Bruce Miller


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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.

Power relations: environment, emotion, and violence in the Site C Dam approval process (2021)

The Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, though purportedly a source of green power, is controversial because it would flood 5660 hectares (approximately 14,000 acres) of wilderness, farmland, and First Nations’ treaty territory. This dissertation is both an ethnography of that environmental conflict, and an exploration of the intersections between ethnography and conflict transformation. Research methods consisted of participant observation between June 2013 and October 2014, attendance at the Site C public hearings, analysis of hearing transcripts and related documents, and interviews with dam supporters and opponents, including a photo prompt exercise and a key word exercise.I found that different relationships to the environment and place, and different notions of development carried motivational, moral force in the conflict and were reflected in communication at the public hearings. The competing worldviews did not meet on equal terms, however. The official environmental assessment process discursively and materially favoured pro-Site perspectives in ways that amounted to both structural and cultural violence, in support of a project, that, because of the avoidable physical and psychological harms it would cause affected people, and its inequitable distribution of benefits, would itself be violent. This research contributes to ethnographic understanding of non-Indigenous perspectives on the environment and extractivism, and their connections to the violence manifested in environmental consultation. It underlines the gravity of environmental violence as real violence, particularly against Indigenous people, and challenges the notion that structural violence is invisible. The photo prompt exercise demonstrated potential as a non-rational, non-confrontational method for uncovering unarticulated differences in perspective, and overall, the research suggests the value of combined ethnographic and conflict transformation approaches in worldview conflicts. I conclude by drawing on Docherty’s (2001) concept of “worldview translation” as a way to navigate between the need to promote understanding and the obligation to call out injustice, in conflicts where sincere worldview differences are entangled with systemic violence.

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The Life and Death of the Council of Elders of the Descendants of Jasper Park (2016)

As Indigenous rights discourse continues to advance in Canada, overarching concepts of Métis, in particular those concerning recognition and rights, continue to evolve. The micro-level or management of the relationship between Canada and small-scale Métis societies provides an opportunity to highlight issues concerning Métis/state relations. As areas such as Jasper National Park are tasked with restoring a Métis presence, how has this relationship evolved? Attempts at creating a working relationship with Métis in Jasper are confounded by uncertainty concerning Métis rights and identity. In addition, Métis are expected to abandon prior practices in organization and governance in return for access to micro-level authorities. Longstanding grievances by Métis who contend that government malfeasance resulted in their ancestors being evicted from Jasper National Park upon its inception remains hidden, as local authorities continue to find ways to marginalize Métis who are averse to participating in colonial relationships designed and controlled by micro-level authorities. Alliances with other groups with territories in National Parks, such as the Haida Nation, may provide insight and solutions. As Métis/Indigenous awareness and rights advance an important area of concern will remain in the actions of micro-level bureaucrats.

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The Underdog World (2016)

Various communities, including those glossed as traditional, indigenous, subaltern, Afro-descended, tribal, or, in an older vocabulary, primitive, pre-modern, non-civilized, barbaric, and polluted, in particular contexts, can find themselves in a situation I have come to refer as underdogs. Underdog references communities which are positioned to access various levels of historical consciousness in order to mobilize their struggles against impinging, dominant, homogenizing forces. These forces are based in a colonial culture against which communities resist. The strategies of resistance both refer to their traditions and to their historic circumstances, as well as their recognition of historical fluidity which allows them the possibility of facing, encountering and rewriting their histories. This resistance has made them resilient. Ethnographic research conduced together with the quilombola community of Periperi, in the state of Piauí, Brazil; the neighbourhood of La Marina, in Matanzas, Cuba, and the Hwlitsum indigenous people, in British Columbia, Canada shows that these communities in an underdog situation cannot back off from their challenges to existing modes of power of their local and regional setting in their efforts to mitigate their status as polluted. Experiencing being in such situations throughout their trajectory has led these communities to a condition they have not been able to run from, albeit finding new ways to embrace it, in the underdog world they live in.

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From left to rights : Guatemalan women's struggle for justice (2014)

From Left to Rights is study of a social movement mobilized in the new age of rights—Guatemalan women’s organizations’ campaign to eradicate violence against women. The movement relies on and derives from women’s human rights discourse and the transnational feminist movement, yet it is a local manifestation of a search for justice, dignity and hope. The main protagonists of this campaign are Guatemalan women who have decided, for historic and strategic reasons, to use women’s human rights discourse to promote their struggle. Considering some of the discourse’s internal contradictions, and based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Guatemala City, I argue that in order for women’s human rights discourse to promote a substantial change in the lives of Guatemalans, the discourse is framed and practiced in terms of dignity.As I illustrate, Guatemalan women’s organizations emphasize and legitimize women’s diverse lived experiences. They encourage women to see themselves as worthy beings, as actors, and as the rightful protagonists of their own lives. They also motivate women to draw support from other women and to see themselves as part of a worthy community. Hence, these organizations inspire women to begin to imagine themselves not only as worthy of life, but also as worthy of happiness. In a reality in which envisioning change is an act of resistance, hope—the ability to imagine a better future—is the key mechanism to explain the social transformation attempted by Guatemala’s women’s rights campaign. Such individual and collective transformation further requires transforming the spaces in which they live to allow and encourage these new subjectivities. This dual, dialectical transition, I illustrate, is both an outcome of a long process, and a method to keep the (transformation) process going.

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Where the Water Meets the Land: Between Culture and History in Upper Skagit Aboriginal Territory (2014)

Upper Skagit Indian Tribe are a Coast Salish fishing community in western Washington, USA, who face the challenge of remaining culturally distinct while fitting into the socioeconomic expectations of American society, all while asserting their rights to access their aboriginal territory. This dissertation asks a twofold research question: How do Upper Skagit people interact with and experience the aquatic environment of their aboriginal territory, and how do their experiences with colonization and their cultural practices weave together to form a historical consciousness that orients them to their lands and waters and the wider world? Based on data from three methods of inquiry—interviews, participant observation, and archival research—collected over sixteen months of fieldwork on the Upper Skagit reservation in Sedro-Woolley, WA, I answer this question with an ethnography of the interplay between culture, history, and the land and waterscape that comprise Upper Skagit aboriginal territory. This interplay is the process of historical consciousness, which is neither singular nor sedentary, but rather an understanding of a world in flux made up of both conscious and unconscious thoughts that shape behavior. I conclude that the ways in which Upper Skagit people interact with what I call the waterscape of their aboriginal territory is one of their major distinctive features as a group. Their approach to the world is framed by their experience of this space and the divide between land and water within it, which is permeable and constantly shifting. Community members understand the cultural salience of places within the waterscape, including places that are now submerged beneath lakes created by hydroelectric dams. Oral narratives remain important in Upper Skagit culture today even though the narratives are accessed in changing ways, such as reading and listening to recordings or invoking parts of stories at carefully chosen times. The regulatory and legal regimes of the colonial process—examined as both broad strokes and fine grains—shape people’s consciousness and behavior in the waterscape. This case study both builds on and contributes to the literatures of Coast Salish ethnography, cultural constructions of place, cultural distinctiveness of indigenous groups, and the anthropology of water.

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Forging new partnerships : Coast Salish communities and museums (2009)

In recent years, much has been written about the changing relationships between museum professionals and First Nations. However, most of these accounts have been authored by the former group, while First Nations perspectives are conveyed through second hand accounts or less frequently the writings of indigenous scholars and artists. This thesis explores another type of viewpoint by presenting perspectives shared by individuals living and working in Coast Salish communities in Canada and the United States. The intent is to gain a clearer picture of something that has been referred to as the “democratization of the museum” by Canadian museum professionals such as Duncan Cameron (1982). Has access to museums and their resources dramatically increased? Is this reflected in current museum practice, exhibits, and public programs? To better understand the current status of community and museum partnerships I explore what drives Coast Salish communities to participate in museum representations (and other public commemorations). I also discuss some of the legal implications such representations have for establishing or defending aboriginal rights and title. From this vantage point I proceed to explore specific museum projects and partnerships, analysing the diverse experiences of those Coast Salish individuals who were invited and then chose to participate in this research project. A critique of museums results, but it is presented with the intent of providing a moment of reflexivity – an opportunity to re-evaluate current museum and community interactions, so that we can take another step forward on the path to equal partnership.

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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.

Coast Salish law and jurisdiction over natural resources: a case study with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (2018)

In this thesis, I consider the impacts and implications of the legally-mandated Crown-Indigenous consultation process as experienced by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish First Nation based in greater Vancouver. Each year, Tsleil-Waututh receives approximately four hundred new development proposals in its territory, requiring daily negotiations on projects from forestry operations to pipelines. Consultation thus becomes a regularly-occurring, everyday site of jurisdictional interaction, where legal orders meet and governments enter into dialogue regarding the uses of territory.I ask how Tsleil-Waututh is able to enact their jurisdiction over natural resources in their territory, given their territory is currently the site of multiple colonial legal orders and jurisdictional assertions which seek to eliminate or otherwise limit Indigenous authority. Based on ethnographic research with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, I argue that the legalization of the consultation process reduces Indigenous groups to mere participants within a Crown decision-making process, therefore rendering consultation in its current form unable to achieve its stated purpose of reconciliation. My research demonstrates that challenges inherent in Indigenous-Crown consultation are not a result of insufficient capacity on the part of First Nations but rather an element of the consultation process itself. Canadian law’s failure to define the outcome of consultation causes a disproportionate focus on procedural elements of consultation to secure certainty for the Crown; as a result, consultation disproportionately benefits the Crown and industry, and remains inadequate to protect Tsleil-Waututh’s rights, title, and interests from infringement over time. Regardless, Tsleil-Waututh does not participate in consultation as mere participants in a Crown process but rather does so as an assertion of its jurisdictional authority in order to uphold its own legal obligations to Tsleil-Waututh people and territory.

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Ontological Oppression and the Privatization of Public Potential: Indigenous Counter-hegemonic Adaptation in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2010)

This study focuses on an analysis of the counter-hegemonic discourse of Guarani indigenousleaders Timóteo Verá Popyguá and Marçal de Souza, focusing on the strategy of envolvimento(involvement) with the larger capitalist world as a means for achieving cultural survival andautonomy. The core idea of this study is how the 'privatization of public potential' can beemployed both for and against initiatives that foster the strengthening of indigenous ways ofknowing and relating with the land. I argue that, in order to subvert private property and thedomination of space for capitalist production, envolvimento seeks the privatization of lands forthe Guarani, who will develop this parcel of land according to their own cultural principles.Counter-hegemonic adaptation, in this case, requires a deep understanding of dominant practicesand ideologies, and the desire to take part in the larger economy. Ultimately, I argue that thenegative effects of neoliberalism can be diminished by making more private spaces communal.

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