Dana E. Powell


Dana E. Powell is a cultural and environmental anthropologist whose work seeks to understand lived experiences of environmental risk, extractive industry, and ongoing processes of colonialism in Native North America and in the Navajo Nation, in particular. Dana’s scholarly interests emerged from her work within feminist and indigenous social movements and those relationships and commitments sustain her ongoing research agenda in energy and environmental humanities. Dana is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, where she designed and directs the Department’s undergraduate program in Social Practice and Sustainability.

In her first book, Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation (Duke University Press, 2018), Dana explores the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico and its impacts on public debates over science and technology, generating new tensions among varying interpretations of sovereignty, expertise, and development. She has also published in the Journal of Political Ecology, Anthropological Quarterly, Collaborative Anthropologies, and various edited volumes. Her most recent project examines the creation of solidarities and urban infrastructures in the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Research Focus

Redesigning Diné Energy: Water and the Transition Imagination

Dana’s new project as a Fellow at Cornell’s Society for the Humanities is a collaborative ethnography on the social life of water and climate change in the Navajo Nation. She plans to develop the theoretical framework for a new book project exploring lived experiences of climate change as these are shaped by the energy-water relationship and imaginations of “transition” to the future. Engaging new work in the anthropology of climate change, ethnographies of water, the philosophy of design, and indigenous science fiction, Dana will be working closely with community-based intellectuals and artists in the Navajo Nation to analyze the significance of impending transitions in energy infrastructure and their impact on local understandings of water and climate. In the uneven terrain of infrastructural excess (leaking tailings piles, coal plant cooling ponds, and oil wells) paired with infrastructural lack (one-third of reservation households lack indoor plumbing), water is simultaneously dangerous and desired, often estranging place-based peoples from their customary territories and livelihoods. With particular attention to energy as water, food, and minerals, the project considers how the politics of place are shaped through these material agents, in the context of climate change and ongoing settler colonialism.