Communication ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 8-10-2018


In this study, I explore environmental discourses circulating among Indigenous transboundary organizations working on environmental initiatives at the border between Ecuador and Colombia. I focus on three global environmental discourses –sustainability, development, and climate change– as they are at the core of the global environmental governance vernacular. La Gran Familia Awá Binacional (GFAB), one of the few transboundary Indigenous organizations working along the binational border, utilizes these global concepts to frame their environmental initiatives and projects. I use a critical and interpretive qualitative approach to investigate, deconstruct, and rearticulate global environmental discourses circulating among and translated by two of the organizations forming the GFAB: Federación de Centros Awá del Ecuador (FCAE) and Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá (UNIPA) from Colombia.

I conducted in-depth interviews with cultural and political elites working in, or related to, these Awá organizations. I analyze interview texts, Awá organizations’ community-based plans, official government documents, and NGOs reports to understand (1) How does the GFAB understand, construct, and reproduce their relationships with their territories?; (2) How does the GFAB translate the global environmental discourses of development, sustainability, and climate change at the level of the communities with which this organization works?; and (3) What are the politics of identity, ecocultural identities and positionings, that emerge from Awá’s translation of and engagement with development, sustainability, and climate change within Awá’s territoriality?

To answer these questions, I investigate how transboundary Indigenous communities construct a sense of territory, navigate global environmental discourses, and negotiate multiple ecocultural identities. I describe the articulations among relationships and principles that configure Awá’s territoriality. Then, I situate the notion of translation in relation to Awá’s territory, katza su, to explore the system of meanings implicated in Awá’s translation of the global environmental discourses of development, sustainability, and climate change. I illustrate how Awá recontextualize and emplace these discourses once they enter the material and discursive realm of Awá’s territoriality. Finally, I further the notion of territory and territoriality to investigate the formation of Awá, mestizos, and Afros’ ecocultural identities. I illustrate how two dialectics, insider-outsider and respect-disrespect, work in the discursive positioning of these populations as restorative or unwholesome ecocultural identities. In closing, I propose a rhizomatic situational analysis framework to map factors, forces, and processes, and demonstrate its applicability by presenting a situational analysis of the Awá binational Indigenous people. The rhizome illuminates Awá’s translation of development, sustainability, and climate change, and the ecocultural identities that emerge through processes of translation. I end with some recommendations to rethink identity-based mediation in environmental conflicts, explore transversal forms of communication, agency, and dissent, and further processes of environmental peacebuilding at the border between Ecuador and Colombia.




Awá, territoriality, environmental discourses, ecocultural identities, transboundary organizations, translation

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Committee Member (Chair)

Tema Milstein

Second Committee Member

Mary Jane Collier

Third Committee Member

Ilia Rodriguez

Fourth Committee Member

Chris Duvall

Project Sponsors

Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación of Ecuador; Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico Ph.D. Fellowship; National Consortium of Environmental Rhetoric & Writer-in-Residence Summer Fellowship Program