Reshaping Louisiana's coastal frontier: managed retreat as colonial decontextualization



This article describes social encounters produced by climate adaptation policy experimentation focused on managed retreat—a concept increasingly used by academics and planning professionals to describe various kinds of relocation from areas exposed to environmental hazards. Building on scholarship that examines the political ecology of resettlement and adaptation, I draw on five years of ethnographic work conducted alongside Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribal leaders as their longstanding Tribal resettlement was transformed by government investment. I describe how Louisiana's Office of Community Development relied on Tribal planning to garner federal funds, used those funds to reduce the scope of the resettlement, and systematically erased the initial resettlement rationales and aims of Indigenous leaders. I liken the state's approach to Dina Gilio-Whitaker's notion of decontextualization as a colonial strategy, and argue that state efforts to transform the resettlement from what Tribal leaders viewed as "an act of cultural survival" to a scalable model for managed retreat policy threatens to reproduce a frontier dynamic whereby colonial and capitalist futures are once again rested upon the erasure of Indigenous peoples. State tools for decontextualization included published constructions of risk, community, and timelines; liberal planning conventions; and evocations of legal barriers. Ethnographic accounts of such processes can inform future resistance to eco-colonial schemes within climate adaptation.

Keywords: Community resettlement, managed retreat, racial capitalism, environmental change, native American and Indigenous Studies

How to Cite: Jessee, N. (2022) “Reshaping Louisiana's coastal frontier: managed retreat as colonial decontextualization”, Journal of Political Ecology. 29(1). doi: