Glen Coulthard

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Bound by reconciliation? Social criticism, treaty, and decolonization (2022)

Through a survey of the politics of reconciliation in Canada and as a concept within political thought, I reconstruct a social-theoretical approach to reconciliation that asks not ‘how can we be reconciled?’ but ‘is reconciliation possible in this society?’ This calls into question the presumption that reconciliation is possible and clarifies Indigenous critiques of reconciliation as social criticism. A social critique of reconciliation is important for it politicizes depoliticized practices, institutions, and social relations that renders our form of interdependence unfree and reveals the contradictions and antagonisms within a settler colonial society that furnishes the motivation for solidarity needed for an emancipatory politics that aims to give interdependence a free form. The presumption of reconciliation has also ‘bound’ approaches to criticism and treaty interpretation. Rather than reading Indigenous treaty visions as a form of immanent critique that demands a change in social relations, treaty is read as a form of internal criticism that in appealing to the gap between Canadian norms and practices seeks to restore the community’s moral standing. This downplays that the institutionalization of the norm of self-determination in Canada has been limited to white settler self-rule while the ends of this political association are constrained by anthropocentric and capitalist social relations. Because of this, self-determination needs to be transformed not extended; treaty represents more critical innovation than the realization of underlying potentials of Canadian norms and institutions. I conclude by returning to the political economy of reconciliation as revealing a shared yet differently experienced crisis of social reproduction caused by the indirect social relations of capitalist societies where needs are subordinated to profit, and that treaty represents an answer to this problem because it aims to transform an unfree form of interdependence into a free one keyed to the flourishing of human and non-human relations. Politically, this requires reading treaty less through the politics of reconciliation and more through the framework of articulation: the treaty partner is not given but must be made. Ultimately I argue that the danger of recuperations of reconciliation – and the presumption of its possibility – is that it downplays the politics of decolonization.

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Weaving our authority together: transforming the prairie Indigenous political order (2020)

This dissertation looks at the ways settler colonization has impacted Indigenous political orders on the prairies. Settler colonization has caused a move from a previously decentralized but regionally interconnected political order to a political order where Indigenous governments hold centralized authority but without substantive forms of regional interconnectedness. Indigenous governments also have corresponding set of formal rules around citizenship that precludes any overlapping memberships. I describe the creation of discreet realms of political authority and citizenship within the prairie Indigenous political order as the rise of exclusive sovereignty. In response, I argue we need to move towards a relational sovereignty. A relational sovereignty asks us to acknowledge the pluralist forms of how Indigenous peoples create political communities and corresponding practices of relational citizenship. A pluralist understanding of communities reveals the multitude of ways Indigenous peoples political organize within, outside, and between Indigenous governments. Relational citizenship asks us to acknowledge the ways people live out obligations of kinship and care with each other between various communities. I argue one way to move toward a relational sovereignty is through a wahkohtowin movement. I discuss an example of a wahkohtowin movement within the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission. I also outline a facilitative method I am tentatively calling relational governance that seeks to build capacity for a wahkohtowin movement. Relational governance asks Indigenous communities that are seeking to create new arrangements of governance “How do we locate responsibilities, within a relational web, based on Indigenous law?”

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Shattering Glass Boxes: Museums and Dene Resurgence against the Colonial Politics of Recognition (2015)

In aiming to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their land and destroy their cultures, settler colonialism increasingly operates by “recognizing” and appropriating Indigenous identities into dominant national narratives. However, Indigenous peoples globally have found numerous ways to unsettle colonial powers, including claiming and reclaiming cultural practices in formerly colonial institutions such as museums. This dissertation examines the role of museums in perpetuating and opposing settler colonialism in Canada. First, I critique museums as forwarding settler colonial narrative and material violence against Indigenous peoples. Second, I examine the ways that Indigenous peoples have been engaging in museum spaces in order to “turn away” from the colonial politics of recognition. This dissertation engages with literature in political theory, critical museum studies, Indigenous political thought, and the colonial politics of recognition. In the first two chapters I examine three logics of settler colonialism: disappearance, appropriation and obfuscation. I put this theoretical framework in conversation with three case studies. I look at the 1988 exhibition “The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples” to examine the turn towards the settler colonial politics of recognition. The second case study, a multi-sited exhibition called “De T’a Hoti Ts’eeda: We live securely by the land” (Yellowknife and Ottawa) and “Extremes: Life in Subarctic Canada,” (Edinburgh) is used to think through multiple experiences of collaborative exhibition. The third case study is the “Gwich’in Caribou Skin Clothing Project” (2000-2003), exemplifying the role of knowledge repatriation projects for supporting Indigenous decolonial resurgence. The final two chapters of the dissertation examine how Indigenous peoples relationships with museums counter the logics of settler colonialism. I use the collection of Athabaskan Dene objects at the National Museums Scotland (Edinburgh) and the “nation-to-nation” relationship established between the Tłı̨chǫ Government and the museum as exemplary of relationships exogenous to settler colonial domination. Second, drawing on Hegel’s master/slave dialectic I offer a theory of “labour against recognition,” where the process of making objects is generative of relationships that simultaneously turn away from the colonial politics of recognition and foster a decolonial politics of Indigenous resurgence.

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The devil's northern triangle: Howard Adams and Metis multidimensional relationships with and within colonialism (2015)

This dissertation deploys the life’s work of Métis scholar and activist Howard Adams to show that his binaristic positioning of Métis people within the colonial world is first productive for elucidating and analyzing the devastation wrought on his people by the processes of colonization, and second an incomplete analysis of Métis political relationships with and within colonialism. Adams’ thought contains an uncomfortable positioning whereby the Métis are framed as colonized subjects while also being the products of the racist and destructive processes of colonialism. Adams does not interrogate this uncomfortable positioning in his work. Instead, he reinforces Métis people as exclusively colonized subjects. This dissertation posits that being the products of colonialism while also being colonized subjects opens a space to examine the range of relationships Métis people have with their kin in other Indigenous nations. I argue that looking at inter-Indigenous politics through this complex positioning shows how Métis interact and resist the ideology and processes of colonialism that seek to terminate and dispossess them from their territories, while also illuminating the way Métis political actors engage in zero-sum—and in some cases, colonial—relationships with other Indigenous peoples. I examine this through the critical juncture formed during the Red River Resistance in 1869-70: in the process of resisting the advancement of the Settler state, Métis political actors attempted to set up a sphere of power at Red River to the exclusion of most other Indigenous peoples. I then examine the reproduction of the legacy of zero-sum relationships in the formation and breakup of the Indian and Métis Conference (forerunner to the Manitoba Métis Federation), followed by the attempt by Métis and other Indigenous peoples to strategically deploy the law. The examination of these strategic deployments is informed by the interaction between Métis and Treaty 1 peoples at the Manitoba Court of Appeal hearing of MMF v. Canada. I conclude that embracing the discomfort in Adams’ positioning helps inform Métis political engagements with other Indigenous peoples. The benefit of this positioning is that it contributes to building informed inter-Indigenous decolonizing movements.  

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

When the theoretical confronted the practical : Zapatista territorial autonomy as opposition to the cooperation of state and capitalism (2023)

On January 1st, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared war on the Mexican government in an act of militant opposition to a long history of land dispossession, privatization, and exploitation carried out through the collaboration of the state and private interests in Eastern Chiapas that culminated in the reforms to Article 27 and the implementation of NAFTA. Following the initial uprising on January 1st, and with greater urgency in the following years, the Zapatistas declared their autonomy, which entailed independence from the Mexican government both territorially and organizationally as a way for the creating and practicing ways of living that would otherwise be impeded by the state and capitalism. In this thesis, I argue that through its essential connection to territorial autonomy, the Zapatista political philosophy of power to be provides a significant counter to the Lockean understanding of how land, freedom, and power are connected, which takes private property and its protection by the state as an essential component to creating freedom through territory. Additionally, I argue that despite substantial similarities between the Zapatista movement and prominent European and Mexican notions of Anarchism, there are notable tensions that emerge from theoretical differences on the nature of human-land relations but also from the tendency of some anarchists to dismiss the Zapatista movement or attempt to subsume it under the label of Anarchism without appreciating its distinctiveness and the political potential that its distinctiveness holds. I thus argue that if we turn to Richard J.F. Day’s anarchistic logic of affinity, solidarity between non-state, anti-capitalist movements becomes more feasible, since the revolutionary subject within that logic links with similar struggles or movements, yet is also never totalized. I conclude my discussion of Anarchism and the Zapatistas by arguing that this anarchistic logic of affinity can be found in the work of Glen Coulthard on self-affirming praxis and of Taiaiake Alfred on Anarcho-Indigenism, both of which embrace the possibilities for movement building that allows for affinity without subsumption.

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Theorizing Indigenous economic formations (2018)

The paper sets out to develop a methodological framework for researching Indigenous political economies. This endeavor has been marked historically by more or less racist and ahistorical culturalisms. Building on recent interventions in Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, I argue that such research must account for the ongoing history of settler-colonization and Indigenous resistance. Recent work in political theory has taken up this imperative, but the theorization of settler-colonial dispossession comes with problems of its own. The emphasis now laid upon theorizing dispossession, I argue, has produced an amorphous conception of Indigenous political alterities, conceiving them negatively as an absence of European-style institutions. We continue to lack therefore an adequate theory of Indigenous social systems that can account for both historical change and socioeconomic difference. Accordingly, I advocate a Marxian reading of Indigenous and settler economic formations that can better account for social difference by offering a more expansive and comparatist theorization of the categories of production, property, and the metabolic relation to nature. Such a theory offers a powerful resource for understanding the complexity of contemporary settler-colonial relations and for understanding the overlapping interests of socialist and decolonial struggles in North America.

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Transformative justice: the unforgiving and societal repair (2012)

In both the discourse and practice of transitional justice the act of individual forgiveness has become conflated with the process of political reconciliation. The effect has been to delegitimize the political space for those who identify as unforgiving or resentful. Despite a lack of empirical evidence illustrating the consequence of forgiveness on the political landscape, forgiveness continues to be promoted in transitional justice narratives as though it necessarily advances the process of political reconciliation. In other words, it is perceived as having a social utility. This presumed collective benefit allows forgiveness discourse to overshadow the concerns that imposing forgiveness may have negative effects on individual survivors and communities transitioning away from mass violence. Using the data from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Barometer, this work uses binomial logit to question the uninterrogated assumption that unforgiving attitudes represent a barrier to political reconciliation. Showing that it is possible to be both unforgiving and supportive of political reconciliation, this piece argues that the unforgiving also play a critical role in reconciliation processes. This work rejects forgiveness as an a priori good; showing the important role resentment and the reservation of forgiveness can play in demanding accountability and transformation. The testimony of the unforgiving possess a transformative capacity that is silenced by discourse and practices that conflate forgiveness with reconciliation. This serves to undermine the opportunity to generate transformed relationships through transitional processes. I argue here for the reclaiming of political space for the voices of the unforgiving and resentful in order to restore dignity to survivors and create the room for transformation of structures and relationships.

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Cultureless rights : the cultural framework for indigenous rights in the Canadian and Australian judiciaries (2010)

The relationship between the common law of Canada and Australia and Indigenous peoples has been one plagued by the logic of dispossession and domination. For over 200 years colonial courts effectively ignored Indigenous claims to the continued existence of their rights to traditional lands and self-government. In their respective attempts to address their own colonial histories, the Canadian and Australian courts have both begun to recognize the rights and title of Indigenous peoples to their traditional land-bases. Initially this gesture appeared to promise greater rights and freedoms for Indigenous peoples, including entitlement to self-government and the right to manage and benefit from traditional lands without the need for external authorization. Unfortunately, however, in a number of recent decisions the progress demonstrated by the courts in earlier cases has stalled, even reversed. This thesis will demonstrate that where the Canadian and Australian courts have recognized Indigenous rights and title they have done so by applying a culturalist framework. I argue that this culturalist framework has served to arbitrarily circumscribe the scope of Indigenous rights to a narrowly conceived bundle of “cultural” rights which privileges the sovereignty and title of the state over that of Indigenous peoples. Because of their reliance on a cultural approach to the interpretation of Aboriginal rights, common law courts have proven to be severely restricted in their capacity to recognize rights that would translate into greater freedom and equality for Indigenous peoples. In light of this, I conclude that although the law can be a powerful tool for furthering Indigenous rights, the courts cannot be the primary source of greater freedom and equality. Because of their inherently conservative nature courts often follow precedent and generally rely on norms and rules already accepted in the greater society. For this reason, although they can protect and encourage certain rights movements, the courts must radically alter their conceptual framework before significant changes and improvements can be made to Indigenous title jurisprudence.

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Pipe Dreaming: Federalism and Northern Environmental Policy (2010)

The Canadian North poses a clear illustration of the struggle for sustainable developmentin a context of advanced capitalism. How do northern political institutions and electoralincentives impact the relationships between federal, territorial and aboriginalgovernments in the field of environmental policy and the prospects of environmentalprotection? This paper will argue that negotiations for the devolution of resources andenvironmental activities with low economic significance have borne substantially morefruit, more quickly, than the sticky issues of non-renewable resource exploitation andimpact assessment. Case work of select northern environmental policy suggests that thepublic interest eithe favours utilization of northern resources for economic developmentor is insufficiently green to overcome collective action problems beyond symboliccommitments to environmental protection.

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