Accepted Paper:

Crisscrossing life. (In)visble lines of oil, power, and belonging in Northern Alberta, Canada  


Lena Gross (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper will investigate questions of scale, intimate and alienated space, hidden histories inscribed in the land, and issues of settler colonialism and belonging in Northern Alberta, Canada in the context of the oil sands industry.

Paper long abstract:

Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants of Northern Alberta live next to one of the largest extractive projects of our times, the Canadian oil sands. They have to reconcile living both in an industrial hub area and in the middle of the northern bush, navigate between intimate landscape and changed or lost space, and experience being constrained by denied access and industrial infrastructure, simultaneously being surrounded by seemingly endless boreal forest and wetlands. Northern Alberta is often characterized as (resource) frontier and wilderness, however it has been the homeland for its Indigenous population for thousands of years. Visible lines, such as roads, pipelines, etc, but also invisible ones that separate white from Indigenous space, wilderness from domesticated or industrialized areas, and resource rich land from wasteland crisscross the area, often overlapping, undoing, or enforcing each other.

Using theories of space, power, land(scape), ruination and belonging (such as Basso, Descola, Gupta and Ferguson, Povinelli, Preston, and Stoler), I will argue that industrial infrastructure is, indeed, not simply a disruption, but rather a part of a northern homeland. The different lines crossing the land can be read as inscriptions of history, describing power relations in a settler colonial space, and telling us about belonging and alienation, of petro-capitalism and globalisation.

Panel P027
Lines on the land: mobility and stasis in northern extractive landscapes