Criminal by design: Emma Rose Kauffman, After this, Therefore, Because of This: Refusing Settler Immunity & Abolishing Indigenous Criminality, MA dissertation, University of Alberta


Abstract: According to Statistics Canada, in 2016/2017 Indigenous peoples accounted for 28% of admissions to provincial/territorial prisons and 27% for federal prisons, while representing only 4.1% of the Canadian adult population. The majority of analyses drawn from these statistics continue to follow a similar line of interpretation. They begin by pointing out a pattern between the racial make-up of Canadian society and its prison population. Conclusions are then drawn between ‘over-representation’ and racialization in Canada’s prisons and tacit or overt condemnation of this system is offered. The predominant lack of acknowledgement or engagement, however, with the histories and contemporary relations of colonialism is not simply a matter of unintended ignorance or passive forgetfulness. These analyses reinforce dominant national narratives; (mis)represent Canadian governing practices and policies as fair and just embodiments of the democratic will of the people; and suspend the state’s culpability in creating and maintaining a criminal (in)justice system that produces such an abhorrently racialized demographic. I counter these narratives by rooting my analysis of the Canadian prison system in its colonial legacy and ongoing settler-colonial project, which is undercut by a certain set of logics that require the obfuscation of Indigenous presence(s). This informs my contention that, contrary to popular belief, the prison system is in fact not broken, but continues to perform the exact function it was designed to perform in the first place: the ongoing dispossession of indigenous bodies and lands, as well as a suppression of their claims to sovereignty. Overall, I am to situate the state, rather than indigeneity, in its criminality, by showing how the universalism of Canada’s sovereign ideal is constituted by the particularism in the presumptions it makes about its Self, a Self that depends on an impossible singularity.

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