Skip to main content Accessibility help

Is Indigeneity like Ethnicity? Theorizing and Assessing Models of Indigenous Political Representation

  • Meaghan Williams (a1) and Robert Schertzer (a2)


Within the broader literature on political representation, studies exploring Indigenous forms of representation are rather limited. Where they exist, they tend to explore how Western models of political representation include Indigenous peoples, conflating Indigenous groups with ethnic minorities. This article asks whether and how Indigenous political representation might be distinguished from the representation of ethnic minorities. Our argument is that Indigenous groups’ identities tend to be based on different claims and relationships to the state than ethnic groups, which leads to political mobilization seeking a means to respond to the colonial nation-state project. We develop a theoretical framework that identifies three principles that ought to inform an effective and legitimate model of Indigenous political representation: recognition, protection and decolonization. We then apply this theoretical framework to assess the extent to which existing models of Indigenous representation in Bolivia, Canada, New Zealand and Norway correspond with these three principles.

Dans la bibliographie sur la représentation politique, les études explorant les formes autochtones de représentation sont plutôt limitées. Lorsqu'elles existent, elles ont tendance à déterminer la manière dont les modèles occidentaux de représentation politique incluent les peuples autochtones, les associant aux minorités ethniques. Cet article demande s'il convienne de distinguer la représentation politique autochtone de celle des minorités ethniques et dans quelle mesure. Notre argument est que les identités des groupes autochtones ont tendance à être fondées sur des revendications et des relations avec l'État différentes de celles des groupes ethniques, ce qui mène à une mobilisation politique recherchant le moyen de répondre au projet colonial nation-État. Nous élaborons un cadre théorique qui définit trois principes susceptibles de guider un modèle efficace et légitime de représentation politique autochtone : la reconnaissance, la protection et la décolonisation. Nous appliquons ensuite ce cadre théorique pour évaluer dans quelle mesure les modèles existants de représentation autochtone en Bolivie, au Canada, en Nouvelle-Zélande et en Norvège correspondent à ces trois principes.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Abele, Frances and Prince, Michael J.. 2006. “Four Pathways to Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada.” American Review of Canadian Studies 36 (4): 568–95.
Alcantara, Christopher, Spicer, Zachary and Leone, Roberto. 2012. “Institutional Design and the Accountability Paradox: A Case Study of Three Aboriginal Accountability Regimes in Canada.” Canadian Public Administration 55 (1): 6990.
Alcantara, Christopher and Whitfield, Greg. 2010. “Aboriginal Self-Government through Constitutional Design: A Survey of Fourteen Aboriginal Constitutions in Canada.” Journal of Canadian Studies 44 (2): 122–45.
Alfred, Gerald R. 1995. Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Alfred, Taiaiake. 2005. Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Alfred, Taiaiake. 2008. Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Banducci, Susan A., Donovan, Todd and Karp, Jeffrey A.. 2004. “Minority Representation, Empowerment, and Participation.” Journal of Politics 66 (2): 534–56.
Barth, Fredrik. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Boston: Little, Brown.
Bird, Karen. 2014. “Ethnic Quotas and Ethnic Representation Worldwide.” International Political Science Review 35 (1): 1226.
Borrows, John. 2000. “‘Landed’ Citizenship: Narratives of Aboriginal Political Participation.” In Citizenship, Diversity and Pluralism, ed. Cairns, Alan. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Bowen, James D. 2007. “Indigenous Movements and Political Representation in Latin America.” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 2 (1): 93103.
Broderstad, Else Grete. 2011. “The Promises and Challenges of Indigenous Self-Determination: The Sami Case.” International Journal 66 (4): 893907.
Cairns, Alan C. 2001. Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Canada. Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. 1991. Final Report: Reforming Electoral Democracy. Vol. 2. Ottawa.
Canada. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. 1996. Restructuring the Relationship. Vol. 2 of Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Ottawa.
Charters, Claire. 2010. “A Self-Determination Approach to Justifying Indigenous Peoples’ Participation in International Law and Policy Making.” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 17 (2): 215–40.
Coulthard, Glen. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Davidson, Adrienne. 2018. “Flexibility in the Federal System? Institutional Innovation and Indigenous Nations’ Self-Determination in the US and Canadian Far North.Doctoral dissertation. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
Dubois, Janique and Saunders, Kelly. 2013. “‘Just Do It!’: Carving Out a Space for the Métis in Canadian Federalism.Canadian Journal of Political Science 46 (1): 187214.
Evans, Glynn and Hill, Lisa. 2012. “The Electoral and Political Implications of Reserved Seats for Indigenous Australians.” Australian Journal of Political Science 47 (3): 491505.
Eyford, Douglas. 2015. A New Direction: Advancing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. Ottawa, Government of Canada.
Fleras, Augie. 1985. “From Social Control towards Political Self-Determination? Maori Seats and the Politics of Separate Maori Representation in New Zealand.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 18 (3): 551–76.
Fleras, Augie. 1991. “Aboriginal Electoral Districts for Canada: Lessons from New Zealand.” In Aboriginal Peoples and Electoral Reform in Canada, ed. Milen, Robert A.. Research Studies of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. Vol. 9. Toronto: Dundurn.
Gaski, Lina. 2008. “Contesting the Sami Polity: Discursive Representations in the Sami Electoral Campaign in 2005.Acta Borealia 25 (1): 121.
Henderson, James (sákéj) Youngblood. 1994. “Empowering Treaty Federalism.” Saskatchewan Law Review 58 (2): 241329.
Henderson, James (Sákéj) Youngblood. 2002. “Sui Generis and Treaty Citizenship.” Citizenship Studies 6 (4): 415–40.
Hill, Richard. 2004. State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Māori Relations in New Zealand / Aotearoa 1900–1950. Wellington: Victoria University Press.
Htun, Mala. 2004. “Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Groups.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (3): 439–58.
Htun, Mala. 2016. Inclusion without Representation in Latin America: Gender Quotas and Ethnic Reservations. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Htun, Mala and Ossa, Juan Pablo. 2013. “Political Inclusion of Marginalized Groups: Indigenous Reservations and Gender Parity in Bolivia.” Politics, Groups and Identities 1 (1): 425.
Humpage, Louise. 2017. “Does Having an Indigenous Political Party in Government Make a Difference to Social Policy? The Maori Party in New Zealand.” Journal of Social Policy 46 (3): 475–94.
Irlbacher-Fox, Stephanie. 2009. Finding Dahshaa: Self-Government, Social Suffering and Aboriginal Policy in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Kingi, Tanira. n.d. Maori Landownership and Land Management in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University.
Knight, Trevor. 2001. “Electoral Justice for Aboriginal People in Canada.” McGill Law Journal 46 (4): 1063–116.
Kroeber, Corinna. 2017. “Exploring the Impact of Reserved Seat Design on the Quality of Minority Representation.” Ethnopolitics 16 (2): 196216.
Krook, Mona Lena and O'Brien, Diana Z.. 2010. “The Politics of Group Representation: Quotas for Women and Minorities Worldwide.” Comparative Politics 42 (3): 253–72.
Ladner, Kiera L. 2005. “Up the Creek: Fishing for a New Constitutional Order.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 38 (4): 923–53.
Ladner, Kiera L. and McCrossan, Michael. 2007. “The Electoral Participation of Aboriginal People.” Working Paper Series on Electoral Participation and Outreach Practices. Elections Canada, Ottawa.
Laponce, J. A. 1960. The Protection of Minorities. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Lublin, David and Wright, Matthew. 2013. “Engineering Inclusion: Assessing the Effects of Pro-Minority Representation Policies.Electoral Studies 32 (4): 746–55.
McHugh, Paul G. 1991. The Māori Magna Carta: New Zealand Law and the Treaty of Waitangi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Maddison, Sarah. 2010. “White Parliament, Black Politics: The Dilemmas of Indigenous Parliamentary Representation.” Australian Journal of Political Science 45 (4): 663–80.
Maddison, Sarah. 2013. “Indigenous Identity, ‘Authenticity’ and the Structural Violence of Settler Colonialism.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 20 (3): 288303.
Madrid, Raúl L. and Rhodes-Purdy, Matthew. 2016. “Descriptive Representation and Regime Support in Latin America.” Political Studies 64 (4): 890909.
Mansbridge, Jane. 1999. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent ‘Yes.’Journal of Politics 61 (3): 628–57.
Medeiros, Mike and Frost, Benjamin. 2014. “Unrepresented No More: Noncontiguous Ridings Could Enhance Aboriginals’ Voice in Our Political Institutions.Inroads (34): 118–25.
Morden, Michael. 2016. “Indigenizing Parliament: Time to Re-Start a Conversation.” Canadian Parliamentary Review 39 (2): 2433.
Murphy, Michael. 2004. “Understanding Indigenous Nationalism.” In The Fate of the Nation-State, ed. Seymour, Michel. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Murphy, Michael. 2008. “Representing Indigenous Self-Determination.” University of Toronto Law Journal 58 (2): 185216.
Nadasdy, Paul. 2017. Sovereignty's Entailments: First Nation State Formation in the Yukon. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Papillon, Martin. 2012. “Adapting Federalism: Indigenous Multilevel Governance in Canada and the United States.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 42 (2): 289312.
Pitkin, Hanna. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Rehfeld, Andrew. 2006. “Towards a General Theory of Political Representation.” Journal of Politics 68 (1): 121.
Sabin, Jerald. 2014. “Contested Colonialism: Responsible Government and Political Development in Yukon.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 47 (2): 375–96.
Saward, Michael. 2006. “The Representative Claim.” Contemporary Political Theory 5 (3): 297318.
Schertzer, Robert. 2016. “Quebec Justices as Quebec Representatives: National Minority Representation and the Supreme Court of Canada's Federalism Jurisprudence.” Publius 46 (4): 539–67.
Schertzer, Robert. 2018. “Mapping Institutional Mechanisms of Ethno-national Representation: Toward a Better Measurement Approach.Nations and Nationalism 24 (4): 1046–75
Schouls, Tim. 1996. “Aboriginal Peoples and Electoral Reform in Canada: Differentiated Representation versus Voter Equality.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 29 (4): 729–49.
Semb, Anne Julie. 2005. “Sami Self-Determination in the Making?Nations and Nationalism 11 (4): 531–49.
Smith, Anthony D. 1998. Nationalism and Modernism. London: Routledge.
Smith, Anthony D. 2009. Ethno-Symbolism and Nationalism: A Cultural Approach. London: Routledge.
Swain, Carol. 1993. Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Tanguay, Brian and Bittle, Steven. 2005. “Parliament as a Mirror to the Nation: Promoting Diversity in Representation through Electoral Reform.Canadian Issues, Summer: 6163.
The Global Americans. 2017. “Report on indigenous political representation: Introduction and summary.” (retrieved May 2, 2018).
Tockman, Jason, Cameron, John and Plata, Wilfredo. 2015. “New Institutions of Indigenous Self-Governance in Bolivia: Between Autonomy and Self-Discipline.” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 10 (1): 3759.
Tuck, Eve and Yang, K. Wayne. 2012. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 (1): 140.
Turgeon, Luc and Gagnon, Alain-G.. 2013. “The Representation of Ethnic and Linguistic Groups in the Federal Civil Service of Belgium and Canada.” Canadian Public Administration 56 (4): 565–83.
Weaver, Hilary N. 2001. “Indigenous Identity: What Is It and Who Really Has It?American Indian Quarterly 25 (2): 240–55.
Williams, Melissa. 2016. “Indigenous Representation, Self-Determination and Electoral Reform.” In Should We Change How We Vote? Evaluating Canada's Electoral System, ed. Potter, Andrew, Weinstock, Daniel and Loewen, Peter. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed