Responsibility as a reservation: Emily Katherine Grafton, Reserved Responsibilities: A comparative analysis of settler colonial narratives of Canadian federalism and sub-national jurisdictional responsibility for Status First Nations peoples living on-reserve in Manitoba, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, PhD Dissertation, University of Manitoba, 2017


Abstract: This study analyzes the role settler colonialism has had on Canadian federalism. It argues that a governance relationship between provincial and territorial governments, as sub-nationals of the Canadian federal government, does exist with status First Nations peoples living on-reserve. This can be evidenced in the Constitution (British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act) and later the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982), legislation, case law, and political and public administration practices of Canada. Yet this relationship is most often overlooked in Canada’s prevailing narrative of federalism in favour of the more straightforward relationship between the federal government and status First Nations peoples living on-reserve. This narrative of federal jurisdictional responsibility ignores traditional Indigenous governments and Indigenous sovereignty, which has allowed the subnationals to increase their presence on-reserve in ways that go unmonitored or evade responsibility.

This dissertation principally relies on two main bodies of primary sources: interviews and budgetary and annual government reports. To a lesser degree, archival sources were used in this study. There are four levels of comparative analysis: between the settler colonial state and Indigenous nations, between Canadian notions of federalism and Indigenous-related policies, between the Canadian federal government and the provinces and territories, and between 2 provincial sub-nationals (Manitoba and British Columbia) and one territorial sub-national (Northwest Territories). The study draws on three overlapping bodies of theoretical literature: colonial studies (including, imperial, settler, and de-colonial studies), Indigenous-centred scholarship, and Canadian public administration.

This thesis concludes that Canada, as a settler colonial society, has a narrative of federalism that evokes neo-colonial tendencies. Federalism has been used as an enabling structure for the federal government to marginalize Indigenous peoples’ land ownership and sovereignty and create jurisdiction for the sub-nationals to control Indigenous peoples’ lands and circumvent Indigenous sovereignty. This is not a convenient accident: the framework of federalism and jurisdictional responsibility for Indigenous-related matters was set during an era of shifting from imperial to settler colonialism, and this framework continues to support settler colonialism which, in many ways, operates as neo-colonial. By looking closely at the evidence of neo-colonialism in Canadian federalism, opportunities for de-colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty become evident.

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