Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Regna Darnell


This study undertakes a cultural critique of dominant, modern relationships to “nature” through a cross-cultural philosophical engagement with certain Indigenous American traditions of thought. This is done through a focus on questions of ontology: what kind of ontological presuppositions inform our own dominant, modern philosophical heritage? What kinds of relations do these at once enable and foreclose? And what alternate possibilities for thinking and living might be opened through different ontologies? I argue that grappling with modernity’s legacy of anthropocentrism and ecologically disastrous relationships forces us to rethink an existential terrain set by an atomistic ontology that reflects a Christian interpretation of the world. In contrast to this dominant ontology and as a way of defamiliarizing ourselves from it, this study endeavours to think with and alongside what I argue are profoundly relational ontologies and styles of thinking expressed by different Indigenous philosophies and lifeways. It also poses the question: how might relational ontologies open up different ways of understanding and experiencing ourselves, of disclosing and relating to the nonhuman, of construing the nature of our ethical horizons?

As part of my exploration of this question, I bring Indigenous thought into conversation with two thinkers from the Western tradition who arrive, from their own directions, at somewhat analogously relational perspectives – namely, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. I argue that the critical arsenal these thinkers offer Western theory gives valuable insights concerning the potential that relational thinking might have as a counterdiscourse vis à vis our dominant culture – but that Indigenous thought pushes us much farther still in this direction. Accordingly, I try to explore how lessons from Indigenous thought might lead us to rethink or recuperate on different terms certain elements of Nietzsche and Heidegger’s critiques. Rethinking counterdiscursive possibilities in this way, this study seeks to contribute towards a critical theorizing that is more consciously responsive to the intertwined legacies of colonialism, modern thought, and our present ecological crises; to connected political contours, tensions, and possibilities within our present; and also better attuned to possible points of productive consonance, conversation, and allegiance therein.