"Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make": Temporal Liminality and Delegitimization of Indigenous Protest in Canada
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"Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make":
Temporal Liminality and Delegitimization of Indigenous Protest in Canada

This article explores the threat that Indigenous protest poses to Canada. However, it examines this potential for threat at an ontological level rather than a material level. In adopting a liminality framework, the article traces the capacity for Indigenous protest to menace and undermine Canada's national identity. More specifically, it analyzes the ways in which editorial and commentary sections of Canada's national newspapers represented protest and political activity associated with the Idle No More movement. Its findings demonstrate how these prominent social actors in Canada respond to the destabilizing presence of the Indigenous liminar by working to resolve its ambiguity in ways that protect and entrench dominant narratives of Canadian national identity. Acknowledging the role that liminality plays in structuring news media depictions of Indigenous peoples provides insight into how social actors in Canada interpret and respond to Indigenous protest. It demonstrates how such actors are able to exploit popular conceptions of indigeneity to reinforce the ongoing social dynamics working to produce and reproduce dominant narratives of Canadian identity. Moreover, a liminality framework is also valuable in demonstrating the role the news media play in delegitimizing Indigenous political advocacy and perpetuating fears relating to social disorder and violence in Canada.


Cet article étudie la menace que représentent les manifestations autochtones pour le Canada. Cette question, toutefois, y est abordée sur le plan ontologique et non matériel. Adoptant une perspective fondée sur la liminalité, l'article évalue la capacité des manifestations autochtones à menacer et à ébranler l'identité nationale canadienne. Plus précisément, on y analyse la représentation des manifestations et de l'activité politique du mouvement Idle No More dans les éditoriaux et les pages d'opinion des grands quotidiens du pays. Les résultats montrent que ces acteurs sociaux de premier plan réagissent à la présence déstabilisante du liminal autochtone en s'efforçant de résoudre son ambigüité d'une manière qui protège et consolide les récits identitaires nationaux dominants. Reconnaitre le rôle de la liminalité dans la façon dont les médias d'information structurent la représentation des peuples autochtones nous aide à comprendre comment les acteurs sociaux canadiens interprètent les manifestations autochtones et y réagissent. Cela montre à quel point ces acteurs savent exploiter les idées courantes de [End Page 37] ce qui est autochtone pour renforcer la dynamique sociale à l'œuvre dans la production et la reproduction des récits dominants sur l'identité canadienne. De plus, l'approche liminale permet de montrer le rôle joué au Canada par les médias dans la délégitimation de la promotion des intérêts politiques autochtones, de même que dans la perpétuation des peurs liées au désordre social et à la violence.


Idle No More, liminality, Indigenous protest, Indigenous peoples, Canada, media

Mots clés

Idle No More, liminalité, manifestation autochtone, peuples autochtones, Canada, médias


In 2013, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was active in surveilling the Idle No More movement and in helping the federal government anticipate and prepare for the movement's "escalation" (Ling 2014). The spy agency, which is charged with protecting Canada's national security, justified heavy redactions to a report it compiled on the movement by citing concerns related to "detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities." Such a justification clearly scripts Indigenous advocacy, activism, and protest as harbingers of anarchy and violence rather than legitimate forms of political engagement in a democratic polity.

Indigenous peoples and their efforts at political engagement in Canada have long been understood through a prism of national security (Proulx 2014). While a variety of factors contribute to the tenacity of Canadian anxiety over a protean Indigenous threat, this article explores the issue through the lens of liminality. Originally developed by anthropologists, the concept of liminality refers to a state of simultaneous belonging and exclusion. Liminars are those groups seen to be living on the margins of society, understood...