Current Institutional Affiliation
Non-Tenure Track Professor, English, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Embodied Sovereignties: Indigenous Political Resistance and Tar Sands Development in Alberta, Canada

Alberta's oil or tar sands development suggests tremendous long-term wealth to some, and "a slow industrial genocide" to others. Although a major driver of the Canadian economy, area Indigenous activists attribute changes in the health of the land to development-related pollution and contest further development on these grounds. Yet this conflict is about more than pollution alone: Indigenous activists also understand tar sands development is an erosion of "Indigenous sovereignty" which is claimed to exist prior to, and outside of, any North American political order. But what constitutes the stuff of Indigenous sovereignty? In resistance to tar sands development, Indigenous activists draw upon traditional spiritual and land use practices as a form of political contestation – an assertion to an Indigenous sovereignty, or the right to continue the spiritual and land use practices that form the basis of Indigenous political and cultural identity. In a word, these practices assert the very right to exist on a landscape that is changing through development. I argue that these forms of traditional spiritual practice and land use are best understood through the theoretical lens of "embodiment." Thus, this research is a critical investigation into the ways Indigenous sovereignty is "lived" through embodied traditional practices in the arena of tar sands contestation. Through Indigenous methodologies, participant-observation, and critical and collaborative analysis, this research is poised to contribute to a range of disciplines across the humanities and humanistic social sciences, including anthropology, Native Studies, political science, and history. It will enrich understandings of sovereignty, embodiment, and social phenomena related to tar sands development and Indigenous political resistance as it is lived by Indigenous actors facing the potential disappearance of their communities and ways of life.