In the early 1990s, when a process was established to negotiate modern-day treaties in British Columbia (BC), it was presumed that a majority of First Nation land claims would be resolved over the course of the following twelve years. Now, some fifteen years later, only two agreements have been reached as a part of this process. The reasons for this malaise are many, and while the relative failure of the treaty process in BC could be attributed to any number of factors, this thesis examines the inception of this process, with a focus on the period 1995-99, as a basis for challenging the perception that we have transcended the policy of denial that characterized indigenous-state relations in BC prior to the treaty process. Relying upon participant-observation, ethnographic interviews, and an analysis of media, this thesis asks: how has the discursive context of the BC land question been transformed by the treaty process? What impact did the perception that the public was being called upon to participate in forums about the BC land question have on the discursive construction of this policy field? And how did the perception that BC had entered a new era of recognition (rather than of denial) inform peoples’ sense of what the treaty process was about and the outcomes it would lead to? The thesis argues that the historical policy of denial that characterized indigenous-state relations in BC continues to be embodied in a dialectic of validation and constraint that informs contemporary efforts to manage the BC land question. It is by advancing this analysis that this thesis seeks not only to bring an element of clarity to a process that continues to frustrate the aspirations of many First Nations in BC, but also highlights some of the contributions that anthropology has to make to a study of public policy.
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