Between Drought and Disparity: American Indian Farmers, Resource Bureaucracy, and Climate Vulnerability in the Southern Plains
Based on research conducted with American Indian farmers and ranchers in southwestern Oklahoma, this paper interrogates how agricultural resource bureaucracies differentially constrain or enable resilience to climate variability. We demonstrate that while extreme weather events have been a persistent impediment to agriculture in the region, for American Indian farmers and ranchers, such efforts have been equally impeded by a history of negative interaction with opaque and frequently indifferent systems of overlapping, yet disjunctive, bureaucracy. Thus we are concerned with precisely how structural vulnerability and climate vulnerability are reproduced in tandem and how such structural constraints have circumscribed nascent food sovereignty efforts. Drawing on our research into how farmers in southwest Oklahoma understand the interaction between the impacts—potential and/or experienced—of climate change and different relationships to agriculture and nature, we demonstrate how demoralization and social defeat emerge from the failures of local resource bureaucracies. Those agencies have, ironically, contributed to the vulnerability of the very population they have been established to serve. What we will show is that, caught between the opacity and bureaucratic posturing of two federal resource agencies, many American Indian landowners simply give up.
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