UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Transcending identity in settler colonial states : considerations for decolonial solidarity Holy, Talia Devi


In recent years, discourses in academic and activist circles increasingly emphasize the potential failures of identity politics, highlighting the tendency of political movements based in identity to prevent unity or become co-opted by elites. Because of this, many activist groups are reformulating or transcending the role of identity in their political movements. However, critics of identity politics often fail to account for the fact that the erasure of Indigenous people’s identities is a deliberate tool of settler colonialism; challenging the role of identity in political movements thus risks furthering settler colonial processes. As such, this thesis engages with the question of how non-Indigenous people can reformulate the role of identity in their political movements without undermining a politics of solidarity with Indigenous nations and their resurgence movements. I begin by laying out the distinction between recursive and destructive power, which critically informs political movements’ differing approaches to identity. By analyzing power as predominantly recursive, or creating the subjects it intends to marginalize, many theorists of identity politics ignore the ways in which power must critically destroy or disappear Indigenous identity in order to establish settler state sovereignty. Thus, moves to reformulate non-Indigenous identity in non-Indigenous political movements should not implicate the role of identity in Indigenous political movements, given that Indigenous political - movements respond to destructive, rather than recursive, power. Further, understanding the functioning of recursive and destructive power reveals the potentially intertwined nature of resistance to these differing forms of power. With this in mind, I look to the #NoDAPL protests to argue that non-Indigenous people can reformulate the role of identity in their political movements by engaging with identity subject to destructive power. Through exploring the recursive construction of the terrorist, the role of anti-capitalism, and the existence of identity beyond destructive power at Standing Rock, it is apparent that identity can be reformulated in ways that fundamentally challenges the functioning of settler states, creating a broad-based politics of solidarity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous political movements.

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