The Ethical Obligation of the State to Hear and Address Indigenous Claims for Justice

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Sunga, Seetal




What are the implications of this profound power disparity in our struggles for land and freedom? Does it require that we vacate the field of state negotiations and participation entirely? Of course not. Settler-colonialism has rendered us a radical minority in our own homelands, and this necessitates that we continue to engage with the state's legal and political system. (Coulthard 2014, 179) In the very last paragraph of his book Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, Glen Coulthard arrives at the problem of the necessity to engage with the state. It is at this location of the analysis that I begin my investigation. How does the state listen to and engage with Indigenous peoples on issues of concern to them? How does the state respond in a relationship of profound power imbalance? What ethical moves can the state make to address the power imbalance in its relationships with Indigenous peoples? In this project, I listen to a range of Indigenous voices to begin to understand what justice means to them by listening to their experiences in seeking justice from the state as a structure that represents the majority of Canadians, who are non-Indigenous. I interview two senior government officials who largely understand the challenges of trying to address Indigenous justice claims within a large system. I also examine the state mechanisms of inquiries and commissions designed to listen to specific justice concerns and the state's reception of their recommendations and calls to action. Throughout, I apply Indigenous scholarship to better understand the nature of Indigenous justice, and feminist relational approaches as a tool to understand the relations of power within the structures that reinforce historical oppression, because those structures have not changed substantially from their original colonial design. With this approach, I begin the work of outlining the types of strategic moves that are necessary to shift the relations of power between Indigenous peoples and the state in Canada, such that Indigenous justice claims can be heard and ethically addressed.


American Studies




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Ethics and Public Affairs

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Theses and Dissertations

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