Finding Dahshaa: Self-Government, Social Suffering, and Aboriginal Policy in Canada.


216 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1625-0
DDC 323.11970719'3





Reviewed by Amanda Fehr


Dahshaa is a rare, dried spruce wood that is essential to the distinctly Dene moosehide-tanning process. In Finding Dahshaa, a timely critique of self-government negotiations and recent Canadian Aboriginal policy, Irlbacher-Fox sees the tanning process as a cultural referent for understanding Indigenous perspectives and interactions taking place during negotiations. Benefiting from over a decade’s experience working for Indigenous groups in the north, Irlbacher-Fox makes an important contribution to an area that has been neglected by scholars. Most significantly, her work has been well received by the Dene community, evident in Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus’s forward where he explains, “she has listened to us using both her mind and her heart.”


Social suffering is a major theme in this book—in its role in shaping Indigenous communities and the state’s denial of and resulting perpetuation of suffering. Three case studies of the Dehcho, Délįnę, and Inuvialuit and Gwich’in peoples respectively explore Aboriginal policy, expressed through diverse self-government negotiations that each underscore the different views of self-government, history, and social suffering held by Indigenous and government representatives. In conclusion, Irlbacher-Fox supports a paradigm advocating Indigenous resurgence that has been advanced by Indigenous scholars, though she differs in recognizing the value community members see in self-government agreements.


Though Irlbacher-Fox has clearly engaged extensively with Dene communities, the focus of this book is Dene relations with Canada. One might have expected this book to include more of a variety of community voices and perspectives—especially when gender and class dimensions of negotiations or overlapping claims between Indigenous communities are so apparent in block quotes but absent in the analysis. In some ways, this relates to use of tanning as a cultural referent. It was unclear at times why this was necessary, or selected over asking a variety of community members about their views of self-government. Still, this book would be helpful for introducing students to issues of self-government negotiations in the Northwest Territories. More importantly, Irlbacher-Fox has started an overdue conversation that challenges several common perceptions about self-government negotiations. Hopefully policy makers and Canadian citizens alike will listen and participate.


Irlbacher-Fox, Stephanie., “Finding Dahshaa: Self-Government, Social Suffering, and Aboriginal Policy in Canada.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 27, 2024,