chapter  48
10 Pages

Beyond biopolitics? Ecologies of indigenous citizenship

BySarah Marie Wiebe

Hailed as both hero and grandstander, Chief Theresa Spence spawned a flurry of attention and controversy for placing her body at the forefront of Indigenous-state relations in Canada. 1 On 11 December 2012, as a form of protest, Chief Spence began a hunger strike, undergoing considerable physical, mental, and emotional duress to raise awareness about the dire straights facing Indigenous communities across Canada. 2 Subsisting on tea and broth for 44 days, she sought recognition of a nation-to-nation relationship for her peoples with the Crown. 3 Her body became a symbol of sacrifice and a mirror of the ‘bare life’ for the livelihoods of the communities she represented. 4 In the words of journalist Alice Klein, this act ‘crashes against the unconscious non-Indigenous Canadian certainties and political calculations. It demands that we recall instead the actual history of our country and how it still lives in the unrelentingly colonized amongst us’ (Klein, 2013 ). Frustrated with the perpetual need to fight for physical and cultural survival, as a result of the past and present manifestations of Canada’s colonial legacy, Chief Spence put her body on the line – a fine line between bare and political life – as a symbolic gesture for Canada and the world to see. 5 Moving herself into the spotlight of Canada’s body politic made her abject 6 body visible and thus charged with biopolitical meaning.