nicole gombay on poaching and settler colonialism


Nicole Gombay, ‘”Poaching” – What’s in a name? Debates about law, property, and protection in the context of settler colonialism’, Geoforum 55 (August 2014).

Framed within debates about political ontology, this paper explores how, in a settler colonial context, state-governed wildlife management reflects a complex set of assumptions and power relations that structure understandings and enactments of law, property, and notions of protection. Drawing upon the statements of Inuit research participants, the paper examines the definition of ‘poaching’, and underscores the conceptually controversial assumptions underlying this word. The paper demonstrates how the term represents a culturally and historically specific set of beliefs and practices by the state that are unintelligible from an Inuit frame of reference, because the ontological, epistemological, and teleological assumptions upon which they rest are fundamentally incommensurable with their own. Critiques of political ecology and political economy claim that such forms of analysis have naturalized the assumption that there is one nature which different peoples understand differently. Instead the concept of political ontology stresses that there are many natures whose meanings are opaque and subject to negotiation. But ontological differences are only part of the puzzle. To understand the encounters between Indigenous peoples and the settler colonial state, it is not only the existence of different natures that are important, but also the ways of knowing these natures and the ends that people seek in ‘managing’ them. Ontology, epistemology, and teleology are intertwined; each fashions the other.

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