audra simpson on sovereignty and spaces of indigeneity in native north america and indigenous australia


Audra Simpson, ‘Under The Sign Of Sovereignty: Certainty, Ambivalence, And Law In Native North America And Indigenous Australia’, Wicazo Sa Review 25, 2 (2010)

In lieu of an abstract, here is a preview of the article.

The notion of “sovereignty” is saturated with the certainty of jurisdictional and territorial authority over peoples and places. Yet nothing is simultaneously so certain and yet so fraught with precariousness as the practice of sovereignty— globally or locally. This uncertainty is read through the sign of its failure: territories that fissure and are fought over by force and by fiat, as well as by a precedential practice that continues to reinscribe states with their right to govern, and in the case of democratic systems, laws to also check the exercise of that governance. This uncertainty is especially precarious and, in different ways, onerous in Indian country.

Indian country may be conceptualized as spaces of Indigeneity that are framed by settler regimes. Once independent and autonomous, the spaces that are conceptualized and peopled and known as “Indian country” now have limited forms of political autonomy that may be exercised, but, in a double-bind situation, that autonomy is exercisable only because recognition is conferred upon those peoples to exercise this autonomy. This recognition, often temporalized in a moment (that of “treaty making,” for example) guarantees Indian polities their sovereign status.

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