94. Eva Mackey, Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization
I read Eva Mackey’s Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization on airplanes and in hotel rooms over the past week or so. It’s an important book, and as an ethnography of Settlers opposed to Indigenous land rights movements, and of Settlers allying themselves with Indigenous peoples, it presents a unique perspective on issues of settler colonialism. At the same time, it tends to be somewhat repetitive, and that quality is likely to be reproduced in this summary, because I doubt that I’ll have time to eliminate it. I’m not sure if that repetitiveness is necessary. Perhaps, because Mackey is presenting difficult ideas, it helps communicate the points she’s making. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just a sign that the book needed a good editor. Either way, this summary is likely to be longer than I would like, and certainly longer than anyone reading it would like as well. I apologize for that in advance.
Unsettled Expectations is in three parts, each consisting of an introduction and two chapters. Part One, “Contact Zones and the Settler Colonial Present,” begins with an introduction entitled “Settler Colonialism and Contested Homelands.” Mackey starts by setting out the questions she wants to address:
Why do protestors against Indigenous land rights, in Canada and the United States, so often sing the national anthem? How do warlike images of “standing on guard” for the nation (including ritual gunshots in New York) figure in anti-land rights sentiment? Why and how do land rights—which challenge long-standing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as well as the “progress” and mythologized history of nation-states—unearth deep-seated desires and brutal angers? What are the shapes this resistance takes? What kinds of self-evident ideas and histories inflect them?” (3-4)
She describes the book as “a critical multi-site ethnography that examines conflicts over Indigenous land rights in Canada and the United States as a lens through which to understand historical and ongoing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in settler colonies” (4). The goal of her research, she continues, “is to try to understand the lived practices and discourses of people defending and countering Indigenous land rights—as a grounded point of departure to examine the limits and possibilities of decolonization” (4). Her work “focuses on struggles over land because in this way attention is directed to foundational conceptual and material dilemmas in settler nations, dilemmas deeply interlaced with historical, cultural and economic issues,” and while confronting the “legacies of colonial pasts,” it also considers “the possibilities and limits of imagining and building decolonized futures” (4).
Land is at the centre of settler colonialism. Mackey cites Cole Harris’s suggestion that the “experienced materiality of colonialism” is grounded in “dispossessions and repossessions of land” and Edward Said on land being the purpose of empire (4). However, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples not only about “guns, laws and boundaries,” but also “ideas and concepts that enabled and legitimized that dispossession: a range of complex and often contradictory ideas about progress, property, entitlement, categories of personhood and relationships between different peoples” (4). Despite her use of the past tense here, she notes that those ideas and practices aren’t in the past; they live on today (4). Mackey cites Shiri Pasternak’s definition of settler colonialism: it is a form of colonialism based on land acquisition and population replacement (4). The creation of states, nations, and legal systems is organized around domination of Indigenous populations and over immigrants who are imported as labour, although in the 20th century those immigrants become part of the reinvention of national identities through ideologies of multiculturalism or the “melting pot” (4). Because the settler never leaves, “the native” must disappear, she suggests, citing Patrick Wolfe’s 1999 book Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event (a book I’m going to have to read) (5). “Land rights conflicts are . . . deeply embodied, grounded, and material disputes that are also about interpretations of history, justice and identity, because they raise the difficult question of who is entitled to ownership of the national homeland,” she continues, noting that the survival of Indigenous peoples depends on their ability to overcome dispossession from their homelands and be at home “in nations built upon the appropriation of those very homelands” (5). “Contemporary claims for land and culture cannot be separated from demands for recognition of past injustices, which means colonial and national pasts—how those lands were taken—inevitably live in the present,” Mackey writes. “Questions about home, then, raise subsequent, necessary queries about past and present injustice and about property, possession and dispossession” (5).
Mackey began this research because, as a Settler in Canada, she
wanted to understand, in a more complex, nuanced and historicized manner, how and why the same events and processes could be experienced and explained so differently by people who inhabit the same territory, and yet who are socially located in very different ways in terms of power, history and space. (6)
That desire led to many more specific questions:
How and why can so many non-Indigenous people see assertions of Indigenous “rights” as “invasion” of their lands, or even “terrorism”? How do legal frameworks, enacted nationally, regionally and locally actually function in the context of land claims? Who uses law and how? What are the effects? In the context of such conflict over history, colonialism and contemporary Indigenous land rights, how might we imagine de-colonized and just versions of citizenship, belonging and space? Can we really imagine de-colonizing “our home” on “Native land” (now seen as property) when property, power and history are so contested? What gets in the way? How might it be possible for diverse peoples with complex and overlapping histories of injustice and collusion, to live together justly, when history, property and the division of lands, resources and power are so contested? What gets in the way of decolonizing relationships and territorial spaces? How is it possible to even imagine a collective project of diverse people living together in a settler colony in a way that does not reproduce the brutal and subtle violence of ongoing colonialism, modernity and capitalism? (6-7)
That last question, “lately often framed as how to ‘decolonize’ settler nations, has no definitive answer,” she continues, citing Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. “But can we even begin to imagine what it might entail? This book is an exploratory examination of such issues that builds from ethnographic research on communities experiencing conflict over land rights” (6-7).
Mackey conceptualizes the sites of conflict over land as “contact zones,” a term derived from the work of Mary Louise Pratt: for Pratt, a “contact zone” is a space of colonial encounter in which peoples previously separated come into contact and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, inequality, and intractable conflict (7). Settler nations have tried to settle those “ongoing relations” through ideologies and laws that produce their various nation-states “as settled, secure and legitimate national spaces” rather than “unsettled colonial ‘contact zones’”; however, the “ongoing conflict over land rights indicates that the process remains ‘unsettled’” (7). Her research with settlers, particularly those opposed to Indigenous land rights actions, suggests that they have
a deep sense of entitlement and a supposedly natural right (even a responsibility) to own and develop property/land, even if it may have been taken from Indigenous people. They felt they had laboured and improved the land and helped build the nation and that they were entitled to their private property. On these grounds, they felt certain of their entitlement to the land and expected it to be ongoing and unchallenged. They also consistently expressed powerful feelings of uncertainty, crisis and anxiety about the future within the context of the land claims. They felt angry about this uncertainty, treating it as unexpected and unfair. The angry uncertainty as a result of Indigenous land rights . . . is a result of having those expectations of ongoing entitlement challenged. The anger implicitly constructs an opposite normative state of affairs in which settlers and the settler nation-state did, or believed it did, have certain and settled entitlement to the land taken from Indigenous peoples. These are what I call the “settled expectations” that have been unsettled as a result of land rights. (8)
The angry sense of ongoing entitlement led me to the question of how, on what grounds, to settlers feel entitled, settled and certain about their right to own and control the territory? How is it possible for the colonizers to claim to have stronger and more legitimate sovereignty over the territory, simply through arriving and asserting the claim, despite the vibrant collectivities of Indigenous people living there who did not consent to the land being taken and owned in this way? Why are Indigenous sovereign nations forced to ‘claim’ land from the nation-state when it was theirs in the first place? (8)
Is it just a matter of numerical superiority, or is something else going on? (8). “On what grounds can and do settler nations claim such an all-encompassing sovereignty?” (8).
The answer, Mackey argues, lies in the philosophical and legal assumptions that inform settler-colonial nation-states:
Western philosophy, law and land claims policy have all sought, in distinct and flexible ways, to attain certainty in “settled expectations” for settler projects. For example, the Crown and the nation-state’s legitimacy are based on the legal assumption (or as I call it, the ‘fantasy of entitlement’) that their sovereignty is necessarily superior, stronger and deeper than any claims of Indigenous people because underlying title belongs to the Crown. This is settler law, even if such claims have not been proven or if Indigenous people are not themselves “reconciled” to that interpretation. This is settler certainty, both assumed and defended with philosophy, law, legislation and bureaucratic policy. (9)
Mackey notes that her use of the word “entitlement” suggests “a longstanding, structured, collective privilege. In this sense it is more akin to class because it has been socially legitimized as a ‘right’ to land and other privileges, historically and in the present, through colonial and national projects” (9). For example, important court decisions in Canada have stated that the inherent right to self-government in the Canadian Constitution of 1982 only exists as long as it can be reconciled with Crown sovereignty (10). Why does Crown sovereignty take precedence over Indigenous sovereignty? Where does Crown sovereignty come from? “These so-called ‘logics’ of settler national sovereignty of land are what I call the elaborate and illogical (though extensively rationalized) ‘fantasies of possession’ and ‘fantasies of entitlement’ that have built settler certainty,” Mackey writes. “Even though they are ‘fantasies’ they have powerful effects on the world, often through their materialization in law” (10). These fantasies have become embedded, unconscious expectations of how the world will work “to reaffirm the social locations, perceptions and benefits of privilege,” she continues, citing Avril Bell.
These philosophical and legal fantasies have material and emotional effects, and it structures the way many Settlers respond to Indigenous land-rights movements:
This longstanding pattern, in which colonizers assume entitlement to claim sovereignty over Indigenous lands, continues to be repeatedly re-enacted post-facto in law as well as in the discourses of the people I interviewed. Colonization and settler nation-building have entailed the repetitive embedding and realizing of settler assertions of certainty and entitlement, and the repeated denial of Indigenous personhood and sovereignty, all of which are embedded in the interpretation of early moments of colonial/settler assumptions of sovereignty over territory. This pattern emerges from a set of stories that, as I will discuss, are grounded in delusions of entitlement based on arguments that should make no sense even to those who created them and turned them into laws. At the same time, these rationales have a particular pattern and “logic” that I trace throughout this book. They are socially embedded, unconscious expectations of how the world will work, and are relied upon to reaffirm social locations, perceptions and benefits of privilege that have been legitimated through repeated experiences across lifetimes and generations. Thus, I find the term “settled expectations” a powerful and polysemic metaphor for the taken-for-granted settler frameworks and practices of entitlement and expectation of ongoing privilege that I examine in this book. (11)
Not surprisingly, then, Mackey returns to the terms “settled expectations,” “unsettled expectations,” and “uncertainty” throughout the book.
While legal, political, and economic acts of redistribution are necessary to make amends for centuries of colonial oppression, those acts
may not be possible or sufficient without a fundamental shift in settler common-sense frameworks, a shift in concepts for thinking about and experiencing relationships and power within spaces. In other words, it is necessary to unsettle “settled expectations.” The change we need, I contend, has to do with how we—and by “we” I mean relatively privileged non-Indigenous citizens of settler nations—think and act when it comes to the dominant and self-evident frameworks that many of us share. These frameworks, as I discuss in the chapters that follow, are so longstanding and self-evident that they are most often invisible (as other than truth and/or “common-sense”) to those who share them. Indeed, to even begin to imagine meaningful structural changes in Indigenous-settler relationships may first require the kind of epistemological shifts I discuss here. (11)
Mackey is also interested in the question of alliances between Indigenous people and Settlers, and raises questions about how such alliances might work and the need for Settlers to get engaged in the process of decolonization:
What roles can and should non-Indigenous people play in decolonizing processes? Who is responsible for the hard and necessary work of decolonizing relationships? Colonization and decolonization are about relationships, and therefore the possibility of decolonization depends on all parties changing how they relate to one another. For too long, decolonization has been seen as an Indigenous issue. Thus, it makes sense that we, as settler descendants, take responsibility and engage in learning how to participate in this process. (12)
At the same time, Mackey notes that her book doesn’t provide “a general model of decolonial practice,” nor an argument “that a change in settler viewpoints could ever, on its own, obliterate colonial relations”:
Clearly, having a few settler people change the way that they think about Indigenous-settler relations will not immediately challenge the centuries of common-sense political, economic and legal oppression that Indigenous peoples have faced, nor the ontologies and epistemologies that have supported it. It could not suddenly solve the many problems Indigenous peoples face in terms of lands and sovereignty, education and health, poverty, racism, or the Indian Act. I suggest that fundamental shifts in settler perspectives must happen not instead of but in addition to serious structural, economic and political changes. However, if settlers are ever to fully engage with decolonization, and actually work mindfully on developing solutions to some of the above issues without reproducing the kinds of overt and subtle colonialism discussed in this book, it must begin somewhere. This book is offered as a gesture towards possible ways to imagine some of that necessary work. It is a small first step towards viewing how settlers might begin to deal with the “settler problem.” This book, therefore, is an exploratory contribution to an important journey—both imaginative and political—of learning how to unsettle expectations and move beyond the traps and limitations of ongoing settler colonialism, in order to learn new ways of building relations of both autonomy and interconnection with our Indigenous neighbours. (12)
For that reason, Mackey’s focus is on the “settler problem” and the logics of settler colonialism: “the social, ideological, and institutional processes through which the authority of the settler state is enacted,” she writes, citing the work of Mark Rifkin (another writer I need to read) (13).
Mackey suggests that “[k]eeping Indigenous sovereignty at the centre of my analysis provides a key foundation of my critical project, because I hope to undercut the ubiquitous and self-evident assumption that the settler state was and is entitled to assert sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and territories” (13). Sovereignty, in fact, is one of the central issues her book tackled:
Non-Indigenous citizens of settler nations might not see sovereignty (either their own or Indigenous sovereignty) as a central concern. Most of us go about our daily lives as if questions of ownership of land and jurisdiction of territory do not need to be asked or answered. We take it for granted that we are citizens of our countries, and that these countries have sovereignty and jurisdiction over these territories we live in. If we think about Indigenous people, it may be that we wish to help them become “equal” to other Canadians or Americans, and yet also able to maintain their “cultures,” not imagining or understanding that their vision of this land and their place in it and relationship with it is not encompassed or erased by the settler nation-state’s jurisdiction. These are the tricks enacted by the “normalizing logics” of settler colonialism that I discuss throughout this book: settler sovereignty and jurisdiction are assumed to be always-already settled, over, complete. Indigenous sovereignty appears to have been silenced, except in moments of “crisis” such as the conflicts that I explore in this book, when settler certainty and “settledness” become deeply disturbed by its vibrant re-emergence. (14)
However, “sovereignty” in relation to Indigenous peoples doesn’t mean quite the same thing it does in connection to Western nation-states. Mackey cites Taiaiake Alfred’s argument that sovereignty is a Western concept that implies a nation-state as a model, and that Indigenous traditional nationhood is very different, without absolute authority, coercive enforcement of decisions, hierarchy, or a separate ruling entity (15). Her use of the term “sovereignty,” then, is based on her interpretation of how the Onondaga Nation uses the term: it “includes autonomous relationships to territory, law, spirituality, ontologies and lifeways, a form of autonomy (and difference) that cannot be encompassed as simply another ‘minority’ within an overarching Western nation-state paradigm” (15). Decolonization, Mackey continues, will require what Alfred calls “radical imagination”: that is, settlers seeing themselves as being in equal and respectful relationship with other human beings and the natural environment (15-16). The important question to start with, she suggests, is “[w]hat is the relationship of other citizens of Canada and the United States . . . to Indigenous sovereignty?” (16). She distinguishes between land claims—the kind of processes established by the Canadian federal government, for example—and land rights. Engaging in land claims processes has negative effects; they are “based on an assimilative logic of incorporation into existing power structures” and therefore cannot promise decolonization (17). However, struggles over land rights “are fruitful sites (‘contact zones’) for analyzing both the deep tensions and possibilities of change within Indigenous-settler relations” (17).
Mackey expresses some sympathy with the Settlers she interviewed who are opposed to Indigenous land rights:
The passionate anger expressed by the non-Indigenous people that I interviewed should not be surprising. It makes sense that, if people feel that their property and their expectations of a particular life and future might be suddenly and unexpectedly destroyed, they feel endangered, uncertain and angry. We can imagine that generations of settlers have grown up steeped in ubiquitous narratives about how their families (and other families like them) have worked hard on the land to build the nation. Such narratives have never before seemed to be at odds with the national narrative, or with the settled laws of the land. The people I spoke to appeared to feel as though they had been thrown into a state of vertigo: their settled worlds seemed to have been turned upside down. (18)
However, while those responses might not be surprising, she doesn’t condone them. Nor does she blame people for experiencing or acting on them. “The point here is that no matter how emotionally potent or understandable these emotions may be, they are also not simply individual emotions that occur naturally or spontaneously”; rather, they are reflections of the way colonial power shapes reality, creating an illusion of the permanency and inevitability of existing power relations (18).
Mackey uses the term “settler structures of feeling,” taken from Mark Rifkin, itself building on Raymond Williams’s concept “structures of feeling” as a way of understanding the effects of ideologies (19). I’ve always thought Williams’s term could be fruitful, because it suggests something about the emotional effects of ideological structures. Indeed, Mackey writes that she is investigating “how individual and collective emotions—as well as their broader social and legal common-sense frameworks—both reflect as well as reproduce key assumptions and ‘logics of settler colonialism,’ including the certainty, uncertainty and anxiety that land rights conflict engenders” (19).
At the same time, Mackey notes (following the arguments of Alyssa Macoun and Elizabeth Strakosch, that there are limits to what focusing on settler colonialism can produce, and that scholars need to avoid using settler colonial theory neutrally. “Contestation and resistance are often not fully taken up in settler colonial theory, an approach that defines itself primarily as a project that focuses on the critique and deconstruction of dominant ideas and practices,” she writes. “Settler colonial theory has been successful as the critique of settler colonialism, but less successful at the more constructive project of documenting resistance and imagining alternatives” (23). While decolonization requires such critiques, she continues, “it also needs the constructive project of imagining and living regenerative ways of . . . being” (23). Thinking about moves to decolonization and Settler-Indigenous alliances “require a more speculative and imaginative approach because . . . the shape of decolonization is necessarily unknown” (23). For that reason, this book
juggles the two fronts of decolonization, contributing both to settler colonial understandings of the complex logics of settler colonialism as well as to imaginings of decolonization often taken up by Indigenous studies. The conceptual lens that links these two thrusts together examines how certainty and uncertainty operate in both these fronts. (23)
Mackey’s contribution to settler colonial studies is her claim “that certainty and uncertainty are central to the multi-sited logics, practices and ‘states of feeling’ in analysis of the ‘two fronts of decolonization,’ the critique and dismantling of the logics of settler colonialism, and the imaginative process of rebuilding” (23). Both critique and imagination are necessary, and her work examines both possibilities.
In the book’s next chapter, “Genealogies of Certainty and Uncertainty,” Mackey begins with the anger, fear, and uncertainty her research subjects expressed over Indigenous “land claims”:
It was an unexpected crisis they felt would threaten their entire life’s work and future. They felt victimized and angry. They did not see themselves as personally responsible for what their ancestors may or may not have done. How is it that they could possibly deserve what is happening to them? They felt betrayed by elites in government who were allowing such threats to their security, property and futures. Land rights for Indigenous peoples appeared to disrupt deep and longstanding feelings they have about their rights and entitlements as citizens within nations, particularly with regards to their own property and their rights to fully control that property in the present and the future. (27-28)
The “discourses about danger, risk and uncertainty” she examines in her ethnography, however, also “construct some political and moral positions as natural and rational, and define opposing positions as irrational, disloyal and dangerous” (30). In other words, “[t]he imagined dangers of land rights are based less on facts about actual risks and dangers than they are on moral and political assessments of risks and dangers that emerge from historically constructed characteristics of settler colonialism” (30). She notes that a sense of loss and uncertainty and danger is integral to neoliberalism as well: “Thus, some of the anger people express about danger and uncertainty also likely reflects how late modern subjects may experience precarity in this era of flexible accumulation and neoliberal economics” (31). Those insecurities, along with
“the deep uncertainties and insecurities that could perhaps have disrupted colonial and nation-building processes were often displaced onto Indigenous peoples” (32). Neither Settlers nor their governments have seriously addressed the “potential uncertainty about their entitlement to land ownership and the establishment of colonies,” though (32). Instead, they have expressed “assertions of sovereignty based on an imagined and continually theorized superiority made that question both unspeakable and irrelevant, elided in the march of progress” (32).
The terms “certainty” and “uncertainty” are central in her argument, and she goes on to indicate how she understands them:
I use the terms “certainty” and “uncertainty” in this book, therefore, not to indicate axiomatic, self-evident states; instead, I assume that they are socially, culturally and politically constructed in specific historical contexts and are pivotal to broader political strategies. They are also experienced emotionally as “settler states of feeling.” I use the terms “ontological certainty” and “ontological uncertainty” in this book in order to refer to the importance of how different ontologies (that is, theories about ways of being-in-the-world) intersect with questions of certainty and uncertainty. I hope to highlight how particular Western settler ontologies construct the relationship between land, property and people, as well as how such ontologies of certainty may be challenged. (33)
According to Mackey, “Western notions of private property, as well as hierarchical and racialized categories of personhood, are deeply related to securing certainty in land and ontological security for settler society” (33). That certainty or security can only be created through the construction of binaries: “the settled order of sedentarist boundaries and fences, versus the chaos and unsettled mobility of a ‘state of nature’ that is believed to exist outside of those boundaries. This is a very Hobbesian vision of the safety and security of reason versus the constant and repressed threat of irrational savagery” (33). “Private property is precisely designed to secure certainty for the owner,” she suggests, and it allows us to imagine that property and settlement are synonymous (34). But while “[s]ettled expectations and certainty emerge from having one’s ontology of entitlement confirmed through various laws, social surroundings and particular versions of exchange-based history and culture,”
this sense of certainty emerges from a belief in the fantasy of ownership and control over the past/present/future of one’s own body and property. . . . This is where certainty and uncertainty link to Hobbes’ notion of the state of nature and the social contract, a contract which is supposed to save people from the specific forms of chaos and uncertainty that characterize it. (35)
Settler anxiety emerges “because the vibrant presence of Indigenous people is a constant and uneasy reminder that the settler colonial project is incomplete and unsettled” (35); it emerges “when people feel they must defend and explain what was previously thought to be self-evident, when that which is a ‘given’ is unsettled,” and it appears to create “a defensive hardening of unexamined self-evident assumptions” (36).
For Mackey, “responses of anxious certainty,” however understandable they might be as “settler states of feeling,”
reveal both the persistence and the tenuousness of the settler colonial project and its costs and conditions of possibility. The dilemma is that the arguments made to oppose land rights that I discuss seem to be the only ones available to settlers, perhaps because they are based on such long-standing and unquestioned ontologies and epistemologies. They reveal the powerful limitations of coloniality, showing how colonialism did not only affect Indigenous peoples negatively, but also has harmed the ability of settler peoples to see beyond their own limited vision, a vision that cannot allow the conceptual shifts that may be required for imag[in]ing how to decolonize settler-Indigenous relations. (36)
Moreover, while “uncertainty and risk are generally seen in a negative light, almost always indicating undesirable outcomes,” it’s possible to see them “as positive and necessary, especially in creative pursuits, where uncertainty often leads to new and unexpected discoveries and motivations to continue” (36-37). “People embracing anxiety and uncertainty may also offer pathways out of the settled expectations of settler colonialism,” Mackey continues:
embracing uncertainty is required in order to unsettle the expectations, axiomatic assumptions and practices that emerge from centuries of embedded colonial and national frameworks that have limited our vision and our ability to relate to others. Uncertainty, in fact, may open channels to listening, relating and creating in new and unexpected ways. Moving beyond the limitations and cages of settled expectations and embracing the potential creativity that ‘ontological uncertainty’ could generate might be one way to help us imagine and practice less defensive and perhaps even decolonizing forms of settler-Indigenous relations. (37)
According to Mackey, “it takes humility and courage to be uncertain,” and decolonizing requires an embrace of uncertainty (37-38). That kind of humility, she continues, might seem “anathema to the epistemologies of certainty that inform settler states of feeling and that underpin settler law” (38). “Living without the entitlement to know everything (and therefore be certain) would likely lead to settler discomfort, a discomfort that may need to be embraced instead of resisted in order for settlers to participate in the difficult work of decolonization” (38). She is imagining a “self-conscious refusal to mobilize the axiomatic knowledge and action that have emerged from settler entitlement and certainty,” and suggests that such a refusal “may open a space for genuine attention to alternative frameworks, and seed possibilities for creative and engaged relationships and collective projects” (38). Decolonization is a place that, even in its tangibility and grounded uncertainty, will undoubtedly require engagement with the difficult yet necessary task of unsettling attitudes and practices based on settled expectations,” she writes, noting that her goal in this book is, in part, “to help settlers like myself begin to embrace unsettlement and disorientation as a difficult yet creative first step to engaging processes of imagining and putting into practice the making of a decolonized world” (38).
I found myself thinking about certainty and uncertainty, about comfort and discomfort, and wondering what opting for uncertainty and discomfort might feel like, or what an example of such a choice might look like, as I read this chapter. By chance, I ran across an interview with Susanne Moser, a climate scientist, that provides an example. Uncertainty, Moser argues, is “a necessary condition for hope,” because if you are certain that everything is going to be fine, or that everything is going to be terrible, you know (or imagine that you know) exactly what will happen (Mazur). Politicians like Donald Trump, for instance, peddle fantasies about certainty: America is going to be great again. On the other hand, Moser suggests a statement like “The future is going to look very different, and I can’t tell you how, but we’re going to have to go through that together and figure it out and create it” is an example of uncertainty (Mazur). It means hard work, and it’s unsettling, and it’s not popular, and yet it is, Moser suggests, “the grounds for transformation” (Mazur). At the same time, that uncertainty is an opportunity:
You cannot transform if you stay the same. It sounds trite, but if you hold on to the way it has been, you’re going to stay the same. So you have to let go of the cliff, and you’re going to look like a fool, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes—my god, you’re going to go scratching down the cliff. It’s not going to look pretty, but it’s the only way you have a chance of actually changing. (Mazur)
In the third section of her book, Mackey provides examples of Settlers who have risked uncertainty in creative ways in order to move towards decolonization, but before I read that section, I found Moser’s words helped me to understand the importance of uncertainty in processes of change.
At the outset of the next chapter, “Fantasizing and Legitimating Possession,” Mackey outlines her purpose: “Here I do not provide a ‘general’ or all-inclusive history of colonial and settler-national ideologies, but a very selective genealogy of the relationship between property, certainty and entitlement based on the issues that emerged in the ethnographic research” (41). The chapter, she continues,
builds a background to help understand how many of the people I interviewed might come to have such a sense of certain entitlement and “settled expectations” of certainty, as well as to understand the strategies they use to defend those entitlements. In this chapter I trace how the concept and practice of trying to ensure the certainty of “settled expectations” of entitlement and to deny Indigenous sovereignty has been conceptualized and materialized in philosophy, law and policy/legislation. One goal of this chapter is to demonstrate that racialized colonial philosophies and practices that present-day citizens might want to distance themselves from are not simply an inheritance or legacy of the past, safely stored in a historical archive. These ideas, and the practices that are informed by them, continue to be foundational to, and actively drawn upon in, present-day law and land claims legislation. (41)
The ideas she discusses are part of “a longstanding and powerful tradition of ‘conjured fictions’ and fantasies of entitlement that required intense and consistent effort and flexibility over time. Through this process, colonial powers conferred upon themselves the authority and entitlement to appropriate and possess Indigenous land,” she writes, citing Anishinaabe legal scholar John Borrows (42). Her use of the word “fantasies,” she continues, “does not mean they do not have powerful material effects; they become more than just fantasies when they are bolstered by actions and law” (42). Indeed, those effects help to answer the questions she considers in this chapter:
How did the vast lands of Canada and the U.S. come to be owned and controlled by colonial powers, and not the previously free and independent nations that lived here before 1492? How do vast tracts of land become “owned” by some people and not by others? How does a particular version of ownership and property come to be dominant and widely accepted, and not others? How did previously independent sovereign nations become “domestic dependent nations” in the U.S., with limited sovereignty? Regarding the territories now known as Canada, how can it be that Indigenous peoples have a recognized “inherent right to self-government” (embedded in Section 31 of the Canadian Constitution since 1982), yet must struggle with the contradiction that they only have these rights as long as they can be “reconciled with the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over Canadian territory?” (42)
Crown sovereignty, and therefore the legitimacy of settler ownership of land, is “is most often assumed and asserted . . . seen as self-evident and rarely questioned in legal decisions or by settler subjects” (43). The “fantasies of entitlement” of settlers have “profound material effects in the world” (43). “Indeed,” Mackey writes, “such fantasies of entitlement legitimated the unleashing of one of the most extensive colonial processes ever, a legalized grasping for land that has not stopped to this day,” a process that “still powerfully defines the day-to-day lives and imagined futures of all North Americans, although in very different ways depending on their social location” (43).
According to Mackey, one reason that the idea of land rights for Indigenous peoples often results in a violent response from Settlers is “that it disrupts unquestioned European assumptions about property, assumptions that have been developed through liberal political theory, social practice and law over centuries, and are based on a settled agricultural or commercial society (43). One of those assumptions has to do with “the rule of ‘first possession,” which grants
ownership to the party that gains control of the property before other potential claimants. Emerging from Roman law, first possession is deeply woven into the fabric of Anglo-American society as the notion of “finders keepers,” or “first come, first served.” The rule of first possession is foundational to the terra nullius doctrine and represents . . . a specifically agriculturalist or commercial view of property. (44-45)
The basis of terra nullius is in Roman law, “in the law of first possession” (45):
In this legal story about entitlement, the term “vacant”—as in terra nullius (vacant land)—does not therefore imply “empty.” Instead it indicates something that is in a “natural state of freedom” (wild, uncultivated), and is not governed by human control. This idea, that land is “open to the first taker” if it is uncontrolled and natural and not governed by human control . . . is pivotal to terra nullius frameworks that excluded Indigenous peoples, because they occupied and used the land and were related to nature in a way that colonizers misrecognized. (45)
Built into first-possession ideas, therefore, was the notion of humans “as outsiders to, and conquerors of, nature. Such concepts of relationship to land in terms of possessive ownership and control are widely believed to have been foreign to First Nations” (45-46). In other words,
Western concepts of first possession that undergird the concept of terra nullius were based on specific cultural practices and ontologies that from the outside did not valorize different forms of relationship to land. The implication is that the very concept of “first possession” is “Western,” in that it is based upon assumptions of a “settled” agrarian society that communicates possession through marking territory, by transforming nature and through the establishment of certainty in the possession of objects through establishing fixed and certain boundaries. In this way, having or claiming “first possession” depended upon mis-recognizing non-agrarian relationships to land. (46)
That misrecognition had tangible material effects, and is arguably the root of the notion of Crown sovereignty in North America. The European distinction between occupation and ownership—without cultivation, the land was considered occupied but not legally owned “and therefore empty of people and societies that mattered. This ‘unique twist’ meant that Indigenous relationships to land had to be somehow defined as inferior” (48). Moreover, Western forms of property were designed to create “certainty of expectation”: “Inherent in the liberal notion of property is the idea that it is secure and certain, not only now, but also into the future. It is therefore tied to expectations of certainty” (46).
These ideas are expressed in philosophy. For example,
Hobbes’ social contract theory suggests that to escape the uncertain state of nature, people form a social contract in order to establish a civil society beneath a sovereign authority. In doing so, they consent to give up some rights to the “absolute political authority” in order to maintain social order and escape from the state of nature. . . . If America was “a state of nature,” it was not governed by human control, and was thus terra nullius and ‘open to the first taker. (48)
John Locke “argued that God rewards the transformative productive labour of industrious people with property” (50). “God, in Locke’s voice, mandates that improving, productive labour is the key to entitlement to property,” Mackey writes. “So mandated, colonizers felt the entitlement, even the duty, to appropriate, enclose, develop and ‘subdue’ the ‘vacant lands’ of America that were regarded as lying to waste by the inhabitants, who were seen as ‘actively neglecting the land.’ Such versions of personhood differ from Indigenous notions of personhood” (50). In other words, “[c]ulturally and historically specific concepts of property, developed in the colonial context, informed influential philosophical notions of the value of persons and rights to citizenship. They elaborate an ideal of normative subjects, suggesting what kind of person is deserving of land and of citizenship” (49). Improvement, individualism, and civilization became central to Europe’s “civilizational identity” (49): “Property is central to the narrative and identity of Europe” (49).
“Certainty and the transformation of nature into property were integral to this ‘civilizational identity’ in settler colonies,” Mackey writes (49). From the outset of colonization, “enclosure indicated individual, private ownership and private property. Such acts of survey, enclosure and planting were, at the time, often called ‘improvements,’” in the sense of fenced-in agricultural land (51).The colonizers saw those who did not engage in this process of improvement “as less than human beings”: “Native Americans, having ‘failed to subdue the earth’ and having given themselves ‘up to nature, and to passivity,’ had no right to consent or refuse. Indigenous peoples became, conceptually and legally, wandering nomads,” rather than than labourers or improvers of the land, and they “needed to be civilized,” to be turned into Lockean people “who would be rational, individualist and self-reliant, people who would ‘subdue the earth’ and improve it through labour” (52).
“In this way,” Mackey continues,
culturally specific ideas about property, labour, personhood and morality were important for the creation of differential categories of social being, cultural belonging and political authority. Ideas about property and rights, tied as they were to notions of “improving labour,” were used by these colonizers to entitle themselves to appropriate the land and to continue to define Indigenous peoples as savages. In others words, Indigenous peoples were defined as savages because they did not know how to own land in a possessively individualistic way that European colonizers defined as proper. As such, their inability (or unwillingness) to control land was interpreted to mean that they needed to be under the control of colonizing, sovereign, settler subjects. Ultimately, then, ideas about property and personhood were (and continue to be) intimately connected, as legitimating strategies for ongoing colonization. (53)
Not only were Indigenous societies deemed inferior because they did not engage in forms of agriculture the colonizers recognized as “improvements,” but their governance structures were similarly seen as inadequate, and therefore they were not actually nations at all:
For Locke, rational societies must establish private property, they must give incentives to industriousness, they must develop reason, and, finally, political power must be institutionalized in particular ways. They have clearly defined characteristics based on European structures and ideals. Locke argued that “Indian” nations, even if they called themselves nations, were not true political societies because they lacked sovereignty and a singular unified central authority. Because they did not have private property and had not built states, Indigenous societies did not conform to the law of nature that applied in this historical phase, as defined by Locke. There was therefore no need to respect their territorial integrity. Such an approach depends on a failure to recognize the governments that did exist and a deep misunderstanding of Indigenous societies. (53)
Therefore, it was not an uncivilized action to take Indigenous land “in the name of progress and through the laws of natural and universal history. An unquestioned sense of superiority and entitlement is embedded in such frameworks” (53).
Locke’s ideas mirror the assumptions of the Doctrine of Discovery, according to Mackey:
Indigenous peoples were constructed as peoples whose land could be taken as a logical, rational and moral progression of colonial superiority and entitlement. Indeed, this new philosophy of universal history based on the state of nature justified a range of violent, genocidal practices as an inevitable result of ideologies of progress. Further, such practices, even if seen as somehow unjust, were also seen as part of the inevitable dying off or extinction of an inferior people who did not labour on the land. (53-54)
Naturalizing “the idea that culturally specific ways of relating to land and people was universal and proper,” and “defining alternative worldviews and practices as moral ‘failings,’” took a great deal of work. In fact, the idea of a “supposedly universalized framework provided a persuasive and authoritative fantasy of entitlement and, more importantly, a sense of certainty about the correctness and inevitability of European settler domination and land ownership” (54). “Such settled expectations and epistemologies of mastery are characterized by the entitled desire to own, bound, improve, appropriate, define, subdue and control both land and so-called inferior beings in specific ways,” Mackey continues. “These approaches, deeply linked to Western notions of property and personhood, also secure a fantasy of certainty that allows settlers to expect that, because of their superiority, they would naturally continue to own the land and that Indigenous peoples would inevitably disappear” (54).
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is typically understood to imply Crown recognition of Indigenous nationhood and the pre-existing rights of those nations, but Mackey points out that it undercuts the most fundamental of those rights by proclaiming Crown sovereignty and ownership of large areas of North America (55). “The Proclamation seems respectful because it recognizes Indian Nations as being in ‘possession’ of land,” she writes:
Yet immediately speaking in the voice of the Crown, the Proclamation declares that those lands are “Parts of Our [Crown] Dominions and Territories.” Therefore, at the precise moment of apparent recognition of Indigenous nations on one hand, it simultaneously transforms unceded Indigenous lands into Dominion territory, on the other. These territories were seen to be only temporarily occupied by Indigenous peoples (and it was assumed that they would eventually be ceded only to the Crown). (55)
“The sense of Crown entitlement lies in part in what the Proclamation assumes—yet does not explicitly explain or justify: its powerful silences communicate the unspoken assumption that the Crown is naturally entitled to its superior sovereignty,” Mackey notes (55). Indigenous peoples only retained land through the goodwill of the Crown, according to important court cases—in Canada, the 1888 St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen (56). In that case, “[t]he court argued that Aboriginal title was only a restriction on underlying provincial Crown title, and would be extinguished when surrendered by treaty. The Court ruled that the treaties transferred Crown lands to exclusive provincial control while eliminating Indian interest in those lands” (56). “The difference between recognizing pre-existing rights and ‘granting’ temporary rights transfers superior power to the Crown,” Mackey points out. “This kind of reasoning is still common sense today, especially when people speak of the government solving land ‘claims’ by ‘giving’ First Nations huge settlements, or suggesting that Indigenous peoples ‘claim’ settler land rather than ‘reclaim’ their pre-existing land rights” (56).
More recent court cases appear to be more supportive of Indigenous rights. For instance, in R. v Sparrow (1990), the Supreme Court decided that the Aboriginal rights in existence in 1982 “could not be infringed without justification, on account of the ‘fiduciary obligation’ of the Crown to Aboriginal peoples in Canada. It thus requires that the Crown exercise restraint when applying its powers in interference with Aboriginal rights,” Mackey notes. “Thus, on the one hand, Sparrow recognized Indigenous rights. On the other, at the precise moment of recognition, we also see the limiting of, and encroachment upon, these rights” (57). In Delgamuukw v British Columbia (1997), Supreme Court Chief Justice Lamer stated that Indigenous rights “are aimed at the reconciliation of the prior occupation of North America . . . with the assertion of Crown sovereignty over Canadian territory[”] (57). “Such ‘reconciliation,’ as we have seen, has meant that Indigenous people’s lifeways and relationships to territories must still reconcile themselves to occupying an inferior position in relation to Crown sovereignty, entitlement and assumed superiority,” Mackey argues (57). In addition, while in the 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision the Supreme Court recognized that the Xeni Gwet’in Tsilhqot’in people had title to a large part of their traditional territory, “the Crown’s superior sovereignty is still consistently assumed and defended, and it assumes Aboriginal rights must still be reconciled with that superior sovereignty. How can that sovereignty be constructed as superior without the doctrines of terra nullius and discovery?” (58). For Mackey,
the entitlement of self-ascribed “superior” European power is a fantasy, underpinned by racialized assumptions about the inferiority of Indigenous occupation and use of the land. Without those assumptions, there is no possible way to imagine that the Crown has a radical underlying sovereignty that magically crystallized when they asserted it. Thus the decision does not repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery or question the Crown’s legal entitlement. (58-59)
Mackey notes that these legal decisions reflect the philosophical bases she discussed earlier:
Although the legal decisions I have discussed are flexible and constantly changing, they are also located on a continuum with Locke and Hobbes’ foundational visions because they embody colonial visions of land, power, property, personhood, people and their interrelationships. They are informed by deep-seated assumptions about the superiority of colonial epistemologies and persons, and the resulting sense of entitlement of colonial powers to function on the legal fiction that they are entitled to underlying sovereignty and ownership of the land. This sense of entitlement depends on the construction of Indigenous personhood and governments as naturally inferior, and enveloping them within the jurisdiction of the nation-state. (59)
For Mackey, the recognition of Indigenous rights afforded by the Supreme Court of Canada since 1973 “is contradictory when Indigenous rights must always be ‘reconciled’ with the Crown’s underlying and superior sovereignty” (60). “This is settler law,” she writes, “even if such claims have not been proven, or if Indigenous people are not themselves ‘reconciled’ to that interpretation”:
In this way, jurisprudence has legally entrenched and attempted to materialize the fantasy of certainty and stability for settlers, always encompassing Indigenous nations into the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the settler nation. Law was and is still pivotal in establishing and maintaining the ‘fantasy of entitlement’ and the ‘settled expectations’ of settler society. (60)
The term “jurisdictional imaginary” becomes one of the key phrases in Mackey’s argument.
The land claims processes established by the federal government are, Mackey writes, part of a so-called recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights, rather than a path towards decolonization, because of “the continued and explicit search for Western forms of ‘certainty’ associated with the official land claims process” (60). “Certainty in land claims policy . . . depends upon the extinguishment of undefined Aboriginal rights,” she argues. “This process of state pursuit of certainty, over the objections of Indigenous peoples, has a revealing and shape-shifting quality made up of fantastic imaginings and absurd turns fo phrase” (61). Moreover,
in order to sign a land agreement, the government requires that Indigenous people sign away (surrender) future and potential Aboriginal rights or title, other than those specified in the agreement. The goal of “extinguishment” in land settlements has often been to remove undefined and thus uncertain Aboriginal rights and turn them into fixed, definable and certain or predictable rights. Land rights, if not “legally captured” within a land rights agreement, are seen as making property uncertain and are therefore threatening to economic development and “capital and state sovereignty.” The goal of the land agreements . . . is the attainment of certainty through: 1) extinguishing undefined Aboriginal rights, or 2) fixing, defining, and codifying such rights so that they cannot threaten certainty. (61)
Extinguishment of Indigenous title was, as Sheldon Krasowski points out, “a requirement for the land cession treaties that spread across what is now southern Ontario and then westward along Lake Huron and Lake Superior, in addition to the eleven treaties the Canadian government negotiated from 1870 to 1921” (61). After the 1973 Calder decision, the federal government established comprehensive claims process; Michael Asch suggests that the goal of comprehensive claims settlements is to replace uncertainty with certainty, to make sure that if future courts were to “interpret Aboriginal rights more broadly (and generously) than in the claim agreement, Indigenous groups could not expand their claim”—in other words, the point is to “replace ambiguity with certainty and fixity through extinguishing Aboriginal title” (61-62). The 1999 Nisga’a Agreement limits Aboriginal rights but supposedly does not involve a surrender of those rights; however, in its search for certainty, it effectively extinguishes and future undefined rights, “because the Crown in protected in perpetuity” (63). “Such a ‘modification’ of rights seems akin to a convoluted performance to ensure certainty and security through a more subtle form of continued extinguishment and limiting of unspecified rights,” Mackey argues. “Indeed, this seems to be the goal of the government, which is evident in the way it communicates the results of land claims negotiations to citizens” (63). The emphasis in those communications is certainty (64), and the word “certainty” therefore becomes one of the dirty words in Mackey’s lexicon, and a synonym for “settled.”
According to Mackey, “the strangest, most bizarre and potentially the most infantilizing and humiliating (for Indigenous peoples) of the ‘certainty techniques’ used by the government is the ‘Non-Assertion Technique’ used in the Tlicho agreement” (64). That agreement states that the Tlicho nation will not exercise or assert any rights other than the ones set out in the agreement (64). “In effect, while the treaty group is not forced to surrender rights, they are required to voluntarily commit to defining and limiting their rights,” she writes (64). Again, the goal is certainty, for the federal government (64). “How can the government propose that inherent Aboriginal rights supposedly ‘exist’ and are recognized by the Crown, and at the same time have the agreement say that legally it is ‘as if those rights did not continue to exist’?” Mackey asks. “How can rights continue to ‘exist’ if it is legally agreed that those rights are chimeras?” (64-65). The result, effectively, is the extinguishment of those rights (65). “It is hard to imagine that the government would expect Indigenous people not to see that these certainty techniques still remain rooted in the principle of extinguishment, when they have been fighting against such surrender of title for centuries,” she notes. “The humiliating difference is that Indigenous peoples are now forced to voluntarily agree that they will not assert their ‘uncertain’ rights in order to establish a land claim” (65).
First Nations have resisted and continue to resist these extinguishment policies. “Indeed, Indigenous peoples have almost always entered into relations with the Crown with the objective that the Crown should, as they themselves do, begin with the presumption of the existence of historic and ongoing title to their territories,” she suggests. “Instead, the intention was to negotiate sharing” (65). She cites Leroy Little Bear’s argument that the purpose of treaty negotiations was always to facilitate the sharing of the land, not alienating Indigenous rights to the land (65). “It is therefore not possible to imagine Indigenous people entering negotiations without a previous assumption of the objective of maintaining ongoing relationships to their lands,” she contends (66). Indeed, Tracy Lindberg, among others, has pointed out that the notion of surrendering or transferring or releasing land is an incomprehensible foreign concept to Indigenous people and not translatable within Indigenous laws (66). “If . . . the settler state’s claim to land is a fantasy of entitlement, it would make more sense that the settler state be required to prove the basis of its right to the land, and be required to prove it based on Indigenous legal traditions,” Mackey suggests (66). However, even though the federal government’s land claims processes reproduce settler-colonial relationships and facilitate the dispossession of lands and sovereignty, there is no other process available, so some First Nations are willing to enter into it, although many refuse, “asking questions about what certainty means, and whom it is for” (66). For instance, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has stated that, “For Indigenous peoples, our Aboriginal Title and connection to the Land is certain, it is in the bones of our grandmothers buried in the earth, and in the blood which beats in our hearts” (67). “Clearly, certainty and uncertainty can be conceptualized in many complex and contradictory ways, revealing distinct ontologies and epistemologies,” Mackey observes (67).
The second part of Unsettled Expectations, “Ontological Uncertainties and Resurgent Colonialism,” begins with an introduction entitled “Unsettled Feelings and Communities.” This introduction outlines Mackey’s questions:
“How do uncertainty and anger around land rights become embodied in particular actions, vocabularies and symbols? What do these particular responses to land rights tell us about what is at stake in these conflicts? What might they indicate about the challenges and complications of working to decolonize relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? (70)
Her goal in this part of the book is “to explore how people mobilize in order to counter Indigenous land rights, and to analyse how they argue against them within the context of my argument so far” (70). She studied two land rights conflicts: the Caldwell First Nation in southern Ontario and the Cayuga Indian Nation in New York State. Both groups, she notes,
have been landless for over 200 years. Both groups made land claims in the Great Lakes region of North America and both at one point succeeded in federal legal decisions. If implemented, neither claim would have included defined pieces of land as settlement. Instead, the nations would receive compensation money with which they could then purchase land on the so-called “open market.” As a result of their land claims, both nations have experienced explosive and angry responses from non-Indigenous residents in the areas under claim. (70)
The Caldwell First Nation, according to its 1999 agreement with the federal government, was to receive $23.4 million to buy 4,500 acres of land over 25 years, which would become the Caldwell Indian Reserve; the basis of their claim was that when the chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Huron and Pottawatomi Nations sold over 2 million acres of southwestern Ontario to the Crown in 1790, the Caldwell Chief was not present. Through this agreement, the Caldwell First Nation would finally become a party to that treaty (71). “When the agreement in principle (hereafter AIP) was announced,” Mackey writes,“some residents formed the Chatham-Kent Community Network (hereafter CKCN) to oppose it”: they encouraged local residents to put up signs reading “NOT FOR SALE” on their properties, wrote letters to Jane Stewart, then Minister of Indian Affairs, and to politicians at all levels of government, and hired lawyers to begin a legal action against the federal government over the claim (71). The CKCN
also set up a development trust company that has signed a “first right of refusal” agreement with many farmers to prevent their land from being sold to the Caldwell First Nation. The municipal mayor and the federal member of Parliament were vocal opponents of the claim, and the municipality set up a Task Force to investigate the agreement and filed suit against the government. (71)
Meanwhile, members of the Caldwell First Nation found their buildings being vandalized, and received telephone threats and other forms of harassment (71). “From the outset, many of the Caldwell interpreted the resistance to their claim as a form of ‘racism,’ especially the ‘NOT FOR SALE’ signs,” Mackey notes. “They organized a March Against Racism, and thereafter, a number of signs were posted on the fence of their Band Office, saying ‘defend Indian Rights against racism,’ ‘Racist “not for sale” campaign,’ and ‘Stop Racism’” (72).
Meanwhile, at about the same time, in Union Springs and Seneca Falls, New York, opposition to the Cayuga Nation Land claim was reaching a peak: “The Cayuga Nation had reclaimed 64,000 acres of traditional territory on the northern edge of Lake Cayuga. The claim was based on challenging a New York State treaty which was then illegal because of the 1790 Indian Non-Intercourse Act prohibiting all Indian land transactions that did not have the federal government’s approval” (72). In 1994, a judge had ruled that the land had been acquired illegally through an invalid treaty, and in 2000 a jury awarded the Cayuga Nation $36.9 million in damages and for the loss of 200 years of rental value; another $211 million in interest penalties was added in 2001 (72). That claim was later rejected, and then appealed, and finally in 2013 the appeal was rejected, on the basis that the agreement would disrupt the reasonable “settled expectations” of other landowners in the area (8). As in southwestern Ontario, people posted signs protesting the agreement in the area; an organization called Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE) was formed: “They organized demonstrations, petitioned local, state and federal governments, hired lawyers, began court cases, attended local meetings and court hearings, held moneymaking events such as bottle-drives and persisted doggedly to have the claim rejected” (72).
Mackey isn’t interested in the question of whether UCE and CKCN were “representative” of local communities or settlers in general—a question which she suggests would be impossible to answer (72). Rather, she argues that
the sentiments expressed by these groups are part of a much broader settler ontology and epistemology. Their viewpoints are worth studying because they are entry points for understanding foundational undercurrents in broader settler societies. They represent the kinds of deep-seated and axiomatic emotions and ideas that many people hold, and are therefore necessary to recognize and name as integral to the complex challenges of working through decolonization. (72-73)
Moreover, she argues that the ideas expressed by Hobbes and Locke “have, over time, become subtly yet deeply infused in common-sense settler thinking for many reasons, including the jurisprudence about Indigenous issues discussed in previous chapters” (73). Nevertheless, she contends that it is necessary to talk about how both groups stood in their communities, and whether they had authority and influence. She believes that they did:
When I was doing my fieldwork in both places, simply driving through the areas indicated the powerful influence of such ideas because of how ubiquitous the signs were that were posted on the mailboxes of prosperous and poor farms, large and small barns, cottages and modern homes. In both places the organizations include homeowners and landowners: farmers, business people, workers in local factories and businesses, homemakers, teachers and public servants. The groups are organized and led, however, by particularly influential local commercial and business people, and they also have the support of local politicians. (73)
Both groups were well-financed, with offices, photocopiers, and staff (73). She was told that CKCN had raised over $170,000 to support one of the legal challenges to the claim (73). “From all of the above, it is safe to surmise that they had influence and support from other community members,” she concludes (73).
Moreover, in both Ontario and New York, when she interviewed people “who saw themselves as neutral (siding neither with UCE, CKCN nor with the Indigenous peoples) they talked about how deep and widespread the influence of the organizations was at the time, and how it affected their lives and the lives of everyone in the town” (73). In fact, some people in southwestern Ontario wouldn’t speak about the conflict in public; they feared being labelled “a Caldwell supporter” and becoming a social pariah (74). For Mackey, that suggests “that there was likely a level of community hegemony on the issue” (74). She notes that “people who unwittingly sold land to the Caldwell First Nation were treated as disloyal traitors” (74). Relationships became polarized: “Any kinds of alignment with the Caldwell was seen as deep disloyalty to personal and community relationships, indicating both the strength and the emotional depth of the anti-Caldwell sentiment” (75). “Such a situation may or may not indicate numeric support of CKCN,” she concludes. “It does, however, indicate that they had strong and authoritative influence on what was considered proper behaviour in the ‘community’” (75).
Similarly, the UCE “had a powerful and ubiquitous presence around Cayuga Lake, especially from 1999 to 2005” (75). For instance, a meeting at the local chiropractic college attracted 4,000 people, most of whom were against the land claim (75-76). According to Mackey, “the UCE presence in the community was overpowering,” and people who did not support UCE were accused of being traitors (76). “Thus,” she writes,
although it is not possible to indicate the numerical or statistical significance in terms of their representativeness of the population, UCE and CKCN did have a powerful influence in their local areas. They seemed to offer a very persuasive way of conceptualizing and protecting the settled expectations of non-Indigenous peoples, an approach that had broad and ongoing support amongst many and that seems to be fed on anger and fear about uncertainty. (76)
These responses to land claims, Mackey contends, are “expressions of settler ‘structures of feeling’”:
they reflect and/or reproduce foundational conceptual frameworks that are essential to settler colonial and national projects. This is specifically the case when, first, they naturalize the assumption that settlers are entitled to the appropriation and ownership of Indigenous territories; they often defend this entitlement using the racialized frameworks discussed in the previous chapter, including the assumption that Indigenous lifeways and relationships to land and each other are necessarily inferior, in specific ways. Second, in a related way, they normalize the assumption that non-Native governments and people naturally should have authority over “Indigenous politics, governance and territoriality.” This is often realized through a strong sense of home and community that is based on culturally specific settler frameworks that are seen as natural, and that Indigenous peoples should assimilate into. Finally, they are specifically settler “structures of feeling” when they draw upon and reproduce what I see as the pivotal settler colonial and national assumption: that the Crown always-already had and continues to have superior underlying title to Indigenous lands. In other words, when they assert and defend the certainty that Indigenous territory is always-already domestic space within a superior jurisdiction, and thereby enact the subordination of Native polities to the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the settler state. (76-77)
These three aspects of settler “structures of feeling,” in Mackey’s argument, shape responses to Indigenous land rights movements and, more generally, Indigenous peoples as well.
In the next chapter, “Defending Expectations,” Mackey “explores how uncertainty and anger around land rights issues becomes embodied in particular actions, vocabularies and symbols” (78). Land rights issues make people uncertain about their “settled expectations” for their lives and futures, and that uncertainty makes them angry (78). “When they defend their expectations and try to re-assert what they had previously felt to be certain,” Mackey argues, “they end up re-asserting many of the key settler colonial assumptions and strategies we have seen” (78). Those “defensive strategies illustrate contemporary ‘settler states of feeling,’ and indicate, in a larger sense, that settler colonialism is ongoing and deeply embedded in settler subjectivities” (78).
For example, CKCN members focused on the danger the proposed reserve posed for their community:
The CKCN’s opposition to the Caldwell First Nation claim in Chatham-Kent was consistently based on discussion of the CKCN’s attachment to specific pieces of land, and specific local issues that . . . they also sometimes expanded to include the entire territory of Canada. (79)
In New York, however, “UCE members’ opposition to land claims . . . drew on patriotic practices and discourses that focused almost exclusively on the risks and dangers to the American nation” (79). These differences suggest that the CKCN was focused on local issues and local identity and heritage, while the UCE also framed its reaction in terms of “national (and universal) ideals such as citizenship and equality” (79). In addition, stories about settlement—“repeated narratives of how people laboured hard and overcame obstacles to settle the land and build a future they could count on”—become individual, family, and community mythologies that are essential to the way nation-states imagine themselves (80). The notion of “improvements” that is part of such stories is also important in claiming private property rights: “many of the people I interviewed also denied that Indigenous people were hard-working agrarian and agricultural people, as part of a strategy to delegitimize their land rights” (80). Moreover, “symbolically, the Caldwell First Nation people cannot be seen as authentically ‘local’ even though they live in the local area,” because the CKCN “defines the values and practices of their ‘local community as necessarily distinct and separate from Indigenous culture” (81). Members of the CKCN suggested that there was no possibility of two or more cultures coexisting, and that “community” meant just one culture (81). “The singular definition of community used by CKCN, similar to the assertions of nation mobilized by UCE . . . explicitly define and limit ‘community’ membership based on a notion of shared culture” (81).
For Mackey, all of this demonstrates
how anti-Indigenous groups now mobilize similar discourses about culture and heritage that many Indigenous groups have. Indigenous peoples often argue for the preservation of their endangered cultural heritage as Indigenous people who have been subject to laws of assimilation and cultural genocide. They also make arguments about their relationship to specific pieces of land, as autochthonous peoples; a framework that itself may have emerged from their need to make claims within modern legal/political contexts. (81)
The CKCN’s claim used “a similar vocabulary about the value of their endangered culture, perhaps an example of active mimicry of Indigenous strategies about cultural preservation,” and therefore ended up “defining Aboriginal people as the source of the threatening danger” by leaving out the history of “state programs specifically designed and implemented to destroy Indigenous cultural practices” (81). This suggests that “the settler project functions simultaneously on two interconnected registers: on an emotional register of settler agrarian culture and continuity, and on an economic and legal register that concerns ensuring certainty in land and economic competition” (81).
For that reason, the CKCN made arguments based on economic and legal certainty: they were concerned about future land use by the Caldwell First Nation being compatible with agriculture; with the stability of land prices; with opportunities for future expansion and return on investments of local farmers; with the maintenance of the area’s interconnected drainage systems (82-83). Many of these concerns “boiled down to a question of whether, and if so, how, the First Nation would be required to follow provincial and municipal regulations and bylaws. . . . Although . . . they had been informed that the Caldwell First Nation would be required to follow all by-laws and would have little autonomy,” CKCN members “spoke as if the Caldwell would have complete autonomy and control over their land, could do what they wanted with it, and would not be required to consult or be compatible with the people around them” (83). At the same time, CKCN members
made other arguments about why the land claim and Indigenous rights more generally were wrong,” arguments that focused less “on specific economic arguments and more on fundamental questions and issues underlying land claims. In the process people began to draw on frameworks integral to terra nullius and state-of-nature philosophy, in which rights and ownership of land are increasingly based on hierarchical and stereotyped conceptions of Indigenous peoples, mobilized to define which collective groups are entitled to full personhood and inherited privilege and which are not. (83)
Stories told by members of CKCN suggested their emotional attachments to place, as well as “their sense of legitimate and rightful possession of the land . . . . through years of labour” (84). “[T]his sense of belonging and attachment to home, to the land, can also be mobilized to defend expectations of entitlement and certainty in settler possession of land and contribute to legitimizing Indigenous dispossession” (84).
In fact, and this surprised me, some CKCN members even argued that their families had been in the area longer than “‘Native people’” (84) or claimed that there were no Indigenous people in the area when white settlers arrived (85). “What connects these stories to the terra nullius and ‘state of nature’ frameworks that I outlined earlier,” Mackey writes, “is how a story that begins about individual families occupying land can be transformed into a broader narrative about how a racialized category of people (‘whites’) were entitled to occupy land instead of another racialized category of people (Indigenous people” (85). “Perhaps the fact that people might share the notion that taking land belonging to someone else is ethically suspect helps to understand why people end up creating a fictional, and impossible, narrative about the ‘white people’ being on the land first,” Mackey continues (85). Such arguments suggest “rationales and legitimating strategies for why they could take the land” (85). I’ve always suspected something similar—that such arguments come from a deeply buried recognition that the claims Settlers make about Crown sovereignty and the rightness of their presence on Indigenous lands are, frankly, specious. I don’t think it would be possible, though, to substantiate those suspicions, although I hope I’m wrong about that, and that there might be some evidence, somewhere, to support that idea.
In any case, Mackey explains the arguments CKCN and UCE members used to explain why and how First Nations peoples weren’t in southwestern Ontario or upstate New York when Settlers arrived. “These arguments were based on talking about how the Indigenous people of the area (now making a ‘land claim’) were nomadic, warring and ‘savage’: they were violent, wandering, unsettled peoples,” arguments which “reverberate with Hobbes’ and Locke’s frameworks” (86). Members of the CKCN, for instance, argued that the Caldwell First Nation wasn’t actually Indigenous to the area, “because if they were in the area they simply ‘happened to’ be wandering through” (86). Such arguments, Mackey continues,
can be considered part of broader “settler states of feeling,” because not only do they mobilize colonial frameworks, they do so as part of a sense of entitlement to superintend Indigenous peoples, taking on a sense that they are entitled to assess whether Indigenous peoples even existed as legitimate “nations.” They do so based on how they are seen to have occupied space and related to the land. The implicit assumption here, shared with earlier colonizers, is that they are qualified to assess and control Indigenous lives and relationships, based on their own culturally specific values. (87)
Members of CKCN also used the idea of “state of nature” in another way: they claimed that the Caldwell First Nation didn’t actually exist when the 1790 treaty was signed; they weren’t an organized society but rather just a collection of individuals (88). The arguments made by the CKCN “reproduce powerful assumptions about mobile people and agricultural labour, depending upon sedentarist-centric normative property assumptions” (90). Nevertheless, those arguments ignore the fact that in the 18th century the Chippewa raised crops as well as depending on hunting and fishing; that fact was downplayed because they didn’t fence in their crops, and therefore did not symbolically possess the land (90). Such arguments are powerful even though they are wrong (91). Members of the UCE made similar arguments about Indigenous nomadism and savagery: they suggested that the Cayuga left their land in the early 19th century “because it was in their nature to do so as a nomadic people,” not because their villages, homes, and farms had been destroyed by the Sullivan Campaign of 1779, which drove most of the Cayuga people from the area, “beginning more than two centuries of disconnection from their homeland and ancestors” (91).
The anxiety about whether the Caldwell would maintain drainage systems was, Mackey suggests, an anxiety about Indigenous sovereignty: CKCN members “repeatedly argued that the Caldwell would follow their own rules, would not work with ‘the community,’ and would refuse to follow provincial regulations,” even though “the Caldwell had developed careful plans for their land, plans that were neither full-out capitalist farming nor wilderness conservation. These plans had been announced to the local non-Indigenous community in numerous ways” (94). Mackey believes this reflects a “deep-seated anxiety about the question of jurisdiction”: such “expressions of fear about possible futures indicate, first, that they are unable to see the Caldwell First Nation as a recognized and legitimate government that has authority to make (and keep) agreements and follow rules and regulations” (96). “What they experience as the problem,” she continues, “is not the actual drainage itself, but is instead the broader question of what they sense may be changing relations of power and jurisdictional authority. The problem is actually who controls the situation and who has the authority to do so” (97). All of these defensive strategies “illustrate aspects of contemporary ‘settler states of feeling’ because . . . they reflect and/or reproduce foundational conceptual frameworks that are essential to settler colonial and national projects” (99).
The following chapter, “Settler Jurisdictional Imaginaries in Practice: Equality, Law, Race and Multiculturalism,” argues that the “jurisdictional imaginary of the settler nation-state” is “more than territorial”:
it is also juridical and cultural. The assertion of Canada as ‘one country’ based on liberal frameworks of supposedly “equal status” and “the same rules” outlines the expectations of law and national belonging within those boundaries. Within this juridical jurisdiction, nationhood is based on liberal ideals, according to which the role of governments is to guarantee a specific version of what is seen as “equality” by protecting property and ensuring that a singular legal jurisdiction applies throughout its territory. (103)
According to this “jurisdictional imaginary,” First Nations peoples must “follow the rules of ‘one country’ and assimilate into the territorial jurisdiction, as well as into the political and cultural imaginary of the settler nation” (103). The suggestion is that “everyone within the nation must be equal, and this means following the same laws,” and that “the singular, legally homogenous nation and community” are “natural, reasonable and necessarily indivisible” (104). In this chapter, Mackey explores these “self-evident ‘One Nation’ discourses, in which a sovereign settler-national jurisdiction is felt to be the only reasonable and acceptable form of governance and source of loyalty” (104). The notion of indivisibility, she writes, is “a powerful fantasy and productive desire within most forms of nationhood” and it is “reproduced continually in rituals of patriotism and everyday actions of the state and its citizens” (104).
Such fantasies are linked to anger about uncertainty: “The condition of possibility for the anger people feel about uncertainty . . . is based on their expectations that settlement is now settled, and that settler-state jurisdiction and law over space and people is, and should be, fixed and certain,” but “this sense of certainty is based on a long and complex ‘fantasy of entitlement and expectation,’ which in turn is based on legal fictions and the creation of a settler ‘jurisdictional imaginary’” (104). However, First Nations are already sovereign, and if they didn’t have “inherent sovereignty,” they wouldn’t be able to negotiate land rights with the federal government; “settler feelings of entitlement are based on fantasies of certainty, a certainty that is unsettled by unapologetic assertions of Indigenous sovereignty” (105). What Mackey calls the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the nation “mobilizes notions of racial equality, tolerance and multiculturalism to define the appropriate and rightful place and behaviour of all citizens within it”; those ideas “draw on self-evident racialized notions of culture, labour and personhood to discount Indigenous peoples and land rights” (105). While this jurisdictional imaginary seems coherent, she writes,
it often reveals ruptures and contradictions that indicate how it is mobilized flexibly (and often anxiously) is an attempt to render whole and rational the problematic fantasies of entitlement and possession that underpin it. Although hundreds of years of Indigenous resistance have made it clear that these arrangements have never been settled, the re-emergence of land rights challenges, as “contact zones” of the tensions within the settler project, reveal the anxiety underpinning the “unfinished project” of “perfecting” and finalizing “settler colonial sovereignty claims.” (106)
Opponents of land claims in Ontario and New York use strategies that, while they appear different, are actually based on “similar axiomatic assumptions that consistently delegitimize Indigenous peoples and their claims,” including “‘One Nation’ discourses” (106). “This powerful fantasy of singular nationhood is repeated time and again” (106).
“One Nation discourses,” Mackey explains, are self-evident and embodied in daily rituals, such as the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of “O Canada” (107). Those discourses make it “difficult to comprehend that Indigenous people might have historical and ongoing rationales to resist dominant forms of . . . nationalism, an inability that is prevalent because of the ubiquity and power of the common-sense jurisdictional imaginary” (107). They communicate the notion that if one is in Canada or the United States, one must want to be Canadian or American (107). “The expectation that Indigenous people should naturally become enveloped (some might say ‘caged’) within the national jurisdiction and imaginary was common during my fieldwork,” Mackey writes:
It was most often expressed . . . as the most logical and natural state of affairs, and emerges from the foundational fantasy of entitlement to define land and others. . . . The unselfconsciousness with which such a view is held and expressed demonstrations the power of quotidian common sense. At the same time, it shows how settler senses of entitlement allow their proponents to feel deeply certain of the logic that bolsters their relative privilege. The sense of righteous entitlement means that they fail to understand that the settler project is not complete, and that many Indigenous people do not share the common-sense logic of the jurisdictional imaginary because they continue to be members of sovereign nations. (108)
These shared assumptions regarding a unitary or unified nation-state, she continues,
condense a bundle of interconnected assumptions making up a shared settler logic. . . . the underlying assumptions are: that the nation is and should be the primary allegiance; that non-Indigenous people have the right to superintend and control the behaviour of Indigenous people; and that the nation had, and continues to have, superior sovereignty and jurisdiction. (108)
Moreover, “ideas about race, culture and sovereignty intersect to produce specific versions of racialized exclusion of Indigenous people based on their claims to land and sovereignty” (108), and “non-Indigenous minority cultures an be used as a cudgel to delegitimize Indigenous peoples, governments and cultures” (108-09).
Mackey notes that anti-land claim activists claim to be innocent of racism by “proposing that they cannot be racist because they accept cultural differences within the nation and community” (109). That argument is similar to official multiculturalism in Canada; she argues that “the most important for the settler national project was to maintain the white settler’s unquestioned right—and expectation—to define and manage the nation, its right to decide when and how minorities are allowed both their similarities and their differences,” and that official multiculturalism abducts “minority cultures and the mythologized ‘tolerance’ for cultural differences,” and uses them “for the national project without promoting genuine respect or equality” (109). Anti-land claims activists “argue for one set of laws, and appear to say that it is not necessary to have one singular culture, thus feeding into the notion that they are not racist because they respect different cultures,” Mackey continues. “They also say that they respect Indigenous cultural heritage. Yet these frameworks also limit and define tolerable forms of such ‘multicultural’ difference in precise, clearly defined ways”—in other words, only those communities that “can be encompassed within the unity (and legal jurisdiction) of the nation” are acceptable, and Indigenous nations, whose land rights and sovereignty cannot exist within a unitary nation-state, are not acceptable (109). Therefore, anti-land claims activists demand that Indigenous peoples “behave like loyal national and local subjects” (110). “The essence of this demand is that Indigenous people must, like other minority populations, ‘melt’ into the supposedly unified ‘mosaic’ or ‘melting pot’ of the multicultural jurisdictional imaginary of the nation” (110).
All of this is possible because of a focus on culture rather than land rights and sovereignty:
focusing on culture vacates Indigenous and settler realities and histories, as if land rights and sovereignty are only about cultural preservation, and not, as they are, also based on historical material processes related to competing claims for territory and sovereignty. Such assertions attempt to produce Indigenous peoples as equivalent to other minority cultures within a multicultural model that limits “ethnic” cultures to non-threatening relics, preserved within the modern nation-building project. They reveal a push to discipline Indigenous people to assimilate into a liberal version of tolerance for (limited) cultural differences, acceptable because they do not challenge unmarked settler dominance in the nation-state. (110)
And yet, the simple fact is that Indigenous sovereignty has not been eliminated, and it continues to challenge the founding myths of settler nationhood (111). “The important concern . . . for analysis,” Mackey continues,
should not be only tracking the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from the nation-state, but also the politics of how threatening and dangerous differences are disciplined . . . through discourses of cultural recognition, inclusion, and tolerance. . . . So this move, in which Indigenous people’s claims for land and sovereignty are “disciplined” by equating them with other minority groups, is a move to push more threatening material and cultural claims to the strictly (multi-) “cultural” realm, proposing that tolerance for difference cultures makes its proponents innocent of racism. In this case, Indigenous claims to land are threatening to the very core of the settler project to appropriate (and keep) land, and eliminate Indigenous people as Indigenous peoples who can assert sovereignty as nations. Here settler “multicultural” logic attempts to contain and define Indigenous peoples as domestic. (112)
Despite the activists’ claims to be devoid of racism, their arguments depend upon “racialized thinking and practice”:
Domesticating Indigenous polities (materially and culturally) into colonial and national projects and settler jurisdictional imaginaries has always depended (and continues to depend) upon racialized thinking and practice, even if framed as “multicultural.” The assumptions underlying the doctrines of terra nullius and Discovery that are legitimized and continue to underpin this singular jurisdiction depend upon the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty and the dehumanization of Indigenous peoples and governments. The fantasies of entitlement that naturalized settler national sovereignty still depend upon that categorization of Indigenous peoples and governments as naturally inferior. Thus, the conditions of possibility for the settler nation are necessarily infused with profoundly racialized thinking and practice. (112)
Considering “these desires to encompass Indigenous people within the settler jurisdictional imaginary as ‘structures of feeling’” suggests that “they are not only or fundamentally individual attitudes and emotions”:
As historically and structurally produced structures of feeling, they emerge from a long history of settler ideology and practice in which they have been, and continue to be, naturalized. Thus, if these people are “racist,” settler nation-states are racist too. All of us who defend settler nation-states’ jurisdictional imaginaries depend upon these racialized structures and ideas. (113)
“The settler project has meant that settlers feel empowered to define the terms of inclusion in the nation-state, as if the settler state always-already has legitimate and singular sovereignty, and can therefore define the terms of inclusion and exclusion of all populations, especially Indigenous peoples,” Mackey continues. “It has historically been the white settler majority’s unquestioned right—and expectation—to define and manage the nation, its right to decide when and how minorities are allowed both their similarities and their differences” (113).
So, the claim of UCE activists that Indigenous reservations are a “disaster” and that Indigenous people don’t pay taxes or share “family values” contains a message “that Indigenous people do not behave as good citizens, and that this is inherent in the reservation culture of Indigenous people” (114). “The notion that Indigenous people were not ‘good citizens’ who pay their taxes, work hard and behave lawfully, recurred often in my interviews,” Mackey writes. “Such normative judgments about labour and contribution to society, and by extension the value of their personhood, were commonly evoked as an often implicitly racialized means to discredit Indigenous cultures and claims for land” (114). In addition, UCE activists claimed that the Cayuga’s land rights were based in a dead and finished history, while at the same time they expressed a fictionalized version of history—a story that settlers defeated the Cayuga in battle, thereby conquering them—which “illustrates how easily history can be revised to justify ongoing inequality. It also demonstrates how history is used in contradictory ways”: history is “ejected from the argument” when it doesn’t suit the settler’s goals, but then “resurrected when it bolsters his argument” (115-16). “Others who talked about the need for one nation and one set of rules also tended to make derogatory judgments about Indigenous peoples’ contributions to society, constructing them as freeloaders who want special rights,” Mackey continues. “Such discourses express a deep sense of entitlement to define and police the norms of acceptable behaviour in North America. They also . . . work to characterize Indigenous nations as illegitimate political entities” (116).
According to Mackey, arguments framed as being about equality are ultimately about political assimilation:
Many CKCN supporters also expressed the self-evident assumption that Indigenous peoples and lands are, and should continue to be, encapsulated and assimilated into national boundaries, jurisdiction and laws in the name of equality, fairness and economic efficiency. These examples illustrate how assumptions emerging from terra nullius and “state of nature” frameworks are informed by the settler jurisdictional imaginary, and augmented by liberal ideologies of equality and entitlement. These frameworks are tied together through concepts of improving labour and paying taxes as actions which entitle people to ownership of land. It is through these actions that people are seen to become legitimate citizens of sovereign nation-states. (117)
Arguments about the indivisibility of the nation-state, she continues, depend
on transforming Indigenous rights into a claim for special treatment based on race, and not an ethical demand for justice based on the colonization and appropriation of the land of sovereign Indigenous nations. . . . The ubiquity of . . . interpretations of Indigenous sovereignty as essentially race-based and “racist” is another example of how compelling liberal nationalist settler narratives are, and how difficult it is for people to even think outside the box of “one nation”—a nation normatively composed of minority and majority cultures and one set of laws. (119)
That inability in Canada is surprising, given the fact that Quebec arguably exists as a nation within the Canadian state. Nevertheless, “CKCN members are unable to understand that land rights are based on histories of sovereignty and overlapping, fluid jurisdictions between peoples, histories that predate nation-states as singular, jurisdictional entities, and in which relationships were negotiated between independent Indigenous and colonizing nations and powers” (19). Indeed, Mackey suggests,
Indigenous nations negotiate relationships with Canada today on the basis of forms of sovereignty and self-determination that existed before the nation-states that exist in their territories today, even if such sovereignty is not the same as Western national sovereignty. Treaties, therefore, were not originally domestic (inside the nation) issues. . . . From this perspective, debates about land rights are not about the place of minority cultures within singular nations. They are instead debates about how to work out a relationship between separate, sovereign nations. (119-20)
“In addition, despite the brutal racism of settler states’ treatment of Indigenous peoples, land rights are not racial rights,” Mackey points out. “Indigenous nations were not founded as ‘races’ and are not a ‘race,’ despite the long process in which the settler state racialized them” (120).
Mackey argues that
axiomatic views of the nation as singular, indivisible and a “collective individual” are very resilient and powerful, and . . . they emerge—increasingly rigid and inflexible on one hand, and yet flexible and contradictory on the other—especially in moments of crisis, when peoples’ settled expectations are threatened. Framed in the language of modernity, progress and equality, these are nevertheless “settler states of feeling” because they are underpinned by the assumption that the Crown and the nation-state naturally have superior underlying title to Indigenous lands, and that Indigenous peoples, governments and territories should naturally be encompassed by, assimilated into and managed within a singular unified settler project. These discourses juxtapose culture, race, territory and jurisdiction in ways that draw on older racialized frameworks of colonial entitlement and also defend and reproduce contemporary dispossession in complex and flexible ways. (120)
In fact, these discourses are attempts to erase something that won’t go away: Indigenous sovereignty (120):
These efforts at jurisdiction over Indigenous lives and governments make profound sense within the broader context of centuries of settler colonial and national bolstering of key assumptions and frameworks of settler entitlement and superior sovereignty. The powerful, ubiquitous and axiomatic nature of these fantasies of entitlement makes it understandable that they are used in this way, and it is not a matter of blaming individuals for these foundational (to settler colonialism) ideas. They embody the dilemma and the reproductive labour at the heart of the settler project. However, if what is at stake is imagining or building a decolonized relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples and governments, these are precisely the kinds of ideas I argue need to be shifted and unsettled, because of their effects. They close down the possibility of people even beginning to recognize that Indigenous nations are sovereign nations that may have different, yet equally valuable, ontologies and epistemologies of sociality and property. (121)
These ideas, she concludes, “deny the possibility, and the need, to imagine and build a decolonized space within which one might recognize and negotiate differences, interconnections and autonomies” (121).
Here Mackey shifts to a preview of her arguments about decolonization. “Theorizations about how to decolonize settler colonialism are complex, complicated and emergent,” she suggests, pointing out that “no one pretends to have the full authoritative answer of how to decolonize” (121). What is clear is that decolonization will mean uncertainty, because it will be messy, dynamic and contradictory (121-22). “[D]enaturalizing settler beliefs and authoritative practices based on supposedly self-evident certainties about the primacy of settler-state sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples is important,” however, as part of the decolonization process. “If the construction and defence of certainty is at the core of ongoing settler colonialism, then settler uncertainty may actually be necessary for decolonization,” she contends. “Living without the entitlement to know everything (and therefore be certain) will likely lead to settler discomfort, a discomfort that may need to be embraced instead of resisted in order to participate in the difficult work of decolonization” (122).
Those words lead into the third section of the book, “Imagining Otherwise: Embracing Settler Uncertainty,” and its introduction, “Treaty as a Verb.” Given the “frameworks” that have “entailed perceiving Indigenous lifeways as inferior, underserving and unacceptable, and sovereignty and land rights as unreasonable, unnatural and dangerous,” frameworks which have “repeatedly denied even the possibility of substantive Indigenous sovereignty and autonomy,” Mackey asks, “how might it be possible to imagine decolonized relationships between Indigenous and settler people in settler nations? If . . . the production and defence of settler certainty and settler futurity have been central to the ongoing colonial process, where to we go from here?” (125). No one knows what decolonization in settler states will look like or what it will require: “The process is necessarily uncertain” (125). However, the “axiomatic assumptions” of settler peoples are their “cognitive prisons” and those assumptions therefore need to be unsettled (125). Indeed, “denaturalizing settler beliefs and authoritative practices based on supposedly self-evident certainties about the primacy of settler-state sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples is important, both in terms of law and public policy, and also for settler subjects and national cultures” (125). Echoing Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, Mackey suggests that “settler colonialism is a complex and singular social formation concerned with the appropriation of Indigenous land,” and for that reason “decolonization must also be a material process”—it must involve returning land to Indigenous peoples (125-26). The third part of her book will argue “that to even be able to imagine the possibilities of such material change and conceptual re-imagining will require . . . an ‘epistemological shift’ towards a stance of settler uncertainty and openness, as a starting point to imagine and practice otherwise” (126).
For example, “[o]ne epistemological problem addressed in most land rights cases is how we determine to whom the lands of North America belong. How one goes about formulating an answer depends on one’s epistemologies” (126). Within settler epistemologies, answering that question involves “a number of foundational relationships and concepts”:
These include the ideas that: things, in particular land, can actually be “owned”; people are individual sovereign subjects essentially separated from each other and nature; the highest value in human relationships with land and the natural world is based on particular kinds of labour perceived as “improvement”; specific kinds of improvement can make a human being into the owner and master of land and nature; and that other kinds of relationships with land preclude that ownership. (126)
These assumptions intersect with the notion that those who “improve” the land “are essentially superior to those who don’t, and that they are thus naturally entitled to the privileges they reap” (126). All of these interconnected beliefs “are integral to the supposedly obvious argument, embedded in law, that settler governments have legitimate title to the land of the nation-state, and that the nation-state may then ‘give’ Indigenous people, or ‘allow’ Indigenous people to have, specific limited, or bare, ‘land rights’ and/or sometimes possession” (126).
A first step towards decolonization, then, would be “to recognize and value Indigenous world views, and not subsume Indigenous lifeways into Western and national frameworks of superiority” (126). However, it’s hard to do that in an appropriate manner, and there are many roadblocks:
It might be possible to reinvent, alter and renegotiate how we experience and negotiate relationships, so that we move away from colonialism. However, to do so requires first that we as settlers recognize that our self-evident epistemological and ontological assumptions are specific and not universal. It also requires persistent willingness and motivation to understand, or at least respect, that there are equally valid epistemological and ontological alternatives. (127)
One of the dangers involved is the fact that “disengaged (or possessive) curiosity about the ‘other’ can easily become fetishizing and objectifying” (127). “Learning about Indigenous people can . . . be used as a way to appropriate knowledge or invent a fantasy of ‘becoming indigenous’ for settlers,” Mackey argues. “Curiosity without mindful engagement can . . . result in self-referential and narcissistic settler identifications with, and projections onto, Indigenous peoples that involve objectifying Indigenous peoples into precisely the limited stereotypes discussed here” (127). It is “more difficult to respectfully listen to, comprehend, and respect the authority of the more challenging knowledge and wisdom of Indigenous peoples” (127).
One possibility for Settlers is to attend to the “Indigenous traditions and knowledge developed in the work of Indigenous scholars,” work which contains “powerful, vital and absolutely necessary sources for theorizing how to (re)conceptualize and (re)build . . . non-colonizing visions and practices” (128). For instance, concepts and practices of treaty
offer important epistemological models of relationality that unsettle the bounded, binary oppositions central to the epistemologies and practices of mastery and entitlement. . . . They also mark out an important space—a necessary space, yet also a limited space—for non-Indigenous people in the process of creating such relationships. (128)
I was happy to see Mackey emphasize the importance of thinking about treaty, because her argument confirms my suspicion that studying treaty is a useful point of entry into decolonization and into Settler participation in that process.
“[S]ome of the main roadblocks to imagining and practicing decolonization are axiomatic settler frameworks and their entangled practices,” Mackey continues, so “it makes sense that we, as settler descendants, should take responsibility to engage in learning how to participate in this process” (128). “Fortunately Indigenous traditions and theorizing have opened an important, indeed a central, place for non-Indigenous people in the decolonizing process” (128). The first step, she contends, is “to see ourselves as already ‘living within Indigenous sovereignty,’” and part of that process will mean “engaging seriously with diverse Indigenous perspectives on foundational relationships regarding treaty” (129). IN the 1990s, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (which I have yet to read) argued that we are all “treaty peoples,” because European rights in the Americas came about through treaties made with Indigenous nations; therefore Canadians are participants in the treaty process, through the actions of their ancestors and as contemporary beneficiaries of the treaties (129-30). Therefore, Mackey writes, “the idea of settler peoples’ responsibilities for treaty agreements is central to decolonization. It does not . . . mean learning to ‘think like an Indian,’ but it does involve difficult and sometimes frightening re-thinking and re-experiencing one’s place in the world and thus one’s relationships to others” (130). A focus on treaties will involve “major epistemological shifts” (130), and will require that Settlers “unsettle the myriad epistemological certainties that have been instilled in us for centuries, based as they are on axiomatic assumptions about proper and acceptable relations between peoples, property and personhood” (130-31). The way that treaty is conceptualized is important: the Crown sees treaties in different ways from Indigenous peoples, as an extinguishment of rights and acceptance of the supremacy of the Crown, and the reserves as gifts (131). These notions based on assumptions about Crown sovereignty trumping Indigenous sovereignty (131). Indigenous views of treaty are very different (131).
According to Mackey, “the foundations of settler identities and practices need to be unsettled so that we can learn to live with, and even embrace, the uncertainty that is necessary in order to learn how to imagine and build decolonized relationships” (132). “I am imagining a principled, historically aware stance of self-conscious refusal to mobilize axiomatic knowledge and action that have emerged from settler entitlement and certainty,” she writes. “This kind of refusal may open space for genuine attention to alternative frameworks and seed possibilities for creative and engaged relationships and collective projects” (132). Decolonization will unsettling “because it requires major material and conceptual changes” (132); however, the first step is understanding “Indigenous theorizations of treaty relationships” (132).
In this section of the book, she explores “alternative epistemologies aimed at mutuality and relationality through difference rather than mastery of one over the other, of alliance without subjugation rather than equality as sameness. Learning to understand and even experience such an epistemology might allow settler citizens to see and hear differently, and learn to develop decolonized relationships” (132-33):
Because the notion of all of settlers as ‘treaty peoples’ uses existing historical agreements that should be everyone’s shared responsibility as their foundation, it can be seen as a potential invitation to non-Indigenous peoples to develop new relationships with Indigenous peoples. Treaties, as conceptualized in Indigenous theory, offer a legal and moral rationale for sharing decolonizing labour. Indigenous versions of treaties and sovereignty are also theories: they have epistemologies embedded and elaborated within them and embody important and sophisticated theorizations of how to know, understand and live in the world. They provide . . . visions that help people trying to enact the kinds of transformations or ‘epistemological shifts’ necessary to decolonize. These theorizations are not invitations to become Indigenous, or to see like an Indigenous person. They are invitations to be(come) responsible, by learning how to listen and respond appropriately as partners in particular treaty relationships. (133)
Settler epistemologies and practices, she continues,
consistently construct and naturalize dualistic and binary models of home, belonging, identity and property: land is either owned fully as individual property, not owned at all, or belongs to the crown who as a recognized state can own land in common; identities are bounded and homogenous, fixed and non-negotiable, one either is or isn’t American; homes are perceived as either completely safe because they contain no difference or conflict, or they are seen as deeply threatened by differences that cannot be assimilated. Such oppositions and boundaries animate judgments of superior and inferior labour and personhood. Clear fences and borders mark the ideal inside and dangerous outside of properties and identities, fixing the characteristics of those entitled to define others and appropriate land, as well as those who are deemed naturally un-entitled and undeserving. Such epistemologies of mastery offer no window to imagine a shared project of building relationships within homelands that can account for complex and often violent, but sometimes fruitful, overlapping histories, or the resulting similarities and differences between settler and Indigenous peoples. This is the epistemology of mastery underlying what I have called the settler “fantasy of entitlement.” Decolonization will require moving away from such epistemologies in order to imagine and build different relationships. (133)
“The philosophies and practices of ‘living treaty,’” Mackey continues, “offer the potential to move beyond such rigid binary understandings of relationships, without losing sight of the important political differences and incommensurability that are important to maintain. They offer ways to think about key epistemological shifts that contribute toward, and are necessary for, decolonization practices” (133-34). These epistemological changes will not be easy but they are necessary, and they will require courage (134).
Mackey’s model of treaties is the Covenant Chain, which she suggests is “recorded in the Two Row Wampum, or Guswentha,” made between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 1613 (134). “It is understood by the Haudenosaunee as the basis on which all subsequent treaties were made and as a model of relationships between peoples” (134). The Guswentha is a white belt with two purple rows, representing two vessels travelling down the same river: one, the Haudenosaunee, and the other, the Dutch. Neither interferes with the movement of the other as they travel down the river side by side (134-35). This image is typically understood as suggesting “separation and non-interference,” but Indigenous scholars note that the river is shared, and that the beads between the rows suggest connection, being bound together and independent at the same time (135). Those three rows, according to Leroy Little Bear, “represent peace, friendship and mutual respect” (135). The lines are what keep people who are distinct from one another together: “They define their relationship so that they walk beside each other with respect, entwined and independent, as equal brothers rather than as father and son” (136). “This kind of relationship is not a matter of having power over another, but of negotiating both autonomy and relationship simultaneously.,” Mackey notes. “These are not dualistic relationships based on subordination or equality, superiority or inferiority, freedom or slavery, or autonomy versus interconnection. Instead, the two-row wampum represents a more complex negotiation around autonomy and interdependence” (137).
“Part of the sophistication of the concept of the Guswentha and other treaties is the notion of renewal, which emerges from and is necessitated by a focus on attending to the lived and changing relationships symbolized by the spaces between the rows,” Mackey suggests (139). Periodically the Covenant Chain needed to be polished free of rust and tarnish, suggesting that the treaty needed to be renewed, that the treaty relationship has deep roots in the past and changes over time (139-40). For Mackey,
The Covenant Chain indicates that the collective past of relationships must be recognized and dealt with in order to imagine and build ongoing relationships. Treaty means that participants should meet at appropriate intervals to assess, discuss and ‘polish’ the ongoing relationship to make sure it is still strong. Thus, the treaty is a vibrant, supple, responsive, ongoing interactional process that requires regular injections of human creativity and relationality in order to ensure the viability of the ongoing relationship, focusing on what lives between the wampum rows. (140)
Western models of treaty are, in comparison, more static and less participatory (140).
“For many Indigenous peoples, treaty was and is a sacred covenant made between sovereign nations in which they agree to ongoing relationships of respect, friendship and peace, and thus recognition of the ongoing nationhood, autonomy and rights of Indigenous nations,” Mackey writes:
“Treaty,” seen in this way, potentially disrupts settler senses of entitlement to land because seeing all of us as “treaty peoples” brings material and social aspects of colonial pasts into the present in a manner that recognizes the ongoing autonomy of Indigenous peoples and the ongoing treaty relationships in which the settler nation-state participates as one party to (and beneficiary of) past land agreements, not as the assumed unilateral sovereign. (140-41)
However, “many settler governments and citizens see treaty as an object, not a process” (141). “Therefore, instead of seeing treaty as an object—a noun—I think that one way to begin to decolonize is to learn to conceptualize and experience treaty-making as a verb,” Mackey suggests. Thinking about treaty as a verb would be a way to recognize that it is a “historical and ongoing, exploratory and often uncertain process of building relationships for which non-Indigenous people must also take responsibility and in which they must engage. In other words, we need to think about how ‘we treaty,’ and how to behave responsibly if ‘we treaty together’ or ‘make treaty’ together. It is a relationship that we build over time” (141). Like all relationships, there are rules of respect and autonomy, but there is no defined or definitive trajectory because a treaty is relational and interactive (141). Relationships are by their nature uncertain, requiring us to respond to an other who is both autonomous from and connected to us (141), and treaty relationships are no different. “If we carefully examine Indigenous notions of treaty, we see that treaty has a sophisticated and complex set of meanings and instructions that are tied to the careful nurturing of ongoing relationships through time. Treaty is a participatory verb” (141).
Mackey notes that the book’s last two chapters are case studies of Indigenous views of treaty in action (141). “I do not offer these case studies in order to propose a general, universally applicable framework that encapsulates a model of decolonization,” she writes; rather, they are intended to tease out “important and provocative elements that are ‘good to think’ with, and may offer entry points that others may consider, and/or use, in order to develop their own relationships in different moments and contexts” (142). They suggest that “it is possible to hear, see and think differently, and that unsettling ontological certainty by rejecting epistemologies of mastery may often require what seems like terrifying risk-taking, but that it need not be disturbing or unsettling in a damaging way,” she concludes. “Unsettling old patterns and risking new ways of seeing and forming relationships between Indigenous and settler people may in fact sometimes be exhilarating, even liberating, as settler-subjects learn to turn sedimented ontological cages and epistemologies of mastery on their heads” (142).
Those words lead into the next chapter, “‘Turning the Doctrine of Discovery on its Head’: The Onondaga Land Rights Action.” In March 2005, the Onondaga Nation “asserted its rights to a wide stretch of New York State” in what they described as a “land rights action” in which “they explicitly sought to work with other people in the community to improve human and environmental relations” (145). “The Onondaga land rights action explicitly works against the oppositional pattern described in Part One of this book,” Mackey writes:
The Onondaga want recognition of their title, but they do not wish to posses[s] or own the land in the Western sense of property. Their aim is neither to control nor subdue the land. They do not, however, present their view of property as a rejection of settler peoples or lands. They present their land rights action as something which can secure their own and their neighbours’ relationships with the land and each other for the present and future. They therefore reject the way in which the settler contract defines relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, without “threatening” or “unsettling” other aspects of the settler contract. They simply live the reality that multiple autonomies exist, as in the Guswentha. (146)
The Onondaga’s goals were thus “relational, responsible and inclusive, as they specifically refer to all the people and the land of central New York” (147):
The Onondaga were never conquered. They have always had autonomy and nationhood. Thus, Onondaga sovereignty (as they define it) and their ongoing relationship with colonial and now national and state governments are firmly embedded in a sense of continuity over time and in different circumstances. . . . The Onondaga have consistently worked to build relationships with their neighbours. At the same time, nation-state institutions and courts lack legitimacy amongst the Onondaga, as a result of their failure—both historically and in the present—to fulfill mutual obligations as set out in earlier treaties and agreements. (148)
For that reason, although legal action was part of their strategy, the Onondaga did much of their work outside of the courtroom, in the community (148). They built relationships with other local citizens, “collaborative practices” which “emerge from long-standing Onondaga traditional beliefs and roles, enacted within a 21st century context” (148). These alliances were created “long before making the legally framed land rights action. This approach turns the logic of many property-based oppositional land rights patterns on their heads” (148). “The Onondaga have developed and communicated a notion of shared responsibility for the future and for human relationships within specific geographical spaces and with overlapping histories and futures,” Mackey continues. “This notion of shared responsibility is based upon a contemporary strategy that draws on Indigenous notions of treaty as based on sharing the land. . . . The image presented by the Onondaga is of healing and reconciliation between people who share territory, but do not compromise their autonomy” (150). For these reasons, Mackey suggests, the Onondaga “are living the relationships that are embodied in the Guswentha”: relationships of autonomy and interaction (150).
The legal context of the Onondaga approach is important. In 2005, a federal court found that the Oneida Nation could not have property it had purchased declared a reservation, because they had waited to long to make their claim and so were ineligible for relief; the court also stated that it was unwilling to disrupt the “settled expectations”—the court’s term—of current non-Indigenous occupants of the land in question (150-51). On the basis of that decision, a request to re-hear the claim of the Cayuga Nation was also rejected by the courts (152). All of this meant that the Onondaga Nation had to make its argument in a new legal context, “within which any possessory or so-called ‘disruptive’ claim could be thrown out” (153). The only legal remedy left was financial compensation, which was deemed by the courts to be less disruptive (153). However, the Onondaga didn’t want money; exchanging land rights for money was, their lawyer said in court, “morally repugnant to them,” like selling their mother (153).
The arguments the Onondaga Nation made in court “demonstrate precisely the kinds of epistemological shifts—the actions of turning common-sense colonial ideas and practices ‘on their heads,’ and thus unsettling the ontological certainty of settler colonialism—that . . . are essential to decolonization processes in settler nations” (153-54). They did not assert a “possessory right” to their land (156). Instead, they wanted “title but not possession” of that land (156). The judge had a hard time understanding this, and the prosecutor representing the State of New York could not get his head around the idea at all (156-63). That’s because the Onondaga were arguing “against the expectations of a liberal property regime within a capitalist economy in which liberal philosophical principles and capitalist economic principles are co-constitutive of legal frameworks” (157). Indeed, their lawyer had to establish “that a concept of title without ownership exists” (157). “By stressing the Onondaga desire not to disturb the possession of current owners,” their lawyer “emphasizes the important legal point that the Onondaga land rights action is not the same as the Oneida claim,” which was rejected earlier in court (158). For that reason, theirs was not a “disruptive claim” (158). The Onondaga explicitly did not want to evict the present owners of the land; they stated in court that they had been through that experience and didn’t want to do the same thing to someone else (158). That statement, Mackey suggests, “reveals a powerful strategy of relational autonomy through its explicit emotional and experiential linkage between the Onondaga nation—as a singular yet collective subject . . .—and its potential opponents. In this way, the Onondaga assert some similarity of experience and a form of empathy, but not sameness” (158).
“If we think of the Two Row Wampum as a metaphor,” Mackey writes, “the Onondaga here actively ‘polish the chain,’ refusing to stay isolated in the image of two separate and opposed parallel rows, and shifting the focus of the relationship to the middle beads of ongoing relationships of respect and friendship” (159). They didn’t want to be in court; they tried to negotiate with the United States and with the State of New York directly, as sovereign nations do, and only reluctantly took the case to court (160). The compromise represented by their argument “is a manner of working between the rows of the wampum: asserting autonomy and interdependence” (160). For Mackey,
the Onondaga, inside and outside of court, enact “treaty as a verb.” Their approach demonstrates how, if we use the metaphor of the Guswenta, they went about negotiating the rows in between and working on polishing the beads of respect, friendship and peace, while also asserting and maintaining their autonomy. Their approach both respects the court and also proposes an alternative epistemology—an approach of relational autonomy and of refusing to see the land as a commodity. . . . the Onondaga presented their complex epistemologies of land and relationships in a respectful yet challenging manner within a U.S. Supreme Court courtroom. Their approach demonstrates how it is possible to respond in a strategic manner that is not directly oppositional. (162)
At this point, though, “the nuanced and strategic treatying” is “quite one-sided,” because the Onondaga are doing
the work of treatying within the rows, while the sedimented laws of the nation, and the Western epistemologies that inform them, allow the authoritative Court (representing the settler nation) the power to refuse (or accept) the key assumptions of relationality and autonomy in treaty relationships that have been proposed by the Onondaga. In the courtroom, the power of the settler state and its assumed supremacy is visceral and raw, even if partially hidden, and the settler jurisdictional and juridical imaginary is paramount. (163)
Nevertheless, the Onondaga land rights action “raises the important question of what form treatying as a verb might take if it were more reciprocal” (163). “What might ‘treatying together’ look like if it also reflected settler desires for decolonization and treaty practices?” Mackey asks (163).
That question is the subject of her next chapter, “Creative Uncertainty and Decolonizing Relations.” “In this chapter I discuss two alliances between Indigenous and settler people that offer provocative ways to imagine decolonizing relationships”: how members of the organization SHARE and their allies, the Cayuga Nation of New York, work together; and how the Onondaga Nation and their allies, NOON (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation) “practice and describe their actions” (165). “I argue that the activities and developing relationships between the Onondaga and NOON, and the Cayuga and SHARE, potentially nurture epistemological shifts that may allow people to enact the kinds of decolonizing relational ontologies I discussed in the previous chapter in their day-to-day lives,” Mackey writes:
They do this by demonstrating how it may be possible to practice “treaty as a verb,” by creatively enacting reciprocal “treatying” in the present. They demonstrate a way to understand the possibility of simultaneous relations of distinction and interdependence. They go beyond colonial relations of treaty modelled on hierarchical relationships, usually meaning entitled colonizers and subordinate Indigenous peoples, in favour of a respectful one of connected yet autonomous equals. I describe how people practice “treatying together” through these alliances. (165-66)
Mackey cites Robin Wall Kimmerer’s view of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships to place and the idea that settlers might be able to become indigenous to place by taking care of the land over the long term—even though she’s uncomfortable with the phrase “becoming Indigenous” because it suggests an appropriation of Indigenous symbols and relationships to land in order to claim indigeneity, without respecting Indigenous ways of living and land rights (166). That discomfort leads her to argue that “settlers must have a very careful approach to relationships and alliances with Indigenous peoples, to be sure we don’t, with all the best intentions, reproduce colonial patterns. If we wish, as settler peoples, to ‘treaty’ (as a verb)” with Indigenous peoples, “it is necessary to undertake the sometimes difficult and uncomfortable work of unsettling ourselves. Doing so requires particular forms of reflection and restraint on our part” (167).
Here, Mackey returns to the notion of uncertainty: “decolonizing, for settlers, includes developing the ability to live more comfortably with uncertainty about how relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people emerge and change” (167). It also means “developing relational autonomies” and understanding that they might mean that “power relationships are not defined and apparently ‘certain’” (167). “When approached through relational autonomy, knowing how to think and relate may at times seem frightening and uncomfortable, because expected practices no longer work in the same way,” she argues. “Expectations are unsettled. Yet, at the same time, if relationships are released from repetitive and limiting epistemologies of mastery . . . we see that such moments of uncertainty and discomfort may indeed be productive and potentially decolonizing.” (167). Uncertainty must be embraced “as a key to creativity and imaginative visions that depend on unsettling ‘settled expectations’ and self-evident ‘settler states of feeling’” (167).
SHARE began in 1999 as a response to the hostile resistance to the Cayuga land claim. It published newsletters, organized gatherings and Indigenous festivals, and visited local schools (169-70). In 2001, the group bought a 70-acre organic farm within the Cayuga homeland, “located in a place of deep significance to the Cayuga, beside Great Gully and adjacent to Cayuga Castle, which had been the largest Cayuga settlement site before it was destroyed during the Sullivan Campaign” (170). SHARE’s ultimate goal was to pay off the mortgage and “repatriate the land to the Cayuga Nation, the only landless nation of the Haudenosaunee, an event which finally occurred in 2005” (170). “Because of the very volatile land claim protests in the area,” Mackey writes, “they wished to help create a space in the Cayuga homeland for Cayuga people to come to, generate positive Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships and build a site that might help educate non-Indigenous people in the area about local and national Indigenous issues” (170). SHARE operated the farm for five years as an education centre that advocated for Indigenous peoples, and “as a place for diverse people to reconnect with each other and the land. . . . They created a meeting space and a starting place for learning to build different kinds of relationships,” and that was a way of working towards decolonization (170). Through the farm, SHARE developed alliances with Cayuga and Haudenosaunee people (170).
Mackey worked at the farm as a volunteer (170). There, she met Onondaga members of SHARE, and they introduced her to members of NOON, an organization that “has been very involved in developing complex and interconnecting relationships of alliance with the Onondaga” (171). “Both SHARE and NOON work to engage in relations that aim to recognize both the distinctness and interconnectedness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Americans,” Mackey states:
They work to develop relationships based on the recognition that Indigenous people and settlers are all treaty peoples, and that settler people have responsibilities to build relationships of respect with Indigenous peoples and the land they share. They try to create alternative frameworks that might allow settlers to be reflexive about their own entitlement and privilege, in part by learning how to listen, hear and act differently. (171)
All of this required a rethinking of the idea of risk:
Although “risk” for UCE and CKCN had been seen as necessarily negative, synonymous with danger and loss of property, privilege and ontological certainty, SHARE members took risks and embraced uncertainty in order to find new ways of connecting. How they do so also shows the potential pleasures and creative energy that can come from embracing uncertainty. (176)
One of the founders of SHARE told Mackey that she both understood and felt alienated from her community’s response to the Cayuga land claim; she was both “questioning common-sense expectations of settler entitlement,” but also “placing herself in a space in-between, in which she can also sympathize with the pain and anger of loss,” and thereby is “enacting treaty as a verb because acknowledging the possibly irreconcilable differences between the groups, she works between the rows, and in doing so takes the risk of unsettling her own entitlement” (177-78). However, the SHARE farm also meant taking on a more tangible financial risk: the purchase “was possible only because SHARE members went beyond good intentions about land rights and reconciliation, and took the risk to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ as settler people. They therefore risked their own financial health in order to make a space for decolonizing alliances” (179). Paying off the mortgage was difficult, and they worked constantly to sponsor festivals, grow organic vegetables, and seek out donations (179).
NOON didn’t buy a farm; instead, its members collaborated with the Onondaga Nation and other groups to present year-long educational events (180):
For non-Haudenosaunee participants, many of the events did not simply mean hearing about a different version of events, but about learning to hear differently and thus to experience how alternative versions of their own histories might shift frameworks of thinking. Instead of simply learning about difference as a detached observer, these moments may allow people to learn how to be different, to understand and relate in new ways that unsettle patterns of mastery. (181)
Learning to share power and authority is transformative, if unsettling and uncomfortable, but “discomfort and uncertainty are central fo settler decolonization” (182). “From the outset,” Mackey writes,
SHARE members engaged in alliances of relationality within which they decentred and unsettled themselves. One way of doing so was their constant attention to listening to what the Cayuga elders wanted. For settler subjects, to not be able to act as autonomous agents in control, especially when it comes to land and money, is not necessarily an easy task. SHARE members therefore worked hard to negotiate such relationships, constantly making sure they discussed and consulted with the Cayuga and the Haudenosaunee, following appropriate protocols of respect. (183-84)
“If we use the wampum metaphor, SHARE embers constantly worked to respectfully occupy the beads in the rows in between. But this sometimes meant giving over to uncertainty and loss of control,” she writes (184). Mackey notes that she has also experienced “moments of discomfort and learning” that have made her confront how her own “common-sense thinking and behaviour could unintentionally reproduce settler epistemologies.” Indeed, she continues, “sometimes ‘giving over’ to learning new epistemologies requires being reminded that we are different, that we cannot ‘become Indigenous’ or even understand other epistemologies simply by being curious and empathetic” (185). “The Onondaga Nation and NOON have continued to work for healing, to organize pressure to clean up Onondaga Lake, and many other actions and events,” Mackey writes (188). One example was the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, which promoted the covenants of that treaty: Indigenous and settler canoeists paddled from Albany, New York, to New York City, bringing to life the principles of the Guswenta (188).
Finally, Mackey reaches the conclusion of her book. “In this book I have shared my experiences of developing a more critical and nuanced approach to the often contradictory, and sometimes painful, ‘spectacular life’ of Canadian and U.S. settler colonialism and those who challenge it, based on ethnographic study of specific local contexts,” she suggests (189). She notes the importance of concept of “settler structures of feeling” and her demonstration of how certainty builds settler colonialism and how uncertainty can challenge it (189-90). That certainty continues to exist even though
centuries of attempts to produce certainty in the naturalization and inevitability of “settledness” on another’s territory reveal it as a claim and not a reality. The work needed to secure certainty, as well as the repetition and shifting flexibility of the claims, reveals the anxiety that resides at the core of those claims. Indigenous people refuse to go away. Their vibrant collective and individual presence will not be encompassed or extinguished. (190)
Settlers find themselves locked in an unending process of trying to erase Indigenous presences (190). That struggle is rooted in fantasies of certainty:
Perhaps the modern fantasy of ontological certainty—linked to the “certainty” of private property emerging from agrarian cultures with their exchange-based systems, leading to its certainty about the superiority of private property and Western forms of “civilization” and capitalism, and the repetitious desire for singular fixed truths and boundaries—underpins the “settled expectations” I have explored in this book. Such certainty, however, will never be more than a fantasy, a fantastic but unrealizable desire. As we know, life is not certain, and cannot be made to be. The anxiety underpinning the search for settler and modern ontological certainty, then, will also not disappear, unless we can somehow shift our (modern settler) desires so that we resist pursuing such unrealizable fantasies of certainty. (191)
For Settlers, Mackey continues,
embracing particular kinds of uncertainty is likely required, even necessary for decolonization. For how can we take part in receptive and respectful relationships with our Indigenous partners/neighbours if we are trapped in our obsessive-compulsive search for certainty—to alleviate and deny the anxiety at its core? Settler colonialism is not settled, and never has been, because it is untenable, will be constantly resisted, and would only continue to produce more anxiety in any case. (191)
learning to let go of the desire for certainty might allow us (as modern settlers) to begin to find ways to develop new kinds of relationships based on actually trying to see the “other” and not enfold them within our own project of relieving anxiety, which is not only a settler problem but also a much grander problem of modernity. It is possible that facing up to such anxiety and uncertainty could open a space for hope in transforming relations—with ourselves, as well [as] with the Indigenous people who . . . are still willing to treaty with us. (191)
“How we might decolonize is not pre-scripted,” Mackey writes, but
it will likely require creativity, respect, alert vulnerability, restraint and learning from each other about how to “treaty as a verb.” It will also require the hard work of learning how to paddle a metaphorical course without crashing into our neighbours’ paths and taking over their canoes. . . . we settlers might first have to unsettle our expectations of certainty about the origin, the route and the destination, and learn to embrace the uncertainty of the voyage. (191)
“[T]he only certainty is knowing that, in order to continue to live here together on this planet, we must find ways to have good relationships with the land and with each other,” she concludes (191).
There is a lot going on in Unsettled Expectations. The notion of uncertainty is a powerful one, and it might end up shaping my plans for my long walking performance. Many people have encouraged me to plan my walk carefully by cacheing water, for instance, but perhaps I need to enact the principle of uncertainty by embracing the possibilities offered by the road. As I’ve already noted, I’m happy that Mackey’s argument confirms my intuition that the place to focus on in this project is the notion of treaty, and her suggestion that attending to Indigenous thinking about treaty has already been very fruitful for my research. I’ve read about the Covenant Chain before, and I wonder if, as an image, that could be worked into my walk(s). I’m sure it could be. And, in addition, Mackey’s bibliography is going to be incredibly useful. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this book at the book fair during the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences; even though it took more than a year for me to get around to reading it, the effort has paid off.
Mackey, Eva. Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, Fernwood, 2016.
Mazur, Laurie. “Despairing About the Climate Crisis? Read This.” Earth Island Journal, 22 July 2019, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/despairing-about-climate-crisis/.