Reflections on Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth in Saskatoon



Whether in Canada or the United States, cities are sites of ongoing Indigenous struggle. They are also sites of ongoing settlement and colonization. We often think of state violence against Indigenous peoples as happening “elsewhere” — primarily in the isolated, rural pockets of poverty we call “reserves” or “reservations.” Your recent book, Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention, challenges this assumption. You show that, in cities like Saskatoon, in fact, state violence against Indigenous youth intensifies. Can you talk about why you wrote this book?

JASKIRAN DHILLON: I was really interested in mapping the changing face of settler colonialism primarily from the vantage point of how it relates to the lives of urban Indigenous youth. I focused on how various regimes of intervention, often disguised behind domestic humanitarianism or protective care, can also be read as a contemporary instantiations
of colonial violence that target the lives of Indigenous young people in profound ways. I’ll start by saying a little bit more about a broader political landscape of recognition and reconciliation against which the book is set and then I’ll talk a little bit about the backdrop of settler colonialism in the city and why I chose Saskatoon as a site to undertake the ethnographic research for the book.

Dhillon Funambulist1
“Idle No More” Candlelight March in Toronto on January 11, 2013. / Photograph by Metrix X.

Canada, like many other settler states has a long history of attempting to manage the “Indian problem” — a history of attempting to eliminate the ongoing presence of Indigenous people on Turtle Island. The Canadian state is preoccupied with thinking about political strategies through which Indigenous people can be contained and confined, and their resistance to the dispossession of their homelands and the ongoing violence against them can be mitigated and suppressed as much as possible. Part of the way this happens is through the broader political landscape of recognition and reconciliation politics which furthers the formal and outward acceptance of Indigenous difference through celebrations of Indigenous culture inclusionary politics that attempt to bring Indigenous peoples into colonial structures of governance. And this of course has a great deal to do with how Indigenous young people are taken up by state institutions. Part of the work of Prairie Rising is problematizing how Indigenous people and organizations becoming enlisted in the work of the state through participatory strategies that are rooted in recognition and reconciliation politics.