The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Seas to Treaty 7 Territories

Feb 22, 2017

The Littoral Contact Zone:
Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Sea to Treaty 7 Territories
March 9-10, 2017

The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing, SS1059, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2N 1N4

Opening Welcome: Anita Eagle Bear

Keynote: Lee Maracle

Speakers: Roy Miki, Marcia Crosby, Sarah Ling, Szu Shen, Iyko Day, Rita Wong, Dorothy Christian, Malissa Phung

Moderators: Rain Prud’homme Cranford, Pamela Banting, Larissa Lai

Organized by: Larissa Lai and Tom Sewel

Volunteers: Ben Groh, Mikka Jacobsen

The Littoral Contact Zone has been intentionally organized to dovetail with the English Graduate Student conference Free Exchange, though it is its own discrete event. To facilitate collaboration, a few Free X events have been written in to the schedule below.


(Please scroll down to the bottom of this document for a detailed program, which includes bios and abstracts.) 

Thursday, March 9

2:00 – 2:30pm: Opening Prayer and Welcome: Elder Anita Eagle Bear

2:30 – 3:30pm: Keynote: Lee Maracle

3:30 – 4:00pm: Snack Break

4:00 – 6:00pm: Body Contact: Indigenous and Asian Bodies in Relation under Settler Conditions: Roy Miki, Iyko Day, Marcia Crosby, Moderated by Larissa Lai

Late (for the energetic): Free X Film night


Friday, March 10

10:00am – 12:00pm: To Love the Land, To Flow with Water: Rita Wong, Dorothy Christian, Moderated by Pamela Banting

12:00pm – 1:00pm: Lunch

1:00pm – 3:00pm: Language Relations: Story, Translation, Movement:  Sarah Ling, Malissa Phung, Szu Shen, Moderated by Rain Prud’homme-Cranford

3:30pm – 6:30pm Free X Keynote & Reception

7:00pm – 10:00pm Dinner and Literary Reading (Update pending: Please watch this space for location)


The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Sea to Treaty 7 Territories

In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the latest in a long series of Canadian state efforts to put closure to “the Indian problem” on the one hand, and on the other the liberatory call of Idle No More in combination with the Delgamukh and Ts’ilcotin decisions recognizing unceded Indigneous title, an old imperative for non-Indigenous people to take seriously Indigenous calls for justice has been freshly, if not newly, taken up from a variety of quarters. In the meantime, particularly in the western parts of Turtle Island, longstanding relationships among Asian and Indigenous people which have been unfolding for over a century have become an increasingly widespread topic of discussion. While both Indigenous peoples in all their complexities and Asian peoples in all their complexities have been subject to colonialism and imperialism, the forms of subjection have manifested in very different ways. Seeking of kinship in sameness erases important histories and power imbalances. Necessary recognitions have been made, by Sunera Thobani and others, that when Asians seeks rights within the bounds of the colonial state, they reinforce that state and thus the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples. This is a contradiction not to be resolved so much as addressed and accounted for. Closely connected is the issue of racialization itself, and whether the work of strategic essentialism as Gayatri Spivak articulated it in the 1990s is still useful or whether the call for Indigenous sovereignties re-opens questions of race, identity and belonging in new ways. In another vein, Roy Miki has recognized that the lessons of Japanese Canadian Redress movement might be useful for Indigenous peoples in the wake of the government residential school apology, though not because the lessons are applicable in a directly analogous way. The question, then, of their usefulness and parallels needs to be interrogated. Following on Lee Maracle’s important conference Imagining Native and Asian Women at Western Washington University in 2003, Dorothy Christian and Rita Wong’s important work in the Downstream project, as well as important critical and cultural texts including Iyko Day’s Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism, Larry Grant’s recent documentary on the search for his Chinese relatives, Marie Clements’s Burning Vision, Renisa Mawani’s Colonial Proximities, Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents, Lee Maracle’s “Yin Chin”, SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and many others, this symposium queries the temporalities of Indigneous/Asian relation as wells as the practices and forms through it has taken and/or which might in the future take shape. Specifically, this symposium asks: What are the traditional, non-traditional, cultural and political modes through which Indigenous/Asian contact takes place in the Western territories of Turtle Island? We understand this to mean the extended intertidal zone that begins at the Salish Sea and continues into Treaty 7 territories, in the first instance, though both worldly and global extensions of movement through these spaces may also be considered. Because this event is a project of the Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing, story, fiction, narrative, poetry and language will be the emphasized modes of engagement, though of course a productively critical spirit will infuse our gathering. “Contact” may be understood in Mary Louise Pratt’s sense of “social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power”, but it may also be expanded or taken up differently. Key terms guiding the work of TIA House are: justice, aesthetics and the elements (earth, water, fire air, and for some cultures, metal).




2:00 – 2:30pm: Opening Prayer and Welcome: Elder Anita Eagle Bear

2:30 – 3:30pm: Keynote: Lee Maracle

4:00 – 6:00pm: Body Contact: Indigenous and Asian Bodies in Relation under Settler Conditions

Speakers: Roy Miki, Iyko Day, Marcia Crosby

Moderator: Larissa Lai

Roy Miki, “Redress: A Personal Reflection/Assessment”: Nearly two decades separate the Japanese Canadian redress settlement, on September 22, 1988 and the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, announced on May 8, 2006, and implemented in September 2007. It was during this period that the Canadian public witnessed the effects of a “culture of redress” (Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham) through which the Canadian state addressed the redress claims made by specific groups for historical injustices inflicted on them. Using Japanese Canadian redress as a starting point, this presentation will attempt to assess the Canadian state’s response to past injustices, including the terms and conditions of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

Roy Miki grew up in Winnipeg and moved to Vancouver in the late 1960s. He is the author of many books, including Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (Raincoast 2004), as well as five books of poems. His third book of poems, Surrender (Mercury Press 2001), received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. More recent publications are Mannequin Rising (New Star 2011), a series of poems and photo collages that probe the internal effects of commodity culture; In Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing (NeWest 2011), an essay collection; and Dolphin SOS (Tradewind Books 2014), a children’s book co-written with his wife Slavia, and illustrated by Julie Flett. Dolphin SOS received a 2014 BC Book Prize for best illustrated children’s book.


Iyko Day, “Queering Time and Scale in Settler Space “: My presentation attempts to disrupt settler constructions of land and labor through an exploration of temporality and scale. Examining several visual artists of color, I focus on the way they employ an aesthetics of degeneracy that queers the temporal and scalar logics of settler colonialism and racial capitalism.

Iyko Day is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College. She is also Co-Chair of the Five College Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program. Her research and teaching are situated at the intersection of Asian American literature and visual culture, race and settler colonialism, and Marxian political economy. Her book, Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism (Duke UP, 2016) retheorizes the history and logic of settler colonialism by examining its intersection with capitalism and the racialization of Asians in Canada and the United States.


Marcia Crosby, “Local Stories, Public Culture, Ethicial Practice”: In my recently completed doctoral dissertation, I focused on public cultural practices by First Nations individuals and groups. Rather than assume structural over-determination (British, Canadian and provincial colonialism, colonial capitalism and labour and missionary influences), I refer to local histories and narratives of specific events as possible spaces in which two Indigenous leaders from different First Nations “must have” met. The strength of approaching local histories through public cultural events (easily accessible as visual, aural and print media, in on-line archives), is the more nuanced configurations of events at local levels, and specific geographic, socio-historic contexts. I’ve adapted a similar strategy for my readings of my parents’ narratives, which I recorded through the years.  I do not articulate my understanding of their narratives or actions through theory, or by making comparisons and generalizations of the groups who came together in different places.

Dr. Marcia Crosby recently completed her doctorate on the study of Indigenous musical bands and live religious theatre as “public” cultural practices at the turn of the 20th century. These practices, which took place throughout the BC lower mainland and Fraser Valley, were examined in relation to the production of diverse urban audiences and public spaces by means of local and global media circuits. These inter-cultural exchanges between different First Nations, as she emphasized, constitute the on-going processes of the “production of knowledge”, and cultures as continually changing. Crosby previously taught literature and Native Studies at Vancouver Island University for sixteen years (1996-2013). She now works as an independent scholar, as a researcher, writer and curator.


Late (for the energetic): Free X Film night


FRIDAY, MARCH 10, 2017

10:30am – 12:00pm: To Love the Land, To Flow with Water

Speakers: Dorothy Christian and Rita Wong

Moderator: Pamela Banting

Dorothy Christian, “Becoming Good Relatives”: How do we “do” reconciliation in Canada?   Nineteen years after the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report virtually repeat most of the recommendations of RCAP.  So what does that mean to how Indigenous and non-Indigenous settlers are building relationships?  How can we become “good relatives” not just to each other as human communities but to those beings that rely on us, like the waters, the lands, the plants/trees, the birds, the animals, and all the other beings with whom we share the earth?

Dorothy Christian, Cucw-la7 is a visual storyteller, writer and scholar from the Secwepemc and Syilx Nations of the interior plateau region of BC. Ms. Christian will defend her is a PhD dissertation “Gathering Knowledge: Indigenous Methodologies of Land/Place-Based Visual Storytelling & Visual Sovereignty” at UBC’s Department of Educational Studies in March 2017. Publications include chapters in Thinking with Water (2013) and Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation Through The Lens of Cultural Diversity (2011).


Rita Wong, “Response Abilities and Restorying Our Relations with Water”: Over the last decade, I have been on a journey with water, thanks to the call of Dorothy Christian and Denise Nadeau to protect our sacred waters, and thanks to Lee Maracle’s organizing of a gathering that brought together Native and Asian women writers in 2002. Dorothy’s call was for people from all different cultures to come together for the sake of the water, which is also for the sake of ourselves.  In working on the Downstream project, that asks what happens when we put water at the centre of our cultural consciousness, I have come to see how honouring our shared reliance on water is a necessary path to peace, in the face of war and colonization.  In hearing the stories of water guardians ranging from Melina Laboucan Massimo (Lubicon Cree, Treaty 8) to Violet Caibaiosai (Anishnabe Mother Earth Water Walk), I am heartened and reminded that I have a responsibility to conduct myself in ways that respect the waters that make our lives possible. Living on unceded Coast Salish territories, those of us who are uninvited guests have a long journey of standing with and speaking nearby the original stewards of this beautiful land, the Tsleil Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam. I will share some stories of what I am learning through the Downstream process.

Rita Wong is committed to learning from and with water as a decolonial journey to nourish social justice and peace. With Dorothy Christian, she has co-edited the anthology Downstream: Reimagining Water (Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2016). Wong has written four books of poetry: monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998), forage (Nightwood Editions, 2007), sybil unrest (Line Books, 2008, with Larissa Lai) and undercurrent (Nightwood, 2015), as well as a collective of graphic essays entitled perpetual (with Cindy Mochizuki, Nightwood 2015). forage won the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Canada Reads Poetry 2011. Wong teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design on the unceded Coast Salish territories also known as Vancouver.

12:00pm – 1:00pm: Lunch: A light lunch will be served in the TIA House space for all attendees

1:00pm – 3:00pm: Language Relations: Story, Translation, Movement

Speakers: Sarah Ling, Malissa Phung, Szu Shen

Moderator: Rain Prud’homme-Cranford

Sarah Ling, “Re-storying and Rekindling: Stories of Chinese-First Nations Relations”: Over the past decade, initiatives have gradually been developed to revitalize stories of relations that were formed between Indigenous peoples and early networks of trans-Pacific migrants who settled in Canada from Guangdong, China. As Jesse Wente asserts, “Colonialism is an extraction business. It extracts what it wants – from the land, from culture, from stories, and from people – and discards the rest.” Reflecting on the subject of Canada 150, his call to action is for the creation of stories and art as acts of decolonization. If Chinese-First Nations relations have historically been in the periphery of society, how can we can we re-story the land and turn to these stories for guidance as we strive to build better futures? This paper centres stories of Chinese-First Nations relations shared by knowledge keepers that I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with in Musqueam territory in Vancouver, B.C. We worked on educational initiatives with a shared vision of re-storying the landscapes we share, and rekindling the kinds of respectful relations our ancestors engaged in. I will reflect on the process of creating the documentary All Our Father’s Relations (2016) as a producer, and the children’s book “ʔi ɬe nem̓ ʔəm̓xasəm̓!, 我們出去走走啦!, Let’s Take a Walk!” (2013) as a co-author. This paper explores the intersections between recovering Chinese-First Nations histories, and the building of reciprocal relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Sarah Ling was born and raised as a 4th generation Chinese Canadian in Prince Rupert, B.C. on Tsimshian territory. In 2013, Sarah co-authored a Musqueam children’s book entitled “ʔi ɬe nem̓ ʔəm̓xasəm̓!, 我們出去走走啦!, Let’s Take a Walk!” with Elder Larry Grant based on his childhood in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, traditional Chinese and English. Sarah is the Producer for the documentary film All Our Father’s Relations, which was awarded Best Canadian Feature by the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in 2016. She is completing her MA in UBC’s Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, through which she works with the Musqueam Nation to revitalize stories of UBC-First Nations relations and the history of Chinese market gardening in their community.


Szu Shen, “Relationship Building as Translation: Reflections on Indigenous/Asian Relations”: This paper explores how “translation” serves as a critical lens through which we conceptualize and engage with Indigenous/Asian relations. My preoccupation with the concept and the very act of translation has stemmed from a continued attempt to bridge the fields of Indigenous studies and Asian diaspora studies across their different and oftentimes conflicting disciplinary commitments. Deploying translation as a point of entry to construe and embody the difficult task of relationship building, my paper unpacks my own entangled positionality as a junior researcher who identifies as a Han Chinese settler from Taiwan, and who is now working, studying, and living as an uninvited guest on the traditional and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples. I will also reflect on my recent experience translating the Chinese subtitles for the 2016 documentary All Our Father’s Relations produced by Sarah Ling and Alejandro Yoshizawa. If, as Gayatri Spivak astutely observes, “translation is the most intimate act of reading” (183), what kinds of intimacy are being produced when we strive to build relationships across cultures, politics, geographies, and languages? How might we facilitate and maintain such intimacies accountably and respectfully? This paper addresses these questions through a series of reflections to consider how we might relate to one another differently in our messy, collective efforts to imagine and bring about decolonial futures.

Szu Shen is a PhD student in English at the University of British Columbia.  She is a recipient of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.  She has published in West Coast Line and her translation work has appeared in Router: A Journal of Cultural Studies as well as Inter-Asia Cultural Studies.  Her dissertation project seeks to examine the transnational movement of uranium and its impact on Indigenous communities in Canada and across the Asia-Pacific.

Malissa Phung, Abstract and Bio tbc


3:30pm – 6:30pm Free X Keynote & Reception


7:00pm – 10:00pm Dinner and Literary Reading (off campus, single venue, location TBC)