Against colonial grounds: Geography on Indigenous lands

In this response to a provocation from Natalie Oswin, “An Other Geography,” Sara Smith and I write in “Against colonial grounds”, that we need to critically rethink institutions of higher learning. We need to examine how disciplines and universities are complicit in the reproduction of colonial histories and myths of white supremacy.  We argue that if we take indigenous geographies seriously, we’d conceptually have the tools to think though many of today’s pressing moral, ethical, and political problems, from border walls to environmental sustainability. We also reflect on our location as participants in this system within a university in the U.S. South and how this adds to racism and anti-Black violence. The abstract below does a better job a summarizing the commentary.

“In this response to Natalie Oswin’s provocation, ‘An other geography’, we consider how we might work against settler narratives and structures from our situated positions in the discipline and in a specific academic institution in the US South. Following Diné student Majerle Lister, we ask what it would mean to consider giving the land back: what does that entail? The academic institutions we inhabit were built to insure white futurity, on fictive histories. Can they be retrofitted in the present to enable the futurity of Indigenous people and theorizations? Can we turn our discipline’s history of erasure inside out, to center the land, people, and practices that were both crucial to and absent from it except as shadowy and metaphorical presences? We draw on our own teaching, and from scholarship in Indigenous and Black Studies, to consider what it might look like to return land and reconfigure relations among those who have been cast aside by white patriarchal settler structures, but in incommensurate ways.”

“Our Winters’ Rights”: Challenging Colonial Water Laws

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Much of the scholarship on Indigenous water rights in the United States focuses on legal and political rights awarded or denied in water settlements. This article highlights the voice of settlement opponents within Diné communities over the proposed Little Colorado River Settlement in 2012 between the Navajo Nation and Arizona. Using interviews with key actors, observations of water hearings, and a mini focus group with settlement opponents, my research finds that the proposed water settlement produced contradictory logics, practices, and frameworks that combined two “traditions of Indigenous resistance,” one rooted in the language of self-determination and sovereignty and the other in emerging notions of decolonization. This hybridity of seeking increased water recognition within colonial law, while advocating for decolonial waterscapes, speaks to the complicated and fundamentally entangled political landscapes of Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, in opposing the water settlement, Diné opponents and community members demonstrate that they seek to rectify the injustice of ongoing settler colonialism and realize their collective capabilities as nations, not “Indians,” “tribes,” or “minorities” within and against the authorities of the colonial state.