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  • Sovereignty's Entailments: First Nation State Formation in the Yukon by Paul Nadasdy
  • Danielle DiNovelli-Lang
Nadasdy, Paul, Sovereignty's Entailments: First Nation State Formation in the Yukon, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017, 396 pages.

In Sovereignty's Entailments, Paul Nadasdy leverages an impressive array of scholarship from political theory, Indigenous studies and anthropology to caution against the widespread embrace of "Indigenous sovereignty" as the best vehicle for Indigenous empowerment, especially in Canada's Yukon territory. The book is ethnographically grounded in Nadasdy's two decades of engagement with First Nation state-formation in southwest Yukon, including his work as Kluane First Nation's (KFN) official representative on two intergovernmental committees charged with implementing and reviewing its self-government agreements. This experience has afforded Nadasdy an insider's view of the transformations wrought as KFN finalised its land claims and took over many state functions from the Canadian and territorial governments. The book argues that these transformations, particularly "in Yukon Indian peoples' ways of relating to one another, the land, and animals," (38) are related to the very exercise of sovereignty as entailed by KFN's adoption of the agreements. Although he claims to defer judgment on whether sovereignty's entailments will turn out to be positive or negative in the end, insofar as Yukon Indian people absolutely did not organise themselves into sovereign states before colonialism, Nasdasdy concludes unequivocally that "the Yukon agreements serve as extensions of the colonial project" (315).

The book's provocative introduction and first chapter on "Sovereignty" establish Nadasdy's two key theoretical assumptions: the first is that sovereignty is the essential mode of expression of the modern territorial state (11–12); the second is that its cultural entailments are so fundamentally opposed to those of indigeneity that Indigenous people cannot adopt the mantle of sovereignty without undergoing a "cultural revolution" (5). Most of the remainder of the book is dedicated to describing this revolution with respect to three key cultural dimensions of the sovereign state – territory, citizenship and nation – as these are brought into being through the Yukon agreements. These three "entailments" are addressed in Chapters 2 through 4, while a fifth core chapter, called "Time," combines a critique of the nationalism of historical time with an investigation into the temporality of bureaucratic wildlife management. Throughout the text, Nadasdy juxtaposes scholarly debates on the meaning of these core concepts in political theory and anthropology with evidence from the ethnographic record concerning pre-contact Yukon society. He then describes how the entailments of sovereignty as described in the first set of literatures are wreaking havoc on the ways of being documented in the second set of literatures. This last component relies on Nadasdy's own long-term fieldwork in the Yukon, and it is here that he is at his best: in relating the stories of KFN citizens' own struggles to come to terms with their new political reality, he amplifies their insights as to the meaning of sovereignty in practice into a devastating critique of the state as such.

One of the most poignant of these stories involves a former chief of KFN, Joe Johnson (to whose memory Nadasdy's book is dedicated), becoming so outraged that a neighbouring First Nation offered him only a week-long permit to hunt in its territory that he decided to apply for a hunting licence from the Yukon government instead (123–125). Nadasdy recalls being astonished when he first learned that Johnson, who had personally striven to achieve self-government for his own First Nation, apparently preferred to submit to the rule of the colonial state rather than the rule of another First Nation – one whose citizenry included many of Johnson's own close relatives. The paradox implicit in Johnson's decision may well have inspired the book as a whole, and Nadasdy returns to this story again and again as a prime example of how state bureaucracies – regardless of whether they technically belong to First Nations or not – do not merely overlay but radically disrupt precolonial forms of Indigenous political organisation. Indeed, in the years that followed Johnson's decision, KFN, which in Johnson's time had granted unlimited hunting permits to neighbouring...


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pp. 162-164
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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