UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Northwest Territories reconstruction project : telling our stories Covello, Elizabeth Jonquil


Early travellers and adventurers in the Northwest Territories in their struggle to deal with the harshness of the land and the strangeness of the inhabitants were often unable to give a verbal shape to the landscape and the people beyond that of the familiar images of their European background. North became synonymous with alien, hostile, cold, barren, and mysterious and its people were identified alternatively as abject, heathen, filthy and sometimes dangerous savages or as paragons of noble manhood who served as examples for future imperializing ventures. I examine two travel narratives of the Northwest Territories and argue that a discourse of North, that was constructed from an imperialist, Eurocentric perspective failed to take into account the stories, the history and the culture of the indigenous people who lived there. I question the means by which such received history and knowledge becomes validated and empowering, while at the same time, other uncredentialed knowledge and stories which lack authority are lost. Warburton Pike wrote The Barren Ground of Northern Canada in 1892 and Agnes Deans Cameron wrote The New North in 1910. These works and others, while contributing to early knowledge of the indigenous people, were instrumental in framing an imaginary north that assumed hegemonic status over the geographical and cultural north that already existed. I then examine the works of two recent indigenous writers, George Blondin and Robert Alexie, who write back to Eurocentric constructions of north to validate their own histories and reclaim their land, not just in the physical sense of land claims but in ways which will give credence to their stories and their culture. I consider the role of stories and their power to preserve or destroy and I conclude with the hope that I can undertake a future work to examine in more detail the wealth of narrative available about the Northwest Territories.

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