"We are sure of your sympathy": Indigenous uses of the politics of protection in nineteenth-century Australia and Canada

Journal article


Nettelbeck, Amanda. (2016). "We are sure of your sympathy": Indigenous uses of the politics of protection in nineteenth-century Australia and Canada. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. 17(1), pp. 1 - 21. https://doi.org/10.1353/cch.2016.0009
AuthorsNettelbeck, Amanda
Abstract

The rise and fall of humanist imperial policy across Britain’s nineteenth-century empire has received considerable attention in terms of how the principles of Indigneous protection that underpinned the 1837 Report from the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines fared as a governmental imperative to meet the obligations of humane colonisation. In particular, scholars have examined the gulf between the theory and the practice of protectionist policy as an Indigenous legal right, the tensions between metropolitan initiatives to protect subject peoples and the neglect of those initiatives by local governments and settler lobbies, and the transition of protectionist agendas from an earlier model of Indigenous “amelioration” to a later model of Indigenous governance and surveillance. In comparison to the uses and failures of protection as a mechanism of colonial governmentality, less attention has been given to the strategic value that the humanitarian politics of protection, with its rhetoric of obligation and solicitude, might have held for Indigenous peoples. Within the comparative framework of nineteenth-century Australia and Canada, this paper will consider some of the contexts in which Indigenous people enlisted the humanitarian agendas and rhetoric of protection in encounters with representatives of the British Crown. As emergent British settler states, nineteenth-century Australia and Canada represent divergent ends of colonial governmental efforts to bring Indigenous people within the Crown’s jurisdiction. In much of what is now Canada, treaties were signed between Indigenous peoples and the Crown. They endorsed a principle that resources would be exchanged for the Crown’s protection, although in the years that followed, many of the expectations established by treaties would be disappointed. In Australia, the absence of treaty negotiations, and the subsequent violence that followed the path of settlement wherever it went, made the promise of the Crown’s protection a significantly ineffectual concept from the outset. Yet even if being within the Crown’s protection had little practical purchase in a daily sense, there were times when Aboriginal people found cause to enlist their status as the Crown’s subjects to call upon its obligations and sympathies. In different settings and across different times, their strategic engagements with the humanitarian politics of protection have much to say both about practical tensions in colonial conceptions of humane governance, and about the degrees of agency Indigenous people could deploy in asserting a political place within the colonial order.

Year2016
JournalJournal of Colonialism and Colonial History
Journal citation17 (1), pp. 1 - 21
PublisherJohns Hopkins University Press
ISSN1532-5768
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1353/cch.2016.0009
Page range1 - 21
Research GroupInstitute for Humanities and Social Sciences
Publisher's version
File Access Level
Controlled
Place of publicationUnited States of America
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