Andrew Dilts headshot

World-building on or with the Land? Learning Anticolonial critique from Beavers and their Blockades

Andrew Dilts & Sarah Tyson | Loyola Marymount University, UC Denver

Friday, November 5, 2021 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM



As the Land Back movement gains momentum, making sophisticated and urgent claims that ought not be dismissed, these claims also demand an honest confrontation with how Western political theory conceives of land. As Indigenous thinkers such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) and Glen Sean Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene), have shown in their accounts of grounded normativity, land is not just a location for Indigenous world-building, but also an agentic teacher with political standing. These approaches provide powerful insight into some of the most pressing struggles of our times, including the events of the Standing Rock uprising and the Line 3 protests. Yet dominant traditions in political theory continue to treat land as an inert territory on which politics happens. We examine one theorist in the Western tradition whose iconoclastic approach to political theory has driven much critical work, much of which claims to avoid the pitfalls of abstraction and liberal universalism: Hannah Arendt. We show not only how consequential her understanding of land is to her political theory, but also how it leads her to circumscribe plurality in such a way as to render Indigenous political theory and practice nonsensical, nonpolitical, and therefore a proper target for destruction by political orders that will properly organize the land. Put differently, through attention to land, we show that settler colonialism is central to Arendt’s political theory, and not a mere oversight that can be acknowledged and dismissed. Given Arendt’s influence on critical (and often self-described “left”) approaches to political life, Arendt’s reliance on the ongoing violence of settler-colonialism runs deeper than many theorists have been able to acknowledge. Yet as we explain, critical resources that avoid these pitfalls are both readily available in Indigenous political theory and are directly in service of the broader argument that Land Back, and Indigenous resurgence more generally, present a profound challenge to dominant modes of Western theorizing, even in its critical and heterodox forms.

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