Societies (Dec 2014)

Animal Bodies, Colonial Subjects: (Re)Locating Animality in Decolonial Thought

  • Billy-Ray Belcourt

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 5, no. 1
pp. 1 – 11


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In this paper, I argue that animal domestication, speciesism, and other modern human-animal interactions in North America are possible because of and through the erasure of Indigenous bodies and the emptying of Indigenous lands for settler-colonial expansion. That is, we cannot address animal oppression or talk about animal liberation without naming and subsequently dismantling settler colonialism and white supremacy as political machinations that require the simultaneous exploitation and/or erasure of animal and Indigenous bodies. I begin by re-framing animality as a politics of space to suggest that animal bodies are made intelligible in the settler imagination on stolen, colonized, and re-settled Indigenous lands. Thinking through Andrea Smith’s logics of white supremacy, I then re-center anthropocentrism as a racialized and speciesist site of settler coloniality to re-orient decolonial thought toward animality. To critique the ways in which Indigenous bodies and epistemologies are at stake in neoliberal re-figurings of animals as settler citizens, I reject the colonial politics of recognition developed in Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s recent monograph, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford University Press 2011) because it militarizes settler-colonial infrastructures of subjecthood and governmentality. I then propose a decolonized animal ethic that finds legitimacy in Indigenous cosmologies to argue that decolonization can only be reified through a totalizing disruption of those power apparatuses (i.e., settler colonialism, anthropocentrism, white supremacy, and neoliberal pluralism) that lend the settler state sovereignty, normalcy, and futurity insofar as animality is a settler-colonial particularity.