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It's About to Get Academic II
Liberty and justice for all and other delusions... a continuation of my previous sharing's aka the drops before the black settler poetry.
Through the new lens of decolonization and its overuse as a metaphor I’ve noticed significant new understandings of both Idle No More & the Red Power movement and have found myself engaging more deeply with the complexities of these movements and their aims. Ultimately, I can see more and more that indigeneity & Indigenous activism are not a monolith. There is no one way to be indigenous and there are no universally agreed upon aims or images of a desired future. Indigeneity has been heavily romanticized in the United States and probably Canada as well. A shift from these romanticized understandings, generalizations, and beliefs is a crumbling that illuminates our (read settlers) deepest associations and the ways in which we have truly bought into the fantastical idea that is America.
That is perhaps a bold statement, but it is the one that is most alive in me at this moment, and I will attempt to use the complexities offered by Valerie Lannon when addressing the Red Power Movement, Idle No More, and the Alcatraz Occupation along with Taiaiake Alfred & Jeff Corntassel’s conclusions on what it means to be Indigenous to further my assertion.
In From the Red Power movement to Idle No More, Lannon presents various debates and tensions as they arose stating “One objection to AIM was that it was not sufficiently rooted in local communities to have credibility e.g. its members wouldn’t know local habits or cultures (4)” and then going on to address debates between first nations men and women about discrimination, as well as conservative views within the native community as evidenced by William Wuttunee who “agreed with those on the right that the best way forward for native people was to assimilate into Canadian economic and political life (5).” Despite these tensions Lannon ultimately makes a case for solidarity by noting the increasing awareness of capitalism as detrimental to all people native and non-native alike and in presenting evidence of a potential for “overcoming old divides by building new alliances. Lannon concludes by asserting that “For too long native and non-native have been pitted against another, precisely because this elite feared nothing more than the discovery of our mutual interests (7).”
Alfred & Corntasel on the other hand ultimately assert that colonialism and its subsequent struggles “fundamentally distinguishes Indigenous peoples from other peoples of the world (597).” While also suggesting that Indigenous peoples lived experiences will “yield the clearest and most useful insights for establishing culturally sound strategies to resist colonialism and regenerate our communities (601).” Here we find less emphasis on solidarity with non-natives and more of an emphasis placed on distinctions to be made from other ethnic groups based in “relationship to the land, common spiritual bond, and language use (608).”
To be clear I am not suggesting that Alfred and Corntassel are in any way divisive but rather that they present a different window of indigeneity and its complexities. Highlighting that there are several layers, understandings, and frameworks feels especially important to reflect on because the more I engage with the assigned readings the more I realize that I have largely related to Indigenous scholarship, activism, and understandings (ways of being) from a place of significant assumption and in heavily romanticized ways. Specifically, I have viewed indigeneity as threatening to capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy but not to the futurity of those of us who find ourselves currently inhabiting turtle island.
For simplicity's sake I will list some of my assumptions & generalizations:
That all people have the capacity for right relationship with the earth, that we are ALL of the land in the most literal sense. That the unknowns of human existence are common. That we are more alike than we are different and that indigenous frameworks hold this notion of human connection/interdependence as central.
That indigenous (spoken in a broader sense) ways of being offer a way back. That there is something to be learned about connection, about living, about love, about “right” relations. About respect and shifting away from binaries. About shifting away from the poison that is disconnection from others and the land, yes but also from the body itself.
That indigenous peoples are oppressed peoples who have taken up the work of liberation, of course this starts and centers in their own communities and for their own people, but it never occurred to me that it might end there.
Assumptions that indigenous sovereignty is tied to black liberation. That this sovereignty and liberation would lead to and embrace a radically different future whose goal is freedom for all people.
An unconscious assumption of solidarity and the rejection of complexity.
Indigenous peoples and communities as unified in their respect for the land itself. For the earth itself. Unified as anti-capitalist and anti-white supremacy.
That the love and care I associate with the earth is also to be associated with Indigenous peoples.
It feels difficult to engage with the shift in these assumptions… like holding indigenous activism and existence in more complicated ways is a threat to the notions of an “us” and an “everyone”- a threat to the “liberty and justice for all” that I have been socialized (read brainwashed) to believe in. A liberty and justice for all that I honestly did not even realize I believed in as much as I do. A liberty and justice for all whose very foundation is dominant cultural myth. Fantasies of white creation. Liberty and Justice for all it seems was never real… and I am left with more questions than answers. More desire to understand than understanding. I think I could write poetry. I think I could write poetry about being a settler, about being a settler and its ties to activism. About liberty and justice for all as myth. As fantasy. This land is not my land. This land is not our land… and yet I can still hear the music of elementary school assemblies. There are still parts of me that want to believe. That do in fact believe.
And so, I find myself wanting more. Wanting more complexity not just in these scholarly articles we have been reading but in creative writing, in poetry, in art.
What happens when romanticized notions of indigenous ways of being are met with the absolute violence of genocide and the ongoing violence of settler colonialism?
How do these assumed and romanticized starting places become the current complexities? What does the wounding and hardening feel like? In the body?
Is there an us? Could there have ever been an us?
I am shrugging my shoulders because I do not know. Instead, I will end this reflection with gratitude for the unsettling.