My first book, Roots of Our Renewal (published in 2015 by the University of Minnesota Press), tells how Cherokee people have developed material, spiritual, and political ties with the lands they have inhabited since removal from their homelands in the southeastern United States. Although the forced relocation of the late 1830s had devastating consequences for Cherokee society, I describe how the reconstituted Cherokee Nation west of the Mississippi eventually cultivated a special connection to the new land—a connection that is to varying degrees reflected in its present-day management of natural resources.
One of my goals for the book was to highlight the interplay between tribal natural resource management programs and governance models. Here, I am particularly interested in Indigenous environmental governance along a continuum of what I call "resource-based" and "relationship-based" practices. The book relates how the Cherokee Nation, while protecting tribal lands, is also incorporating associations with the nonhuman world. This is particularly evident in the work of the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers—an elders’ advisory group that has been instrumental to this goal since their formation in 2008.
More broadly, Roots of Our Renewal offers a constructive, collaborative intervention into Native American and Indigenous studies and political ecology by asserting that the intersection of these fields yields valuable new theoretical and pragmatic approaches to environmental issues in North America. Although recent works have emphasized the need for political ecology to redirect its focus from “Third World” to “First World” settings and circumstances, few have engaged explicitly with Indigenous nations within settler colonial contexts. Consequently, there has been little, if any, engagement by political ecologists with Native American and Indigenous studies and activism that addresses land use and environmental governance. I present an interdisciplinary mapping of the intersections and divergences between Native American governance theory and practice, Indigenous environmental epistemologies, and political ecology, to show how the development of strategically adaptive Indigenous governance structures—in their ability to protect Indigenous homelands and territories, nurture tribal epistemologies, and create new approaches to conservation—is a fundamentally environmental endeavor.
The book draws from my ethnographic observations of Cherokee government–community partnerships since 2004. An overall argument of the book is that Indigenous appropriations of modern state forms can articulate alternative ways of interacting with and “governing” the environment.