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Rethinking Global Climate Politics: Integral Territorial Ontologies, Ancestral Knowledges, and the Defense of Life in Amazonian Indigenous Climate Initiatives


Amazonia is fundamental for climate change action: it stores an important amount of the planet’s carbon emissions, while also emitting carbon due to deforestation. With higher proportions of primary forest cover, and lower rates of deforestation, Indigenous territories are crucial for climate change mitigation. Yet, the extractive development models of Amazonian countries are threatening the lives and lifeways of Indigenous peoples.

This dissertation demonstrates how climate change has become a politically significant object for Amazonian Indigenous organizations. Analyses of Indigenous-led transnational—and plurinational—climate strategies are scarce in the literature. I illustrate how Indigenous climate initiatives in Amazonia incorporate ontological and territorial politics, ancestral knowledges (AK) and the agency of more-than-human beings beyond local scales to global climate politics. To do so, I draw from critical and digital geography, science and technology studies, decolonial and Indigenous studies. My methodology integrates a political ecology of scale approach—i.e., four scales of Indigenous political organization—and Indigenous methods—e.g., open-ended interviews and sharing circles. Fourteen months of fieldwork further involved volunteering with the Coordinator of Indigenous Organization of the Amazon Basin (COICA) and the OPIAC School of Political Training in Colombia.

I argue that Amazonian Indigenous climate initiatives are founded on what I call integral territorial ontologies—or conceptions of territories as indivisible entities or lifeworlds that encompass multiple relationships not only between humans and other living beings, but also among more-than-human beings.

This dissertation is organized into three articles. In Article I, I analyze COICA’s Amazon Indigenous Initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation (RIA) and argue that RIA is founded on integral territorial ontologies and incorporates more-than-human agency. As such, RIA is tied to territorial defense and challenges understandings of forest/territorial vitality and ordering, as well as the processes of that facilitate the commodification of nature. Article II examines how, through boundary-work—i.e., drawing boundaries around AK—, Indigenous leaders and climate initiatives simultaneously reinforce and move beyond binaries like traditional/modern, local/global, while also scaling-up territorial knowledges. RIA and the OPIAC School take AK beyond the local scale to global climate politics, while also upholding their inextricable link to territories as lifeworlds. In Article III, I argue that forest monitoring programs and technologies co-produce forms of climate and territorial politics in Amazonia. Indigenous organizations imagine and enact territorial defense and autonomy—e.g., incorporating the agency of more-than-human beings in digital tools for territorial planning. But the programs also reinforce a politics of open-access information, strict territorial boundaries, and exclusive rights—that can threaten Indigenous autonomy.

In conclusion, this dissertation calls into question what global environmental politics are, and who participates in them. I demonstrate how the central role of Indigenous peoples in global climate politics becomes essential to their purposes of defending Amazonian territories and life itself. Given the urgent and multidimensional threats of climate change, this research begins to shed light on how strategies that emerge from historically marginalized peoples and their lifeways can expand our horizon of imaginable solutions.

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