Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



Indigenous communities from all corners of the globe live in uncertain times. From the vantage point of their “remote" lands, they undergo some of globalization’s most harmful externalities. Their homes become increasingly harder to maintain as extractive industries, development schemes, clandestine land grabs, and national bureaucracies encroach creating new colonial lands. First by assimilation, and then integration, these processes systematically undermine indigenous culture and autonomy. In place of such destructive coloniality, indigenous societies shelter unique ecological and linguistic knowledge that continues to serve their progress. This research applies lessons learned from studying with Ngäbe communities of western Panama, towards a viable process of decolonization underpinned by an indigenous orthography and pedagogy. The dissertation contributes to political ecology by showing how to apply linguistic anthropology to simultaneously support the indigenous struggles in defending their home and advance human geography’s epistemic horizon. As such, a “linguistic political ecology” approach blends resistance movements, critical literacy, and decolonial theory with the politics of human-environment interactions in the Tabasará River basin ecosystem. By eliciting the subtleties of contemporary Ngäbe cosmology, this study applies the intellect of natives together with the environmental records of the landscape to build a conceptual framework of decoloniality. The resulting analysis fosters the importance of the creative work of locals, their autonomy re-legitimized, and their future process of decolonization.



Committee Chair

Sluyter, Andrew