Pastoral Development as Pastoral Elimination: Rangeland Settler Colonialism

Authors: Tracy Hruska*, UC Berkeley, Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy, and Mgmt
Topics: Development, Ethnic Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: pastoralism; settler colonialism; China
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Mobile – often called ‘nomadic’ – pastoralists are typically ethnic minorities in their own countries, and are usually politically marginalized. Their livelihood depends on extensive grazing land to feed their livestock throughout changing seasons and climatic variability. This land is also a target for colonization and economic development schemes by their own governments and more politically entitled ethnic groups. The state-backed development of these grazing lands constitutes internal settler colonialism, which is motivated by “not race (or religion, ethnicity, grade of civilization, etc.) but access to territory. Territory is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element” (Wolfe, 2006, p. 388). In this work I draw on fieldwork with Kazakh herders in China’s Xinjiang Region as a case study of how state-led development of pastoral regions pushes pastoralists toward elimination by assimilation. Loss of land access is a crucial component of this process. In Xinjiang and other pastoral regions, the Chinese state has broken up tribal social structures that facilitated herd migrations and reallocated land for mining, conservation, and use by millions of Han immigrants from eastern China. I use Simpson’s (2014) notion of indigenous ‘refusal’ to be assimilated/exterminated to question what chance Kazakh pastoralists in China, or pastoralists in many countries, have of maintaining both a cultural identity and the land needed for livestock-based livelihoods. Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political life across the borders of settler states. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Wolfe, Patrick. 2006. Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research 8 (4): 387-489.

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