Decolonizing Conservation

Type: Virtual Paper
Theme: The Changing North American Continent
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group, Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM (PST)
Room: Virtual 46
Organizers: Eric Perramond, Robin Roth
Chairs: Noella Gray


The last decade has heightened the visibility and key role of indigenous struggles to retain, develop, or expand Native access and livelihoods. In the wake of Keystone, Standing Rock, and Bears Ears, indigenous peoples are at the forefront of questioning capitalism and livelihoods in the 21st century (Corntassel 2012; Higgins 2018; Estes 2019). In the last few decades, Native claims to long-unacknowledged water rights have been adjudicated and settled in often unjust or unsatisfactory ways. Indeed, navigating as Native sovereigns between state and federal sovereignty has been a challenge, and the politics of “refusal” has met with limited success in some cases (McCool 2006, Coulthard 2014; Curley 2019; Perramond 2019; Yazzie and Risling-Baldy 2018).
Recent attempts to challenge the conservation-colonialism coupling, to name a few examples, include Jemez Pueblo’s unsuccessful claims to sovereignty over the Valles Caldera in northern New Mexico; The Blackfeet in northern Montana are attempting to form a national park effort led by them, adjacent to the existing federal public Glacier National Park. The liminal status of Bears Ears National Monument, now pending in federal court, shows the precarious nature of these new Native-led conservation efforts. These are bounded, spatial efforts at decolonization, but species recovery efforts (ferrets, bison, salmon) and Native foods and Native diet activists must also be considered as part of this larger umbrella as indigenous sovereign reclaim what life and livelihoods resemble when recovered in this century (Smith 2013).
Drawing on examples from geographic work in the Americas, this session explores how decolonization theory, methods, and mindsets intersects with dominant notions of “conservation” and larger movements towards indigenous sovereignty over conservation. Framed another way, is Native sovereignty a new-old way of conserving? Is it up to conservationists to “get out of the way” of these indigenous led efforts? What does decolonizing conservation look like in settler-colonial states that refuse to acknowledge colonial pasts and presents (Simpson 2014)? And when, where, and how can it be done?
We welcome papers from across the Americas to discuss how decolonizing efforts away from western scientific conventions, texts, and approaches of “conservation/preservation” take shape and include indigenous and Chicanx perspectives (Ybarra 2016). What factors allow for more indigenous agency and success? Where are such efforts largely unsuccessful? How do Native sovereign, regional, and transnational collaborative efforts translate on the ground to create successful outcomes?
Session Organizer(s): Eric Perramond (Colorado College), Andrew Curley (UNC-Chapel Hill)
Co-sponsored by the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group (CAPE), the Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group (IPSG) and Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group (HDGC).

Works Cited:
Corntassel, J. 2012. Re-envisioning resurgence: Indigenous pathways to decolonization and sustainable self-determination. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 1 (1): 86–101.
Coulthard, G. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Curley, A. 2019. “Our Winters’ Rights:” Challenging Colonial Water Laws. Global Environmental Politics 19(3): 57-76.
Estes, N. 2019. Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. New York, NY: Verso.
Higgins, M. 2018. From a National Monument to a National Disgrace. Ethics, Policy & Environment 21(1): 9-12.
McCool, D. 2006. Native Waters: Contemporary Indian Water Settlements and the Second Treaty Era. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Perramond, E. P. 2019. Unsettled Waters: Rights, Law, and Identity in the American West. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Simpson, A. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Smith, L. T. 2013. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London, England: Zed Books.
Tuck, E., and K. W. Yang. 2012. Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 1 (1): 1–40.
Wilson, R. 2014. America’s Public Lands: From Yellowstone to Smokey Bear and Beyond. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Yazzie, M. and C. Risling-Baldy. 2018. Introduction: Indigenous Peoples and the Politics of Water. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 7 (1): 1–18
Ybarra, P. 2016. Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Justine Townsend*, University of Guelph, Relational governance and Ethical Space in Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas 12 9:35 AM
Presenter Robin Roth*, University of Guelph, Conservation through Reconciliation in Canada: cultivating a decolonial conservation practice 12 9:47 AM
Presenter Elizabeth Shoffner*, University of Washington, (Re)producing the selva: parallel world-making through settler colonial territoriality and decolonization 12 9:59 AM
Presenter Eric Perramond*, Colorado College, From Blue Lake to Bears Ears: Decolonizing Conservation 12 10:11 AM
Discussant Paulette Fox University of Guelph 12 10:23 AM

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