Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationCornell U.
Grant numberGr. 9929
Approve DateOctober 25, 2019
Project TitleSeraphin, Bruno (Cornell U.) "Indigenous Karuk and Settler Colonial State Fire Politics and Practices in Northern California"
BRUNO SERAPHIN, then a graduate student at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, was awarded a grant in October 2019 to aid research on “Indigenous Karuk and Settler Colonial State Fire Politics and Practices in Northern California,” supervised by Dr. Paul Nasasdy. This multimodal research focuses on the politics of wildfire, prescribed burning, and environmental visual media in northern California. It brings sociocultural, intersectional, critical security, and Indigenous studies theories of crisis to bear on exigent problems of climate (in)justice. Partnering with the Karuk Tribe, fieldwork entailed participant observation during prescribed burns, wildfires, and disaster relief, interviews with Karuk fire practitioners and a range of fire experts, and participatory filmmaking highlighting the revitalization of Karuk cultural burning. Karuk people work not only for ‘land back’ but ‘fire back”the resurgence of their ancestral right and responsibility to manage and care for their lands with intentionally-set fires, as they have done since time immemorial. Responding to both climate risk and ongoing settler colonialism, Karuk fire practitioners assert sovereignty while navigating between, on one side, a centralized firefighting apparatus premised on the settler state’s entitlement to environmental authority, and on the other side, a ‘traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) rush,’ a broad based eco-colonial impulse to commodify Indigenous knowledge. Examining grassroots mobilizations post-wildfire disaster, the ethnography attests that environmental catastrophes are sites of ambivalent social potentiality: for terror by proto-ecofascist militias as well as for mutual aid and unlikely alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.