How Canadian bureaucrats make state territory in the name of ‘restoring’ Indigenous rights

I’m quite happy that some recent work of mine is now out in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers.[very happy to send FREE copies to anybody by email or by post if a hardcopy is preferred].

The paper looks at how bureaucrats in Canada used the development of new legislation regarding private property on lands reserved for First Nations to convert Indigenous claims to territory into spaces akin to municipalities. I’ve put the abstract below, and aim to put out a short piece or two to summarize soon; one aspect of the work is its basis in bureaucratic practices…many of which are about addressing critiques within and beyond the government. So I’ll be keen to see what (if any) responses it generates.

Bureaucratic Territory: First Nations, Private Property, and “Turn-Key” Colonialism in Canada


Since 2006, successive Canadian governments have worked to create private property regimes on lands reserved for First Nations. This article examines how the state framed the theory and history of Aboriginal property rights to achieve this goal. It then shows how, under the pretense of restoration, bureaucrats developed legislation that would create novel political spaces where, once converted to private property, reserved lands would function as a new kind of federal municipality in Canada. These changes took place in two ways: First, bureaucrats situated Aboriginal property within the state apparatus and reconfigured Indigenous territorial rights into a series of “regulatory gaps” regarding voting thresholds, certainty of title, and the historical misrepresentation of First Nations economies. Second, the government crafted legislation under what is known as the First Nations Property Ownership Initiative that, by closing regulatory gaps, would produce private property regimes analogous to municipal arrangements elsewhere in Canada. These bureaucratic practices realigned internal state mechanisms to produce novel external boundaries among the state, Indigenous lands, and the economy. By tracking how bureaucratic practices adapted to Indigenous refusals of state agendas, the article shows how the bureaucratic production of territory gave form to a new iteration of settler-colonialism in Canada.


New paper in special issue on Helen Ingram’s legacy in water, politics, and governance

Very happy to have a new article out in the Journal of the Southwest and in a special double issue honouring the work of Helen Ingram. Full table of contents is here for the double issue, which includes pieces by Peter Gleick, Henry Vaux Jr., Marcela Brugnach, and others, and which Margaret Wilder skillfully edited and introduces.

My contribution begins with an event in Alberta, when Dr. Ingram was asked to join a special panel on monitoring the oil sands, and then resigned when the terms of reference stymied some of her basic commitments, such as to equity and engaging with Indigenous peoples. Entitled, Water Policy in Alberta: Settler-colonialism, community, and capital, I trace out how water policy has been structured in Alberta in ways that produce inequality and how it has evolved to put newer, glossier ideas (like water governance) into similarly inequitable structures. It is available to download by clicking here (or from my the ‘publications’ link above).

Audra Simpson – Reconciliation and its Discontents: Settler Governance in an Age of Sorrow

Mahmoud Mamdani – Settler colonialism: then and now

Mahmoud Mamdani’s new article Settler Colonialism: then and now, is now out in Critical Inquiry, which builds on talks like this one at Princeton (which I could not figure out how to embed). Here is the abstract:

“For students of settler colonialism in the modern era, Africa and America represent two polar opposites. Africa is the continent where settler colonialism has been defeated; America is where settler colonialism triumphed. My interest in this essay is the American discourse on the making of America. My ambition is to do this from an African vantage point.

Europeans who came to the New World were preoccupied with the ways in which it was not like Europe. Over the centuries that followed, there developed a body of work known as American exceptionalism. The benchmark text for this scholarship is the mid-nineteenth-century reflection on America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America remains required reading in most programs in political theory or American politics. Among the arguments Tocqueville advanced in Democracy in America was that the key feature distinguishing America from Europe was the absence of feudalism; not tied down by the baggage of feudal tradition, America could enjoy the benefits of revolutionary change without having to pay its price. My concern here is less with Tocqueville than with how the Tocquevillians understood him.”

Audra Simpson: the chief’s two bodies and the gender of settler sovereignty

Keynote from last fall’s conference in Edmonton from Audra Simpson.