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Domestic Colonies in Canada: Rethinking the Definition of Colony

  • Barbara Arneil (a1)

What is a colony? In this article, I reconsider the meaning of colony in light of the existence of domestic colonies in Canada around the turn of the twentieth century. The two case studies examined are farm colonies for the mentally disabled and ill in Ontario and British Columbia and utopian colonies for Doukhobors in Saskatchewan. I show how both kinds of colonies are characterized by the same three principles found in Lockean settler colonialism: segregation, agrarian labour on uncultivated soil and improvement/cultivation of people and land. Defining “colony” in this way is theoretically interesting as it is different from the definition found in most dictionaries and post-colonial scholarship. There is also an inherent contradiction within domestic colonies as they both support state power over indigenous peoples, Doukhobors and the mentally ill and disabled but also challenge the principles of domination, individualism, private property and sovereignty upon which the Canadian settler state was founded.

Qu'est-ce qu'une colonie? Je reprends, dans cet article, le sens donné à cette notion à la lumière des colonies intérieures existant au Canada vers le tournant du XXe siècle. Les deux études de cas examinées portent sur des colonies agricoles pour des personnes ayant une déficience mentale et malades en Ontario et en Colombie-Britannique et des colonies utopiques pour des doukhobors en Saskatchewan. Je montre comment les deux types de colonies sont caractérisés par les mêmes trois principes que l'on retrouve dans le colonialisme lockéen: ségrégation, travail agraire sur des terres non cultivées et amélioration des sols. Il est théoriquement intéressant de définir ainsi la notion de « colonie », car elle diffère de la définition de la plupart des dictionnaires et de la littérature postcoloniale. Il y a aussi une contradiction inhérente entre les colonies intérieures qui, toutes deux, soutiennent la primauté du pouvoir de l’État sur les communautés autochtones, les doukhobors et les personnes ayant une déficience mentale et malades, mais qui contestent également les principes de domination, d'individualisme, de propriété privée et de souveraineté sur lesquels l’État colonial canadien a été fondé.

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Corresponding author
Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, C425-1866 Main Mall, Vancouver BC, V6 T 1Z1, email:
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
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  • EISSN: 1744-9324
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