Indigenous Experience, Environmental Justice and Settler Colonialism

17 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 25, 2016


Environmental justice (EJ) commonly refers to the problem that people of color, Indigenous peoples, women and people with disabilities, among others, are more likely than privileged white populations to live in toxic environments that are bad for human health and community cohesion. The idea underlying this conception of EJ is that justice concerns how the distribution of certain environmental nuisances, such as pollution, or environmentally-related harms, such as asthma in children, burden populations who already face multiple forms of oppression, from structural racism to systemic poverty. Environmental nuisances and harms are treated as so many objects or states of affairs for which social institutions bear responsibility either to distribute equitably or to strive to lessen and, if possible, eliminate. The conception of EJ just outlined covers many important dimensions of the nature of injustice, especially the impact of social institutions on the distribution of environmental quality across different populations. Yet Indigenous peoples’ EJ movements and scholarly work focus on additional dimensions of injustice beyond the responsibility of social institutions for the distribution of nuisances, harms and goods. For many Indigenous peoples, I will argue, injustice also occurs when the social institutions of one society systematically erase certain social-ecological contexts, or horizons, that are vital for members of another society to experience themselves in the world as having responsibilities to other humans, nonhumans and the environment. Injustice, here, involves one society robbing another society of its capacities to experience the world as a place of collective life that its members feel responsible for maintaining into the future. I seek to show how this understanding of environmental injustice is highlighted in theories and research from the domain of Indigenous peoples and settler colonialism. Settler colonialism can be interpreted as a form of environmental injustice that wrongfully interferes with and erases the social-ecological contexts required for Indigenous populations to experience the world as a place infused with responsibilities to humans, nonhumans and ecosystems.

Keywords: settler colonialism, decolonial theory, environmental justice, ecophenomenology, indigenous conservation, anthropocene

Suggested Citation

Whyte, Kyle, Indigenous Experience, Environmental Justice and Settler Colonialism (April 25, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Kyle Whyte (Contact Author)

University of Michigan ( email )

440 Church Street
Dana Building
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics