Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism

Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism

by Shelley Streeby

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520294455
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/31/2018
Series: American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present , #5
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 546,203
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Shelley Streeby is Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Radical Sensations and American Sensations and a coeditor of Empire and the Literature of Sensation.

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Native American and Indigenous Science, Fiction, and Futurisms

In the days leading up to the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, 2017, more than eleven hundred Native American and Indigenous scientists, scholars, and allies endorsed the "Indigenous Science Statement for the March on Science," authored by four leading Native American scientists and scholars. In this statement, Robin Kimmerer, Rosalyn LaPier, Melissa Nelson, and Kyle Whyte emphasized the concept of Native American and Indigenous science as they encouraged "Indigenous people and allies to participate in the national march in DC or a satellite march." Naming the declaration "Let Our Indigenous Voices Be Heard," the authors insisted on the need to "engage the power of both Indigenous and Western science on behalf of the living Earth." Nelson further elaborated on the concept of Indigenous sciences in an interview: "To successfully address our world's pressing ecological issues, it is critical that we look to the multiple place-based and time-tested sciences of Indigenous peoples." The use of the term Indigenous science, like the multiple Indigenous science organizations — including the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, and the Society Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science — that endorsed the March for Science, is itself a significant theoretical claim. The idea that Indigenous peoples practice sciences and have deep historical knowledge that is often "place-based" is an important intervention in a settler society predisposed to discount Indigenous perspectives. The critique of versions of Western science based on narrow, linear notions of progress and development inseparable from histories of colonialism and racial hierarchies is also noteworthy. The declaration goes on to argue that both Indigenous and Western sciences, working together for the sustainability of the earth, are necessary at the current conjuncture.

In the opening, the authors emphasize that although "Western Science is a powerful approach, it is not the only one." Calling the Earth Day event a "march not just for Science but for Sciences," they remember that "long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here": "Native astronomers, agronomists, geneticists, ecologists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, watershed hydrologists, pharmacologists, physicians and more — all engaged in the creation and application of knowledge which promoted the flourishing of both human societies and the beings with whom we share the planet." This history of Indigenous science is relevant to our present, they insist, because it "supported indigenous culture, governance and decision making for a sustainable future — the same needs which bring us together today." It also offers "a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm by which we understand the natural world and our relation to it," providing "key insights and philosophical frameworks for problem solving that includes human values." The latter are indispensable for facing "challenges such as climate change, sustainable resource management, health disparities and the need for healing the ecological damage we have done." Their demands include "greater recognition and support for tribal consultation and participation in the co-management, protection, and restoration of our ancestral lands" as well as "enhanced support for inclusion of Indigenous science in mainstream education, for the benefit of all." In these ways, the authors and signers of this document "envision a productive symbiosis between Indigenous and Western knowledges that serve[s] our shared goals of sustainability for land and culture" while emphasizing that "this symbiosis requires mutual respect for the intellectual sovereignty of both Indigenous and Western sciences."

In this chapter, I build on scholarship in Native American and Indigenous studies and American studies, cultural forms produced by social movements disseminated through the Internet, and journalism and other media to further elaborate on the possibilities for such a "productive symbiosis" as well as the concepts of Indigenous science, fiction, and futurisms that are crucial for confronting the imminent disaster of climate change today. I also suggest that Indigenous science, fiction, and futurisms have converged to shape struggles over the DAPL as well as other struggles over water, oil, and resource extraction throughout the world.

From late spring through fall 2016, while the candidates for U.S. president failed to address climate change, a series of major events in the history of imagining the future of climate change was taking place. On April 1, tribal citizens of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation and other Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota citizens founded a spirit camp along the proposed route of the 1,172-mile DAPL. They objected not only to the pipeline but also to the use of the word "Dakota" to name it and the company that hoped to transport fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields across three states to refineries in Illinois. Dakota Access, LLC is a subsidiary of the Dallas-based company Energy Transfer Partners, which owns and operates more than 62,500 miles of natural gas and liquids pipelines. Fracked oil is created by hydraulic fracturing of tar sands and is more volatile and damaging to local ecosystems than conventional oil extraction. There are huge gaps in our knowledge of how spilled tar sands oil behaves in water and fracked oil may be more corrosive to pipeline systems than oil. Naomi Klein reports that "a growing body of independent, peer-reviewed studies is building the case that fracking puts drinking water, including aquifers, at risk." Evidence also suggests that fracking causes small earthquakes. There are significant reasons, then, to worry about Energy Transfer Partners' pipeline, which passes under the Missouri River. This corporation has powerful friends, however: Trump has significant stock holdings invested in the pipeline and CEO Kelcy Warren donated hundreds of thousands to Trump, the Trump Victory Fund, and the Republican National Committee in 2016.

To provide the material basis for resisting Energy Transfer Partners' pipeline, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the tribe's historic preservation officer, cofounded the Sacred Stone Camp on her land in April 2016. The camp was called I?ya? Wakhá?agapi Othí, translated as Sacred Rock, "which was the pre-colonial name of the Cannonball area," and became the site of emergence for "a historic grassroots resistance movement" that was "determined to stop the pipeline through prayer and nonviolent direct action." When Allard heard construction would start on the pipeline, which would be routed near her water well and her son's grave, she posted a video message on Facebook asking for help. That post went viral and soon so many people showed up that an overflow camp had to be established across the river.

Earlier, in March 2016, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and two other federal agencies raised serious environmental and safety objections to the North Dakota section of the pipeline, warning "crossings of the Missouri River have the potential to affect the primary source of drinking water for much of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tribal nations." But the Army Corps of Engineers dismissed these concerns and relied on an environmental assessment prepared by the company itself when it issued a fast-track permit July 25 for pipeline construction to continue. Finally, after three easements for water crossings on Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea, and the Mississippi River were granted by the Corps, the Standing Rock Sioux filed an emergency injunction request to stop construction. Two weeks later Energy Transfer Partners countersued Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault II and others for blocking construction. In the following weeks, thousands of people, with more than three hundred tribes represented, came to join forces with Standing Rock water protectors.

This fight for Indigenous land reclamation, sovereignty, and survival is partly rooted in longer histories and other times that coexist with and shape the present. Allard calls attention to the significance of earlier struggles over settler colonialism and resource extraction on Native lands for the current conflict. Emphasizing that she "can't forget" the 1863 "Whitestone Massacre" that took place almost 150 years earlier, Allard recalled in a magazine piece how her great-great grandmother Nape Hote Win (Mary Big Moccasin) survived the "bloodiest conflict between the Sioux Nations and the U.S. Army ever on North Dakota soil," in which "an estimated 300 to 400 of our people" were killed, "far more than at Wounded Knee." As part of a "broader U.S. military expedition to promote white settlement in the eastern Dakotas and promote access to the Montana gold fields via the Missouri River," U.S. troops in Dakota territory attacked a peaceful camp with large numbers of women and children after a buffalo hunt and killed hundreds of people. Nine-year-old Mary, Allard's ancestor, was shot in the hip, found by a U.S. soldier the next morning, and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp, where she remained until 1870.

For Allard this story of survival in the face of U.S. military violence in the service of white settlement and resource extraction is entangled with the Standing Rock struggle, as well as the 1950s moment when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "dredged the mouth of the Cannonball River and flooded the area" as "they finished the Oahe dam." At that time, she recalls, "they killed a portion of our sacred river," desecrated "burial sites and Sundance grounds," and made the river water unsafe to drink. Noting that of the 380 archaeological sites that face desecration along the pipeline route, 26 are situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers, Allard charged that history was repeating itself: "Again, it is the U.S. Army Corps that is allowing these sites to be destroyed."

But if these sites are not protected, Allard warns, "our world will end," because that world is inseparable from the particularities of place. When she looked at the pipeline map, she knew her "entire world was in danger." Because "we are the river, and the river is us," the Oceti Sakowin have "no choice but to stand up," together with other tribes gathered at Standing Rock, and "demand a future for our people." In Fall 2016, as the U.S. election season heated up, the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies projected a different future of climate change by trying to protect the water, the land, and the whole web of life that depends on the river, partly through their adept use of social media. Suddenly the Lakota saying Mni Wiconi or "Water Is Life" began to spread across social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram despite the big-media blackout. The water protectors were skilled at using high-tech cultural forms to organize in the present and imagine a future connected to the past beyond the global fossil fuel economy. Indigenous women such as Allard were leaders of this effort, speaking at the media tent at the camp and using social media to organize networks that spread news of the pipeline struggle far and wide.

Standing Rock youth and their skilled use of social media were also crucial. In July, Bobbi Jean Three Legs, Montgomery Brown, and Joseph White Eyes, all in their twenties, organized a nearly two thousand mile, intertribal relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to deliver a petition against the pipeline with over 160,000 signatures to the White House and the Army Corps of Engineers. They also launched a massive media campaign, "Rezpect Our Water," that includes a website with an anti-DAPL petition, videos made by youth, and letters to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Standing Rock Youth Council, made up of "Youth from all nations, tribes, and races," emerged at this time to "protect land, water, and treaty rights," "work towards the end of environmental racism," take "Non Violent Direct Action," and advance their "voices in decisions made about the future of Indian Country." They situated themselves "in the tradition of our elders and the American Indian Movement in coming together nationally and internationally to form a solidarity movement that builds people power," often by effectively using hashtags and making connections on social media platforms.

The efforts of the water protectors and their allies to collectively imagine a different future were also strikingly evident in the camp itself as well as at other camps such as Oceti Sakowin Camp, which was set up across the Cannonball River to accommodate huge numbers of people who arrived in August. Both Sacred Stone Camp and Oceti Sakowin included schools for kids. Standing Rock teacher Alayna Eagle Shield started the school at Oceti Sakowin and was soon able to draw on many talented Indigenous teachers who came to Standing Rock. Using donated tablets with solar chargers, the schoolchildren, who said they were tired of how reporters told their stories, created their own films, involving research and interviews, while taking classes in math, science, and Lakota values and language. Education was also available for older people: nonviolent civil disobedience and "direct action" principles were proclaimed on signs and taught to those who wanted to learn them.

The Industrial Workers of the World used the phrase "direct action" in 1910 to describe actions taken by workers themselves, including strikes and demonstrations, as opposed to actions taken by politicians and other mediators representing workers by negotiating or making laws. The phrase has taken on added meanings as it has traveled across space and time, playing a significant role in the U.S. civil rights, antiwar, and environmental movements. At a moment when political, economic, and social change from above has become increasingly hard to imagine, direct action has moved to center stage in the world-making projects of many contemporary social movements.

The ways in which the camps of the water protectors and their allies made another world through direct action were not limited to schools and education, however, although both were important. Camp kitchens produced three meals a day, often made up of Indigenous foods, for hundreds of people. The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council, despite limited resources, provided health care to those assembled and medical professionals from as far away as Cuba came to express their "solidarity with the Sacred Water Protectors on the front lines of the current human rights and ecological crisis occurring right now in North Dakota." The water protectors not only made a world that provided schooling, food, medical care, and other necessities of life but the world came to Standing Rock. On August 22, 2016, after protestors used direct action to block a construction site at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, members of more than 280 tribes headed there to provide support. By September 11, the New York Times was calling it "the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn." Franco Viteri, former president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENAI), arrived with two other members of his Kichwa community. All had participated in decades-long struggles against multinational oil companies and the Ecuadorian government's efforts to drill in the Amazon. They told reporters they saw many other Indigenous people from Latin America at the camp and recalled speaking with people from Honduras, Peru, and El Salvador.

In response to these events, the American Studies Association's 2016 Conference in Denver featured a special Saturday night session entitled "#NoDAPL: Indigenous Dispossession on the Missouri." The panel, which was chaired by Robert Warrior, the distinguished scholar of Native and Indigenous literature who was president of the American Studies Association that year, focused "on the recent protests along the Missouri River initiated by the Lakota people of the Standing Rock reservation" and emphasized Indigenous people's crafting of futurisms through social media and other technologies by using the hashtag #NoDAPL as the main title. All of the speakers connected the #NoDAPL struggle to longer histories of settler colonialism and Indigenous survivance and world-making, including Marcella Gilbert, a Cheyenne River Sioux community organizer, who emphasized the importance of Native women's imaginings of the future in the long history leading up to the present. Gilbert testified to how she grew up in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and had relatives involved with the 1979–81 occupation of Alcatraz, when Red Power activists claimed the island under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which gave Native people rights to unused federal property on Indian lands. Everybody went out there to live, she remembered, like at Standing Rock. She asked the audience to remember how in October 1972, AIM and other Native groups had organized a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the "Trail of Broken Treaties" that was one of many in that period, including two takeovers of Mount Rushmore and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She reminded everyone of other antecedents of the present, including "survival schools" created in Minneapolis and St. Paul by AIM members in the early 1970s and the international work of the 1970s and 1980s, much of which focused on sustainable living and different ways of surviving off the grid. She recalled other AIM world-making projects such as KILI Radio, created in 1983 as the very first Indian-controlled, Indian-owned, and Indian-run radio station in the United States as well as medical clinics and tribal colleges, created on the backs of movements and women who knew how to get things done. These times have shaped both the present and the future, and Native American and Indigenous studies scholars, artist, writers, and other knowledge producers have much to teach us about long histories of social movement activity and future-facing connections across space and time.


Excerpted from "Imagining the Future of Climate Change"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Shelley Streeby.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Imagining the Future of Climate Change

1. #NoDAPL
Native American and
Indigenous Science, Fiction, and Futurisms

2. Climate Refugees in the Greenhouse World
Archiving Global Warming with Octavia E. Butler

3. Climate Change as a World Problem
Shaping Change in the Wake of Disaster

Key Figures
Selected Bibliography

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