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Building bridges, connecting communities

One of the animating themes that brought the conference organizers (and subsequently the volume editors) together was the need and desire to build bridges between various marginalized communities. We draw from our own lived experience as members of these communities to build our scholarship and our research agendas. But within our respective fields of research, we note a tendency to be insular in how we address and challenge colonialism, imperialism and settler colonialism and the ongoing effects of these process. TWAIL scholars have actively gathered and formed a network only as recently as 1997 under the TWAIL moniker.[1] Even though former colonized peoples have engaged in multiple forms of resistance to invasion, domination and occupation, the legal techniques used to achieve diese endeavours were not folly challenged as a critique of international law and its institutions. TWAIL scholars have then sought to dismantle the existing racial hierarchies and push for new forms of governance. Before the creation of this coalitionary movement, some Third World scholars believed that international law could lead to the emancipation of Third World peoples and sought to utilize international law for this purpose.[2]

Most often, TWAIL scholars cite both critical race theory and feminist approaches to law as inspirations.[3] While TWAIL scholars initially relied heavily on the techniques used by these two other theoretical approaches, the conversations between TWAIL and, for example, critical race theory are growing.[4] In this light, TWAIL has also engaged in critical reflexivity in thinking through some of the gaps apparent within the existing scholarship. As noted by two of the contributors to this volume, Amar Bhatia and Usha Natarajan, TWAIL has not ‘foregrounded’ the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in the Global South and the Global North.[5] More importantly, TWAIL scholars who have settled on stolen land (e.g. in the settler colonies of what are now known as Australia, the United States of America and Canada) did not fully engage with their own complicity in the processes of genocide of Indigenous Peoples.[6] The editorial group of this volume consists of both Indigenous scholars in what is currently known as Canada with those who have sought asylum here, or a better life, and have collectively generated relationships with one another in order to, as this chapter title says, expand the circle.

Indigenous communities have also been continuously resisting the onslaught of colonialism, imperialism and settler colonialism. Understandably the focus has been on pushing against the various violent techniques of surveillance, oppression and genocide.[7] We hope, with this volume, to add to the ongoing work of others in generating deeper relationships in the Global North and South.

By privileging and centring the voices of Indigenous Peoples and people of colour from the Global North and Global South, we set out to build relations between our relatives from various parts of the world through the conference in April 2018. In this volume, we continue with this tradition by making space and place for scholars from these communities and their allies to come together to make a substantive contribution to the academic literature on decolonizing law. Rather than focusing solely on our respective communities, we found it enriching and rewarding to turn to each other and our collaborators to listen to, learn from and battle alongside one another. In our efforts to deprogram and transcend the existing legal structures of oppression and genocide, we believe that allyship and community with each other and our relations are vital for our survival.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the lack of focus in our volume on the experiences of former enslaved peoples in, for example, North America, as well as those who are situated and writing about lived realities in various parts of the African continent. Our conference did intend to include participants from these communities, including South Africa. Unfortunately, and as happens all too often when conferences are held in the Global North, the settler colonial state of Canada did not grant the required visa to our colleague from South Africa, who was thus unable to attend the conference. We also hoped to receive chapters from various colleagues and collaborators focusing on these perspectives from North and South American settings. Given life circumstances and demands of their academic institutions, we were unable to receive contributions that spoke to these experiences that we could include in our volume. Nonetheless, there are robust and important contributions that signal to the existing bridge-building between Indigenous communities and communities of the descendants of enslaved peoples,[8] as well as decolonial thinking in (for example) South Africa,[9] Ghana[10] and Nigeria.[11] We hope to expand our circle in the future to include these important voices into our conversations.

Reflective and reflexive practice

In order to build bridges and create and foster nurturing relationships, we saw the need to engage in reflective and reflexive practices that seek to decolonize our hearts, minds and bodies. For example, while we gathered in the Art Gallery of Windsor, overlooking the giant skyscrapers of what is now known as Detroit, Michigan, we were reminded to marvel at the beauty and resilience of the lands and waters around us - waaiiutonong ziibi (Anishinaabcmowin for ‘where the river bends’) - rather than the stark splendour of the capitalist structures and towers that have been forced on top of the land. In her opening address, Anishinaabe Elder Myrna Kicknosway asked the conference participants to give thanks to the land and the waters. She asked them to begin their journey of reconciliation by locating and reimagining our relationship to the water, the land, the planet and the universe, and by engaging in the reflective and reflexive practice of situating ourselves within the larger project of settler colonialism and our complicity in the ongoing colonization of Indigenous Peoples and the territory of the Three Fires Confederacy.

This journey is one that must be predicated on reflective practice that seeks to unlearn colonial and imperial ways of knowing and reconnecting (e.g. with the land that we are on). For us, reflectivity must be in conjunction with reflexive practice. The former is a meditation on the past while the latter seeks to ground us ‘in the moment’ while moving forward.[12] We borrow this framing from Western critical feminist social scientists, who have sought to challenge orthodox practices of research rooted in objectivity and neutrality.[13] This type of reflexive inquiry seeks to ground the researcher, lawyer and activist within their environment while noting their relationship to others and the land. We seek to recalibrate it to our own purpose of deprogramming our surroundings, our institutions and ourselves.

There are pressing problems of how to teach with, and research against, Western law's, and how to do so in allvship with one another across Indigenous and Third World networks. The chapters in this volume seek to answer some of these questions from inter- and transdisciplinary perspectives across the Global North and South. While the conference focused on Third and Fourth World movements, our final contributions ended up emphasizing Indigenous movements in the Global North and South.

  • [1] Usha Natarajan et al., Third World Approaches to International Law: On Praxis and the Intellectual (Abingdon: Roittledge Press, 2018).
  • [2] James Gathii, “TWAIL: A Brief History of Its Origins, Its Decentralized Network, and aTentative Bibliography” (2011) 3:1 Trade, L & Development 26.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] See Critical Race Special Issue in Villanova Law Review, Ruth Gordon, “Critical Race Theory and International Law: Convergence and Divergence” (2000) 45 Vill L Rev 827.
  • [5] Amar Bhatia, “The South of the North: Building on Critical Approaches to International Lawwith Lessons from the Fourth World” (2012) 14 Or Rev Inti L131; Natarajan, supra note 37.
  • [6] Xavier, supra note 9; Michael Fakltri, “Third World Sovereignty, Indigenous Sovereignty,and Food Sovereignty: Living with Sovereignty Despite the Map” (2019) 9:3/4 Transnational Lejjal Theory 218.
  • [7] National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Final Report),Reclaiming Power and Place.
  • [8] Zainab Amadahy & Bonita Lawrence, “Indigenous Peoples and Black People in Canada: Settlers or Allies?” in Arlo Kempt, ed., Breaching the Colonial Contract: Anti-colonialism in theUS and Canada (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010) at 105; Tapji Garba & Sara-Maria Sorentino,“Slavery Is a Metaphor: A Critical Commentary on Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor” (2020) 52:3 Antipode 765.
  • [9] Tshepo Madlingozi, “Social lustice in a Time of Neo-apartheid Constitutionalism: Critiquing the Anti-black Economy of Recognition, Incorporation and Distribution” (2017)28:1 StellLRcv 123; Tshepo Madlingozi, “Decolonising ‘Decolonisation’with Mphahlele”(lNovember2018) New Frame, online: .
  • [10] Kwasi Wiredu, “Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion” (1998) 1:4 Afr Stud Q.17.
  • [11] Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, “Decolonising Education in Africa: Implementing the Right toEducation by Re-appropriating Culture and Indigeneity” (2016) 67:4 N Ir Leg Q.433;Ogba Adejoh Sylvester & Okpanachi Idoko Anthony, “Decolonization in Africa and Pan-Africanism” (2014) 12:23 Yonetim Bilimleri Dergisi 7.
  • [12] We are grateful to Tyler Dunham for this formulation predicated on Ellyn Lyle, Of Books,Barns, and Boardrooms: Exploring Praxis through Reflexive Inquiry (Rotterdam: Sense, 2017).
  • [13] Ibid, at vii-xi.
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