Environmental settler colonialism: Robert Christensen, Worlds in Conflict: Indigenous Peoples, Environmental Challenges, and the ‘Conquista del Desierto’ in the Making of Argentina, 1870-1900, PhD dissertation, Georgetown University, 2022


Abstract: From their first encounter in 1536, armed conflict between Indigenous groups and settlers of European and African descent in Argentina (who referred to themselves as cristianos, or Christians) was a constant menace to both. At the best of times, the two groups engaged in mutually beneficial trade, cultural interchange, and intermarriage. At the worst of times, each stole livestock from the other, burned each other’s homes, and killed noncombatants. The 1879-1885 Campaña del Desierto, or Desert Campaign, changed this equilibrium: in a series of short campaigns, the Argentine army broke the political power of the confederacies that had governed Indigenous society, killing or confining survivors in prisoner camps before relocating them to distant areas. I argue that the momentous changes of this era were often mediated by or articulated through human-environmental relationships. Dispossession and resettlement in far-away lands forced Indigenous people to make creative adaptations to these environmental relationships and many other facets of their lives. This dissertation follows the rise of the Indigenous confederacies of Pampas-Patagonia by focusing on the Catriel lineage of Buenos Aires. It deploys archaeological and historical sources toward understanding the ecology of the Indigenous agropastoral and commercial system, emphasizing its complementarity with cristiano economies in Argentina and Chile. It also depicts the structural shift undergone by cristiano society in Argentina that undermined the broadly stable interethnic relationships of the prior century prior. Using a combination of historical and paleoclimatic sources, it exposes the effects of a famine that impeded Indigenous peoples’ ability to engage in collective action. The catastrophic El Niño of 1877-1878 and a smallpox epidemic were vital in shaping Indigenous communities’ preparedness for and response to the military campaign. As the military phase of the campaign drew to a close in 1880, the Argentine government struggled to find a place for the thousands of Indigenous people they held in prisoner camps. I trace their stories through a series of case studies, following a series of agricultural colonies, a group sent the sugar cane fields of Tucumán, and dispersed communities in northern Patagonia living on public lands to which they lacked legal title.

%d bloggers like this: