Contextualizing Standing Rock: Native Peoples, Energy, and Environment in Historical Perspective
Reading Group Meeting #4
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Reading Group Meeting #4
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
- This group is an effort to contextualize Standing Rock current event by looking at the issue of resource extraction and indigenous studies from a number of different analytical, disciplinary, geographical perspectives. How does a focus on indigenous voices in these studies show us how different meanings are layered on top of each other, especially in terms of contentious issues of resource extraction?
- What’s the role of hope in these pieces? Shewry draws on Benjamin to talk about how hope is not the absence of “darkness”, but rather can emerge out of it. How can we take this model and apply it to Standing Rock and our wider contemporary circumstances?
- In Standing Rock, non-native peoples play an ancillary role, and there’s been a focus on native customs and ritual. Can we look at the centrality of those rituals, and the dominance of native peoples, as a form of utopia?
- How are these readings critiquing other forms of utopian thought? E.g., in Braun, he attacks the idea of the frontier as utopia.
- To what extent are the readings relying on the idea of native peoples as inherently opposed to extraction? Can we look at this instead as an issue over land control and sovereignty? How do the authors explore this relationship to the land? In Voyles’ piece, he explores how Navajo activists had to confront questions of “authentic” land use in terms of legal control over Taylor Mountain. To what extent is this idea of authenticity linked to untouched, virgin land? To what extent do native activists play into that often-hegemonic conception of the Indian as linked to untouched land in order to win legal victories? Does the inability of native activists to escape from this discourse illustrate a lack of agency? How does Standing Rock demonstrate a willingness to break the rules and form hope outside of the state-dominated discourse?
- What’s the relationship between utopia and disaster in these readings? In Shewry’s reading, she discusses how suffering is often viewed as a precursor to utopia; to what extent does that vision require an assumption that some people, probably indigenous peoples, will have to suffer for a future utopia?
- How have environmental activists used indigenous people as a marker of a romanticized past, i.e., the utopian ideal of the previously unspoiled past?
- What’s the role of water—the central issue in Standing Rock—in these pieces?
- What’s the role of boons and busts? Boons are presented as natural, but busts are seen as aberrations. How can this theme of environmental studies be complicated by bringing in indigenous issues?
- To what extent do these readings use the idea of the local as utopia? Who is the local? (It is someone who was there before the boon and will be there after the bust?) How does the American west—and the conception of it as a frontier—lead to people like Bundy to create a Jeffersonian autonomous utopia? How do the author complicate this idea of the local, by exploring the ways in which people are differently affected by these extraction process? To what extent do these difference point to different publics?
- To what extent are issues like jobs portrayed as divisions between indigenous and non-indigenous communities? Can we view these as unifiers? What’s the relationship of the federal government to all of these groups? To what extent does the relationship between all of these groups make it impossible for any of them to create a utopia?
- In discussing these readings, we’ve used the words “communities” and “publics”. What’s the difference between the two? To what extent does the status of the land (and the potential for extraction) create and define these communities and publics? How do these terms connect to the idea of the “commons”: shared space, albeit with differing meanings?
- In each of these three pieces, there are at least small successes for the indigenous activists. To what extent are these victories permanent or temporary? What do these small victories tell us about what will happen in Standing Rock, which is currently in the middle of a potentially temporary victory? Are these small breaks from catastrophe a form of utopia? What about small, incremental victories? How can we connect this to Davina Cooper’s idea of everyday utopias?
- What role does technology play in these ideas of utopia? In these cases, technology is often the harbinger of disaster—e.g., the TPP as a danger to the Standing Rock tribe—but at the same time, other technology can be used to make these dangerous forces of technology obsolete; e.g., solar power can become more cost-effective than pipelines like the TPP. How do we deal with this messy conception of technology? What’s the role of value judgment in these discussions? (It can be helpful to promote change, but if we’re only doing environmentally sustainable things because it’s cost effective, then there’s nothing preventing a cheaper but environmentally damaging option from becoming dominant later on.)
- To what extent can environmental studies use the idea of melancholy as a way of looking at motivation? How can we link this concept to Shewry’s idea about hope emerging out of loss? To Shewry’s use of Morton’s term “dark ecology”?
- How can we connect these readings to the wider historiography, e.g., Rebecca Solnit’s work Hope in the Dark about nuclear testing sites? To what extent are these issues salient in any community dealing with massive upheavals?