On the population economy of settler colonialism: RebeccaHall, ‘Indigenous/state relations and the “Making” of surplus populations in the mixed economy of Northern Canada’, Geoforum, 2020


Abstract: Grounded in an analysis of the mixed economy of the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada, this article examines the contemporary relationship between surplus populations and colonial capitalist accumulation of new spaces. The functioning of the reserve surplus population requires that the unwaged, or under-waged, want, or need, wage labour. Thus, like all capitalist relations, a reserve surplus population is predicated on the separation of workers from their means of subsistence: what Marx calls “primitive” accumulation. Traditionally the home of the Dene and Inuit, and now home to approximately equal parts Indigenous (primarily Dene, Inuit and Métis) and non-Indigenous residents, the NWT mixed economy is a set of social relations that combine subsistence and social reproduction, wherein labour is oriented toward the daily and intergenerational wellbeing of the collective rather than the profit of the individual, with capitalist production. With a focus on the diamond industry, this article traces the shifting Canadian State approach to Indigenous labour in this space across time and the state policies and extractive projects that have both “made” Indigenous labour surplus and rhetorically justified their existence through evocations of regional unemployment and imagined dependency. In so doing, the paper identifies a move from the welfare-state era, wherein the state structured northern Indigenous “dependency”, to the neoliberal era, wherein dependency became a problem to be solved through increased Indigenous incorporation into capitalist wage labour. The northern diamond mining industry, responding to both Indigenous demands for land recognition and neoliberal imperatives for lean operations, exemplifies this latter approach.

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