Don Unger

History, Ph.D
Don Unger

Don Dooley Unger is an instructor and a PhD candidate in the Department of History. He specializes in U.S. environmental history with an emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches that explore the confluence of meaning underneath stories of extraction’s impact. In 2019, Don earned his BA from Fort Lewis College, and his MA in History from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS). Don worked as a lecturer for the department of humanities at UCCS before beginning his PhD studies in Tucson, AZ in the Summer of 2020.

On his mother’s side, Don’s descendants are Irish American, and on his father’s side, they are of German descent. His ancestors initially migrated to the continent from Europe into western New York in the mid-to-late 1850s, and then his family resettled in the Four Corners Region a century later. In this way, Don became a migrant born on the border of the sacred homeland of the Diné at a place called Kinłání.  

Don's project explores the story of what happened to the Navajo Nation’s trust lands and surrounding communities after the era of extraction ended in the 1970s. By chronicling the institutional efforts of the Navajo Nation to build a mining reclamation program that braided their sacred traditions with advanced technologies to “help Mother Earth heal,” Don’s work illuminates stories about how mining reclamation emerged as a holistic response to the ravages wrought by mining, milling, and the abandonment of over a thousand abandoned mine sites on their land.  

Don's PhD project was awarded a Community Impact Grant from UArizona's Indigenous Resilience Center in 2022, and he has recently been named a Native Pathways Grant recipient by the Agnese Nelms Haury Foundation with his advisor, Katherine Morrissey, PhD (Head, Dept. of History).

Don’s project rests upon a partnership with the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Department (Navajo AML*), a commitment to service, and an exhaustive archival research portfolio. Because reclamation actions are still underway on the Navajo Nation today, Don’s project constitutes an active historical investigation of a developing story.

At present, Don conducts research on the Navajo Nation with the goal of completing his PhD dissertation in Spring 2024.

*The Navajo AML is a department of The Navajo Nation, Division of Natural Resources, which exists within the Executive Branch of The Navajo Nation.


Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation

College of Engineering 

College of Science Galileo Circle

Graduate College

Arizona Institute for Resilience

Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment & Social Justice

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences