Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Tricia R. Hepner, Dawnie W. Steadman

Committee Members

Amy Z. Mundorff, Joshua Inwood


Presented herein are the findings from an ethnographic analysis of the perceived efficacy of Canada’s transitional justice framework; an approach being used to address human rights violations that occurred via the Indian residential school system. With these findings and archival research, I argue that transitional justice is not perceived as an effective solution for nation-states with long histories of colonialism and institutional violence. From the 1840s until 1996, Canadian Aboriginals suffered forced assimilation, sexual abuse, and physical abuse in government-sponsored and church-administrated boarding schools. The Canadian government began to actively address these crimes in 2006 with the negotiation of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. The agreement utilizes transitional justice tools (e.g. monetary reparations, investigative truth and reconciliation commission, grave excavation) typically employed in countries undergoing a transition in political regimes or from war to peace.

Using a transitional justice framework and based on data gathered primarily in the lower mainland of British Columbia, this research 1) uses critical discourse studies to analyze the use of "reconciliation" by various stakeholders, and how varying definitions affect perceptions of transitional justice, 2) discusses how knowledge production influences perceptions of transitional justice on the ground and the associated research; 3) uses a lens of structural violence to argue that transitional justice is not perceived as an effective tool in and of itself by marginalized groups when employed in a colonial context; and 4) contends that when applying a universal transitional justice framework to local contexts, structural violence and neocolonialism can be used to problematize the narrative that is produced.

Contributing to critical anthropological debate, this research investigates the sociopolitical factors that influence transitional justice in a non-transitioning society that operates with a legacy of institutionalized discrimination and colonization of Native peoples. Broadly, these findings can inform the applied work of transitional justice facilitators, including government officials, lawyers, and anthropologists.

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