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Review

Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships

By Lynne Davis, editor

November 4, 2013

Review By Karena Shaw

Both the need for and the challenges of strengthening relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians have come into stark relief with the emergence of the Idle No More movement. In this context, Lynne Davis’s edited collection, Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships, has much to offer. The book contains a diverse selection of essays written by scholars and practitioners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, each exploring challenges posed by or lessons learned from collaborative efforts. It is organized in four parts: the first, titled “visionaries,” emphasizes the re-visioning necessary to guide collaboration; a second, titled “from the front lines,” includes a wide range of case studies of collaboration; a third focuses on linking theory and practice; a fourth emphasizes how collaborative efforts reveal and reformulate important relationships between personal and political.

Together, the essays offer advice and insight relevant to improving Indigenous-non-Indigenous relationships, although the book is by no means a “how-to” manual. The emphasis instead is on exploring the multi-layered nature of the challenges posed by building effective alliances, situated as they are at the fraught edges of colonial power relations that are expressed and reproduced at the same time structurally, institutionally, and personally. The case studies are particularly revealing in this regard, as they emphasize not only successes but hesitations, missteps, and failures. They document innovative institutions, diverse activist practices, emergent governance possibilities, and resilient barriers to both institutional and personal decolonization.

Three of the essays have a British Columbian focus: Merran Smith and Art Sterritt document the long and complex process of institutional innovation expressed in the struggles over the Great Bear Rainforest, Thierry Drapeau characterizes the strengths and limitations of the “glocality” produced through the Secwepemc resistance to the Sun Peaks Resort, and Caitlyn Vernon critically assesses the potential and dangers embedded in the (unfulfilled) “New Relationship” developed between First Nations and the British Columbia government under Premier Gordon Campbell. Together, the three cases illustrate the distinctiveness of the British Columbia context — the open political space created by the lack of resolution of rights and title claims, characterized as it is both by the potential for important innovation and ongoing dispossession. Despite this distinctiveness, there is much from these cases that could translate well to others documented in the book, and vice versa: Justin B. Richland and Patricia Sekaquaptewa’s documentation of working with and through Hopi traditions of justice is insightful and provocative, Tanya Chung Tiam Fook engages the challenge of integrating Indigenous knowledge in and through conservation practices in Guyana, and several Canadian cases focus on the delicate community-scale work that is necessary to counter colonial and racist mindsets that prevent the realization of Indigenous rights.

Not surprisingly, the diversity of cases and authors translates to an unevenness in the book: practitioners and scholars write at times with different intentions, and for different audiences. The terrain of collaboration is characterized by structural imbalances that manifest and are reproduced through the practices of individuals, yet not always in a predictable way. Particular innovations target this shifting landscape with success in one place, yet failure in another. It is not always obvious how to make wider meaning, or translate lessons learned: the book sketches a messy terrain. But this surely is the nature of the beast, and most readers will find useful resources for negotiating such messiness within its pages. This is an important contribution.

Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships
Lynne Davis, editor 
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. 426 pp. $37.95 paper.