Decolonial Ecologies: Introduction



Welcome to the 35th issue of The Funambulist (May-June 2021) Decolonial Ecologies.

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Entre le sol et la cime. An installation by Jean-Yves Phuong, Romain Rampillon et Feda Wardak in the Clichy-sous-Bois forest, from where the 2005 banlieues revolt started. / Photo by Feda Wardak (2020).

Welcome to the 35th issue of The Funambulist. As it has happened a few times in the past, this new issue is engaged in a productive dialogue with a previous one. In our 14th issue entitled Toxic Atmospheres that was published in November 2017, we indeed tried to read colonial violence on bodies through three atmospheric concepts, which we endeavor to replace here. The first one was Frantz Fanon’s “breathing combat”:

“There is not occupation of territory, on the one hand, and independence of persons on the other. It is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsation that are contested, disfigured, in the hope of a final destruction. Under these conditions, the individual’s breathing is an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing.” (A Dying Colonialism, 1959).

The second was Peter Sloterdijk’s ontological claim that with the development of chemical warfare, we went from embodying simple “beings” to “beings-in-the-breathable” (Terror in the Air, 2009). While Sloterdijk assumes a universal relationship to the breathable, Christina Sharpe articulates this condition through the violence of global anti-Blackness, the third concept which we drew from. She names the structures that racialize Black people as “the weather,” emphasizing their ubiquitous and overwhelming atmospheric characteristics: “In my text, the weather is the totality of our environments; the weather is the total climate; and the climate is antiblack” (In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, 2016). We have had the great privilege to talk with her and feature the conversation in that past issue.

With this conceptual toolbox made available, the past issue on “Toxic Atmospheres” had described chemical warfare through the use of Agent Orange in Việt Nam by the U.S. military (Ylan Vo), the nuclear testings in colonized Algerian Sahara by France (Samia Henni), the bridges that could be drawn between the nuclear crisis of Fukushima with the conditions of Indigenous Ryukyus in Okinawa (Lisa Torio), the frequent chemical alteration of France’s banlieues’ atmosphere through police tear gas (Dariouche Tehrani), the methane cloud created by the U.S. oil & gas industry on stolen lands (Sonia Grant), the management of waste in Lebanon (Jessika Khazrik), or the neocolonial designations of toxicity in Madagascar’s medicinal plants (Chanelle Adams).

Three and a half years have passed since the publication of that issue, and with this new issue, we seek to respond to our own self-critiques of Toxic Atmospheres. In fact, that issue embraced a strong anthropocentric approach to toxicity, thus ignoring the many other dimensions of colonial ecocides, in particular the violence imposed onto non-human living beings. Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, that 14th issue did not go further than an examination of colonial atmospheric violence. This present issue, on the contrary, attempts the difficult exercise of envisioning decolonization. We understand the term of decolonization literally here: whether it takes the discrete form of what Sharpe calls “micro-climate” in opposition to this anti-Black “weather,” or the full revolutionary dimension of Fanon’s “breathing combat”.

Given how the verb “decolonizing” has been co-opted to mean liberal reform of colonial institutions (“decolonizing museums,” “decolonizing universities”… soon enough we’ll get to “decolonize the police!”), it is crucial for us to remember Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s seminal essay: “Decolonization is not a metaphor” (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2012). When we use the term “decolonial,” we therefore refer to the project of reclaiming Indigenous sovereignty on the lands that colonizers stole, and on which it imposed various regimes of extractivism as well as individualized and speculative property. This decolonial project is almost never a project of re-establishing pre-colonial conditions of the land; just like an ecosystem never “goes back” to its “original” state after being subjected to toxicity. Instead, it adapts to its present conditions and builds from it, as long as the sources of toxins have been dismantled. However, this necessity to build on the ruins of colonialism should be read within the vast temporal scale of Indigenous caretaking and kinship practices with the land, as well as the millions of years of ecosystem existence. In light of this, the two to five centuries of European colonialism might start to appear as a small parenthesis that should not constitute the alpha and omega of the land and its living beings’ identity. Hopefully, such an affirmation can be read as a promise of decolonial futures, rather than as a minimization of colonial violence.

The essays presented in this issue envision decolonial ecologies at different scales. The interview with Martiniquean environmental engineer Malcom Ferdinand that follows this page presents a productive framework associating the two concepts — “decolonial” and “ecologies” — especially when considered through the Carribean geography. This issue’s title indicates our intention to resonate with his writings in his 2019 book Une écologie décoloniale. At the other end of the issue, members of the Red Nation talk to us about the historic treatise they offer to the people of Turtle Island (and beyond): the Red Deal. Inspired by an insufficiently potent “Green New Deal’’ envisioned by U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Red Deal brings to the table the impossibility of addressing deadly climate change without the abolition of settler colonialism and capitalism. As they write and reiterate in our conversation, there is no other option than “decolonization or extinction.” South to the settler colonial border, Meztli Yoalli Rodríguez Aguilera describes Indigenous and Afro Mexican relations to the lagoons of Oaxaca, threatened by environmental racism. Further south on the continent, Paulo Tavares describes the history of Indigenous “forest alliances” that counter the Brazilian state and multinational companies’ extractivist predation on the Amazon forest. His descriptions resonate with those of Sammy Baloji, on the other side of the Atlantic, where the mines of the Congo perpetuate the colonial spoliation at the heart of the African continent. CHamoru researcher Kiara Quichocho and Hawai’i-born geographer Laurel Mei-Singh both bring Oceanian geographies to these dialogues through describing the impact of the U.S. military occupation respectively on Guåhan (Guam) and O’ahu in Hawai’i, discussing as well the Indigenous stewardship of these lands. Finally, Céline Chuang celebrates the interconnections that exist and the solidarities to be built between the “diasporic descendents of the displaced” and the Indigenous struggle for sovereign stewardship of their lands.

Before concluding, I would like to pay homage to the Martiniquean and Guadeloupean activists who are currently fighting to obtain reparations for the decades of deadly chlordecone insecticide use in the banana plantations of French-occupied Carribean islands, which intoxicated over 90% of the population of both countries, as shown in Jessica Oublié’s graphic novel featured in the next pages. Their combat against French colonial toxicity rejoins the one led by the Indigenous peoples of Ma’ohi Nui (the expansive group of Oceanic archipelagos known under the colonial name of “French Polynesia”), who are suing the French state in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity after 30 years of nuclear test bombings in the atoll of Mururoa (1966-1996; during the six years that preceded these bombings, they were undertaken in the Algerian Sahara).

May the struggles described in these pages produce evidence to those who would not already be convinced — to paraphrase Brazilian environmentalist Chico Mendes — that ecology without decolonization is just gardening. Have a wonderful read! ■