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139

Water Is Life: Nick Estes on Indigenous Technologies

No decarbonization without decolonization.

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Magazine, L. (2019). Water Is Life: Nick Estes on Indigenous Technologies. Logic Magazine, 9, pp. 139-160

145

If you turn off the hydroelectric dam, the impact is catastrophic. The same goes for a nuclear power plant: if you’re not cooling your nuclear rods, there are disastrous downstream — literally, down the stream — consequences. You need hierarchical management built in, to keep people safe. But the existence of those threats is a manmade crisis that naturalizes and justifies that hierarchy once it’s been created.

On the flip side, solar power and wind power are decentralized. You knock a couple wind turbines off the grid and it doesn’t have any effect. Those are some of the things I think about. And even the fossil fuel industry is thinking about this. They want to recentralize those decentralized green technologies. It’s like the internet: everybody thought it was going to democratize everything, and now it’s been totally privatized and commodified. That’s something we have to fight in this energy transition.

—p.145 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago

If you turn off the hydroelectric dam, the impact is catastrophic. The same goes for a nuclear power plant: if you’re not cooling your nuclear rods, there are disastrous downstream — literally, down the stream — consequences. You need hierarchical management built in, to keep people safe. But the existence of those threats is a manmade crisis that naturalizes and justifies that hierarchy once it’s been created.

On the flip side, solar power and wind power are decentralized. You knock a couple wind turbines off the grid and it doesn’t have any effect. Those are some of the things I think about. And even the fossil fuel industry is thinking about this. They want to recentralize those decentralized green technologies. It’s like the internet: everybody thought it was going to democratize everything, and now it’s been totally privatized and commodified. That’s something we have to fight in this energy transition.

—p.145 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago
155

In the vein of concrete questions about Red Deal implementation, I want to ask you about tradeoffs that tribal governments have made over the years. In the 1960s, Fairchild Semiconductor, a microchip manufacturer that was one of the first major firms in Silicon Valley, built a factory on a Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico with the support of the Navajo Tribal Council.

The one where the workers went on strike for better working conditions and then Fairchild shut it down?

Yes. Presumably, the Navajo Tribal Council wanted to bring jobs to the reservation. You’ve written about the tradeoffs that tribal governments navigate in deciding whether to participate in coal production or chip production or even solar power production on Native land. Do you think it’s fair to talk about that within the context of a Red Deal, or do you think the question is more about why tribal governments even have to think about those tradeoffs?

There are a lot of examples of this. There’s a Raytheon facility right outside of Farmington, New Mexico on Navajo land, where the workforce is 90 percent Navajo. That facility makes the microchips for the Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Alaska Native Corporation employs a lot of the private security forces who work at the child and family detention centers on the US-Mexico border. They also have contracts building what are essentially military bases in the Pacific. The Cherokee Nation has contracts to build State Department facilities in the Green Zone in Baghdad. There’s also a federal law that gives preference to Native businesses for lucrative defense contracts. These are the opportunities we get, and we have to take them because our subsistence economies have been annihilated.

People say the Navajo Nation is dependent on coal and oil and gas, but I would actually say that the Southwest is dependent on the Navajo Nation producing coal and oil and gas because no one else wants to do it. No one else will have the generating station on their land because it’s one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. So Navajo lands have been sacrificed — whether it’s been for coal, oil, and gas, or something like uranium. The same is true of Pueblo lands: the first atomic bomb was created on Pueblo land. And the nuclear waste that resulted was buried in Pueblo sacred sites because US government agencies knew Pueblo people would never tell anyone because they won’t say where their sacred sites are.

The reality is that Native nations have a longstanding intimacy with these kinds of economies, whether it’s nuclear economies or fossil fuel economies. Understanding the historical conditions that force Native nations to participate in these economies is important, but I don’t think it’s a conversation about tradeoffs. It’s about the fact that participating in these economies further entrenches us into the settler-colonial system — not just for our own dispossession, but also the dispossession of other people. The Red Deal presents an alternative: a shift away from the military-industrial complex and these extractive economies.

damn this is dark

—p.155 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago

In the vein of concrete questions about Red Deal implementation, I want to ask you about tradeoffs that tribal governments have made over the years. In the 1960s, Fairchild Semiconductor, a microchip manufacturer that was one of the first major firms in Silicon Valley, built a factory on a Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico with the support of the Navajo Tribal Council.

The one where the workers went on strike for better working conditions and then Fairchild shut it down?

Yes. Presumably, the Navajo Tribal Council wanted to bring jobs to the reservation. You’ve written about the tradeoffs that tribal governments navigate in deciding whether to participate in coal production or chip production or even solar power production on Native land. Do you think it’s fair to talk about that within the context of a Red Deal, or do you think the question is more about why tribal governments even have to think about those tradeoffs?

There are a lot of examples of this. There’s a Raytheon facility right outside of Farmington, New Mexico on Navajo land, where the workforce is 90 percent Navajo. That facility makes the microchips for the Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Alaska Native Corporation employs a lot of the private security forces who work at the child and family detention centers on the US-Mexico border. They also have contracts building what are essentially military bases in the Pacific. The Cherokee Nation has contracts to build State Department facilities in the Green Zone in Baghdad. There’s also a federal law that gives preference to Native businesses for lucrative defense contracts. These are the opportunities we get, and we have to take them because our subsistence economies have been annihilated.

People say the Navajo Nation is dependent on coal and oil and gas, but I would actually say that the Southwest is dependent on the Navajo Nation producing coal and oil and gas because no one else wants to do it. No one else will have the generating station on their land because it’s one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. So Navajo lands have been sacrificed — whether it’s been for coal, oil, and gas, or something like uranium. The same is true of Pueblo lands: the first atomic bomb was created on Pueblo land. And the nuclear waste that resulted was buried in Pueblo sacred sites because US government agencies knew Pueblo people would never tell anyone because they won’t say where their sacred sites are.

The reality is that Native nations have a longstanding intimacy with these kinds of economies, whether it’s nuclear economies or fossil fuel economies. Understanding the historical conditions that force Native nations to participate in these economies is important, but I don’t think it’s a conversation about tradeoffs. It’s about the fact that participating in these economies further entrenches us into the settler-colonial system — not just for our own dispossession, but also the dispossession of other people. The Red Deal presents an alternative: a shift away from the military-industrial complex and these extractive economies.

damn this is dark

—p.155 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago
157

[...] there are a lot of people in this country who are under-consuming, like Native people who live in dire poverty. But, by and large, the average North American middle-class and upper-middle-class person consumes way too much.

I don’t dwell too much on settlers and whether they will ever have an ethical relationship to land. Some of them will turn into fascists — many already have — and some of them will follow us. If we’re decentering whiteness, and we’re decentering settler ontologies, and we’re actually advocating for their abolition, what does that new world look like? What does ending the colonial relation look like?

Ultimately, we’re trying to center what good relations to the land means. Instead of talking about car batteries, I think the real conversation should be: why are we working more than twenty hours per week? Why are there jobs that require air travel? Why don’t we have a universal basic income across the globe so people don’t have to leave their hometowns to find work? How do we end border imperialism so capital doesn’t have an endless supply of cheap labor? Those are some of the things that I’m thinking about.

—p.157 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago

[...] there are a lot of people in this country who are under-consuming, like Native people who live in dire poverty. But, by and large, the average North American middle-class and upper-middle-class person consumes way too much.

I don’t dwell too much on settlers and whether they will ever have an ethical relationship to land. Some of them will turn into fascists — many already have — and some of them will follow us. If we’re decentering whiteness, and we’re decentering settler ontologies, and we’re actually advocating for their abolition, what does that new world look like? What does ending the colonial relation look like?

Ultimately, we’re trying to center what good relations to the land means. Instead of talking about car batteries, I think the real conversation should be: why are we working more than twenty hours per week? Why are there jobs that require air travel? Why don’t we have a universal basic income across the globe so people don’t have to leave their hometowns to find work? How do we end border imperialism so capital doesn’t have an endless supply of cheap labor? Those are some of the things that I’m thinking about.

—p.157 by Nick Estes 4 years, 3 months ago