Date of Award


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


Steven Stoll

Second Advisor

Judith Jones

Third Advisor

Evon Hekkala


From the Trail of Tears to the forced evictions that turned Cades Cove into a ghost town, Appalachia’s residents have long been betrayed by their governments. Currently, mountaintop removal – the destruction of hundreds of mountain peaks for coal – mirrors past abuses, and has sparked a new cycle of catastrophic health effects and land loss. This legacy of human rights abuses is far from Appalachia’s only option, however. In examining both the past and current socioeconomic structures that enable environmentally destructive practices like mountaintop removal, it is possible to chart a path forward. And, by adopting a system similar to Chico Mendes’ extractive reserves model, state governments in Central Appalachia can foster both economic growth and environmental renewal. In my senior honors thesis, I will explore not only the historic roots of Appalachia’s current environmental challenges, but also the legal options available to best lobby for change. This thesis includes a historical overview of the land rights struggles of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, the Cherokee Nation, and other communities across the middle and mountain South, as well as a series of policy proposals to more sustainably manage land and combat climate change.


I am very grateful for the generous mentorship of professors Steven Stoll, Silvana Patriarca, Judith Jones, and Evon Hekkala, as well as the wisdom of Queen Quet and other dignitaries and legal advocates I consulted over the course of writing this thesis.