“This is a continuation of genocide”: Examining the pathologization of Indigeneity in the 2016 suicide crisis and state of emergency in Attawapiskat First Nation

Chandra Persad, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 21 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)


This research paper concerns the co-constitution of pathology and Indigeneity in the settler-colonial state of Canada by 1) conducting a media analysis of national media coverage from one major Canadian newspaper, National Post, on the suicide crisis and state of emergency in Attawapiskat First Nations in 2016, and 2) engaging in a critical theoretical discussion of the neoliberal political economy and resultant social conditions in which Attawapiskat First Nations is enmeshed, in order to contextualize conditions of ill-health and account for the emergence and function of pathological frames of reference. Through engagement with critical Indigenous and race scholarship and the methodological practice of refusal of damage-centred research (Simpson, 2007; Tuck, 2009; Tuck and Yang, 2014), I examine the ways in which Indigenous peoples’ bodies and minds are situated as the problems to be ‘fixed’ and how historical and material social conditions are narrated as ‘symptoms’ of Indigenous racialized subjectivity (Million, 2013; Tam, 2013) such that Indigeneity is made synonymous with pathology. Specifically, I address how inclusion of Indigenous subjects into the discursive arena of ‘disability’- through equation of pathological frames of reference with Indigenous subjectivities as signified by the application of diagnoses of ‘trauma’, ‘mental illness’ and the stigmatization/psychiatrization of Indigenous felt experiences- does not translate into a mitigation of settler-colonial violence against Indigenous subjects. Instead, I demonstrate how this equation functions ideologically to negate the self-determination of Indigenous subjects, legitimize neoliberal, settler-colonial strategies of land theft and dispossession, and ultimately conceal from view the settler-colonial relations through which Indigenous subjects are harmed, injured, disabled and killed. Furthermore, I show how this necropolitical function of colonial violence is always/already legitimized as necessary for the (racial) project of modernity and concealed through trauma discourse and narratives of pathology that equate progress and development with ‘healing.’