Righting Names

The Importance of Native American Philosophies of Naming for Environmental Justice

Rebekah Sinclair

Abstract

Controlling the names of places, environments, and species is one way in which settler colonial ontologies delimit the intelligibility of ecological relations, Indigenous peoples, and environmental injustices. To counter this, this article amplifies the voices of Native American scholars and foregrounds a philosophical account of Indigenous naming. First, I explore some central characteristics of Indigenous ontology, epistemic virtue, and ethical responsibility, setting the stage for how Native naming draws these elements together into a complete, robust philosophy. Then I point toward leading but contingent principles of Native naming, foregrounding how Native names emerge from and create communities by situating (rather than individuating) the beings that they name within kinship structures, including human and nonhuman agents. Finally, I outline why and how Indigenous names and the knowledges they contain are crucial for both resisting settler violence and achieving environmental justice, not only for Native Americans, but for their entire animate communities.

Keywords: environmental justice; epistemology; ethics; Indigenous philosophy; ontology

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3167/ares.2018.090107

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