Familial Cohesion and Colonial Atomization: Governance and Authority in a Coast Salish Community

Carlson, Keith Thor
December 2010
Native Studies Review;2010, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Scholarship on Aboriginal governance in Canada has tended to focus on individual communities and formal political processes to the exclusion of informal regional social networks. The author's own earlier research was itself compromised by a myopia that failed to adequately situate the Stó:lõ Coast Salish community of Shxw'õwhámél within its broader regional context. This article revisits the Shxw'õwhámél community's experiment in decolonizing its governance system a decade after the community replaced the Indian Act election and governance processes with a system modelled after its historical system of extended family government. Drawing on current interviews to identify both the strengths and shortcomings of the newly rejuvenated system, the author provides historical analysis of early colonial efforts to manipulate the pre-contact governing system to reveal the extent to which Canadian colonialism has not only worked to atomize familial networks, but also to undermine democracy in the process. The author concludes that indigenous political authority continues to be compromised by the colonial experience and points out that the legacy of 150 years of assimilationist policies has sometimes made it difficult for Aboriginal people themselves to separate the effects of colonialism from its causes as they struggle to re-assert self-governance.


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