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Visual Legalities of Race and Reparations

  • Carmela Murdocca (a1)


Drawing attention to the legal and psychoanalytic genealogy of reparations, this article examines the relationship between reparations and racial difference through an analysis of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary series 8th Fire: Aboriginal People, Canada and the Way Forward. The representational life of reparations in liberal settler colonialism is a repository for addressing the broader landscape of legality—sovereignty, self-determination and anti-colonialism—beyond the confines of international human rights mechanisms. This article considers the following questions: How do forms of testimony animate connections between reparations and racial difference? In what ways do visual and representational practices operate through racial and colonial temporalities central to reparative juridics? What is the relationship between reparations and possibilities for anti-colonialism? I argue that the social, legal, cultural, and representational life of reparations in settler colonialism is structured by racial difference.

Évoquant la généalogie juridique et psychanalytique des réparations, cet article examine la relation entre les réparations et les différences raciales à partir d’une analyse de la série documentaire 8th Fire : Aboriginal People, Canada and the Way Forward du Réseau anglais de Radio-Canada. Au sein du colonialisme de peuplement libéral, la vie représentative des réparations est un mécanisme permettant d’examiner l’ensemble des questions touchant la légalité—soit la souveraineté, l’autodétermination et l’anticolonialisme—au-delà des limites des mécanismes internationaux de promotion des droits humains. Cet article tente de répondre aux questions suivantes : Comment les différents types de témoignages animent-ils les liens entre les réparations et les différences raciales ? De quelles manières les pratiques visuelles et représentationnelles opèrent-elles à travers les temporalités raciales et coloniales centrales aux réparations judiciaires ? Quelle est la relation entre les réparations et les possibilités d’agir de manière anticoloniale ? Les dimensions sociales, juridiques, culturelles et représentationnelles des réparations sont, à mon avis, structurées par les différences raciales au sein du colonialisme de peuplement.



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2 Lee Maracle, “Indigenous in the City,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8th Fire: Aboriginal People, Canada and the Way Forward (2013),

3 Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Farrington, Constance (New York: Grove Press, 1963).

4 Although “reconciliation is not often considered a legal concept,” Walters maintains, it is nevertheless an “aspect of legality.” Walters, Mark D., “The Jurisprudence of Reconciliation: Aboriginal Rights in Canada,” in The Politics of Reconciliation in Multicultural Societies, eds. Kymlicka, Will and Bashir, Bashir (London: Oxford University Press, 2008), 165.

5 Truth and Reconciliation Commision of Canada, Our Mandate: Introduction, trcinstitution/index.php?p=7.

6 National Gallery of Canada, Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, about/1372.php.

7 Relying on Michel Foucault’s theorization of power and Michel deCerteau’s “practices of everyday life,” Ewick and Silbey develop the concept of legality in order to capture the everyday, mundane, and routine practices that constitute law. Ewick, Patricia and Silbey, Susan, The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 2223.

8 Gilroy, Paul, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000), 349.

9 CBC, 8th Fire.

10 The Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families (AASCF), Aboriginal OBSD Resources,,com_docman/Itemid,133/gid,667/task,cat_view/?cat_order=name&cat_order2=ASC.

11 Bruce DeMara, “CBC Series 8th Fire Aims to Dispel Native Stereotypes,” Toronto Star, January 17, 2012,

12 Bob Goulais, “CBC’s 8th Fire Has It Right,” Anishinaabe Blog, January 27, 2012,

13 Brian D. Johnson, “Introducing the Canadian Screen Awards, and Their 2013 Nominees,” Macleans, January 15, 2013,

14 Jarrett Martineau, “Micro-Review: 8th Fire—CBC Doc Zone,” feministfilm, June 6, 2013,

15 Canadian Federation of Medical Students, “Aboriginal Health,”

16 Ibid.; AASCF, Aboriginal OBSD Resources; Brenda Boreham and Terri Mack, “National Aboriginal Day,” Canadian Teacher Magazine (May/June 2013),; First Nations Child and Caring Family Society of Canada/University of Alberta, “First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service,”; Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), Full Circle: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Ways of Knowing (Toronto, ON: OSSTF/FEESO, 2012); Vancouver Island University, “Supporting Aboriginal Higher Learners,”

17 Oxford English Dictionary Online, “reparation, n.,”

18 Walker, Margaret Urban, What is Reparative Justice? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2010).

19 Ibid.

20 UN General Assembly, Resolution A/60/147, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law,” December 16, 2005,

21 Goodale, Mark and Merry, Sally Engle, eds. The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law Between the Global and Local (Boston: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

22 Walker, Margaret, Taking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Injustice (London: Blackwell, 2002), x.

23 Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, “Abortive Rituals: Historical Apologies in a Global Era,” Interventions 2, no. 2 (2000): 173.

24 Eng, David L., “Reparations and the Human,” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 21, no. 2 (2011): 570–71.

25 Ibid., 568.

26 Ibid., 568.

27 Eng argues that Antigone symbolizes “both gender and kinship trouble” in her refusal to follow the king’s command not to mourn the death of her brother Polyneices (because he is viewed as a traitor to the king, the law forbids the mourning of his death). Ibid., 563.

28 Ibid., 576

29 Ibid., 565.

30 Ibid., 562.

31 Emphasis in original. Ibid., 565.

32 Emphasis in original. Ibid.

33 Ibid., 564.

34 Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation, cited in Eng, “Reparations and the Human,” 578.

35 Eng, “Reparations and the Human,” 579.

36 Ibid., 581.

37 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

38 Kawash, Samira, “Terrorists and Vampires: Fanon’s Spectral Violence and Decolonization,” in Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives, ed. Alessandrini, Anthony C. (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 241.

39 In a 1961 speech in Havana, Che Guevara is said to have proclaimed: “Individualism must disappear.” See Anderson, Jon Lee, Che: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 456–92. Other scholars have reflected representations of the phrase in Palestinian art. See Ankori, Gannit, Palestinian Art (London: Reaktion Books, 2006), 56.See also Dionne Brand, In Another Place Not Here (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996).

40 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 471.

41 Povinelli, Elizabeth A., The Empire of Love (London and Durham: Duke University Press), 231.

42 CBC, 8th Fire.

43 Butler, Judith, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).

44 Leslie Varley, Aboriginal Health, Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia, in CBC, “Indigenous in the City,” 8th Fire.

45 Ibid.

46 Berry, Brewton, “The Myth of the Vanishing Indian,” Phlylon 21, no. 1 (1960): 5157; Deloria, Philip, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

47 Rosalind Morris cited in Jean Comaroff and Comaroff, John L., “Criminal Obsession, after Foucault: Postcoloniality, Policing, and the Metaphysics of Disorder,” in Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, eds. Comaroff, Jean and Comaroff, John L. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 200), 65.

48 Barkan, Elazar, The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

49 Povinelli, Elizabeth A., Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011).

50 Murdocca, Carmela, “Persistence and Memorialization: Self-Harm and Suicide in Reparation Politics in Canada,” Australian Feminist Law Journal 38, no. 2 (2013): 93107.

51 The narration describes Monkman’s work in this manner.

52 CBC, “Indigenous in the City,” 8th Fire.

53 Spivak, Gayatri, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1988), 271313.

54 CBC, “Whose Land Is It Anyway?,” 8th Fire.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Cowlishaw, Gillian, The City’s Outback (Sydney: University of South Wales Press, 2009), 213.

60 Irene Watson, “Buried Alive,” Law and Critique 13 (2002): 265.

61 Hesford, Wendy S., Spectacular Rhetorics: Human Rights Visions, Recognitions, Feminisms (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 11.

62 Eng, “Reparations and the Human,” 570–71.

63 Sliwinski, Sharon, Human Rights in Camera (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 4.

64 Felman, Shoshana, “Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching,” in Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, eds. Felman, Shoshana and Laub, Dori (London: Routledge, 1992), 2.

65 Jacques Rancière cited in Hesford, Spectacular Rhetorics, 16.

66 Eng, “Reparations and the Human,” 580.

67 Hesford, Spectacular Rhetorics, 3.

68 Butler, Judith, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 82).

69 Povinelli identifies the “chronotype” of “late liberalism” to signify the “shape that liberal governmentality has taken as it responds to a series of legitimacy crises in the wake of anti-colonial, new social movements, and new Islamic movements.” Povinelli, Elizabeth, The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002).

70 Taiaiake Alfred and Tobold Rollo, Restoring and Resetting the Relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada (Idle No More, 2012),

71 Russell Diabo, “Canada: Prime Minister Harper Launches First Nations ‘Termination Plan,’” Intercontinental Cry Magazine, November 9, 2012,

72 Ibid. These measures are consistent with the significant Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (The White Paper) (Government of Canada, 1969),

1 The author thanks Fenn Stewart and Shaira Vadasaria for generous engagement and research assistance.

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Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
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  • EISSN: 1911-0227
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