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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dancing sovereignty : protocol and politics in northwest coast First Nations dance Dangeli, Mique'l


Scholars in anthropology, art history, and related disciplines are critiquing the ways in which the classification Northwest Coast art excludes an array of Indigenous visual and performing arts and how its rigid parameters continue to be constructed and reified by academic, national, and popular discourses. The practices of Northwest Coast First Nation dance artists—such as dance group performances, song-composition, choreography, and collaborations— are among those that continue to be marginalized. The objective of this thesis is to bring critical attention to the work of these artists through an in-depth study of how they assert, negotiate, and enact protocol through their artistic processes and performances and the ways in which their work engages with local, provincial, and national politics. Protocol is an umbrella term used by Northwest Coast First Nations people to refer to the laws of their Nations. Its fundamental connection to dance is that protocol governs not only the right to perform songs and dances, but also the way performances occur in both private and public contexts. Whereas protocol is typically deemed as the inflexibility of Northwest Coast First Nation dance, I have observed over the course of this study that dance artists deploy protocol in dynamic ways to address diverse performative, social, and political demands. I argue that protocol constitutes much more than the boundaries of their practice. It is the creative lens through which dance artists, and their dance groups, enact dancing sovereignty. Building on the literature on visual sovereignty in Indigenous visual art practices and filmmaking (Dowell, 2013; Raheja, 2010; Rickard, 2011, 1995), I define dancing sovereignty as self-determination carried out through the creation of performances (oratory, songs, and dances) that adhere to and expand upon protocol in ways that affirm hereditary privileges (ancestral histories and associated ownership of songs, dances, crests, masks, headdresses, etc.) and territorial rights to land and waterways among diverse audiences and collaborators. Bringing together Gerald Vizenor’s transmotion (1998; 2008) with Erin Manning’s relationscapes (2009), I demonstrate that practices of dancing sovereignty generate politically charged relationscapes among Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists, their territories, other First Nations, and non-Indigenous collaborators.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada