This post introduces Zoe Todd’s recently published Antipode article, “Fossil Fuels and Fossil Kin: An Environmental Kin Study of Weaponised Fossil Kin and Alberta’s So-Called “Energy Resources Heritage.”
The seeds of this article were planted in 2016 when I started to explore the concept of ‘weaponized fossil kin’ in relation to the lands, waters, and atmospheres I grew up in in so-called Alberta. In early 2016, I was reading, engaging, and teaching with, the work of Anna Tsing, Kim Fortun, Kim TallBear, Leroy Little Bear, and many others. And through their work, it became really clear to me that the oil, gas, and other fossil fuel materials or entities mobilized in my home province were not just inert fuel or waste, but in fact the transformed remains of ancient beings who had once lived and died across the dynamic landscapes and watersheds, and ancient ocean, that Alberta now rests upon. I began to explore what it meant to live in a society that digs up dead ancestors and weaponizes them in the anti-reciprocal-relational machine that is capitalism. My first efforts at thinking with these ‘fossil kin’ relationships informed articles and talks I produced in 2016 and 2017.
I began to explore what it meant to live in a society that digs up dead ancestors and weaponizes them in the anti-reciprocal-relational machine that is capitalism.
Speeding forward to 2018, I spent a year in City/Oyster Point, New Haven, living next to Long Island Sound. The watery and magical surroundings of my temporary home, and a year of funding to think about whatever I wanted to, helped me dive headfirst into thinking about what happens when oceans dry up and millions of years later their vibrant worlds are mined and fracked and consumed to fuel new social, material, and energetic relations. Drawing on Kim TallBear and Leroy Little Bear’s work, I really wanted to tease apart what these ancient relations might have to teach us about how to consider our complex predicaments in the present. I became fixated on the ways that ancient beings are used by states, corporations, empires, and other entities to fuel specific versions of the world that benefit colonial capitalist white supremacy.
In late 2018 and early 2019, I shared versions of this piece with colleagues at invited talks in the US – including Yale, Dartmouth, the AAAs in San Jose, and with a warm and welcoming collective of students and profs at Santa Cruz in May 2019 (who even allowed me to take the train across the country to their conference rather than fly). I am indebted to Karen Barad for inviting me to Santa Cruz in 2019, as the train travel to and from the conference enabled me to trace the routes of many natural resource trajectories in the US (which also links up to diverse oil and gas infrastructures in Canada), and their work on agential realism is now deeply shaping my current work.
Those talks from 2018 and 2019 turned into the first draft of this article. Friends and colleagues read versions of my first drafts of this work, including Sara Komarnisky, AM Kanngieser, David Parent, Kisha Supernant, and others, and helped me refine the piece. I am grateful to Mohammed Rafi Arefin, Rosalind Fredericks and Gabrielle Hecht who encouraged me to submit the piece to a special issue of Antipode they were co-editing. I am also grateful to the Antipode reviewers who helped me focus the work further. Early versions of the piece included an entire section devoted to the ways that some of the most stunning dinosaur fossils discoveries in Alberta have been in resource extraction sites. Sadly, we had to cut that section for space, but this T-Rex Ford F-150 that Sara Komarnisky and I spotted in Edmonton in the summer of 2018 was one of the early inspirations for the article:
Photo Credit: Zoe Todd, 2018.
I am able to think through my own Métis and settler familial relationships to Alberta’s oil and gas economies and consider what it means to acknowledge the complexities of our relationships to one another and to lands, waters, atmospheres, and other beings in these late days of colonial capitalism.
The final iteration of this article took shape when I moved back west to be with family after recovering from an intense bout of SARS-CoV-2 at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Now that I am home with family, living in a small home on unceded Snaw-naw-as and Qualicum First Nations’ territories, I spend a lot of time with my dad, who shares many stories about my late Grandfather, George Todd. My grandfather was a heavy machine operator who worked on many oil extraction sites across the contemporary expanse of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. These ongoing family relations bring my work full circle, and through these stories and the work of Métis thinker Elmer Ghostkeeper, I am able to think through my own Métis and settler familial relationships to Alberta’s oil and gas economies and consider what it means to acknowledge the complexities of our relationships to one another and to lands, waters, atmospheres, and other beings in these late days of colonial capitalism.