Article ID: CBB594645466

Obvious but Invisible: Ways of Knowing Health, Environment, and Colonialism in a West Coast Indigenous Community (2018)


This paper interrogates the specific workings and stakes of slow violence on Indigenous ground. It argues that despite similarities with other environmental justice struggles, Indigenous ones are fundamentally distinct because of Indigenous peoples' unique relationship to the polluted or damaged entity, to the state, and to capital. It draws from Indigenous studies, history, anthropology, geography, sensory studies, and STS, to present results from research with the Mowachaht Muchalaht First Nation, an Indigenous people on the west coast of British Columbia. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, this community used successive strategies to try to render its knowledge about health, environment, and authority visible to the settler state. Each strategy entailed particular configurations of risk, perceptibility, and uncertainty; each involved translation between epistemologies; and each implicated a distinct subject position for Indigenous peoples vis-à-vis the state. The community's initial anti-colonial, environmental justice campaign attempted to translate local, Indigenous ways of knowing into the epistemologies of environmental science and public health. After this strategy failed, community leaders launched another that leveraged the state's legal epistemology. This second strategy shifted the balance of risk and uncertainty such that state actors felt compelled to act. The community achieved victory, but at a price. Where the first strategy positioned the community as a self-determined, sovereign actor; the second positioned it as a ward of the state. This outcome illustrates the costs that modern states extract from Indigenous peoples who seek remedial action, and more generally, the mechanisms through which the colonial present is (re)produced.

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Authors & Contributors
Few, Martha
Philippe Chastonay
Axel M. Klohn
Rice, Carla
Manning, Dolleen Tisawii'ashii
Stonefish, Mona
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Journal of Jesuit Studies
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Journal of Global History
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Hygiea Internationalis
Duquesne University
UBC Press
Pickering & Chatto
Indiana University Press
University of Oklahoma
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Public health
Native American civilization and culture
Mandeville, John
Eden, Richard
Acosta, José de
Time Periods
Early modern
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
18th century
16th century
Latin America
British Columbia (Canada)
Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Oklahoma
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
World Health Organization (WHO)

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