17 Aug Thomas King’s “Borders”: A Conflict Between Nation and Community.
The European values spread across America have had a common consequence in the communities previously inhabiting the continent. They were forced to interiorise new realities in their own lands, which resulted in inner struggles still prevalent in many of these communities. Consequently, as the expert Pamela Maria Smorkaloff states, “identity in this literature [Mexico, Canada and the US] is thus inextricably linked to a sense of place, to the geographical context within which it is being shaped and reshaped” (90). Hence, the nature or artificiality of the territorial delimitations has been a debate present in American literature, as works such as the Canadian Jeanette Armstrong’s “This is a Story,” and the Americans Gloria Andalzúa’s Borderlands or Guillermo Gómez Peña’s “The Border Is,” among others, may prove. Therefore, Thomas King’s “Borders” displays the conflict of identity within First Nations communities owing to the European supremacy inflicted during colonization, as the character’s perspectives on citizenship and nationality, their awareness of historical memory and their experiences through borders show.
Pre-Columbian civilizations and tribes have experienced a trauma connected to the subordination or extinction started during the European supremacy. As a result, the First Nations’ communal identity understands the territory “in terms of homeland borders and borders generated by colonial territories” (Starr and Thomas 125), in those National frontier where previously existed Native communities. The current Land claim seems to be personified in King’s “Borders” through the main character, Laetitia’s mother. Her need of being accepted as a Blackfoot citizen represents the demand of being recognised as an equal part of the country. The following example may illustrate this circumstance.
“Blackfoot”, my mother told him.
“Blackfoot,” my mother repeated.
“Blackfoot” (King 135)
Her refusal to renounce her aboriginal roots shows her awareness about the subordination of a community not recognized as a part of the Canadian nor the American Nations. In contrast, Laetitia seems to depict a generalised historical oblivion.
The subordination that First Nations faced has resulted, in some cases, in a rebuilt of their identity. King apparently shows this transformation in the denial that Laetitia exhibits through her lack of awareness. In leaving the reserve or refusing the use of the Blackfoot language, she is disclaiming her origins, possibly as a product of the historical apathy that colonizers and their inheritance have left. Contrarily, the author attacks wisely this lack of memory, since “King’s texts … encourage a resistance to political amnesia and insist on the importance of acknowledging and exploring the contradictions of colonizing histories” (Andrews and Walton 609). Some examples are to display this defence, for instance, the trustworthiness with which the mother accepts her locked inside the border, or the reference to Armstrong’s “This is a Story” through the words “Coyote went fishing, one day. That’s how it all started” (King 142). Clearly, both works seem to provide a similar perspective on the problem of historical memory.
The National borders around the American continent could be considered a mere representation of the power of arbitrariness, for the economic and political hierarchy that colonizers established over the years. Their maintenance to the present day has made of the border a natural reality for those living according to the American or Canadian system, in opposition to the First Nations, who tend to feel that their communities have been not respected. In fact, in King’s own words, “the border doesn’t mean that much to the majority of Native People in either country. It is, after all, a figment of someone else’s imagination” (qtd. in Andrews and Walton 604). “Borders” is an example of the subjective perception of the frontier; certainly, Smorkaloff states that the concepts of frontier and border have had different meanings along history and, consequently, along literature (89). Clearly, King is one of the examples of the need of reflection about the nature of those cultural precepts that society tends to consider as something innate.
In conclusion, Thomas King’s “Borders” is a fictional representation of a real communal conflict of identity provoked during colonization. The truth of this statement have been seen through the position in which the main character provides her claim on Blackfoot citizenship, the need to raise concern on historical memory and the mutability of borders. However subjective these perspectives should seem, it is fundamental to integrate them in the quotidian reality of the American continent. Indeed, the different cultures coexisting there could rebuild a new concept of identity in which all of them feel included.
Andrews, J. and P. L. Walton. “Rethinking Canadian and American Nationality: Indigeneity and the 49th Parallel in Thomas King.” American Literary History. 18. 3 (Autumn 2006): 600-617. JSTOR. Web.
King, T. “Borders.” One Good Story, that One. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993. 129-46. Print.
Smorkaloff, P. “Shifting Borders, Free Trade, and Frontier Narratives: US, Canada, and Mexico.” American Literary History. 6. 1 (Spring 1994): 88-102. JSTOR. Web.
Starr, H. and G. D. Thomas. “The Nature of Borders and International Conflict: Revisiting Hypotheses on Territory.” International Studies Quarterly. 49. 1 (2005): 123-139. JSTOR. Web.