Carbon Sovereignty

Coal, Development, and Energy Transition in the Navajo Nation

Andrew Curley (Author)
Paperback ($30.00), Hardcover ($100.00), Ebook ($30.00) Buy
For almost fifty years, coal dominated the Navajo economy. But in 2019 one of the Navajo Nation’s largest coal plants closed.

This comprehensive new work offers a deep dive into the complex inner workings of energy shift in the Navajo Nation. Geographer Andrew Curley, a member of the Navajo Nation, examines the history of coal development within the Navajo Nation, including why some Diné supported coal and the consequences of doing so. He explains the Navajo Nation’s strategic choices to use the coal industry to support its sovereignty as a path forward in the face of ongoing colonialism. Carbon Sovereignty demonstrates the mechanism of capitalism through colonialism and the construction of resource sovereignty, in both the Navajo Nation’s embrace and its rejection of a coal economy.

For the people of the Navajo Nation, energy sovereignty is dire and personal. Thanks to on-the-ground interviews with Diné coal workers, environmental activists, and politicians, Curley documents the real consequences of change as they happened. While some Navajo actors have doubled down for coal, others have moved toward transition. Curley argues that political struggles ultimately shape how we should understand coal, capitalism, and climate change. The rise and fall of coal magnify the nuance and complexity of change. Historical and contemporary issues intermingle in everyday life with lasting consequences.
“Comprehensive and very well-written, Carbon Sovereignty describes the interface between Navajo people’s ties to fossil fuels and uranium, which generate both income and issues of colonialism for the Navajo and other Native American peoples. Coal and oil present the Navajos with copious environmental problems. Mining uranium has been a death sentence for several hundred miners, mainly Navajos, who died of lung cancer and other maladies. As a member of the Navajo Nation and a long-time observer of Native American energy, Curley (University of Arizona) is the ideal author for this important study.”—B. E. Johansen, CHOICE connect

“Curley’s work defies the simplification of the Navajo Nation’s participation in the coal economy. He situates Navajo Nation support for coal in spatial and temporal context, taking into account the history of colonialism, the fraught development of the modern Navajo Nation government, and the demand for Navajo Nation resources in Western urban development. Curley’s thoughtful study engages with the moral economies advanced by both Diné coal miners and environmentalists, both of whom articulate Navajo ways of being with either coal labor or the development of a new economy based on alternative energy. His study will impact understandings of tribal sovereignty, tribal decision making, and tribal citizens’ political participation and advocacy in a context of fossil-fuel transition.”—Beth Rose Middleton Manning, author of Upstream: Trust Lands and Power on the Feather River

“Curley’s book offers perspectives and insights on the very complicated and pressing issues of coal, energy resources, Indigenous sovereignty, and community centering on diverse Diné voices and knowledge. His concept of carbon sovereignty reveals how tribal nations and individuals who are part of such intricate places and peoples face the challenges of a colonial capitalist world and climate change. Curley illuminates how Diné seek to survive and grow stronger as a people, connected to their land, family, and cultures. This book is a must-read for understanding how dynamic Indigenous peoples shape worlds, both physical and imagined, which in turn transform humanity through their environment, class, society, and culture.”—Farina King, co-author of Returning Home: Diné Creative Works from the Intermountain Indian School

For Authors

The University of Arizona Press publishes the work of leading scholars from around the globe. Learn more about submitting a proposal, preparing your final manuscript, and publication.



The University of Arizona Press is proud to share our books with readers, booksellers, media, librarians, scholars, and instructors. Join our email Newsletter. Request reprint licenses, information on subsidiary rights and translations, accessibility files, review copies, and desk and exam copies.


Support the Press

Support a premier publisher of academic, regional, and literary works. We are committed to sharing past, present, and future works that reflect the special strengths of the University of Arizona and support its land-grant mission.