Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Sharon Sliwinski


Settler colonialism in Canada has and continues to dispossess Indigenous nations of their lands and authority. Settler Colonial Ways of Seeing argues that a politics of visibility has been central to these structures of invasion and dispossession. In an effort to transform sovereign Indigenous nations into “Indians”, the state has used techniques of bureaucratic documentation to naturalize the classification of Indigenous bodies as racially inferior and thus subject to a range of violent interventions. This politics of visibility fails to see Indigenous people as people who matter.

Using Indigenous feminist critique, discourse analysis, and aesthetics to analyze federal legislation, policy manuals, and archival documents, I theorize settler colonial ways of seeing as a nexus of techniques and epistemological investments with two aspects: one, the vision of a radically new society that drives settler colonial desire; two, the techniques of seeing used to manage the visibility of Indigenous life. To demonstrate how state techniques structure the visibility of Indigenous life, I investigate four techniques of visibility and erasure: i) classification under Indian Act racial taxonomy; ii) enumeration through the centralized Indian Register; iii) identity documentation with Certificates of Indian Status; and, iv) the numerical re-presentation of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).

However, just as settler colonial statecraft operates through ways of seeing, it is also resisted by artistic and political acts that insist on and make visible Indigenous presence. Alongside examples of settler documentation, I analyze artworks by Nadia Myre, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Christi Belcourt, and others, as practices of Indigenous resistance engaged in counter-documentation strategies that make visible and denaturalize the restrictive frames imposed upon their lives. Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates how racial classification and documentation attempts to naturalize a way of seeing that devalues Indigenous lives and undermines Indigenous presence, but has always been resisted by the Indigenous lives it seeks to transform.