AlterNative Journal Review: Unsettled Expectations

Unsettled Expectations
Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization

By Eva Mackey  

Reading Dr Eva Mackey’s book, Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, was a transformative experience. As I read the case studies about local land rights conflicts and what they reveal about settlerIndigenous relations, Dr Mackey’s insights and theories were clear in my mind. They provided new and descriptive language to frame and deepen my own understandings of these relations, which run deep within me.

In the 1930s, my great-grandmother, a Utah settler, moved to Hollywood, California, to sew regalia for the film industry. At the same time, my Anishinaabe great-grandfather moved from his reserve in rural Canada to Hollywood. He was good with horses and, in search of money, found he could make a decent wage falling off horses as a ‘stuntman Indian’. The two fell in love, and as my great-grandpa would say, they quickly became producers in Hollywood. They ‘produced’ eight children over the course of their marriage. They moved to our rural reserve in Canada when my grandmother was 4, and the family has stayed to this day. As a person who was formed in many different ways by settler-Indigenous relationships and has witnessed both the deep love and deep breakdown in these relations, both personally and societally, Unsettled Expectations provided fascinating moments of connection and interpretation. As Dr Mackey argues, we are all treaty people, and as such each reader will have their own experience to bring to the unsettling ethnographic case studies and analysis.

One of Dr Mackey’s strengths as a writer and researcher lies in her ability to bridge worlds. As a settler herself, she positions herself as a learner of Indigenous ways. She possesses humility. She has had training as an anthropologist, storyteller, researcher, and writer and has years of experience engaging with settler-Indigenous relations. She is an example to readers who may be uncertain about their role in decolonizing conversations. Dr Mackey acknowledges she has “experienced moments of discomfort and learning that have made [her] confront how [her] own common sense thinking and behavior could unintentionally reproduce settler epistemologies” (p. 185). She shares a conversation she had with an Onondaga woman named Freida. Dr Mackey asked Frieda how many acres of land the Onondaga have in a particular region of New York. Frieda responded, “Don’t ask ‘how many’! ‘How many’ is one of those [ideas] … from your culture. So I never have ‘how many’ answers. Sorry about that … . We say this is what we occupy” (p. 185). The potentially destructive colonial concepts of measurement, boundaries, and property ownership seem ingrained in Dr Mackey’s mind. She bravely brings these unchecked assumptions forward. She recognizes that it’s okay to acknowledge weakness because it helps her see where there is room to grow.

Dr Mackey’s ethnographic case studies show how visceral, deep, and successful the doctrine of terra nullius, western property law, and colonial concepts of blood, memory, identity, and storytelling have been at dividing communities.

I found one of the case studies particularly startling. The Onondaga in New York are a ‘landless’ nation (pp. 145– 164). They went to court (Onondaga v New York) to assert native title over their traditional territory. The Onondaga did not want to remove any settlers from their land. From experience, they know how hurtful that would be. They simply wanted a declaration of title as redress for the historic injustices relating to their lands. The legal remedy the Onondaga sought would not physically unsettle anyone, though it proved to be emotionally and intellectually difficult. Their historic title and contemporary presence were not recognized by the settler court and the people it represents.

Even when Indigenous peoples do have recognized title, their lands and laws are disrespected. For example, extractive industry projects are disproportionately built on Indigenous territories. I’ve had experiences on my own reserve where people have camped in non-camping areas. When my grandmother politely explained to one family of ‘campers’ that the visitors camp ground was 10min away from where they pitched their tent, the family challenged my grandmother’s authority. They said she didn’t look Native. My grandmother, an elder in the community, responded that she ‘forgot her feather’ at the house and directed them again up the road to the park. Indigenous peoples face constant microaggressions that relate to their laws and their lands. Dr Mackey provides excellent examples of how to heal these divides while advocating for casespecific inquiries into decolonization practices.

One example given for conceptualizing and enacting ‘treaty as a verb’ is found in considering the famous Covenant Chain agreement, recorded in the Two Row Wampum, or Guswentha, made between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 1613 (p. 134). Dr Mackey thoroughly studies Indigenous interpretations of the treaty. The two purple rows of the wampum belt symbolize two canoes traveling. They are both connected and separated by three rows of white wampum, which represent peace, friendship, and trust (sometimes respect is also included). The Haudenosaunee and the settlers are simultaneously bound e together and separate. She discusses the importance of building complex relationships of interdependence and autonomy, through alliances, unsettling, deliberating, listening, and so on. She shows how these activities are important for recognizing the structural power imbalances that often work against indigenous peoples (p. 141).

Unsettled Expectations is an important contribution both inside and outside of the academy, as there are few places that are immune to the spread of colonialism’s cancerous ideas. Thoughtful voices from both sides of the settler-Indigenous hyphen are needed in the decolonization process. As Frieda (the Onondaga interviewee) pointed out, stories are an important way to create change. Many stories have a purpose as basic as reminding people that Indigenous peoples exist (p. 172). Not only do we exist, but we have great contributions to make in the struggling modern world.

— Reviewed by: Lindsay Borrows, West Coast Environmental Law, Canada, AlterNative 1–2, 2017

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