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Settler roles and responsibilities: Engaging Indigenous rights in Canadian environmental activist organisations post-TRC and #IdleNoMore

Citation: Mccallum, Karen (2018) Settler roles and responsibilities: Engaging Indigenous rights in Canadian environmental activist organisations post-TRC and #IdleNoMore. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

MCCALLUM, K PhD November 2018.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

In this thesis I investigate how settler environmentalists in organising hubs in Central and Eastern Canada were engaged with Indigenous rights issues through their environmental activist work in 2014 and 2015. I consider how settlers in these hubs understood their roles and responsibilities to the project of advancing Indigenous rights alongside #IdleNoMore – a broader Indigenous-led movement. I also consider how settler activists acted out their roles and responsibilities towards Indigenous peoples in relation to the politics of reconciliation and Indigenous rights that emerged in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In 2015 Canada concluded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2008-2015). This commission took place at the same time as the #IdleNoMore social Movement (2012-2014) was springing up around the country, demonstrating Indigenous aspirations for changed political relationships. A long history of dispute, conflict and even animosity undergirds historical Indigenous / settler relations. I sought in this research project to understand how settler environmental activists engaged in relations of responsibility, reflecting an urgent interest amongst settlers to incorporate Indigenous rights into their mandates. This research looks through the lens of settler colonial studies and social psychology to ask why, in an age when information about Indigenous aspirations and goals are so readily available, settler publics still find it difficult to engage with forwarding Indigenous rights goals. This thesis provides a framework for understanding the reasons why settlers sometimes struggle to work with Indigenous peoples towards decolonisation and reconciliation through the lens of understanding settler emotions against the backdrop of Indigenous human rights abuses in Canada. Ultimately I argue that if environmentalists want to bring an Indigenous rights lens into their activist workspaces they should avoid precipitating selfreferential emotions such as shame and guilt. I recommend that they work to increase organisational capacity to take collective responsibility for doing Indigenous rights work. I also argue that settlers should avoid directing energy towards self-referential strategies designed to relieve uncomfortable emotions; specifically, settlers must centre the aspirations of Indigenous peoples in their environmental activism work. This thesis is the product of bringing together multiple disciplines that do not speak enough to each other: social psychology and settler colonial studies. I looked at settler colonial studies through the lenses of feminist theory and Indigenous theory. The critical insight I gained from feminist theorists was to look for theory in the details of unexceptional stories told by the people I interviewed. Rather than focus only on their narratives of participating in overt political organising, I asked them to tell me about their families, their relationships, their memories of the ways Indigenous rights issues had crossed their paths throughout their lives. Indigenous theory framed my overall conceptualisation of the research problem. As a Canadian settler researcher I acknowledge my relationship with the larger project of decolonisation of Turtle Island and place my study in the midst of an Indigenous-centred critique of colonial Canada.

Creators: Mccallum, Karen and
Subjects: Sociology & Anthropology
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 19 November 2018 (submitted)


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