John Burrows – “‘Landed’ Citizenship: An Indigenous Declaration of Interdependence”

Citation:  Burrows, John. “’Landed’ Citizenship: An Indigenous Declaration of Interdependence.” Recovering Canada: The Resurgence of Indigenous Law. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 138-158.


Developing a stronger version of citizenship – one which includes land as a primary participant – means asserting Indigenous control over Canadian affairs, in part because such a strategy acknowledges and utilizes forms of interdependence that are characteristic of life in Canada.

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 


Burrows asserts that Indigenous separatism / sovereignty “while appropriate, helpful, and deserving of recognition, is not rich enough to encompass the wide variety of relationships we need to negotiate in order to live with the hybridity, displacement, and positive potential of our widening circles” (145).  

“Citizenship in the state must begin to develop an interactive reciprocity on certain matters of vital concern and address the more subjective elements of who people ‘feel they are’ in relation to others in society” (143).  “Other opinions, beliefs, and convictions might even change for one or both parties as they develop the mechanisms for incorporating the varied understandings that this conception of citizenship contemplates” (143).

Likewise, Indigenous peoples’ “intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual insights can simultaneously be compared, contrasted, rejected, embraced, and intermingled with those of others. In fact, this process has been operative since before the time that Indigenous peoples first encountered others on their shores” (147).

“As holders of a prior but continued Indigenous citizenship, Aboriginal people have an ongoing stewardship and a legal obligation to participate in its changes” (140).  “We are traditional, modern, and postmodern people. Our values and identities are constructed and reconstructed through local, national, and sometimes international experiences” (148). (Reminds me of Chad Allen here!)

Balance between Autonomy and Unity

“Aboriginal exclusion from more holistic notions of citizenship runs even deeper. Current conceptions of citizenship are deficient both because they fail to give socio-cultural recognition to Aboriginal peoples’ primary relationships and loyalties and because non-Aboriginal Canadians have not considered or made many of these allegiances, relationships, and obligations their own” (144).

He argues, “The concurrent assertion of Aboriginal control of Canadian affairs rebalances interdependence with sovereignty” (152). “Societal unity is important to citizenship because it allows people to build societies that are greater than the sum of their individual rights, associations, and identities. It facilitates the empathy, common concern, and compassion essential to the functioning of any civil society” (154).  

According to Burrows, “Aboriginal control of Canadian affairs has the potential to facilitate the acquisition of political control, the continued development of culture, and respect for difference because it could change contemporary notions of Canadian citizenship” (146), a dubious claim given the way that multiculturalism and recognition politics function today. Moreover, does the activity that changes the landscape now – such as corporate policy and resource development, which are not always the same thing as ‘politics’ – necessarily come under Indigenous control in the advent of such a change in political systems? This seems particularly important to consider, as he hopes that “Canadian citizenship under Aboriginal influence may expand to recognize the land as a party to Confederation in its own right” (146).

Interconnectedness & Land as Member of Federation

“Our teachings and stories form the constitution of this relationship” – the “federation” comprised of animals, plants, stars, winds, etc. – “and direct and nourish the obligations it requires” (138).

The two-row wampum is about more than just two different peoples agreeing to not interfere with each other – an interpretation that would dismiss Burrows’s recommendation for Indigenous control of Canadian affairs. “The ecology of contemporary politics teaches us that the rivers on which we sail our ships of state share the same waters. There is no river or boat that is not linked in a fundamental way to the others; that is, there is no land or government in the world today that is not connected to and influenced by others” (149).

“The conjunction of legal values creates an important site for the mutual reception, modification, or acceptance of parties’ understandings of who they are in their relationship to land and (143) to each other” (144).  “In those areas of the country where Aboriginal peoples never entered into agreements with the Crown, they maintain a relationship with land outside their reserves that flowers from their pre-existing use and occupation of that land” (151). Moreover, “even where aboriginal peoples entered into treaties with the Crown, the oral history and text of these agreements often contains guarantees of Aboriginal land use outside reservation boundaries for numerous livelihood purposes” (152).

“Many are hesitant to relinquish their relationship with this territory in the name of Aboriginal self-government merely because non-Aboriginal people now live and rely on this land. Aboriginal control of Canadian affairs would simultaneously recognize the meaningful participation of Aboriginal people with one another and with their non-Aboriginal neighbours” (158).

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • Engagement and interdependence is crucial for living on and with the land, in part because being Indigenous means maintaining relationship with the land outside reserve space, and beyond political and state lines.
  • Emphasis on flux, like Battiste and Henderson, which is important for understanding how such mutability works outside the dichotomy created by anti-essentialist thinking.
  • Responsibility and the inclusion of land as participant in Confederation
  • How does Burrows’s argument present an alternative to CS-type thinking about meaning-making and the authority of the text. What does it mean to extend participation to the land, whose wishes and feelings we are likely unable to fully intercept? Does CS-thinking refuse to put itself in relation to the text, having not “considered or made many of these allegiances, relationships, and obligations their own” (144)?     



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