ICS Seminar Series - Ken Coates

Date: Thursday 2 March 2017
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EZ.G.22, Western Sydney University, Parramatta South campus

Ken Coates

(University of Saskatchewan, Canada)

Interpreting Transitions and Structures in Indigenous-Newcomer Relations in Canada


For the past forty years, scholars have struggled intellectually to explain the central patterns of Indigenous marginalisation, paternalism, cooperation, colonialism and reconciliation that are evident within Canadian society and history. While many of the interpretations aligned with contemporary political agendas, a growing number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars sought more culturally complex and structural explanations for the uneven but improving legal, political and economic relationships. Some of these explanations drew on Indigenous concepts and traditional values; others sought explanations in the historical patterns of Canadian multiculturalism and structural innovations in Indigenous-government relations. Interpretations range from neo-Marxist and Indigenous nationalist/separatist arguments to positions overtly hostile to the concept of Indigenous rights. Some analysts emphasise Indigenous rights while others favour more pragmatic 'quality of life' approaches. Several scholars, for example suggest that collaboration with public governments undermine traditional cultures and values. This presentation surveys the intellectual landscape of Indigenous-newcomer relations and argues that recent developments in Indigenous protests, combined with major legal and political achievements, have empowered Indigenous peoples, communities and governments in dramatic ways. These changes, in turn, challenge scholars to re-examine their intellectual assumptions about the civil, political, legal and cultural role of Indigenous peoples within the broader Canadian society.


Dr Ken Coates is Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Raised in the Canadian North, he studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia. He has worked at universities across Canada and in New Zealand and has had extended stints with the Australian National University and in Japan. Ken's initial work focused on the history of Indigenous-newcomer relations in the North and Indigenous land and treaty rights. More recently, his work has included comparative Indigenous history and rights, the economic and political development of the Circumpolar world, and Indigenous engagement in the natural resource economy. In the latter case, he is a Munk Senior Fellow, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, where he is directing a multi-year project on Indigenous participation in resource development. Ken's work includes three books shortlisted for the Donner Prize, Canada's national award for public policy, including The Marshall Decision and Aboriginal Rights in the Maritimes, Arctic Front: Defending Canada in the Far North (the 2008 winner), and From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation: A Roadmap for all Canadians. His other major works include Best Left as Indians: White-Indian Relations in the Yukon Territory, A Global History of Indigenous Peoples: Struggle and Survival and #Idlenomore and Remaking of Canada. Dr. Coates was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2015. He is currently working on a comparative research project on Indigenous social policy and economic development with Dr Jerry Schwab, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.