My work investigates the increasing centrality of extractive activities on 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 a few connected projects related to extractive industries and descendant communities.


First,  I am working on proposed extractive projects along the Pacific Northwest 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. With funding from the Research Excellence Fund, this project, “Global Extractions: the Politics of Heritage in Oregon’s New Extractive Zones” investigates the highly-contested energy development projects in rural Oregon: The Jordan Cove Energy Project and the Pacific Connector Pipeline. The project extends a multi-sited project on energy development and extractive sites and provides a critical case study in the United States to ask: How do frontline communities mediate the development rush and its impacts? How does the development rush shape political and personal responses to energy development in rural Oregon? How do stakeholders draw on the policy process to defend claims or promote business priorities?

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

Second, 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, CNH2-S: Convergence Research: Bridging Knowledge Systems and Expertise for Understanding the Dynamics of a Contaminated Tribal Landscape System ($750,000) was funded by the National Science Foundation.

NSF Logo

Our team looks at convergence research and 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 and partnership with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College.

Third, 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 seriously 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.

Forth, I am on the Steering Committee for a recently funded grant from Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) on Oil Spills Under Ice.  CIGLR is sponsored by the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and funds research connected to safe and healthy Great Lakes communities. Our team, led by Dr. Volodymyr Tarabara (MSU), includes  Dr. Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome (UM) and Dr. Edoardo Sarda (Lake Superior State University). My role on the team is to work with participants to identify policy and stakeholder engagements.

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 Dean of STEM Equity and Associate Professor of Anthropology