Politics vs. Science Competency, Correlation as Causation and the Blame Game: A case from the Navajo Nation

Authors: Margaret Redsteer*, University of Washington Bothell
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Arid Regions, Anthropocene
Keywords: Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Navajo Nation, Indigenous Knowledge
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Numerous tribal lands, including the 67,000 km2 Navajo Nation were established in environmentally fragile areas of the semi-arid southwestern United States. Research conducted within this landscape and its meager resources repeatedly showcase the region’s drought and climate sensitivity, while a campaign to promote extractive industries and discredit indigenous land use practices of stewardship was implemented. Livestock reduction and removal that began in the mid-1930s and resulted in low stocking rates and hunger among Navajo people by the 1950s was conducted to address surface erosion. Despite researcher’s attribution of erosive arroyo-incision to changing hydrologic conditions, grazing districts were imposed, and pastoral transhumance was discouraged in favor of fencing animals and restricting movement that had previously been managed according to local forage conditions. Then by mid- 20th century, hydrologic investigations noted a roughly 50% decline in perennial streamflow while working to assess available water resources to develop coal as a regional energy source, and construct a 264-mile water slurry line to a coal-fired power plant in Nevada. Despite evidence of dwindling water availability, changes were attributed to invasive Tamarisk (ssp.) and questions about the timing and spatial distribution of vegetation that discredit this relationship were disregarded. Water resources continue to decline in areas without water development even today. Diminished soil moisture has led to increasing sand and dust storms while a multi-decadal drought has gripped the region. Even so, Navajo land use is still frequently raised as a reason for poor conditions, while ample evidence of climate change impacts have been documented.

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