Race and lawfare and settler colonialism: Jennifer Hayter, Racially ‘Indian’, Legally ‘White’: The Canadian State’s Struggles to Categorize the Métis, 1850-1900, PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 2017


Abstract: The Canadian state has constantly been faced with a paradox: differentiated rights and regulations required it to define the boundaries of the invented category “Indian,” yet it was never able to do so satisfactorily. The existence of mixed-ancestry and Métis people disrupted its seemingly clear categories of “Indian” and “White.” This thesis asks three central research questions: how did the Canadian state understand the category they called “half breeds;” what cultural and intellectual ideas informed these notions; and what was their impact? There was no single meaning or understanding of the term “Half Breed,” but it was in fact characterized by inconsistency, ambiguity, contradiction, and confusion. There were two significant opposing forces at play: 1) the need to consolidate the power of the emerging state, which usually meant grouping the Métis and people of mixed ancestry in with “Indians” in order to better control them, and 2) the desire to save money, which usually meant separating out “half breeds” as a way of reducing the number of status Indians (to minimize the scope of the state’s fiscal responsibilities). The Métis presented themselves as a free “civilized” Indigenous People, but for the government, the term “half breed” was most useful as a floating signifier, with no stable meaning. In an era of increasing state rationalization, the sliding signifier allowed for flexibility in otherwise rigid laws and policy, aiding the state in navigating between its often-conflicting goals. Only in a few instances did the state recognize the Métis as a distinct People. Because of discrimination and the lack of official recognition, many Métis people were dispossessed and hid their heritage. On the other hand, this very ambiguity could provide a degree of freedom, and Métis today are working to define themselves as a distinct people and to fight for their inherent Indigenous rights.

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