tequila sovereign

Decolonizing the Mind

Decolonizing the Mind (an excerpt)

RETHINKING MARXISM, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2018), 208–231, https://doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2018.1502308


Everything is art. Everything is politics.

Ai Weiwei

There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.

Octavia E. Butler

Being asked to write about one’s artwork is unsettling. I felt unsettled. In part because it feels pretentious. In part because the writing feels like it will assign a static meaning and equivalence between image and imagined, rendering something that was experientially and intentionally meant to be visceral, problematic, and possible into something stagnant. Something that was sensual into the detached. But then I thought about Ai Weiwei and Octavia Butler and realized that there was no difference between my writing and my artwork and my politics and so what was the fuss all about?

This essay makes use of several genres of writing — analysis, storytelling, memoire — to provoke, not explain, meaningful, contextualized engagement with the images I include. Those images are organized into five collections; 1) The Land; 2) Sky Woman; 3) Violences; 4) The Sacred (Pleasures); 5) Indigenous Futurism (see the Gallery). I think, throughout the images, I would define my artwork in context of my struggle to “decolonize my mind,” decolonize my emotions, a struggle that includes but is not contained in artwork as a language, a form of communication, a mode of cultural practice and resurgence.[i]A struggle to reclaim a future that is not about the future at all but a present in which Indigenous territories, stories, bodies, and sensualities are unoccupied and uncivilized: I want to live there; that is where I live.


Collection 1: The Land

What do I mean by “the land”? I do not mean the land in the terms of capitalism’s inheritable patrilineal estate, the terms of Marx’s property as an alienation from community, or the terms of the left’s public commons. These lands are not Indigenous land. They belong to European and North American economics, histories, and politics, bound conceptually to patriarchal class hierarchies and their gendered and racial oppressions as well as the resistance movements that have mobilized against the states they uphold.[ii]

As represented in the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpsonand Mishuana Goeman, Indigenous land is not property or a public commons, it is a mode of relationality and a related set of ethics and protocols for lived social responsibilities and governance defined within discrete Indigenous epistemologies.[iii]As Vine Deloria, Jr. argued, the epistemological difference that Indigenous land makes in Indigenous governance and society is its designation of responsibilities, not rights.[iv]These responsibilities include ceremonies of reciprocity to specific places, hunting and fishing practices, water access and use, and the terms of human and nonhuman relations.[v]

Because of U.S. imperialism and colonialism — historically and presently — Indigenous relationships and responsibilities to the land are difficult at best. In maintaining life practices that are land-based, Indigenous people come “face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance and violence because, in practice, [land] places Indigenous bodies between settlers and their money… Being a practitioner of land as pedagogy and learning in my community [is] a process of learning how to be on the land anyway.”[vi]While Indigenous people may assert rights against the settler and their money, in the terms that authority understands and conditions (blockades of pipelines, divestment campaigns, et cetera), rights are a tactic and not the strategy of lived responsibility to the land.

I am Lenape, Turtle Clan. The Lenape were relocated to northeastern Oklahoma, at the end of seven forced relocations by treaty with the United States between 1778 and 1866 and an agreement with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1867. While currently the Lenape (Delaware Tribe of Indians) possess the legal status and rights of a federally recognized tribe, they have experienced two “termination” periods at the political behest of the Cherokee.[vii]They have no trust lands or other recognized, organized territory. Their original territories, in what is now the northeastern region of the United States, is called Lenapehoking.

I write from Oakland of Alameda County, Chochenyo Ohlone territory.[viii]The Chochenyo Ohlone are indigenous to the east bay of San Francisco including Alameda County. Neither the Chochenyo Ohlone nor any of the other Ohlone peoples of the bay area are federally recognized and so are not recognized to possess any relative governance or authority over any part of their original territories. As a result of the complicated histories informing this situation, the Ohlone work to revitalize their language without any infrastructural support and struggle to protect their cultural sites against development and exploitation without any requirement on the part of the United States or its agencies to consult or respect.[ix]

I claim and am claimed by Lenapehoking. But neither Lenapehoking, Oklahoma, or Oakland are “my land.” These lands define my relationships and responsibilities. They define my scholarship, activism, fiction, and artwork. They define me. (Figure 1: Lenapehoking: A Love Story; Figure 2: Lenapehoking: An Imprint.)


Lenapehoking 01
Figure 1: Lenapehoking, A Love Story


This and other artwork available at http://society6.com/joannebarker


[i]Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Decolonising The Mind: The Politics Of Language In African Literature(East African Publishers, 1994): “Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other. Communication creates culture: culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries … the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world” (16).

[ii]See Glen S. Coulthard,Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting The Colonial Politics Of Recognition(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Robert Nichols, “Theft Is Property! The Recursive Logic of Dispossession,” Political Theory(2017): 1-20; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3, no. 3 (2014): 1-25; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories Of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence And A New Emergence (Arbeiter Ring Publishers, 2011).

[iii]Simpson, “Land as pedagogy” and Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back; Mishuana Goeman, Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations(University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

[iv]Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969).

[v]Vine Deloria, Jr., God Is Red: A Native View Of Religion(Fulcrum Publishing, 1973).

[vi]Simpson, “Land as pedagogy,” 7, 19.

[vii]See Joanne Barker, Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity(Duke University Press, 2011).

[viii]See the Segorea Te’ Land Trust, at http://sogoreate-landtrust.com. I serve on the board of the Land Trust, “an urban Indigenous women led land trust in California’s east bay.”

[ix]See Michelle Steinberg, director, Beyond Recognition(2014).

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