Brittany Luby Transcript

So the book Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival in Anishinaabe Territory was inspired by my growing up experiences. I wanted to know what inspired my paternal ancestors to move to town even though their stories of just a deep love for the Mahnomen fields and the waters and the lands of my ancestral homeland and it was this investigation into my past and my attempts to make sense of my growing up experiences that led me into a study of hydro-colonialism by which I mean colonization by and through water.

So just for an example at the turn of the 20th century, the Dominion of Canada invested in a piece of infrastructure called the Norman Dam. This dam raised water levels on Lake of the Woods and it did this in part to support the steamship and navigation industries on that body of water. But this same dam flooded out Mahnomen fields and trap lines and fisheries. So by changing flow it also changed power dynamics in Treaty #3 Territory because these environmental changes were made without negotiations with Anishinaabe treaty partners and without their free prior and informed consent. If we think that food is also power, these changes meant that families struggled to feed their children, and by extension they struggled to raise up a nation. 

I am inspired to do this work because I think for all the gains that have happened in discussions about settler colonial relations in Canada, around the Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples in 1996 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, that we still have a lot of work to do to reckon with our past. There are still so many systemic inequities and just unequal opportunities in this country that link back to a historic piece of legislation — the racist and paternalistic Indian Act of 1876 that's still in place today. I hope to draw people's attention to laws and actions and decision makings that creates these unequal opportunities. We started talking about residential schools, which again is so important for us to do as a nation, but I think we also need to start talking more about hydro-colonialism because the formation of Canada wasn't just a land grab. There's also water theft that we need to to deal with. Because there were laws like section 114 of the Indian Act that made it illegal for people to practice their culture. Because there were laws in place like the permit system that made it illegal for First Nations peoples to sell goods and produce without the consent of an Indian agent, which makes it really difficult to develop an economy and to compete in the economy on your own terms. Because even today because the Indian Act says that Reserve lands are held and trust by a crown First Nations can struggle to compete for capital from from financial markets for big loans, which again creates barriers to independent self-governing development and we need to talk about that.

I hope that my Indigenous readers when they see the attention that "Dammed" is getting, when they see this incredible honour and privilege that the Governor General's Award is giving to this work, that they're inspired to speak up and speak out and share the truth and the stories of their communities. Because I believe that this award is a signal that in this moment in time, that right now Canadians are listening. And I hope that my Canadian readers, particularly the historians among us, think critically about the metrics they're using to make claims about our shared past. There's this myth in Canada that the standard of living increased for the average person after 1945. We talk about post-war prosperity, the post-war boom, and a lot of those arguments depend on a metric called GDP — or Gross Domestic Product. Which is a number that's assigned to all the goods produced within a national boundary within a year. And it's true, after World War II, there was a housing boom and more houses were constructed and there was a rise in consumer demand and more consumer goods were produced and sold. But when we look at that rise in GDP through the lens of treaty, or through the lens of Aboriginal title, we have to ask which resources were extracted that fueled that development? What wood was harvested that allowed for that newsprint to be produced. And suddenly what seems like a period of immense growth through the Canadian metric of GDP is evidence of immense loss for Indigenous Nations.

I think it's incredibly important for the public to engage with history because we live with it every day. It's not something that's behind us. it's here in the present. We've inherited the decisions and the infrastructure of our ancestors and what we are willing to come to know what we are willing to reckon with shapes opportunities for the next generation. And so, I ask what type of ancestor do you want to be?