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Decolonising the Politics of Status: When the Border Crosses Us

by Davina Bhandar
16 May 2016 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Reflections on Dispossession: Critical Feminisms [14] | Article

We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”
Status for all” /“No one is illegal”
Idle no more! We are all treaty people”

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.”[1]

“We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them,” he said. And his final verdict? “Canada is big enough to make a difference but not big enough to threaten anybody. And that is a huge asset if it’s properly used.”[2]

Borders and multiple forms of dispossession

In white settler nation-states immigration and the freedom of mobility are intimately tied to practices of territorial dispossession of indigenous peoples, enacted through varied processes of displacement. Both statements from the leaders of the Canadian and US governments illustrate founding national narratives that consciously forge legacies of belonging through the erasure of dispossession.  In the immigrant founding narrative that Obama utilises, equitableness is established through the shared ideal of being and belonging to the nation-state, regardless of the route through which the migrant travelled or the practices of displacement that the imposition of borders established. In Harper’s infamous declaration, Canada is simply immune from the continued relations of colonialism and the effects of the ongoing dispossession and displacement of indigenous peoples.  The twinning of dispossession and territorial belonging is not disconnected from the right of mobility and the fight for immigrant status often defined in opposition to a xenophobic racial state and its border-management strategies.[3] The white settler state of Canada has determined its immigration and citizenship policies through histories of exclusions based on race, class, gender and able-bodiedness.

By focusing on the practices of borders as central to the production of political status, this article highlights how modes of political status are central to a politics of dispossession of settler nation-states. Furthermore, this article argues for a reading of border crossing as constituted through the dispossession that frames the experience of both indigenous and immigrant subjects. Racialised immigrant communities have been called upon to investigate their role in the continued colonisation and dispossession of indigenous land.[4] In migrant justice movements the political demand “status for all” is one that requires careful analysis in relation to complicated modalities of status and recognition found in indigenous communities. An effective strategy for understanding the interrelationship between these demands and the politics of refusal of the concept of status requires an intersectional analysis of power relations.  This essay begins by examining the concept of status as a modality that establishes differential and contingent forms of belonging to the state. The question of status is understood here as a promise that remains unfulfilled by democratic institutions of citizenship. Regardless of how expansively it may be understood, status is formed out of the multiple layers of exclusion, dispossession and displacement. Through a discursive analysis, this article examines the contingent nature of status through the articulation of three political movements represented by the following slogans: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us”; “Status for one, status for all”; and “We are all treaty people”.

Status making and meaning

While the geopolitical site of the border is the ground upon which sovereign territorial claims are enacted and materialised, it is also the space in which the insecurity of identities and statuses is played out. In the white settler space of North America, the border is both the site of territorial dispossession and the manager of racial and settler identities through the modality of status. In applying a discursive analysis of three popular social movement slogans that employ some concept of status, its polyvalent function is examined. Central to this discussion are the political mobilisations formed around the above-mentioned slogans, which make it possible to think through a decolonised approach to the question of status. Placing together the questions of migrant justice and indigenous movements, reveals a complicated set of relations that concern the work performed by the concept of status.[5]

How is it possible to speak in the name of decolonisation when immigration and settlement are the very tools of dispossession that the settler-society uses to perpetuate its own acts and processes of colonisation? The politics of sovereignty and border control engage strategies that both confirm and deny the very nature of foundational settled identities. Through analysis of events surrounding these slogans, I examine how identities conceived as legally-defined forms of status are altered when encountering the settler logics imposed through border politics.[6] Status is the complex set of relationships that defines one’s political and social identity within the public and private sphere. Official legal status has been used to define and legislate the very nature of personhood in society. Status determines membership, belonging and may also define the rights and entitlements that a political subject or actor can demand of the state. By exploring the border context, I examine how migrants and indigenous subjects are produced through the status-making process. The site of the border operates as a central technology in the determination, solidification, and definition of status. The site of the border is therefore a rich site of contestation, resistance and challenge of the functions of the state.

For instance, the slogan “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”[7] is used to galvanise support for social movements and take up political positions in distinct global locales and in radically different border contexts. This statement highlights the multiple ways that border management is able to shift, rename, and situate an indigenous person as a person who is a migrant, a status-seeking subject or a foreigner within a sovereign territory. This statement allows us to unravel how complex global systems of migration, relocation and border politics can simultaneously solicit claims to indigenous sovereignty as well as claims to migrant forms of political subjectivity.  Collectively, these chants demarcate the colonial context to the borderlands of disputed territories and in some instances the treaty arrangements that have defined these lines of separation.

In the Canadian and broader North American context, issues regarding status and political membership of migrants and indigenous peoples have most notably been conducted in distinct isolation from each other; this has placed the political subjectivities of migrants in a separate category, segregated from the questions of status and the forms of status-making imposed upon indigenous communities. The notable exception to this claim are various Canadian and North American studies on racial and colonial state formation, which view these questions as central to the historical formation of each nation-state: Canada, the US and Mexico.[8] In addition, contemporary migrant justice social movements, such as No One is Illegal, are committed to a decolonising political praxis, and seek to organise in solidarity with indigenous groups and First Nations in various locations throughout Canada.  While scholarship in the areas of anti-racism and critical race studies has grappled with understanding the complexities of Canada’s racial and colonial state formation, both this academic literature and collaborative solidarity work between racialised groups, migrants and indigenous peoples has been somewhat absent from the work that engages with questions of status, citizenship and political subjectivity. It is important to address the reasons behind this lacuna.

Questions of legal and political status expose multiple tensions and fissures within a colonial political framework. These are inherent to the Canadian state formation, and yet they remain largely absent from the context of social, political and legal conversations on political membership or forms of citizenship. The literatures that examine questions of status and claims to citizenship, sovereignty and political membership take place in isolation – rather than conversation – with one another. For instance, literature in critical citizenship studies such as Isin and Neilsen[9];Nyers[10]and De Genova[11] has challenged the normative idea of citizenship based on legal and political parameters by emphasising the acts of citizenship in multiple sites of democratic engagement. This emphasis illustrates how the act of being political[12] is by its very nature rooted in the genealogical practice of citizenship, which is not regulated solely by the nation-state. Nicholas De Genova[13] in particular has illustrated how the very construction of the “illegality” of migrants relies on a racial logic, evident in the inherent deportability of Mexican migrants in the US.

However, in this scholarship, the questions of what is at stake in status-making, or how one can act as a citizen or be political, are raised in the absence of a clear engagement with the context of a colonial state-formation. The relationship between territoriality and status — so clearly delineated in Bosniak’s treatment of the multiple spheres and scalar notions of citizenship — is also limited by its lack of engagement with questions regarding the challenges of defining claims to multiple territorialities within bounded nation-states such as Canada and the US.[14]

In the Canadian context, the question of status cannot be removed or disarticulated from this colonial frame. For this reason, a thorough discussion of the various uses and understandings of status leads to the central question in the Canadian context: how might the relationship between migration and colonisation be understood contemporarily? Is it possible to examine the function of status in the context of settler-relations? I argue here that the first step toward challenging the duality of migration and colonisation is to place the legal logics of dispossession at the core of this analysis.

Historically, white settlement and colonisation of Canada was established through immigration and practices of resettlement. The racial logic of colonisation, the establishment of the white settler nation-state of Canada and the production of terms and articulations of status are multi-layered and implicated in one another. Sunera Thobani explains the constitution of citizenship in this way:

Citizenship was instituted in a triangulated formation: the Aboriginal marked for physical and cultural extinction, deserving of citizenship only upon abdication of indigeneity; the ‘preferred race settler’ and future national, exalted as worthy of citizenship and membership in the nation; and the ‘non-preferred race’ immigrant, marked as a stranger and sojourner, an unwelcome intruder whose lack of Christian faith, inherent deviant tendencies, and unchecked fecundity all threatened the nation’s survival.[15]

In this assessment of the constitution of citizenship there is a clear understanding of a racial hierarchy established through the processes of citizen-making; other scholars, such as Himani Bannerji, have commented on how the state utilises a politics of multiculturalism as a tool for the management of the difference and diversity of its population. In Bannerji’s nuanced reading of state formation, she articulates how categories such as “visible minority” are utilised to do the work of creating and managing ideological distinctions between those who are particularly racialised within the state and those who are not.[16] Mackey extends this thesis by examining how the state constitution and management of difference works to articulate a white nationalism, a key feature in the cultures of settlement in the Canadian context.[17] Each of these articulations of the hierarchy and management of racial state formation[18], demonstrates attention to how the concept of status operates therein, as a limitation or a technology.

The concept of status acts as a containment strategy by the state to determine the social and political typology of a variety of actors. The function of status allows the state to demarcate the population on the one hand, as well as, further forms of control based on the idea of exclusion, exile, detainment, and restrictions of various rights. While much of this past work examines the role of the state and loosely follows Goldberg’s observations on racial state formation, the very concept of status itself comes to be reproduced as a concrete thing, something that is not inherently flexible, contingent and highly susceptible to shift along a number of different axes.[19] It is in this sense that I wish to challenge the normative construction of the idea of political membership. The latter has been referred to as a site of responsibility or recognition, as well as of birthright, natural selection, or a process of naturalisation. In other words, my interest here is to question the foundations upon which normative forms of belonging within liberal-democratic states have been forged through an amnesiac practice that seeks to forget the processes and forms of exclusion that have historically demarcated the formation of citizenship. While citizenship and legal status in their various forms brings with them varied and multiple entitlements, they are far from along being able to constitute a foundational or concrete identity. Status and political membership as concepts are continually shifting, subject to redefinition, legal appeal and other forms of governmental and extra-governmental challenge.

In the discussion that follows, I examine how the paradoxical concept of status as a stable entity — something understood to provide an ontological foundation within claims to sovereign authority, or status as a territorially-bounded concept — also doubles as a system of categorisation that cannot therefore be deterritorialised nor significantly decolonised in order to function as a progressive form of legal membership. Forms of status — demarcated through notions of blood, belonging and nationhood — ultimately demand a robust politics of refusal.[20] In the three articulations of migrant and indigenous activism that will be investigated here, I examine the contested site of refusing to conform to the containment strategies of the state in the constituting of status. Status can be investigated as a state practice of indigenous categorisation and ordering, but also as a mechanism determining broader notions of borders, belonging, exclusions and citizenship. By invoking status I am broadly referring to a political and legal membership in the Canadian state.[21]

In Canada the notion of status has been implicated in both the strategic consolidation of state colonial governance over indigenous populations and in the development of strict regulations of racial, biological and kinship relations. The colonial state determined who could be defined as an authentic or full status Indian through these typologies, and how they could be so defined. Status has been a long disputed colonial tool. As Patrick Wolfe has argued, it is a form of governmental genocide, which leads to the slow dismantling of communal and kinship ties.[22] Colonial governance established a model of racial and familial lineage typology dictating who is determined as status Indian. The racial logic that has informed hierarchies of status within the colonial-settler state of Canada has rationalised a systemic practice of control and the racial organisation of Canadian society.

In this sense, the concept of status is deployed for the purpose of securing the racial hierarchy of Canadian society, implicating indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to varying degrees. In terms of indigenous status as governed through the Canadian nation-state, it has been a direct mechanism of control over the allocation of resources, the maintenance of power and control over communities, the intrusion into intimacy, the dissemination of forms of authenticity and the embedding a racial logic with the expression of nation identity.[23] The embedded construct of status is read here as a systematic process of ethnic genocide by the Canadian state in the precise sense in which Patrick Wolfe has shown how forms of property and dispossession are intimately connected to practices of genocidal relations in settler-state contexts.[24] Indigenous communities and groups of people with mixed heritage have simply been categorised or indeed systematically mislabelled out of their status as authentic Indians. In McIvor v. Canada, which will be examined in greater depth below, for example, we can see how gender exclusion has been maintained and affects the status of second and third generations.[25]

The discursive formation of the three political slogans at the heart of this article offer compelling intersections of political solidarities that are taking place in contemporary social movements.  In the discussion that follows, I examine emergent political subjectivities found in communities of migrant and non-status activism that challenge the normative standards of citizenship and status-making. How are such actions, engaging in the political or public sphere, to be counted – i.e. enumerated and categorised – within frameworks of legitimacy and illegitimacy? Overwhelmingly, in status-seeking organisations there is a demand to expand membership within the state, rather than a demand for the refusal of the state altogether.[26] Does the very paradigm of citizen-belonging prematurely close off a politics of refusal or de-containment, or a politics of decolonisation?

We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”

This statement, originating in the 1990s with reference to movements against proposition 187 in California, is now a political rallying-call across North America across multiple sites, such as anti-deportation and solidarity marches, but also transnationally, at other border sites of dispossession, from Israel/Palestine to the Canada/US border itself. In the statement “We didn’t cross the border” it is possible to hear a united claim of indigenous sovereignty and migrant justice rights. This slogan encapsulates the experience of land dispossession, which took place through the radical redrawing of the South-Western US border in 1848. The annexation of indigenous lands converted the status and racial identification of indigenous peoples. Is it possible to distinguish between the various typologies of belonging, status, indigeneity, and the nation-state claims that are enacted in the phrase “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”?

This particular geo-political history of the border is not an isolated instance. Rather, it is possible to see how this movement or articulation of claims to sovereignty and practices of dispossession is enacted globally, in Kashmir/Pakistan/India, Palestine/Israel, Canada/US, US/Mexico, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and multiple sites between and betwixt. In each of these contexts how do we explain the typologies that exist when borders are constituted and people are made exogenous to these borders? This practice of displacement takes the indigenous subject and shifts this subjectivity to a displaced, refugee, non-status, migrant subject. The relationship to the experience of being indigenous, refugee, migrant, status or non-status is a matter of complicated moments in lives that have been shaped by the inexact and often colonising or imperial politics of border-creation. If this notion of the imperial or colonial strategies of border-making is simply an accepted normative function of sovereign statehood, we are still left with the task of determining how to unpack claims of indigeneity in relation to the non-status migrant and the formation of the political meaning of status.

The call to action embodied in the slogan ‘We didn’t cross the border…’ has a historical lineage in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican-American War.[27] In the aftermath of this colonial war the northern part of Mexico was annexed, and the Treaty stipulated that anyone who did not relinquish his or her Mexican identity and accept US citizenship was deemed “illegal”.[28] Chacỏn and Davis point out that among anti–immigrant groups, what “most fail to realise (intentionally or not) is that many of the states that make up the United States used to form the northern portion of Mexico”.[29] Furthermore,

(t)he expropriation and annexation of northern Mexico was conducted under a direct military occupation by US forces. It was legally enshrined by the imposition of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, whose ratification by the Mexican government was a precondition for troop withdrawal. The Treaty ceded California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Oklahoma. It also forced Mexico to drop any further claim to Texas. [30]

The intimate connections between the production of this border, as a “new imagined geography”[31] and the production of those political subjectivities that are re-categorised from being indigenous to becoming Mexican foreign nationals, is demonstrative of how the intimate relationships between indigenous and migrant rights are founded in the instantiation of sovereignty.  As Chacỏn and Davis argue:

The conquest of Northern Mexico found upwards of 125, 000 Mexicans crossed by a new border, one that defined them as foreigners in their own ancestral lands. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny defined the relations between incoming Anglo migrants and the Mexicano population in the unequal terms of conquerors and the conquered.[32]

The indigenous of this area were not simply converted into Mexican foreign nationals, but the process through which this shift in status was made complete was through the implementation of a racial categorisation that extends beyond national identity. In this sense the border constitutes ontological distinctions. The process of racialisation and reconstitution of status-making in post-conquest Mexico is clearly articulated through the development of the “Anglo-Saxon” race as the “superior race” in North America. Chacỏn and Davis argue that: “According to this view, Mexican peoples were inherently inferior to Anglos, on the grounds that they were mongrelized by the fusion of Indian and African blood with that of the European Spaniard. … Mexicans comprised a sub-species, a fact that nullified any claims to sovereignty”.[33]

Through the racial typologies imposed on indigenous peoples, dispossession enacted a dual process: first, peoples were reconstituted as a national ethnic identity, external to the lands they inhabited; secondly, Mexicans were then refounded as foreign subjects in their homelands, by being constituted as illegal migrants. If we view systems of bordering as technologies of citizenship[34], the very particular histories and social contexts in which this bordering and rebordering occurs is central to an understanding of how indigeneity/migrancy are twinned processes when held by the settler state. Here the colonial context, the act of dispossession and territorial appropriation are central to the political subjectivities that emerge. Furthermore, it is through a process of ethnicisation and racialisation that distinct categories of the Mexican national, foreign alien subject and indigenous American Indian are being produced.

The ambivalence and the insecurity of the claim to this border region is evident in the national anxieties that are continually expressed about this border, and the symbolic value of closing off the border region through the erection of a walled perimeter zone, heavily policed and constantly surveilled.  Wendy Brown argues that states of anxiety and neurosis are symbolised by the creation and maintenance of walls and borders. In the context of the US/Mexico border, Brown argues that it is nothing more than an expensive act of political theatre:

In short, the US/Mexico barrier stages a sovereign power and control that it does not exercise, is built from the fabric of a suspended rule of law and fiscal non-accountability, has multiplied and intensified criminal industries and is an icon of the combination of sovereign erosion and heightened xenophobia and nationalism increasingly prevalent in Western democracies today.[35]

If this is the case, and the border between the US/Mexico fails to realise American sovereign control, the discourse producing this border nevertheless remains very active. Through the treaty negotiations or violent dispossession, people indigenous to these spaces are made external to the borders being produced. Through this externalization they become the foreign alien body. But this does not happen in a uniform temporal space. What takes place instead is the shifting of people from categories of status – i.e. being indigenous to their homeland – to being alien within a new nation-state formation. It is important to note that even though a hundred and fifty years have passed, the experience of the landless remains one of US invasion and occupation. As the comments below indicate, this was ignited in the mid-1990s with the controversial passage of proposition 187 in the State of California. Proposition 187 challenged the entitlement of people to their indigenous lineage, subjecting them to a systemic disavowal of this status.

In the enunciation of “We didn’t cross the border” exists a challenge to the discourse of the border and its constitutive effects by refusing the narrative of becoming-illegal. In challenging the construction of status, the act is here to reinstate a political subjectivity of indigeneity with its claims to a territorial belonging. In this regard, this movement is emblematic of a radical politics of refusal that challenges the political containment of national identity and the question of status. In reframing the identity of being Mexican sojourners across the border, participants in this movement make the claim for the free movement of indigenous peoples across the border.

Fig. 1

In the fall of 1994, just one hundred and fifty years after United States invasion and occupation, the streets and television screens of Los Angeles were populated by tens of thousands brown skinned native American youth waving Mexican Flags and chanting, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” The youth, mostly of Mexica ancestry were walking out of their classrooms into the streets in protest of the controversial and racist Proposition 187 (which has since passed) that threatened “undocumented” humans, mainly of the Mexican category, with penalties and loss of invaluable services including medical care and education.[36]

Fig. 2

The striking aspect of the enunciation “we didn’t cross the border” is the very refusal of national identity or of any inclusion within a state. It is a direct statement, not aimed at status or inclusion; rather, it is a very public demonstration of the historical fact of territorial belonging that exists amongst this migrant community. It shifts the discourse from the foreign invader to the ambiguous function of political subjectivity that in this case passes between indigenous and migrant subjectivities. The controversial Proposition 187, which envisaged harsh restrictions on access to basic social services for those designated as Mexican illegal aliens, was in many ways similar to contemporary legislation in Arizona (SB 107), based in the idea that the undocumented or Mexican migrant belongs to a specific category that requires the state to perform a kind of externalisation. Rather than perceiving such contemporary issues simply in the framework migrant justice, when we consider them in terms of indigenous sovereign claims, we see the issues of territoriality and belonging in a different light. The relationship between the construction of borders and the concretisation of status or state membership is not simply one-dimensional or uni-directional. If the border is discursive in nature (as argued by Brown)[37], the effects of counter-narratives or counter-discourses should also be taken into account.

The “we didn’t cross the border” slogan offers an alternate reading of the border, a refusal to be encoded as illegal or as an alien — indicating instead the constitutive act of state regulation. In the image below (fig.3) we can note how this politics of refusal has become transnational, allowing for a comparative framing of the Israel/Palestine border, challenging our geographic imaginations. While the discourse-formation of the “wall” that has been erected by Israel is one of security of territory, it is instructive to note how the challenge for Palestinians involves both indigenous claims to a homeland and the impeded movement of persons across the “security fence”, whose temporality and spatial order frames them the foreign/alien migrants, terrorist suspects, and dangerous invaders or “infiltrators”. The “wall” discursively shapes and ontologically contains the Palestinians, dismisses indigenous claims to the land, and projects them as alien migrants, dispossessed and dislocated.

Fig. 3

The Mexica Movement, which is a self-described indigenous educational resource centre in Los Angeles, California, was established in 1992. The movement claims to reject the Eurocentric framing of political identities such as mestizo, Hispanic, illegals, immigrant, Latino and invader, promoting instead a vision of indigenous solidarity across the continent under the identity of Nican Tlaca Nation.[38] This indigenous struggle, which produced the poster below, contends that all indigenous peoples of the continent, regardless of nation-state relationships, have a prior claim to the land as indigenous. The mission established in this context is necessarily focused on the recovery of an identity of peoples that has been erased or challenged by various forms of status-making and revisionism. In this sense, by claiming the identity of indigeneity, they are rejecting the very notion of being labeled as illegal or external to the land on which the nation-state has established itself.

Fig. 4

The poster (fig. 4) represents a pan-indigenous movement across the North, South and Central Americas.  The images are sutured together to figure a temporal transcendence as well as a spatial collapse of various indigenous communities, but we should take note of their racial and ethnic signification. The image of the Kwakiutl woman is taken from an iconic photograph by Edward Curtis from the 1880s.[39] The work of Edward Curtis, in particular the films and photographs he took of the Kwakiutl, has been controversial due to its representations of what he understood to be a “vanishing” culture. In many cases, Curtis would stage photographs or direct his subjects to behave in particular ways to promote an “authentic” rendering of the native subject. A reading of this poster through the lens of Curtis’s controversial photographic image lends ambivalence to the claim to authentic identities and the pan-indigeneity that the poster is presumably seeking to convey.  In the Canadian context, the refusal and reframing of border-consciousness takes place on differently imagined terrains. The question of indigeneity is perceived in terms of a more concrete and settled identity. The state recognises, for instance, the transit of various indigenous communities whose traditional territories exist on either side of the US/Canada border. However, the very understanding of the settled nature of this status and the recognised entitlements it entails generates particular conundrums when indigenous subjectivity once again balances on a unique precipice of racial categorisation.

With the post-9/11 securitisation of international borders and various shifts in border regulations that have taken place in both Canada and US over the past decade, First Nations communities whose recognised territories exceed state borders were confronted with problematic jurisdictional requirements that challenged their sovereign authorities.[40] One such example can be found in the implications of border-crossings that involve the use of the Haudenosaunee Passport. Sheryl Lightfoot has extensively discussed the details of the Haudenosaunee passport and the historical context of the Iroquois Confederacy commitment to establishing the terms of sovereignty, self-determination and nationhood. Lightfoot states:

Haudenosaunee assertions of their separateness and distinctiveness include both full statehood claims and more nuanced expressions of sovereignty and nationhood. For example, every July, close to both the American and Canadian national holidays, Haudenosaunee people gather at Niagara Falls and march across the border, ignoring the border guards on both sides, in order to assert that they are not Canadian or American citizens, but Haudenosaunee.[41]

Lightfoot cites that the first use of the Haudenosaunee travel documents dates to 1921, when a representative was chosen to travel to Great Britain to make a case for intervention into the abuse of treaty agreements with the Canadian government. The passport has been in use since, throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s in particular; the passport was issued and used to cross many jurisdictions without incident.  Since 2001, however, the distribution and use of the Haudenosaunee passport amongst the Iroquois Confederacy has become a highly disputed practice, and in some instances it has been disqualified from use, particularly along the US/Canada border. The use of this passport demands the re-evaluation of the terms of political membership and reflects the radical act of refusing membership in a nation-state that is actively involved in the dispossession of one’s relationship to the land. Indigenous peoples who have employed this passport contend that they do so in order to assert that they are part neither of Canada nor the USA, and that the only membership they recognise is to their indigenous nation-state. In this moment of refusal, the act of citizenship takes place not through a political demand for membership, but as an active challenge to the very nature and parameters of that territorial sovereignty.

Colonial governance and the making of status

The term “status” extends from the model of colonial governance over indigenous populations into policies concerning the migrant and immigrant populations of Canada. The determination of status or full membership has been marked by colonial and imperial legacies and the continued violence of capitalist forms of globalisation. Depending on the period of arrival to Canada, the racialised migrant subject experienced either an institution of direct racial hierarchies of belonging, whereby the “Oriental” races were deemed unfit for membership within white Canada, or a casting-out of migrants as provisional, non-permanent labouring bodies for the Canadian state and economy. Status in the context of the Canadian state refers to the naturalised and often hidden governmental practices that establish modes of distinction and typological categorisations that are reflected in how one belongs. This is always a process, invariably political and never a universal experience.  Unveiling the practices of status-making demonstrates how the construction of status functions to mediate forms of colonial/colonised subjectivities. The notion of status demands attention because racialised immigrants are rarely brought fully or unproblematically into the fold of full national identity. The contemporary typologies of status are formed through antecedent colonial governance regimes that impact the belonging of racialised immigrants or “settlers of colour” within the settler state in the present.

In the context of postcolonial African states, Mahmood Mamdani has clearly articulated how colonial governance systems are embedded in modern and postcolonial forms of governance. He argues that:

Colonial law made a fundamental distinction between two types of persons: those indigenous and those not indigenous; in a word, natives and non-natives. My first observation … is that rights belonged to non-natives, not to natives. Natives had to live according to custom. Nationalism was a struggle of natives to be recognized as a trans-ethnic identity, as a race, as Africans, and thus—as a race—to gain admission to the world of rights, to civil society, which was a short form for civilized society. Before going farther, I would like to take a closer look at the two worlds: the world of the native and the world of the settler (which we shall see was not always synonymous with non-native), the world of ethnicities and the world of races, the world of customary law and the world of civil law.[42]

The racial and colonial logic that Mamdani ascribes to a post-colonial state formation offers some interesting comparative perspectives with respect to the legacy of colonial systems of governance and racial logics in Canada. While the systems of racial governance in the white settler-colonies are historically distinct from indirectly-ruled colonial territories, a continuity exists in how indigenous rights have been framed, whether through a land rights argument or a question of status or claims for status that are relegated through a legal system to a system of customary law. Indeed the very separation between the indigenous and the non-indigenous is consistently established throughout all the facets of the contemporary Canadian state. Several examples of this can be found in the multiple forms of underfunding of First Nations both on and off reserves, through lack of nutrition, education, basic forms of housing, food and shelter. The distinction between indigenous and non-indigenous relations has been foregrounded by the Idle No More movement, which launched a global call to action and solidarity in 2012-13. The state maintains rigid boundaries that are racially and ethnically divided, encoded and governed. In addition, the movement of making a race from an ethnicity is particularly important with regard to how some indigenous, self-determining nations have established rigid blood quantum regulations as the basis of membership.[43]

The use of the Indian Act in Canada has been an effective tool of colonial governmental genocide.[44] Bonita Lawrence makes the case that:

the colonial act of establishing legal definitions of Indianness, which excluded vast numbers of Native people from obtaining Indian status, has enabled the Canadian government to remove a significant sector of Native people from the land. By 1985 there were twice as many non-status Indians and Métis as status Indians in Canada. In essence, by 1985, legislation ensconced in the Indian Act had rendered two-thirds of all Native people in Canada landless.[45]

Through the tandem act of defining and regulating native status, colonial governance enacts practices of dispossession. The link here between membership, property and material survival could not be more definitively underscored. As an active tool of dispossession, property is used here to deprive the indigenous subject of their very personhood. Dispossession must therefore always be read in the widest sense, as a cultural, material and indeed even spiritual act of being dispossessed as a subject and being. The Indian Act has been used as a tool to establish who is ontologically, legally and categorically determined as an Indian with a direct access to material resources and land tied to this entitlement. I will return to this argument in a more thorough discussion of McIvor v Canada. In part, the specific sleight of hand that is introduced through this act of simultaneous dispossession of property and determination of political membership can best be explained in terms of a politics of recognition embedded within the colonial settler context. As Brenna Bhandar succinctly argues:

While practices of property ownership and what constitutes property itself, along with prevailing understandings of human subjectivity, have undergone radical changes since the nineteenth century, the cunning of recognition lies in its ability to circumvent these shifting conditions, to retain its allegiance to a particular (ghostly) subject even as it navigates terrain that has shifted dramatically since the nineteenth century, and to offer up a concept of legal rights that binds emergent subjectivities to the old tombstones of the triumvirate: culture, nation, land.[46]

In attempting to challenge the containment of political recognition held in place by the attachment to the spectre of the colonised subject, it is imperative to also examine particular movements and potential breaking points for these emergent subjectivities. It is in the potentiality of emergent political subjectivities that lies a possible hope for a democratic formation to take root, one in which a form of decolonisation as a catalytic process might spring forth. However, it is at the site of the border that the simultaneity of dispossession of both migrant and indigenous subjects is seen most starkly, in the syncopated rhythm of their divestment by the colonial state.

Membership and political subjectivity within the colonial administration of law has depended on technologies of categorisation targeted at those deemed native and non-native, citizens and not, undesirable or racially inferior. These technologies of distinction have included: blood quantum; the deployment of cultural forms of identity, tradition and custom; and the formation of sovereign authority in the political form of nationalism. As Palmater succinctly points out: “[I]n particular the Indian Act and its membership provisions have kept me from enjoying both the legal identity of ‘Indian’ and membership in my band”.[47]  When examining the racial logic embedded in the function of the concept of status, it is possible to observe that any political attempt at inclusion is can undermine those political challenges that promised to open a breach in the legal and administrative container for that very form of inclusion. In other words, the racial logic of belonging and membership in the Canadian nation-state — for migrants seeking status or indigenous people seeking membership in discrete nations — is by necessity one that leads to a politics of containment.

There is thus a potential for a radical politics of refusal that could lead to challenging the terms, landscape and indeed the territoriality upon which the claims for inclusion are still being sought. This radical politics of refusal, targeted at the normative conditions for status within the Canadian state, is to found in the indigenous/settler utterance “idle no more”: a challenge that presents a moment of possibility in which to think of citizenship, status and political membership through and beyond the legal framework of treaties or the process of treaty-making. Indigenous communities have been organised in relation to the state according to their status, tagged and identified on this basis, and the control, legitimation, and identification of the “status Indian” today contributes to a varied rendering of the terms of status amongst non-indigenous political actors.

Historical and contemporary immigration laws stem from highly racialised, gendered and classed dynamics that have been increasingly polarised in and by systems of global capitalism and related migration flows. The border politics of Canada have been historically implicated in and productive of systems of imperialism and colonisation, as well as forms of global exploitation that lead to a politics of migration, forcing the movements of people and the crossings of borders. Forces of dispossession and landlessness are today as relevant to our political and theoretical conversation as systems of landlessness that took root over the past 200 years of colonisation and foreign conquest.  How is it possible then to engage with the contemporary question of settlement, colonialism and who counts as a settler, citizen or migrant alien? What are the possibilities for a decolonised politics once the predicament of status is established through a logic of imperial colonialism? How are race and nationhood implicated in the ways in which membership is established? These questions are foundational to the contemporary reworking and navigation of the question of status. Is it a politics of refusal in which we need to engage, rather than a politics of inclusion/exclusion? What would a radical politics of refusal look like in the realm of citizenship and migrant rights activism?

Status for all! No one is illegal!

The irresolvable paradox of politics commits us to a view of the people, democratic actors and subjects, as also always a multitude. The paradox of politics posits democracy as always embedded in a problem of origins and survival: how to reshape a multitude into a people, daily. From the perspective of this paradox we see democracy as a form of politics that is always in emergence in response to everyday emergencies of maintenance.[48]

Status holds distinct meanings within the Canadian colonial nation-state. It determines sets of inclusion and exclusions, differing degrees of belonging, and categorisations of distinction. By its very nature, status is a concept based on a hierarchy of qualities, characteristics, and modalities of differentiation. The contemporary intensification of the colonial nation-state has led to greater regulation of borders and the criteria for determining status are being rewritten through various government acts that affect indigenous, refugee and immigrant communities. While the justification for this every shifting and narrowing management of status has been attributed to different types of emergencies impacting the sovereignty and economic, social and cultural sustainability of the nation-state, this logic is at one and the same time crisis-producing and embedded in a discourse of crisis-management.

The way in which status is being redefined in this emergency state has become a political rallying cry within both migrant justice communities and indigenous communities. While the question of status remains central to the politics of migration, it also maintains a particular resonance in the politics of indigenous/settler relations.  A distinct critique of state formation is made possible by placing this relationship at the centre of status movements. For instance, it is necessary when building struggles for Sanctuary Cities— through the movement call for “Status for all” — that the access to the public services of the city be understood through the nexus of indigenous/settler legacy.[49] How would this articulation of the concept of status challenge the claims-making processes for citizenship, and potentially shift the terrain of debate? Austerity policies and the discourse of a poor economic outlook fuel anti-immigrant sentiments in Canada, as elsewhere. Immigrants and refugees become easy scapegoats for the shrinkage and precariousness of public goods such as healthcare.

In this inflamed political context, the Canadian government, under former Prime Minister Harper, made a public consultation with the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations regarding the future of Canada’s immigration policy.[50] The demand from the Assembly of the First Nations, not unlike those coming from those rallying around the idea that the numbers of immigrants entering the country should be curtailed, was focused on the needs among aboriginal communities for better employment and training opportunities. In this way, the strategic response of the Canadian government and the AFN was to maintain the segregationist logic that places the immigrant subject at odds with the Canadian state’s mandated representation of indigenous communities. What is not addressed in this conversation are the problematic terms of reference regarding status, identity, and migrant history.

Fig. 5

Complexities of status

Pamela Palmater, who identifies herself as “an off reserve, non-status Indian, but I am an on territory Mi’kmaq person,” illustrates the complexities of the question of status in her attempt to challenge the efficacy of the Indian Act as the governing document that has regulated the nature of status and identity-affirmation across the indigenous communities and nations in Canada.[51] While indigenous nations in Canada have overwhelmingly articulated their sovereign authority to determine the citizenship or membership criteria for their own communities, this authority is only provisional and subject to what has been established through the Indian Act. As Palmater argues,

Registration under the Indian Act is complex, with many confusing and illogical rules that give preference to Indian men. The overall formulas, on the other hand, are quite simple, and reflect a basic concept of blood quantum or descent-based rules designed to assimilate all Indians through legislative extinction. I argue that the Act discriminates against my family on the basis of blood quantum because the registration provisions incorporate what amounts to a second generation cut-off rule that is based on racist concepts of blood purity.[52]

McIvor v Canada[53] highlights the very flexible and floating nature of the terms of status and the strategies imposed through colonial governance to limit and regulate the population of indigenous peoples. In this case, Sharon McIvor [54] received status as a result of the amendments made to the Indian Act in 1985, which sought to correct the inherent gender discrimination that many faced by being stripped of their rights as status Indians if their route to belonging followed matrilineal rather than patrilineal lines. As a result of the 1985 amendments to the Indian Act, McIvor became a recognised Indian and her children also received status, even though their father is a non-Indian. Since one of her children — her son Charles — married a non-Indian woman, his children do not have Indian status.

This shift in the policy determination has been dubbed the “second generation cut-off,” whereby the provisions that were meant to alleviate gender discrimination in effect maintained these discriminatory processes, simply shifting the effect to the next generation. McIvor’s argument in McIvor v Canada is that while her son’s children were denied status, her daughter’s children were not, since their father is status Indian.  The case and the subsequent appeals set into motion several questions regarding the nature of how status is determined and how it is able to reproduce systemic boundaries and barriers even with family structures. The state is accordingly able to regulate the intimate spheres of life through the practice of making and undoing status.

Several leading scholars and activists in the areas of migrant rights and collective action campaigns have asserted how status is a highly complex political category, one that is not simply achieved or denied, included or excluded. Rather, the lived experience of many migrants and immigrants reveals that there are multiple contingencies and occasions that can lead to falling in and out of status. As Nyers  points out, the challenges that face people who become non-status are highly complex, contingent processes, which give rise to a variety of typologies that map onto differing experiences of becoming non-status.[55] The challenge for critical scholarship engaging the very concept of status and its continued political relevance is made even greater when we place the idea of status within the contemporary colonial framework of the settler colonies of Canada and the United States of America.

However, people can become non-status for many reasons. For example, their refugee claim and/or appeal may have been rejected; they may not have official identity documents; their sponsorship relationship may have broken down; their student visa, visitor’s visa, or work permit may have expired; there may be a moratorium on deportations to their country of origin. …Instead, people often move in and out of status, and between different degrees of legal status. To speak of non-status in a legal sense is to consider a number of grey areas. The point, however, is that all these areas are political, and they need to be examined critically.[56]

When examining the colonial framework on which this notion of status is based and from which it emerges, we may consider how the rationales behind social justice calls for status for all may become potential sources of tension among communities seeking to work in solidarity with demands for migrant justice work, on the one hand, and indigenous sovereignty, on the other. How does this political rallying-point, which has become a pervasive slogan across many sites of border controversy, play out in a country such as Canada?

Politics of refusal: Idle No More / We Are All Treaty People

If the law recognizes you as member of an ethnicity, and state institutions treat you as member of that particular ethnicity, then you become an ethnic being legally. By contrast, if the law recognizes you as a member of a racial group, then your legal identity is racial. You understand your relationship to the state, and your relationship to other legally defined groups through the mediation of the law and of the state, as a consequence of your legally inscribed identity. Similarly, you understand your inclusion or exclusion from rights or entitlements based on your legally defined and inscribed race or ethnicity. From this point of view, both race and ethnicity need to be understood as political—not cultural, or even biological—identities.[57]

Countervailing concepts of status have come to mark the political in contemporary world history in compelling ways. What is the meaning of status? How does this political, quasi-juridical concept also refer to highly cultural connotations of belonging and relations of nationhood, perhaps challenging foundations of belonging? Status, as it has been illustrated across several different instances in this article, is expressed by the state in several modalities in order to determine not only who belongs as a citizen, but to mark out the processes, gradations, and practices of how that subject belongs to the state. As Mamdani illustrates above, the how, or the political aspect of this question, is foundational to the way in which a racial logic is embedded in the constitutive practices of status-making in the forms of colonial governance.

Colonial governance remains at the foundation of the Canadian state, as reflected in the processes through which status is determined by processes of categorization, in systems that are reliant on modes of ethnic and racial knowledge. In the historical context in which Indians decided to apply for Canadian citizenship, thereby relinquishing all claims to their traditional lands and communities, the status bestowed upon them as Canadian citizens was not fully achieved. Robin Brownline has shown, through the records of Department of Indian Affairs, that when Indians became Canadians their legal status and membership was understood through a shift in their ethnic identity:

The transition to white status simultaneously suggests that other features of ‘“Indianness” were no longer present in the enfranchised subject. The criteria by which decisions about enfranchisement were made reveal much about the specific content of “whiteness” and “Indianness.” One set of criteria related to space and place, requiring that applicants live off the reserve and thus in what was presumed to be white space, reserves being the last remnants of “Native” space.[58]

Brownline’s research into the enfranchisees shows that the constitution of status and full legal citizenship did not alleviate the challenges of being perceived through the epidermal schemata of racialization. In appearing to be aboriginal the enfranchisees were required to show another form of a status card to claim their full citizenship entitlements. The reasons illustrating the enfranchisement requests by status Indians were varied, but a common denominator was basic needs of sustainability.

The social and political movement that coalesced under the banner of Idle No More became a movement with a global scope. Actions under the name of Idle No More erupted in public and private spaces, such as shopping malls, university grounds, and busy traffic intersections were experienced like flash mobs.  These impassioned demonstrations would flash up as moments of resistance to the banal state of amnesia that had settled over the Canadian state. The movement has had a lasting impact on efforts to understand the meaning of being a party to treaty negotiations, on spatial relations that are embedded in histories of dispossession and on the shifting nature of concepts of status. These movements have pushed into focus the need to reimagine how questions of status might be engaged through a politics of refusal. By this I mean to underline that the strategies and technologies that have been utilised to determine status urgently need to be challenged and offered alternative pathways.


Only 26 per cent of permanent residents who settled in Canada in 2008 have acquired Canadian citizenship, compared with 44 per cent for the wave of immigrants settling in 2007, and 79 per cent of those who arrived in 2000.[59]

Recent statistics reflect a marked downturn in the number of new Canadians becoming citizens. A former director-general of Citizenship Canada, Andrew Griffith, has connected this downturn in Canadian citizenship-acquisition to increasingly difficult financial hurdles to the process and the newly-instituted citizenship exams that were put in place in 2008.[60] As an indication of the impact of state austerity measures, the increasing costs of going through a citizenship ceremony and test have led to the ominous devolution of the meaning of a democratic state and of the role of the citizen within it. This shift in citizenship-acquisition arguably indicates the very instability, diminished or even defunct meaning of the concept of political status. This development also symbolises a shift in political culture in Canada. While new Canadians may have very compelling reasons for not desiring Canadian citizenship, it underlines the demise of the value that political status holds. Similarly, indigenous communities continue to engage in politically informed strategies of refusal.

The discussion presented here has sought to unsettle contemporary categories of indigenous, immigrant and non-status migrant. Rather than viewing these categories as discrete entities, this paper has reflected on their contingent relationality when read through the racial state formation of white settler-nations. By reflecting on technologies of dispossession and border control, this article has outlined various modalities of status-making that rely upon specific racial typologies. The political construction of status has been unpacked in the context of a racial state formation in the context of Canada’s colonial governance and settler history. Recent examples of status resisters demonstrate that acts of resistance may be more than just rhetorical strategies when they semiotically and politically challenge state-congealed framings of good or ideal citizen-subjects whose identities are not contested or contestable.


1.  Obama, Barack. 2014. Transcript of speech on immigration reform, 20 November, available at:  [↑]

2.  Ljunggren, David. 2009. “Every G20 nation wants to be Canada, insists PM Harper.” Reuters—Pittsburgh, 25 September, available at: [↑]

3.  Mezzadra, Sandro and Brett Neilson. 2013. Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Balibar, Étienne. 2003. We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. trans. James Swenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Anderson, Bridget, Nandita Sharma and Cynthia Wright. 2010. “Editorial: Why No Borders?” Refuge (Special Issue on “No Borders As a Practical Political Project”), 26(2): 5-18. [↑]

4.  Dua, Enakshi, and Bonita Lawrence. 2005. “Decolonizing Anti-Racism.” Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict and World Order 32 (4): 120-43. [↑]

5.  Byrd, Jodi. 2011. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Byrd theoretically challenges readers to engage with a distinct methodology capable of investigating the cacophony of voices invested in the settler nation as a continued imperial project. Dhamoon 2014 extends this analysis to a Canadian settler-society context. Dhamoon, Rita K. 2014. “Unmooring the Komagata Maru: Denaturalizing Settler Colonialism and Cacophonies of Difference.” Paper presented at the workshop Charting Imperial Itineraries 1914-2014: Unmooring the Komagata Maru, University of Victoria, 16-17 May. [↑]

6.  Stasiulis, Daiva, and Radha Jhappan. 1995. “The Fractious Politics of a Settler Society: Canada.” In SAGE Series on Race and Ethnic Relations, Volume 11 – Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class, ed. Daiva Stasiulis and Nira Yuval-Davis, 95-132. London: Sage; McCalla, Andrea and Vic Satzewich. 2002. “Settler Capitalism and the Construction of Immigrants And ‘Indians’ as Racialized Others.” In Crimes of Colour: Racialization and the Criminal Justice System in Canada, ed. Wendy Chan and Kiran Mirchandani, 25-44. Peterborough: Broadview Press. [↑]

7.  Eileen M. Luna-Firebaugh offers an overview of processes of border technologies that have been implicated in the constitution of varied forms of status making amongst indigenous bands in North America. She makes clear that “While in some cases treaties or agreements have largely resolved the problem for some indigenous groups, the general failure of the colonizing governments to allow indigenous input into the resolution of border issues has furthered the assault on the sovereignty of indigenous nations of the North American continent” (Luna-Firebaugh 2002, 160). [↑]

8.  See for instance Bannerji 1999; Razack 2002; McCalla and Satzewich 2002; Thobani 2007; Stasiulis and Jhappan 1995. [↑]

9.  Isin, Engin. 2008. “Theorizing Acts of Citizenship.” In Acts of Citizenship, ed. Engin Isin and Greg Nielsen, 15-43. London: Zed Books. [↑]

10.  Nyers, Peter. 2011. “Alien Equality.” Issues in Legal Scholarship 9(1), available at: (accessed August 8, 2015); Nyers, Peter. 2010. “No One is Illegal Between City and Nation.” Studies in Social Justice 2(4): 127-43. [↑]

11.  De Genova, Nicholas. 2002. “Migrant ‘Illegality’ and Deportability in Everyday Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 419-47. [↑]

12.  Isin, Engin. 2002. Being Political: Genealogies of Citizenship. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [↑]

13.  De Genova, Nicholas. 2002. “Migrant ‘Illegality’ and Deportability in Everyday Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 419-47. [↑]

14.  Bosniak, Linda. 2007. “Being Here: Ethical Territoriality and the Rights of Immigrants.” Theoretical Inquiries in Law 8(2): 389-410. [↑]

15.  Thobani, Sunera. 2007. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. P.75 [↑]

16.  Bannerji, Himani. 1999. Dark Side of the Nation. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. [↑]

17.  Mackey, Eva. 2002. The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [↑]

18.  Goldberg, David Theo. 2002. The Racial State. Oxford: Blackwell. [↑]

19.  Goldberg, David Theo. 2002. The Racial State. Oxford: Blackwell. [↑]

20.  The robust politics of refusal has been well established by scholars such as Glen Coulthard and Audra Simpson. While this call to a politics of refusal is a challenge, it is also one that migrant activist communities need to be particularly engaged in, since the call for status for all can allow the reinforcement of territorial boundaries and limit the basis of claim-making to the state. Coulthard, Glen. 2007. “Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Politics of Recognition’ in Canada.” Contemporary Political Theory 6: 437-60. Simpson, Audra. 2011. “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice’ and Colonial Citizenship” Junctures: Journal for Thematic Dialogue, available at: Accessed July 1, 2014. 2008. “Subjects of Sovereignty: Indigeneity, the Revenue Rule and Juridics of Failed Consent.” Law and Contemporary Problems 71: 191-216. [↑]

21. I draw a distinction between “status” as a categorisation that is a state-defined, and the practices multiple forms of citizenship that do not necessarily rely on the legal and normative regulation of state membership. In this paper I am interested in seeing how the racial state informs membership through a system of categorisation which is implicated in both migrant rights claims to status, and indigenous political struggles towards sovereign authority in status-making. [↑]

22.  Wolfe, Patrick. 2006. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8(4): 387-409. [↑]

23.  Thomas, Debra. 2009. “Racial Ideas and Gendered Intimacies: The Regulation of Interracial Relationships in North America.” Social and Legal Studies 18(3): 353-71. p366 [↑]

24.  Wolfe, Patrick. 2006. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8(4): 387-409. [↑]

25.  McIvor v Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs). 2009. BC Court of Appeals Decision, April 6. Available at: McIvor v Canada (Registrar, Indian and Northern Affairs). 2007. June 8. Available at: [↑]

26.  Berinstein, Carolina, Jean McDonald, Peter Nyers, Cynthia Wright and Sima Sahar Zeheri. 2006. “Access Not Fear: Non-Status Immigrants and City Services”. Report prepared for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Campaign, Toronto, Ontario, available at: (Feb%202006).pdf; Goldring, Luin and Patricial Landolt (eds.). 2013. Producing and Negotiating Non-Citizenship: Precarious Legal Status in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [↑]

27.  Fennelly, Katherine. 2007. “US Immigration a Historical Perspective.” National Voter,  Accessed July 31, 2013. [↑]

28.  Fennelly, Katherine. 2007. “US Immigration a Historical Perspective.” National Voter,  Accessed July 31, 2013. [↑]

29.  Chacỏn, Justin Akers and Mike Davis. 2006. No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Chicago: Haymarket Books. (99) [↑]

30.  Chacỏn, Justin Akers and Mike Davis. 2006. No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Chicago: Haymarket Books.(99) [↑]

31.  Brown, Wendy. 2010. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books.(Said in Brown 2010, 73). [↑]

32.  Chacỏn, Justin Akers and Mike Davis. 2006. No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Chicago: Haymarket Books. (101). [↑]

33.  Chacỏn, Justin Akers and Mike Davis. 2006. No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Chicago: Haymarket Books. (101). [↑]

34.  }}Nyers, Peter. 2010. “No One is Illegal Between City and Nation.” Studies in Social Justice 2(4): 127-43.(133) [↑]

35.  Brown, Wendy. 2010. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books. [↑]

36.  Gallegos, Bernardo. 1998. “Remember the Alamo: Imperialism, Memory, and Postcolonial Educational Studies, American Educational Studies Association 1997 Presidential Address.” Educational Studies: A Journal in the Foundations of Education 29(3): 232-47. [↑]

37.  Brown, Wendy. 2010. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books [↑]

39.  The contradictions of the use of Curtis photography are a part of a much more extended debate. My reading of this image has been enriched by conversations with Kirsten McAllister and Dara Culhane. [↑]

40.  Simpson, Audra. 2011. “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice’ and Colonial Citizenship” Junctures: Journal for Thematic Dialogue, available at: Accessed July 1, 2014. Lightfoot, Sheryl. 2013. “Strong Claim of Indigenous Self-Determination: Haudenosaunee Passports and the Ongoing Negotiation of The Right of Self-Determination.” Paper presented at Canadian Political Science Association Meeting, University of Victoria, 6-8 June (unpublished manuscript cited with permission from author). Luna-Firebaugh, Eileen M. “The border crossed us: Border crossing issues of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Wicazo Sa Review 17, no. 1 (2002): 159-181. [↑]

41.  Lightfoot, Sheryl. 2013. “Strong Claim of Indigenous Self-Determination: Haudenosaunee Passports and the Ongoing Negotiation of The Right of Self-Determination.” Paper presented at Canadian Political Science Association Meeting, University of Victoria, 6-8 June (unpublished manuscript cited with permission from author). [↑]

42.  Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. “Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism.” Society for Comparative Study of Society and History 43(4): 651-64. [↑]

43.  Palmater, Pamela. 2011. Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing. [↑]

44.  (see B. Bhandar in this volume). [↑]

45.  Lawrence, Bonita. 2003. “Gender, Race and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview.” Hypatia 18(2): 3-31. (6) [↑]

46.  Bhandar, Brenna. 2011. “Plasticity and Post-Colonial Recognition: Owning, Knowing and Being.” Law and Critique 22: 227-49. (236) [↑]

47. Palmater, Pamela. 2011. Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing (13, my emphasis) [↑]

48.  Honig, Bonnie. 2009. Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.(xvii) [↑]

49.  Fortier, Craig. 2013. “No One is Illegal Movements and Anti-Colonial Struggles from within the Nation-State.” In  Producing and Negotiating Non-Citizenship: Precarious Legal Status in Canada, ed. Luin Goldring and Patricia Landolt, 274-90. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [↑]

50.  Collacot, Martin. 2012. “Using Existing Residents as Labour Demand.” Vancouver Sun. Available at: CMFiles/Commentary/ Use%20 existing %20residents%20to%20deal%20with%20Canadas%20labour%20demand.pdf. [↑]

51.  Palmater, Pamela. 2011. Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing. [↑]

52.  Palmater, Pamela. 2011. Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing(29). [↑]

53.  McIvor v Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs). 2009. BC Court of Appeals Decision, April 6. Available at: McIvor v Canada (Registrar, Indian and Northern Affairs). 2007. June 8. Available at: National Centre for First Nations Governance. 2009. Memorandum: Summary of McIvor Decisions, prepared by Ratcliffe and Company. [↑]

54.  McIvor, Sharon. 1994. “The Indian Act as Patriarchal Control over Women.” Aboriginal Women’s Law Journal 1(1): 70-89. [↑]

55. Nyers, Peter.  2010. “No One is Illegal Between City and Nation.” Studies in Social Justice 2(4): 127-43. [↑]

56.  Nyers, Peter. 2010 . “No One is Illegal Between City and Nation.” Studies in Social Justice 2(4): 127-43.(131) [↑]

57.  Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. “Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism.” Society for Comparative Study of Society and History 43(4): 651-64  (663) [↑]

58.  Brownline, Robin. 2006. “‘A better citizen than lots of white men:’ First Nations Enfranchisement—an Ontario Case Study, 1918-1940” The Canadian Historical Review 87(1): 29-52; Brownline, Robin. 2006. “‘A better citizen than lots of white men:’ First Nations Enfranchisement—an Ontario Case Study, 1918-1940” The Canadian Historical Review 87(1): 29-52.(48). [↑]

59.  Keung, Nicholas. 2015. “Canada Faces Dramatic Drop in Citizenship, Prompting Concerns about Disengaged Immigrants” Toronto Star, available at: [↑]

60.  Keung, Nicholas. 2015. “Canada Faces Dramatic Drop in Citizenship, Prompting Concerns about Disengaged Immigrants” Toronto Star, available at: [↑]

Davina Bhandar is an independent researcher and co-director of the Centre for Policy Studies in Culture and Communities at Simon Fraser University. She is co-editor of "Too Asian?": Racism, Privilege and Post-Secondary Education in Canada (Between the Lines Press, 2012). She is co-editor of Charting Imperial Itineraries: Unmooring the Komagata Maru (under contract with UBC Press). She works in the areas of democracy, theories of citizenship, migration, borders and critical race studies.
All posts by: Davina Bhandar | Email

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