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The Liminality of Indigenous Urbanism in Saskatchewan



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This dissertation explores conditions and possibilities for enhancing Indigenous urbanism in prairie cities, and it examines how mainstream spatial production impedes this objective through two examples of urban change: First Nations’ urban reserves in Saskatchewan cities, and inner-city ‘revitalization’ in Saskatoon. By centering Indigenous resurgence as an analytical frame of reference, as well as lived knowledge and perceptions of urban change among Indigenous individuals who experience or contribute to processes of spatial restructuring, the argument follows that urban Indigenous space, and practices of Indigenous urbanism, are liminal. That is, while settler governments and non-Indigenous society perpetually reinforce colonial boundaries around liberal property relations, Indigenous people adapt to and resist this apparatus, many of whom aspire and labour to regenerate land and kinship as territory beyond such imposed frontiers. Indigenous urban space is positioned as precarious in Saskatchewan cities, located ‘in between’ legal property regimes and traditional territoriality, and ‘in transition’ from settler-state jurisdiction to self-determined places flowing with distinctive rights and responsibilities. Findings reveal that urban reserve creation takes place amid broader political and economic geographies that severely constrain their uses, binding First Nations’ sovereignty to corporate participation in the market economy through municipalized forms of self-government regulated by and answerable to crown title and state authority. Yet, there exists a commonly held long-term goal among First Nations of transforming or transcending these systems, which points to a temporal dimension of urban reserves as expedient but provisional pathways to access urban space and markets for longer-term strategies to expand First Nations’ legally recognized land base, financial self-sufficiency, governing capacities, and sociocultural revitalization. The transformative potential of Indigenous urbanism is emphasized in relation to core neighbourhood ‘revitalization’, revealing fundamental limitations and contradictions of mainstream settler urbanism in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and across the prairies. The repatriation of Indigenous land and life akin to resurgence includes rights and responsibilities to regenerate urban space – not to simply adapt to it – among diverse, multinational Indigenous inhabitants. This dissertation concludes with an argument for the expansion of urban Indigenous land, or an urban ‘Indigenous commons’ in support of community resurgence, and a material basis from which Indigenous urbanism can flourish in prairie cities.



Indigenous, Urbanism, Resurgence, Municipal Colonialism, Planning, Liminality, Social Economy, Spatial Production



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Geography and Planning




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