Investigating the Diagnostic Rituals and Anti-Indigenous Fantasies of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Canada
In Canada today, the diagnosis of FASD is widely, though erroneously, thought to be a uniquely “Indigenous problem.” And while a vast infrastructure of FASD research and public health campaigns have attempted to debunk this as unscientific and racist ignorance, this same infrastructure compulsively reiterates this conjunction of FASD and Indigeneity through a variety of investment pathways, research interests, policy development strategies, and an aesthetic economy of advocacy that reproduces this contradiction through a machinery of contradictory logic and speech acts, as well as disavowed desires. To get a handle on this death-drive-like economy of investing in Indigenous life while simultaneously condemning it, this presentation will examine the epistemological and political forms in which Indigenous life and bodies are increasingly available to be subjected to the capacious medical gaze of the diagnosis of FASD. It examines how the clinical diagnostic criteria of FASD has moved between various social welfare and criminal justice institutional settings, where the symptomologies of the neuro-developmental disorder have harmonized with prevailing conceptual and perceptual interpretive registers in which the actions, behaviors, and genealogical pathways of Indigenous peoples are regularly interpreted as disorganized and dysfunctional. As these diagnostic rituals of FASD continue to make sense of the broader political economy of mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples in prisons and child welfare systems, they also help to illuminate and give finer contour to the historic archive of Settler encounter with Indigenous peoples and the ongoing projects of Indigenous elimination that are sustained through patterns of feeling and repertoires of perception and interpretation. To account for the radical pervasiveness of this diagnostic paradigm as it captures Indigenous life in institutional form and everyday common sense, however, this presentation will return to a more specific scene of the crime, so to speak, when FASD first began to gain discursive traction in the Canadian political economy. Namely, it will focus on the era of the “Sixties Scoop,” when tens of thousands of Indigenous children were abducted from their home communities and placed into the adoptive care of settler households between the 1960s and 1980s. As these adoptive placements began to breakdown at obscene rates (upwards of 95%) in the 1980s and 1990s, I focus on how Indigenous children were recruited, but failed to assimilate, into the fantasy frames of love and family of these settler households, and how FASD provided a means for accounting for this massive political crisis that had embedded itself in the domestic heart of the settler nation.