2019 Loss: A Symposium


May 9-10, 2019, McGill

Laura Ishiguro,

“One man’s gain? Settler colonial violence and loss on multiple registers”
This paper examines the 1870 murder of a white baby in British Columbia, and the trial and
acquittal of a Stó:lō man for her murder. This case raises questions about the multiple meanings
and forms of loss. It is a story about a violent death, a family’s grief, and an unresolved case. But
so too is it a story about individual violence wielded by a powerful settler against Stó:lō people,
and the structural violence wrought by a colonial legal and political system against Indigenous
peoples. Such threads cannot be woven together into a simple zero-sum calculus of loss and gain
– too often the historiographical impulse or implication. Instead, I interrogate the tense,
complicated relationship between individual and structural losses in this case. As I conclude,
histories of settler colonial violence must be able to take seriously different, sometimes
conflicting, registers of loss without invalidating structural analyses of power and justice.

Jelena Golubovic,

“Narratives of Serb Women Who Left Sarajevo after the Siege”
“People are fleeing, but they do not know where they are going. Snow is falling. Snow is falling
and you have no idea where you are going. And nobody in the world cared. Nobody was
interested. Tell me, who is interested in all this? It does not matter to anyone.” These words come
from one Bosnian Serb woman’s recollection about an event that took place over twenty years
ago. When the siege of Sarajevo ended in 1996, the neighbourhoods that had been under the
control of the besieging Bosnian Serb Army were handed over to the Sarajevo government. Many
Sarajevans celebrated the reunification of the city. But, fearing violent reprisals, the majority of
Bosnian Serbs in the reunified districts fled their homes. “They say we just left, that we just went
away. But we fled. Who leaves their home when nothing is wrong? People only leave when things
are bad, when they are afraid for their safety.” Based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork, I
ask: What is loss when it is felt by those on the “wrong” side, that is, on the side of the
perpetrator? What is loss when “it does not matter to anyone?” And what is loss when one’s own
suffering is so intimately bound up in the loss and suffering of others?

Margaret Noodin,

“Wanitoon ani Mikan: Concepts of Loss in Anishinaabemowin”
Wanitoon, the word for loss in Anishinaabemowin, is connected by morphology to such words as
wanim (to mislead), wanishkwem (to disturb), wanitam (to misunderstand) and other concepts
of mistake and confusion. By contrast, the word mikan, to find, is one that evokes restoration
equivalent to regaining consciousness which is expressed as mikawi. In these linguistic patterns
we find ontologies that cannot be defined by or equated to terms in English, French or other
languages which dominate the fields of cultural studies, philosophy and psychology. To address
the question of what is beyond loss Margaret Noodin reframes ideas of loss and recovery from
an indigenous linguistic framework that includes discussion of interdisciplinary and multi-modal
approaches to reconciliation.



Mohamed Sesay and Megan Bradley,

“Narrating loss across disaster, epidemic and war in Sierra Leone”
In recent years, Sierra Leoneans have faced the catastrophes of civil war, Ebola and a massive
mudslide in August 2017 in Freetown, which killed more than 1000 people and displaced
thousands. Whereas losses and violations in the war have been addressed through formal and
informal transitional justice processes, experiences of loss in the Ebola outbreak and following
the mudslide have been less forthrightly examined in national public debates and accountability
processes. Scholarship on loss in catastrophes has tended to explore single calamities, rather
than tapestries of loss woven through intertwined experiences of catastrophe, and the struggles
of everyday life. Against this backdrop, and drawing on extensive qualitative fieldwork following
the mudslide and Ebola outbreak, we ask: How do survivors themselves understand their
experiences of loss, across times of war, epidemic disease and “natural” disaster? We focus not
only on the local discourses and symbols used to signify dispossession but also the purposes of
survivors’ stories, which often go beyond foregrounding immediate post-disaster conditions to
raise broader questions of socioeconomic injustice and the responsibility of transcendental and
earthly agents.

David Tough, “Declension and Trauma in Oral Histories of Deindustrial Ontario”
That white working-class Americans’ sense of cultural loss made them respond positively to a
reactionary message has been debated testily since late 2016, with cultural loss being treated,
implicitly or explicitly, as a euphemism for fear of immigrants; this insistence has since turned
ironic, with many wags using ‘cultural loss’ to mock the post-Trump normalization of xenophobia.
But in communities where familiar intergenerational life paths have vanished when major
employers close down or move away, it is churlish to insist that the loss is economic and not
cultural. This paper, drawing on ongoing interviews with workers affected by deindustrialization
in Peterborough, Ontario, in the late 20th century, addresses what causes loss, exploring loss as
an affect of the working class under neoliberalism that people use to explain the effect of political
economy on their cities and towns.

Evyn Lê Espiritu,

“Negotiating Refugee and Indigenous Loss in Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl”
This paper juxtaposes refugee and Indigenous loss via a theorization of what I call the “refugee
settler condition.” Stateless Vietnamese refugees, having lost their homeland, sought to obtain
citizenship in the United States, a settler colonial nation built on the loss of Indigenous
sovereignty. Responding to the questions “What causes loss?” and “What remains?”, this paper
analyzes Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl (2014), which chronicles Lee Lien’s quest to uncover
the intersections between her family’s refugee story and that of Little House on the Prairie. I offer
the term “refugee settler desire” to describe Lee’s longing to mitigate the trauma of her family’s
loss of homeland by tethering their story to a quintessential American settler narrative of
Westward expansion. By desiring to identify with white pioneer settlement rather than
Indigenous histories of loss, however, Lee unwittingly internalizes the very Manifest Destiny logic
that justified US imperial expansion across the Pacific into Vietnam in the first place—a logic that
instigated the Vietnamese refugee loss that she now attempts to counteract.


Jennifer Stinson,

“Freedom, Migration and Loss for Antebellum African American Families”
This paper posits loss—of financial support, religious fellowship, shared bonds of motherhood,
and shear trust—within antebellum African American families as a constituent part of the process
of gaining freedom through manumission and migration. It does so through the lens of the
Virginia-born Shepard kin and the letters they exchanged when, in 1850, the freed brothers Isaac
and Charles Shepard and Charles’ wife Caroline Milford Shepard left for Wisconsin. Milford’s
correspondence with her aunt Caroline Mason in back in Virginia not only articulated the loss
migration wrought but aimed to assuage it. They exchanged news of mutual friends’ church
activities and of milestones reached by each woman’s toddler and teenaged daughters. Material
objects enclosed in the letters—seeds, cloth from a dress, and a child’s picture—eased loss, too.
The Shepard brothers, likewise, corresponded with freed siblings back in Virginia. Yet these
epistolary efforts to preserve kin ties threatened by slavery and attenuated by migration also
contributed to loss of family bonds. Virginian Shepards’ requests for aid from Wisconsin kin and
their bitter expressions of feeling forgotten when aid failed to come intensified into the 1860s.
The Shepards’ losses resonated at the family level, but, as this paper also argues, they were
rooted in official statelessness and settler colonialism. Virginia’s laws barring freedpeople’s
residence consigned those manumitted Shepards who stayed there to life in the shadows as noncitizens;
their vulnerability to exploitation and deportation fueled their pleas to Wisconsin kin.
For those Shepards who escaped this statelessness by journeying west, legacies of Old Northwest
race-based indentured servitude—which had underpinned this allegedly free region’s Americanization
and white settlers’ dispossession of Native Peoples—marred freedom. These Shepards
remained within the economic and psychological orbit of their ex-master, with whom they came
west. They depended upon him for land and—given their illiteracy—to read and write the very
letters that articulated, assuaged, and begat lost ties between themselves and their Virginia kin.



"Boat People"


Rachel Lobo,

“Archival remnants: Photographic archives and the erasure of Black history in Canada”
This paper considers the historiographical challenges brought on by dislocation and
demonstrates how longstanding Afrodiasporic communities in Canada have collected and
preserved photographs in order to combat institutionalized modes of erasure and articulate
social and spatial identities. The main site of this investigation is the Alvin D. McCurdy fonds at
the Archives of Ontario, a collection of historical photographs of communities in Amherstburg,
Ontario—a major terminus of the Underground Railroad. Building on recent scholarship this
study investigates the discursive continuity between archive and historical narratives, and
reconceptualizes the term “archive” to include alternative sites and materials for the
reconstruction of historically marginalized groups. These “counterarchives” can perform a
recuperative role in mapping the development of diasporic identities and communal memory.
Specifically, this article investigates how photographic archives can provide crucial visual
documentation of the geographies of slavery, segregation, and dispossession, spatializing acts of
survival within the Canadian landscape and its history.



Kaitlin Findlay, Heather Read and Jordan Stanger Ross,

“Remembering the Losses of Japanese Canadians”
Interviewed in 2016, Joy Trapnell, born almost 20 years after her Japanese-Canadian parents
were interned, reflected that her “white friends who had normal growing up,” often and casually
reference properties and heirlooms passed down within their families. “That’s,” Trapnell
explained, “where it hurts me . . . I still carry that a little bit.” This paper uses over 100 interviews
from the collection of the Landscapes of Injustice research project to explore memories of loss
and perseverance in the 1940s. Some narrators detail the hard choices their families made as
they determined which vestiges of their material lives could be saved. Some describe their
destruction of property to prevent its seizure. Others still shift the discussion away from the
things they lost, instead telling stories of how people rebuilt home and community. In this paper
three researchers work together to interpret this history. Deliberately multi-vocal in form, the
paper works to convey the complexity of ownership, community, and family in the context of

Steven High,

“The Presence of Loss in the Early Accounts of Montreal Survivors of the 1994 Genocide”
Recounting life as it was before the 1994 Rwandan genocide is infused with the knowledge of
what was subsequently lost, making even the most cherished memories bitter-sweet. As South
African historian Sean Field once observed, loss is not actually lost as it remains very much
present in people’s lives. It is this afterlife that will be the subject of my inquiry. The proposed
paper will consider the ways that loss imbues life story accounts of life before the genocide for
31 Rwandan-Montrealers. The presence of loss can be found in the range of emotions conveyed
in accounts of their pre-1994 lives or in the mode of telling itself. For example, does a sense of
loss destabilize chronological accounts, leading survivors to skip back and forth in time? I also
wonder where loss is most evident in these life stories. Is it when survivors describe life after the
violence and the absence of loved ones or is it most apparent in recounting life before, a time
still peopled with those loved ones? I would also like to reflect further on the feelings of loss.
There is sadness and grief of course. But what of other emotions? Because most of these
interviews were conducted by other genocide survivors, or their children, I will also consider the
ways that loss lives in the dialogical relationship between the interviewer and interviewee: in the
questions posed and in the co-presence of shared grief. In doing so, the paper will respond to the
question posed by the Symposium’s organizers: “What remains?”

Nicolasa I. Sandoval and Diana Greenwood,

“nik’oyi: To Return”
What remains? The authors travel the intersection between experiences of loss, healing,
reconciliation, and rebirth with a group of indigenous community members in California. Through
longitudinal relationships between community members, educators, and therapists, participants
are reaching new understandings of personal and community loss. The result is nik’oyi a Sʰamala
Chumash word meaning to return. nik’oyi symbolizes a return to self, family, and community
through remembrance. By touching the roots of histories and reclaiming collective stories of
trauma: a new awareness of accountability, responsibility, and relationship is fostered in self,
family and community.

Kelann Currie-Williams,

“The Absented Presence of Montreal’s Negro Community Centre”
In 2014, The Negro Community Centre (NCC) located in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of
Montreal was demolished after being closed for nearly 25 years. While almost all of the building’s
debris has been removed from the site, there still remains large stones surrounding the hole were
the NCC once stood – its remains a daily reminder of the loss of a site of Black sociality. In the
physical world, the NCC no longer exists, however when its 2035 Coursol address is entered into
Google Street View (GSV), the centre stands upright - its digital presence defying its physical
absence. To engage with the question of “what remains?”, this paper will focus on the connection
between the physical remains of the NCC following its demolition and its digital remains in the
form of GSV spatial imagery which proceed its demolition. By considering how lost Black
geographies can be relocated and re-experienced through geographic web applications, Kelann
Currie-Williams will articulate how a Black sense of place (McKittrick 2006), despite always being
a site of loss, resists physical and virtual spatial configurations.

Leyla Vural,

“Mourning at New York City’s Potter’s Field”
Whatever one thinks happens after death, there’s a materiality to it that every society has to deal
with. Death leaves behind the body and the bereaved. For many, what we do with the body and
how we remember our dead is as much a marker of power (or the lack thereof) as it is of tradition
or culture. Since 1869, New York City has been having inmates from the city’s largest jail bury the
city’s poorest people in mass, unmarked graves on Hart Island, a remote island that is New York’s
potter’s field. Leyla Vural’s presentation will interweave audio clips from oral history interviews
about mourning with people who have friends and family buried on Hart Island with thoughts on
what the island says about what historian Raphael Samuel called the “moral topography” that
we all traverse.

Angela Kruger,

“Beyond the loss of Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside”
On June 2, 2017, the City of Vancouver closed The Balmoral, a Single Room Occupancy hotel
(SRO) in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). One year later, on June 20, 2018, the City closed The
Regent, a neighbouring SRO across the street. These closures may mark the beginning of a
landslide loss in DTES housing stock capable of hastening the violent displacement of an already
marginalized neighbourhood. Nevertheless, a community of precariously-housed SRO tenants is
exerting their right to remain. Based on nine months of participatory research with this
community, including interviews, archival study, and collaborative writing, this paper challenges
the idea that the closure of these buildings is strictly the loss of housing stock. These closures are
also stirrings, inciting a neighbourhood of agents, living and dead—one hundred years of
powerful cross-cultural urban survivance—prepared to demonstrate, resoundingly, the power of
community. This paper is a call for listening.

Stacey Zembrzycki,

“Telling and Not Telling Stories of Loss in Poland Seventy Years After the Holocaust”
What do stories of loss sound like seventy years after the Holocaust and how are they
remembered in the places where the losses themselves occurred? What remains and what is
beyond loss for survivors of this genocide? When Steven Hopman returned to Poland in 2010 for
the first time since leaving in the postwar period he was not ready, willing, or capable of sharing
his story. As part of a March of the Living contingent of survivors tasked with educating students
about the Holocaust, he avoided his personal narrative and struggled with feelings of anger and
hostility toward any Poles he encountered throughout this trip. For Steven, telling his story was
like “…having a scar, having it heal, and then ripping off the scab.” It was too difficult. Unlike the
four other survivors on the trip, this experience effectively silenced Steven rather than helping
him come to terms with what had happened to him and his family. For him, the past was not a
distant place but an experience he still struggled to understand and live with. This paper
problematizes Steven’s experience and details the stories that could and could not be told,
exploring what remains but also what is beyond loss and cannot be shared.

Hank Greenspan, “Alive in Another Life”
Agi Rubin, a Holocaust survivor who was my friend over thirty years (and a co-author), once
reflected: The Life I was made to live is gone. I am alive, in another life.”
This piece aims to describe what it means to be “alive in another life.” I argue that the
phenomenon is in central, but not limited, to survivors of genocide or other overwhelming
trauma. Indeed, living multiple lives, punctuated by loss, may be more rule than exception. If
so, the fact critiques conventional notions of a unified “life story,” of “integration,” of “working
through” and similar. Rather, “integration” is better understood as “integrating the lack of
integration.” And that, I argue, happens between people, interpersonally and collectively, rather
than as individual psychic process (although I am a psychologist!). It also grounds compassion.

Nadia Jones - Gailani,

“On Loss and Inherited Memory”
Dr. Jones - Gailani's presentation addresses loss from the perspective of inherited memory, using
part of her research on sensory memory and loss to develop a paper that explores in what ways
loss or absence can be mutigenerational, and how women migrants - those of her research at
least - draw upon an affective sensory language of metaphor and memory to convey loss. Beyond
simply the physical loss of home, diasporic imaginaries are an intrinsic part of negotiated
identities that intersect with the changing meaning of religion and ethnicity. Ultimately, this piece
explores inherited loss (without a fix determination of this term) through sensory and
multigenerational memory patterns.

Brittany Luby, Andrea Bradford and Samantha Mehltretter,

“Defining and Challenging Loss: Community Alliance as a Response to Wild Rice (manomin) Crop Destruction on the Winnipeg River”
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, members of Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining
Ojibway Nation (henceforth OON), in what is now known as northwestern Ontario, thrived along
the Winnipeg River, due to the steady food supply of fish and wild rice (manomin). After
hydroelectric development and mill expansion in the 1950s, artificial water fluctuations and
polluted effluent and organic waste degraded the habitat conditions for fish and manomin crops
near OON. By 1978, food scarcity led to the almost complete abandonment of OON. The
community made initial attempts at promoting the regrowth of the manomin crops through
seeding as well as constructing man-made dams. Unfortunately, these rehabilitation efforts
prompted little regrowth of the crop, demonstrating a need for a greater understanding of the
historic environmental impacts of the Winnipeg River near OON and the ecological needs of
manomin. In 2017, band administrators at OON approached Dr. Brittany Luby and Dr. Andrea
Bradford to discuss the role of universities in knowledge production. What evolved is an
interdisciplinary research program designed to develop a greater understanding of the effects of
water level regimes on manomin density and to determine whether crops can be reintroduced
under the current conditions. In this presentation, Luby and Samantha Mehltretter, MASc.
candidate and research assistant, will discuss the formation of a community-led active research
team in the fight against crop destruction. They will discuss the role of collaboration in combating
environmental and cultural loss, reflecting on the triumphs and challenges associated with work
at the intersection of traditional ecological knowledge, engineering, and environmental activism.

Nicole Yakashiro,

“Conjuring ghost towns: Dispossession and the difficulty of settler nostalgia”
In 1953, a decade after the displacement of Japanese Canadians from Paueru-gai (“Powell
town”), Nisei writer Eiko Hemni penned a requiem for this Vancouver neighbourhood—once the
“nucleus” of the Japanese-Canadian community. She grieved: “Powell Street is dead.” Her
sentiments were not rare. After their uprooting, Japanese Canadians navigated their abrupt
placeless-ness by mourning sites they were forced to abandon. They lamented Powell Street by
naming it not Paueru-gai, but a “ghost-town”. But articulating this neighbourhood—a home to
predominantly low-income, racialized, and Indigenous communities after 1942—as dead and
haunted is not benign. This paper explores the difficulty of nostalgia after dispossession. It argues
that the commemoration of Japanese-Canadian “pioneers” whose unjust displacement left only
a “ghost-town” is a project deeply complicit in the erasure of others and other histories. It
contends that, to achieve transformative futures, we must move past settler nostalgia towards
critical forms of mourning to ask: what is beyond “Japanese-Canadian” loss?

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