Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Sliwinski, Sharon


In this dissertation I consider how listening to music produced by Indigenous peoples might convince settler listeners to surrender settler states of mind. I focus on the elements of settler colonialism that are exemplified in and challenged by the experiences of listening to music produced by Indigenous peoples. I focus on these aesthetic encounters as a way of exposing the everyday presence and power of settler states of mind and, more importantly, exploring how settlers might go about rebuilding states of mind through these moments of aesthetic surrender that are spurred by embodied experiences of sound. My project builds on the work of writers, theorists, and musicians such as African American writer James Baldwin, Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer, and artist Leanne Simpson, and Stó:lō scholar Dylan Robinson. I think about what it means to listen cross-culturally in the context of ongoing settler colonialism in North America (Turtle Island) and increased rhetoric around “reconciliation” in response to the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2015. I speak to the intimate level of listening to music from across cultures in this dissertation so that settlers might begin to engage in a critical self-reflection necessary for the rebuilding of settler states of mind—a reflection that involves a sense of surrender that requires settlers to learn how to participate in new worlds opened and led by various Indigenous peoples and nations.

Summary for Lay Audience

In this dissertation I start by considering what it means for non-Indigenous people to listen to music produced by Indigenous people and begin to critically reflect on the music, lyrics, and conditions of the artists. I push this analysis further by considering how listening to music produced by Indigenous people might encourage a self-reflective listening or an “aesthetic surrender” amongst non-Indigenous audiences. The surrendered elements are what I am calling “settler states of mind.” Settler states of mind are the ideas, ideals, and ways of thinking involved in settler colonial identities—reinforced through physical acts and ways of speaking—that persuade and allow some non-Indigenous people to believe that they are the rightful “owners” and beneficiaries of the land and resources on Turtle Island (North America). The rights of Indigenous peoples are often devalued, ignored, removed, or violently attacked in attempts to protect and promote settler identities.

I consider an aesthetic surrender relating to these states of mind to be an early part of a process of unsettlement; that is, moving beyond a life governed by the values and beliefs tied to settler colonialism. This includes surrendering ideas and ways of thinking that devalue and attempt to eradicate Indigenous ways of life. I challenge non-Indigenous readers to reflect on how everyday moments in their lives support these brutal and discriminatory ways of thinking and being. I turn to the music produced by Indigenous peoples and the opportunity to listen to these performances as avenues and opportunities to learn to listen differently. I turn to music as an example of everyday encounters with the reproduction, negotiation, and dismantling of settler states of mind. I turn to these moments with the hope that learning to listen differently might lead to more significant social, political, cultural, and economic change.

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