By Seth Adema, Wilfrid Laurier University, PhD Dissertation
Issue Date: 2016

This dissertation examines Indigenous (First Nation, M├ętis, and Inuit) history as played out in Canadian prisons. It argues that in the prison, processes of colonialism, decolonization, and neocolonialism took place simultaneously. In the nineteenth century, the prison was built as part of a network of colonial institutions and polices. It was imagined, designed, and built by representatives of the Canadian state alongside other colonial institutions, drawing on similar intellectual traditions. It maintains the imprint of this colonial origin.

Prisons also became arenas for Indigenous cultural exchange and cultural creation, which in most cases subverted the logic of the prison. This was part of a larger effort at decolonizing the prison. In the twentieth century, Indigenous prisoners actively challenged the colonial logic of the prison by affirming their Indigenous cultures and identities. As Indigenous inmates expressed their cultural identities in prisons, they created literary, material, and ceremonial cultural frameworks distinct to the prison yet reflective of the wider Canadian context.

Still, colonial practices emerged in new ways, in a process described in this dissertation as neocolonialism. By drawing on oral and archival sources, this dissertation demonstrates the complexity behind these historical processes of colonization, decolonization, and neocolonialism in Canada, while shedding light on the nature of the prison system and Indigenous history.