Shifting Boundaries: Aboriginal Identity, Pluralist Theory and the Politics of Self-Government


224 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1046-7
DDC 323.1'197071'01






Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Terrace,
British Columbia.


Aboriginal self-government has become one of the most contentious issues
involved in the settlement of Aboriginal claims. Conservative provincial
governments (chief among them the current British Columbia government)
have presented the establishment of Aboriginal self-government as a kind
of political apartheid—a system that would divide Canadians on the
basis of race, with one set of laws for First Nations and a different
set for all others. Tim Schouls presents a refreshingly different
approach to discussion of the issues and makes a convincing argument
that Aboriginal self-government could enhance political pluralism rather
than limit it.

Schouls analyzes Aboriginal identity not as a fixed concept but as a
changing set of characteristics, fully capable of adapting to emerging
circumstances and needs. It is within this dynamic, Schouls argues, that
Aboriginal self-government should be viewed and understood. Rather than
protecting static cultural or national traits, Schouls sees
self-government as a reflection of Aboriginal identity and as a way of
continually reshaping that identity and allowing it to develop on a
community’s own terms. This is a fresh approach to a topic that for
too long has relied upon stereotypical notions of Aboriginal culture and
identity that fail to reflect the capabilities that all cultures and
societies possess

that enable them to adapt to changing circumstances.

Schouls is less convincing, however, in his discussion of how competing
interests within Aboriginal societies can be accommodated under
self-government. He discusses the plight of some historically
disenfranchised sectors of Aboriginal communities—women and
youth—but fails to articulate a mechanism whereby the disenfranchised
would be able to have their voices heard and their interests taken into
account within a self-governing regime. While he is critical of the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a culturally inappropriate set of
principles for Aboriginal communities, Schouls fails to offer an
alternative that will ensure the participation of minorities and the
protection of their interests.

Schouls’s style of writing is complex, and this book is not for the
casual reader. While the full import of Schouls’s argument becomes
clear only upon repeated reading, this is a thought-provoking book that
will nonetheless reward a patient reader and, one hopes, provide further
stimulus for debate on a pressing issue in Canadian politics.


Schouls, Tim., “Shifting Boundaries: Aboriginal Identity, Pluralist Theory and the Politics of Self-Government,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 7, 2023,