paul nadasdya on land, the treaty process and yukon nationalism


Paul Nadasdya, ‘Boundaries among Kin: Sovereignty, the Modern Treaty Process, and the Rise of Ethno-Territorial Nationalism among Yukon First Nations’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 54 (2012).

The Canadian government recently concluded a series of land claim and self-government agreements with many First Nations in the Yukon Territory. A result of First Nation claims to land and sovereignty in the region, these modern treaties grant First Nations some real powers of self-governance. They are framed in the idiom of sovereignty, but they also compel First Nation people to accept—in practice if not in theory—a host of Euro-American assumptions about power and governance that are implicit in such a framing. This article focuses on a central premise of the sovereignty concept: territorial jurisdiction. The Yukon agreements carve the Yukon into fourteen distinct First Nation “traditional territories.” Although many assume that these territories reflect “traditional” patterns of land-use and occupancy, indigenous society in the Yukon was not composed of distinct political entities each with jurisdiction over its own territory. Thus, the agreements do not simply formalize jurisdictional boundaries among pre-existing First Nation polities; rather, they are mechanisms for creating the legal and administrative systems that bring those polities into being. The powers these agreements confer come in the territorial currency of the modern state, and territorialization processes they engender are transforming First Nation society in radical and often unintended ways. One significant aspect of this transformation is the emergence of multiple ethno-territorial identities, and corresponding nationalist sentiments. I examine these processes by focusing on two cases of contemporary boundary making among Yukon First Nations.

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