Skip to main content

Boundaries among Kin: Sovereignty, the Modern Treaty Process, and the Rise of Ethno-Territorial Nationalism among Yukon First Nations

  • Paul Nadasdy (a1)

The Canadian government recently concluded a series of land claim and self-government agreements with many First Nations in the Yukon Territory. A result of First Nation claims to land and sovereignty in the region, these modern treaties grant First Nations some real powers of self-governance. They are framed in the idiom of sovereignty, but they also compel First Nation people to accept—in practice if not in theory—a host of Euro-American assumptions about power and governance that are implicit in such a framing. This article focuses on a central premise of the sovereignty concept: territorial jurisdiction. The Yukon agreements carve the Yukon into fourteen distinct First Nation “traditional territories.” Although many assume that these territories reflect “traditional” patterns of land-use and occupancy, indigenous society in the Yukon was not composed of distinct political entities each with jurisdiction over its own territory. Thus, the agreements do not simply formalize jurisdictional boundaries among pre-existing First Nation polities; rather, they are mechanisms for creating the legal and administrative systems that bring those polities into being. The powers these agreements confer come in the territorial currency of the modern state, and territorialization processes they engender are transforming First Nation society in radical and often unintended ways. One significant aspect of this transformation is the emergence of multiple ethno-territorial identities, and corresponding nationalist sentiments. I examine these processes by focusing on two cases of contemporary boundary making among Yukon First Nations.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Agnew, John. 1994. The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory. Review of International Political Economy 1, 1: 5380.
Agnew, John. 2005. Sovereignty Regimes: Territoriality and State Authority in Contemporary World Politics. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95, 2: 437–61.
Albers, Patricia. 1996. Changing Patterns of Ethnicity in the Northeastern Plains, 1780–1870. In Hill, J. D., ed., History, Power, and Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Americas, 1492–1992. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 90118.
Alfred, Taiaiake. 1999. Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press.
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. New York: Verso.
Anderson, James. 1988. Nationalist Ideology and Territory. In Johnson, R. J., Knight, D., and Kofman, E., eds., Nationalism, Self-Determination and Political Geography. London: Croom Helm, 1839.
Anderson, James. 1996. The Shifting Stage of Politics: New Medieval and Postmodern Territorialities. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 133–53.
Anderson, Malcolm. 1997. Frontiers: Territory and State Formation in the Modern World. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press.
Appadurai, Arjun. 2003. Sovereignty without Territory: Notes for a Postnational Geography. In Low, S. and Lawrence-Zúñiga, D., eds., The Anthropology of Space and Place. Oxford: Blackwell, 337–49.
Ardrey, Robert. 1966. The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations. New York: Atheneum.
Asch, Michael. 1999. From Calder to Van der Peet: Aboriginal Rights and Canadian Law, 1973–96. In Havemann, P., ed., Indigenous People's Rights in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. New York: Oxford University Press, 428–46.
Barker, Joanne, ed. 2005. Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Biolsi, Thomas. 2005. Imagined Geographies: Sovereignty, Indigenous Space, and American Indian Struggle. American Ethnologist 32, 2: 239–59.
Bruyneel, Kevin. 2007. The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-Indigenous Relations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Cattelino, Jessica R. 2008. High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press.
Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Cheyfitz, Eric. 2000. The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute: A Brief History. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 2, 2: 248–75.
Coates, Kenneth. 1991. Best Left as Indians: Native-White Relations in the Yukon Territories, 1840–1973. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Easton, Norman. 2001. Intergenerational Differences in Ethnic Identification in a Northern Athapaskan Community. American Review of Canadian Studies 31, 12: 105–19.
Easton, Norman. 2007. King George Got Diarrhea: The Yukon-Alaska Boundary Survey, Bill Rupe, and the Scotty Creek Dineh. Alaska Journal of Anthropology 5, 1: 95118.
Ferguson, James and Gupta, Akhil. 2002. Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neo-Liberal Governmentality. American Ethnologist 29, 4: 9811002.
Flanagan, Thomas. 2000. First Nations? Second Thoughts. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Fortes, Meyer and Evans-Pritchard, E. E.. 1940. African Political Systems. London: Oxford University Press.
Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1981. The Nation-State and Violence: Volume Two of A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Henkel, Heiko and Stirrat, Roderick. 2001. Participation as Spiritual Duty; Empowerment as Secular Subjection. In Cooke, B. and Kothari, U., eds., Participation: The New Tyranny? New York: Zed Books, 168–84.
Hill, Jonathan, ed. 1996. History, Power, and Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Americas, 1492–1992. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Hobsbawm, Eric. 1992. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Irlbacher-Fox, Stephanie. 2009. Finding Dahshaa: Self-Government, Social Suffering, and Aboriginal Policy in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Kluane First Nation. 2003. Kluane First Nation Final Agreement among the Government of Canada and Kluane First Nation and the Government of the Yukon. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Knight, David. 1982. Identity and Territory: Geographical Perspectives on Nationalism and Regionalism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72, 4: 514–31.
Legros, Dominique. 1985. Wealth, Poverty, and Slavery among 19th-Century Tutchone Athapaskans. Research in Economic Anthropology 7: 3764.
Malkki, Liisa. 1992. National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees. Cultural Anthropology 7, 1: 2444.
McClellan, Catharine. 1975. My Old People Say: An Ethnographic Survey of Southern Yukon Territory. 2 vols. Ottawa: National Museum of Man.
McClellan, Catharine. 1992. Before Boundaries: People of Yukon/Alaska. In Borderlands: A Conference on the Alaska-Yukon Border, Whitehorse, Yukon, 2–4 June 1989. Proceedings. Whitehorse: Yukon Historical and Museums Association, 834.
Meek, Barbra A. 2010. We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabascan Community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Moore, Adam. 2010. Ethno-Territoriality and Intervention in Two Bosnian Towns. PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Murphy, Alexander. 1989. Territorial Policies in Multiethnic States. Geographical Review 79, 4: 410–21.
Murphy, Alexander. 1996. The Sovereign State System as Political-Territorial Ideal: Historical and Contemporary Considerations. In Biersteker, T. J. and Weber, C., eds., State Sovereignty as Social Construct. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 81120.
Nadasdy, Paul. 2003. Hunters and Bureaucrats: Power, Knowledge, and Aboriginal-State Relations in the Southwest Yukon. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Paasi, Anssi. 1996. Territories, Boundaries, and Consciousness: The Changing Geographies of the Finnish-Russian Border. New York: J. Wiley & Sons.
Penrose, Jan. 2002. Nations, States, and Homelands: Territory and Territoriality in Nationalist Thought. Nations and Nationalism 8, 3: 277–97.
Prucha, Francis. 1994. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Raustiala, Kal. 2009. Does the Constitution Follow the Flag? The Evolution of Territoriality in American Law. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rée, Jonathan. 1992. Internationality. Radical Philosophy 60: 311.
Richland, Justin. 2009. Hopi Tradition as Jurisdiction: On the Potentializing Limits of Hopi Sovereignty. Law and Social Inquiry 36, 1: 201–34.
Ruggie, John. 1993. Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations. International Organization 47, 1: 139–74.
Sack, Robert. 1986. Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sider, Gerald. 1994. Identity as History: Ethnohistory, Ethnogenesis, and Ethnocide in the Southeastern United States. Identities 1, 1: 109–22.
Smith, Anthony. 1979. Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. London: Martin Robertson.
Smith, Anthony. 1981. States and Homelands: The Social and Geopolitical Implications of National Territory. Millenium: Journal of International Studies 10, 3: 187202.
Soja, Edward. 1971. The Political Organization of Space. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Geographers.
Strang, David. 1996. Contested Sovereignty: The Social Construction of Colonial Imperialism. In Biersteker, T. J. and Weber, C., eds., State Sovereignty as Social Construct. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2249.
Strayer, Joseph. 1970. On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sturtevant, William. 1971. Creek into Seminole. In Leacock, E. and Lurie, N., eds., North American Indians in Historical Perspective. New York: Random House, 92128.
Thom, Brian. 2009. The Paradox of Boundaries in Coast Salish Territories. Cultural Geographies 16, 2: 179205.
Winichakul, Thongchai. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaìi Press.
Vandergeest, Peter and Peluso, Nancy. 1995. Territorialization and State Power in Thailand. Theory and Society 24, 3: 385426.
Watkins, Mel, ed. 1977. Dene Nation: The Colony Within. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Weber, Max. 1946. Politics as a Vocation. In Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. W., eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 77128.
Wilkins, David and Lomawaima, Tsianina. 2001. Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Wolf, Eric. 1982. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wood, Denis. 1992. The Power of Maps. New York: Guilford Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed