Grounded Authority By Shiri Pasternak

Introduction by
Geoff Mann

The book is focused on long-standing anticolonial struggles in territory that is, at least as the colonial powers-that-be understand it, in the western part of the province of Québec, about three hours’ drive north of the Canadian national capital in Ottawa, Ontario.

I

t is an honour to introduce this review forum on Shiri Pasternak’s Grounded Authority: the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State (Minnesota, 2017). The book is focused on long-standing anticolonial struggles in territory that is, at least as the colonial powers-that-be understand it, in the western part of the province of Québec, about three hours’ drive north of the Canadian national capital in Ottawa, Ontario. The federal and provincial governments of the settler state have done their best to confine the Algonquin peoples to twenty-nine hectares of land surrounding the community of Rapid Lake, while a large part of the Algonquin traditional territory is included in the 12,500 square kilometer La Vérendrye wildlife reserve, designated in 1939 and named for an 18th-century French “explorer”. The remainder of Algonquin territory is mostly what settler-Canadians know as “Crown land”, i.e. undesignated lands, almost always managed by the state for resource extraction. There are, in fact, no “reserves”, “parks” or “Crown land” in Canada that are not in reality Indigenous territory, and the land the Algonquins of Barriere Lake call home is no exception.

Pasternak has spent much of her adult life working in solidarity with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. She is a founding member of Barriere Lake Solidarity, an ally in the Defenders of the Land network, and Grounded Authority is the product of her many years of respectful learning, careful research, and political commitment. Substantively, the book is about the Algonquin nation’s rejection of federal land claims policy in Canada, from the perspective of Indigenous law and jurisdiction—and it is this last concept, jurisdiction, on which much of Pasternak’s account turns. Indeed, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that she breathes extraordinary new life into the concept, giving it a role in our theoretical and political toolkit for which a very broad audience of social scientists and activists will be grateful.

For Pasternak, jurisdiction is “the apparatus through which sovereignty is rendered meaningful” (page 3) It is not equivalent to sovereignty, it is not a subset or derivative of sovereignty, and it is not extinguished by sovereignty. It is, rather, the “organization of authority” as claim or assertion (page 27), but also of authorizing as practice. This is the frame through which she approaches what she calls the “interlegal space of settler colonialism” (page 7), constituted in an “uneasy legal pluralism” (page 13). In this highly-contested space, she asks, with whom does jurisdiction—the speaking of the law—reside? What, in a historical, political and ecological landscape under constant assault from the settler-colonial state in coordination with resource capital—and in a context in which the Algonquins have for decades courageously resisted the standard “legal” means by which this assault is granted “legitimacy”—is the work of jurisdiction? What authorizes the law?

Pasternak works carefully through these theoretical questions without ever sacrificing a “grounded”, historical and geographical attention to the struggle of the Algonquins for and on their land. Grounded Authority is a model combination of empirical substance and theoretical acuity, embedded in a reflective and scholarly humility. And as the three discussions below show, each the work of a scholar who is similarly theoretically agile and deeply learned, it is an original and absolutely necessary book in this moment, not only in Canada, but everywhere struggles for land and justice overlap.

Review by Michelle Daigle Grounded Authority is not merely a work that pushes our thinking on how Indigenous jurisdiction refuses and ruptures colonial capitalist power. Rather, it incites questions and dialogue on the various embodiments and manifestations of Indigenous law, including how Indigenous authorities meet one another amidst ongoing colonial capitalist incursions.

Review by Sharlene Mollett 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.

Review by Audra Simpson Grounded Authority is meticulously researched, laying out evidence in support of claims in a lively, ethnographic, and relentlessly empirical manner. It moves deftly through levels of inquiry to place Mitchikanibikok Inik, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake’s (ABL) legal authority into a frame of analysis that deepens our understanding of the techniques of settler colonialism in North America, as well as the history and strategy of Indigenous knowledge, philosophy, and politics within and beyond colonizing contexts.

Response by Shiri Pasternak These are critical times for non-Indigenous peoples to listen, to read, to attend events, to contribute what they can to movements for Indigenous self-determination and to come clean about their own commitments. The explosion of new books in Indigenous Studies and the appetite and opportunities for scholars to learn directly from Indigenous peoples theorizing their lives is growing.

essays in this forum

Review By Michelle Daigle

Shiri Pasternak’s "Grounded Authority" is a timely work that examines how colonial authority is exercised and contested on Indigenous territories in Canada. In unpacking the work of jurisdiction, Pasternak elucidates how state sovereignty is rendered meaningful through the organizing and managing of Indigenous space.

By

Michelle Daigle

Review By Sharlene Mollett

"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.

By

Sharlene Mollett

Review By Audra Simpson

"Grounded Authority" is an exceptional book. It is meticulously researched, laying out evidence in support of claims in a lively, ethnographic, and relentlessly empirical manner. It moves deftly through levels of inquiry to place Mitchikanibikok Inik, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake’s (ABL) legal authority into a frame of analysis that deepens our understanding of the techniques of settler colonialism in North America, as well as the history and strategy of Indigenous knowledge, philosophy, and politics within and beyond colonizing contexts.

By

Audra Simpson

Response By Shiri Pasternak

The Algonquin of Barriere Lake’s political struggle is not exceptional. But what makes it extraordinary is that the most oppressive tactics of colonization have been exercised upon the small community in a way that radically condenses a long history of physical and technocratic violence in Canada against First Nations. What is particularly extraordinary to narrate as an author is how this violence provides a finely etched picture of the ways the state has bent and shaped around the stubborn, unrelenting temerity of the Algonquins to protect life on their territory.

By

Shiri Pasternak