Lessons From The Klamath River


The paper ‘Decolonizing Environmental Justice: Lessons From The Klamath River’ was delivered via pre-recorded video by Dr Kari Marie Norgaard (University of Oregon) as part of SEI’s Environmental Justice 2017 Conference.


Environmental justice is commonly understood as emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States as pioneering scholar-activists and legal voices such as Dr. Robert Bullard, Benjamin Chavez, Charles Lee and Luke Cole began identifying and working with communities of color facing disproportionate siting of toxic facilities, and highway redevelopment projects. Early legal strategies and communities’ conceptions of desired outcomes reflected a civil rights discourse that emphasized unequal burdens of environmental harm such as toxins on the one hand, and disproportionate access to environmental goods such as clean air and water on the other. While these early self-identified environmental justice efforts included important indigenous activists, it has taken longer for the centuries long fact of indigenous resistance to colonialism to be understood as environmental justice struggles,” and longer still for indigenous values, worldviews or goals to be reflected in broader conceptions of environmental justice.

This paper details how the Karuk Tribe’s struggles along the Klamath river in Northern California emphasizes relationally, kinscentricty, responsibility, and the notion of nature as animate. Rather than language about equality or “rights” to clean water or air, Karuk visions are framed as caretaking responsibilities that are disrupted by natural resource policies of the settler-colonial state. Nature in the form of salmon or acorn trees is more than a platform for human action, but a treasured relative. We can understand this reframing process as the decolonizing of the environmental justice movement.


Kari Marie Norgaard (B.S. Biology Humboldt State University 1992, M.A. Sociology Washington State University 1994, PhD Sociology, University of Oregon 2003) is Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at University of Oregon. Over the past fifteen years, Dr. Norgaard has published and taught in the areas of environmental sociology, gender and environment, race and environment, climate change, sociology of culture, social movements and sociology of emotions. She currently has two active areas of research 1) work on the social organization of denial (especially regarding climate change), and 2) environmental justice work with Native American Tribes on the Klamath River.

This event was held at The University of Sydney on 6 – 8 November, 2017 .

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