My own social justice activism started in the 1980s. Movement work gave me a transformative education in many things, including the importance of documentation. These lessons came from feminists teaching women’s histories at their kitchen tables, and folks doing South African solidarity work who carefully mimeographed monthly newsletters. However small our actions seemed, I was told, they were integral pieces of global activism and worthy of chronicling.
Hence my excitement over and interest in a new anthology, Bucking Conservatism, focused on Alberta’s activist history. Editors Leon Crane Bear, Larry Hannant and Karissa Robyn Patton took it upon themselves to document, collect and share the stories of activists who struggled for social justice in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s an impressive array of stories, interviews and analyses focused on Indigenous resistance, feminist activism, queer history, peace work and environmental struggles.
I enjoyed this beautiful mosaic of activist history for many reasons. It’s an intersectional collection that takes for granted the links between social justice struggles. It’s well-written, well-organized and insightful. And let me praise the careful footnoting! Groups embarking on future projects will benefit from the robust list of references that marks each piece.
The section on Indigenous activism and resistance, edited by Crane Bear, provides an impressive starting point. Crane Bear’s introduction begins with the story of Lillian Piché, a member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation, and the ways she resisted ongoing housing discrimination against Indigenous people, including by setting up a tipi across from Edmonton’s City Hall in 1969. This is followed by Crane Bear’s essay analyzing the concept of “Indian status,” with particular attention paid to the creation of the collaboratively written Red Paper (one piece of the Indigenous response to the federal government’s White Paper of 1969), which is credited to the Indian Chiefs of Alberta. Resonant with this, Tarisa Dawn Little’s essay takes us through the 1970 occupation of Blue Quills residential school, which resulted in the first community-controlled Indigenous school in the country.
Among other pieces, I enjoyed Louise Swift’s recollections about her activist work in Edmonton, which started in the 1960s with a focus on peace and nuclear disarmament. She discusses the important work of the Canadian Committee for Control of Radiation Hazards and the local chapter of Voice of Women. Swift remains still active today in the Raging Grannies. In Jennifer Salahub’s essay, we learn about Marion Nicoll, educator, artist and crafts advocate. Erin Gallagher-Cohoon captures the moment in Edmonton when queer folks shifted from a mostly closeted existence to being out and active, linking nicely with the essay by Nevena Ivanović, Kevin Allen and Larry Hannant, who explain some of Calgary’s queer history, including the Everett Klippert court case.
Against the view that “everyone” in Alberta is conservative, Patton and Mack Penner, in a closing essay, write that this widely held perception “exceptionaliz(es) the history of the province and thus limit(s) its historiographical relevance,” hinders activists’ ability to “understand themselves as furthering important historical traditions…[and]…enables derisive talk about Alberta elsewhere in Canada.”
Bucking Conservatism offers a blueprint, a model, for others who want to continue this work, in whatever time period. Future collections might focus particular attention on the historical activism of Black Albertans and other people of colour, as well as people with disabilities.
Joe Kadi teaches in the Gender and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Calgary.