Category Archives: Unit II

Assignment 2.6 – Epistemology and the Authenticity of History

This blog post will address the following (question five): “’To raise the question of ‘authenticity’ is to challenge not only the narrative but also the ‘truth’ behind Salish ways of knowing’ (Carlson 59). Explain why this is so according to Carlson, and explain why it is important to recognize this point” (Paterson n.p.)


It is not surprising that authenticity, especially the authenticity of history, is defined differently by different peoples. The way which we formulate ‘fact’ or ‘knowledge,’ our epistemology, is based on precepts that lay at the cores of our societies and cultures. The point that Carlson is making is that questioning the authenticity of another society’s history is equal to debasing all that society knows. The question of historical authenticity holds within it a quiet attack on epistemology, a society’s theory of truth. Without recognizing the implications of such a question, one risks furthering conflict and tension, and a conflict over epistemology is hardly tractable. The stem of that conflict, for Carlson and others, is the point of departure between literary and oral accounts of history.

However, when roots of each society’s theory of knowledge are exposed, the question of historical authenticity may end in mutual agreement. It will be argued herein that, epistemologically, Western and Indigenous traditions are not as different as they seem, and that the (assumed) literacy/orality chasm is merely a superficiality that one can fall easily into.

Literacy is dominant in European and Western societies. It is the main way that knowledge is created. recorded and legitimized within those societies. In order to create knowledge in academia, for example, one must publish a written work in a recognized journal or with a recognized publisher. Through this method, the words that they write are acknowledged as ‘knowledge’ by the society broadly. If one is able to publish in a more acclaimed journal or with a better known publisher, the knowledge they create will be taken more seriously. (Although this traditional approach is being accompanied increasingly by newer approaches through digital media and alternative academic sources, those sources are largely literary, and the traditional approach is still dominant).

One of the goals of this course, however, is to explore the epistemologies of those outside the Western tradition – namely, Canada’s First Peoples. Frequently, in those cultures, ‘knowledge’ and ‘fact’ come to be through orality as opposed to literacy. Histories are recalled through the oral tellings of them by certain people who have the authority to do so in circumstances where it is customary, and strict cultural guidelines ensure that each history remains intact over time (Carlson 57).

At first glance, no compelling reason appears for these two traditions to be in conflict at all; they are different, but they do not step on each other’s toes. Both have methods for creating knowledge, and both have working methods for maintaining that knowledge over time. In other words, both have legitimate and systematic ways of formulating and telling histories. The conflict between literacy and orality sparks, as Carlson notes, when one “[raises] the question of ‘authenticity'” of the other’s epistemology (59). This (unnecessarily) results in  a fundamental duality between a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of creating knowledge.

Carlson discusses this conflict in a way that harmfully exacerbates it: “Among literate Westerners, historical accuracy is measured in relation to verifiable evidence,” whereas “within the Salish world, … historical accuracy is largely assessed in relation to people’s memories of previous renditions or versions of a narrative and in relation to the teller’s status and reputation as an authority” (57). The seemingly intractable divide between Western and Salish epistemology has been laid out – the literate West requires an agreeable (systematic) interpretation of scientific evidence, and the oral Salish require reputable individuals whose rendition of history must be publicly accepted.

If one wishes to frame these two epistemologies as radically different, as Carlson and indeed many others do, they do so to the detriment of all of us (everyone). Instead, there is little difference between these two epistemological traditions beyond the medium through which they most frequently record knowledge – one on paper, and the other through spoken word. In other important respects, these theories of knowledge are similar. Both exclude the creation of knowledge only to those with the granted authority to do so; both require that histories do not counter those prior without very good reason; both rest on citation or “oral footnotes” in reference to other truth-telling authorities (Carlson 57); and both hold heavy punishments for “conveyors of poor history” (ibid.; see also Carlson 59). It is unlikely that this list is exhaustive. Indeed, the “common concern over the accuracy of historical narratives” that both societies hold has driven them to embrace thorough epistemologies that are similar in almost all foundational respects (Carlson 57). In the words of Ted Chamberlin, both are performing comparable ‘ceremonies’ where knowledge is created and ‘truth’ is decided upon, and these common “ceremonies of belief offer a way beyond conflicts between cultures” (218).

We need not drive a stake between the epistemologies held by the groups with which we are concerned in this course (Indigenous and Western). To do so severely hinders the progress that both wish to make in their relationships with each other. Focusing on the superficialities of how each records ‘knowledge,’ whether through literacy or orality, blinds us from seeing the mass of commonality below the politically charged surface. Although we should be cautious about questioning the authenticity of another culture’s knowledge, we should not assume that such a question is an inherent attack. Much more can be gained by comparatively examining the fundamentals of both cultures’ theories of knowledge, and working up from there. In this case, “to raise the question of ‘authenticity'” is ultimately to agree upon, not challenge, our “ways of knowing” (Carlson 59).


Works Cited

Carlson, Keith Thor. “Orality about Literacy: The ‘Black and White’ of Salish History.” Orality and Literacy: Reflections Across Disciplines. Ed. Keith Thor Carlson, Kristina Fagan, and Natalia Khanenko-Frieson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 43-69. Print.

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories?: Finding Common Ground. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004. Print.

Lupton, Deborah. ‘Feeling Better Connected’: Academics’ Use of Social Media. Canberra: News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra, 2014. Web. 29 June 2016.

Paterson, Erika. “Lesson 2.3.” ENGL 470A Canadian Studies: Canadian Literary Genres May 2016. University of British Columbia. Web. 29 June 2016.

Steup, Mattias. “Epistemology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. 14 Dec. 2005. Web. 29 June 2016.


Filed under Unit II

Assignment 2.4 – Difficulties of Historical Interpretation in Lutz’s “First Contact as Spiritual Performance”

This blog post will address the following (question three): We began this unit by discussing assumptions and differences that we carry into our class. In “First Contact as Spiritual Performance,” Lutz makes an assumption about his readers (Lutz, “First Contact” 32). He asks us to begin with the assumption that comprehending the performances of the Indigenous participants is “one of the most obvious difficulties.” He explains that this is so because “one must of necessity enter a world that is distant in time and alien in culture, attempting to perceive indigenous performance through their eyes as well as those of the Europeans.” Here, Lutz is assuming either that his readers belong to the European tradition, or he is assuming that it is more difficult for a European to understand Indigenous performances – than the other way around. What do you make of this reading? Am I being fair when I point to this assumption? If so, is Lutz being fair when he makes this assumption?” (Paterson n.p.)


Given only the quote above, it does appear that Lutz is addressing a European audience and assuming that there will be an inherent difficulty when non-Indiegnous people attempt to interpret Indigenous performances of a time long past. Though overgeneralized and (perhaps hazardously) sweeping, this statement makes a valid point. Given the silencing of Indigenous stories and histories, it is unlikely that anything beyond a small minority of his non-Indigenous audience will be able to comfortably comprehend Indigenous performances in contact events. A lack of contextual experience and knowledge of Indigenous heritage and culture presents a legitimate barrier to the non-Indigenous observer.

There would be issues if the above quote was all that Lutz had said on the matter. For example, would the opposite be true? Would his Indigenous audience encounter “obvious difficulties” when attempting to perceive European performances (Lutz, “First Contact” 32)? Does his European audience suffer no difficulty when interpreting European performances, and Indigenous people Indigenous performances? If the given statement is all that Lutz says, Paterson would be quite right in pointing out his assumptions and remaining skeptical.

However, Lutz says much more, balancing the statement that has been addressed. He follows: “The key and usually unremarked problem is that we have insufficient distance from our own and our ancestors’ world view” (Lutz, “First Contact” 32). Not only is Lutz pointing out that there are inherent difficulties in European interpretation of Indigenous performance, but that there are more deeply buried difficulties in European interpretation of European performance. Although Lutz assumes that his audience is primarily non-Indigenous, the mind does not need to stretch to apply the same argument to Indigenous readers. Every person meets a barrier when attempting to comprehend the performances given by either their ancestors or the ‘others’ in the distant (and idealized) past.

This astute observation is what prompts Lutz to present the challenge “to step outside and see one’s own culture as alien and to discern the mythic in the performances of one’s own histories” (“First Contact” 32). Because anyone will meet difficulty  in the comprehension of performance whether he/she realizes it or not, we should view the past with a realistic temporal detachment. Eighteenth century thought is far different from our own, and this likely holds for European and Indigenous cultures alike. The culture of European settlers, though maybe foundationally similar, is otherwise quite removed from European or Western culture today. This is what renders it alien and what begs one to remove themselves and observe the mythology present.

What Lutz is really attempting to do, then, is to call for the recognition of cultural difference over time regardless of current identity. When we assume that Europeans then and Europeans now have the same culture, we will misinterpret their performances and remain blind to the mythology that Lutz goes to lengths to demonstrate. In the same way, it would be hubristic to assume that Indigenous culture has remained static since the 18th century. Rational actions of any people are “[codes] for particular cultural beliefs” bounded by temporal, spatial, and social context, and it is our duty to understand that context as best we can regardless of our ancestry (Lutz, “First Contact” 33). Indeed, we must place both histories under “the same ethnohistorical lens, asking the same questions of different stories” (“First Contact” 32).

When we now observe Lutz’s full statement, we can see that Indigenous stories remain “distant in time and alien in culture” to both European and Indigenous observers (Lutz, “First Contact” 32). With Lutz’s full intentions brought to light, Paterson’s skepticism has less basis due to the incorrect assumptions it makes about what Lutz is trying to show us. We must “[identify] the mythology and the history embedded in stories that emerge from both indigenous and European contact stories, treating both as equally credible and incredible” (Lutz, “Myth Understandings” 5; emphasis added).

What Lutz is doing, telling us that we need to step out of our own cultural heritages and examine them as alien to us, follows a critique against an academic tradition in history known as modernization theory. The essence of modernization theory is that through it, history is studied as a progressive (Western) trajectory of evolving political systems and structures. The largest issue with this is that the context of the social world is ignored. Clearly, it is not fair for a contemporary historian to point at Grecian phalanx warfare and say that they did not understand fighting because they had no concept of guerrilla tactics. A more comprehensive look at history involving social realities of the day allows us to understand that norms, customs, traditions, and beliefs are what lead people to act in ways that seem alien to us today.

When Lutz tells us that we need to step out of our own cultures, he is asking us to recognize that, in fact, we live in a different reality than our distant ancestors did, and that there are always hazards in the translation of their history (Lutz, “Myth Understandings” 10). To properly comprehend their actions and the consequences of them, we must account for the stories that they heard, the beliefs that they held, and the traditions that they engaged in. When we look at history, we indeed do “enter a world that is distant in time and alien in culture” no matter who we are or which side of history we are examining (Lutz, “First Contact” 32).


Works Cited

Lorenz, Chris. “‘Won’t You Tell Me, Where Have All the Good Times Gone’? On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Modernization Theory for History.” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 10.2 (2006): 171-200. Web. 17 June 2016.

Lutz, John Sutton. “First Contact as a Spiritual Performance: Encounters on the North American West Coast.” Myth and Memory: Rethinking Stories of Indigenous-European Contact. Ed. John Sutton Lutz. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. 1-14. Print.

Lutz, John Sutton. “Myth Understandings: First Contact, Over and Over Again.” Myth and Memory: Rethinking Stories of Indigenous-European Contact. Ed. John Sutton Lutz. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. 1-14. Print.

Mark, Joshua J. “The Greek Phalanx.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 17 June 2016.

Paterson, Erika. “Lesson 2:2.” ENGL 470A Canadian Studies: Canadian Literary Genres May 2016. University of British Columbia. Web. 15 June 2016.

Thiesmeyer, Lynn Janet. Discourse and Silencing: Representation and the Language of Displacement. Philadelphia: John Benjamins B.V., 2003. Web. 17 June 2016.

TRU, Open Learning. “Dr. John Lutz Question 4 – Early contact between Aboriginals and explorers.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 17 June 2016.


Filed under Unit II

Assignment 2.3 – Home as Identity

Conceptions of Home seem to vary widely between individuals, but there are underlying similarities. Home seems to be at its core a feeling. It can be linked to a place, a history, a representation of one’s values, or some other thing. Most importantly, Home is an integral part of one’s identity. After reading several of my classmates’ entries, it has become evident that one feels at Home when one is at some place, with some person, or doing some thing that they believe defines who they are.

When Home is equated with individual identity, it becomes a far more important and powerful concept than if it were to only refer to a location. Further, Home can be a concept bigger than an individual, as something that an entire group identifies with. Here we enter the struggles for Home that colonialism has created for both settler and native. I will go through some of the conceptualizations of Home I found in my peers’ entries and explain this concept of Home as identity.

Home can be a place, or an attachment to a physical location (Alanna Joy). This is not limited to one location, but can be several or many locations of varying size and scope. Just as the number of locations does not matter, neither does where those locations are. They will be different for each individual, because each individual will identify with a given place differently. Joy never had a “home base,” but she still felt at Home in various different places. The sense of comfort brought on by each physical location is a result of the way that Joy self-identifies, and how much each location becomes part of her identity. As I said above, this has grander political implications when identity is described collectively, as the claims to Home become larger (in distance) and stronger.

Home can be a “state of mind” (Victoria Woo). Like Joy, Woo finds Home in various locations but concludes that “our emotions and subjective feelings … inform our attachment to physical features in place, and collectively, contribute to feelings of ‘home.'” For her, Home can be tied to place, but Home is not inherently place. Home is something that exists as a feeling or an attachment towards a place. Again, she feels as though each of these places are part of her identity, or build themselves up to be part of her identity, giving them importance.

Home can also be a person (Heather James). James’ brother and her relationship with him are both integral parts of her identity. I am likely becoming quite repetitive by now, but Home is by nature a feeling for James that results from the way that she self-identifies.

I would expand these conceptions of Home to include Home as an action. One might feel at Home playing an instrument, or playing a sport, or driving a car, or sitting on a park bench. In any case, one would say that activity is an integral part of their identity, thus making it Home to him/her.

Home is a feeling of comfort brought on by personal or group conceptions of identity, which means that Home could really be anything. As I alluded to above, this may not have major sociopolitical implications on a personal level. However, when the identity of a larger group is tied to a particular thing as Home, competition from another group to sequester that thing would be met with defensiveness. A group’s identity is its key to existence – without having a thing with which we can collectively identify, who are we? – and when that group’s Home is being threatened, it is not simply a question of having a place to live, but a question of survival.

With knowledge of the importance of Home to identity, it is hubristic to play off another’s concerns over the loss of their Home as petty. Given this, understanding that Home is integral to another’s identity is at the core of reducing unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding. Acknowledging the way that Home is truly conceptualized forces one to make concessions and considerations for others at times when conflict would otherwise result.


Works Cited

James, Heather. “Home.” Heather James: ENGL 470A. WordPress, 9 June 2016. Web. 10 June 2016.

Joy, Alanna. “Assignment 2.2.” Alanna’s English 470 Blog. WordPress, 7 June 2016. Web. 10 June 2016.

Woo, Victoria. “2.2 – Stories About ‘Home’.” Journeying Through ENGL 407: Oh Canada. WordPress, 5 June 2016. Web. 10 June 2016.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Unit II

Assignment 2.2 – Home

“Home” seems to be conflated often with a sense of ownership or right to ownership. If someone owns a house, it is called their Home. Legal right to a property makes it Home. A Canadian resident calls Canada their Home. In that sense, Canada is not properly Home to those of European descent, but rather it is the Home of Canada’s First Peoples. This is Home as a physical territory. That territory acts symbolically, with stories giving it its meaning and importance. Ultimately, though, the stories told that make a place home are tied to that physical place itself. Home in this sense implies that one has the right to tell stories that make that land theirs, and that grant them rightful ownership of that land, their Home.

This definition of Home, however, is contentious. One cannot be surprised that, when multiple stories are told about a single territory, there will be conflict. Home does not have to be defined in a way that causes contention over physical territory. Rather, Home can be defined as a feeling. I don’t mean this in the “home is where the heart is” or “home is where one hangs their hat” way, but that Home exists where comfort and familiarity exists. Where one feels they can be themselves fully, away from pressures causing discomfort, grief, or doubt. When one’s identity is crafted by and reflective of the places and people that one interacts with, they will feel at Home. This is far closer to what Chamberlin is getting at when he refers to the homelessness of Aboriginals – it is not so much an absence of a tangible shelter, but rather a feeling of being sheltered (78).

That is where Home is for me. I was born in Vancouver, but moved to Calgary before I could remember much of anything about the rainy city. I was raised in Calgary, which was either too cold or too hot, but the familiarity of the places, people, and erratic weather is what made that place Home for me. And it wasn’t all of Calgary that was Home, but only one neighbourhood called Lake Bonavista. Lake Bonavista is the place where I built my identity as a child and adolescent, and the people there identified with me. I want to stress that although Lake Bonavista was Home, I felt absolutely no sense of ownership or control over that environment. I felt no preexisting right to be there. The point is that one does not have to own a place for it to be Home, unless owning it is part of the sense required to be at Home. At that point I probably would have been less comfortable owning anything.

Following a twelve year stint in Alberta, I moved to South Surrey with my parents following a job my father was promoted to. At first, there was no way that my new surroundings could feel like Home. I know no one, nor any place. Again, this was not a result of me not having a shelter, or what they call a “home.” It was far more true that I was no longer at Home. My identity at the time was built elsewhere and tied to far away things and people. As it goes, however, after the years I grew more familiar with my surroundings, and after some time I felt at Home. I had friends, I had a strong bearing on my surroundings, and I had situated myself with where I was. I identified with my surroundings and they identified with me. I was Home.

Moving out to UBC was not a large jump for me. South Surrey is only about an hour and thirty minute bus ride away. I did fine moving out here, and I had friends from high school to do it with. Of course it was an adjustment, but I never felt the same Homelessness that I did in the move from Calgary.

I went and visited friends in Calgary this winter (do not go to Calgary in the winter unless you know what you are getting yourself into). I was expecting to feel a kind of melancholy when I got there, perhaps for missing what I thought I would consider my “true Home.” However, I felt no attachment to the place at all. Instead, I felt slightly alienated. Calgary is not my Home anymore. My Home is now out in Vancouver with the people that I know and the places that I go. My identity is built from those places and people.

For me, Home is an idea, and that idea is borne out of the stories that I tell to myself and to others. Familiarity with situations (even familiarity with unfamiliarity) and comfort with myself is that which makes me feel Home. And so, as idiomatic as it may be, it might be true that Home is where the heart is – the heart being the identity of the self. If the way we personally identify matches and is approved by our surroundings, we feel safe, comfortable, and at Home. I do not think that the implications of this are profound, but rather that we already know it. It might be a slightly dominant narrative that Home is tied to ownership, but we know better. We know that Home is tied to our identity. “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are,” and Home is one of those stories (King 2).


Works Cited

“Alerts for: City of Calgary.” Government of Canada, 6 June 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?: Finding Common Ground. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004. Print.

King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc, 2003. Print.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Unit II