Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Arnisson Andre Ortega


Agnotology;Historicification;Logic of Elimination;Settler Moves to Innocence;Settler-Colonialism;White Possessive(ion)

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Bison bison, also known as the North American Buffalo, are a keystone species of endemic megafauna in the Great Plains prairie ecosystem. Bison were driven nearly to extinction in the late 19th century when millions of buffalo were massacred by settlers in order to starve Indigenous civilians and force them onto federally-managed Reservations as a step in the centuries-long ethnic-cleansing of Turtle Island. Such genocidal methods were a primary tool in erasing the land claims of Indigenous nations and colonizing the territories of Indigenous communities who depended on bison as a primary source of food and materiel for social reproduction. The only wild bison known to have survived the great slaughter were a herd of approximately two dozen who migrated into Yellowstone National Park where they remained isolated until the early twentieth-century. This small population grew into two genetically distinct breeding groups and starting in the 1980’s, trail-grooming for winter recreation in Yellowstone led to a decrease of winter-related bison deaths, leading to population growth. As the bison population increased so did their migrations out of the park, bringing the wild bison herds into conflict with ranchers, private property owners and law enforcement officers in Montana. For the past three decades, Montana state and federal agencies have culled Yellowstone's wild bison herds to maintain a population between two and five thousand individuals. This is done in spite of the dangerously low number of wild bison extant in contemporary North America. Such culling is intended to limit the territorial range of bison’s instinctual migration patterns and is justified by claims of a rhetorical concern over transmission of Brucellosis abortus bacteria from wild bison to domestic cattle. Such claims are seen by concerned Indigenous and environmental groups as a bad-faith argument due to the few precautions that governmental and commercial actors have taken to prevent disease transmission between elk and cattle in state-regulated winter feedlots where the two species are allowed to intermix; which is the only recorded vector for Brucellosis transmission from wild ungulates to livestock in modern history. Indigenous nations and environmental organizations continue to petition the Federal government to list bison as endangered and allow for the expansion of bison territory back into its formerly expansive area stretching from central Alaska down to central Mexico and from Nevada to Florida and New York. Activists point to the difference between the economic value of tourism for trophy elk hunting versus wild bison as a symbol of Indigenous autonomy and political sovereignty as a factor in why wild bison, who have never transmitted disease to cattle, are routinely relocated or killed for instinctually returning to spring birthing grounds on the same public land that infected-elk are allowed to pass through, graze, and mix with livestock within. This project brings decolonial perspectives into conversation with historical and activist geographies to engage with postcolonial and settler-colonial discussion communities. This project critiques historical geography’s engagement with the wild bison herds of Turtle Island. This thesis is informed by various scholarships on historical materialism, the production of space, and the social construction of nature. Last but not least, this project also benefits from the perspective of eco-feminism to ethically assess western ontologies and the manner in which they devalue non-human organisms through the dualistic and colonial epistemologies that have been used historically and into the present to perpetuate gender, ethnic, and racial discrimination and the dehumanizing of women, people with disabilities, Black, Indigenous, colonized, and other socially marginalized communities.


Open Access

Included in

Geography Commons



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