Chronique radio du 6 mars 2017, émission “En profondeur” sur CKUT.ca
Cette chronique traite de l’utilisation, dans l’espace public québécois, de la thématique du métissage. Pour un nombre grandissant d’intellectuel-le-s, d’artistes et de personnalités de toutes sortes, le Québec serait une société métissée. Cette intuition peut s’avérer factuellement fondée dans la nature de la société québécoise comme société d’immigration. Néanmoins, lorsqu’elle est considérée en rapport aux relations entre colons et autochtones, cette intuition s’avère tenir plus du mythe que de la réalité historique. Elle s’ancre en réalité dans un arsenal colonial rarement reconnu comme tel, et participe d’une longue tradition d’effacement des populations autochtones, et de spoliation de leurs territoires, cultures et identités.
Cette chronique est inspirée des travaux de l’historien mohawk Eric Pouliot-Thisdale sur la réalité statistique du métissage en Nouvelle-France et au Québec.
English transcript :
Hello folks, hello Christian, good morning to our listeners and to the team of « En profondeur ».
I wanted to talk today about a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, a topic that’s becoming more and more important in Quebec. I’m talking about the rhetoric of « métissage » in Quebec.
So I was going through my notes for this radio show and it came to me that if we really wanted to properly understand the issue, we should first make sure we understand the complexity of colonialism.
So, what we mean when we say « colonialism » is slightly different from « colonization ». Colonization is the fact of a foreign power invading a place and taking it under its authority and control, and using it as if it were its own. Colonialism on the other hand is a system, a process that goes hand in hand with colonization which is meant to naturalize, to explain, to justify the colonial entreprise. Generally,scholars distinguish two types of colonialism. First, a « classical » colonialism, that we could also name an « extractive colonialism » ; and second, a « settler colonialism ». The distinction is schematic at least in part because both types have worked together and have sometimes been mixed up in their use. However, they do have different rationalities.
Typically, under an extractive colonial rule, a foreign power will take control of a territory and will use it to extract resources to send them back to the « mother country » as a way to make money. This type of colonialism has historically served in the development of capitalism.
As for settler colonialism, the logic is slightly different ; a foreign power sends colonizers, or settlers, to a foreign country ; they invade it, take power, and try to re-create a new society there. One author, Lorenzo Veracini, worked extensively on the differences between the two types of colonialism, and he creates analogies between bacterias/viruses and extractive/settler colonialism. According to him for instance, extractive colonialism is similar to a virus ; it cannot live by itself, it needs a host to develop and reproduce. Whereas the bacteria, to which settler colonialism is more similar, does not necessarily need a host to survive. It will use hosts to speed up its own development but it does not need them per se. Similarly, extractive colonialism will try to keep native peoples in place to some extent, because they’re a source of cheap (if not free) labor for the extraction of resources that are sent back to the mother nation. Settler colonialism does not need native peoples ; on the contrary, it will try to destroy and erase them.
When looking at history, three ways have been used by euro-american powers to erase, destroy and eradicate native peoples. First, there’s genocide, the biological elimination of people. At the other end of the spectrum, we find assimilation ; the logic is essentially the same but with different means. The goal is to erase native people by destroying their cultures and identities. There’s also a third way of doing so, and it borrows some elements from both genocidal and assimilationist logics. This third way is « métissage » or inter-breeding. From a colonial standpoint, métissage can mean two things : the fact of having mixed blood, which is a racial way of looking at it ; or a cultural understanding, as in being « métis » because one has been raised in two (or more) cultures.
Obviously, the distinction between genocide, assimilation and métissage is also schematic to some extent considering the three tactics have often been used at the same time or one after the other. What separates the colonial definition of métissage from other types of definition is its confusion between biological and cultural aspects. That confusion is central in the colonial logic. The fact of the matter is, we can’t shy away from noticing that this confusion is also a central part of the actual rhetoric of métissage within Québec.
In Quebec, this topic is slowly becoming part of a national narrative, sometimes in a positive way. It is used for instance to acknowledge that Quebec is a society depending on its immigration to grow and become more opened, more just, etc. However, I find that in Quebec at least, this narrative of métissage is used mostly in regard to Indigenous peoples ; when it comes to immigration, people will mostly use words such as « multicultural » or « intercultural ». On the other hand, the narrative of métissage is found in such things as L’Empreinte – I won’t talk more about that movie because it is such a pile of audio-visual crap that I’d rather have people forget about it as fast as they can.
Anyhow, the métissage is starting to become a national myth in Quebec ; it is accurately named a myth become it relies on exaggerations and misinterpretations of tendencies and facts that, while non-representative or of minor importance, are overstated and transformed into coherent ideological systems. For instance, the métissage myth in Québec relies heavily on the exaggeration of the numbers of inter-marriages between native and non-native people, whether in New France, French Canada or Quebec. It is also based on the exaggeration of long-term contacts between native and non-native people, as with the national use of the symbol of the « coureur des bois ». If you listen to Quebecers, you’ll end up thinking that the coureur des bois phenomenon was quite widespread when it was, in fact, quite limited in time and numbers of individuals. There is also a wide exaggeration of the transfer of technology and knowledge from native people to non-native people and the education of non-native about native ways of life.
So when you look at it this way, you realize that this métissage narrative in Quebec is more of a way to justify a certain relationship to the territory. In this sense it is a nationalist myth and narrative because the endgame behind it is the control of the territory, a territory deemed « national » by most public figures. It is another way of naturalizing Quebecers.
If you remember what I was saying about settler colonialism (which is the dominant strain of colonialism in North America), I was saying settlers do not need native people if we follow the settler colonial logic. Which is why they tried to erase and destroy native communities and individuals, in order to re-create a sort of virgin relationship with the territory they claim as their own.
This is something we hear from some segments of Quebec’s left : « I’m not a Quebecer who’s supporting the catholic history of Quebec, the Grande Noirceur, I’m a Quebecer from this part of the Quebec society that’s in love with its rivers, its lakes, its forests. » It’s nothing less than a well-intentioned way of trying to indigenize Quebecers. What’s important to notice is that this logic both keeps and inverts the settler colonial logic ; the native individual who becomes « métis » will always be considered less native than before (let’s not forget we live in a country where the « Indian status » is still based on blood quantum) ; on the other hand, the Quebecer who becomes « métis » will always be more native than before, often following stereotypical understandings of indigeneity. I can’t recall the number of white folks I have met in Quebec who claim being native and support this claim by trying to show you how they made a drum with a goat hide, or how they burn sage on a regular basis, or how good the dream-catcher dangling from their rear-view mirror looks. Cool. Cool cool cool. Except that’s folklore, not identity or culture.
Now, this being said, we also need to look into the reasons why individuals are attracted to that kind of narrative, which are not necessarily the same as those behind the narrative itself.
The greatest authors who worked on colonization and colonialism always mentioned the fact that colonization impacts both colonized people and colonizers. Granted, the impact is far more negative on colonized than colonizer groups. The effects of colonization and colonialism on the colonizer usually appear under the guise of frustration, uneasiness and sometimes schizophrenia. When I moved to North-America, I was surprised to see with which fervor a lot of white folks engage in genealogical work, with a relationship to ancestors, origins, the past and family background that I would describe as passionate and quite specific to this place. Personally, I explain that as an unconscious uneasiness towards colonial narratives ; after all, people are not blind, they’re aware that the colonization of this land did not happen peacefully and in good humor. So you find this sort of schizophrenia towards colonization : we’re from here, but also we’re not. This being said, different people will find different mechanisms to cope with this existential discomfort. I’m still very surprised by the reactions of many people from the old generation of sovereignists who will brush off all concern regarding their settler identity by essentially saying « how could we be colonizers, we’ve been colonized by the British ! ». This is definitely one of the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard and yet… it’s still not uncommon to hear it.
On the other hand, you’ll find people who use this metissage narrative to cleanse themselves, to clear themselves of the responsibility to acknowledge the fact that they participate and profit from a colonial system, by re-inventing themselves as being native.
Now this is something that needs to be taken seriously, so I’ll finish by saying something to the people who use the métissage in the way I mentioned – and I think specifically of a guy, Jean Désy, who’s been invited a few times by CBC to talk about his ideas ; he’s a doctor from Quebec who used to work up north and grew tired of being described as « non-indigenous ». He wasn’t satisfied with being identified as a non-something so he tried to find a way to assert another identity. What he came up with is the concept of « métisserie », according to which Quebecers should try to get in touch with their native roots or souls and blablabla… you get the picture. Instead of mimicking early colonizers, the people who are concerned by the ongoing colonialism, who want to smash that system and replace it with something more balanced, should listen to what First Nations have been saying for — well, forever: “give us back the territory; you can stay but give us back the control, the stewardship of the territory. We’re 4% of the Canadian population and yet we control only 0.2% of the territory.Give it back, that’s the real emergency, that’s justice. Give us back the territory”.