Fossil fuel violence and visual practices on Indigenous land: Watching, witnessing and resisting settler-colonial injustices

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While controversial plans for fossil fuel pipeline-building continue across Indigenous lands without consent, how are visual practices – including watching and witnessing – serving as modes of resistance? Drawing on a participant-observation ethnography over the 2018–2021 period with environmental defenders on Coast Salish land, in what is colonially called ‘British Columbia, Canada’, this article offers a lens for exploring visual realms of resistance amid expanding extractivism, police surveillance and reconfigured pipeline opposition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grassroots photography in land-based monitoring, artistic communication in and around courtrooms and other visual practices have been serving as powerful inflection points, countering multiple facets of petro-colonialism – ecological destruction, health threats, and moral and legal transgressions by companies and state institutions. They have also been stimulating new collective actions, some led by Indigenous land protectors extending longstanding traditions of protecting human and non-human life. As ‘more-than-representational’, visual encounters can be active players in constructing knowledge, challenging structures of dispossession, genocide and ecocide, and cultivating understandings of care, sovereignty, climate justice and anti-colonial solidarity from heterogeneous vantage points. Some environmental defenders’ visual creativities invite deep reflection on ontologies rooted in reciprocity and respect that are thoroughly ignored in extractivist settler-colonial cultures. The article situates visual strategies in fraught political contexts of ramped-up police and corporate surveillance targeting Indigenous land protectors and other environmental defenders, underscoring critical concern about superficial optical allyship and hollow gestures by state actors responding to racism and state violence on Indigenous land. It calls for attention to dialectical relationships amongst state visual tactics and counter-hegemonic visual practices in struggles to resist colonial energy regimes and to cultivate efforts towards alternative, less destructive energy futures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102189
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Early online date16 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jul 2021


  • counter-watching
  • decolonising energy
  • environmental injustice
  • Indigenous sovereignty
  • oil pipelines
  • visual politics


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