Intersections of Indigeneity, Refugees, Affect and Trauma

August 02, 2016

Panelists: Patricia Barkaskas, Clint Burnham, Anne Dufourmantelle, Samir Gandesha, & Veronique Voruz

chaired by Hilda Fernandez


Co-sponsored by the Lacan Salon and SFU's Department of English

The ongoing refugee/migrant crisis reveals the obscene underside of neoliberal globalization and the consequent questions of precarity and “bare life” that confront the Western world with shame. This was dramatically brought home to Canada in the fall of 2015 with the digital “event” of Aylan Kurdi’s death, a death that could be attributed to the Harper government’s indifference to the plight of refugees. At the same time, Canada has been publicly “working through” its colonial history and on-going legacy of residential schools via the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recently released its final reports, amid calls of indigenization, decolonization, and for an inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The links between the refugee crisis and the problem of reconciliation have been made explicit by Wolstoq Grand Council Member, Ron Tremblay, and Dean of Unama’ki College and Mi’kmaw elder, Professor Stephen Augustine, both of whom called up upon the Federal Government to take immediate action, claiming that hospitality was central to indigenous world views. 

These events, as well as those such as the infamous Komagatu Maru incident, belong to the realm of the traumatic and involve important expression of emotions and the performance of collective and individual mourning. Confronted with evidence of the utter depravity of colonialism, Settlers may be overcome by powerful emotions, succumb to a melancholic self-rebuke or guilt. Survivors, in contrast, must face the repetition of trauma and its brutal ramifications, perhaps even be called upon to comfort their colonizers. By the same token, refugees can become transformed from the undesirable, abject other, the stranger––stranded on Mediterranean islands or other liminal, carceral spaces (tent cities, camps, the Calais “Jungle”)––into the good deserving victim who, still lacking agency or autonomy, becomes an empty signifier for feel-good charity or philanthropy.

The traumatic nature of such violent historical events augurs the protrusion of the Real––territory where the unconscious lacks representation––engendering distress and confusion that demands political action to address such collective trauma. Governments might offer, deceptively, precarious yet convenient significations of such events––structurally impossible given its traumatic nature––that are laden with affect and possibly harbor inaction if not paralysis. 

In this panel we want to discuss traumatic events that affect indigenous peoples and refugees to address questions such as: What kind of reconciliation is possible in such collective traumas? What does it mean to “work through the past?” How might work with individual trauma shed light on working through collective or socio-political trauma? Who has the moral if not political right to welcome refugees onto land or unceded traditional territories? What role do emotions––from anger, anxiety, and denial to guilt, fear, and pity––play? How is it possible to engage in the hard work of solidarity, making alliances, acting or offering charity? What would be necessary, sufficient or impossible with regards to trauma affecting indigenous peoples and refugees?


Patricia Barkaskas earned a M.A. in History, with a focus on Indigenous histories in North America, and a J.D., with a Law and Social Justice Specialization, from the University of British Columbia. She is the Academic Director of the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic and a lecturer at the Peter A. Allard School of Law. Patricia has practiced in the areas of child protection (as parent’s counsel), criminal, family, as well as civil litigation and prison law. She has worked closely with Indigenous peoples in their encounters with the justice system and has worked for Residential school survivors as an historical legal researcher for the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. In addition she has written Gladue reports for the Provincial and Supreme Courts of British Columbia, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Her current and future teaching and research interests include access to justice, clinical law, decolonizing and Indigenizing legal education, particularly examining the value of Indigenous pedagogies in experiential and clinical learning for legal education, and Indigenous laws. Patricia was born in Alberta and is Métis descended from families of the Lac Ste. Anne Cree/Métis and Red River Métis communities.

Clint Burnham is an Associate Professor in the SFU Department of English, an associate member of the SFU Department of Geography and a member of SFU’s Centre for Global Political Economy, he is also a founding member of the Vancouver Lacan Salon. His research interests include contemporary poetry, theory (esp. psychoanalysis and Marxism), and cultural studies, and he is currently writing books on Slavoj Žižek and digital culture, and on Fredric Jameson and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Anne Dufourmantelle has a PhD in Philosophy (Sorbonne Paris IV) and a Master's in Humanities (Brown univ, Providence, USA). She has been a Psychoanalyst since 1990, and is a member of the Après Coup association (NYC) and the Cercle Freudien and Insistance (Paris). Anne has also published non-fiction books in the area of philosophy and psychoanalysis, such as L’Eloge du risque (2014), Défense du secret, and Of Hospitality with Jacques Derrida. She teaches at EGS (European graduate school/Switzerland) and a seminar on psychoanalysis in Paris.

Samir Gandesha is an Associate Professor in the Department of the Humanities and the Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. He specializes in modern European thought and culture, with a particular emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. He has recently lectured at the Centre for the Study of Marxist Social Theory at the University of Nanjing, the Taipei Biennale and at the School for Language, Literature and Cultural Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Veronique Voruz has a MA in Psychoanalysis from Kingston University, London, and is a member of the Ecole de la Cause freudienne, the New Lacanian School, and the World Association of Psychoanalysis. She is also the Assistant Editor for La Cause du désir, journal of the ECF, Managing Editor for The Lacanian Review (English-speaking journal of the WAP), Co-editor of The Late Lacan (SUNY 2007), and author of many articles in academic and psychoanalytic publications.  

Panel is moderated by Hilda Fernandez, practitioner of Lacanian Psychoanalysis in Vancouver, founding member and President of the Lacan Salon, and Associate of the Institute for the Humanities at SFU.