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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Practices of sovereignty : negotiated agreements, jurisdiction, and well-being for Heiltsuk Nation Low, Margaret


Indigenous peoples would strongly deny the Crown ever possessed the power to extinguish their political rights at any point in history. On this view, the Canadian governments do not grant sovereignty to Indigenous peoples. Rather, sovereignty is their inherent right, which flows from ways of knowing and social and political systems that existed long before the arrival of European colonists. I have focused this dissertation on demonstrating the multiple ways in which Heiltsuk Nation practice sovereignty over their territory. Heiltsuk Territory spans 35,553 square kilometres of lands and waters and is located on the central coast of what is now known as British Columbia, Canada. My analysis focuses on practices of Indigenous sovereignty being expressed outside – though supported by – the courts, and specifically in the negotiation and implementation of “reconciliation agreements” between Heiltsuk Nation and the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada. Using qualitative data gathered through 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork, my dissertation traces the implications of negotiated agreements between Heiltsuk Nation and the federal and provincial governments, and finds these agreements have enabled new practices of sovereignty, assertions of jurisdiction, new conceptions of Indigenous well-being, and Indigenous-led efforts of reconciliation. Chapter 2 focuses on the implementation of the 2009 Coastal First Nations Reconciliation Protocol (2009 RPA) to explore how, through day-to-day political interactions, this agreement is operating as a mechanism that works to unsettle long-standing assumptions of Crown sovereignty. Chapter 3 documents the “on the ground” tensions arising from overlapping claims of jurisdictional authority in Heiltsuk territory, beginning from the inception of Coastal First Nations – a unique political alliance of several Nations – to the Land and Resource Management process (LRMP) in the early 2000s, through to the government-to-government process developed in response to the increasing legal authority of First Nations at the time. Chapter 4 critically engages colonial conceptions of “well-being” by focusing on the current wellbeing policies being implemented in coastal BC, and specifically in Heiltsuk territory. Chapter 5 illustrates efforts of Heiltsuk Nation to negotiate one of the first “reconciliation framework agreements” between an Indigenous nation and the Government of Canada.

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