The settler border is in the way: James M. Hundley, We are Coast Salish: Politics and Society across a Settler Colonial Border in the Post-9/11 World, PhD Dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, 2017


Abstract: This dissertation contributes to debates on processes of nation building and their relationship to indigenous politics across the Canada/US border in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Specifically, I chronicle the various political, cultural, and environmental strategies taken by the Coast Salish Tribes and First Nations to overcome the obstacles presented by the Canada/US border in the post-9/11 era of increased securitization. Their tactics and strategies rely on the reprisal of oral history and tradition to reunite as an ethnic nation that was slowly transformed during state and nation building processes throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the Coast Salish are engaged in processes of decolonization by attempting to symbolically erase the international border that separates them.

An annual Canoe Journey celebrates the revitalization of a centuries old tradition of canoe travel that connected communities up and down the coast thus using geography to make the case for a unified group. A new political organization aims to bring back traditional Coast Salish governance practices to protect and restore the Salish Sea by placing indigenous knowledge front and center and inviting the states to participate. Environmental protests surrounding the permitting process for oil pipelines crossing indigenous lands in Canada have enabled the American-based Coast Salish to intervene in the government process by appealing to cross-border kinship ties. Taken collectively, through the data presented in this dissertation, I argue that the Coast Salish are appropriating the term applied to them over a century ago to erase the political border that separates them by foregrounding their transnational, collective identity. This emergent national identity challenges existing theories of nationalism and its relationship to the state and illustrates how the border itself is implicated in the process. I argue that the ways in which the Coast Salish respond to a security-sensitive border mirrors that of how they have long handled interactions with the settler colonial state.

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