- Indigenous Struggles Against Participatory Power: Dhillon’s Prairie Rising
The last ten to fifteen years has seen the rapid expansion and professional consolidation of ‘Settler Colonial Studies’ as a distinct body of research. This field takes as its point of departure the observation that in many parts of the world, the dominant form of imperialism did not mimic the vast overseas extraction colonialism that was characteristic of, say, the British rule over India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Instead, in significant swaths of the earth, imperialism entailed the large-scale transplantation of European peoples whose primary aim was to eradicate, or otherwise displace, the original Indigenous inhabitants so as to build neo-European societies in perpetuity.
As with any relatively new body of work, Settler Colonial Studies has developed with certain lacuna and limitations, two of which are most pertinent here. First, the field partially emerged through the work of such thinkers as Patrick Wolfe and Lorenzo Veracini, whose primary initial aim was to distinguish settler colonialism from other forms of imperial domination and rule. As such, early work was characterized by a set of conceptual generalizations that were useful in differentiating the field but, for that reason, remained at a very high level of generality. Put differently, these thinkers were mostly concerned with demonstrating that settler colonialism could be analytically distinguished, and less concerned with how settler colonialism actually functioned in its internal complexity and variety. The second major area of concern and caution pertains to the relationship between Settler Colonial and Indigenous Studies. Whereas the primary task of the former has been to study settler colonialism as a distinct social and political formation from the standpoint of those who designed and implemented it (i.e., European settlers and their descendants), a much longer body of scholarship has, in an important sense, already been doing this from the perspective of those who were most targeted by settler power (i.e., Indigenous peoples and their descendants). [End Page 1063]
Jaskiran Dhillon’s book, Prairie Rising, makes a sharp and important contribution at precisely these two junctures. It is a study of the governmentality of a particular settler colonial formation (a study of how power works, rather than what it ‘essentially’ is), which takes Indigenous participation and resistance as central to that operation of power. The book takes up the lived experience of settler colonial governmentality in contemporary Saskatchewan, Canada, especially as it is mediated through a set of semi-governmental agencies (paramount among them, the Indian Alliance) in the context of increased pressure on official state policy to ‘recognize’ and ‘accommodate’ Indigenous peoples in the actual working of governance over them. This book is extremely rich and complex. It makes a number of contributions to fields such as anthropology, sociology, political science, youth studies, and the like. It is moreover a model of how to bridge academic scholarship and responsible community advocacy.
Prairie Rising is organized into six substantive chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion. Part 1 (chapters one and two) focuses on the broader historical context of Indigenous-state relations in Canada, with a particular focus on how the current ‘crisis’ of urban Indigenous youth arose (measured in terms of criminalization, education levels, poverty rates, etc.). Part 2 (chapters three and four) scales down to the micropolitics of ‘social intervention’ policy and service delivery. Two final chapters comprise Part 3 and provide an ethnography of those receiving social services, as well as a more general conceptual analysis of this dynamic set of processes on the whole. Two aspects of this conceptual analysis will be of most interest to social and political theorists, and are worth reconstructing here for the novel contribution they make. They pertain to how Dhillon theorizes (a) the settler-colonial state, and (b) participatory power.
Theorizing the Settler-Colonial State
Vast swathes of literature in the field of Settler Colonial Studies persists in speaking of the state in anthropomorphic terms. The state acts; it sees, talks, even thinks. Most of the time this is just...