This essay tracks the entwined species histories of the bison and the cow in North America, with a focus on the interrelation between the symbolic and the material value of the bison in discourses of American exceptionalist historiography and neoliberal environmentalism. In the former, the bison functions as a sign of the tragic but inevitable “vanishing” of Indigenous human societies and the ecosystems in which they are embedded, while in the latter its recovery as a species provides a veneer of “sustainability” to the increasingly globalized economy of meat production into which bison have been ironically incorporated as a means of conservation. In both cases, the bison is enlisted to obscure the violence of empire and capital: first, the fast violence of settler colonialism, which radically disrupted Indigenous economies and left the bison itself ecologically extinct; and second, the slower violence of a global system of animal agriculture that drives mass extinction on a planetary scale. Drawing on Indigenous theories of environmental and geopolitical justice, the essay suggests that conservation without decolonization may contribute as much to ecological catastrophe as it does to prevent it.


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pp. 377-401
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