The conservation of settler colonialism: Lindsey Schneider, ‘Decolonizing conservation? Indigenous resurgence and buffalo restoration in the American West’, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2022


Abstract: There has been a recent surge of interest in “decolonizing” conservation and natural resource management fields. Most of this scholarship, however, speaks to colonialism on a global scale and does not address conservation within modern settler colonial states such as the United States and Canada. This project focuses on the reintroduction of buffalo (bison) in the American West as an example of how even conservation efforts that purport to include, value, and share Indigenous perspectives can ultimately uphold settler colonial relations of power. Using an Indigenous mixed-methodology approach, it interrogates the discursive construction of buffalo as “America’s great conservation success story” and highlights the ways in which conservation has historically worked to support colonial projects of Indigenous erasure and dispossession. Some contemporary buffalo restoration projects seek to include Indigenous people as stakeholders and/or collaborators with unique cultural interests in buffalo, but these efforts do not always embody the material shift in power relations that Indigenous scholars have identified as a key component of decolonization. For Indigenous people, buffalo are more than a keystone species with cultural import; they are relatives whose well-being is deeply entwined with our own. For landscape-scale buffalo restoration projects to engage in decolonization, they must seek to not only repair the harm done to tribal nations through buffalo eradication but also work to support Indigenous resurgence by transforming structures of power.

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