Unsettled Ground: An Institutional Ethnography of a Residential School

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:54
Oral Presentation
Katherine Charlotte MORTON, Memorial University, Canada
The physical spaces of deteriorating Indigenous residential schools in Canada carry enormous discursive and cultural weight. Decades after their closure, residential schools are physical reminders of the colonial violence committed against Indigenous children and families. The intergenerational trauma experienced by contemporary Indigenous famileis and communities is immense and has major sociological implications. The remaining structures and spaces continue to shape how Indigenous identity is understood and constructed by the dominant majority in the contemporary setting- particularly how the state responds to and frames the victimization of Indigenous peoples. Even though these schools were closed and sometimes repurposed, the remaining structures and physical spaces endure as highly visible confirmations of the colonial violence committed against Indigenous people in Canada. This research examines the meaning making role that the locations and physical spaces of residential schools play in contemporary Indigenous identity construction and Indigenous-state negotiations. Building on postcolonial theory, this paper argues that the closing of Indigenous schools did little to extinguish the sites as locations for prejudicial construction of Indigenous identity according to lingering colonial attitudes and assumptions. The ruins of residential schools across Canada are evocative of the power of strategies of colonial geography. By positioning this research within the ruins as a starting point, this work identifies how race and space collide in the ruins of colonial geographies and what this means for identity construction in Canada as a contemporary settler state. This research incorporates the institutional ethnography approach in order to access the meaning-making potential of the deteriorating structures of residential schools. By completing an institutional ethnography of the Alberni residential school, this research seeks to understand how even in the contemporary setting, the materiality of the school retains a meaning-making role and to understand how these sites impact on the lived experiences of the local Indigenous band.