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Cultural Crossroads in the Wakarusa Wetlands: Perspectives of the South Lawrence Trafficway Environmental Assessment Process

Authors: Katie Grote*, University of Kansas
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Geography, Environment
Keywords: Wetlands, Kansas, Policy - Environmental, Environmental Assessment, South Lawrence Trafficway, Indigenous Geography, Cultural Geography,
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Cross-cultural dialogue in environmental policy provides substantial opportunities to engage new ways of thought and new solutions to difficult problems. The settler-state hegemony has disregarded Indigenous science and worldviews, consistently ignoring the potential for Indigenous peoples to be decision-makers on environmental issues. The omission of Indigenous perspectives in environmentally-adverse decisions often forces Indigenous peoples to pursue other methods of involvement, particularly in the form of activism. One of many examples of Indigenous environmental activism can be found in Northeastern Kansas where Indigenous peoples and allies led a decades long protest against the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT). The SLT project proposed the construction of a four-lane highway through a wetlands complex – known as the Wakarusa Wetlands – with significant ecological, historical, and spiritual importance. The environmental assessment process for the development project continually ignored or misinterpreted Indigenous perspectives related to the wetlands. The purpose of this paper is to review the environmental assessment documents and national environmental policy to determine if Indigenous peoples and perspectives were adequately considered during the assessment in this case study. Furthermore, this paper provides insight into the changes necessary for improved and informed decision-making in environmental policy. This paper is a preliminary case study for a larger and more systematic issue. Indigenous perspectives, knowledge systems, and ways of life are not adequately considered in environmental regulation. Future research, workshops, and cross-cultural exchanges may provide more insight on potential systematic changes that exalt inclusivity and bridge the divide between Western and Indigenous perspectives.

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