Document Type

Book Chapter

Department or Administrative Unit

Political Science

Publication Date



Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have long been threatened by unsustainable development in their traditional territories and are today on the forefronts of resistance against harmful development projects. Underlying some of the efforts of indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada is the notion that Tribes or First Nations might somehow make development good for indigenous people by exercising “sovereignty.” Sovereignty and development, however, are imposed regimes. Settler states and corporations have been the ones to define and exercise sovereignty to direct development. Wresting labor and natural resources from indigenous peoples and other exploited populations has been essential to capitalist development. Transformative politics is impossible when indigenous peoples conform to values and systems of governance that have long been the means for their exploitation. Aspiring to “legitimize” their control over lands and resources has precluded indigenous autonomy and anti-systemic struggle. Competition between communities and indigenous leaders for advantages and opportunities promised by developers undermines pan-indigenous organizing and divides communities. This chapter presents an overview of the exploitation of oil sands bitumen that threatens the peoples and ecosystems of the Athabasca River basin in the Canadian province of Alberta. It sets forth some of the responses of Algonquin and Athabascan communities and First Nations organizations. The objectives are to illustrate that sovereignty is a key component of a losing game for indigenous peoples and to inspire further consideration of how indigenous resistance might be constructed to provide greater protection to peoples and ecosystems being sacrificed to capitalist development.


This is a previously unpublished book chapter.