They are in the room

Erasure is hard to see — look for it anyway

B. Lorraine Smith

--

The only mention of Indigenous people in all the tourist information in Montreal’s Old Port shows a smiling paddler steering his colonial passenger away.

Sitting in on a number of discussions at Biodiversity COP15 here in Montreal this week, I have heard over and over how Indigenous people are essential to our success. The data backs this up: the highest levels of biodiversity are in areas where Indigenous people are the main land stewards. But this risks just being more blah blah blah, to paraphrase Jing Tauli Carpuz, if we don’t understand some basic contextual facts that are equally true.

We need to do a bit of Erasure 101 before we can get to the next level where we actually change things for the better.

“Acknowledging” while still erasing

This blah blah blah is part of how erasure works. We think we are taking action by listening to discussions and joining marches and instagramming our concerns. But often we are missing reality on the ground which is the only reality that matters for this kind of action.

To illustrate my point, I’ll share an example of erasure in my own backyard. I am mindful that this not my story to tell, so I will focus on the visible acts of erasure and my culture’s role in it. There is lots more to hear and do beyond what I offer here.

And I encourage you to look for your own local version. Because although erasure is hard to see, when you choose to look for it suddenly you notice it all around.

Let’s have a look at what’s missing here — what’s been erased — shall we?

An interpretive sign in Montreal’s Old Port depicting commercial activity as the area was being colonized.

In some of Montreal’s most visited tourist destinations, the city has provided bilingual interpretive plaques. At the Old Port, there is a series of plaques that show the evolution of commercial activity in Montreal, the city which went on to become Canada’s largest European settlement.

A look at what’s going on (see banner image, above, for a close up) brings us to the caption of one of the signs: “Indigenous people leaving the port in a birchbark canoe.” Indigenous people leaving. That’s it. This lone Indigenous person is ferrying a European around — it’s not even really plural…

--

--

B. Lorraine Smith

Former sustainability consultant replacing ESG with reality-based insights about corporate purpose and impact. https://www.blorrainesmith.com/