The rainbow is our sovereignty: Rethinking the politics of energy on the Navajo Nation



This article offers a political-ecological reflection on Navajo (Diné) sovereignty, emphasizing lived and territorial interpretations of sovereignty, expanding our standard, juridical-legal notions of sovereignty that dominate public discourse on tribal economic and energy development. Operating from a critical analysis of settler colonialism, I suggest that alternative understandings of sovereignty – as expressed by Diné tribal members in a range of expressive practices – open new possibilities for thinking about how sovereign futures might be literally constructed through specific energy infrastructures. The article follows the controversy surrounding a proposed coal fired power plant known as Desert Rock, placing the phantom project in a longer, enduring history of struggle over energy extraction on Navajo land in order to illuminate this contested future. Broadly, these re-significations of sovereignty point toward a distinct modality of environmental action that suggests other kinds of relationships are at stake, challenging assumptions made by adversaries and allies alike that the politics of protesting (in this case) coal technologies is a practice with self-evident ethics. To intervene in these broad debates, I propose that there are multiple landscapes of power shaping Navajo territory, which must be brought into the ongoing, urgent debates over how the Navajo Nation might develop a more sustainable energy policy for the future.

Keywords: political ecology, sovereignty, Navajo, environmentalism, ethics, territory, practice, sustainability, landscapes of power

How to Cite: Powell, D. E. (2015) “The rainbow is our sovereignty: Rethinking the politics of energy on the Navajo Nation”, Journal of Political Ecology. 22(1). doi: