Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


IAS Conference: Indigenous Ecologies and Environmental Crisis

08 November 2023–09 November 2023, 10:00 am–6:00 pm

Night time, above the trees at the bottom of the image the sky with a myriad of stars

This conference invites participants to reflect about the opportunities Indigenous ecologies offer in response to overlapping environmental, economic, political and social crises.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students






Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Common Ground
Ground floor, Wilkins building
UCL, Gower Street, London
United Kingdom

The value of Indigenous knowledges in overcoming failing institutional responses to global crises is increasingly being recognised. This is particularly relevant in times of unprecedented global transformation, referred to by some as the Anthropocene.

This conference invites participants to reflect about the opportunities Indigenous ecologies offer in response to overlapping environmental, economic, political and social crises. We will explore case studies globally where Indigenous knowledges have been incorporated into policymaking processes discussing the challenges and opportunities those at the forefront of these processes have experienced. We will also look at the ways in which contested understandings of the ‘environment’, ‘ecology’ and the ‘natural world’ have generated powerful social conflicts and histories of struggle for Indigenous peoples across time and place.

We also encourage attendees to engage in conversations about the challenges of translating - even with the best intentions - Indigenous ecological knowledges into modern state apparatuses and formal institutions.

This conference aims to bring interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on the topic of Indigenous ecologies in the context of environmental crisis, and to develop comparative perspectives on debates in different regions of the world. The two days will be organised around four thematic sections: sovereignty, solidarity, language, and gender. Each one of these themes will be built around a case study drawn from work on the Americas, followed by break-out discussion groups to explore parallels and differences to be found in other regions of the world.


Wednesday 8 November

10.00 am          Welcome and Introduction

10.15 am          Panel 1: Indigenous Sovereignties, States and Laws
                         Case study: Adriana Suárez Delucchi (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) – ‘Reflections on Buen vivir and Plurinationality in the Chilean Constitutional Process’.
                         Commentary: Salvador Millaleo (Universidad de Chile)
                         Chair: Jamille Pinheiro Dias (University of London)

This theme will centre around the possibilities and challenges for an Indigenous sovereignty project within the confines of the State. How can such a project survive / co-exist within the borders of Nation-States where usually one State equals one Nation?

What are the barriers Indigenous political leaders and their allies have encountered when translating their knowledge and cosmologies into more restricted national legal frameworks? One key question we want to explore is whether the idea of Plurinationality is possible or achievable within State constraints. In contexts where the project has been seen as desirable, what challenges has it encountered and what strategies have been used to overcome them? We are interested in exploring the relationship between the idea of a Plurinational State and the right to self-determination. Are there other avenues (institutional or otherwise) for achieving this collective right?

Our discussions will build on the recent controversies over the ongoing Chilean Constitutional process where the idea of Plurinationality has been contentious. In light of this case study, we welcome reflections on alternatives to the term and principle of plurinationality, highlighting other avenues for negotiating the inclusion of Indigenous values, cosmologies, and demands for autonomy within State’s legal apparatuses and institutions.

11.30 am          Tea/coffee & break-out groups for comparative discussion

12.30 pm          General discussion of theme

1.00-2.15 pm    Lunch

2.30 pm             Panel 2: Indigenous Territory and the Manthropocene
                          Case study: Jennie Gamlin (UCL Institute for Global Health)
                          Commentary: Josefa Sánchez Contreras (University of Granada, Spain)
                          Chair: Sahra Gibbon (UCL Anthropology)

Territory and land disputes between Indigenous communities and the state in colonial and post-colonial Mexico have been a constant since the conquest. While some protections were offered under colonial rule, where Indigenous peoples were conferred a different status, these were largely eroded at independence. The process of land privatisation and expectation that land should be made to generate profit became essential to nation building yet it directly contradicts with Indigenous forms of land use around which lives and communities are structured. Historical analysis of the process of colonisation and coloniality with Indigenous Wixárika communities have revealed a highly gendered pattern of territorial appropriation and change that give rise to the suggestion that this ecological epoch, as seen from the places of colonised peoples is the Manthropocene.

This theme will debate this proposal and reflect on the role of White European Man, to use Sylvia Wynter’s conceptualisation, in the ongoing land disputes that threaten community lives, local, national, and global ecologies.

3.45 pm             Coffee/Tea

4.00 pm             Break-out groups for comparative discussion

5.00 pm             General discussion

5.30 pm             Reception and virtual exhibition on the 'Coloniality of Gender' 


Thursday 9 November

10.00 am           Welcome coffee

10.15 am           Panel 3: Languages, Translations and Mistranslations
                          Case study: Michela Coletta (University of Warwick)
                          Commentary: Timothy Bourns (UCL School of European Languages, Culture and Society)
                          Chair: Phiroze Vasunia (UCL Greek and Latin)

What is lost, what goes missing when incorporating – even with the best intentions - Indigenous ecological knowledges into Western apparatuses and formal institutions such as the academy, museums, collections, galleries, schools, labs? How can we work on inclusive practices (at any level: legal, democratic, artistic, academic, educational, medicinal) without appropriating, re-appropriating, and misinterpreting Indigenous values and knowledges?
We will also think about the ethical implications of translating and avenues for further developing, fostering, and promoting Indigenous languages within dominant cultures.
We will discuss possibilities for bridging between cosmologies and paradigms, the role the arts play in these efforts and examples where such efforts have been contested, and/or have worked well. In this regard, we propose explorations of the healing work art and social exchange can promote in raising awareness of colonial wounds, ongoing processes of coloniality, and possibilities for repairing.
We will also explore the risks of recognition without reparation, and the difficulties when trying to transmit, deal, and reckon with colonial legacies.

11.30 am           Tea/coffee & break-out groups for comparative discussion

12.30 pm           General discussion of theme

1.00-2.15 pm     Lunch & Presentation of Think Pieces special issue on Indigenous Ecologies

2.30 pm             Panel 4: Solidarities, Mobilisations and Conflicts
                          Case study: Olivia Arigho-Stiles (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies)
                          Commentary: Melanie Yazzie (University of Minnesota), Roger Chambi (Universidade Federal de Goiás, Goiânia, Brasil)
                          Chair: Jaskiran Chohan (University of Bristol)

The colonisation of territories across the world was accompanied by a violent re-ordering and division of space and territory. This theme explores the ways in which the environment, ecology and the natural world have generated powerful social conflicts and histories of struggle.
From Bhopal to Standing Rock, there is growing recognition from scholars and activists that ‘environmental politics’ cannot be abstracted from class politics, or from wider contestations connected to gendered, queer and racialised oppressions.
This theme explores the alliances, cleavages and conflicts that accompany demands by popular movements globally for what might be termed ‘environmental justice’ in the past, present and future. We will reflect on the utility of the concept of 'environmentalism’ for understanding social movements mobilising around land and territory.

3.45 pm             Coffee/tea

4.00 pm             Break-out groups for comparative discussion

5.00 pm             General discussion and future plans

6.00 pm             Reception