"We won't wait with our arms crossed": Critical environmental justice, indigeneity, and settler colonial disruption

Authors: Joel Correia*, University of Florida
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Environmental justice, Infrastructural violence, Indigeneity, Territory, Latin America
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Land dispossession, tenure insecurity, and extractivism disproportionately expose many Indigenous communities in Latin America to environmental hazards. While scholars and activists have investigated relationships between environmental change, harm, and Indigenous communities, Critical Environmental Justice calls for a deeper engagement with indigeneity. This paper responds to that call by tracing the intersections of Indigenous land rights, access to drinking water, and the sedimented histories of colonial power relations that shape cattle ranching in Paraguay’s Chaco. Drawing from collaborative ethnographic research with Sanapana and Enxet-Sur Indigenous peoples, I employ critical physical geography alongside theorizations of infrastructural violence to examine the production of environmental (in)justice across scales with attention to Enxet-Sur and Sanapana territorial struggles. First, I consider how deforestation, the establishment of pasture lands, and introduction of cattle have driven landscape-level changes that radically altered the biophysical and social ecologies of the Chaco. Next, I show how the landscapes created to ensure the wellbeing of cattle for slaughter directly ensure waterborne diseases for Indigenous bodies that are deemed expendable (labor) by many non-Indigenous ranchers. Finally, I close by discussing how Enxet-Sur and Sanapana peoples have turned environmental harms created by cattle colonialism into new political-legal tools they are using to reclaim territory through embodied acts of resistance. Therefore, I contend that Critical Environmental Justice studies must not only consider how (infra)structures of settler colonialism produce environmental racism in many Indigenous communities but how to reimagine justice outside the limits of settler colonial law.

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