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Environment and Society: Advances in Research 9 (2018): 125–144 © Berghahn Books
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice
䡲 ABSTRACT: Settler colonialism is a form of domination that violently disrupts human
relationships with the environment. Settler colonialism is ecological domination, com-
mitting environmental injustice against Indigenous peoples and other groups. Focus-
ing on the context of Indigenous peoples’ facing US domination, this article investigates
philosophically one dimension of how settler colonialism commits environmental
injustice. When examined ecologically, settler coloniali sm works strategically to under-
mine Indigenous peoples’ social resilience as self-determining collectives. To under-
stand the relationships connecting settler colonialism, environmental injustice, and
violence, the article rst engages Anishinaabe intellectual traditions to describe an
Indigenous conception of social resilience called collective continuance. One way in
which settler colonial violence commits environmental injustice is through strategically
undermining Indigenous collective continuance. At least two kinds of environmental
injustices demonstrate such violence: vicious sedimentation and insidious loops. e
article seeks to contribute to knowledge of how anti-Indigenous settler colonialism and
environmental injustice are connected.
䡲 KEYWORDS: anticolonialism, climate justice, decolonization, resilience, resurgence,
Diverse persons, including scholars, writers and activists, have described settler colonial domi-
nation as violence that disrupts human relationships with the environment. Lee Maracle writes
that “violence to earth and violence between humans are connected” (2015: 53). Eve Tuck and
K. Wayne Yang discuss how “the disruption of Indigenous relationships to land represents a
profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence” (2012: 5). Vanessa Watts claims that
“the measure of colonial interaction with land has historically been one of violence . . . where
land is to be accessed, not learned from or a part of” (2013: 26). e Women’s Earth Alliance
and e Native Youth Sexual Health Network recently produced a report entitled Violence on
the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence.
e report states that colonially supported extractive industries create “devastating impacts of
environmental violence” (WEA and NYSHN 2016). J.M. Bacon refers to “colonial ecological
violence” as a process of “disrupt[ing] Indigenous eco-social relations” (2018: 1).
I seek to investigate philosophically one dimension of how settler colonialism commits envi-
ronmental injustice through the violent disruption of human relationships to the environment.
e dimension concerns how settler colonialism works strategically to undermine Indigenous
peoples’ social resilience as self-determining collectives. Engaging Anishinaabe (Neshnabé) intel-
lectual traditions, I will o er an Indigenous conception of social resilience and self-determination
126 䡲 Kyle Whyte
that, for short, I will call collective continuance. I will then show how settler colonialism com-
mits environmental injustice through strategically undermining Indigenous collective contin-
uance. Using this understanding of environmental injustice, I will conclude by showing how
settler colonialism engenders at least two kinds of environmental injustices against Indigenous
peoples: (1) vicious sedimentation and (2) insidious loops.
While my starting point of analysis is anti-Indigenous violence that disrupts human relation-
ships with the environment, I am not attempting here to de ne absolutely what such violence
is or entails. I am also not trying to create the single theory of environmental injustice that can
somehow explain every wrongdoing. e theory o ered here in outline seeks only compatibility
and complementarity with a variety of other approaches to violence and injustice that are well
argued for across Indigenous studies and related elds, such as settler colonial studies and crit-
ical environmental justice studies. I will also isolate US settler colonial domination for analytic
purposes in this article, especially the oppressive relationship between US settler populations
and Indigenous populations. e theory I will o er here should, when further elaborated else-
where, be able to connect to more complex, intersectional, and globally integrated accounts of
ecological domination within, before, and beyond US settler colonialism.
Collective Continuance and Ecology
Interdependence, Systems of Responsibilities and Migration
Human and environmental relationships have many possible values, including, among others,
spirituality, sustainability, senses of place or home, and communion with nonhumans. I will
describe a theory of value that I have developed out of my own embeddedness in a range of
traditions. Here I will focus on a slice of the studies and voices of Anishinaabe peoples that have
shaped my thinking as a Potawatomi scholar, activist, relative, citizen, and community member.
I will describe one value, which I will refer as collective continuance, by connecting three con-
cepts in Anishinaabe intellectual traditions: (1) interdependent relationships (or interdepen-
dence), (2) systems of responsibilities, and (3) migration. e theory of collective continuance I
will develop combines these concepts to suggest a value that is similar to social resilience in its
relationship to self-determination.
In saying Anishinaabe peoples, I am invoking broad intellectual traditions connecting
Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Odawa, and Mississauga and related peoples who have diverse contempo-
rary and ancient linguistic, cultural, social, and political connections. ese intellectual tradi-
tions o en occur in contexts connected to and in dialogue with neighboring peoples, including
the Menominee, Miami, Haudenosaunee and numerous others. While I will use Anishinaabe
for short here, I caution that the diversity of Anishinaabe peoples means that there is a whole
range of inquiries and studies for which it is inappropriate to use such a broad designator (or
English-language spelling) as Anishinaabe. roughout this section, I will use the term “the
environment” to reference many di erent relationships connecting human and nonhuman liv-
ing beings (plants, animals, persons, insects), nonliving beings and entities (spirits, elements),
and collectives (e.g., forests, watersheds). e environment is not a precise or culturally accurate
term, though for reasons of space, I will rely on it.
To begin with, the rst concept is interdependence. Going back to the nineteenth century
and earlier, Anishinaabe responses to US-settlement-invoked concepts of interdependence with
the environment. D. Ezra Miller has researched how in the Treaty of October 23, 1826 with the
Miami Tribe, one Potawatomi leader, Awbanawben, told the following to US settlers in a speech:
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 127
“You said we could not stay here. We would perish. But what will perish [?] But what will destroy
us [?] It is yourselves destroying us. . . You trampled on our soil, and drove it away. Before you
came, the game was plenty, but you drove it away. . . You point to a country for us in the west,
where there is game . . . but the Great Spirit has made and put men there who have a right to that
game and it is not ours” (Miller 2016).
Awbanawben, in nineteenth-century rhetoric, is concerned about interdependence of hu-
mans and nonhumans in ecosystems. US settlement is viewed as violating these relationships,
for Potawatomi but also peoples who will be displaced by any Potawatomi relocation processes
imposed by the US. While in the nineteenth century many di erent people referred to the
importance of game or good farming conditions, I can just note here that Awbanawben clearly
identi es how particular human societies are entangled in relationships of interdependence
with the environment and have habituated themselves to particular ecosystems.
Diverse sources of Anishinaabe intellectual and artistic traditions bring out di erent senses
of interdependence. Louise Erdrich, in Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, writes of how for
the late Tobasonakwut, an Anishinaabe elder, “His people were the lake, and the lake was them.
. . . As the people lived o sh, animals, the lake’s water and water plants for medicine, they
were literally cell by cell composed of the lake and the lake’s islands” (Erdrich 2006: 34). Robin
Kimmerer calls relationships of interdependence the “covenant of reciprocity,” which refers to
relationships organized among relatives who have gi -giving and gi -receiving responsibilities
to each other: “In Potawatomi, we speak of the land as emingoyak, ‘that which has been given to
us,’ a gi that must be reciprocated with our own” (2010: 143–144).
Aimée Cra has analyzed the newspaper accounts of the 1871 negotiations of Treaty 1
involving Anishinaabe, Cree and Canadian representatives. Cra writes that “Chief Ayeeta-pe-
pe-tung spoke to the Queen’s negotiators about his ‘ownership’ and his view that rather than
owning it, he was made of the land” (Cra 2014, 16). Megan Bang and Douglas Medin describe
research they have been involved in in the Great Lakes with members of the Menominee Tribe
and the Chicago urban Indian community. Based on these studies, they suggest that “Native
parents said they want their children to realize that they are part of nature . . . were also more
likely to mention . . . the idea that no creation is more important than or ‘above’ any other crea-
ture” (2010: 10).
e concept of interdependence includes a sense of identity associated with the environment
and a sense of responsibility to care for the environment. ere is also no privileging of humans
as unique in having agency or intelligence, so one’s identity and caretaking responsibility as a
human includes the philosophy that nonhumans have their own agency, spirituality, knowl-
edge, and intelligence. Potawatomi people, in daily speech, o en say that nonhumans have the
capacity for knowledge but humans really do not (Kimmerer 2013). us, humans ought to
take responsibility to be respectful of nonhuman ways of knowing. In my experiences, some
Anishinaabe persons identify primarily through nonhuman identities, such as clan identities
(e.g., crane, bear, turtle). Heidi Bohaker shows the importance of nindoodemag (clan identities)
for Anishinaabe historically. Bohaker describes them as “kinship networks” where people “con-
ceived of themselves as related to and having kin obligations toward those who shared the oth-
er-than-human progenitor being.” Nindoodemag networks were crucial for “social and political
life . . . [they] shaped marriage and alliance patterns and facilitated long distance travel; access to
community resources . . . [and] operated as an important component of Anishinaabe collective
identities” (Bohaker 2006, 25-29).
So at least for some Anishinaabe persons historically and today, it is not necessarily true that
such an identity as “the human” as a distinct or uniquely rational or knowledgeable type of being
even exists. In these ways, interdependence can be thought of as intrinsically valuable. Inter-
128 䡲 Kyle Whyte
dependence is a source of identity for how humans understand whom and what they are in the
world, but the concept of interdependence is also instrumentally valuable. For interdependence
is also a means to motivate humans to exercise their caretaking responsibilities to their relatives,
human and nonhuman, which helps motivate these relatives to exercise their reciprocal respon-
sibilities to nourish and support one another in diverse ways.
Interdependence highlights reciprocity or mutuality between humans and the environment
as a central feature of existence. In Anishinaabe traditions, reciprocity is also systematized.
at is, environmental identities and responsibilities are coordinated with one another through
complex social, cultural, economic, and political institutions. Interdependence suggests a much
larger system of “reciprocities” that characterize many hundreds of relationships of interlock-
ing/intersecting relationships across entire societies. e second concept, then, is “systems of
responsibility,” in which responsibility refers to relationships with reciprocal expectations.
Deborah McGregor, in her work with Josephine Mandamin and Anishinaabe women’s water
movements, discusses how to think systematically about the di erent lives that water supports.
Water supports “plants/medicines, animals, people, birds, etc.” and—reciprocally—there is “the
life that supports water (e.g., the earth, the rain, the sh).” e system is based on responsibil-
ities such that “water has a role and a responsibility to ful l, just as people do” (2009: 37–38).
McGregor writes that “All beings have responsibilities to ful ll, and recognizing this contributes
to a holistic understanding of justice. Our interference with other beings’ ability to ful l their
responsibilities is an example of a great environmental injustice, an injustice to Creation” (40).
McGregor’s writing opens onto philosophizing about larger coordinated networks of responsi-
bilities that ought to constitute Anishinaabe institutions.
Brenda Child describes systems of responsibilities through interpreting anthropologist
Frances Densmore’s work with Nodinens, an elder. Child describes how Ojibwe peoples “lived
according to a seasonal round, each year taking advantage of opportunities to hunt, sh, farm,
and gather wild foods in a highly systematic way of life.” For Child, the seasonal round is not an
accidental arrangement of responsibilities: “It was a way of life passed down by the generations
and required study, observation of the natural world, experimentation, relationships with other
living beings on the earth, and knowledge-generating labor” (2012: 30). A “seasonal round” is a
type of governance in which the major social, cultural, economic, and political institutions of a
society shi in shape, size, and organizational structure throughout the year. Child’s reference
to “relationships” connects to the responsibilities described by McGregor. Child highlights that
morality, knowledge and inquiry, and labor are systematically coordinated in the seasonal round.
Gender is another way to understand Anishinaabe systems of responsibility. People who
today code as women exercised a range of leadership roles, whether as knowledge keepers
(experts) of particular plants and animals, visible leaders and diplomats, or servant leaders
(such as a through participation on committees tasked with selecting visible leaders) (Sleeper-
Smith 2001; White 1991). Historians, including Child (2012), Susan Sleeper-Smith (2001), Jean
O’Brien (1997), and Richard White (1992), describe Anishinaabe and broader Algonquian gen-
der and kinship relationships for women as focused less around obligations con ned to roles
in patriarchal marriages and focused more around multifarious and diverse responsibilities to
their parents, siblings, grandparents, clan members, members of other social units (e.g., lodges,
bands, etc.) and trading partners from other societies.
Perhaps most signi cantly, Anishinaabe intellectual traditions do not emphasize a binary
gender system, but rather embrace gender diversity and uidity. According to Margaret Noodin,
“Anishinaabe language and culture acknowledge gender di erence, but in a way that relies on
choice and context rather than xed and predictable rules” (2014: 12). Niigaan Sinclair has writ-
ten about Ozawwendib, an Anishinaabe and Two-Spirit person who lived in the early 1800s. In
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 129
the record, especially but not exclusively from the perspectives of settlers, this person’s behavior
broached and mixed many binary gender norms. Sinclair discusses how Ozawwendib nonethe-
less “appeared to live without shame, apology, and fear” in their society and was among the most
respected experts in environmental skills and knowledge (2016: 14).
Sleeper-Smith’s (2005) work shows what I interpret as the U.S. introducing patriarchy and
sexism to disrupt trust, consent, and diplomacy in their interactions with Anishinaabe peoples.
Sinclair’s (2016) work shows the overt sexism, gender discrimination, and discomfort of US and
Canadian settlers who responded to Ozawwendib’s gender and sexuality. ese norms, tied to
binary assumptions about gender, formed a stark contrast between the complex and multifari-
ous responsibilities, relationships, and leadership positions to which many Anishinaabe women
and persons of nonbinary genders were accustomed. ough here I want to caution that, in
presenting a theoretical account in this article, I am emphasizing what I take to be positive
qualities of Anishinaabe gender systems in the absence of a more detailed discussion of gender
oppressions that occurred in periods like the transatlantic fur trade, such as human tra cking.
Systems of responsibilities also involve government and diplomacy across di erent peoples.
John Borrows claims: “Aboriginal peoples developed spiritual, political, and social conventions
to guide their relationships with each other and with the natural environment. ese customs
and conventions became the foundation of many complex systems of government and law”
(2002: 37). is idea, of course, is re ected in points cited earlier, such as references in McGre-
gor’s and Cra ’s work to how interdependence and systems of responsibilities are related to
treaty-making (diplomacy) and justice. Leanne Simpson has supported reinvigorated interest in
the Dish with One Spoon treaty between Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples in the Great
Lakes region. Simpson writes that “Gdoo-naaganinaa [the dish] acknowledged that both the
Nishnaabeg and the Haudenosaunee were eating out of the same dish through shared hunting
territory and the ecological connections between their territories . . . both parties were to be
responsible for taking care of the dish. . . . All of the nations involved had particular responsibil-
ities to live up to in order to enjoy the rights of the agreement. Part of those responsibilities was
taking care of the dish” (2008: 37).
Migration is the next concept I will discuss having now discussed interdependent relation-
ships and systems of responsibilities. Anishinaabe philosophies o en involve migratory themes
such as constant motion, change, transformation, mobility, and adjustment. However, I would
like to note that the following discussion of migration is not intended to normalize one partic-
ular type of mobility, which would be morally problematic. Instead, I seek to discuss how soci-
eties can be organized to best adjust to the ecological and social dynamics they face. Migration
suggests that relationships of interdependence and systems of responsibility are not grounded
on stable or static relationships with the environment. Rather, these relationships arise from
contexts of constant change and transformation. A key idea is that relationships that are con-
stantly shi ing do not sacri ce the possibility of continuity.
Michael Witgen (2011), for example, discusses the territory of Anishinaabewaki in the Great
Lakes region during the transatlantic fur trade period. Anishinaabewaki was a place where peo-
ple were connected to each other through diverse kin relationships rooted in particular eco-
systems. Individual persons were actually complex identities associated with the many places
where they engaged in economic and cultural activities throughout the year in their seasonal
rounds associated with their nonhuman ancestors (i.e., clan memberships), families, bands/
tribes, lodges, ceremonial communities, romantic ties, and diplomatic protocols. At a particular
place and a particular time during the calendar year, someone might primarily be known as a
“trader” or member of “clan y.” But that was just that person’s identity at that place and that time
of year. Identity was always shi ing.
130 䡲 Kyle Whyte
Shi ing identities and shi ing governance authorities are a part of the seasonal round gov-
ernance system. One version of the seasonal round is the 13 moons system articulated by many
Anishinaabe authors. Depending on the community, moons usually have names and meanings
that correspond to or indicate the particular combination of plants and animals that are moni-
tored, harvested, stored, used, or consumed and recycled during those times. Particular lodges,
clans, or other organizational units have di erent responsibilities for convening people in par-
ticular locations during those times of year to facilitate monitoring or harvesting. Instead of a
central government, there are diverse family, band, lodge, clan, and other organizations whose
authority and responsibilities change throughout the year.
Seasonal round governance expanded and contracted throughout the year so that social, cul-
tural, economic, and political institutions were organized to approximate, as best possible, the
seasonal dynamics of ecosystems. Ecosystems, of course, include the impacts of human social
systems. Witgen (2011) cites and agrees with the anthropologist Regna Darnell (1998) that the
seasonal round is an “accordion” system of governance in its constant spiral of expansion and
contraction in response to change (see also Child 2012; Johnston 1976).
e philosophies behind the seasonal round involve migratory concepts such as transforma-
tion, cyclical time (in the sense of spiraling time), and shape-shi ing. Heidi Stark writes: “ e
Anishinaabe transformed themselves, adapting to their ever-changing environment. Impor-
tantly, the stories maintained about Nenabozho o en conveyed the importance of change.
Anishinaabe nationhood has never been static or xed. Indeed, no nation can or has survived
without undergoing constant change” (2012: 124). Gerald Vizenor’s concept of “survivance”
connotes continuity through constant change: “Native survivance stories are renunciations
of dominance, tragedy, and victimry” (1999: vii). Sinclair interprets Vizenor’s work as having
direct implications for governance as constantly shi ing. Sinclair writes that “transmotion is, in
fact, a cultural, political, and historical Anishinaabeg method of continuance” (2009: 137), cit-
ing Vizenor’s articulation of transmotion in which Vizenor connects together the “natural right
of motion” with the maintenance of “continuous sovereignty” (quoted in Sinclair 2013: 248)
Time is also understood as in motion. Kimberley Blaeser, in a conversation with Jennifer
Andrews, writes about the philosophy of time involved in her work:
[KB] ere’s the circular shape, but there’s also the lateral, the di erent strands on the spi-
der’s web, and then I envision what happens when a y lands and there’s a vibration. So we’re
talking about the vibration, the motion, the movement, and I guess it’s that idea of being in
the essence of movement that is in a continuum; we’re in a constant evolution and yet at the
same time it reconnects us, and so it folds back, and maybe it’s like a. . .
[JA] An accordion.
[KB] Yeah! When you talk about a circle, you’re still restricting it to a single dimension.
(Andrews and Blaeser 2007)
Spiral or accordion conceptions time (or temporality) can make transformation possible in dif-
ferent respects. Witgen (2011) discusses ceremonies in which di erent peoples transformed
themselves into relatives in order to facilitate diplomacy. In one fur-trade era ceremony, Anishi-
naabe, Cree, and Dakota peoples buried the bones of their ancestors together to render them-
selves kin for the sake of coordinated collective action in response to the presence of European
traders and settlers. Hence, kin is not just based on birth or biology, as Indigenous studies schol-
ars more broadly have discussed (TallBear 2013). Witgen (2011) and Sleeper-Smith (2005) dis-
cuss how people took on new names during their lives, sometimes the identities of respected
persons who had walked on.
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 131
e slice of Anishinaabe intellectual traditions that I have focused on here involves three
concepts that, in the next section, I will discuss as interconnected: interdependence, systems
of responsibilities, and migration. ese concepts encompass a wide range of ways in which
Anishinaabe live and theorize about environmental stewardship, ethics, gender, leadership, and
cosmology. At least one possible nexus of these concepts, from my perspective here, is a theory
of value of social resilience and self-determination that I will call “collective continuance.”
Collective Continuance and Ecology
I see the concepts of interdependence, systems of responsibilities, and migration as converging
on an important value for any society: collective continuance. Collective continuance refers
to a society’s capacity to self-determine how to adapt to change in ways that avoid reasonably
preventable harms. Adaptive capacity is similar to what is o en meant by the concept of social
resilience. In the Anishinaabe intellectual traditions I just discussed, which predate “Western”
concepts of social resilience, seasonal round governance systems are highly exible webs of rela-
tionships. e relationships are based on particular responsibilities that each party in a relation-
ship has. Building from my more simple de nition o ered earlier, responsibilities refer to the
reciprocal (though not necessarily equal) attitudes and patterns of behavior that are expected
by and of various parties by virtue of the di erent roles that each may be understood to play in
a relationship. Reciprocity is understood through the gi -giving and -receiving relationship in
which each party has a special contribution to make. But to become a party in a relationship, one
must be transformed into a relative with reciprocal obligations, and transformation o en occurs
through ceremonies and other formal activities. Anishinaabe kinship relationships connected,
via reciprocal responsibilities, humans with other humans, humans with nonhumans, whether
spirits, plants, animals, or elements (e.g., water) and humans with particular places. e ways in
which responsibilities are organized into interdependent systems facilitate the adaptive capacity
of collective continuance, which I will discuss in more detail starting with the idea that respon-
sibilities are not static or unchanging.
Consider the ancient Anishinaabe reciprocal responsibility with water and wild rice, for
example. Some of my work is devoted to wild rice advocacy and conservation in the Great Lakes
region, and I will be providing some general history and information here. e responsibility
emerged during a particular point in the Anishinaabe migration story in which the travelers
were told to stop when they arrived at the land where food grows on water. At this stopping
point, they had to develop relationships with water and rice as relatives and establish recipro-
cal (gi giving/receiving) responsibilities that would support the lives of all relatives, from the
nutritional and ceremonial uses humans gain from rice to the human stewardship and pro-
tection of rice habitats that rice gains from humans. Anishinaabe peoples today, in di erent
ways, seek to maintain relationships of responsibility with wild rice and water for the sake of
their identities, nutrition and environmental health, among other purposes. is is a persisting
responsibility, or one that societies seek to continue into the future.
Emerging responsibilities are those that societies create through innovation to respond to
new issues. For example, many Anishinaabe governments today hire scienti c sta (o en tribal
members) who play key roles in monitoring and protecting wild rice and water. I know many
tribes who seek to ensure that scienti c work is performed responsibly, which means that sta
are guided by elders, involve all generations of the community in their research and education,
participate in tribal life, and ensure through events and other opportunities that they are held
accountable by the community. I o en interpret such situations as transformations of tribal
132 䡲 Kyle Whyte
scientists into kin who have responsibilities to wild rice, water, and the community. Emerging
responsibilities, like with wild rice so long ago, may become persisting responsibilities one day.
Philosophically, a key question is what makes systems of responsibilities capable of high
degrees of adjustability through the interplay of maintaining critical persisting responsibilities
and creating emerging responsibilities that best respond to change. I will claim here that one
possible reason has to do with the ways in which responsibilities are organized to foster inter-
dependence. Consider, again, responsibilities pertaining to wild rice and water. Particular peo-
ple are vested by their communities with leadership to take care of rice and water. O en, women
and members of particular clans are vested with this responsibility (Andow et al. 2009; Child
2012). Rice-harvesting camps, which involve interactions with water, are opportunities for dif-
ferent families and people to rea rm bonds and share knowledge.
Various communities and families have special relationships to particular ricing areas and
have developed diplomatic protocols for coordinating but not having to divulge secrets with
other groups. Historically, from what I have heard, Anishinaabe people had protocols with other
groups, such as Dakotas, who riced too, having their own sacred traditions. Wild rice and water,
both their nutritional and spiritual place in Anishinaabe societies, are so integral to identity that
some people, such as Frances Van Zile, say they would cease being Anishinaabe in their absence
(quoted in GLIFWC 1995, regarding wild rice).
In the example of wild rice, the signi cance I want to highlight involves not just what types
of relationships are or were prevalent. e types of relationships being described are reciprocal
responsibilities (as opposed to rights, duties, contracts etc.). I want to focus on the qualities of
the responsibilities that have developed over time, which foster interdependence. ese qual-
ities, including consent, diplomacy, trust, and redundancy, facilitate interdependence in ways
that make it possible for the types of relationships to actually have the capacities to achieve
social outcomes, including freedom, sustainability, cultural integrity, economic vitality, and so
on. Trust refers to a quality of relationships among people in the community in which each
party or relative, human and nonhuman, takes to heart the best interests of the other party or
relative. People trust one another when they feel con dent and at ease that the trustor takes the
trustee’s best interest to heart. Women’s leadership involved thorough vetting processes that
ensured that those responsible for rice were quali ed and ceremonies served to rea rm people’s
motivation publically to hold certain responsibilities. ese processes and ceremonies also re -
a rmed another quality, consent, which refers to people’s capacity to approve or veto the actions
of others that may a ect them. at people passed vetting processes or engaged in ceremonies
a rmed that people consented to their exercising certain responsibilities.
Redundancy is a quality that refers to states of a airs of having multiple options for adapta-
tion when changes occur and for being able to guarantee su cient opportunities for education
and mentorship for community members. For example, in the case of wild rice harvesting, a
society with high redundancy is one that can harvest from multiple ricing lakes in the event
that some lakes stop producing rice for some period of time, whether naturally or through
destruction or occupation by settlers. Redundancy also includes the distribution of wild ricing
expertise across both numerous delegated leaders and all members of society who have to have
su cient skills and caretaking expertise to conserve wild rice. So, if a major delegated leader in
wild rice walks on, there are many more people who can maintain the tradition. Redundancy is
similar to bu ering in resilience or systems theory.
Diplomacy is the quality of being able to engage in productive relationships with others
without being forced to disclose matters that are sacred or that make one unacceptably vul-
nerable (and hence exploitable, especially by a more powerful party). Diplomacy occurs inter-
nally within communities, such as allowing members of certain genders to meet independently
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 133
to discuss key matters. Externally, there are also political protocols for sharing ricing regions
without violating each community’s (o en secretive) sacred and economic relationships to rice.
While diplomacy can be understood, in one respect, as the withholding of knowledge and infor-
mation, it is, more importantly, true that relationships in which secrets are respected are ones
in which the parties or kin to those relationships are more comfortable working together and
expanding their work together. If each kin is con dent in the safety of whatever it is that they do
not want to disclose, then they can move forward together knowing that their consent to share
what they are comfortable with is protected.
For Anishinaabe and many other Indigenous peoples, I would argue that people would say
too that these qualities emanate, in di erent ways, from the nonhumans—though that discus-
sion is for another piece of writing, given the complexity around what it means for nonhuman
beings or systems to be in consensual, trustworthy, diplomatic, and redundant relationships
with humans. I would argue that these qualities of relationships can see societies through some
of the toughest of times, which means they support self-determined adaptive capacity that
avoids reasonably preventable harms—that is, they support collective continuance.
High levels of trust in leadership, traditions of consent, and access to large areas of land
facilitate adaptation to major environmental shocks. Within a society, these qualities, even in
the face of less disruptive changes, create more freedom and a sense of attachment. One’s having
a sense of trust and consent gives someone the con dence to express how and who they are.
Anishinaabe intellectual traditions can suggest aspirations toward very meritocratic societies, in
which someone’s having a leadership role has to do with how they have been vetted and proved
themselves in action, not simply something tied alone to privileges associated with gender or
heredity. A society with a high degree of what I call collective continuance is one that has many
qualities of relationships like the ones I described. For me, these qualities are key elements of
interdependence, yet it is an interdependence capable of transformation and change through
facilitating persisting and emerging responsibilities. When these qualities decline in number
and in practice, then society has less social resilience.
Patriarchy, a foundational aspect of US settler colonialism, is a system of relationships with
few qualities of relationships. Patriarchal relationships involve low levels of society-wide trust
and consent. ey also involve low levels of diplomacy within society given their disrespect for
privacy and consensual intimacy. Redundancy is also lowered if only men are responsible for
knowing certain environments, which lessens the knowledge base and transferability of knowl-
edge and skills within a society. It also reduces meritocracy as talented persons of diverse and
nonbinary genders are denied opportunities to excel at their talents and gi s.
Forced relocation, another aspect of settler colonialism, whether through imposing reser-
vations on Indigenous peoples or complete removal, threaten redundancy. Reservations, for
example, furnish less access to places for harvesting and ceremonial practices. Boarding schools
and policies, such as relocation, that divide and separate Indigenous communities destroy the
basis for maintaining languages and cultural practices that are also tied to maintaining other
qualities such as trust and consent. One reason I o en hear for why many Potawatomi people
want to restore intergenerational uency in our language is that our own linguistic expressions
have elements that are more trustworthy as means of communication than English.
e qualities of relationships and responsibilities that make up collective continuance are
the bonds that create interdependency between human institutions (e.g., lodges, ceremonies,
o ces) and ecosystems (e.g., habitats, watersheds). In this way, I am describing an ecology,
that is, an ecological system, of interacting humans, nonhuman beings (animals, plants, etc.)
and entities (spiritual, inanimate, etc.), and landscapes (climate regions, boreal zones, etc.) that
are conceptualized and operate purposefully to facilitate a collective’s (such as an Indigenous
134 䡲 Kyle Whyte
people) adaptation to changes. Ecologies here are understood in terms of their makeup of qual-
ities of relationships. As in most understandings of ecology and agroecology today, the term
“ecology” is not denoting systems or capacities always seeking to bounce back toward some
equilibrium. Rather, it is much more about “transmotion,” constant migration and the interplay
between persisting and emerging relationships (Whyte 2015).
At the same time, newer challenges that fall outside that range, including global environmen-
tal change and the intervention of other societies (e.g., settler colonialism), may interfere with,
perturb, or degrade the ability of certain qualities to provide valued aspects of a collective’s qual-
ity of life, such as cultural integrity, freedom, food security, public health, and so on. While the
term “ecologies” may strike some as strange, I use it to suggest not only ecosystems but also the
calculated stewardship of them (hence the –logy). One way to understand the adaptive capacity
of ecologies is through how well certain ecologies facilitate the interplay between persisting and
emerging responsibilities (Whyte 2015).
Collective continuance then can be described as ecology. As a value, collective continuance
can be used to understand many complexities today, such as a people’s capacity to respond to
environmental threats by engendering a sense of responsibility in its members that is intrinsi-
cally valuable to their identity. While I tend to write about collective continuance in terms of a
society’s collective continuance, the fact is that few people belong to a single society. But collec-
tive continuance is actually not based on a strict notion of belongingness. If I zoom to the level
of a particular person’s identity, they may belong, in di erent ways, to multiple societies, similar
to the migratory concepts I described earlier. Each society has its own relationships of reciprocal
responsibilities or lack thereof. Someone’s capacity for self-determination and well-being is in
part related to whether they are in relationships with qualities such as those I have enumerated.
ese qualities of relationships, whether particular to a society or overlapping across societies,
have everything do with that persons’ capacity to adapt to changes in ways that maintain as
much well-being and self-determination as is feasible depending on the times they live in and
forces they are encountering.
e Ecology of Settler Colonial Domination
e concept of collective continuance can explain some of the reasons why settler colonial
domination is ecological violence and environmental injustice. I am now using “ecology” in
the sense de ned earlier in relation to collective continuance. Recently, settler colonialism has
been articulated as a theory of domination and a eld that is associated with non-Indigenous
scholars (Veracini 2010). However, as my earlier quote of Awbanawben shows, the very same
ideas in many respects were in circulation in Indigenous communities in the nineteenth century
and probably before. Awbanawben, for example, challenged settlers’ deceitful self-e acement
of their own causation of the potential “perishing” of Potawatomi people, their “[trampling]
of the soil” and their undermining of peoples’ rights and relationships to land, which under-
scores some of the key aspects of settler colonial domination that I will describe in this section.
Moreover, a brief review of work in Indigenous intellectual traditions may reveal insights and
discussions about settler colonialism from the last several hundred years (Lefevre 2015; Mar-
tinez 2011; Warrior 2017). Contemporary academics and writers, including many Indigenous
feminists, have long named settler colonialism or used other terms referring to the same type of
domination (Calhoun et al. 2007; Lefevre 2015; Maracle 2015; Speed 2017).
In my understanding, settler colonialism refers to complex social processes in which at least
one society seeks to move permanently onto the terrestrial, aquatic, and aerial places lived in
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 135
by one or more other societies who already derive economic vitality, cultural ourishing, and
political self-determination from the relationships they have established with the plants, ani-
mals, physical entities, and ecosystems of those places. When the process of settler colonialism
takes place or has already occurred in some region, the societies who are moving in or have
already done so can be called “settlers,” and the societies already living there at the beginning of
settlement, “Indigenous peoples.”
e settlers’ aspirations are to transform Indigenous homelands into settler homelands. Set-
tlers create moralizing narratives about why it is (or was) necessary to destroy other peoples
(e.g., military or cultural inferiority), or they take great pains to forget or cover up the inevitable
militancy and brutality of settlement. Settlement is deeply harmful and risk-laden for Indige-
nous peoples because settlers are literally seeking to erase Indigenous economies, cultures, and
political organizations for the sake of establishing their own. Settler colonialism, then, is a type
of injustice driven by settlers’ desire, conscious and tacit, to erase Indigenous peoples and to
erase or legitimate settlers’ causation of such domination.
Looking closely at processes of settler colonial domination, there is an important ecological
dimension—again, where I am using ecology in the sense discussed in the previous section. By
seeking to establish their own homelands, settler populations are working to create their own
ecologies out of the ecologies of Indigenous peoples, which o en requires that settlers bring in
additional materials and living beings (e.g., plants, animals) from abroad. Consider US settler
colonial domination of Anishinaabewaki. e US rerouted the hydrology to facilitate its own
forms of transportation and water use. e US mined, deforested, and industrialized the Great
Lakes region. US settlers killed o or decimated many species and intentionally and uninten-
tionally introduced new ones. e draining of wetlands, development of commercial agriculture
and recreational areas, and building of massive urban areas and military, chemical, oil, and gas
industries transformed the ecologies of Anishinaabewaki into a US settler ecology, including
states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota.
e US strategically sought to undermine the qualities of relationships that served Anishi-
naabe collective continuance. Historical accounts show that the US used patriarchy and racism
to undermine Indigenous leadership. e US contained seasonal rounds through the creation of
reservations, liquidation of land into private property, and illegalization of Indigenous ceremo-
nial practices. In policies such as allotment of private property, Anishinaabe and other Indige-
nous peoples o en sought to manage those properties cooperatively, which the US also worked
e US did not regulate forms of pollution, terraforming and hydraulic engineering that
speci cally alter the ecological dynamics that Indigenous collective continuance is based on.
e US pressured Indigenous governments to reengineer themselves as yearlong, voter-elected
councils designed to facilitate extractive industries in Indigenous territories. Boarding schools
worked to deliberately erase Indigenous languages and cultures, installing heteropatriarchal val-
ues and privileging the nuclear family that would ultimately replace, for many attendees, the
more open and uid gender and kinship systems of their heritages and intellectual traditions.
Each of these US settler strategies harms qualities of relationships that are crucial for Anishi-
naabe and Indigenous collective continuance. Patriarchy and uncontrolled extractive indus-
tries undermine consent. Knowledge destruction and corporate tribal government undermine
the trustworthiness of knowers in their communities and the trustworthiness of leadership.
Indigenous people then had to rely on scientists to protect their safety, but, in numerous cases,
scientists did not report what they knew (e.g., the risks of exposure to industrially caused tox-
icity in sh). Containment and relocation destroy redundancy. At the same time, the actual
environmental changes themselves hasten the undermining of qualities of relationships—such
136 䡲 Kyle Whyte
as loss of knowledge and Indigenous legal/juridical systems coupled with the loss of landscapes
from which those knowledge and legal/juridical systems came from. e harms just described
impact negatively Indigenous peoples’ persisting responsibilities and threaten Indigenous peo-
ples’ capacities to engender emerging responsibilities.
At the same time, the purpose of settler colonialism is for the US to establish its ecology
and, hence, social resilience, in Indigenous ecologies or homelands. So the US too, to refer to
a complex nation more simply, involves the establishment of its own ecology, at the expense of
Indigenous ecologies. ere is a deliberate attempt not to share ecologies. e US has had little
to no interest in what Eve Tuck, Hannah Sultan, and Alison Guess (2014) have referred to as
issues regarding “selfsame land,” what Simpson (2008) refers to in her interpretation of the Dish
with One Spoon treaty, what Witgen (2011) refers to as Anishinaabewaki (as a place of complex/
As an environmental injustice, settler colonialism is a social process by which at least one
society seeks to establish its own collective continuance at the expense of the collective con-
tinuance of one or more other societies—just one of its injustice-making features. Historically
and today, there are many threats to collective continuance that are accidental and unavoidable,
but settler colonial domination is not one of these threats. For Indigenous peoples under settler
colonialism, wrongful domination is locatable at the intersection of settler intent to undermine
Indigenous collective continuance (and hence Indigenous ecologies) through disrupting the
qualities of relationships that are constitutive of collective continuance and that facilitate social
resilience or adaptive capacity. Settler colonial domination undermines social resilience.
US settler colonialism, in terms of collective continuance, is a complex process because set-
tlement inscribes the settler ecology. First, US settler ecology involves philosophies and prac-
tices associated with Europe, emerging US settler culture, and other parts of the world that are
carved into Indigenous ecologies. D. Ezra Miller refers to what I am calling a carving process
as the development and maintenance of “settlerscapes” (Miller 2016). Second, US settler ecol-
ogies involve erasures of the qualities of relationships that matter to Indigenous peoples. While
US settler ecologies have attempted to establish qualities of relationships themselves, they have
had trouble promoting qualities of consent and trust. While they did establish redundancy in a
certain sense by taking over so much land and so many “resources,” without other qualities of
relationships, they have created a notoriously unsustainable society.
Both the byproducts and pollution of their economies are stored in sinks, such as the climate
system or bodies of water, that are being destabilized or degraded, and resources such as coal
or oil are going to run out. So to argue that one society pursues its collective continuance at
the expense of another society is not to say that the former’s collective continuance is some-
how superior. e former’s collective continuance could be highly anti-adaptive. In fact, what
adaptive capacity the US does have is o en tethered to wealth generated from exploitation,
un-checked “growth,” and extraction of nonrenewable resources.
As I see in the US, there is not a particularly high degree of qualities of relationships within
the settler colonial system. e US actually tries to establish troubling “persisting” relationships
with the environment by creating ctional imaginaries of its political and cultural legitimacy in
North America, from the doctrine of discovery to the ideologies of “wilderness”. At one point,
each of these imaginaries was an “emerging” relationship, which people in the US took pains to
transform into one they take to be “persisting.” It should be noted that the US has rarely sought
to create emerging and persisting relationships that are responsibilities, favoring instead the
privileging of types of relationships such as rights, contracts (e.g. relating to private property),
and consumer/commodity associations. So, while I can use collective continuance as a concept
to describe the US, I cannot argue that the US has a high degree of collective continuance.
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 137
ird, because of this unsustainability and lack of exibility of a particular formation of set-
tler colonialism (I can imagine ones that are not), there is the creation of environmental injus-
tices. e environmental problems created through unsustainable settler colonialism burden
underprivileged populations. Environmental injustices are committed in at least two senses.
In the US, Indigenous peoples, peoples of color, and many more populations who experience
oppression live in environments where they experience more pollution and less capacity to have
meaningful connections with the nonhuman world (Mohai et al. 2009). en, perhaps because
of a psychological issue that I do not have the space to discuss more here, settler populations
suppress the unsustainability of their society, avoiding discussions of the industrial bases of
their society. So many members of settler populations are not actually aware of the sources of
their energy or consumer lifestyles. Because the spaces where energy is sourced are o en pop-
ulated with Indigenous peoples, people of color, and other groups who experience oppression,
settler populations sometimes even deny that environmental injustice is an important issue.
A broad range of Indigenous testimonies and intellectual traditions describe settler colo-
nialism as threatening social resilience. Awbanawben certainly saw the US as seeking to erase
its own causation in the degradation of ecological relationships, and then forcing Indigenous
peoples to accommodate the US by relocating. In the area of human-caused climate change,
Simpson discusses how “Indigenous peoples have always been able to adapt, and we’ve had a
resilience. But the speed of this—our stories and our culture and our oral tradition doesn’t keep
up, can’t keep up. . . . Colonial thought brought us climate change (quoted in Klein 2013). In
another case involving threats from extractive industries to Indigenous peoples in the Yukon
territory, Norma Kassi, speaking of her Gwich’in community, says: “We cannot, however, simply
change our diet. If we were to change suddenly and start eating store-bought foods more, then
disease would increase and our rate of death would be higher, because it would be too rapid
a change, too much of a shock to our systems” (1996: 80). Grace Dillon describes Indigenous
science- ction imaginations, o en ones involving massive ecological degradation, as “surviv-
ance stories” that are about “persistence, adaptation, and ourishing in the future” (2016: 9). I
read these writers, scholars, and activists as saying that settler colonialism deeply threatens the
interplay of persisting and emerging responsibilities that is crucial for social resilience.
Settler colonial domination can be understood as an undermining of Indigenous adaptive
capacity or social resilience. A key ecological dimension of such domination is how settler colo-
nial strategies threaten qualities of relationships that constitute Indigenous ecologies or collec-
tive continuance. Settler colonial domination does so deliberately and at a pace that is too rapid
for any society to be able to reasonably adjust to without compromising its self-determination
and without avoiding harms that society would historically not have been susceptible to. What I
have just described represents one dimension of how settler colonialism is violence that disrupts
human relationships to the environment.
Environmental Violence and Settler Colonialism
Settler colonialism, as an ecological form of domination, is environmental violence. In the rst
paragraph of this article, I feature the voices of people who understand the disruption of rela-
tionships between humans and the environment as violent. Interpreting the disruptions ecolog-
ically, it is possible to identify some violent patterns of environmental injustice that arise from
settler colonialism. While I do not think there is some exhaustive list of patterns of injustice, I
do want to discuss at least two and give them labels for the sake of this essay. e rst is “vicious
sedimentation,” which is the pattern of how environmental changes compound over time to
138 䡲 Kyle Whyte
reinforce and strengthen settler ignorance against Indigenous peoples. e second is “insidious
loops,” which is the pattern of how historic settler industries that violated Indigenous peoples
when they began are also implicated many years later in further environmental violence, such
as climate injustice.
Vicious sedimentation refers to how constant ascriptions of settler ecologies onto Indigenous
ecologies fortify settler ignorance against Indigenous peoples over time. In historic accounts
of fur traders, clergy, and settlers, they certainly attempted to enclose regions such as Anishi-
naabewaki into settler concepts of nationhood, savage places, and so on. But in reading those
accounts, the colonists nonetheless traveled through these regions and recognized the di er-
ent Indigenous ecologies operative within those places. Witgen (2011), Sleeper-Smith (2001),
Michael McDonnell (2015), and White (1991) provide accounts of European and US attempts
to abide by Anishinaabe kinship-based forms of diplomacy. Yet, fast-forward more than two
centuries later. People who participate in settler colonial domination are perhaps more likely
to have their discriminatory beliefs about Indigenous peoples con rmed by the prevalence of
settler ecologies that have forcibly overlaid Indigenous ecologies substantially and dramatically.
e Midwestern US, for example, appears to settlers, depending on where, as endless farming
and commercial agriculture, recreational lakeshore, unoccupied parks, vast urban centers, wil-
derness space, golf courses, quaint towns, military installations, and so on. When settlers even
walk onto an Indigenous jurisdiction or nearby a sacred site, there is a good chance that they
experience no awareness of any di erence from their own lives. From the soils and hydrology to
the ora and fauna, all they can see are settler ways of life. Even references to “Native American
inhabitation” in parks and tourist sites are o en written by non-Indigenous persons and do not
re ect the lives of the descendants of those “inhabitants” today. e lack of visibility of wild rice
beds and the Indigenous communities who monitor and protect them, when settlers drive along
highways, go on hikes, mine, or grow foods, among other activities, further solidi es the pre-
sumption that Indigenous peoples are absent. Urban gentri cation in Midwestern cities erases
any traces of Indigenous origins of the area. Gentri cation processes o en commodify highly
selective memories and legacies of other groups, o en people of color, who lived there before
the most recent gentri cation process.
Mishuana Goeman develops the concept of “settler grammars of place” to describe “repet-
itive practices of everyday life that give settler place meaning and structure” (2014: 237). Yet
sedimentation and repetitiveness do not mean that there are no Indigenous ecologies living
and operative in the world. Goeman’s work is importantly about “constant mobility” (239) too.
Goeman shows how Indigenous peoples develop and renew qualities of relationships among
humans and nonhumans in environments that settlers would think bear no traces of Indigenous
ecologies—such as the city of Los Angeles:
O en, it was necessary for women to practice gendered relations outside the cultural forms
learned from their mothers, aunties and grandmothers. ese practices of relating to each
other were not ‘outdated’ in the city, but instead the elements of these practices that persisted
were and continue to be vital to Native navigations in urban centers. In many ways, the lack
of the dominant culture’s understanding of Native peoples’ capacity to reach out to others
beyond their speci c Tribal Nation was a major aw in the goals of Relocation policy. In
fact, the propensity for sharing where one is from and learning to live with each other comes
from thousands of years of experience living on this continent together—it is as instinctive
as breathing. (2009: 175)
At one level, then, sedimentation renders settler populations unwilling to accept Indigenous
peoples as adaptive people with long and continuing histories in North America. In the strands
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 139
of Anishinaabe intellectual traditions I drew from earlier, many of the scholars have pointed to
settlers’ unwillingness to recognize Anishinaabe migration, seeking to x particular groups of
people into nations or other formations that have immovable territorial boundaries. Reading
Goeman suggests a di erent approach. For example, if migration, as social resilience, ourishes
through qualities of relationships, then the qualities of relationships are constantly manifesting
in di erent ways, through persisting and emerging responsibilities. Qualities like trust, consent,
diplomacy, and redundancy can guide e orts to achieve safety, justice, and wellness under hos-
e sedimentation is vicious because it signi cantly damages settlers’ inclinations for con-
sensual decision-making with Indigenous peoples. Consider how strictly bounded reservations
erase the larger territories that are signi cant to Indigenous peoples. In the Dakota Access
Pipeline issue, pipeline proponents claim that “ e Dakota Access Pipeline does not cross land
owned by the Standing Rock Sioux” (DAPL Facts 2018). North Dakota State congressperson
Kevin Cramer (2016) claims that “ e pipeline does not cross any land owned by the Standing
Rock Sioux. e land under discussion belongs to private owners and the federal government.
To suggest that the Standing Rock tribe has the legal ability to block the pipeline is to turn
America’s property rights upside down.” ese claims, of course, e ace the long histories of non-
consensual land dispossession along the pipeline’s route and the e orts of the Oceti Sakowin
over many years to maintain collective self-determination against multiple threats generated by
the US. Sedimented dispossession then makes it seem to settlers that the pipeline today does not
require Indigenous consent since it is o reservation.
At the same time, vicious sedimentation explains why certain allies are unable to advocate
e ectively for Indigenous peoples. Some allies of the tribe also mistakenly reduced the issue to
that of the immediate threat to water and cultural heritage of a single pipeline. So these allies’
advocacy does not engage the longer and larger issues pertaining to mechanisms of colonial
power that engendered and maintain land dispossession and the denial of self-determination.
Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua (2005) and Tuck and Yang (2012) have written about inno-
cence, in which privileged persons feel that their daily actions and aspirations for justice are not
implicated in settler colonial domination. Hence, these persons get to feel good about advocat-
ing for Indigenous peoples without having to take on the hard work of doing anything that will
change the underlying land-based structures of domination that secure Indigenous disempow-
erment. ese underlying land-based structures are what made it possible in the rst place for
the Dakota Access Pipeline—including the process of its construction—to even be something
that some people would envision as good.
Innocence also pertains to allies who are disappointed when they nd out that Indigenous
peoples in various cases do not “live o the land” as their ancestors may have done or are Chris-
tian. In the absence of any capacity to recognize living Indigenous ecologies or the realities of
settler-caused ecological destruction, they work with whatever information they have gleaned
from the biased sources they have access to. ese sources do not discuss Indigenous peoples
beyond rather static portrayals that are demographically unfounded. In psychology, this is o en
called the representative heuristic (Kahneman et al. 1982). Vicious sedimentation drives the
process of limiting representativeness and creates conditions for ignorant people to become
frustrated when it turns out that an Indigenous community is struggling for aspirations that are
complex and dynamic and that seek to confront the realities of ecological destruction.
Insidious loops refer to the complex feedback from ecological systems that is particularly
harmful for Indigenous peoples. Consider climate justice. e destabilization of the climate
system, or human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change, produces ecological conditions
that disrupt human societies, through impacts such as rising sea levels, more severe droughts,
140 䡲 Kyle Whyte
warming freshwater, and faster melting glaciers. It is certainly true that “all humanity” faces
climate risk. Yet a scan of scienti c reports from the US Global Change Research Program and
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that Indigenous peoples are among the
populations whose well-being is threatened the most.
One of the most notable cases involves those Indigenous peoples who are among the rst
groups to make decisions about whether and how to relocate because of sea level rise in the
Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico, and other places. Moreover, disproportionate Indigenous su ering
is produced by changing environmental conditions—and once again—the machinations of US
settler colonialism. Many relocating tribes, for example, are vulnerable precisely because they
were forced to live permanently on tiny areas of land with limited adaptive options. e shrink-
ing of their lands occurred before today’s climate change ordeal through US military expansion,
settler oil and gas companies pipelines, public water control infrastructure and ood control
measures, and the development of industrial agriculture, among other factors (Maldonado et
al. 2013). e climatic vulnerability of these tribes today is the looping e ect of US strategies
to undermine Indigenous qualities of responsibilities through land dispossession/shrinkage
and the pollution/emissions of many industrial activities whose operations are/were secured
through colonial land dispossession/shrinkage.
e looping e ects of undermining qualities of responsibilities, such as consent or trust, are
evident in how climate change also opens up more Indigenous territories, such as in the Arctic,
to pressure from colonial exploitation, as thawing snow and ice create access to resources, such
as oil and other hydrocarbons, that were previously hard to access. is climate-related develop-
ment, as well as booms in extractive industries due to other causes, increases detrimental e ects
already experienced with past extractive industries. e workers camps, or “man camps,” cre-
ated to support drilling and mining, intensify sexual and gender violence through increases in
the tra cking of Indigenous women and children (Deer and Nagle 2017; Sweet 2014a, 2014b).
Sarah Deer and Mary Kathryn Nagle describe how “the tra cking of Native women and chil-
dren is not a new phenomenon. . . . Sexual exploitation of Native women and children, dating
back to the times of the Spanish Conquistadors, o en times accompanies the colonial conquest
of tribal lands.” Yet “the Bakken oil boom has created a renewed sense of urgency in areas that
have recently experienced a rapid increase in oil extraction” (2017: 36). Victoria Sweet (2014b)
describes how workers in extractive industries o en have “no community accountability,” which
presents major problems for Indigenous women and children when workers’ presence increases
in a region. Climate change, then, is part of a looping process that, in conjunction with ongoing
colonialism, engenders violence and environmental injustice against Indigenous peoples.
Vicious sedimentation and insidious loops are patterns of environmental injustice that are
characteristic of settler colonial domination when considering the ecological dimension of
settlement. At the surface level, environmental violence manifests as the imposition of envi-
ronmental destruction and pollution. At another level, it is possible to look at environmental
violence as undermining the qualities of relationships that are constitutive of any society’s social
resilience or collective continuance. Hence, settler sedimentation (i.e., “settlerscapes,” “settler
grammars of place”), settler “innocence,” and gender and sexual violence are ecological issues.
But I do not mean so in the sense that they are subsumable under some conception of the envi-
ronment. Nor do I mean that the examples I gave of vicious sedimentation and insidious loops
are ecological simply because they somehow implicate the environment. Rather, I am relating
violence to ecology to highlight the ways they are very much related to systems concepts such as
resilience, adaptive capacity, and sustainability—what I have described through centering con-
cepts of collective continuance and Indigenous ecologies. For, using these ecological concepts,
problems like the Dakota Access Pipeline and the tra cking of Indigenous women and children
Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice 䡲 141
are violations of trust, consent, diplomacy, and redundancy (redundancy, given these problems’
connections to land dispossession).
In this article, the approach to settler colonial domination has implications for current
projects of reconciliation and the establishment of justice for Indigenous peoples. Honoring
qualities of relationships requires, as a matter of Indigenous collective continuance, that settler
nations relate to Indigenous peoples in ways that secure needed lands (for the sake of protecting
redundancy) and changing policies that undermine trust, diplomacy, and consent. While I do
not have the space for elaborating actions that establish justice, I am nonetheless noting here
what the implications of this theoretical outline are for unambiguous requirements on settler
states for establishing justice.
At the same time, theories of collective continuance have moral implications for Indigenous
communities themselves. For myself and many I know, we live among a host of projects to
revitalize Indigenous sovereignty and traditions. Yet, within our communities, many of us have
experienced oppressive forms of self-determination and revitalization, where our own people
seek to bring back types of relationships without attending to qualities of relationships. Exam-
ples include aspirations to Indigenous sovereignty that do not attempt to restore genuine con-
sent or trust and practices of cultural revitalization that are dominated by patriarchy. Examples
like these ignore the moral signi cance of qualities of relationships in the operation of emerging
responsibilities (e.g., US-recognized forms of sovereignty) or persisting responsibilities (e.g.,
language maintenance). Collective continuance, as a value, can be used to assess both settler and
Indigenous attempts to foster conditions of justice. e outline of the theory o ered here seeks
then to be compatible with important recent work in Indigenous studies that supports much
stronger connections between Indigenous peoples and ecosystems than are found in settler laws
and policies and settler approaches to reconciliation.
䡲 KYLE WHYTE is the Timnick Chair in the Humanities and Associate Professor of Philoso-
phy and Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. His research covers areas
including Indigenous climate and environmental justice, the ethics of intercultural knowl-
edge exchange, and Indigenous philosophies of food sovereignty and environmental futures.
He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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