Western modern science, from its very beginnings, operationalizes processes through which some are deemed “non-scientific” as a means of legitimizing and lifting those that are “scientific.” Such logics extend more broadly to Western modernity and through colonial logics: dichotomously framing some as having culture, civilization, knowledge, and rationality, amidst other things, because others have not. While these culturally shape(d) who can and could participate in science, as well as how, it also affects the kinds of sciences practiced.
While the genetic science of race is largely discounted today, Tallbear (2013) reminds us that “gene discourses and scientific practices are entangled in ongoing colonialisms. What ‘they’ [settlers] think and do have always determined how much trouble ‘we’ [Native Americans] have” (p. 9). Despite science’s distancing from race, we continue to see contemporary examples of how science is entangled in practices of defining, categorizing, policing, and perpetuating identities through practices such as direct-to-consumer DNA tests. In turn, science continues to inherit the responsibility to face the ways in which it has had and continues to have a part in defining identity, as well as how DNA continues to be systematically used to (re)direct power and privilege towards some (e.g., white settlers) at the expense of others (e.g., Indigenous peoples). For example, Tallbear (2013) invites us to consider the ways in which genetics is leveraged in the U.S. political system through property rights:
Property rights accorded to whiteness are protected by the U.S. legal system. One of those rights is control of the legal meanings of group identities. Whites have legally defined who counts as black or Indian. This is an important right, for the racialization and subordination of those black and red “others” has been necessary to solidify the exclusive parameters of whiteness. (TallBear, 2013, p. 136)
This difference has become so normalized and normative that white settlers can unironically approach the question of difference vis-à-vis a stance of “helping” Indigenous peoples without recognizing their own complicity: such as the colonial impulse to improve or introduce new technologies, framing traditional ways-of-knowing and -being as backwards. One such dubiously helpful techno-scientific extension is the genetic theory of the mitochondrial Eve, which would have us all originate from Africa, and the notion that if we could come to realize that we were all connected that racism would end: racism is incompatible with knowledge of genetics.
Challenging the notion that scientific knowledge is enough for change to occur, Tallbear (2013) reminds us that “racism does not need to be scientifically ‘correct’ to thrive. … [It is an] ahistorical … hope that scientific knowledge can make the crucial intervention of halting centuries of race oppression” (p. 149). As Tallbear (2013) suggests, it may not even be enough to halt racist and oppressive myths proffered by the same scientists who offer “we are all African” as corrective: genetic research on Indigenous peoples continues under the guise of “preserving” the DNA of “vanishing” Indigenous peoples. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to fully unpack why this is problematic (e.g., not acknowledging the colonial complicities that accompany the production of the image of Indigenous peoples as vanishing, either culturally or physically), we are wary of what calls to shared identities make visible and what they mask in terms of colonial logics and practices.
In turn, while we agree that we are all affected by and need to respond to the Anthropocene, we wish to attend to what the illumination of shared culpability serves to conceal. Since the 1950s, the period in which the Anthropocene is often stated to have begun, “carbon dioxide levels, mass extinctions, and the widespread use of petrochemicals, … and radioactivity left from the detonation of atomic bombs” (Davis & Todd, pp. 762–763) have been (re)shaping the globe. However, while we are all are impacted by and inherit the Anthropocene, it is irresponsible to frame the issue as one that impels and affects us all equally, as this serves to “mask power with innocence” (McKinley, 2001). The Anthropocene does not and cannot account for the ways that the responsibility for this current moment are unevenly distributed or how it unevenly impacts diverse groups: the Global South, endangered animals and species, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized urban and rural folk of colour, amidst others. Rather, not unlike Tallbear’s (2013) lines of questioning of colonial complicities of genetic science, Tuck and Yang (2012) invite us to consider such actions as settler moves to innocence:
Settler moves to innocence are those strategies or positionings that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege, without having to change much at all. (p. 10)
Here particularly, the settler move to innocence is one of equivocation. Through equivocation, “or calling everything by the same name” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 17), the intent is to signal the ways in which we are all affected and must respond to this shared catastrophe. While not wholly untrue, equivocation serves to mask the ways in which settlers have conveniently ignored and have actively participated in Anthropocenes which precede and come to constitute the present one. For example, the “Orbis spike” of 1610 (Lewis & Maslin, 2015) in which atmospheric CO2 levels drastically dropped as a result of the genocide of Indigenous peoples, having planetary consequences.
Further, Tallbear (2013) helps us to think about the ways in which colonial logics fetishize origins (e.g., the Anthropocene). Complicating the notion that Indigenous identity originates in DNA, Tallbear (2013) offers an Indigenous conception of being that is relational. Not only is such a means of honouring longstanding and ongoing Indigenous philosophies, but it is also a means of calling into question and understanding the ecology of settler colonial thought-practices which constitute problematic extractivist genetic practices through which Indigenous peoples continue to be the object of science. In turn, we believe that choosing to observe this Anthropocene (as the Anthropocene) has much to do with how the world’s settlers have displaced and destroyed through extractivism (i.e., the production of “value” through ever accelerating extraction of resources).Footnote 2
After Davis and Todd (2016), we want to take seriously the notion that “the Anthropocene betrays itself in its name: in its reassertion of universality, it implicitly aligns itself with the colonial era” (Davis & Todd, 2016, p. 763). However, rather than offer a corrective identifying (beyond the plural form: Anthropocenes), we turn to more relational forms of meaning-making in response to the ways in which a meaning, like an identity, often works to reassert and reproduce settler colonial ways-of-knowing and -being. Specifically, we take seriously Tallbear’s (2013) call to not make Indigenous peoples the object of study when discussing the manifestations of settler colonialism in science but rather invert the gaze back onto science itself. Further, an important move in not offering a corrective is that, as Plains Cree scholar Cash Ahenakew (2017) states, “the work of decolonization is not about what we do not imagine, but what we cannot imagine from our Western ways of knowing” (p. 88). We, as science educators, may need to sit with and in the difficult question of why we cannot or have not been able to respond to the Anthropocene(s). In turn, we recognize the need for new ways to (re)open what we can even imagine within science education as we respond to Anthropocenes. As Ahenakew states, “using metaphor and poetry to disrupt sense-making and prompt sense-sensing in the experience of readers” (2016, p. 337) because “modern academic literacies and technologies can make what has been made invisible by colonialism visibly absent, but they cannot make it present” (2017, p. 89). Accordingly, not only do we avoid offering the meaning because it risks reasserting and reproducing settler colonial ways-of-knowing and -being, but also because it may not be heard: science education has had and continues to have an active part in rendering unintelligible Indigenous ways-of-knowing and -being. Nonetheless, in endnotes, we offer a meaning as a means of engaging the possibilities that the aesthetic provocations below make possible.
Below, you will find a series of image-textsFootnote 3 that are intended to invite an unpacking and undermining of the problematic ways in which Indigeneity, settler colonialism, science education, and the Anthropocene(s) intersect and coalesce (e.g., producing non-Western epistemologies and ontologies as lesser-than). Inspired by diverse influences such as Indigenous storywork (e.g., Archibald, 2008), political cartoons, and meme culture we wish to produce a field of meaning-making that implicates the reader within the question of the Anthropocene(s) in the every day as well as its settler colonial and neo-colonial implications.