Toxic Desecration

Indigenous Knowledge and ‘Western’ Science in Defense of Sacred Land


  • Adam Dunstan University of North Texas



Sacred sites, environmentalism, sacred ecology, indigenous knowledge, hybrid knowledge, science talk, desecration


In studies of Native American knowledge, the sacred ecologies of Indigenous people are often contrasted with (allegedly secular) Western science. Other scholars have challenged this binary, sometimes under a model of ‘hybrid knowledge’ wherein Indigenous knowledge is ‘integrated’ into settler conservation. I argue for a different model, wherein unique expressions of sacred ecological knowledge emerge from the ground up within environmental activism. Drawing on ethnographic research with Protect the Peaks, a movement to halt expansion of a ski resort on an Arizona mountain sacred to thirteen Indigenous nations, I show how, in Protect the Peaks’ public messages, ceremonial standards and scientific studies are utilized to highlight snowmaking as a form of toxic desecration. This discourse, coupled with presenting snowmaking as a threat to health, ecosystems, and sacredness simultaneously, is an articulation of Indigenous knowledge which presents a direct critique to hegemonic distinctions of culture/nature and sacred/secular in policy and scholarship.


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How to Cite

Dunstan, A. . (2022). Toxic Desecration: Indigenous Knowledge and ‘Western’ Science in Defense of Sacred Land. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 15(4), 462–486.