Authority-Making on the River of Mist: Reframing the Indigenous Sovereignty Impasse

dc.contributor.authorMowatt, Morgan
dc.contributor.supervisorStark, Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik of Political Scienceen_US of Philosophy Ph.D.en_US
dc.description.abstractIndigenous sovereignty has evolved from its own frameworks of authority, distinct from those of the state, yet Indigenous assertions of authority and jurisdiction continue to be measured against those of the state by the Canadian government, the courts, and state agents. This pattern of domination is maintained – in part – through a discursive severance of Indigenous culture from Indigenous law and politics that works to invisibilize the active processes of legitimation that Indigenous sovereigns adhere to in order to maintain their sovereignty. It is precisely the connection between culture and politics that informs the source of authority that legitimizes Indigenous sovereignty – an intimate and reciprocal relationship with place. This relationship is expansive rather than reductive (a characteristic commonly cited against Indigenous sovereignty), and consequently holds potential within it to inform intersectional resistance to colonialism in Canada. This dissertation offers a reorientation of the fields’ approach to Indigenous sovereignty from familiar Western processes of legitimation towards Indigenous processes of legitimation. This project asserts that Indigenous sovereignty is legitimate and living, theorizing that Indigenous sovereigns source their authority from relationship (rather than land, Creator, or people) and thus hold expansive possibilities for intercommunity and international resistance to colonialism. The research is loosely tethered to the Gitxsan experience of authority-making, and includes one exception of an explicitly Gitxsan-focused chapter. I begin this work by using the Delgamuukw case and the events surrounding it to trace Gitxsan articulations of sovereignty in relationship with the Canadian state. This case maps out attempts by the state to sever Gitxsan culture from their law and politics, despite evidence from within Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en testimony of culture acting as the blueprint for their law and governance. The Delgamuukw trials also reveal that the discursive severance between culture and law has material impacts, and that observers of the case – in court and in public – were likely to understand assertions in the court as theoretical rather than applied Indigenous authority. The Delgamuukw saga leads into the second chapter, where I review leading sites of cultural severance in the Canadian-Indigenous landscape and respond by using key pillars of Indigenous sovereignty – land and language – to discursively re-affix culture to law and politics, revealing them as one and the same. Culture, law, and politics firmly re-connected, the third chapter theorizes Indigenous authority as being sourced from relationship. This theory emerges from evidence collected in the land-language analysis employed in the previous chapter and is reinforced with Indigenous scholarship and articulations of sovereignty from outside the field and outside of the academy. The fourth chapter is a mapping of Gitxsan articulations of sovereignty on their own terms, and applies relationship-as-authority theory to Gitxsan governance. I conclude the dissertation by considering the impacts of reframing Indigenous authority within its own processes of legitimation, and consider two offerings from Indigenous sovereignty – processes of transformation and expansion – in contributing towards intercommunity and international liberation.en_US
dc.rightsAvailable to the World Wide Weben_US
dc.subjectIndigenous politicsen_US
dc.subjectIndigenous-state relationsen_US
dc.titleAuthority-Making on the River of Mist: Reframing the Indigenous Sovereignty Impasseen_US


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