Andrew Curley

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9525

Approve Date

October 11, 2017

Project Title

Curley, Dr. Andrew P., U. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC - To aid research on 'The End of Navajo Coal'

Arizona’s central utility, the Salt River Project, announced in early 2017 that it would close the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station (NGS) at the end of its 50-year contract in 2019. NGS is the region’s largest and most polluting power plant. Although this closure is the result of a larger decline in the U.S. coal industry, it also reveals deeply embedded structures and limitations of tribal sovereignty that are the legacies of settler-colonialism on indigenous peoples. Returning to my 2012 — 2014 ethnographic fieldwork among coal workers in the heart of the Navajo coal industry, this project proposes to document a profound crisis facing the largest tribe in the U.S. as it grapples with the consequence of the plant’s end. Specifically, I ask, ‘How is the looming closure of the Navajo Generating Station changing the ways in which Navajo coal workers, tribal officials, and community members think about work, livelihood, and development within the reservation and what does this say about larger notions of tribal sovereignty?’ Navajo coal workers have labored in the industry for decades and have defined themselves in their work. This research builds on my dissertation, ‘t’aa hwo aji’ t’eego: sovereignty, livelihood, and challenging coal in the Navajo Nation,’ which highlights the moral economy of the Navajo coal worker as central to how coal workers express their indigenousness at the region’s most important coal mine. Ultimately, this project will contribute to critical indigenous studies, indigenous geographies, and the anthropology of tribal sovereignty.


Curley, Andrew. 2023. Carbon Sovereignty: Coal, Development, and Energy Transition in the Navajo Nation. The University of Arizona Press.