Decolonizing Diné land use

Authors: Majerle Lister*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Andrew P Curley, University of Arizona
Topics: Land Use, Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Navajo, Indigenous, land use, decolonization
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Land is key to Indigenous identities. In the United States, Indigenous nations retain a diminished authority, or sovereignty, over reservation lands. The structure of colonial control over these lands remains intact. Land management in reservations, even under Indigenous authority, reflect colonial environmental logic. Today, tribal leaders, scholars, and activists work to decolonize tribal institutions. The role of tribal governments in rebuilding Indigenous environmental knowledge and practices is contested, but possible (Carroll 2015).


This paper considers the political ecological implications of colonial jurisdictions over Indigenous lands. It examines land-use practices, what are called “grazing districts”, as a technology of colonialism over Indigenous peoples. The emphasis on livestock in tribal grazing laws work to extend capitalist practices and the commodification of nature within the reservation while intensifying desertification, land loss, and out-migration. In sum, grazing districts are techniques of colonial control corroding the internal livability of Indigenous homelands. New assertions of Indigenous resistance and claims to sovereignty must overcome tribal land-use practices in order to restore Indigenous economies and environments.

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