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“Faces of Stone”: Perceptions of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and colonial environmental alteration in the Dakotas Region, USA

PhD candidate

Will Stovall

Prof. James Higham (Tourism)
Dr. Janet Stephenson (Centre for Sustainability)

Project dates


Stovall National Park Service (360)Anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is arguably the greatest environmental, infrastructural, and social challenge of the 21st century. Belief and perception of the natural environment shape social norms, material culture, and entrenched practices, and these, in turn, influence individual and collective ACC-mitigation behavior. The Cultures Framework (Stephenson et al. 2015), which outlines this relationship in detail, has much potential to be applied within the United States of America (USA), where recent climate-related events have underlined the need for community-level resilience and acknowledgement of future risk.
Within the Dakotas Region of the United States of America, perceptions of ACC and the natural environment as a whole are particularly polarised on geographic and cultural grounds, and the recent protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation brought this divide to the forefront of international awareness. However, the DAPL was but one among many environmental and cultural impacts throughout the region’s colonial past, and perhaps nowhere is this history more apparent than at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills.

Stovall Study Sites within Dakotas (360)This dissertation focuses on how widespread public perspectives on ACC and the natural environment shape social norms, and how these factors influence individual behaviour and notions of responsibility. Through a series of semi-structured interviews in May-October of 2018, the candidate plans to investigate public sentiments surrounding ACC, the DAPL, and Mount Rushmore, and what parallels exist between these three anthropogenic environmental alterations. He will engage with residents and stakeholders of the Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations, with residents (Native and non-Native) of Rapid City and Bismarck, and with visitors to Mount Rushmore from the Dakotas and from further afield.
Ultimately, the candidate aims to explore insights on ACC belief and receptivity to mitigation in the region through an examination of cultural environmental philosophies within the Cultures Framework, and apply the conclusions to the development of community-specific outreach strategies.