Macklem), and creating on that basis new coalitions of understanding and social action. The stages of this process of receptivity-- respect based on attentiveness and then protracted into serious study and collaboration--are central to the project of decolonizing the university. So I am about to offer analysis of what I take to be insufficiently examined Eurocentric assumptions regarding literacy, textuality, bibliophilia, and ‘art.’

Turning the Page

I turn then to the analysis of a set of images produced on both sides of the Canada/US border by peoples of the great plains. These images and the books that contain them are central to an argument developed under the guidance of two Indigenous collaborators, Marie Battiste and Sakej Youngblood Henderson. The first attempt to deal with these images came as a supplement to Marie’s reading from a M’iq’Maw perspective of cognitive imperialism in the academic depiction of Indigenous literacy. I cannot do anything like justice to these images, but I will try to use them for justice and as a possibly enriching tributary to the history of the book in Canada that comes to be written. At the same time, I recognize the residually appropriative quality of such use, the arbitrariness of assembly of these images and their showing here, the limits of my understanding of them, but above all, and the decisive factor for me, their educative power for an audience like this one. These images have all already been reproduced, though not always presented and discussed in ways of which I approve.

What this is not about is my scholarly versatility or transcultural sensibility; it is about what our group are calling the Indigenous Humanities, pursued as one of a set of decolonizing practices we are developing with other educational groups in North America and with the Kaupapa Maori project in New Zealand. What I bring to this is a willingness to work under Aboriginal guidance, to critique my own traditions, both mono-disciplinary and comparative, and to manifest a certain strategic surliness around senior administrators that results in modest funding for, and a permissive stance towards, the projects undertaken by the Humanities Research Unit at my university.

Marie Battiste has been working for some time now on the presence of cognitive imperialism in the westernized Canadian classroom where the promotion of literacy and textual culture has had a very powerful, though not always negative or irresistible, impact on Indigenous literacies and cultural self-determination. She has also reminded us of parts of the history of Algonquian symbolic literacy which have been casually or deliberately ignored or devalued in the course of monumentalizing the European page. With her encouragement, I have been working with images deriving from one particular historical conjuncture in Western Canada and the Unites States, one dealing with Aboriginal generosity, adaptation, and resistance, recorded in part on the printed page as surface for drawing. I am trying to use these images in conjunction with a major recent argument about print culture and print capitalism to offer an ideological critique of the page, and by extension the printed book, as part of the larger project of decolonizing at least parts of at least some universities and exposing some of the defining features of North American colonization of the continent’s First Nations. In turning the page at the heart of the textual humanities, turning it to the light in an unusually Indigenous and anti-capitalist way, I wish to help turn the page of Eurocentric academic quietism in Canadian universities, including this one (compare Federico Mayor’s use of this figure).

The Page as Stockade

I offer, then, examples of ledger drawings or ledger art produced by First Nations men as their customary share of the gendered production of images by their peoples in the later nineteenth century. These images were often produced in prison but always with a mix of pathos and resistance, a weave of broadly available and community-specific meanings. These images are drawn mostly on the pages of Indian agent ledgers or account books (Robertson 13) acquired by trade or as booty, but increasingly made available as surplus stock in that actuarial winning of the West with its “tallying of prisoners” (Blume) and annuities, impelled by greed, marked by genocide, and ever dependent on the keeping of sound financial records. Or, these ledgers were deemed usable stock but discovered to have another, lesser use, and given out of condescension or fear to First Nations prisoners to amuse themselves, so that they could ‘doodle’ their way through dispossession on the road to assimilation or extinction. Ironically, the soldiers sent to subdue them often prized highly the drawings that their prisoners made, opening fissures in the cultural confidence of the United States Government (Berlo 13), and the government of Canada too. The resort to paper as a medium for Indigenous image-making also bears witness to the increasing scarcity of the buffalo hide (and its four-footed source) as the traditional ‘page’ for such designs (Robertson 13). For the tabula rasa is never quite that; it is only quasi rasa, its apparent blankness the conventional, ideological construction of the clean slate that goes hand in hand with the allegation of a pristine wilderness or empty land, the transformation of terra incognita into the predator’s paradise of terra nullius. To the decoration of such pages each Indigenous prisoner--whether in a stockade or reservation--brought distinctive oral, textual, graphic, gestural, and musical competencies which had to be exoticized, infantilized, or eliminated-and-archived in the name of progress. Only thus could the manifest cultural competencies of the artists be subordinated to, or obliterated in favour of, the colonial story of savages in need of civilization. How, then, would you accommodate in the History of the Book these pages on which the grid of book-keeping suggests something of capital’s powerful and persistent determination of the art of book-making as such, while both constraining and enabling Indigenous culturalism and critique of oppression? How would you read the claims of individually assigned and itemized property against these unsigned images sharing space with other unsigned images often by other hands? Just as I have argued elsewhere that the Cold War is still being fought, so I would argue here that the Indian War is still being fought, though in different registers and territorial configurations than previously. It is after all little more than a century since the letters IT meant Indian territory; they of course mean something very different now. In the case of both these wars, the United States has been the main player and Canada a lesser but perhaps more smug and hypocritical participant. Perhaps these images will bring out some of the differences and compatibilities our countries share. I will start with American images and then turn to some by an Assiniboine artist from South Saskatchewan. I favour this sequence and emphasis today, partly because I find the physical, economic, and cultural violence of capital is easier to establish and read in the American images.

The first image (Berlo figure 1, Abstract of Property belonging to the Cheyenne Indians lost or destroyed at Sand Creek, Colorado by Colonel Chivington in October 14, 1865.) has more to tell us than might at first appear to be the case with a ‘mere’ inventory after a notorious massacre. The image offers a sample of the type of ledger book that gives ledger drawings on both sides of the border their name. This curatorial label defers to the materiality of the medium but also to the object’s primary or intended function, understood as straightforwardly commercial but with connections to narratives of settlement, modernization, colonization, the material and the political (Findlay “Interdisciplining”: 4ff.; Henderson 8-13). The layout of the ledger promises to the dominant culture accurate and retrievable information. It hence seems a far cry from oral culture, and signals also the reduction of mnemonic oral formulae to make way for the cautious convention of the double entry or the annual X marking the spot of dependency and betrayal. This particular example seems to have been adapted by a meticulous military bureaucracy to the project of economic restitution, even though this process is directed by the man who directed the massacre, a man himself accountable to his superiors in the territory and back east. However, this official mode of record-keeping cannot prohibit unofficial, supplemental or excessive or exotic records, using much the same materials to assert very different versions of the nature of property and its valuation, versions deriving indeed from Indigenous accounting and recounting.

The second image reminds us that account ledgers represent of course only one armature of colonial transformation. Here is another of the sort especially favoured by missionaries, the photographic, albumen page from the unbound, cumulative visual archive giving us before and after images of Tom Torlino, Navajo from Arizona, on Arrival at the IndianTraining School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1885 (Berlo figure 3. It could as easily be a photo from the Saskatchewan Archives of, say, young Thomas Moore, on admission and then allegedly “after a few years attendance at Regina Industrial School” [Miller 199]). Here we see another technology of surveillance and subjection unashamedly at work in the transformation of identity by the “resident” school photographer, John Choate (Berlo 44). The transformation of this Navaho man via literacy and Christianity and industrial training will produce skills useful to Pennsylvania employers (most notably the ability to make hats and shoes) but worse than useless to those who alienate themselves from their culture and lose their independence in acquiring and exercising such skills. The page can be predominantly or entirely an image, destined to be bound or not, but still working with paper of a standard size (8 3/8 x 5 1/8 inches) in order to record and permit ongoing access to details of the civilizing mission underway. The lighting of a particular shot, like the massaging of a particular prose account, or the cooking of a particular set of books, may exaggerate a process of assimilation which can then be further legitimated and accelerated by reproducing and disseminating sets of text, images, or numbers.

The third image shifts us towards Indigenous agency within the contexts of exchange and surveillance sketched above (Bear’s Heart, a Cheyenne artist, depicting Troops Amassed against a Cheyenne Village, 1876-77 ; Berlo plate 1). In this drawing, collectivities are contrasted. Colour, social and physical formation, and page division all underscore, after the fact and amidst the fallout, the clash of values and practices, the juxtaposition of a green and grounded, circular encampment and the apparently endless, ominously uniform, linear regiments in static array on the left, on the quasi-blank ground of ledger paper, with agency as usual, and deeply ironically in this case, located on the right, subordinating the westward movement of US troops and settlers to the right/left dynamic typical of ledger drawings. This diptych reconstructs military defeat in the visual elegy to a way of life increasingly imperilled and unavailable to the person doing the drawing here--except on these documentary pages and the secret rituals and opaque conversations of Indigenous inmates. One kind of column of figures prepares the way for another, columns of soldiers for columns of numbers, to seal the fate of the dispossessed whose casualties are already accumulating and whose property losses and human survivors will be dutifully recorded. Alive or dead, their number is up. Uniformity under a single flag is contrasted with diversity under an open sky, before military discipline achieves an outcome that educational disciplines will endeavour to consolidate, legitimate, and complete in the name of progress. Yet Bear’s Heart knows this already to be the case and his drawing is an earnest of resistance based on understanding. Pace too many ‘expert’ commentators (even very recent ones like Lovatt and Dewitt), there is nothing naive about this drawing at all. A keeping of detailed financial accounts such as in the first ledger image we saw could be no more hard-headed or politically astute than Bear’s Heart’s visual practice.

Of course, not all clashes were explicitly military. After conquest come negotiation, administration, legislation, and hegemony, as in this fourth image (Howling Wolf & Soaring Eagle at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, home of a well-heeled, ‘white,’ market for native Americana; Szabo plate 25, a destination arrived at after more than seventy “Bad Indians” journeyed more than twenty days by wagon train, locomotive and steam ship, while being abused by a white reception committee at every populated stop along the way [Viola intro]). This drawing is a kind of pictorial accounting. It commemorates a formal gathering for the distribution of annuity or treaty goods, where commodities are not represented by numbers and words but are centrally displayed in an overdetermined and internally conflicted process of exchange. Once again, though, there is pride as well as vulnerability in the physical disposition and diversity of the First Nations figures within the page-frame where the Stars and Stripes now flies over everyone and does its symbolic work without the visible presence of uniformed troops. The page, in the very rectangularity it shares with the flag, functions as a kind of cultural or semiotic stockade, having the very shape that Chief Joe Mathias would later have in mind when, after the collapse of the fourth Canadian Conference on Aboriginal Self-Government, he told his people that they would never “be contained within the four corners of a history book and put on a shelf” (Dancing Around the Table). The history of the book in Canada must deal, imaginatively and respectfully, with that reality.

The fifth of the images I have selected complicates matters further (an example of Howling Wolf of the Southern Cheyenne’s work, Sept 26 1876 in Fort Marion, Florida; Szabo plate 12). Here the tendency to formalize and control space in a quasi-military or industrial way is evident in the scene of instruction. The classroom demands ominous uniformity of its Indigenous students; the page is prominent and endlessly replicable as an agent of socialization, in situations where the instructor from the dominant culture is now--and usually is in these drawings--female rather than male, and often a volunteer. Note the pathos and historically determinate ambiguity of these versions of the stylus, pencils doubling as lances and spears, each infantilizing backview of a pupil offering an analogy to the transformation of the young Navaho, Tom Torlino, and of so many other young people in such schools on both sides of ‘the’ border. Note also the ominous fidelity with which the picture of Christ and his disciples is reproduced in this variation on the theme of dominus et discipuli, and the new pupil being directed with his chair to an appropriate spot in the classroom (one less Indian to worry about). The scribal gesture of the teacher is reproduced by the pupils, while the non-Indigenous male figure who maintains written records in wooden pigeonholes-- and spatial order in the classroom-- employs an equally directive gesture echoed in the religious painting on the wall. The blackboard next to the painting represents an endlessly re-usable page employed in tandem with the Christian image, script assisting Scripture, the one replete with meaning even though for the moment rasa and the other glorifying teaching but also conveying the pathos of an outdoor scene within a confined and thoroughly regimented space. Such classrooms are not always rendered so sombrely (the whole schoolroom even seems to be smiling, with the matching adults and attentive pupils apparently ratifying the civilizing mission in Berlo plate 3; Wohaw, Kiowa, Fort Marion), but neither humour nor apparent acceptance can quell the sense of indoctrination and the residual power of Indigenous tradition–unless of course you happen to be Harriet Beecher Stowe, who had a house near Fort Marion and wrote thus in the Christian Union for April17, 1877:

When the bell rang for school hours, there came rushing from all quarters dark men “in the United States uniform, neat, compact, trim, with well-brushed boots and nicely kept clothing and books in their hands.” For a time, until all the teachers had arrived, the students formed a square around the blackboard. “Large spelling-cards adorned one side of the wall, containing various pictures and object-lessons adapted to the earliest stages of learning. ... When they read in concert, when they mastered perfectly the pronunciation of a difficult word, when they gave the right answer to a question they were evidently delighted.... There was not a listless face, not a wandering eye in the whole class.” (cit. Viola 111)

In the Kiowa image, which is an “object-lesson” of another sort, the two non-students are in reality more rivals than collaborators, the detached and spectral Indigenous figure a symbol of self-containment contrasting powerfully with the didactic gestures of the teacher and the legitimating instruments she holds in her hands, the pointer and the page. The traditional figure appears to be behind the seated students as an active ally as well as an adjacent memory. As Anna Blume astutely notes, “this enigmatic Native figure ... looms like the image of an inner eye, faint yet present, present in the drawing as evidence of a split and troubled consciousness” (in Berlo 40). The sundance and the potlach and much else may have to go underground but they will not go away–so that, to adapt Victor Hugo, “Ceci ne peut pas tuer cela,” except by killing off Aboriginal languages and their speakers, and defining knowledge, in institutions like universities, as that which they with their inefficient orality and proto-literacy and pseudo-science and their strange spirituality simply don’t have–despite being rewarding objects of inquiry for humanists and social scientists and invaluable sources of knowledge for mining and agricultural and pharmaceutical companies.

Of course, the future of the colonizing and assimilating page was to affect almost every aspect of Indigenous life, including the one captured in the seventh illustration (a drawing by an unknown Cheyenne artist that forms the frontispiece to the Evans Ledger; Berlo plate 24). A well dressed couple share a log together and exchange a parasol. Other drawings by males use the ledger page to remember courtship rituals which might otherwise be painted on tipi linings or clothing. Some things are better said than written, even though their certification will soon require official stationery and the witnessing of signatures to be legal. Courtship scenes and oral exchange mark the capacity of and necessity for a people to reproduce themselves, but the pictorial reproductions of such scenes are framed and shadowed by the colonial realities into which Indigenous children will now be born and the ways in which Indigenous sexuality, especially but not exclusively female sexuality, will be brutalized and exploited by white society. The signs of hybridization come early and fast as markers of profound cognitive shifts and the process of internalizing categories and conventions on which hegemony depends. Keeping track of time calendrically did not stop when there were no more buffalo to keep track of and upon (Sandoz xix). The tribal historian had to turn to paper from hide, and therefore to a degree had to accept if not accentuate his people’s colonization, and Gerald McMaster has pointed out that there were real advantages as well to the compactness and portability of these ledger books in times of increasing disruption (in a dialogue with the author, Berlo 20). Compactness was already a graphic tradition in winter counts such as this one, but how intelligible are these images beyond the community they were designed for as as prompts for the narrating of collective identity and history? How intelligible are they to you or me?: “1871: A warrior named High Breast killed by Shoshone; 1872: Roan Bear died; 1873: Issue of commodities from the government (indicated by a striped blanket next to the tipi}; 1874: Year of measles outbreak; 1875: Utes stole hundreds of Lakota horses; 1876: Chief Buffalo Head sponsored ceremonies; 1877: Chief Elk-Walks-Crying died; 1878: Crazy horse killed; 1879: Cheyenne killed in a house; 1899: Sent the boys and girls to school (Mallery 1893:326-28; object file 1963.272, Denver Art Museum.) Here is prose interpretation from the “object file” in Denver Art Museum, interpretation with more than a hint of Death in Eldorado to it, prose by Garrick Mallery, writer and army colonel working for the Bureau of American Ethnlogy (Battiste Good, Brown Hat, Brule Sioux. Winter Count, kept by the artist; Szabo figure 3). The knowledge needed to negotiate with the dominant society meant a choice between dependencies, each of which presumed defeat and marginality: you either had to accept the colonizer’s interpreter of choice, or learn to use the colonial master’s tools and hence forego if not yet forsake traditional knowledge and authorities. What are the connections in successive years between government blankets and measles? What are the implications of a leader’s natural death or his death by ‘white’ treachery, after the attempted separation of Crazy Horse from his people for security reasons (Buecker et al 10)? This page is making important historical work possible, but what will happen to the fuller narrative that depends on social and ceremonial conditions profoundly threatened by disease and diaspora?

Facing pages like these two by an unknown Cheyenne artist (Berlo figs.2,3) are devoted to separate incidents, with the number 48 floating as if disconnected entirely from a scene irreducibly hybrid but interpreted in a later annotation as a change in artistic intention. This change is said to entail updating the white enemies to Indigenous ones within the colonizing project of divide and rule. However, unless the interpretation of marks on the ledger page begins with the purpose and distribution history of the page itself, all attempts to read the page aesthetically are doomed to distortion and irresponsibility. Attending seriously to such material, cultural, and economic history is in effect a refusal to depoliticize interpretation and a refusal also of such staggeringly glib accounting for change as that offered even by informed and sympathetic commentators like Mari Sandoz, when she observes: “The horse was the first readily negotiable property of universal value that the Sioux possessed, and made an Indian on the Plains not only a mobile warrior and hunter but a capitalist, changing much of his largely communal society” (xix). By this token, Indigenous people should have rapidly become the commercial competitors of the colonizers, using the ledger books like good capitalists did (and do), for numeric tracking of the movement of goods and money, and certainly not for doodling.

Canadian ledger drawings appear to be far fewer in number than American ones but are concentrated in the same decades of the later nineteenth century and can be similarly read for the impact of colonial capitalism on the life of Plains Indians. For the Assiniboine people, for instance, the Canada/US border was a figment of the colonial imagination until they were forced to choose which regime to be recognized under. Activities under the aegis of British dominion could be as violent as the Cypress Hills massacre or the suppression of the Metis under Riel, but were more often of a peacekeeping and ‘civilizing’ sort. In the work of the Assiniboine O-ge-esa (he-who-tells; Roberston 27) ‘collected’ by Dr. O. C. Edwards, a physician with the indian Department, lined paper is used to record more than forty different scenes over three decades within the larger reality of the Canadian government’s efforts to control every aspect of the finances of Aboriginal people. These unsigned drawings recently contextualized by Valerie Roberston and Charlotte Nahbixie commemorate the buffalo hunt, the dangers from wounded animals and from human enemies. They also commemorate courtship and the hunting prowess and prosperity of the man doing the wooing. But military encroachment had begun much earlier and is recorded in this image dated around 1855. It could be Fort Walsh or a police barracks, but it is very much in Indian Territory and depicted by an anxious observer rather than by inmates like in the Fort Marion examples. The proliferation of official presences and their attempts to secure Aboriginal recruits is captured in this ceremonial presentation of a muzzle loader to such a recruit, with a sword to follow. The annotation expresses respect for the gun and for the peacekeeping abilities of the Red Coats. This is a drawing from the later 1870s, with Treaty Four already signed, registering those who would receive $5.00 on treaty day; No X, no money. This is read as giving them a chance to help themselves. But the elders interviewed by Harold Cardinal and Walter Hidebrandt give a very different interpretation of scenes like these than the government and settlers did. For the latter the treaties meant a process of legal extinction of land title to support the physical extinction of the Plains peoples. If Aboriginal people were stupid enough to give away their ancestral lands and rights then too bad. That stupidity was underscored by the crudity of their signing process and the naive pride with which their leaders regarded and wore their treaty medals (and the Queen Vicotria medals issued to ‘loyal’ chiefs who did not enter the conflict of 1885). But the sense of documentary acceptance in an image such as this is deceptive. There is nothing for On-ge-esa to be angry about as a member of Anina Ombi, the silent and generous Assiniboine people (Cardinal and Hildebrandt 39). After all the land still belongs to the Creator beneath the depth of a plow blade, and the specific textuality of treaty rituals is as superfical as the land entitlements of the incoming settlers. It is a contrived, depleted interface, between a plenary orality and colonial textuality, not a full and binding disclosure of the knowledge and intentions of Aboriginal signatories. That knowledge and intentions are sanctioned by the Creator and surely evident to all. So the original and the annual rituals are not about dependency but about keeping an agreement foreshadowed and legitimated by Aborginal traditions themselves, keeping it in spirit but also in such seemingly minor details as this. The mark on the ledger, like the stamped image on the Treaty Medal, does not mean one thing only–except within the semiotic stockade of colonialism. Because the mark is in a book or on the books does not necessarily reduce and confine its significance, even if its source is the Queen’s Printer. We now have a Data Liberation Initiative; we desperately need a Semiotic Liberation Initiative too.

The image of the Indian Agent’s house symbolizes the displacement of the buffalo by the cow, the move to agricultural practices of a different sort, and to dwellings more permanent than the teepee. And the final image is a training scene from about 1885 that could be either American or Canadian. It was not the only form of regimentation going on, of course, but it points forward to Aboriginal participation in foreign wars and the disgraceful treatment of the veterans of those wars on their return to Canada and the United States. On-ge-esa’s images give us a different perspective on developments so thoroughly documented by the colonial powers. In their sparsity and restraint these images on the ground of documentary capitalism remind us just how much of a visual and print and manuscript archive there is with railway photography, military memoirs, Hansard reports and parliamentary epitomes, newspaper stories, residnetial school policies and records. These drawings give point to the fact that, in James Stevens’ words in 1972, “The Assiniboine people, once number[ed] some tweny-eight thousand, ... their hospitality for the white man is recorded in almost every early traveller’s jornal; very few troops ever marched against them. Today, only a few thousand survive on the reserves in the United States and Canada (7). This is what Miyo-wicehtowin (mi-YOH-wee-TSAY–too-win) meant to the colonizer: living in good relations with one another individually or collectively” (Cardinal and Hildebrandt 14 etc.).

Paginated print culture, in the cases of Aboriginal resistance, memory, and mourning is strongly but not exclusively or irrevocably linked to print capitalism, even as these images move from bound page--in a book often with multiple users-- to disbound page, to be used and eventually mounted, framed, curated, exhibited, aestheticized, and reproduced and rebound in illustrated books of cultural analysis and art history. This cycle or contingent sequence is marked by value change but never shakes off the primacy of its economic determinations. So what are the implications of these examples for the celebrated argument about print capitalism made by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (1995)? What are the implications for the multi-mediated future of the page, the textual humanities, the book as we think we know it? And what might be the consequences for the postcolonial Canadian university?

Revisiting Benedict Anderson

Anderson, you may recall, is interested in “large cultural systems” (12) and their role in establishing and sustaining “the basic morphology of the modern nation” (46), including its “literate bourgeoisie’ (77) and intellectual entrepreneurs. Drawing on but going beyond important work on the history of the book by scholars like Elizabeth Eisenstein, Lucien Febvre, and Henri-Jean Martin, Anderson argues for the book as the first industrial commodity and links print culture firmly to print capitalism whose three principal concomitants are: “unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars...; a new fixity to language, which in the long run helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation...; and languages-of-power of a kind different from the older administrative vernaculars” (44-45). Chronologically considered, these three were “largely unselfconscious processes resulting from the explosive interaction between capitalism, technology and human linguistic diversity. But as with so much else in the history of nationalism, once ‘there,’ they could become formal models to be imitated, and, where expedient, consciously exploited in a Macchiavellian spirit” (45). However, this sequence in time does not tell the whole story of a shift from latent to manifest and manipulable process. Anderson therefore goes to Walter Benjamin in order to theorize new forms of social simultaneity enjoyed by consumers of print and the imagined connections and collective identities they sustain in the empty, homogeneous time of the now (Benjaminian Jetztzeit).

The audacious hyphenation through which Anderson produced print-capitalism provoked opposition and criticism of which he takes explicit account in the Preface to the revised edition of his book which appeared twelve years after the first. Here he confesses how “startled” he was to find that “in many notices of Imagined Communities Eurocentric provincialism remained quite undisturbed, and that the crucial chapter on the originating Americas was largely ignored”(xiii). Anderson’s response to “Eurocentric provincialism” is to play up the notion of “Creole pioneers” (47ff; for key general features of creolization see Eades and Lumsden.) and the role of the “printer-journalist” like Benjamin Franklin in a republican creolization of print-capitalism whose independence from the mother country and its metropole was pursued simultaneously with the further conquest and control of Indigenous peoples. Anderson sees the creole newspaper as key to the development of a ‘native’ publishing industry and the effective imagining of autonomous community, and his account remains enormously suggestive though inevitably sketchy. What the evidence of ledger drawings affirms, and Anderson only hints at, is the degree of convergence of documentary capitalism and literacy in nineteenth-century creole nationalism. This process consolidates itself at the expense of both the mother country and its metropole with which it shares a mother tongue (English, Spanish, French, Portugese) and much else; and of course it consolidates itself at the expense of the First Nations of the Americas with whom it agrees to share knowledge, territory, and resources, though only on the most reluctant and exploitative bases. Anderson’s succinctness creates an opportunity or even obligation for others interested in a fuller accounting of the domestic and colonial dominance of print to examine specific sites of transcultural, arguably transnational, contestation and negotiation of the nature of the page. However, this project would benefit from a more dialectical approach than that allowed by such unhelpful notions of Anderson’s as “explosion” (45), or the “synchronicity” of new and old places as “sibling competition rather than ... inheritance” (187), and such logocentric and premature expressions as “the venomous argots of dying colonialisms” (148). The death of colonialism has been greatly exaggerated–just ask the Innu, preferably in the ‘open’ air during a NATO aerial training exercise over the migration paths of the Labrador caribou; or watch Marjorie Beaucage’s Ntapeau ... I am Telling the Truth, an extraordinary community-video chronicling of the Innu struggle against the “development” of the nickel mine at Voisey’s Bay. The key concept of print-capitalism has not yet completed its intellectual and political work which for me includes decolonizing the university; nor has it been as fully articulated together with information-capitalism as it needs to be, despite excellent work collected by, for example, McChesney et al. and Davis et al., or in the bold claims for “the informatization of production” by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (especially 280ff.).

The future of the printed page seems to me to derive much of its importance from being bound up with the future of information-capitalism in an increasingly common dematerialization and deterritorialization. Profit, print, and cyber-circuitry follow analogous but not identical trajectories, even within universities where the conjuncture of antiquity and modernity unevenly impels and ineptly markets knowledge-production and commodity culture. Beside Anderson’s three-part grammar for inventing the nation and its colonies, a process compromising the census, the map, and the museum (163ff.), we need to place, or recognize the imposition of, new information technologies in order to understand and perhaps manage the interactions of social text and hypertext so that we can more fully couple knowledge and sustainability to justice, and do so not in a virtual commons functioning as boutique democracy within transnational, corporate hegemony. Rather, we need new forms of academic community that can claim more political heft than the steam off a Chapters-Indigo latte. We need to rematerialize as well as strategically dematerialize the page. And we need also to reterritorialize as well as strategically deterritorialize the locations where knowledge is produced and applied. Otherwise, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis will have been forced to shift the frame of their ongoing oppression from terra nullius and its smugly predatory bookishness–think for instance of the still revered Walter Ong’s claim in 1978 as President of the MLA, that “oral cultures, however deep their wisdom, cannot reflectively define themselves” (1916 )--to supra or post- terra configurations promising terra virtualis--in other words, an infotopia where land claims are old hat, self-governance a matter of a modem and a mouse, and strategic essentialism has to shift from the multi-mediated articulations of treaties to the even more conflicted contexts, hypertexts, and rhizomes of e-justice or

To be sure, the project of reading, scrolling, and keying for justice may unsettle the humanist and cyber-bourgeoisie, not least by showing how the production of teaching and research, including the history of the Book in Canada, employs a predictably academic division of labour into mass data entry/minority composition. Yet, such divisiveness notwithstanding, we need each other, and we need multiple strategies rather than aggravated vulnerability and disarray. But the “we” in question must perforce be cross-disciplinary and anti-disciplinary, intergenerational and intercultural, and resoundingly anti-capitalist. And I am not talking naive or quiescent pluralism either. The two questions for the academic bourgeoisie and its burgeoning underclass of under-represented and undervalued adjuncts, limited term and sessional appointments and graduate assistants are: first, how to combat more effectively the depoliticizing and reactionary tendencies among ourselves; and second, how to strategically presume and creatively put in question the possibility of being on the same page politically. For all that page’s current instability, which represents opportunities as well as dangers, it is part of a remarkable longue duree. The mobilizing page of which I am thinking as shaping a future history of the book that will help us to mobilize its past in the rethinking of Canadian literacies, this page might first be found in what some of us at the University of Saskatchewan are calling the Indigenous Humanities, understood as a set of revisionary and restorative practices that recognize the staying power of Eurocentrism and logocentrism but are resolved to dispute that centrality while also using it against its deep-running grain. The page of which I am thinking exists only as torn halves of an integral freedom, existing as Adorno’s auseinandergerissene Halfte der ganzen Freiheit in the famous letter to Walter Benjamin assessing the latter’s essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction” (see Young 21-22). These halves never add up so as to eliminate lack or excess or the enticements and unsettlements of cyber-spectrality. But that very fact creates the necessity of materialist and indigenized critique that will move us further along the path to economic and social and educational justice. And so, rather than appealing exclusively to Frankfurt School political textuality I yoke it to an equally trenchant formulation by Marie Battiste and Sakej Henderson from their most recent book, Protecting Indigenous Heritage: A Global Challenge (Purich Press 2000): “As represented by the structure of the language, in a connected whole, the whole is no longer the whole when it is part of an explanation. A holistic process cannot be explained by shattering it into its component parts and assigning local explanations to the segments” (77). And the consequences of this for the academy are sobering: “Eurocentric thought must allow Indigenous knowledge to remain outside its representation, and outside its disciplines. It cannot attempt to capture an incommensurable knowledge system in its web of purposes” (38). Recto most assuredly still requires an uppity verso, but it also requires oral and hyptertextual challenges to its constitution of textuality as such.

Crossing the Lubicon:

Yes, you heard right, not Rubicon but Lubicon, though the neocolonial spellcheck on my computer accepted Rubicon but stigmatised Lubicon. So much for the perfectness of Corel Wordperfect.! Variable acceptance at the level of lexis is of course connected to similar differences at the level of cultural reference, still today in Canada. And the history of words and expressions, like the history of the book, is absolutely essential to any effective use and critique of new textualities and cyber-literacies. But, of course, as well as Lubicon I also meant for you to hear an echo of Julius Caesar’s moment of decision in 49 BC when, at the head of the 13th Legion, he crossed a small river dividing Republican Italy from Cisalpine Gaul, in a deliberate act tantamount to declaring war on the Roman Senate. I want us to remember the role of natural features like rivers and lakes marking the boundaries of political entities and monitoring the intentions of neighbours and returnees. Notions of territoriality and the conventions of ingress/egress and of political citizenship can be easily tied to Lubicon Lake in Northern Alberta and to rock paintings in its vicinity which feed into the symbols used in plains ledger drawings in much later times, and to the condition of the Lubicon Lake Cree to whom that lake and the rivers that feed to and from it and the land they move through means so much. Crossing the Rubicon started a Civil War; crossing the Lubicon has not, partly because of the Lubicon’s recourse to the Canadian courts, a recourse deriving from the First Nations’ ongoing, endlessly exploited impulse to share this land with successive waves of newcomers. Rolling the dice in Canada has a different resonance than in Caesar--or in Mallarme or Derrida, for that matter, but much the same force. Ask Brian Mulroney. Jacta alea est. Betraying First Nations, Inuit and Metis has been equally decisive, based on a reading of the national political will which to my mind is a sorry reflection on our Eurocentric universities, colleges, and schools. Crossing the Lubicon (and so many other aboriginal peoples) has been largely routine for far too many people while others remained silent or ignorant. But what canon of Canadian knowledge, what set of educational priorities could have led to such a situation and the enormous deficit in public understanding that leads to the fallout of several sorts from, for instance, the Supreme Court decision and unprecedented “clarification” in the Marshall case? Part of the reason is that the indifference of the Federal Government to RCAP finds too many echoes in Universities, despite RCAP’s constant emphasis on education as the key, as in effect our buffalo. And there are spectacles such as the obstructing by a series of federal and provincial governments for over sixty years of the legitimate claims of a courageous people against the Alberta oil and gas industry and, more recently, the pulp and paper giant, Daishowa Marubeni-International (Klein 425-6), much of whose revenues come from producing “blank” pages for handwriting and printing, pages essential to the disseminating practices of transnational capital today. The tabula is never rasa. The Lubicon, their oral history and their tiny Legal Defence Fund, have been pitted against textual capitalism at its most intimidating: the legal dream teams of governments and corporations and those unshameable even by UN censure. Bernard Ominayak and Bruce Cockburn need you!

The history of the Book in Canada is characterized in Canada’s other official language as Histoire du livre et de l’imprime au Canada. The French makes explicit what the English implies, namely, printing; but that explicit inclusion makes an absence more explicit too: the absence, or disfigurement through appropriative transcription and translation, of the languages and oral traditions of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. Such an absence or its appropriative equivalent, can, I think, be justified, but only if the emphasis on Euro-Canadian and other immigrant literacies is attended at every stage by a resolve to learn about and incorporate respectfully in this multi-authored history the Indigenous interface with a rapidly developing and diffusing print culture–interface as compliance, resistance, and transformation. This, I would suggest brings both justice and distinction to this enterprise, and real meaning to that much abused expression, Canadian content! Some essential components of Canadian content can be produced only by Aboriginal authorities; and their authority rests in part on restricting access to that knowledge. Aboriginal scholars, even when they enter the academy as faculty, cannot simply uncouple themselves from their communities and commit themselves to the increasingly corporate and endlessly commodifying university’s right to know, disseminate, patent, exploit. Indeed, Aboriginal versions of community responsibility can benefit from and enrich in turn traditional notions of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. That way, there will be no ivory towers in Nunavut, nor anywhere else in Canada either. Thinking always the Lubicon with the Rubicon will not be easy, but the benefits for all Canadians are potentially enormous. And so, in the interests of gender inclusiveneness, national unity, and academic courage, I repeat Chief Joe Matthias’s exhortation in both official languages. Regardons la tortue. Elle s’avance quand elle s’etend le cou. “Let us behold the turtle. He moves forward when he sticks his neck out.” In this paper I’ve tried my best to heed that exhortation. Thank you.

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L. M. Findlay
Department of English
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK
Canada S7N 5A5