Disasters and Indigenous Peoples
A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Expert News Media
Published in: Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space(2022). doi: 10.1177/25148486221096371
Posted on RAND.org on May 19, 2022
Attempts to shift the ways disasters have traditionally been managed away from authoritarian, top-down approaches toward more bottom-up and inclusive processes often involve incorporating viewpoints from marginalised and vulnerable groups. Recently as part of this process, there have been calls for greater inclusion of Indigenous peoples in disaster management. In theory, this also suggests a shift in power structures, towards recognising Indigenous peoples as experts in disaster management. However, in popular imagination and policy Indigenous peoples often appear to be caricatured and misrepresented, for instance through tropes of Indigenous peoples as custodians of the environment or especially vulnerable to environmental change. These framings matter because they can result in disaster management policies and practices that do not capture Indigenous peoples' complex realities. However, these framings have not been analysed in the context of disasters. In this article, we aim to better understand these framings through a critical discourse analysis of how Indigenous peoples in disasters are represented in the expert news media. We identify five discourses, including a dominant one of disasters as natural phenomena to be addressed through humanitarianism and technocratic interventions. Such discourses render Indigenous peoples helpless, depoliticize disasters and are justified by framing governments and NGOs as caring for Indigenous peoples. However, we also identify competing discourses that focus on systems of oppression and self-determination in disaster management. These discourse recognise disasters as political and include discussion of the role of colonialism in disaster creation. As care emerged as a means through which intervention was justified, we conclude by asking questions of who is cared for/about in disasters and how that care is performed.