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Accepted Contribution:

A crack in white geology – on onto-epistemological collaborations at the face of permafrost thaw  
Hanna Oosterveen (The University of Manchester)

Short abstract:

Permafrost thaw, in the context of decades of Indigenous activism, causes tremors in geoscience. Rather than an arbiter of knowledge about the nature of 'Earth', geoscience is becoming a resource for local knowledge holders, transforming conceptions of the 'Earth' in all directions.

Long abstract:

Throughout the Arctic, permafrost is thawing faster than ever, highlighting fissures in the hegemony geoscience. Geologists define permafrost as ground that has remained below freezing for at least two consecutive years, projecting assumptions about its permanence and frozenness even as it thaws at unprecedented rates. Focusing on the Canadian Arctic, a stable conception of permafrost justified infrastructure development and concomitant colonisation across the region, demonstrating geoscience and colonialism’s entwined relationship. Today, those who live in the Canadian Arctic, three-quarters of whom are Indigenous, face adaptation challenges as the permafrost underlying their communities thaws. Following decades of Indigenous activism, adaptation efforts in Indigenous communities in the Canadian Arctic are often community-driven. Therefore, rather than an unquestionable authority governing climate monitoring and adaptation, geoscience is increasingly a resource Indigenous communities draw on, complementing local knowledge. Meanwhile, throughout the Arctic, geologists prospect for mineral resources that permafrost thaw renders more accessible, threatening socially vital ecosystems. Considering the different ecologies created depending on the positionality of geoscience, How are permafrost thaw dynamics and geoscience’s positionality related, and how does one affect the other? In collaboration with the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation, I look into how anthropogenic climate change and geoscience appear from the perspective of local knowledge holders in Old Crow, Yukon, calling attention to the possibility and impossibility of onto-epistemological with non-local-geologists. Permafrost thaw challenges geoscience’s assumptions of inertia but opens new frontiers of colonial extraction, requiring ethnographic attention aligned with calls from Indigenous activists to contribute to repositioning geoscience towards ecological justice.

Combined Format Open Panel P380
Knowledges of ecology and ecologies of knowledge
  Session 2 Friday 19 July, 2024, -