Indigenous dispossession is (settler) gold: Dawn Hoogeveen, Geographeis of settler colonial dispossession: rejecting gold and prosperity on Tsilhqot’in territory,University of British Columbia, 2016


Abstract: My objective in this thesis is to trace how mining laws politically inscribe Indigenous space and territory. In doing so I situate gold mining regulations as central to Canadian settler colonialism and the legal dispossession of Indigenous land. I examine the origins of British Columbia’s mineral staking regulations and juxtapose these historical regulations with those today in order to outline two distinct, but comparatively relevant moments. The first moment is the writing of mining laws in 1858 and 1859, during the formation of the region as a settler colony. I illustrate how the British Crown enacted a system of free entry mineral staking that negated Indigenous sovereignty over resources. The dispossession of land was central to the functioning of colonial mining regulations, and reveals this regulation was and continues to be complicit in reproducing uneven geographies. The second moment is in the contemporary era, and focuses specifically on a mining company’s New Prosperity copper-gold mine proposal on Tsilhqot’in territory at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake). I outline how the environmental assessment process for this mine gave limited but significant space to Indigenous people as participants and decision makers. The mine was rejected based on a panel report written through the guidelines established in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This rejection represents a major victory for the Tsilhqot’in, who remain adamantly opposed to mining at Fish Lake. This decision, though, still rests within the colonial legal framework, and is not a sovereign decision by the Tsilhqot’in. Ultimately, I argue that the dispossession of land is a central tenet of how mineral regulations function through an examination of the everyday enactments of resource regulation, and the resultant resistance, rejection, and refusal of Indigenous people to accept settler colonial terms of engagement. In contemporary Canada these terms of engagement, including environmental assessment, are couched in the politics of recognition and reconciliation that fail to address the fundamental property relation mechanized through Western legal structures.

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