Staging settler colonialism: Jennifer Ladino, ‘Setting the Stage for Justice: The Politics of Public Lands in the Contemporary US West’, Western American Literature, 54, 1, 2019 pp. ix-xv


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. 

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