Why am I reading Jesuit Relations and Champlain?

This text is so darn racist, so completely difficult to read. But there is importance to this…

  • Reading directly the colonial perspective: The opinions and terms expressed in these encounters by the authors have had profound and lasting implications in colonial treatment and rhetoric of Indigenous people.
    • While so many Champlain champions and white researchers beg that we understand context in calling Indigenous people “Sauvages” (to the point “sauvage” in French does not mean savage – brutal, but “wild” as in from the wilderness), these writers are also calling medicine people “sorcerers” and describing Indigenous belief as devil worship. Context is critical – Europe was still burning women and executed men for “sorcery” “witchcraft” or for even being catholic or protestant at the wrong time and place. These words carried real weight in judgement.
    • Reading perspective on beliefs ranging from that which is experienced to that which is believed – The European writers cast their judgements deep into their perspectives on cultures they do not know or understand. Reading in a progression, you can see how they defeat their original thoughts as they learn more. But the European white supremacy never, ever leaves off their perspectives. In reading this I am seeing where many aspects of colonial behaviour have deep roots attached to the foundation of every encounter. This has not changed.
    • The colonial perspective where these encounters have caused illness, war, environmental devastation, and famines. The Europeans are pretty much completely ignorant/ambivalent to their actions in creating massive devastation. Their assumption written is that they arrived here to epidemics and massive wars. White supremacy still works this way. The historical precedent again is deep.
  • Tracing diaspora – I know this story is told but I am hoping to gain perspective of how and why people moved. I mean we all know it but I want to read it myself and compare it to the stories I have been told. I don’t fully believe any of these writings as they come to describing many Indigenous people for the reasons I have written about. But I do believe their recording of the raw facts when removed from Euro perspective. I am particularly interested in the trade route through the Great Lakes area.
  • Reading original text – it builds perspective. Even at the beginning of this, I understand more about the nature of colonial attitudes now.
  • Understanding a basis of thought makes it easier to defeat – this is not just building my understanding in seeing where these thoughts and beliefs come from, but I can perhaps see more how to unpack these in myself and others. I become better at spotting these attitudes in other areas and understand where they come from. Often people accept belief structures because they take them as fact. Dismantling this is arduous and requires understanding.
  • Checking my own colonial beliefs – seeing it laid out in stark and not edited by modern manipulations, I can see where I need to dismantle my own thoughts even further.

Importantly, I am not coming at this from a totally colonial perspective. I see how these structures have had profound effects on my own family and its movement as a diaspora through the trade routes. I am capable of identifying many colonial beliefs and structures and understanding them in a greater way is important.

I also have many areas where I have access to Indigenous perspective and I am following up these histories with Indigenous histories and perspective which I have also learned, am learning, and will continue to seek.

Lastly, reading historic text is a great way to spot these in modern times. Knowing historic fact and belief is important for dismantling these.

The images I use will be things I pick often with a grain of salt. I ask that you examine, often, the nature of the depictions – where people are elevated to status, where people are reduced as passive or lesser, or even depicted as animals. I ask that when we look at these images, we develop a way of seeing what is being communicated by posture, colours, position, and interactions in the images itself between background and subject… where are people background, where are they subject. There are other ways of seeing, and indeed, every image is a text with perspective of the author as their bias. This includes photos.

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