Returning to the Natural State: Settler Colonial Conservation in the Arkansas Ozarks

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Environmental conservation is intimately tied to the American national project, and national parks write that national identity on the “dispossessed landscapes” of Native Americans (Spence 1999: 5). The Arkansas Ozarks is the site of a wide array of conservation activities including National and state parks, political advocacy groups, and other forms of distributed environmental practice. In the Ozarks, there are ongoing contestations about how ecosystems are conceptualized, managed, and experienced, however underpinning these processes is the ongoing dispossession characteristic of the settler-colonial. Settler-colonialism is a process that takes place on multiple scales, geographic, social, and temporal, as re-writing the facts of the landscape and its relationship to local identities is an apparently never-ending process (Nichols 2014). Drawing on fieldwork in the Ozarks and media representations, this paper focuses on a form of culturally modified trees (CMT) called signal trees, and I argue that the imagined relationship between these trees and settler-colonial culture highlights the ways that indigeneity (through “playing Indian”) and conservation praxis produce settler-colonial subjectivities. I conclude that the use of cultural-ecological reasoning represents a means through which understandings of settler-colonialism and conservation practice can be used to restore complex historical narratives that can be corrective of the silences and elisions of the settler-colonial narrative of place, which builds upon, while also expanding, STS theory to uncover Native American voices vital to decolonizing conservation and ecosystem sciences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSociety for the Social Studies of Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018


  • Ecological restoration
  • conservation praxis
  • settler colonialism
  • critical regionalism
  • state parks and conservation areas
  • environmentalism
  • cultural conservation


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