Can settlers be responsible? Vanessa Sloan-Morgan, Learning New Relationships: Settler Responsibilities, HUU-AY-AHT First Nations’ Self-Government, and Implementing the MAA-NULTH Treaty, PhD Dissertation, Queen’s University, 2017


Abstract: Geographers have warned against essentializing responsibility in the geographies of responsibility literature. What responsibility is, however, and how it can be enacted remains under-explored. Yet, in published texts and public statements that seek to acknowledge relationships between Indigenous and settler peoples in Canada, the language of responsibility is used with abundance. I chose to pick up this concept of responsibility in my research. My dissertation is the result of a partnership-based project with Huu-ay-aht First Nations. I investigate what responsibility looks like with respect to new relationships under a modern treaty using the Maa-nulth Treaty as an exploratory case study. I begin by theorizing settler responsibility by extending Hannah Arendt’s work to the settler colonial context of Canada and argue that a collective responsibility is necessary to address settler colonial relationships. I then explore how settler researchers can better navigate and work through research—research with Huu-ay-aht First Nations for me as mamaałni (white person/settler)—in settler colonial contexts to support social change. Drawing from the Treaty itself and key informant interviews with Huu-ay-aht and First Nations leaders, Maa-nulth Treaty negotiators, and implementation teams (n=26), my inquiry focuses on Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ self-government as they move from under the thumb of the Indian Act through the tools provided by the Maa-nulth Treaty. Finally, I investigate the ‘new relationship’ between Federal, Provincial, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations Governments under the Treaty. My theoretical findings contribute to literature contending that settler colonialism cannot be viewed as historical or structural only, void of personal affect, or detached from everyday lived experiences. In this vein, empirical findings from the case study reveal that Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ choice to enter treaty negotiations and implement the final agreement was linked directly to visions of ʔiisaak (respect with caring) and ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of, especially for future generations), while recognizing the imperfection of the treaty process and resulting agreements. Although Huu-ay-aht First Nations accepted the Maa-nulth Treaty to move from under the Indian Act, work to define new relationship needs to occur. To conclude, I offer recommendations—informed by research participants—for how to improve the treaty process.

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