Breaching Barriers: The Fight for Indigenous Participation, Especially Unrecognized Tribes, in Environmental Decision-Making

Humboldt State University hosts Dr. Ryan Emanuel. Friday, April 24 @ 12:30 Pacific/1:30 Mountain/2:30 Central/3:30 Eastern []

Breaching Barriers: The Fight for Indigenous Participation in Environmental Decision-Making

Ryan E. Emanuel, North Carolina State University

Indigenous peoples often face barriers to participation in decision-making that affect their present and ancestral territories. In the United States, the extent to which Indigenous voices are heard, let alone incorporated into decision-making, depends heavily on whether or not Native nations are recognized by the federal government. In eastern North Carolina, several non-federally recognized Native American tribes continue to occupy their ancestral territories, which comprise rivers, floodplains, pocosins (a regionally unique non-riparian wetland), and interstitial uplands. Although water is a ubiquitous part of their territories and has cultural and historical importance, these groups, and the tribal governments that represent them are rarely involved in environmental policy and regulatory affairs. This changed beginning in 2017, when plans to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline prompted eastern North Carolina tribes to demand formal involvement in the environmental review. Their actions, along with responses by governments and corporations, expose barriers to participation in environmental governance faced by Indigenous peoples throughout the United States, but especially barriers faced by non-federally recognized tribes. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was cancelled in 2020, but barriers and lessons remain.  This seminar recounts the story of the pipeline through my lens as an environmental scientist who belongs to one of the affected tribes (Lumbee).  I use the story to examine Indigenous perspectives on environmental justice and tribal consultation policies. I pay special attention to how these policies are construed differently by Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors.  I discuss opportunities to address intertwining environmental and cultural concerns of tribes and Indigenous peoples in North Carolina and elsewhere through community engagement, policy work, and academic research.

Ryan Emanuel is a Professor and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.  Emanuel’s research group studies coupled hydrological and ecological processes in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the North Carolina Coastal Plain, and other places using fieldwork, numerical modeling, and geospatial analysis. He also examines environmental justice through geospatial and statistical analyses, historical research, and community partnerships with Indigenous peoples in North Carolina.  Emanuel is currently a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, where he is writing a book about environmental justice and Indigenous rights in eastern North Carolina.  He is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe and serves on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs’ environmental justice committee.  Emanuel sits on the National Science Foundation’s Committee for Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering.  His work has been recognized with awards from the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the United Tribes of North Carolina, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Emanuel holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in Geology from Duke University.