Excerpt: In the United States what constitutes “public lands” has never been stable. Notions of the public and their commons were a fickle matter of political contest and power relations before the beginning of what is currently called America. Today, who and what serve to underwrite, define, and profit from “public lands” is a debate often expressed in cataclysmic language. Militarized government officials and extrastate militias extend across our shared social, political, and physical landscapes, as our terrains seem to scar, wither, blister, and combust in ways even our most apocalyptic and dystopic imaginations struggle to comprehend. Can we protect a piece of this world for all of us? Can we fight for the land that we live in and love? How do we survive the end of the world that seems so fast approaching? Who are the “we” in these questions?

The issues that immediately arise in discussions of the commons—namely whose commons and for what purposes—often still assume a public that is, in fact, particular to white settler subjects. As a settler scholar raised by uninvited hippies, loggers, and mill workers on Kalapuyailihi (Kalapuya homelands), I frequently find myself implicit in the publics universalized in, and made invisible by, current debates over public lands. From my vantage point in the middle of this “we” supposedly anticipating or already suffering the beginning of the end of the world of public lands, it is difficult to decipher the apocalyptic language commoning settler colonial capitalism, making it, as it were, so ordinary as to be almost imperceptible. Almost.

This article takes two examples of contemporary debates over public lands as paradigmatic case studies for the ways apocalyptic appeals populate and naturalize the “settler commons” across the spectrum of US politics. 

Excerpt: October 2016 ended with dramatic irony on the Western stage as two high-profile standoffs came to a head. Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, and five other members of their self-styled militia were acquitted after a forty-one-day armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; on the very same day, October 27, unarmed water protectors in North Dakota were shot with tear gas while engaging in nonviolent political action on behalf of clean water and the protection of Indigenous lands. The protests on the Standing Rock reservation had been gaining momentum since early 2016, as tribes and allies resisted the Dakota Access Pipeline, slated to carry hundreds of thousand of barrels of oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and threatening water supplies and sacred lands at Standing Rock. Under unifying slogans such as “Water is Life,” diverse publics formed and collaborated in digital and face-to-face activism to support tribal sovereignty. Black Lives Matter activists joined their #resistance energies to #NoDAPL efforts, and, at one point, a group of veterans formed a human shield between water protectors and the US military, vowing the pipeline would not be built on their watch.

The Oregon occupation, by contrast, featured the usual suspects: rural white people, mostly men, wielding weapons and antigovernment ideologies. The Bundy brothers are sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had, two years earlier, held an armed standoff with the federal government over the years of unpaid fees he had incurred for allowing his cattle to graze on BLM land—fees amounting to more than $1 million. The crew at Malheur was inspired by this earlier standoff, by long-simmering antigovernment sentiments in the West, as well as by Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had been imprisoned for arson after setting fires that burned federally managed land. 

stats for wordpress