College Quarterly
Spring 2004 - Volume 7 Number 2
Notes Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society
Sherene H. Razack, ed.
Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002.

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

The common use of words like "space" and "mapping" imply that the subject matter is some actual territory that has come to the interest of a people and that they have set out to describe it for some purpose, likely navigation and ultimate possession. So, when Europeans, including for these purposes mainly the Spanish, the British and the French, set out to map the territory of North America, no one could doubt that it was their wish to navigate, investigate and take possession of the land. The fact that there was an already diverse and competent population in place, and that these native peoples (probably in far greater numbers than most "white" narratives typically admit) were already fully in command of the pertinent real estate seems to have presented no great obstacle to European ambitions.

The treatment of native peoples varied, of course, from time to time and from place to place. Terms such as genocide or even cultural genocide ought not to be used indiscriminately. Nonetheless, from the time the Vikings battled the "skraelings" along the Labrador coastline, one is hard pressed to identify aboriginal nations that were uniformly benefited by the arrival of European traders, merchants, missionaries, and military personnel. So, it would be instructive to display literal maps showing the distribution of native peoples and the arbitrary manner in which their lands were allocated to jurisdictions that had nothing to do with traditional cultures but had the effect of imposing borders and presenting deeds of title to settlers from across the sea.

The contributors to this anthology, originally an issue of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society, are not unaware of the way in which political geography reorganized power and ownership in the land that would become Canada, but neither do they wish to be restricted by that use of language. Instead, they show in various ways how spaces and places are human constructs and especially how alien law helped to form the dominant understanding of human relations in what was, only for the settlers, the new land.

Nor are aboriginal people the only ones to be affected by the evolving hegemony of the Europeans. A chapter on "gendered racial violence" allows a feminist interpretation of racial issues including the treatment of women undergoing internment in wartime camps. It permits the study of the struggle to make space for mosques in the contemporary urban landscape. As well, a narrative of the creation, regulation and destruction of the black community of Africville lends texture to the broad themes of social relations in imperial outposts as they became stable colonies and ultimately sovereign states in an emerging global society.

Besides the unsettling case studies of malfeasance and mistreatment, Bonita Lawrence provides a useful introductory essay on "Rewriting Histories of the Land" and Sheila Dawn Gill adds a chapter on "The Unspeakability of Racism" which blends the insights of the sociology of language with a solid account of problems in resource development and issues of justice in recent Manitoba history.

If anything is missed, it might be a clear assessment of the nature of aboriginal land claims and an analysis of the legal issues that derive therefrom. Still, such work is available elsewhere, whereas the creative scholarship present in this provocative collection is not easily found.

Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College, King City. His email address is


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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology