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Abstract

This dissertation is a study of controversial oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico. In recent years, fracking has pulled development closer to Chaco Canyon, where a national park currently protects a place of great cultural and spiritual importance for Diné and Pueblo peoples. Drawing on two years of archival and ethnographic research with Diné communities living in a jurisdictionally complex space just east of the Navajo Reservation and in the heart of the fracking boom, I trace the managerial practices that enable extraction and attend to the lived effects of fracking for Diné people. I illustrate how Diné land relations are consistently sidelined in the process of federal land management, and I explore tactics that my Diné interlocutors employ to keep their jurisdictional claims alive. My ethnography attends to the everyday labor of Diné citizens, environmentalists, and government agencies as they work out the scale and scope of authority across the region’s “checkerboard” landscape. I argue that settler jurisdiction sustains a profoundly confusing organization of bureaucratic knowledge in which it is immensely difficult to account for the production of environmental harms as they occur. I diagnose a jurisdictional imaginary that pervades the American settler colonial present and that has significant consequences for Indigenous land relations and global ecologies. This imaginary, which I call “patchwork”, comprises a set of spatial, affective, and epistemic practices through which land is imagined and managed as resource and property. Thematizing a distinctly settler colonial formation, the concept of patchwork builds on the perspectives of Diné colleagues in their negotiations about extraction with surrounding federal and State jurisdictions. These other governing powers exercise a totalizing yet fragmented authority over Diné lands and lives but do so in terms that are at best irrelevant to, and at worst at odds with, Diné survival. Focusing on the routine practices through which settler power is reproduced in the regulation of extraction, this work contributes a novel approach to the study of environmental injustices in Indigenous communities. My ethnography attends to competing jurisdictional claims and conflicts over land-use and tenure; infrastructural disparities and crises of maintenance across the region’s checkerboard; and atmospheric disturbances brought on by extraction. In doing so, I track two significant effects of patchwork. The first is in how land’s dual fragmentation - into property on the one hand, and into resource categories on the other - produces a form of environmental governance that is itself highly fractured. This fragmentation exemplifies a system of rule in which the cumulative effects of extraction often go overlooked by the jurisdictions that exist to manage them. Secondly, patchwork diffuses throughout settler governance structures an ontology of land that is incommensurable with Diné analytics. A patchwork understanding of land informs not only how settler institutions manage ecologies, but also how they imagine concepts of responsibility, reciprocity, and relationality. In reproducing the very normative order it claims, I argue that patchwork disguises the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous lands as an ordinary process of environmental regulation.

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