Below is a list of key terms from the book, accompanied by limited definitions. This offers a quick reference guide for a broad range of readers.
Terms will be added and entries may be edited on an ongoing basis.
The term “exploitation” is on the cover, but this book is just as much about autonomy. Like so many legal terms, a lot can be learned by breaking it down to its component parts.
auto + nomos
Etymology: post-classical Latin auto- (formations in which are found from the mid 16th cent.; already in classical Latin in borrowings from Greek) and its etymon ancient Greek αὐτο- ‘self, one’s own, by oneself, independently’“auto-, comb. form1”. OED Online. March 2022. Oxford University Press.
Etymology: ancient Greek νόμος usage, custom, law, melody“nomos, n.”. OED Online. March 2022. Oxford University Press.
This etymology was in the back of my mind every time I used the term “autonomy”. Guided by their own customary practices, Indigenous peoples maintained relative degrees of autonomy when it came to labouring for the commercial fur trade. This is the most important consideration when it comes to assessing the transformations that led to, and followed, the establishment of the Red River Colony.
Key quote from text:
How certain Indigenous producers’ autonomy was variably exercised or circumscribed in the course of commercial exchanges is key to understanding the evolution of “free” labour in the region and era. I assert that the emergence of the “free and equal” settler as an independent producer evolves in conjunction with changes to certain social relations of land practised by Indigenous peoples, and as such an account of Indigenous peoples’ labour is central to comprehending early capitalism at Red River.A Legacy of Exploitation, p. 12.
Repeated, often extreme breaches of trust that benefit one party while disadvantaging another, and that erodes but do not erase previously established, mutually agreed upon obligations. To the extent that exploitation in this vein is a breach of trust, trust can be thought of a condition of exploitation — this is a tension that I foreground in the book, notably in the introduction that is subtitled “Exploitation and Autonomy”.
In addition to understanding “exploitation” as extractive, this definition captures what is particular to settler colonial relations: the abdication of duties owed. Beyond “exploitation” as a mechanistic, supposedly natural by-product that defines early capitalism, I chart the contradictions and complications that underpin exploitation, and refer to a “legacy of exploitation” to suggest that these are ongoing relations.
Key quotes from text:
Commercial incursions did not portend the end of a “reciprocal period”; customary practices based upon the principle of reciprocity were stretched alongside a growing scope of obligations, except that these obligations entailed increasingly exploitative exchanges with European fur traders, rendering them reciprocal in form but decreasingly so in substance.A Legacy of Exploitation, p. 32.
Exploitation defined the sites of exchange, yet the particulars of production left intact – in a disparate and relative manner – the autonomy of Indigenous producers.A Legacy of Exploitation, p. 50.