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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Balancing discourse and silence : an approach to First Nations women’s writing Seaton, Dorothy

Abstract

This thesis considers the critical implications of a cross-cultural reading of First Nations women’s writing in this time of sensitivity to the issues of appropriation and power inequities between dominant and minority cultures. A genre-based study, it is written from a deliberately split perspective: reading as both a white academic implicated in the dominant culture's production of meaning and value, and as a lesbian alienated from these same processes, I both propose and perform several modes of response to First Nations texts. Interspersed with a conventional commentary is a secondary, personal commentary that questions and qualifies the claims of the critical. Then, another level of response, in the form of fiction and poetry based on my own experiences growing up with my Assiniboine sister, also proposes the appropriateness, in this critical power dynamic, of a third response of simply answering story with story. Chapter One examines the construction of individual identity and responsibility in Maria Campbell's Halfbreed, particularly as the text demands an emotionally-engaged response conventionally discouraged in critical discourse, and as a result redefines the genre of autobiography. Chapter Two considers the possibility of a communal and spiritual, as well as an individual, emotional, response to First Nations texts, examining the community of stories that comprise each of the novels Slash, In Search of April Raintree, and Honour the Sun. From this consideration of narrative as eliciting emotional and spiritual reading practices, Chapter Three discusses the nature of language itself as a vehicle of spiritual transformation and subversion, specifically in the poetry of Annharte and Beth Cuthand. Chapter Four, on the mixed-genre The Book of Jessica, shifts focus from the discursive strategies of First Nations writing, to examining the way these practices redefine time and history as newly accessible to First Nations spiritual construction. Finally, the Conclusion re-examines the reading strategies developed throughout the thesis, noting the pitfalls they avoid, while discussing their limitations as cross-cultural tools. The ultimate effect is to propose the very beginning of the kinds of changes the academy must consider for a truly non-appropriative cross-cultural interaction.

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