Storm Hurwitz Completes Thesis on Classification Expansion and Political Subversion: Indigenous Communities, Internal Displacement, and International Law

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 1.02.02 PMStorm Hurwitz, a Global Studies major with a minor in Journalism and Design at Eugene Lang completed his thesis, Classification Expansion & Political Subversion: Indigenous Communities, Internal Displacement, and International Law on the implications of indigenous communities in Alberta, Canada being understood as Internally Displaced Persons.His work was presented at the Dean's Honors Symposium.

Hear about Storm's project in his own words:

This work, in critically engaging with contemporary Forced Migrant & Refugee Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Environmental Studies literature, seeks to understand the potential implications of Indigenous communities in Alberta, Canada, being understood as Internally Displaced Persons (Internally displaced persons).After an analysis of the literature on the definition of Internally displaced persons and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement of Internally displaced persons, I apply the concepts of such classifications to Indigenous communities residing in Alberta. The paper concludes with a chapter on the potential impact of such internally determined classifications in relation to massive international development projects, such as the Alberta Tar Sands.Through juxtaposing and synthesizing often-disparate forms of literature—environmental studies, refugee and forced migrant studies, and Indigenous studies—this work contributes a new strategy to the fights for indigenous resurgence.By classifying themselves as internally displaced persons,Indigenous communities will likely be able to re-attain control over their lands.While the inherent nature of this strategy might initially might seem problematic due the necessity of using settler State legal systems, this piece argues that the use of these systems is for subversion purposes.This paper outlined this argument by first introducing the concept of internal displacement, which is generally understood as a refugee-type individual who has not crossed internationally recognized State borders. I then delve deeper into the link between settler colonialism and internal displacement, where I argue that applying settler colonialism to the current Indigenous situation enables one to critically comprehend how seemingly harmless settler colonial actions can be understood as human rights violations.This is key to the argument because one of the reasons that internal displacement is often not dealt with by multilateral organizations and legal systems are because governments are thought to act-on and support the internally displaced individual’s rights and needs. Through the lens of settler colonialism, one understands that, in the case of Indigenous communities, it is impossible for settler governments to act-on and support their rights. Instead these governments are actively seeking to erase and eliminate Indigenous persons.The work then hones-in on a specific case: The Alberta Tar Sands as a form of settler State enacted internal displacement, which affords Indigenous communities the ability to use several Principles from the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement— I argue a normative and thus rights-based document— to re-attain sovereignty.First, I argue that there is clear displacement occurring in Alberta due to the effects of the mass-extraction project. I then look at psychological experiences of displacement as a means of bolstering the Indigenous-earth relationship, which is one where, if the earth is displaced so is the community. I counter the rather classical notion that mental health quality linked to displacement and feelings of belonging is positively correlated with economic growth. Instead, I introduce the concept of ‘earth mobility’ as a means of understanding how the displacement of an ecosystem through extinction, in effect, results in a displacement of the persons inhabiting that land. The combination of these two inextricable elements— physical and psychological— serve as a basis for Indigenous communities to make a claim that they are facing internal displacement in the settler State of Canada.Further work in this discipline might begin through studies that hypothesize the correlation between earth mobility and mental health, specifically related to experiences of displacement and place-belonging. This work is limited in scope, especially due to my not being a legal practitioner. However, this critical engagement across the three aforementioned academic disciplines, is an introduction to a new potential strategy for Indigenous communities to use in their fight to re-attain sovereignty over their lands .