In the fall of 2019, I engaged in a Sleeter-inspired critical family history focusing on the emigration of my father's grandfather who left Norway as a young man and eventually homesteaded in central Alberta. This paper and timeline will detail what I learned about my family history, and how I have connected my history with the social and political events of the times when Ole Madland emigrated from Norway and ended up in New Westminster, BC.
As this is a self-study with my ancestors as (unwitting) participants, my position in it is central. I was both the participant and the audience for the project. Sources of information (data) were various government archival websites, my father, and the collective work of other family members contributing to an online genealogical tool called geni.com. As Sleeter (2016) observes, most members of dominant social groups tend to focus only on their own families in tracing lineage. I found that this was difficult to avoid because there is simply no mention of Indigenous Peoples in any of the documents that I discovered and examined related to my family's history. It took a purposeful decision on my part to try to align my family history with events in the politics of Indigenous-Canadian relations. In the end, though, it is clear that my great grandfather left Norway, likely encouraged by emigration recruiters, at a time when many of his fellow Norwegians were doing the same. They all left Norway because of the difficulty of farming in a land that grows mostly rocks, lured by the promise of free and bountiful land in North America. Their way was both literally and metaphorically cleared by the enactment of laws and the deployment of the military in North America which erased Indigenous Peoples from the land, sometimes through deadly force, but regularly, and still today, through callous indifference and neglect.
This being a critical family history, I engaged in an exploration of what actually happened and I uncovered actual historical documents which attest to the sequence of events that led to my own personal privilege and comfort today. All of this with the goal of moving towards what Kemmis, McTaggart, & Nixon (2014) call a more rational, sustainable, and just perspective as I move into my PhD dissertation project. By understanding clearly the reason that I am here, I am more able to approach research with Indigenous partners from a place of humility and reconciliation.
As I was working through my project, I came to understand Tuck's (2009) concept of "mutual understanding" and its importance in participatory action research, and also the unique way that this self-study has led to greater mutual understanding. It may seem curious that a self-study can lead to mutual understanding, but one of the themes I noticed in my project was the presence of silent voices. I had a conversation with a Stó:lô elder about my plan to enage in a critical family history project, and she asked what that meant. When I explained the process of aligning one's own ancestral history with the social and political happenings of the time, she exclaimed "Oh, we do that all the time!" By engaging in this self-study, I have been catching up. Indigenous people already know all of this. They are reminded of it every day that they see an uninvited settler in their territory. Prior to this project, I could give lip service to 'my ancestors' in the abstract, but now, I know, with concrete documentation, that a very specific person in history followed the spirit of his day and set out to find a better life and was only able to do that because of the dispossession of the Dakota in 1862, the Cree and Métis in Treaty 6 in 1876, and the Coast Salish, who are still without a treaty. Working towards mutual understanding requires a large amount of work for settlers to catch up to Indigenous people. It requires listening to the silent roar of Indigenous voices desperate for justice.
This timeline is far from complete or comprehensive, and some dates are approximations. It does, however, tell the beginnings of a story; a story that I hope will one day lead to greater understanding, more people making commitments to reconciliation, and to Indigenous self-determination.