Transgressions of the man on the moon: climate change, Indigenous expertise, and the posthumanist ethics of place and space
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- Watson, A. & Huntington, O. GeoJournal (2014) 79: 721. doi:10.1007/s10708-014-9547-9
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Indigenous peoples have been enrolled in climate change research for decades, participating in data-gathering, as writing collaborators, and serving as the symbolic “canary in the coal mine” for public outreach and policy-making. They have indeed experienced some of the most rapid environmental changes, but rather than emphasize their vulnerabilities, we argue their expertise is narrowly understood in formulating knowledge; the research on climate change has a limited understanding of what it might mean to be inter- or trans-disciplinary because research is formulated exclusively through the assumptions of Enlightenment thought, without sufficiently engaging non-Western subjectivities. Qualitative social sciences and “Indigenous methodologies” can be used to better achieve trans-disciplinarity; in this article we re-tell a story told by Native elders from tribes across Alaska about the “man on the moon.” While literally referring to the US moon landing, elders invoke this story when addressing climate change: it teaches the ethics of the human-nature relationship, developed from a “more-than-human” (or “posthuman”) philosophy. Our data comes from participant-observation and oral history; we draw upon poststructuralist theory, and frame our analysis through the literatures of critical geography, science studies, and American Indian studies. To ensure that Indigenous peoples are not used as props in Western policy agendas, researchers must engage with non-Enlightenment intellectual traditions. More than being a source of data or a symbol of humanity’s ruin, Indigenous wisdom can productively inform sustainable policy agendas to adapt to climate change. What can be learned, for example, is a more-than-human ethics of place and space.