Imperial or Settler Imperative? Indigenous Reserves as a Case Study for a Transcolonial Analysis of British Imperial Indigenous Policy

  • Darren Reid University of Victoria
Keywords: settler colonialism, transcolonial history, British policy, Indigenous reserves


My paper presents a comparative analysis of the development of Indigenous reserve systems in British North America and Western Australia across the nineteenth century. The existing historiography seeks to comprehend the relationship between the British metropole and the colonial periphery, and two opposing frameworks of colonial governance have been developed. One holds that the British Empire operated as an interdependent system, in which colonial Indigenous policies were determined by overarching imperial imperatives based upon imperial capitalism and liberal humanitarianism. The other holds that the explosive growth of settler communities undermined these imperial imperatives and facilitated governance guided by the settlers' need for land, labour, and security. This paper seeks to end the tension between these two frameworks by using Indigenous reserve systems as a case study for understanding colonial governance. Through an analysis of correspondence between local and imperial administrators, this paper argues that the development of Indigenous reserve systems reveals an entrenched conflict between imperial and local administrators lasting throughout the nineteenth century, a conflict in which the local governments of British North America and Western Australia subordinated imperial imperatives of imperial capitalism and liberal humanitarianism to local concerns of security and sovereignty. 


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