For six weeks in the winter of 2012–13, Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence undertook a high-profile ceremonial fast to advocate for improved Canadian-Indigenous relations. Framed widely by the media as a hunger strike, her fast was both a call to action and a gesture of corporeal sovereignty.
Life against States of Emergency responds to the central question that Spence asked the Canadian public to consider: What does it mean to be in a treaty relationship today? Arguing that treaties are matters of environmental justice, Sarah Marie Wiebe offers a nuanced discussion of the political environment in which Attawapiskat suffered repeated state-of-emergency declarations amid a climate of normalized state-sanctioned violence. Her analysis documents the slow emergency resulting from the breakdown of treaty relations.
This incisive work draws on community-engaged research and lived experiences, critical discourse analysis, ecofeminist and Indigenous studies scholarship, art, activism, and storytelling to advance a transformative approach to treaty relationships that begins from the ground up. Breaking apart hegemonic colonial narratives, Life against States of Emergency seeks to cultivate conversations and deliberative, democratic dialogue about resource extraction, environmental justice, enriched treaty relations, and decolonial futures for generations to come.
The community-engaged approach animating this work will attract scholars and policymakers involved in environmental justice, treaty relations, public engagement, and Indigenous-settler relations. It will also resonate with members of the Attawapiskat community, and more broadly with Canadians interested in learning about the intersections of storytelling, justice, and environmental activism.
Wiebe’s book is rich, thoughtful, and wise. It centres Indigenous realities and theories, allowing readers to understand how the past informs the present, why representation matters, and how to move collectively toward an environmentally just future.
Sarah Marie Wiebe is an assistant professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, where she teaches in the Community Development program. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa, a co-founder of the Feminist Environmental Research Network (FERN), and the author of Everyday Exposure: Indigenous Mobilization and Environmental Justice in Canada’s Chemical Valley, which won the Charles Taylor Book Award in 2017. Her writing has been published in journals including Citizenship Studies, Engaged Scholar, New Political Science, Politics and Policy, and Studies in Social Justice.
Foreword: Nanabush and the Emergence of Butterflies / Lindsay Keegitah Borrows
Introduction: “You Are Treaty, Too”
1 Artistic Movements for Alternative Decolonial Futures
2 Creative Engagement through Mixed Media Storytelling
3 Chief Spence’s Story
4 Community Voices: Reimagining Attawapiskat
5 Discursive Responses to Attawapiskat, Chief Spence, and the Hunger Strike
6 Treaties Are Alive
7 Fleshing Out New Directions for Environmental Justice
Afterword: Emergency Feelings – Reflections on the Body Politics of Sudden and Slow Emergencies
Appendices; Notes; Bibliography; Index
Speaking for Ourselves
Environmental Justice in Canada
Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty
An Anishnabe Understanding of Treaty One
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