Emma Feltes

Research Key Words:

Indigenous-Settler Relations; Constitutional Law; Political Anthropology; Rights; Settler Colonialism; Transnational Indigenous Movements

The Constitution Express and the Making of Indigenous Rights in Canada On November 24th, 1980, an Indigenous movement dubbed “the Constitution Express” set out to change the Constitution. Canada sought to patriate the Constitution from the UK, omitting any mention of Indigenous Peoples and their rights. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs chartered two trains from Vancouver to Ottawa. By the time they arrived, they carried 1,000 people and a transformative vision for Indigenous nationhood. Later, a second delegation went to the United Nations in New York and the House of Lords in London. Ultimately, he movement was vital in getting Aboriginal rights recognized in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Nevertheless, it has received little public or academic attention. My project will fill this gap. Working in partnership with its living organizers, I will examine the Constitution Express, asking how it might shape political relations between Indigenous people and settlers and between Indigenous Peoples and the settler state. My approach will combine oral history with archival research, and draw on current scholarship of Indigenous law, settler colonialism, legal anthropology, and relational political theory. Further, this project sits at the intersection of local and global Indigenous politics. I will explore the juncture of national and transnational Indigenous activism and its efficacy in local struggles for self-determination. In Canada, despite s.35, the meaning of Indigenous rights and the nature of Indigenous-settler relations remain uncertain. As a settler scholar, my project looks to the Constitution Express—its vision of shared jurisdiction and self-determination—for direction on how to build just political relations today.

BHons, Contemporary Studies and International Development, University of King’s College, 2008

M.A., Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, 2011

“We Will Help Each Other to be Great and Good”: The Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Resolving Indigenous-State Relations in Canada

This project focused on the “Laurier Memorial,” a pivotal doucment written by Chiefs of the Secwepemc, Nlaka’ pamux, and Syilx Nations of interior British Columbia, and presented to Prime Minister Laurier in 1910. With the assistance of Scottish-born ethnologist James Teit, the memorial is written in lucid first-person narrative, charting the history of relations between these Interior Tribes and settler populations, then putting forward a different vision of relations based in traditional law, reciprocity, obligation, mutual sovereignty and shared jurisdiction. As the document continues to circulate a century later, drawing new relations around it, it provides insight into Indigenous-State relations throughout history and how we might make moves towards resolving them. This work looks at the document’s proposal, its continued relevance and circulation, its nuanced impacts on broader political relations, as well as its impacts on my own political, personal, and research relationships.

PhD Supervisor: Dr. Carole Blackburn


Feltes, Emma (2015). “Research as Guesthood: The Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Resolving Indigenous-Settler Relations in British Columbia.” Anthropologica, Volume 57, Issue 2.

Cecilia Engler, Dr. David VanderZwaag, Dr. Richard Apostle, Martin Castonguay, Dr. Julian Dodson, Emma Feltes, Dr. Charles Norchi, and Rachel White (2013). “Sustaining American Eels: A Slippery Species for Science and Governance”. International Wildlife Law & Policy, Volume 16, Issue 2-3.


Conference Presentations:

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting (2011). Panelist: “Memorial Sir Wilfrid Laurier: the Document, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Anthropological Allies in British Columbia.” Panel: The “Settler Question” in Canada: Anthropological History and the Challenge of Living Together in Indigenous Lands.

Canadian Anthropology Society Annual Conference (2011). Panelist: “Reciprocity, Protocol, and the Research Relationship.” Panel: The “Settler Question” in Canada and the Challenge of Living Together in Common Lands.

Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Conference (2011). Panelist: “Reciprocity, Protocol, and the Research Relationship.” Panel: Applied, Professional, and Practicing Anthropology in Canada.

Govenor General’s Gold Medal (Dalhousie University) , 2012