A Map that Roared and an Original Atlas: Canada, Cartography, and the Narration of Nation



This paper contributes to recent debates about the geography of power,the nation-state, cartographic history, and postcolonial theory. It does so by connecting the themes of these literatures and exploring empirically the claims about the narration of natio made by the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha. The two empirical case studies come from contemporary Canada, and concern, in part, the mapping of the nation-state. The first case is a British Columbia trial in which two First Nations, the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en, brought a case against the provincial and federal governments over the recognition of their native sovereignty. The second study is of volume 1 of the Historical Atlas of Canada, which, unlike many others before it, sought to place native peoples and spaces within the overarching cartography of the country. In both studies, the ambivalent (post)colonial power relations of cartography—the fact that they can work both for and against colonialism—become evident. They therefore serve as exemplary lessons concerning the political geography of mapping and the chronic persistence into the present of colonial assumptions about cartography. But more than this, the studies also raise significant questions about the limits of Bhabha's locution of “location” as a site for a performative form of political agency. The paper suggests, therefore, that, while spatial theorists can usefully draw on Bhabha's postcolonial supplements to theories of the nation, the work of producing postcolonial geographies of national negotiations simultaneously supplementsand displaces Bhabha's own abstraction of agency.