Intervention – “Water is Life and Life is Sovereignty: Context and Considerations for Critical Geographers”

Water is Life and Life is Sovereignty: Context and Considerations for Critical Geographers

Andrew Curley
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

On 4 December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) the necessary permit to drill beneath the Missouri River and bring more oil to the international market. This is a great victory for indigenous people and should be treated as such. A small tribal government, saying mni waconi or “water is life”, took on the most powerful industry in the world in the interest of our collective sustainability and they won. It’s clearly not a total victory. But it is a sizeable achievement. The tribe had to challenge: state and local authority; thuggish police; regulators in league with oil interests; the harassment of the US Republican Party; and the indifference of the US Democratic Party. In terms of political…

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12/28/16 Obama declares Bears Ears a National Monument; upcoming book highlights the story to win the designation

Today President Obama designated the Bears Ears, an important cultural and spiritual site for Native peoples in Utah, a U.S. national monument. This was an important step in preserving this land and its indigenous ancestral ruins for future generations. This victory was the result of tireless work from a range of actors. Some were Native environmentalists and organizers. Others were students and residences wanting to preserve the lands where they grew up. And finally non-Native allies who valued the history of the land and its cultural sites provided invaluable work.


But there are still challenges in preserving the land and gaining Native control over it. First, the monument size was much smaller than what advocates had wanted. Second, the incoming Trump administration might attempt to roll back these designations. Finally, we are unsure on what kind of influence tribe’s will have over the park. These are serious considerations.


In Jacqueline Keeler’s forthcoming edited volume, “Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears,” Native activists, academics, and organizers consider the meaning of Bears Ears for Native people. Writing from the standpoint of a researcher in the Navajo Nation, I contributed a small essay on how national monuments can assist tribal land claims. The book is a timely and resourceful account on Bears Ears and the campaign to designate it a national monument. It will be available in the spring of 2017 from Torey House Press.