- Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention by Jaskiran Dhillon
By Jaskiran Dhillon. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. ix + 314 pp. Illustrations, notes, reference, index. $34.95 paper.
With Prairie Rising, Jaskiran Dhillon exposes the politics of recognition and participation as but the latest in a long line of Canadian settler colonial strategies to dispossess First Nations peoples of their lands and cultures. Dhillon focuses on so-called intervention programs ostensibly designed to help indigenous youth in Saskatoon stay in school, stay off the streets, and stay out of prison. Such programs, she argues, are nothing more than “reconstructed colonial statecraft that seeks to target Indigenous youth for the end goal of reproducing and maintaining the settler colonial state project and the multitude of social and political practices that weave it together” (xi). Dhillon puts to work the methodologies of ethnography and (post)colonial studies to demonstrate that programs motivated by the neoliberal philosophies of intervention, recognition, and participation pathologize indigenous peoples for their failure to “get with the program” of Canadian civil society. At the same time, Dhillon argues, Canada can continue its “civil” mission of dispossession because instead of focusing on “fixing” the settler state, these programs focus on “fixing” delinquent, disadvantaged, dysfunctional indigenous youth who are only delinquent, disadvantaged, and dysfunctional by definition of a state that, from its inception, wants indigenous people to disappear, either by extermination or by assimilation into the Canadian body politic.
Throughout the book’s three parts, Dhillon weaves stories of individual indigenous youths in Saskatoon together with incisive critiques of the settler colonial statecraft that works to keep these youths caught up in the overlapping structures and systems that perpetuate their so-called delinquency and dysfunction. In part 1, she contextualizes current intervention programs within the history of Canadian settler colonial moves to dispossess Aboriginal peoples of their lands. Framing dispossession as “intervention” and inviting “participation” allows the Canadian government to step in as the saviors of a people who have simply lost their way, which masks the ultimate and as-yet-unfulfilled goal of complete control over the landmass called Canada. In part 2, Dhillon explores the complicated relations between the Indigenous Alliance and state-sponsored intervention programs. Particularly, she shows how the state relies on indigenous peoples to internalize the philosophies of intervention and participation so that they themselves police their own behavior, and that of their youth, in ways that ultimately serve state objectives. In part 3, she shows how a recognition of and focus on indigenous culture in intervention programs depoliticizes the structural relationships between the state and Aboriginal peoples to obscure the machinations of power [End Page 211] that keep indigenous youth caught up in its workings.
While Dhillon comes close, in several moments of the book, to suggesting that the authentic and appropriate indigenous response to state intervention is resistance, not cooperation, she concludes the book with a chapter called “Red Rising,” wherein she clarifies that “this book was never intended to be a series of knowledge claims about indigeneity itself. It should be read, first and foremost, as an indictment of the Canadian settler colonial state” (236). Prairie Rising absolutely indicts Canada for its settler colonial ruses while demonstrating that the answer to “where do we go from here?” is fraught with material and ideological tensions and paradoxes.
Idaho State University