Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Dana-Ain Davis

Committee Members

Melissa Checker

Karen Strassler

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Indigenous peoples, land defense, Canada, resource extraction, environmental justice

Abstract

This work critically analyzes the role of extractive industry in the continued colonization of Indigenous peoples and occupation of Indigenous lands, and examines how Indigenous resistance to oil and gas projects augments the damaging effects of fossil fuel extraction and create alternative possibilities for life in the face of catastrophic environmental crises. In Wet’suwet’en territory, in Northern British Columbia, Canada, construction has begun on the fracked gas Coastal GasLink pipeline, despite the opposition of local Indigenous leaders and chiefs. Several Indigenous land reoccupation camps have been set up by Wet’suwet’en people to resist the pipeline’s construction, and the resulting conflict between industry and Indigenous land defenders has erupted in a series of police raids beginning in 2018. Residents of the Wet’suwet’en camps have been subject to intensive police surveillance, criminalization, harassment, and arrest. The treatment of land defenders is a continuation of the state-sponsored violence and racism that has accompanied white settlement on Wet’suwet’en territories since the beginning of colonization. In response, Indigenous people and supporters have rallied behind Wet’suwet’en governance and Indigenous law, which aims to protect the land and water from the destructive forces of both colonization and industrial development. What spatial, social, and temporal formations emerge as alternatives to industry destruction and state violence in these spaces of siege? How might such formations challenge the destructive timelines threatened by global climate change and create options for survival? And how has the fight to protect Wet’suwet’en lands shaped a broader response to racism and environmental destruction that is rooted in Indigenous ways of relating to humans and the land? To address these questions, this work provides a perspective from inside the Indigenous land defense movement on Wet’suwet’en territories. As auto-ethnography, the work examines Indigenous resistance to pipeline infrastructures from the author’s experience as an embedded scholar-activist as the resistance intensified from 2018 to 2020. Drawing from this experience, chapters consider the particular history of the Wet’suwet’en and struggles over land and governance; the timelines of apocalypse, catastrophe, and pipeline construction; and the spatial constraints on Indigenous life shaped by colonial law and police. The dissertation concludes with a gesture toward alternative geographies that are centered on freedom and the restoration of balanced relationships between people and Indigenous lands.

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