Indigenous labour and settler colonialism: Chantal Norrgard, ‘Indigenous Labor, Settler Colonialism, and the History of the Fraser River Fishermen’s Strike of 1893’, Native American and Indigenous Studies, 7, 2, 2020, pp. 114-144


Abstract: Despite a valuable body of scholarship on Native American and Indigenous labor, few studies explore the unionization of Indigenous workers or their participation in labor movements. The Fraser River Fishermen’s Strike of 1893 was the first major strike in British Columbia’s history. The Indigenous history of this strike illuminates how settler colonialism built the commercial fishing industry, defined the interests of settler workers, and led to the development of the labor movement. The strike also demonstrates how Indigenous people’s anticolonial struggles were embedded in their actions as workers. A range of historical sources, including provincial and federal legislation, legal cases, hearings, the reports of Indian agents, newspaper articles, and autobiographies, document the longer history of colonial expansion and Indigenous labor and resistance leading up to the 1893 Fraser River Fishermen’s Strike. I argue that Indigenous people’s early participation in British Columbia’s labor movement was tied to their efforts to resist colonial encroachment on their fishing rights. The interests of a number of Indigenous leaders from across the province in asserting their sovereignty and retaining power over their labor ultimately led to the creation of a new Indigenous political movement that centered on the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia and its counterpart, the Native Sisterhood. This history challenges labor historians to further address the gaps between labor history and Indigenous histories.

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