Decolonizing Scottish Studies

2021, Summit Towards Equity, Education + Research, Equity + Justice

This was the first in a series of events organized by the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University who aimed to:

  • examine colonial histories and present circumstances involving Scotland and the Scottish diaspora, and 
  • consider the roles that Centres of Scottish Studies can play in the work of decolonization. 

The speakers on this panel came from both sides of the Atlantic and offer different lenses from which to consider the issues. 

Settler scholar Alyssa Bridgman (Simon Fraser University) revised the myth of Simon Fraser by assessing literary works and commemorative sites which represent him as a Scottish-Canadian hero-explorer. 

Emma Bond (St. Andrews) and Michael Morris (U of Dundee) set the story of an individual employee (Fraser) of an individual company (the Northwest Company) in the context of larger networks within which such companies flourished as they present research from their Transnational Scotland project, a project that re-evaluates Scotland’s 19th-century connections to objects involving exploitative practices (such as sugar, jute, cotton, tobacco, tea, and linen) as well as the representations of those objects and practices in contemporary heritage repositories such as museums. 

Continuing with the theme of heritage, Amy ParentNoxs Ts’aawit (Mother of the Raven Warrior Chief) (University of British Columbia) analyzed the philosophical and epistemological questions at stake in the display of her family pole, the Niis Joohl pole, in the National Museum of Scotland as well as her project to repatriate the pole and create a newly-carved pole in its place. 

Decolonizing Scottish Studies was open to the public, and we echoed the language of the co-chairs of SFU’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (ARC) report in hoping that the event brought people together in a “spirit of reconciliation, cooperation, and optimism” to go forward on the road of decolonizing Scottish Studies.

Sat, 17 Apr 2021

Online Event

Part of Towards Equity


“Sites of Memory and Amnesia: Simon Fraser’s Legacy in Vancouver”

– Alyssa Bridgman

Simon Fraser, although lauded as a father of British Columbia, has generally been forgotten in the public's cultural consciousness. The few works surrounding Fraser and his 1808 expedition through BC depict him as the quintessential rugged Canadian and Scottish explorer. This hybrid national identity represented in Fraser scholarship and literature depicts the settler colonial project as heroic, and Fraser himself becomes a symbol for these nations’ colonial projects. In this talk, I discuss W.K. Lamb's edition of Fraser's journal and a novelistic adaptation of the journal, as well as physical sites commemorating Fraser’s memory in Vancouver.

“Transnational Scotland: Legacies of Empire”

– Dr. Emma Bond and Dr. Michael Morris

The “Transnational Scotland” project worked with a series of museums across Scotland to explore new ways of telling transnational stories with existing collections. As Scotland wrestles with its legacies of empire, this talk will focus on our work with V&A Dundee in relation to recent decolonizing perspectives (Dr. Emma Bond and Dr. Michael Morris).

"Building Solidarity to Re-right History through the Repatriation of the House of Niis Joohl Pole from the National Museum of Scotland"

– Dr. Amy Parent

This project is the first-known study to focus on the philosophy and pedagogical practices of the Nisga’a carving tradition as a form of knowledge production and transmission through repatriation and carving of new pst’aan (totem poles) in the Nisga’a language. The Nisga’a Nation comprises four main villages (Lax̱g̱alts’ap, Gingolx, Gitlaxt'aamiks, and Gitwinksihlkw) surrounding K’alii-Aksim Lisims (Nass River) in northwestern British Columbia, Canada. It is governed by the Nisga’a Lisims Government under the Nisga’a Constitution, which follows our ayuuk (ancestral laws and protocols). The Nisga’a Nation is a matrilineal society that is socially organized into four tribes: frog, wolf, killer whale, and eagle. Since time immemorial, every Nisga’a citizen is born into one of these tribes and is also a member of a wilp, or house (a grouping of extended family members in the same tribe). Each house has its own Chiefs, Matriarchs, territories, rights, history, stories, songs, dances, traditions, and totem poles (Morven & Boston, 1996). Traditionally, one type of pts’aan was carved and raised to tell the adaawak of ownership, jurisdiction, land title, and history of the place names for the four Nisga’a tribes and subsequent houses. The destruction and theft of most pre-contact Nisga’a house pts’aan leaves many Nisga’a people unfamiliar with the stories, history, and traditional place names that are associated with our visual archive, which serves as a form of cultural sovereignty connected to Nisga’a cultural identity and nationhood. According to Sim’oogit (Chief) Duuḵ:

When the poles were removed our people had no stories to tell. So, when we don’t have the poles standing there, how can we show our young people the importance of our tribal system if we don’t have the poles representing the four main tribes? (Personal Correspondence, November 30th, 2019)

In 1929, the Niis Joohl pole (colonially referred to as the "Small Hat Pole") was stolen from Nisga’a Nation’s ancient village of Ank’idaa by ethnographer Marius Barbeau (1950) and sold to the National Museum of Scotland, where it remains (Kerr, 1931; The Scotsman, 2009). At present, the fact that only one totem pole, the Haisla G’psgolox Pole (Cardinal, 2003) has ever been successfully repatriated from a European museum heightens the complexity of this research (Collison, Bell, & Neel, 2019). In 2022, a delegation from the House of Niis Joohl will travel to the National Museum of Scotland to repatriate the pole. The purpose of this presentation is to share awareness of the pole's history and its interconnections with Nisga'a cultural sovereignty under the Nisga'a Final Agreement (2000); which is in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (2015).


Alyssa Bridgman

English MA student at Simon Fraser University

Alyssa Bridgman lives on the unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Musqueam, Squamish, Quay Quayt, and Sto:lo First Nations. She is in the last semester of her English MA at Simon Fraser University. Her interests are 19th-century American, Canadian, and Scottish literatures, as well as contemporary poetry. She is the 2020-21 recipient of the David and Mary Macaree Graduate Fellowship in Scottish Studies.

Dr. Emma Bond

Senior Lecturer in Italian and Comparative Literature at the University of St. Andrews

Dr. Bond works on migration, diaspora, and transnational studies at the University of St. Andrews. Her publications include: Writing Migration through the Body (2018) and the co-edited volume Destination Italy: Representing Migration in Contemporary Media and Narrative. Dr. Bond is principal investigator of the “Transnational Scotland” project.

Dr. Michael Morris

Senior Lecturer in Scottish Studies in the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee

Dr. Morris’ research focuses on Scottish relations with slavery and the black Atlantic. This includes his monograph, Scotland and the Caribbean: Atlantic Archipelagos (2015). Dr. Morris is co-investigator on the “Transnational Scotland” project.

Dr. Amy Parent

Noxs Ts’aawit (Mother of the Raven Warrior Chief), Assistant Professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Educational Studies in the Faculty of Education

On her mother’s side of the family, Dr. Parent is Nisga’a from the House of Ni’isjoohl and is a member of the Ganada (frog) clan in the village of Laxgalts’ap in northwestern, British Columbia. On her father’s side of the family, she is of Settler ancestry (French and German). Her research expertise is focused on two areas: (1) teaching and mentoring practices aimed at capacity-building in Indigenous communities, K-12 contexts, teacher education, and higher education in British Columbia; and; (2) Nisga’a language revitalization, educational governance and policy. Dr. Parent is presently working on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: New Frontiers in Research grant that expands her scholarship in the area of Indigenous visual methodologies through the use of virtual reality technology to support Nisga’a language revitalization and cultural repatriation. Most recently, she is the author of Txeemsim Bends the Box to Bring New Light to Working with Indigenous Methodologies. In A. Abdi’s (Ed) Critical Theorizations of Education. Nieden: Brill Press and producer and writer for the Critical Understandings of Land & Water: Unsettling Place at SFU film series (please see for further details).

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