Subterranean settler colonialism: Isabel Lockhart, Storytelling and the Subsurface: Indigenous Fiction, Extraction, and the Energetic Present, PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 2022


Abstract: Storytelling and the Subsurface concerns the relationship between Indigenous land and the generation of energy. Specifically, it reads contemporary literature as responsive to the enormous economic growth of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Under the dispossessive structure of settler colonialism, exponential growth has a particular bearing on Indigenous peoples, whose lands are tapped for energy resources and critical minerals for infrastructure. The project moves across carbon and non-carbon fuels to consider energy as a system of social relations that eats up lands, waters, and ecologies. Showing how seemingly the most “settled” lands are charged with other attachments, meanings, and values, I argue that contemporary Indigenous literatures offer a form of critical transition storytelling into not just a “green” future but a decolonized one. This reveals some of the tensions between Indigenous resistance and environmentalism at large and provides new ways of considering the fraught intersection of Indigenous studies and the environmental humanities. In each of my first three chapters, I look to the ways that Indigenous literatures on subsurface extraction diverge from or nuance the dominant environmental motifs of urgency, rights, and trans-localism, and I analyze how Indigenous storying constitutes a specific form of environmental narrative related to rebuilding kinship relations in an extractive zone. The project moves from Cree, Dene, and Métis lands in Alberta, Canada, to Waanyi country in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, to Laguna Pueblo in the U.S. Southwest, and finally to Ngāi Tahu lands on the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. It moves from tar, to zinc, to uranium, and to alluvial gold across literature by Warren Cariou, Alexis Wright, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Eleanor Catton. I am interested in the textures of struggle across situated but globally resonant locales, which together build an impression of the conceptually and aesthetically distinct character of Indigenous resistance. With a turn to the nineteenth-century Anglophone gold rushes, my fourth and final chapter shifts the lens to the storied, nostalgic place of subsurface extraction in cultures of settler colonialism.

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