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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sovereign futures : indigenous and settler prophecies in two nineteenth-century American “northwests” Jelsing, Kaden Mark


This dissertation argues that settler colonialism unfolded in various North American Wests through a clash of prophetic visions, each of which expressed fundamentally different modes of relationality. Through two case studies—the “Old Northwest” of the early nineteenth-century Ohio Valley, and the “new” Northwest of the Columbia Plateau region later in the century—I explore how Indigenous prophecies and settler prophecies articulated divergent visions of the future in language that was declarative, often couched in future perfect tense: what will have come to be. Scholars have long framed Indigenous prophetic movements as either religious or political, traditionalist or innovative, as autochthonous or existing only in reaction to contact and colonialism. I move beyond these binary formations by reframing Indigenous prophecy through Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies. Through these frameworks, Indigenous prophecy can be seen as a diagnostic tool, a theoretical and critical apparatus, and a guide for either maintaining or refusing relations with humans and other-than-human beings. Accompanied by new prescriptions and ceremonies on how to live properly with other beings and thus renew a world of interdependent relationships, Indigenous prophecy may be seen as simultaneously legal, political, and religious even as it resists these categories. It is oriented toward a future on and with the land against, or despite, the presence of settler colonial jurisdictional claims. For their part, settlers prophesied a future free from vulnerability and dependences, of technological perfection and environmental mastery. For this future to come to pass, the interdependent relations carefully forged by generations of Indigenous communities on and with the land had to be severed and reoriented toward an ever-expanding market. Settlers confidently proclaimed the immanent fulfillment of a “manifest destiny,” yet they simultaneously expressed anxiety when a future of technological progress, flourishing republican institutions, market connectivity and private land ownership seemed compromised. Settler prophecy was always in reaction to the continued presence of Indigenous peoples who professed their own temporal sovereignty. With the constant specter of Indigenous endurance, settler future imaginaries have always been fragile and doomed to fail.

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