UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Where to now? : First Nation-led research, self-determination, and the role of the settler state in British Columbia Zabawa, Zachary Adam


Following the Calder Decision in 1970, subsequent legal rulings in Canada have defined the government’s duty to recognize First Nations’ pre-existing rights to their Traditional Territory, undermining the racist discovery doctrine and terra nullius arguments of the Crown’s claim to radical title to the Province of British Columbia. In doing so, the courts have declared the importance of First Nation historical research, specifically Oral History evidence, in demonstrating Aboriginal Rights and Title. With this, an industry of consultants and academics has arisen to aid in the collection of place-based Traditional Knowledge held and protected by community members. Employing scientific rigor and GIS, various studies documenting land use, occupancy, and Traditional Knowledge have proven to be effective means of resistance for First Nations by securing vital concessions of revenue and management authority from the Province. Yet, these studies are vulnerable to reproducing essentialist images of First Nation culture and have limited utility on their own in Aboriginal Title litigation. This thesis seeks to demonstrate how recent legal accommodations by the Canadian Courts and secure Web 2.0 technologies open space for the deployment of First Nation-led participatory research for both Aboriginal Title litigation and cultural revitalization efforts. The need for this research was identified via a community-based research approach focusing on experiential learning and dialogue with Elders from two communities of the St‘át‘imc Nation and interviews with experts in the field. The application of community-led participatory research more directly addresses the barriers to research and compromises in representation made for efficacy of the current research paradigm. By allowing for the production of research outputs that expand the reach of community voices to promote understanding and empathy in their own communities and settler society, community-led participatory research can ultimately result in greater space for First Nation self-definition and determination. Therefore, First Nation research strategies should supplement quantitative land use studies with long-term participatory research projects more appropriate for addressing the dualism of First Nation Self-determination - external decolonization and internal cultural revitalization.

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