Iinnii: Ecological Engineers and Agents of Reconciliation

Authors: Erich Keyser*, University of Guelph
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Environment
Keywords: political ecology; borders; boundaries; conservation; Indigenous research; decolonization;
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Waterton-Glacier region sits centrally within the Crown of the Continent ecoregion and is a significant biocultural landscape for numerous plant and animal species, as well as humans. This landscape is a conservation hotspot, prime ranching land, and holds deeply spiritual and cultural significance as the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The plains bison, which were keystone species of the North American plains and the livelihood of the Blackfoot people, were nearly exterminated in the late 1800s. Bison are the last missing piece to ecologically and culturally restoring this landscape. The Iinnii Initiative is a Blackfoot-led bison reintroduction effort, which has brought together a collaborative network of stakeholders across borders. By collaborating with the Iinnii Initiative, I explore the socio-cultural and political dimensions of bison reintroduction on Blackfoot traditional territory. This research seeks to uncover rancher perceptions of bison, and the potential barriers to their restoration. It also explores what makes the Iinnii Initiative a potentially positive model for Indigenous-led collaborative conservation governance. Finally, it offers a reflection on the process of decolonizing conservation social science research with Indigenous communities. Data regarding potential challenges to reintroduction was gathered by performing semi-structured interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous ranchers around Waterton Lakes National Park and in key locations on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Semi-structured and key informant interviews with Iinnii Initiative members, managers from Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, and program directors from Wildlife Conservation Society provided insight into the challenges and success of this collaborative network of actors.

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