My most recent work investigates the increasing centrality of extractive activities on Indigenous heritage landscapes (think about proposed dredging near the Great Barrier Reef or proposed unconventional oil and gas development in Chaco Canyon).


Anthropologists (and others) are increasingly following the culture of industry and the movement of capital, resources, and ideologies across time and space.  My work seeks to make sense of these changes. I ask: What work does heritage do? Where does heritage intersect with material effects, or pressing environmental and social concerns? Recently, I have pursued investigating how these processes are transforming and transformed by policy. This line of investigation was sparked by teaching (and colleagues) in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at MTU.

Fieldwork in Prince William Sound, 2005

I have three emerging projects related to extractive industries and Indigenous territories.  First, I am working with researchers at MTU on a multi-year, interdisciplinary project  that seeks to assess and address community exposures to environmental contaminants.  Our project is framed to look at issues related to legacy and atmospheric toxic contaminants and how these translate into impacts on socio-cultural and health impacts on communities in the Lake Superior region.  This project is in collaboration with the Indigenous community as partners and collaborators.

Second, I am investigating the discourses of heritage in the ‘Copper Country.’ This project, “Landscapes of Extraction: Investigating Transformations along the Lake Superior Basin” seeks to follow how particular notions of heritage, largely celebratory and nostalgic visions of the “story of copper” work to suppress other histories. My project seeks to take serious the multiple and contested histories of the region that also include socio-economic collapse, land dispossession and loss.  I argue that heritage discourses work in ways that accumulate distortions that directly affect the way the region is discussed and protected.  My research seeks to ‘true the text’ and locate the human, environmental, social, and political costs of not grappling with the histories of the region.


Third, I am working on two extractive areas- the Great Bear Rainforest and Grand Canyon on areas with proposed or ongoing extractive projects to investigate how these activities impact communities.  This work stems from a multi-year ethnographic project in Western Australia that investigated and traced the boom/bust transformations and impacts of resource frontiers on Aboriginal Country.

“Little Girl and Blue Door.” Altai Mountains, Mongolia 2006

My work is informed by my experiences as an archaeologist (landscape and archaeological surveys), international heritage expert (UNESCO), and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation (NAGPRA) Coordinator for a small National Park in Nebraska. I have worked all over the globe: These experiences provide a unique vantage into the vast scope of cultural and environmental heritage.

Prince William Sound, 2005 (Photo: C. Merrell)

My work would not be possible without the permission and generosity of those who invited me onto their traditional territories, lands, and/or Country.

“Brown Bear and Plane.” Katmai National Park, 2003 (Photo by: Dr. S. Rowher)



Associate Professor of Anthropology, Michigan Technological University