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Claire Urbanski

Claire Urbanski


Postdoctoral Fellow, 2022-24

Claire Urbanski is a queer disabled writer, scholar, teacher, and social justice activist living on unceded Lisjan Ohlone lands in the city of Oakland, CA. She recently earned a PhD in feminist studies from the University of California-Santa Cruz, with designated emphases in critical race and ethnic studies, and anthropology. Her scholarship and teaching work are grounded in her extensive background as an activist-organizer for prison abolition, community alternatives to policing, transformative justice, migrant justice, and in her ongoing work for the protection and return of Indigenous Ohlone sacred sites on Ohlone homelands (the San Francisco Bay Area).

Urbanski’s work engages themes of belonging and desire to examine how colonial capitalist economies of dispossession shape relations between land, life, and death. While at the Clayman Institute, Urbanski will be working on developing her dissertation into a book manuscript, Spiritual Conquest: Desecration and Settler Colonial Extraction on Stolen and Sacred Lands, which examines the role of Indigenous sacred site desecration in the consolidation and reproduction of United States settler colonial empire. Drawing from an extensive body of scholarship in Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) on projects of bone-collecting and human remains repatriation, Urbanski identifies the critical deployment of spiritual violence as an ongoing mode of U.S. conquest, colonization, and Indigenous dispossession. Using archival research, Urbanski tracks settler colonial projects of Indigenous grave theft, human remains collecting, sacred site and burial desecration as taken up across U.S. institutions of militarism, scientific knowledge production, and industrial development throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By demonstrating each institution’s use of such projects to expand U.S. settler colonial claims, Urbanski reveals how the U.S. accumulates power both materially (e.g. land) and immaterially (e.g. afterlife and futurity) through distinct forms of spiritual violence. In turn, Urbanski looks to the ways that the restoration of Indigenous sacred places in urban spaces broadly transforms popular relations to land and place.

Ultimately, Urbanski’s work is dedicated to the support of Indigenous-led movements for decolonization and aims to demonstrate why the return of Indigenous lands to Indigenous stewardship is critical to all struggles for social justice and collective liberation. Urbanski’s work has been supported by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars, the Huntington Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, the Bancroft Library, the Autry Museum, among others.