From Blue Lake to Bears Ears: Decolonizing Conservation

Authors: Eric Perramond*, Colorado College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Land Use
Keywords: conservation, Native sovereignty, decolonization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the 1970 repatriation of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, indigenous peoples have reasserted Native sovereign rights to ancestral territory in increasingly clever and strategic ways. Here, mobilizing and questioning the decolonization framework from a spatial perspective, I present a variety of indigenous sovereign claims as territorial forms of conservation. Blue Lake in New Mexico, islands off the coast of California, the attempt by the Blackfeet in Montana to reassert sovereign knowledge over Glacier National Park, Jemez Pueblo’s attempts to reclaim the Valles Caldera preserve, and of course the creation, current administrative remission, and liminal status of Bears Ears National Monument are all well-known examples that may question the very nature of what “public lands” mean when these spaces were formerly Native territories. The relative status, successes, and even failures of indigenous territorial reclamation projects also point to what factors lead to a more positive outcome, for both sovereignty and some new notions of what “conservation” in the 21st century might mean. Instead of the old model of settler-colonial "fortress conservation," is Native sovereign territoriality a new form of conservation that should be included as part of our public lands system? Should it become the new standard for any new federal protected area?

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