Green Places, White Faces: Park Creation and Indigenous Self-Determination in the Global 20th Century

AHA Session 41
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park, Exhibition Level)
John R. McNeill, Georgetown University
The Audience

Session Abstract

In the early twentieth century, European and American ecological science practices moved beyond economics and human health and focused on the accumulation of distant territories. The very forces of settler-colonialism and, later, nationalism that dispossessed Indigenous peoples were also central to the preservation of “pristine” landscapes once inhabited by those peoples. The era of intensified Indigenous dispossession was also the age of prolific park creation. Scholars have not fully grappled with the state’s project of park creation as a global historical phenomenon with enduring consequences. This panel charts new connections by examining both the fraught creation of parks and Indigenous peoples’ changing relationships with protected lands throughout the long twentieth century. From the Arctic to the Tropics, we consider the historical impacts of green grabbing, or park creation and park maintenance, on Indigenous peoples in Canada, Indonesia, and the United States.

Jessica DeWitt looks at how the U.S. federal government took land away from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to give to the state of Idaho for the creation of Heyburn State Park in 1908. DeWitt traces the way in which the Coeur d’Alene navigated state and federal law throughout the twentieth century in an attempt to gain back the land from its negligent, state landlords. Anne Janhunen examines how terminology and categorization—in this case, the use of the term “squatter” by the Canadian government in Ontario—were used to legitimize dispossession policies. Matthew Minarchek critiques the relationships between militarization, science, and environmental conservation in Aceh, Sumatra (Indonesia) during the Dutch colonial period. He posits that park creation in Aceh was only possible due to the physical and psychological violence of soldiers, scientists, and environmentalists, who used the erasure of indigenous peoples to accumulate territory. In the Arctic, Philip Wight shows that while the Gwich’in and Inupiat peoples of Northeastern Alaska were first ignored in the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, their voices were soon appropriated by both environmentalists and the oil industry. From 1970 through 2005, the First Peoples of the northeastern Alaska rejected both unchecked extractivism and the idea of wilderness, and instead fought for “native life on native terms” that reflected their millennia of land management.

Indigenous suppression and park creation were two parallel pillars of expansive colonial and nationalist regimes, which viewed both processes through the lens of Anglo ethno-centrism. While phenomenally violent, this panel will demonstrate that the state also battled itself over the rights and resources it accords to First Peoples. Ultimately, despite being seen in the colonial public imagination as one of the most benign forms of government power, the creation of parks, ecological preserves, and wildlife refuges remained a potent mechanism for the whitewashing of green spaces.

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