Contested colonialism: The rise of settler politics in Yukon and the Northwest Territories
Dissertation defense: April 1, 2016
I successfully defended Contested Colonialism: The Rise of Settler Politics in Yukon and the Northwest Territories in April 2016; my dissertation was accepted without revisions. This work considered an empirical puzzle: Despite forty years of institutional innovation across Northern Canada, why do the territorial governments of Yukon and the NWT so closely conform to the established norms of Canadian parliamentary and bureaucratic government? I argued that these governments reflect the liberal political preferences of non-Indigenous settlers, who embedded these preferences in the design of territorial institutions during their creation. To make this argument, I developed the theoretical concept of contested colonialism in my dissertation and in my article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
Contested colonialism explains the distinct position of non-Indigenous peoples in northern society as actors who simultaneously bring colonialism to the North, while contesting elements of that same colonial order. State-led growth in the resident non-Indigenous populations of Yukon and the NWT encouraged these largely white societies to engage in processes of identity formation and politicization that led settlers to marginalize Indigenous peoples, consolidate political resources around a coherent white identity, and demand greater autonomy from the federal government. This politics of whiteness, while sometimes fractious, held several shared commitments: the erasure of racial difference and, by extension, Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination; capitalist economic development; and the creation of Westminster parliamentary institutions – that is, a system of liberal democratic government.
My ongoing research agenda examines the contemporary legacy of this period, one that continues to structure political and economic dynamics in the territories by setting at cross-purposes the governance and policy programs of liberal territorial governments with those of postcolonial Indigenous governments. By relating this history of liberal political development to current institutional design processes, including the creation of Indigenous governments, we gain a better understanding of why the North’s governance framework has changed so profoundly, the current sources of support and opposition to this framework, and how Canadian liberal democracy is adapting to this emerging constitutional and political environment.