Scales Of Justice: Law, American Indian Treaty Rights And The Political Construction Of Scale

Steven E. Silvern, 1999

The organization of political scale has served to facilitate the power of the dominant society to control, exclude and marginalize indigenous populations. This paper examines how geographical scale has shaped the historical and contemporary geography of indigenous peoples in the United States. More specifically, discussion will center upon the importance of scale in shaping natural resource conflicts between American Indians and state governments. Using the case of the Wisconsin Ojibwe treaty rights conflict, this study shows how scale informed the historical development of an exclusionary state natural resource policy and the state's legal effort to protect its monopoly over policy making during a 17 year court case over off-reservation hunting and fishing treaty rights. At the same time, Ojibwe Indians sought to use the dominant society's legal system to gain recognition of their hunting and fishing treaty rights and to alter the existing scale organization of power by decentralizing natural resource decision-making and creating a resource co-management regime. This paper shows how both the state and the tribes were active producers of space and scale and how attempts to restructure geographical scale represent attempts to restructure existing power relations. Although geographical scale and power relations are never fixed and are subject to contestation, this paper shows that the ability of marginalized populations to reshape scales of power is limited by the persistence of assimilationist attitudes and normative assumptions about the scalar organization of political life.

Political Geography External link, 18(6):639-668.

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