Tai Kondo Koester
I am a MA student in the school of Geography, Development and Environment working with Dr. Andrew Curley. My research draws from political ecology and Indigenous geographies to study environmental politics in the US West and examine how public lands are characterized by a constant tension between extraction and conservation, a duality made possible by Indigenous dispossession.
In the US, a growing consensus within the federal government, manufacturers, and mining corporations has promoted a shift towards domestic extraction, particularly for the metals required in clean energy technologies, leading to major policy developments like the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. Against this backdrop, my thesis research examines the political and social dimensions of the energy transition and extraction in Nevada by focusing on the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine, a major new mine that aims to produce lithium for electric vehicle batteries. The mine is opposed by multiple Paiute and Shoshone communities, who hold the land slated for mining as sacred ground. My research specifically examines how the construction of colonial “infrastructures” like US public lands contributed to making these landscapes suitable for extraction in the present. Combined with this historical perspective, I seek to understand how this legacy is shaping Shoshone and Paiute relationships to territory today by investigating tribal members’ perceptions of this project, the energy transition, and the Thacker Pass landscape.
Before coming to the U of A, I completed my undergraduate education in Geography and Evolutionary Biology & Ecology at the University of Colorado Boulder. There, I completed my honors thesis on the role of US public lands and historical mapping in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, which together have gone on to shape the terrain upon which present-day Indigenous campaigns to protect the Bears Ears region must struggle.
Previously, I also worked for two and half years at Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture organization based in Billings, Montana. In this role I managed the Good Neighbor Agreement, a contract between Northern Plains and a multinational mining corporation, Sibanye-Stillwater, which extracts platinum and palladium ore from the Beartooth Mountains for use in catalytic converters. The Agreement gives local communities oversight of mine operations and implements a robust Adaptive Management Plan for monitoring water quality.
Beyond my academic pursuits, I’m a diehard backcountry skier and mountain biker. When I’m not doing academic work, you can find me in the mountains (preferably with snow) or on a trail somewhere!
Koester, Tai Kondo and Bryan, Joe. 2022. “The cartographic dispossession of Bears Ears: Confronting settler colonialism in contemporary struggles over ‘public land’”, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 5(4), 2332– 2355. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/25148486211045358.