Unsettling Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey
117 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2022
Date Written: July 27, 2022
U.S. settler-conservationists tend to consider ourselves more virtuous than compatriots who take Land as a warehouse. As detailed by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, however, white supremacy “is the thread from which the American social fabric is woven,” including conservation institutions. As author of Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey (2026), I suggest a methodology for further surfacing race/ism (any oppressions) spun into the influential schemes of Aldo Leopold’s best-selling A Sand County Almanac (1949), recently reissued in 2020. I decompose my own past scholarship focused on his “land health” concept, to which his “land ethic” pointed - a vision that, from its starting point, still ruthlessly relegates, appropriates from, and assimilates Indigenous Peoples. This methodology is informed by Robert Pogue Harrison’s examination of living relations with the dead. It applies Kyle Powys Whyte’s framework of reckoning through three issues “that complicate any attempt to compare versions of Leopoldian and Indigenous ethics” on the way to any possibilities of difference-respecting coalitions needing, in common, habitable geographies. I renew proposals of Leopold that, paradoxically, can support refusals of his obliterative constructions. Within Whyte’s three arenas, I continue to unearth, detail and disavow my bio-cultural ancestral legacies violently silencing Brown, Black, and Indigenous Peoples, undermining Indigenous self-determination and relationships. Beginning to end, the flow itself of my writing wants to enact a corrective turn from conservationists’ - also patriarchal - bad habit of over-listening to a few figures, then, controlling discourse at others’ expense. Three concluding grassroots episodes, in which I participated, mean to hold space for Alaska Native-led rejoinders to, and, already-ever distanced from settler-colonialist presumption as attached to their own starting points and desired futures.
Keywords: Unsettling, Aldo Leopold, settler-colonialism, decolonization, anti-racism, conservation, environmental ethics, land ethic, land health, ecology
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