Maia Wikler

Research Key Words

Forced displacement, memory and social repair, slow violence, reconciliation, extractivism, climate justice, resistance and resilience to settler colonialism

Research

For 10,000 years, the Nechako River Valley has been home to the Cheslatta T’en, a band within the Carrier First Nations. Carrier peoples call themselves Dakelh, meaning ‘people who travel by water’ but in a tragic twist of fate, the Cheslatta T’en were forcibly removed from their ancestral, unceded territory by the flooding from the dams built for Alcan’s Kemano aluminum smelter project in Kitimat. In 1952, with less than two weeks’ notice and waters already rising, Department of Indian Affairs and Alcan officials burned Cheslatta villages to the ground, forcing the community on a 30 km exodus to Grassy Plains in treacherous conditions of winter thaw.

Through an ethnohistorical and ethnographic account of the Cheslatta’s removal from their ancestral territory in the Nechako River region in British Columbia, I investigate the following: How are acts of resistance to displacement and dispossession informed by cultural meanings and memories of the land? What does resilience look like on the ground, 66 years after dispossession and displacement? How is agency expressed within the ever-pervasive system of colonization? How do people come to grips with altered landscapes? I investigate these questions by analyzing the experiences of the Cheslatta’s displacement and the affective power of memory in the destructive aftermath of settler mega-projects through frameworks grounded in studies of social memory, space and place, ruination coupled with scholarship on reconciliation, resilience and colonialism. Displacement and dispossession are inevitable when landscapes are plundered for exploitation, through the process of stealing land and resources without consent of local communities. Land and waters become politicized, contested landscapes. I argue that these topics of displacement must be discussed alongside critical conversations of colonialism because extractivism and settler colonial logic are the fundamental premise for policies of displacement and dispossession.

 

 

 

Maia grew up in Philadelphia, where the impact of pollution and environmental degradation affected her life directly. From a young age, Maia cherished the outdoors and developed a special appreciation for conserving precious ecosystems. Her love for the outdoors inspired a move to Colorado, where she graduated from Colorado College with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Her undergraduate thesis focused on cross-cultural communication as a civic skill for cross-cultural alliances in Indigenous rights movements.

Her continued advocacy for indigenous and human rights, land stewardship, and community engagement has extended to various organizing, academic, and community involvements. While working in Washington D.C, at the Office of Native Affairs for the ACHP, Maia developed and proposed a youth program in land preservation as a part of UNDRIP and Generation Indigenous initiatives. Maia was an organizer for Uplift, a SHiFT youth-award winning conference to empower youth leadership in climate action on the Colorado Plateau.

In British Columbia, Maia founded the film series in Vancouver called ‘350 Films for Justice,’ and served as Assistant Director for Community Eats, a food waste and community lunch initiative. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. Maia’s research focuses on how communities utilize memory as a tool of resilience following forced displacements from mega resource development projects and climate change. Last November, Maia attended the UN Climate Talks in Bonn, Germany as a youth delegate with SustainUS. She recently was awarded the CC Faces of Innovation for her work on identifying the challenges of climate change.

Maia is a published writer, her most recent work appears in the book, Colorado’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction. She is also a News and Politics contributor to Teen Vogue. Maia seeks to connect dynamic and diverse audiences on issues of climate justice and forced displacements through multiple mediums including academia, film, writing and community organizing.