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Indigenous-Settler Alliances and the Strategic Use of Rights Framing to Ignite Change

Critical Sociology Webinar 2022

This session was held in English with simultaneous translation in French as part of the 2022 Canadian Sociological Association Conference / Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences Congress.

This panel examines the role of Indigenous-settler alliances in sparking and sustaining meaningful social change. Drawing on a SSHRC-funded project on long-term alliances, our multidisciplinary research team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members employs a case study approach informed by Indigenous and anticolonial research methodologies, and centers the voices, experiences, and analyses of alliance participants.

In this session, we highlight the strategic use of human rights, Indigenous or treaty rights, and other rights framings and discourses to build support for Indigenous-led change. The three contexts of alliance-building considered here include: (1) The Right to Belong: Indigenous women’s organizing and the decades-long struggle to eliminate sex discrimination in the Indian Act; (2) Shoal Lake 40 First Nation’s Freedom Road campaign to end a century of state-imposed geographic isolation and to ensure access to clean drinking water; and (3) over four decades of alliance-building and solidarity efforts by ecumenical social justice coalitions now housed under the umbrella of KAIROS Canada. Each case study was designed in partnership with relevant Indigenous communities, organizations or leaders and employed a blend of story-sharing circles, one-on-one interviews, and archival research. In each case, participants discussed the importance of framing their struggles in terms that fit or challenged the prevailing political and cultural contexts and thereby resonated with potential local, national, and global supporters.

The panelists reflect on the lessons learned from the successes of these three cases, the benefits and limitations of rights framing and discourses, and the challenges of sustaining momentum for deeper decolonial transformation.

Watch the recording

Discussant: Avril Bell, President of the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand


Jeffrey Denis, McMaster University

Lynne Davis, Trent University

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, Trent University