13 Observations in 3 Parts

Anti-Racist Feminist Allies and the Politics of Indigeneity

Part I

1) Everyone has a basic human right to identify themselves (who they are) and their membership in groups and polities (who they belong to). But self-definition and governance do not operate in a historical or political vacuum.

  • What it means to claim or be perceived as Indigenous is historically, socially, culturally, and spatially politicized.
  • Historically, individuals who identified as or were perceived to be Indigenous were targets of gang rape, physical assault, harassment, discrimination, and murder. Groups who identified as or were perceived to be Indigenous were sexually assaulted, enslaved, forcibly removed from their lands and homes, and subjected to brutal assimilation programs.
  • Historically, non-Indigenous individuals claimed Indigenous identity in order to stake a claim on Indigenous lands and resources. These fraudulent claims were often supported by U.S. government officials and the courts as a means to strip Indigenous peoples of their treaty, land, and resource rights.

2) Indigeneity is not about blood quantum or enrollment status. It is about relationship (lineality) and responsibility (ethics).

  • Just as no one would think someone could claim to be African American, Asian American, Arab American, or Latino/a and yet have no family who is African American, Asian American, Arab American, or Latino/a, no one who claims to be Indigenous cannot also identify their Indigenous family or kin.
  • Indigenous family and kin, or genealogy, defines not only who you are related to (parents, siblings, etc.) but the non or other-than-human relations and territories to whom an individual belongs and is responsible.
  • Indigenous identity, family, and genealogy are historically and culturally tied together by/in territories. It does not mean that legally or politically Indigenous people always have land rights. It does mean that their social responsibilities and expectations are grounded.

3) Indigeneity is about genealogy and territory.

  • Land-based epistemologies and ontologies inform the cultural expectations among and between Indigenous people of an individual’s lineal (clan) affiliations and responsibilities, ceremonial participation, and social activities.
  • These expectations do not only apply to individuals belonging to land-righted groups or recognized tribes. Land-based epistemologies and ontologies are not dependent on recognition policies which are arbitrary and punitive and hinder or disrupt ceremonies and other activities on the land.

4) Indigeneity matters.

  • If you say you are Indigenous, you should be able to identify who your nation/tribe/band is (Cherokee, Tlingit, etc.) and who your family/clan is (by name). This identifies you within a set of relationships but also within a set of responsibilities to/within the nation/tribe/band you claim. These responsibilities are political, ceremonial, and social.
  • If you cannot identify your nation/group/tribe/band, then you should have a transparent explanation (adoption, for instance).
  • Because of the histories of misrepresentation of Indigeneity in territorial dispossession and violence, there are deep ethical responsibilities in identifying oneself as Indigenous.

5) “Academic freedom” is a deeply troubled and important category.

  • It has been used by some archaeologists and anthropologists in justifying their possession and control of Indigenous human remains and cultural objects against the expressed wishes of Indigenous people.
  • There is no situation in which a person can claim “academic freedom” or any other kind of freedom without also taking on the responsibilities they inherit with that freedom. An archaeologist cannot claim “academic freedom” in studying Indigenous human remains without taking on the legal and ethical responsibilities of NAGPRA.
  • Similarly, a scholar cannot claim “academic freedom” in identifying as Indigenous without also addressing their ethical responsibilities to the Indigenous communities with whom they identify or claim affiliation. A scholar cannot advocate tribal sovereignty in their work without holding themselves accountable to the nation/tribe/band with whom they claim affiliation.

6) All things considered, it is imperative that Indigenous scholars and scholars in Indigenous studies identify themselves in as transparent, unambiguous ways as possible.

  • It is imperative that anti-racist feminist allies–in the academy and elsewhere–not reject as mere “identity politics” the concerns of Indigenous peoples about how a particular individual identifies themselves and their work as Indigenous if they are not. Indigeneity is not about blood quantum or enrollment status. It is about integrity and social ethics.

Part II

7) If you identify as Indigenous and are a scholar of Indigenous studies, it does not necessarily mean your scholarship is good or radical, just as if you identify as a woman it does not automatically make you a feminist or if you identify as a man it does not automatically make you a sexist.

8) If you identify as an anti-racist feminist ally to Indigenous peoples, you are also identifying a set of relationships and responsibilities to Indigenous communities. Anti-racist feminist allies are necessary to the decolonization projects of Indigenous nations as partners—our decolonization is tied together.

9) People who say “privilege” doesn’t matter are like people who say chocolate doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they own a cocoa plant.

10) Nobody wants to condone histories of U.S. or Canadian imperialism, colonization, racism, or sexism. But legitimating the misrepresentation of someone as Indigenous who is not is a complicity with the ongoing social forces of those histories.

Part III

11) Why is it that so many in the academy—faculty, staff, students—who misrepresent themselves as Indigenous do so through personal stories of emotional abuse within their families? How does Indigeneity get figured as inherently violent and yet liberatory within these stories? A way, a means, to escape family trauma?

12) Why do so many anti-racist feminist scholars and activists have difficulty in taking ethical public positions on Indigeneity?

13) No, seriously, why do so many anti-racist feminist scholars and activists have difficulty in taking ethical public positions on Indigeneity?

3 responses to “13 Observations in 3 Parts

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