Indigenous resistance under difficult conditions: Melanie Niemi-Bohun, Contesting the Colonial Order on the Canadian Prairies: Government Policy, Indigenous Resistance and the Administration of Treaty 6, 1870-1890, PhD dissertation, University of Alberta, 2016
Abstract: This dissertation highlights the responses of Indigenous leaders and communities to the emergence of the colonial order on the Canadian prairies between 1870 and 1890. The complexities of their actions reveal significant points of weakness in the colonial order. Colonial governance strategies for the administration of Indigenous populations in western Canada intersected with Indigenous tactics in the face of the overwhelming economic transitions and other pressures of settler colonialism, and this resulted in unexpected outcomes. Paylist data, contextualized by other historical sources, reveal the various ways in which Indigenous peoples used both mobility and manipulation of status categories as forms of tactical resistance to the implementation of government administrative strategies. Indigenous contestation of the colonial order was intertwined with elements of adaptation to new economic, political and social realities of the mid to late nineteenth century.
The construction of ‘Indian’ and ‘Metis’ status categories were negotiated by both Indigenous peoples and colonial administrators in various ways, which resulted in unintended/unforeseen consequences for Indigenous familial and community identities. Indigenous peoples, both First Nations and Metis, were forced to choose between these racialized categories during and after Treaty negotiations, and it is evident that the historically contingent creation of the Metis status category challenged a particular bureaucratic understanding of Indigenous identities. Indeed, treaty commissioners barely muddled their way through instances of Metis communities agreeing to self-identify as ‘Indian’ in the early Numbered Treaties. The result was an ad-hoc colonial administration that failed to reflect the very circumstances of the peoples those policies were meant to ‘assist.’ Between 1876 and 1884, the Canadian government was fearful of losing control of the various Indigenous groups that made up Treaty 6. Consequently, people in this territory had some power to influence the administration of policy. Indigenous communities employed tactics of mobility and the negotiation of identities to expose the porous realities of Canadian policy and to subvert, at least for a time, the actions and intentions of Indian agents and their superiors. As the colonial order gained strength following the military victory of 1885, government officials could more effectively constrain the tactics of individuals and communities. Yet even then Indigenous tactics often resulted in outcomes unanticipated by both colonial administrators and Indigenous peoples.
Given the contemporary efforts of Indigenous communities and settler-allies to de-colonize Canadian policy, this study serves to underscore the historical points of Indigenous resistance tactics in response to ill-conceived state strategies. It is my hope that the exposure of colonialism’s malleable moments, the instances of weakness, will encourage scholars to continue the search for ways in which Indigenous communities actively contested powerful structural and repressive forces.
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