Kyle Powys Whyte

Michigan State University

“Indigenizing the Time, Memory and History of Climate Change”   

Anthropocene and climate change discourses often reflect assumptions about time, memory and history that privilege the last few hundred years of global colonial, capitalist and industrial expansion. Such temporalities (time, memory, history) parallel temporalities of U.S. and Canadian settler colonialism that erase vastly longer Indigenous peoples’ own conceptions of time, memory and history in North America. Indigenizing temporalities of climate change involves at least two movements. First, the current climate change ordeal fits within a larger, cyclical history, of Indigenous peoples adapting to environmental change – only now due to U.S. and Canadian colonialism. Indigenous knowledges refer to the knowledge systems developed explicitly through experiences of adapting to environmental change over millennia. Second, within the highly disruptive colonial, capitalist and industrial period, highly concentrated forms of domination engendered colonial ecologies. Colonial ecologies present immediate harms to Indigenous peoples, such as pollution or geographic removal, but also make way for industrial and capitalist expansion over Indigenous territories. Industrial and capitalist expansion drives today’s anthropogenic climate change ordeal, which Indigenous peoples will suffer through more than other populations, given they are on the front lines of many climate change impacts. Indigenizing climate change involves how expanding the historical perspective creates different interpretations of the highly disruptive colonial period and its relationship to anthropogenic climate change today. Indigenous peoples’ temporalities of climate change do not succumb to certain debates, such as whether or not to let certain species go extinct, and are rigorously structural in their approach to climate justice given Indigenous experiences with structures of colonial domination as both drivers of carbon-intensive economies and causes of heightened vulnerability. Indigenous temporalities are at once dystopian yet liberatory, giving rise to possibilities that are typically not envisioned in other global climate change discourses.

Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte holds the Timnick Chair in the Humanities at Michigan State University. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, a faculty member of the Environmental Philosophy & Ethics graduate concentration, and a faculty affiliate of the American Indian Studies and Environmental Science & Policy programs. His primary research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and climate science organizations. This research has recently extended to cover issues related to food sovereignty and justice. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. His articles have appeared in journals such as Climatic Change, Sustainability Science, Environmental Justice, Hypatia, Ecological Processes, Synthese, Human Ecology, Journal of Global Ethics, American Journal of Bioethics, Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics, Ethics, Policy & Environment, and Ethics & the Environment. Kyle’s work has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Climate Science Center, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center, Mellon Foundation, Sustainable Michigan Endowed Program and Spencer Foundation. He serves on the U.S. Department of Interior’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science and the Board of Directors of the National Indian Youth Council. He is involved in the Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, Sustainable Development Institute of the College of Menominee Nation, Tribal Climate Camp, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Humanities for the Environment, and the Consortium for Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science. He is a recipient of the 2015 Bunyan Bryan Award for Academic Excellence given by Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.