- Conquest ReformedA Review of Jaskiran Dhillon's Prairie Rising
In Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention, Jaskiran Dhillon thoroughly critiques Canada's liberal project of inclusion and participation of First Nations peoples into the settler state.1 Dhillon's book stands out with its incisive critical analysis and thoughtful ethnographic inquiry. Prairie Rising is an important addition to Native studies literature with its ethnographic methodology and the powerful action of telling the stories of Indigenous youth affected by the settler state. She accomplishes her critique of Canada's participatory politics with a detailed analysis of the state's attempt to address the "Indigenous youth problem" through education and interventions within child welfare, incarceration, gang involvement, substance abuse, mental health, and sexual violence.
The "Indian Problem," as Dhillon argues, continues to be a source of concern amongst settler states. Canada, with its alleged "kinder, gentler" form of colonialism, is no exception.2 Reacting to First Nations' continued demands for sovereignty over the same lands the state dominates, settlers have dynamically reformed the logics of conquest into a liberal strategy of incorporation. Dhillon explains that continuing and maintaining a colonial mode of existence through a reformed system is nonetheless premised on Native erasure.3 Specifically, the project of incorporation further deprives Native nations the ability to regenerate sovereign ways of being on their own lands.4 These discourses are a part of a longer genealogy of liberal amelioration of which residential schools were a part. The current mode of liberal domestication within the governance of Canada, argues Dhillon, proudly displays First Nations [End Page 595] cultures as a performance of post-coloniality.5 These displays, she writes, "stand in sharp contrast to the high rates of poverty and suicide; sexual exploitation; limited access to education; lack of safe and affordable housing; compounding health concerns as a result of malnutrition, infectious disease, and drug addiction; and soaring rates of criminalization for urban Indigenous children, youth and families."6 Despite the obstacles First Nations face, they are vigorously regenerating social, cultural, and political futurities that demand decolonization. Canada, on the other hand, in order to maintain its colonial dispossession, requires particular alliances with First Nations. To accomplish this, the state is attempting to systematically incorporate Indigenous peoples into the structure of governance through multiple methods. Dhillon centres her research on the method of incorporation that provides youth services.7
Dhillon's opening vignette features a young First Nations woman named Nitânis whose government file of abuse, mental illness, and criminality is juxtaposed with Dhillon's familiarity with her as a caring young woman attempting to "transcend the structural violence enveloping her existence since early childhood."8 Dhillon provides the story of visiting Natânis at a psychiatric facility where Natânis offered her a tour of the common spaces and her room within the facility.9 This vignette, and the other stories of youth that she provides, is used by Dhillon to personalize and humanize those affected by the colonial system's continuous impacts on First Nations peoples. Dhillon explains that the "intergenerational and multifaceted impact of the colonial 'founding' of Canada is ever present."10 Furthermore, she argues, "[t]he effects are material and discursive. They are social and political. And they live in the flesh and bones of young people like Natânis."11 Prairie Rising's inclusion of Natânis displays both the vulnerability of Indigenous youth and women as well as their strength to persist.
Dhillon's ethnographic method is decisive in its attempt to match the stories of Indigenous youth to real world effects, surpassing the tendency to discuss the impacts in merely theoretical or historical contexts. The obstacle, however, with any ethnographic approach focusing on Indigenous peoples is to avoid descending into narratives of victimhood or the exploitation of subjects. Dhillon makes clear that she understands these pitfalls and cites Vine Deloria's critique of such shallow research.12 She states: "[O]ne of the central tenets of this book was to replace facile analysis with deep ethno-graphic inquiry...