Grounded Authority invites readers to face the ongoing colonial mechanisms of Indigenous peoples’ dispossession, illuminating the deliberate and intentional operation of Canada as a settler colonial state. Pasternak describes in ethnographic detail the pain of Algonquin peoples’ struggles, their relations with more-than-human natures and the saliency of resistance to defend their relationships to land. In the book, Pasternak clarifies what is at stake in such struggles through a discussion of beaver hunting. She writes:

City dwellers can claim, abstractly, to be concerned about the environment and the need to preserve watersheds and ecosystems for the benefit of human and non-human life, but we do not possess the ability to do the actual labor of care…This knowledge is the repository of hundreds of generations of Algonquins who have lived on the territory; it reflects a certain right mind and right intent in relation to the land. It reflects a certain kind of belonging to the land that is based, in a word, on care (emphasis in the original, page 81).

Care is a major theme woven throughout the book that appears both as ethnographic description and as a methodological ethic. The book offers a guide for students who often ask me how to do research with Indigenous communities in non-extractive ways. I usually gently proclaim that such is impossible for non-Indigenous peoples (and even some Indigenous ones). In my opinion, and based on my own research experiences as a geographer, there is no research technique that can erase the blunt condition of settler coloniality, even when communities agree to work with scholars on/with research projects and even if scholars give “voice” to Indigenous platforms. A coloniality of power is reinforced by the very fact that scholars from the Global North conducting research in Indigenous communities of the Global South follows a colonial history of conquest, extraction and European (violent) settlement. Notwithstanding First Peoples’ agency and robust resistance to coloniality, academic research is haunted by “colonialism’s durable presence” often visible in the recursive histories of who becomes the “researcher” and who consents to be “studied”; and the embodied and imagined logics shaping the production of both (Stoler 2016, 9).[1] I do however believe that we can be more careful and follow Grounded Authority as a guide to reflexive geographic fieldwork “in which the conditions for meaningful, mutual reciprocity in research can be undertaken and [hopefully] successfully fulfilled” (25). Pasternak’s invested commitment to learning from and listening to her participants is hard to miss in this text.

Care also comes to mind in the way the book is both sophisticated in its prose but also accessible in its language. Each chapter is tightly woven and the transitions unfold effortlessly. I was hooked from the preface, titled, “An Autobiography of Territory”. I illustrate with a sample below:

Safta is losing her memory, but she remembers this story and repeats it regularly, triggered by my incessant questions about settlement. The first time I heard this story was the first time I asked her why we came to this place (Negev Desert). She replied with surprising candor. They told us God gave us this land. Now I wonder, why would God give us land where others were already living? (page xvii)

Pasternak later writes:

What are the grounds of authority upon which we rely to make sense of our relationship to the world? It is this ground that demands questioning: that is why this book is focused on jurisdiction” (page xxvi).

Pasternak’s practice of critical reflectivity in both fieldwork and writing is a model for geographers; I profess high praise for Grounded Authority.

At the same time, the book spurs my own thinking regarding how Canadian state relations with Algonquin peoples resemble state-Miskito/Garifuna relations in Central America, where much of my own research takes place (Mollett 2016). I am particularly thinking of the ways in which Indigenous negotiations with the state often brings more dispossession—giving up something for the allure of something seemingly more secure and hopefully protecting against future loss. There are also similarities in how Indigenous poverty is weaponized; and property overlaps are problematized by the state. Because of these, I wonder how we can think of settler colonialism in more global, hemispheric and plural ways.

Geographic scholarship on settler colonialism has until recently ignored Abya Yala or Latin America. This is partially explained by the fact that in following the late great Patrick Wolfe, many scholars have perhaps inadvertently adopted his blind spot; a history of settler colonial place-making in Latin America (Speed 2017). In addition, Grounded Authority also inspires me to think how we might complicate settler colonial critiques beyond Indigenous-settler binaries. How are we to understand other non-white groups and their claims to space on Indigenous lands in the multicultural spaces of Turtle Island and Abya Yala? I am particularly interested regarding people of African descent, who in Latin America can be both black and Indigenous in the law and as bodies and cultures with multiple ancestries (Anderson 2009). Thus, I ask: Shouldn’t our critiques of settler colonial processes attend to blackness and Indigenousness simultaneously? In this way, I am inspired by Robin Kelley’s recent challenge to Wolfe’s theorization of settler colonialism which, however brilliant a framework, substantively ignores a history of colonial capitalism in Africa, an elision that demands “a wider geographic optic” (Kelley 2017). Such an enlarged spatial panorama resists “the tendency to reduce Africans to the category of slave labor [and resists] ignor[ing] how the principle of terra nullius was applied to parts of Africa…(Kelley 2017, 273). In this way settler colonial critique must acknowledge the plural ways in which settler violence unfolds “within a logic of racial hierarchy and subjugation that dragged Africans, Asians and “Europeans” proletarianized by enclosure to the lands” of subjugated Indigenous peoples (Kelley 2017, 274).

Kelley’s provocation serves not just to remind us that the continent of Africa is an Indigenous space, but that a “wider geographic optic” makes a global refusal of white supremacy (and its articulations with patriarchy and heteronormativity) necessary. Indeed, the rejection of anti-blackness by Indigenous peoples and the pursuit of “reciprocal relationships with black visionaries who are also co-creating alternatives under the lens of abolition, decolonization and anti-capitalism” within Indigenous peoples’ homelands can further bolster settler colonial critique (Simpson 2017 in Daigle and Ramirez 2018, 2). Thus, in tandem with Grounded Authority, such global, plural and mutually constituted relations on the road to decolonization demand recognition and care.

[1] To be clear, Pasternak and I disagree about research always being extractive. And, while I believe that coloniality remains, I do not believe all fieldwork is (or field researchers are) extractive in the same ways.


Anderson, MD (2009) Black and Indigenous: Garifuna activism and consumer culture in Honduras. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Daigle, M and Ramirez, M (2018) Decolonial Geographies. Antipode doi:10.111/anti.12455: 1-7.
Kelley, RDG (2017) The Rest of Us: Rethinking Settler and Native. American Quarterly 69(2): 267-276.
Mollett, S (2016) The power to plunder: Rethinking land grabbing in Latin America. Antipode 48(2): 412-432.
Speed, S (2017) Structures of Settler Capitalism in Abya Yala. American Quarterly 69(4): 783-790.
Stoler, A L (2016) Duress: Imperial durabilities in our times. Durham: Duke University Press