Time and Story in Sahtú Self Government: Intercultural Bureaucracies on Great Bear Lake

  • Author / Creator
    Rice, Faun E
  • This thesis explores aspects of self-government in Délı̨nę, NT, Canada, a Sahtú Dene community of approximately 550 people. Délı̨nę’s Final Self Government Agreement (FSGA) was passed by the federal government of Canada in 2015, and the research for this thesis coincided with the beginning of Délı̨nę’s one-year transition into self government. The FSGA follows the Sahtú Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement of 1993, and the region falls within Treaty 11. This thesis’ primary question is: What are the shared stories about the future of self-government that people in Délı̨nę tell? Subsidiary questions and themes that emerged from the research process include: How does the history of the Sahtú region inform contemporary negotiations, agreements, and the stories told about them? How do new roles created by institutions of governance impact the people who hold them? How does the text of a self-government agreement diverge from the ideas that people have about self-government? Using a combination of collaborative ethnographic methods (including participant observation, qualitative interviews, and community feedback) the material for this thesis was gathered over the course of two months, August to September of 2015. All interviews were conducted in English, though many in Délı̨nę speak Sahtú Dene (North Slavey or Athapaskan). Field data were analyzed using a qualitative coding technique then combined with a regional and topical literature review to produce the document to follow. I open with a discussion of methodology, followed by a partial history of self-determination and colonialism in Délı̨nę, from time immemorial to the beginnings of land claim agreements. Next, the Canadian state’s legal approach to self-government negotiations is examined, providing a background for some of the legal obstacles that Indigenous communities may face. I highlight a few key sections of the text of Délı̨nę’s Final Self Government Agreement before identifying four different ways of thinking about the future of self-government and intercultural bureaucracies, as discussed by participants in Délı̨nę. The four different approaches to self-government’s future inform accompanying stories that help individuals in the Sahtú region frame what it means to be traditional, modern, or negotiate the two, in occupation, language, economy, and lifestyle. The first identified story is that self-government is a bubble created for culture to occur within, and that the bubble may shrink or pop if the people on its edges are worn down. The second story is that Dene values, languages, and lifestyles will eventually replace colonial history and values using self-government as a framework to do so. Third, people may invoke a commitment to excel both as Dene and as bureaucrats but keep the two roles separate, being “strong like two people.” Fourth, many in Délı̨nę have faith in their community’s spiritual strength and the prophecies that will allow it to withstand exterior pressures and change those who visit for the better. This thesis’ presentation of history informs its discussion of current hurdles, structural challenges, hopes, and plans for Indigenous self-government. All three chapters are intended to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, but they conclude with thoughts about how the stories presented may be useful for people working in intercultural bureaucracies in Canada. Anthropology has been largely critical of the impact of land claims and self-government agreements on Indigenous communities’ ability to self-determine (see Coulthard 2007; Dokis 2015; Irlbacher-Fox 2009; Nadasdy 2003 for some key examples). This thesis acknowledges the structural difficulty of Indigenous self-determination in a colonial state, but focuses on the ways in which Sahtú Dene peoples are reinventing and inverting the dynamics of marginalization. Positioned at a unique time of transition where both hopes and trepidations about self-government’s future were running high in Délı̨nę, this thesis sketches pictures of the community’s self-envisioned paths. Self-government narratives impact human actions, policy, and lifestyles; this thesis chronicles them for their social presence and the lessons that can be derived by reflecting on them.  

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2016
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Shulist, Sarah (MacEwan, Anthropology)
    • Palmer, Andie (Anthropology)
    • Hill, Joseph (Chair, Anthropology)
    • Nuttall, Mark (Anthropology)
    • Vermette, D'Arcy (Native Studies)