Keynote Speakers

Olivia Quintanilla

Towards Marine Justice: Indigenous Pacific Island Ecologies and the Right to Nature

Focusing on Guam, Olivia Quintanilla explores how Pacific island activism and digital storytelling that prioritize marine justice through the protection of ocean life and coral reefs are inseparable from struggles for climate justice, Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and self-determination. As culture and traditional storytelling are reimagined by digital tools, Quintanilla outlines the stakes of public digital ethnic studies work in an era of climate change as Indigenous Pacific islanders fight for their right to nature. Using the symbol of the culturally significant Kulo’ shell, or conch shell in Chamoru, used to gather and inform the community of important matters, she shares how Indigenous Chamorus of Guam and the Mariana Islands empower others to take up the power of the Kulo’ and create powerful digital stories to raise awareness on critical environmental issues that are vital for achieving more sustainable futures.

Olivia Quintanilla began her educational journey with the San Diego Community College District, transferred to San Diego State University to earn her B.A. in Urban Studies, and went on to earn her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC San Diego in 2020. Olivia’s family is Indigenous to Guam and the Mariana Islands, and she’s used her academic opportunities as a Chamoru scholar to research the unique histories and futures of Pacific island life. Her research interests include critical island and oceanic studies, digital ethnic studies, climate justice, marine-related environmental justice issues, and understanding how militarism impacts Indigenous life and environments. She is currently a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow with the Environmental Studies department at UC Santa Barbara.

June Rubis

Seeing the utan (forest) for the orang (people): a decolonial Indigenous approach to orang utan conservation

Wild orang utan in Borneo, photo by June Rubis

In my talk, I will explain how we need to decolonize ways of knowing as to support existing Indigenous governance in conservation. Much of wildlife conservation literature and practices rely on euro-western nomenclature that are legacies of empire. Although seemingly neutral, the practice of (re)naming nature depends on political, philosophical, and social assumptions that encode top-down behaviour and governance in conservation practices. Indigenous communities’ processes of classifying nature are not recognized as valid and, as such, their conservation strategies are made invisible. If Indigenous knowledge is accounted for by contemporary conservation, it is often from a paradigm that focusses on ecological-scientific knowledge, rather than the complex inter-species relationships that Indigenous communities have with nature. As such, Indigenous communities are often perceived as a barrier or problem towards conservation, due to what is perceived as their lack of care for species of conservation interest. In this article, drawing on a kin study of maias conservation in Sarawak, I explore the power dynamics and tensions emerging within practice and discourses of conservation. In particular, I focus upon the struggles and negotiations in which conservation actors understand the orang utan, as they are commonly known in an international space, that overshadow the Iban ways of naming and knowing the orang utan as maias. Finally, I discuss the Iban classifications/names and relations with nature and how this affects different understandings of conservation.

Environmental Conservationist June Rubin wants to highlight and use the knowledge of indigenous people in her conservation work in Borneo.- Art Chen/ The Star.

As a former conservation biologist, June Rubis has about twelve years in hands-on wildlife conservation fieldwork in both Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo. She has also worked on Indigenous land rights and environmental issues in collaboration with Indigenous activists and NGOs in Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah). She has carried out research on Bidayuh ritual revitalization, under the guidance of her Bidayuh father and relatives, linking the revitalization with environmental change in her home state of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Much of her approach to her work follows the teachings of her parents, including her late Bidayuh father, following his own parents’ journey as traditional Bidayuh priest and priestess. Her recent PhD research examined a decolonial Indigenous approach to orang utan conservation in Sarawak. She holds both an MSc in Environmental Change and Management and a DPhil (Ph.D.) in Geography & Environment, from the University of Oxford.

Hanna Musiol

Industry, Postcolony, and the Immersive Arts of Environmental Storytelling

I . . . approach the computer as a theatre machine.
—Nancy Mauro-Flude

This talk focuses on the challenges of doing environmental and digital humanities (D&EH) work in the space of “high Nordic” colonialism and extractivism in Norway. Trondheim, a burgeoning silicon fjord smart city in the throes of overdevelopment and (post)colonial conflict (Kiel qtd. in Arke), and NTNU, Norway’s largest public research university and a “story factory” often tasked with providing eco-solution plots to the nation’s extractive industries, serve as the background. Critical humanities work is neither prioritized nor properly funded there. And yet, even in this sacrificial humanities landscape, radical D&EH storytelling that extends beyond the necrotic industrial plots, that transcends the city/university divide, and that brings transient and permanent city residents together does happen. This talk will focus on such ephemeral storytelling work that engages diverse participants in acts of narrative reciprocity and, often, moves beyond the narrative limits into somatic, embodied reflection. We will ponder what makes such work possible. And worthwhile.

This presentation will draw on recent small- and large-scale immersive environmental storytelling projects inspired by the work of feminist and postcolonial digital media practitioners and EH scholars—Nancy Mauro-Flude, Kyle Powys Whyte, Roopika Risam, Anna Tsing—the “undisciplined” institutional work of KTH’s EH Laboratory, and the indefatigable labor of local storytellers and activists. Moreover, we will discuss the prototyping efforts to bring D&EH and art into close contact, if not sensorial touch (Manning), as another “art of living on a damaged planet” (Tsing et al.). At the core of these projects is faith in their power to challenge the limits of industrial storytelling, and we will reflect on how public humanities can reveal the poetic, ethical, and non-instrumentalist affordances of digital tools in the era of capitalist “wasteocene” and environmental injustice (Armiero).

Hanna Musiol (PhD, Northeastern) is Associate Professor of Literature at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and a founding member of NTNU Environmental Humanities and NTNU ARTEC. Her interests include transnational American literary and cultural studies, transmedia storytelling, critical theory and pedagogy, with emphasis on migration, environmental humanities/political ecology, and human rights. She publishes frequently on literary and transmedia aesthetics and justice, and her work has appeared in DHQ, Environment, Place, and Space, Journal of American Studies, Technology of Human Rights Representation, and Writing Beyond the State. Musiol regularly co-organizes city-scale curatorial, public humanities, and civic engagement initiatives such as Narrating the City in Boston, Of Borders and Travelers, Spectral Landscapes, and, Resist as Forest. She now lives in Trondheim, where she collaborates with grassroots urban storytelling initiatives such as Literature for Inclusion and Poetry without Borders.