“We are Petroleum” is a practices-as-research participatory performance experiment created to research how North Americans conceptualize their relationships with petroleum. During the performance participants, read aloud emulations of Gwich’in diplomatic testimony about being caribou people. In the emulations, the text is the same except the word “caribou” has been replaced with “petroleum.” The Gwich’in are an indigenous people whose homelands are in northeastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. For decades, they have been preventing oil and gas development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd. The herd sustains them and their identity. This essay examines the original Gwich’in testimony and the performance emulating their testimony to cast petroleum-human relations in terms of caribou-Gwich’in relations. The essay and performance use indigenous theories of law and ecological figuration to provoke considering petroleum relations as substantive kinship, structuring legal order, and a cosmology.
performance studies, indigenous studies, indigenous jurisprudence, petroleum cosmology, Gwich’in, caribou people, performance emulation, performance practice-as-research.