Unstable Properties
312 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:15 Jun 2023
Release Date:15 Oct 2022
Release Date:15 Oct 2022

Unstable Properties

Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia

UBC Press

The so-called land question dominates political discourse in British Columbia. Unstable Properties reverses the usual approach – investigating Aboriginal claims to Crown land – to reframe the issue as a history of Crown attempts to solidify claims to Indigenous territory.

The political and intellectual leadership of First Nations has exposed the fragility of BC’s political and civil property regimes, insisting that the province grapple with diverse interpretations of sovereignty, governance, territory, and property. From the historical-geographic processes through which the BC polity became entrenched in its present territory to key events of the twenty-first century, the authors of this clear-eyed study highlight the unstable ideological foundation of land and title arrangements. Divergent historical geographies – land as sovereignty, land at the disposal of the state, land as a site to invest capital – have been used to secure citizenship for some and undermine it for others.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission emphasized the need to educate Canadians about the history of settler colonialism. Unstable Properties puts critical human geography at the service of this goal by demonstrating that understanding different conceptualizations of land and territorialization is a key element of meaningful reconciliation.

This work will appeal to scholars and students not only of geography but also of history, law, political science, and Indigenous studies. It will be a useful resource for legal practitioners and plaintiffs concerned with Aboriginal title and Indigenous sovereignty in Canada, and with settler-colonial contexts more broadly.


  • 2023, Shortlisted - Lieutenant Governor’s Historical Writing Awards
This is critical reading for legal scholars and anyone interested in Indigenous rights. S. Perreault, CHOICE Connect
A welcome addition to a literature that has been dominated by lawyers, historians, journalists, and political scientists. Bruce McIvor, UBC, BC Studies
The principles explored here are relevant to planners everywhere. Plan Canada
One task of reconciliation is to learn the true history of the relationships between settlers, Indigenous peoples, colonialism, and the land. This book makes an important inroad toward that goal. Alan Hanna, assistant professor of law, University of Victoria

Patricia Burke Wood is a professor of geography at York University. David A. Rossiter is a professor of geography at Western Washington University. They have co-authored several articles on the politics of Aboriginal title in the Canadian Geographer, Society and Natural Resources, and the Supreme Court Law Review.

Introduction: Paper Claims

1 The Invention of British Columbia

2 Calder, Churn, and Destabilization: 1973–97

3 Unsettled in the Wake of Delgamuukw

4 The Politics of Refusal and the End of the Political Path, 2004–14

5 Property, Territory, Sovereignty, and Citizenship

Conclusion: Reconciliation and Reimagining British Columbia

References; Index

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