The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Life against a State of Emergency: Corporeal Sovereignty and the (Re)framing of Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike

Event date/time: 

Monday, March 22, 2021 - 2:00pm to 3:15pm


Online via Zoom

Save the Date! Invited Talk with Sarah Wiebe: "Life against a State of Emergency: Corporeal Sovereignty and the (Re)framing of Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike" (Registration Link in a Future Announcement) 

Hosted by Regine A. Spector in the context of the ISSR Scholars Program.

Abstract: Just across the river from Canada’s federal parliament buildings, during the snowy winter of December 2012, then Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a ceremonial fast to seek renewed treaty relations between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian Crown. After a series of State of Emergency declarations in her community due to inadequate housing, water and built infrastructure, in solidarity with similar declarations by Indigenous communities in Ontario, she was compelled to take direct action, putting her body on the line and into the public spotlight. Her action became framed by the media, political elites and general public as a hunger strike, which elevated the level of her exposure to hegemonic narratives of “crisis, blame and accountability”, placing her as at fault for the environmental conditions affecting Attawapiskat. Informed by interpretive scholarship that weaves together elements of critical discourse analysis, framing and sensory ethnography which includes community-engaged research and mixed media storytelling, this talk examines her fast as a form of corporeal sovereignty. Through a feminist, kaleidoscopic lens that builds from the counterstories presented by Spence and community-members, her fast can be interpreted as a radical interruption that sought to rupture Canada’s status quo colonial body politic while seeking to revitalize dialogue about treaty relations and environmental justice. The core question driving this research is: what can we learn from Chief Spence’s act of corporeal sovereignty for contemporary treaty relations? To respond, this talk will discuss a relational research approach to this question through storytelling and community engagement while seeking to amplify Indigenous voices and visions of sustainable decolonial futures.

Bio: Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe grew up on unceded Coast Salish territory in British Columbia, BC and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. Her research and teaching focus on community development and environmental sustainability. She has published in journals including New Political Science and Studies in Social Justice. Her first book Everyday Exposure: Indigenous Mobilization and Environmental Justice in Canada’s Chemical Valley was published in 2016 with the University of British Columbia Press, and won the Charles Taylor Book Award in 2017. This book examines policy responses to the impact of pollution on the Aamjiwnaang First Nations’ environmental health. She is also the Co-editor of Biopolitical Disaster (2017) and Creating Spaces of Engagement: Policy Justice and the Practical Craft of Deliberative Democracy (2020). She is currently working on a manuscript entitled Life against a State of Emergency with members of the Attawapiskat First Nation, which includes youth-focused mixed media, see: For more about her scholarship see her personal website: and you can follow her on twitter @smwiebe.


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