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Shifting boundaries : aboriginal identity, pluralist theory, and the politics of self-government in Canada Schouls, Timothy A.

Abstract

While Canada is often called a pluralist state, there are no sustained studies by political scientists in which aboriginal self-government is discussed specifically in terms of the analytical tradition of pluralist thought. Aboriginal self-government is usually discussed as an issue of cultural preservation or national self-determination. Aboriginal identity is framed in terms of cultural and national traits that are unique to an aboriginal community and selfgovernment is taken to represent the aboriginal communal desire to protect and preserve those traits. Is such an understanding of what motivates aboriginal self-government accurate, or does it yield an incomplete understanding of the complex phenomenon that aboriginal selfgovernment in Canada represents? The political tradition of pluralism allows for analysis of aboriginal self-government that addresses questions left unattended by the cultural and nationalist frameworks. Pluralism is often viewed as a public arrangement in which distinct groups are given room to live side by side, characterized by mutual recognition and affirmation. At the same time, there are different faces of pluralist theory and each addresses questions about the recognition and affirmation of aboriginal self-government in different ways. Those three contemporary faces can be distinguished by the labels communitarian, individualist, and relational. The major hypothesis advanced is that aboriginal self-government is better understood if an "identification" perspective on aboriginal identity is adopted as opposed to a "cultural" or "national" one and if that perspective is linked to a relational theory of pluralism as opposed to a communitarian or individualist one. The identification approach examines aboriginal identity not in terms of cultural and political traits, but in terms of identification with, and political commitment to, an aboriginal community. Relational pluralism in turn, examines the challenge of aboriginal self-government in terms of power differences within aboriginal communities and between aboriginal and Canadian governments. Applying these approaches to aboriginal politics in Canada confirms their suitability. Contrary to what previous scholarship has assumed, aboriginal self-government should not be seen primarily as a tool to preserve cultural and national differences as goods in and of themselves. The politics of aboriginal self-government should be seen as involving demands to equalize current imbalances in power so that aboriginal communities and the individuals within them can construct aboriginal identities according to their own design.

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