decolonization / Ineyak

Scholarship on US military DEIS & indigenous sovereignty . . .

Scholarly literature on the effects of U.S. military DEIS on indigenous populations outlines many such troubling instances.  Chamorro social scientist LisaLinda Natividad points out that the U.S. military’s 2009 DEIS for its proposed military buildup on Guahan received the lowest possible rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “environmentally unsatisfactory,” and, further, the military’s subsequent modifications of the plan were insufficient and continued to draw serious protest from the indigenous Chamorro people.[i]  Similarly, Chamorro feminist and historian Christine Taitano DeLisle, in discussing the 2009 DEIS for Guahan, points out the absence of any references to or respect for indigenous feminist critiques in the U.S. military and EPA’s documents; for her, “the US military’s interest in Chamorro culture, coupled with the [tourist] industry’s willingness to work with the military, reveals a more insidious form of hypermilitarization of an already heavily militarized island.”[ii]

Control over environmental impact should be in the hands of indigenous groups themselves rather than entirely controlled by the U.S. federal government and the military.  As Guahan is a colony, its indigenous people do not enjoy certain levels of sovereignty allotted to Native American / First Nations peoples in North America.  Political scientist and anthropologist Linda Moon Stumpff explains that “Many, but not all, of the 556 federally recognized tribal governments have assumed responsibility for NEPA planning processes.  . . . The future of Indian trust lands as natural and cultural homelands may depend in large part on the ability of tribes to implement planning strategies that assure continuous restoration.”[iii]  However, too often, the US federal government and military earns criticism from indigenous groups regarding environmental impact statements.  Native American archaeologist Anna Cordova has analyzed Native Hawai’ian activism around US military and federal land use, and she assesses US federal and military statements as “paternalistic and colonial,” “infantilizing the original caretakers of the land” with “hugely negative implications towards the Hawaiian community” (42).[iv]

Similarly, Lindsay Eriksson and Melinda Taylor describe the Department of Homeland Security’s DEIS for a Texas-Mexico border wall as “inadequate,” as also its draft environmental assessment: “Essentially, the environmental studies commissioned by DHS appeared to be designed to support a predetermined decision: construct the border fencing regardless of any cost to the natural environment or the people who depend on it.”[v]  Sociologist Keri E. Iyall Smith describes the struggle of the indigenous Makah people to continue with sustainable, religiously and culturally important whale hunts against the US government’s refusal to complete even a DEIS (110-111).[vi]  Similarly, June L. Lorenzo, herself Laguna Pueblo and Dine, describes the long and often unsuccessful struggle of indigenous tribes in New Mexico — Acoma, Laguna, Navajo Nation, Zuni, and Hopi — to prevent uranium mining companies from decimating their land, with the U.S. government’s DEIS itself stating approval of the mining, and negotiations “ongoing” as of publication in 2017 (9-10).[vii]

The experiences of indigenous Chamorro activists in seeking to resist environmental degradation on their ancestral archipelago by the US colonial government and occupying military is a microcosm of the global struggles of indigenous peoples impacted by the US and European colonial powers, including their militaries and industries.  As the above review of relevant scholarship indicates, the US military and federal government’s actions are insufficient in terms of environmental sustainability and the human rights of indigenous peoples.  Respect for indigenous cultural practices tied to land use is sorely lacking, and the US consistently fails to acknowledge indigenous political sovereignty.

[i] LisaLinda Natividad, “CHamoru Values Guiding Nonviolence,” Conflict Transformation: Essays on Methods of Nonviolence, ed. Rhea A. DuMont, Tom H. Hastings, Emiko Noma, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2013.

[ii] Christine Taitano DeLisle, “Destination Chamorro Culture: Notes on Realignment, Rebranding, and Post-9/11 Militourism in Guam,” American Quarterly 68.3 (September 2016): 563-572.

[iii] Linda Moon Stumpff, “Reweaving Earth: An Indigenous Perspective on Restoration Planning and the National Environmental Policy Act,” Environmental Practice 8.2 (June 2006): 93-103.

[iv] Anna Cordova, Scientific Colonialism in Indigenous Spaces: A Case Study in Hawai’i, master’s thesis, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 2016.

[v] Lindsay Eriksson and Melinda Taylor, “The Environmental Impacts of the Border Wall between Texas and Mexico,” Obstructing Human Rights: The Texas-Mexico Border Wall, ed. T. W. Wall, Texas: The Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall, 2008.

[vi] Keri E. Iyall Smith, “Notes from the Field: ‘Breathing Life’ into the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Societies without Borders 6.1 (2011): 102-115.

[vii] June L. Lorenzo, “Spatial Justice and Indigenous Peoples’ Protection of Sacred Places: Adding Indigenous Dimensions to the Conversation,” justice spatiale / spatial justice 11 (March 2017),, accessed 11 June 2017.


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