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Environmental Justice as Recognition and Participation in Risk Assessment: Negotiating and Translating Health Risk at a Superfund Site in Indian Country

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Geographic research on environmental justice and risk is moving beyond its conventional focus on proximity and spatial distribution, increasingly recognizing multiple spatialities entailed in other dimensions of environmental justice—including recognition and participation—and in risk itself. Critical scholarship on environmental justice, however, has insufficiently considered the process of risk assessment, and research on the construction of risk has not fully engaged with the implications of environmental justice. Through analysis of human health risk assessment at the St. Regis Superfund site, on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, this article investigates intersections between spatialities of risk and spatialities of environmental justice as participation and recognition. I argue that the historical production of the reservation as place, territory, and scale lies at the origin not only of distributive injustices but also of injustices of misrecognition and marginalized participation in the assessment and management of risk. On the other hand, I contend that changing scalar and network spatial relations enabled the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to strengthen the risk assessment by taking the significance of the reservation into account, as a place and territory associated with rights to tribal traditional lifeways. Nonetheless, the circulation of dominant assumptions about race and property continues to structure the “playing field” of risk assessment as uneven, and scholarship and policy on environmental justice and risk need to attend to this asymmetry.
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Keywords: American Indian reservations; Superfund; environmental justice; espacialiad del riesgo; evaluaciĆ³n del riesgo; justicia ambiental; reservaciones indias norteamericanas; risk assessment; spatiality of risk

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography,University of Wisconsin, –Milwaukee,

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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