Q&A with Dana Powell, Author of Landscapes of Power

powell 5 credit Marie Freeman

Photo by Marie Freeman

We spoke with Dana Powell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, about her new book Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation. Powell examines the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico, tracing the political conflicts surrounding native sovereignty and energy development on Navajo (Diné) Nation land and emphasizing the potential of Navajo resistance to articulate a vision of autonomy in the face of colonial conditions.

How does your book approach and examine the Desert Rock Energy Project initiative, a failed late-2000s attempt to establish a coal-burning power plant on Navajo land in New Mexico?

This is a story about the sociocultural dynamics of intensive extraction. The book takes two tacks: first, I approach the problem of Desert Rock historically, telling the longer story of the Navajo Nation’s decades of economic dependency on energy minerals, but ask readers to critically understand this dependency through the double entanglements of settler colonialism and environmental harm. At the same time, I examine the parallel legacies of resistance and energy activism, which emerged from grassroots leaders who not only recognized this nefarious entanglement but saw how the 1960s ascendence of coal production intensified the risk of exposure already in place from Cold War uranium extraction. Second, I approach the problem ethnographically, inviting readers into some of the on-the-ground complexities of tribal sovereignty, economic development, policy change, and various interpretations of place, by following the work of one social movement organization in particular. Ethnography allows me to examine the situated experiences of Diné people on both sides of the debate—those for the power plant, and those against the plant—as an embodied struggle around science, technology, and the future of infrastructure in indigenous territory. By interspersing ethnographic vignettes in between longer chapters that examine policy, discourse, expressive arts, and resistance strategies, I hope readers gain a feel for the everyday life impacts of large-scale industrial development and their unique dynamics in Diné landscapes.

You were a political organizer and assistant manager with the Indigo Girls, an activist folk-rock duo that campaigns and holds benefits for native communities. How did your involvement affect the direction and nature of your research?

978-0-8223-6994-3

The national political organizing work that I did through my affiliation with Indigo Girls offered me privileged access to conversations within the Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, and the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, as well as dozens of tribal NGOs, which deeply shaped my sense of the double entanglement of colonialism and environmental harm in Native America (from early 20th-century extractive legacies to later 20th-century impacts of climate change). This involvement not only established certain alliances and relationships for me, which became crucial as my solidarity work morphed from activist-ally to activist-researcher, but allowed me to develop research questions in tandem with indigenous organizers and policy-makers. I came to see my work as nurturing a conversation among conversations, linking discussions within activist networks with similar discussions in academic debates. Later on, in my academic work with the Social Movements Working Group and Modernity/Coloniality groups at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, I came to see how the knowledge work of the environmental-social movements I’d been engaged in for many years established the epistemic framework for my newfound anthropological inquiries into the problems. Aesthetically, having spent years working closely with feminist artists who approached social justice through songwriting, performance, and music, I was tuned in to the ways that expressive and sonic arts flowed through Diné and other indigenous environmental justice movements; this orientation provided me with a much-needed balance to my emphasis on the policy and political economy of energy. Last, years of assisting with the production of community-based and larger market-based benefit concerts confirmed for me the power of spectacle and affect in public education and outreach, and I tried to enact this sensibility and intention in the writing that coalesced into this book.

How did your thoughts about indigenous environmental activism shift over the course of your time with the Indigo Girls?

Over time, I came to see environmental activism in the U.S. as social justice work with questions of indigenous political difference and matters of territory front and center. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers offered strong models of how to enact solidarity as white allies to an indigenous movement; their feminist and queer analysis brought new angles to thinking about “justice” in matters of environmental harm. For example, although large-scale environmental organizations were brought to task by grassroots groups of color a few decades ago (see the “Letter to the Group of Ten” authored by the Southwest Organizing Project, and others), changing public discourse on the racialized and gendered dimensions of environmental risk is still pretty poorly understood among wider publics. We were focusing on solutions: supporting community-led and tribal government-led wind and solar development in Native Nations; but, over time, my thoughts shifted from these national efforts toward the complexities of “transition” work in specific locations. Over the years, I came to see that the national (really, international) activism we were engaged in didn’t always line up with what people desired in specific locales, so I became increasingly interested in understanding these frictions and how building power in particular demanded more specific, rather than general kinds of knowledge.  

You describe how environmental journalists packaged Diné activism against the Desert Rock power plant as a “David and Goliath” story. Why was this frame harmful or misleading?

This Biblical metaphor offers no simple alignment: who in this struggle was the godless Goliath? The energy company, the federal government, surrounding jurisdictional states, or the Navajo Council? And who was the liberatory David? Grassroots EJ groups, the Navajo Council, residents of the impacted area who fought back through their endangered status? In the case of Desert Rock, the “perpetrators” and the “underdog” were not so clearly defined adversarial positions. The only appropriate analogy or likeness in this figure of speech is, perhaps, activists’ questioning of the “god” of capital.

You spent time in native communities both as an activist and as an anthropologist-observer. How did these two roles feel distinct from each other? How did your multiple visits to the Navajo Nation affect your understanding of the community and the nature of your research?

Perhaps like anyone who begins working in movements and then shifts in/to the academy, I experienced the unsettling feeling of betrayal: were my newly constructed academic questions—despite being inspired by the knowledge-work on the ground—a departure from more urgently needed, different modes of labor for non-native allies? Could the two positions ever be reconciled? Over time, I came to feel they were not so different, after all: the activist questions, theorizes, experiments, observes, analyzes and expresses, as does the anthropologist, following differing registers of expressive practice and media. Striving to maintain this critical edge within myself, recognizing and valuing both roles, deepened my understanding of the matters at stake and how the “local” struggle was, indeed, a “global” story and critically relevant to other extractive contexts. But at times, these roles made different ethical demands, challenging me to constantly interrogate what I was following, and why. Certainly, the multiple visits (that I discuss through the ethnographic trope of “arrivals” into the field) stretched out over years (1999-present) enabled me to slowly establish what have become long-term relationships of trust and collaboration with particular Diné people, and the project would not have been possible without these connections. And because I was examining the sociocultural life of the contemporary landscape, I had to learn to “see” infrastructures of power (from livestock wells to power lines, from ceremonial hogans to well-worn pathways in the forests) and it took many years of encounters to develop this perspective.

How can activists reconcile care for the environment with an understanding of the complex issues facing Native communities? What resonance do the lessons of Desert Rock hold for today’s activists?

Activists should not start with a consideration of the “environment”: it’s an abstract idea. As Anna Tsing, Bruno Latour, and many activists like those I work with in Navajoland argue, its unquestioned universality occludes the particularities of sites of struggle, in which the matters at stake are often not “the environment” as (we) imagined. Native Nations in the 21st century are facing new kinds of challenges to indigenous territorial sovereignty, often enacted through large-scale energy technologies: this was visible on a new scale, thanks to social media, during the Standing Rock/NoDAPL movement in 2016-2017. As I discuss in the book and elsewhere, activists who yearn for “environmental sustainability” in the U.S. cannot continue to follow the conventional “three E’s” approach to environment/economics/equity: the political difference of American Indians must be front and center in any project of harm reduction or transition. The notion of “equity” cannot contain this political/historical difference or the conditions of violence, ongoing, wrought by centuries of settler colonialism. An idea of “sustainability” that does not include sovereignty, in the case of Native Nations, is bankrupt. Likewise, as Myles Lennon shows in his study of Black Lives Matter activists’ pursuit of solar power, the question of energy justice in the U.S. brings with it long histories of the structural “demattering” of people of color. Activists can take these lessons of historical and political difference from the Desert Rock struggle. In this moment of public lands and sacred lands continually coming under threat (e.g., Bears Ears Monument, Standing Rock, Chaco Canyon, and more), especially with the expansion of energy infrastructure, activists who care for “the environment” would be wise to begin with an inquiry into the patterns of displacement, labor, settlement, and significance in a particular landscape.

Pick up Dana Powell’s Landscapes of Power for 30% off using coupon code E17LAND at dukeupress.edu.

13 comments

  1. also here sure we mention as say prof dr mircea orasanu and prof horia orasanu some as
    GEOMETRICAL THEOREMS
    Author Mircea Orasanu
    ABSTRACT
    The fractal nature of space generates the breaking of differential time reflection invariance. In such a context, the usual definitions of the derivative of a given function with respect to time [6,7],
    dFdt=limΔt→0+F(t+Δt)−F(t)Δt=limΔt→0−F(t)−F(t−Δt)Δt

    Like

  2. as sure and indeed we see as say prof dr mircea orasanu that must consider importance of mathematics and medicine and specially
    CAUCHY ‘s MEAN THEOREM
    ABSTRACT
    Let f and g be differentiable functions on the interval [a,b], with a < b.
    Consider the following function:

    h(x) = (f(x) – f(a)(g(b) – g(a)) – (g(x) – g(a))(f(b) – f(a).

    Then if we evaluate h at x = a and at x = b, we get:

    h(a) = h(b) = 0.

    So by Rolle's theorem there exists a point $\xi$ in the interval (a, b), such that $h'(\xi) = 0$.

    Like

  3. The significance of the sort of connection that Descartes made between geometry and algebra was great indeed, for without it the mathematization of the physics and the development of the calculus might not have happened when they did—a generation later via Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) and Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716). It should be noted, however, that as groundbreaking as this work may have been, contrary to the claims of many, nowhere in the Geometry is a “Cartesian Coordinate System” ever developed (that is, the x-y coordinate system taught to today’s students of algebra), nor is he the originator of other mathematical concepts that bear his name, for example how observed prof dr mircea orasanu and thus more and many have not contributors as calugaritza or arghiriade with these of the calculus might not have happened when they did—a generation later via Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727)

    Like

  4. here we mention some of geometry and figures as observed prof dr mircea orasanu as followed in the form

    If students are not already in groups, break them into groups of 3-4. Pose the following questions to the groups (using the above diagram)
    – Which of the above triangles are similar, assuming right angles at C, E, G, and I? Write proofs for these similarities.
    – From your similar triangles, the ratios of which sides are always equal?
    – What angle is involved in the similarity of all of the triangles?
    – Which of the ratios you found corresponds to th slope of segment AH? Justify your answer.

    Discuss students’ results and introduce trig ratios, relating it to the angle question above. All of the ratios involve angle A. Talk about sin A, cos A and tan A in a right triangle.

    Talk about the above slope question noting that tan A gives you the slope of AH.

    Have students work on a worksheet in groups on finding the ratios for triangles with specific sides. On this worksheet, also have specific angles marked. For example, incorporate the ratios discussed for 45-45-90 and 30-60-90 triangles in Lesson 3.

    Finally, come together as a whole class and discuss the worksheet, as well as finding values for specific angles with a calculator.

    Assign homework and journal entry.
    Students work in groups on the questions. They may have trouble with similar triangles, some may have forgotten what it means, which would require a brief explanation from the teacher or a peer of similar triangles and the angle-angle theorem.

    Students work in groups on the questions. They may have trouble with similar triangles, some may have forgotten what it means, which would require a brief explanation from the teacher or a peer of similar triangles and the angle-angle theorem.

    Contribute to class discussion.

    Students explain which ratio they found to be the slope of AH, some may not make the immediate connection to tan A, stress this point. It is important for students to know that tan x is a ratio.

    Work on worksheet, may have trouble with specific angles. For example, might not be comfortable with writing tan 45 = 1.

    Contribute to discussion and work on their calculators.

    Possible Accommodations: Most of this lesson will be accessible to most students regardless of their individual needs because there is enough variety and activity to keep students engaged. Also, group work will help students sort out some of the mathematical problems they are having. Students that have trouble writing, would have the option to record their journal assignment on audio tape.

    Assessment: For this portion of the lesson, students will be assessed on their class participation as well as their written work. Their worksheets will be collected and graded, partially for completion. Also, their journal will be graded for effort and demonstration of critical thinking.

    Contribute to class discussion.

    Students explain which ratio they found to be the slope of AH, some may not make the immediate connection to tan A, stress this point. It is important for students to know that tan x is a ratio.

    Work on worksheet, may have trouble with specific angles. For example, might not be comfortable with writing tan 45 = 1.

    Contribute to discussion and work on their calculators.

    Regulamentul de organizare a studiilor universitare de doctorat in cadrul Şcolii de Studii Avansate a Academiei Române Art. 92
    (1) Şcolile Doctorale pot să implementeze mecanisme precum:
    a) acorduri de parteneriat internaţionale pentru susţinerea de cursuri, desfăşurarea unor activităţi de cercetare, conferinţe, dezbateri etc.;
    b) schimburi de doctoranzi şi profesori cu universităţile din domeniu;
    c) participarea la consorţii internaţionale, în care temele de cercetare doctorală sunt părţi ale unor proiecte internaţionale.

    (2) Mecanismele academice privind acordurile de parteneriat internaţional se pun în aplicare prin proceduri specifice pentru integrarea Şcolilor Doctorale ale SCOSAAR în reţele de cercetare internaţionale de prestigiu.

    Art. 93
    Asigurarea mobilităţii în cadrul acordurilor de cooperare încheiate în programele de studii universitare de doctorat, a programelor structurale de formare de resurse umane, precum şi a doctoratului în cotutelă constă în:
    a) schimburi de profesori şi studenţi-doctoranzi;
    b) organizarea de consorţii şi reţele;
    c) atribuirea de titluri şi/sau certificate comune mai multor Universităţi, din ţară sau din străinătate, care atestă competenţele dobândite;
    d) recunoaşterea în plan internaţional a doctoratului;
    e) dezvoltarea parteneriatelor între Şcolile Doctorale ale SISDOCAR şi agenţii economici.
    BucureştiAprilie 2011 CUPRINS

    Like

  5. in many situations must present elements of pedagogy as observed prof dr mircea orasanu but for example prof dir dudian lic 39 in 1974 not present sufficient consequences of these themes ,andsame daniela voinea or daniela nedelcu as insp scoland mircea miclea as ministry

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s