Before and after settler colonialism: Kyle Keeler, ‘Before colonization (BC) and after decolonization (AD): The Early Anthropocene, the Biblical Fall, and relational pasts, presents, and futures’, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2021


Abstract: Anthropocene debate centers on the start-date and the cause of the geologic Epoch. One argument for the Epoch’s start-date is the “Early Anthropocene,” contending humanity “took control” of Earth systems during the Neolithic Revolution. Adherents contend agriculture contributed to rising carbon emissions and laid the groundwork for societal ills such as colonialism and extractive capitalism. Such a deterministic theory erases centuries of relational agriculture practiced by Indigenous peoples in the Americas. This article upsets the narrative of the “Early Anthropocene” that would mark all agriculture and agricultural societies as destructive and extractive, and instead offers embodied Indigenous narratives that view agriculture as a relational system of partnerships between humans and other-than-human beings over centuries. First, I trace the “Early Anthropocene” narrative from its origins with paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman to its contemporary adherents and show how such a theory lines-up with the narrative of the Christianized Biblical Fall. I show that “Early Anthropocene” theorists portray agriculture as society’s “ultimate sin,” wherein humans fall from a hunter–gatherer Eden and must toil to cultivate crops, eventually giving way to colonialism and extractive capitalism, ultimately causing environmental degradation and destruction and leading to a second coming of the hunter-gathering Eden. I then argue against such stories, tracing examples of relational agriculture practiced prior to settler colonization into our contemporary moment by Cherokee, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Western Apache, Karuk, Coast Salish, and Ponca peoples. Such stories show a pattern of missteps, understanding, and knowledge production between human groups and the more-than-human, rather than the environmental and societal destruction that Early Anthropocene theorists portray as the inevitable end of agricultural societies. This study disproves the agricultural “Early Anthropocene” as a starting point for Earth’s Epoch. It also presents relational environmental understanding through decolonized agriculture on repatriated land as a future method for interacting with the other-than-human environment.

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