Photosynthesizing Members of the ‘Parliament of Things:’ Plants’ Roles in the North Carolina Tuscarora Sovereignty Struggle

Authors: Sara Maxwell*, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: political ecology; indigenous peoples; Science and Technology Studies; ethnobotany
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Past studies of plants and indigenous peoples have tended to focus on human plant uses in the context of cultural symbolism or ecological pressures. My study reverses the traditional point of focus and examines the roles of wild native plants in the political lives of Tuscarora American Indian communities in North Carolina. Suggesting that the plants have at least as much to gain from the interaction as the humans do, this paper engages with the work of Eduardo Kohn, Natasha Myers, Bruno Latour, and Marisol de la Cadena to suggest a world in which plants, along with humans and other living beings, carry voting membership in “The Parliament of Things.” Using ethnographic interviews, plant collections, collaboration in artist studios and art galleries, and active participation in the Tuscarora struggle for sovereignty, my study concludes that the Tuscarora and the cypresses, tupelo gums, and greenbrier in their vicinity are collaborating actively on the conservation of an ecosystem and of a way of life.

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