Settler commons over indigenous property: April Anson, ‘The President Stole Your Land: Public Lands and the Settler Commons’, Western American Literature, 54, 1, 2019, pp. 49-62

26Jun19

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. 



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