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Bound by reconciliation? : social criticism, treaty, and decolonization Snelgrove, Corey

Abstract

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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