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Wastelanding

Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country

2015
Author:

Traci Brynne Voyles

Wastelanding

What is “wasteland,” and who gets to decide?

In Wastelanding Traci Brynne Voyles tells the history of the uranium industry on Navajo land in the U.S. Southwest, asks why certain landscapes and the peoples who inhabit them come to be targeted for disproportionate exposure to environmental harm, and argues that the presence of uranium mining on Diné (Navajo) land constitutes a clear case of environmental racism.

Wastelanding is simply a brilliant book. It is at once a beautifully written, rigorously researched and hauntingly moving account of U.S. settler colonialism’s violent making of racialized bodies and degraded landscapes in the U.S. Southwest. Traci Brynne Voyles draws together a rich set of critical approaches and weaves them into what will be the new bar for environmental politics.

Jake Kosek, University of California, Berkeley

Wastelanding tells the history of the uranium industry on Navajo land in the U.S. Southwest, asking why certain landscapes and the peoples who inhabit them come to be targeted for disproportionate exposure to environmental harm. Uranium mines and mills on the Navajo Nation land have long supplied U.S. nuclear weapons and energy programs. By 1942, mines on the reservation were the main source of uranium for the top-secret Manhattan Project. Today, the Navajo Nation is home to more than a thousand abandoned uranium sites. Radiation-related diseases are endemic, claiming the health and lives of former miners and nonminers alike.

Traci Brynne Voyles argues that the presence of uranium mining on Diné (Navajo) land constitutes a clear case of environmental racism. Looking at discursive constructions of landscapes, she explores how environmental racism develops over time. For Voyles, the “wasteland,” where toxic materials are excavated, exploited, and dumped, is both a racial and a spatial signifier that renders an environment and the bodies that inhabit it pollutable. Because environmental inequality is inherent in the way industrialism operates, the wasteland is the “other” through which modern industrialism is established.

In examining the history of wastelanding in Navajo country, Voyles provides “an environmental justice history” of uranium mining, revealing how just as “civilization” has been defined on and through “savagery,” environmental privilege is produced by portraying other landscapes as marginal, worthless, and pollutable.

Wastelanding

Traci Brynne Voyles is assistant professor of women’s studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Wastelanding

Wastelanding is simply a brilliant book. It is at once a beautifully written, rigorously researched and hauntingly moving account of U.S. settler colonialism’s violent making of racialized bodies and degraded landscapes in the U.S. Southwest. Traci Brynne Voyles draws together a rich set of critical approaches and weaves them into what will be the new bar for environmental politics.

Jake Kosek, University of California, Berkeley

This groundbreaking book examines how race, gender, and nature coproduce one another through ‘wastelanding.’ Voyles’ masterful account explains how colonization, racialization, and resource extraction work together to produce sacrifice zones. She connects history, geography, Native American Studies, ethnic studies, and women and gender studies in a truly unique contribution to the literature of environmental studies and environmental justice.

Julie Sze, University of California, Davis

Wastelanding is meticulously researched, covers extremely complex events that continue to have dire consequences for Native peoples on the Colorado Plateau in a well-organized discourse, and draws on the work of dozens of other historians and professionals as well as a multitude of source documents.

Indian Country Today

Wastelanding

Contents

Preface: In Search of Treasure
Introduction: Sacrificial Land
1. Empty Except for Indians: Early Impressions of Navajo Rangeland
2. Prospecting for Magic Ore in America’s New Frontier
3. Cowboys and Indians in Navajo Country
4. Hot Spots: Justice, Power, and Gender in the Radioactive Present
5. Monsters and Mountains: Competing Geographies of Uranium
6. The Big Hurt: Boom and Bust on Contested Ground
Conclusion. Zombie Mines
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index