tequila sovereign


I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

I believed Anita Hill.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Fear is not rational.

After a traumatic event, when one develops a phobia, one’s behavior in relation to the object of one’s fear is not consistent. One can be afraid of flying and still fly. One can be afraid of tight spaces and still get in an elevator.

This does not make you a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

1979. I was 17 years old. A 26 year old man asked me on a date. I dressed for dinner and a movie out. He drove me directly to his apartment. He locked the door behind us. He kept the lights low. He made us strong drinks. With rum, I think. I didn’t like it. He tried to force me to have sex. He smelled of liquor and cheap aftershave. Everything in his apartment was in a shade of amber. We were on the couch, then in his bedroom. I said no. I thought he was going to rape me. I thought if I didn’t have sex with him he would hurt me. I was terrified. So terrified I don’t remember how I got out of there. And I still couldn’t tell you how.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Memory must be a shapeshifter from another world.

It was only years later, in 2004, during counseling, that I remembered putting the clothes I had warn that night into the trash afterwards. I hadn’t remembered that before. All I remembered was bound up with this overwhelming fear of being raped, of wanting to get away, and of not remembering anything about how I got away or got home.

After a traumatic event, some things about it you remember in perfect clarity. His odor. The scratchy couch. The amber lamp shade. And some things you will not.

This does not make you a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

2004. I am 42 years old. I was meeting friends for dinner and drinks at a restaurant with a separate bar. I had arrived a bit early and needed to use the bathroom. You had to walk through the bar to get to the bathrooms in the back. I don’t know if he followed me in there or was waiting for me. He grabbed me from behind. He threw me against the wall. He broke my wrist. He bruised my ribs. He tried to rape me. I kicked him in the groin. He was drunk. He lost his balance. I fled. Out the bathroom, into a dark narrow hallway, and out to a parking lot in the back. I ran around the building, over a gravel road, to the street. I ran away.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I don’t like it when men sneak up behind me.

I don’t like it when I can’t see an exit.

I don’t like using public restrooms.

This doesn’t make me a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I really hate it when people say that “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence.” Really? Then why does it involve violent sex? Of course it is about sex. Sex is many things and one of the many things that sex is about is its use as a violent enactment of oppression.

Rapists use sex to control through force and humiliation. It matters that Kavannaugh and his peers raped in packs. That they laughed together at the women. That they were drunk. That they egged each other on. That they celebrated one another’s conquest.

It was about using sex by force to humiliate and shame women. It is about putting women in their place.

To remind us where our place is. To tell us, in so uncertain terms, that our experiences, our concerns, our feelings do not matter. That we were expected to resist, just a little, to embolden their resolve and sense of self, but finally to submit. To submit so thoroughly that we would keep our mouths shut. Forever. Or be made a spectacle.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I drink man tears with breakfast. I find them best with a side of partisan blame games and yelling obsenities and self-pitying victimhood. Sometimes I even add a garnish of self-important tragedy. How dare the world hold me accountable.

I refuse the spectacle.

I chose to stand with survivors. And vote in November.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Further Readings

Kavanaugh is Forcing the Legal World To Finally Face its Weinstein Moment

The Delicious Salt of Brett Kavanaugh’s White Tears

Women React

What A Good Boy

Violence Against Native Women is Not Traditional

Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies

A Red Girl’s Reasoning

Barker Got Your Back
Joanne Barker, “Got Your Back” (2018) Digital Drawing

The Analytic Constraints of Settler Colonialism

Video script. The text of a video edit of a conference paper for the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, Denver CO, November 17-20, 2016. Running time: 20:53.

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Black bodies. Indigenous bodies. Male. Female. Queer. Trans. Other.

Military occupation, invasion, relocation, genocide. Abduction, slavery, torture. Forced assimilation. Segregation, lynching, criminalization. Homelessness, unemployment, predatory lending, foreclosures, debt. Surveillance, harassment, detention, arrests, incarceration. Mass incarceration. Police killings. Sexual violence. All the while, sexual violence.

1 in 2. 1 in 3. 1 every minute. Hour. Day. Month. Year.

Post traumatic stress disorder. Except the trauma is ongoing. Transgenerational. A future foreclosed. A past vacated. And we can’t find a way to talk to each other about it.

Your slavery, my lands. Our bodies. Fodder for social media and corporate news that trim it down to fit neatly between commercial breaks as commercials of their own. Images of our death and dying, pain and grief, pleading for a life worth living. Pleading for a life worth.

And the really fucked up thing about it all is that we are reassured by the attention. Are made to compete for it. Humanized only within the terms of the sensational. Humanized by human interest stories that render us human only in the final, worst moments of our lives. Ending.

It is false recognition. An ideology par excellence. Marxist theory calls it false consciousness. Statistics and likes and shares tell us nothing about who we are or what our experiences have been. They invite us to misperceive our relationships to one another in a way that serves our domination — to accept the terms of capitalism’s gospels: greed is good, money is life, exploitation is normal. We cannot see the oppression game we’ve been thrown into – one in which the losers are the winners.

The work of racist ideology and practice can inform our theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. We refuse historical and social comparisons as anti-blackness, we deflect solidarity as a compromise of Indigenous sovereignty. We have been pitted against one another by discourses aimed at subjugating us to the lies of humanist recognition.

How do we address the violences of anti-blackness and anti-Indigeneity as co-produced social forces of the U.S. imperial formation without rendering the violences against Black bodies and Indigenous bodies less relevant, less significant on their own but also to one another?

I don’t know exactly how to get there, but I do know I need to begin somewhere else, with something else:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. — Audre Lorde (1993)

So, I am going to begin again.

The Twelve Little Women


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In the cliffs, amidst the caves, at the mouth of the Delaware River was the home of twelve little women. When any man sailed by, the women came out and struck up a conversation. If they received a kind reply, the man would go on with good wishes. If he was impudent or disrespectful, they would run him down. If they caught him, they plucked out every hair on his body. If they were unable to catch him they would call upon their uncle, the great serpent who lived in a deep in the ocean, just beyond the mouth of the river. Their uncle always came. He would raise his head above the water, draw in a deep breath, and pull the insolent man into his mouth.

Afterwards the women made bags of the hair they had taken from the men. They took the bags with them to the shore where men were fishing. They asked each one for something to put inside. If the man gave willingly, he caught so many fish afterwards that he didn’t know what to do with them. If he complained or refused, he caught no more fish. When the women returned home and emptied their bags, the fish – which, on going in, became so small that thousands of them would fill a little bag – returned to normal size. The women were never hungry.

There were many stories of resentful, grumpy men whose hairs were plucked off or fish given to the women. In all of the stories, to all of their complaints, the elders refused to punish or exile the women. “They don’t hurt good people,” they would say. It was a way of telling.

One day, after a number of men came home bleeding from the loss of their hair, they sat alone together and complained. “We must get rid of these women.” “I can put an end to them,” said one. The next day the man passed by their home and was rude to the women. They chased him all over but could not catch him. So they called upon their uncle.

The man had already made up his mind to be swallowed by the serpent, so he yielded himself to the serpent’s breath and went in. Inside the man cut his way out. In pain the serpent thrashed about, creating large channels off the river where he fell to the ground. Finally the man freed himself and ran.

When the women saw the serpent’s trouble they began to weep. They hurried down to where he was and stayed with him as he died. While they were mourning, the man went to their home and burned it to the ground. The women, seeing the destruction of their home and the death of their uncle, gathered their things together and readied to leave.

Many people gathered on the shore opposite where the serpent lay dead. The women cried out to them as they left. “If you had left us in peace, we would have taught you many things. We could have taught you how to deal with those who will come from across the great ocean. A hundred years from now they will come and drive you away and you will have no lands any longer. You will be poor. This is what will come of you for driving us away.” By the time the people crossed the waters to comfort the women, the women were gone. They were never seen or heard from again.

The Analytics


The Lenape’s story of the twelve little women is about the human need for respect – for others to hear us when we explain what our needs are and define perimeters for how we want to be treated, for others to hear our needs in our own terms. For others to see us as we are.

[Not this.]

I’d like to re-frame my critique of the constraints of settler colonialism with the twelve little women in mind. I am going to try to show that a certain analytic within the studies has, however unwittingly, foreclosed and even chilled understandings of Black and Indigenous histories and identities in ways that derail our understandings of U.S. imperialism as a social formation and so our work with one another. One of the consequences of this goes to our ability to think through how #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #NoDAPL, and #MMIW are co-generative — even as I recognize the reasons why each of these movements have at different times demanded we respect their particularity.

Drawing from Marxist structuralism, Patrick Wolfe defines the settler colonial society through two key differentiations.

The first is between the structure and the event of invasion. Wolfe maintains that the permanence of invasion distinguishes the structure of a settler society, which originates with the withdrawal of the empire and the rise to power of a land-holding class who always intended to stay. Wolfe defines the ideology that cements this structure together as the logic of elimination. The settler exploits Indigenous labor but more importantly seeks to eliminate all vestiges of Indigenous land claims by the elimination of Indigenous cultures and identities.

The quickest way I can explain my concerns with Wolfe’s definition is to mark how it rearticulates the problematics of structuralism. It treats society as a fixed, coherent thing that can be objectively described. The descriptions are simultaneously over‑determined by the historical event of the empire’s withdrawal and the exceptionalism of a permanent invasion. We’ve been in this trouble before – we know structuralism generates all kinds of ahistorical and apolitical problems, not to mention essentialisms, even as it is conditioned by the intersectionalities of originary events and political identities.

For instance, Lorenzo Veracini argues that settler colonialism is “characterized by a settler capacity to control the population economy” as a marker of sovereignty and that this situation is “associated with a particular state of mind” and “narrative form” so powerful that “the possibility of ultimately discontinuing/decolonizing settler colonial forms remains problematic.” Veracini maintains that “settlers do not discover: they carry their sovereignty and lifestyles with them. As they move towards what amounts to a representation of the world, as they transform the land into their image, they settle another place without really moving.”

I would argue that the settler colonial is a contested and unstable concept. Drawing from critical Indigenous, race, and feminist approaches — such as those developed by Jodi Byrd, Mishuana Goeman, Jennifer Denetdale, and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers — that understand colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia as permanent features of U.S. society, I would argue that society is not an objectively settled structure to be described, nor an imaginary that travels as an integral whole around the world. It is a set of contested meanings caught up in struggles over power and knowledge.

And resistance is most certainly not futile.

The second differentiation on which Wolfe’s settler colonialism rests is between the settler and the Indigenous. While many assume the settler to be white – and perhaps more so to be a white heterosexual male – Wolfe, Veracini, and others characterize the settler as both white and all other non-Indigenous people irrespective of gender and sexuality. Pressed on the politics of such characterizations, particularly of figuring Blacks as settlers, Wolfe explains:

Willingly or not, enslaved or not, at the point of a run or not, they arrived as part of the settler-colonial project. That doesn’t make them settlers in the same sense as the colonizers who coerced them to participate—of course not—but it does make them perforce part of the settler-colonial process of dispossession and elimination. — Patrick Wolfe (2012)

As the work of Circe Sturm, Tiya Miles, Sharon Patricia Holland, and so many others have demonstrated, Black and Indigenous histories and identities (not necessarily distinct) are intersectional messes of racialized and gendered contestation over and within the ongoing colonial forces of U.S. imperialism. We need their analyses to understand these histories and identities and the ways we have inherited them. We need to be careful about grouping all racial, ethnic, diaspora, and immigrant communities in with settlers and pitting them and their presumably shared struggles for civil rights against Indigenous sovereignty and territorial claims. The kinds of polemics that result are not helpful. What if reparations and return are not antithetical political objectives? Who decides their antithesis?

Creation, Generation


In 1985, during a speech at the United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Lilla Watson said:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Watson, a member of the Murri indigenous to Queensland, has said since and repeatedly that she was “not comfortable being credited for [saying] something that had been born of a collective process” and preferred that the words and their meaning be credited to “Aboriginal activist groups, Queensland, 1970s.” She thus held herself – and the practice of citing her – accountable to the community to whom she belonged. That ethic is further reflected in her — in her community’s — perspective that genuine decolonization will happen as our movements address our shared conditions of oppression. Our liberation is bound together.

“But,” Oklahoma-based Black activist tells me, “I want Indigenous peoples to take responsibility for the way they enslaved Black bodies and internalized white racism towards Blacks in the conduct of their tribal sovereignty.” “But,” Mississippi Choctaw scholar says to me, “I want Blacks to take responsibility for the way they grabbed at Indian lands after the Civil War. For the way the U.S. illegally and violently acquired the lands from us that they promised to give to Freedmen. That Freedmen and their descendants ignore this when they call for reparations.”

But… I’m still trying to figure out how in the difficult moments when the transgenerational trauma of land dispossession, slavery, and racism so profoundly precludes our perceptions and expectations of one another, we can find a way to affirm one another’s concerns and move our liberation struggles forward.

A way that rejects the “respectability” of U.S. recognition and the containment politics of financial settlement. As Glen Coulthard argues, recognition is a bullshit lie of capitalism that dresses up exploitation in liberal inclusion. As Alyosha Goldstein argues, settlements “foreclose the lineages of historical injustice” and “individualize” in liberal fashion what is a matter of collective and sovereign claims to territories and economic reckoning.

A way that rejects the kinds of legally and economically inconsequential responsibility-taking performance of church and government apologia. A way that refuses to be settled up or settled down to negligible levels of financial compensation that change nothing.

I believe we must draw from what Leanne Simpson argues are our cultural teachings for behaving towards one another. She offers compassion, generosity, and humility as the points at which genuine restoration of ourselves and our relationships are possible. From there, as Coulthard argues, we must carve a way forward through a “disciplined maintenance of resentment,” a “politicized anger” towards state oppression that refuses to accept guilt ridden, meaningless gestures of acknowledgment and payouts for genuine reparations and land return.



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As a conclusion I want to think about Black Lives Matter supporting the #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

I don’t think it’s an accident that it is water that has brought the movements together. As the Black community of Flint and the Lakota peoples of Standing Rock have taught us, water links us together in our struggles for life. It points our attentions to what is destroyed by military, security, and corporate concerns in Ferguson, Mexico, Palestine, and British Columbia; what highlights the illegal seizing of lands for the illegal construction of pipelines; what has been contaminated with hubris in the Delaware River basin, Flint Michigan, the Dakotas, and too many other places to name.

Melissa Nelson writes that,

Most of us find it easier to separate ourselves from nature than to embrace the liquid mystery of our union with it. As freshwater disappears on the earth, so do the water stories that remind us that we too can freeze, melt, conceive, and evaporate. We too can construct a confluence of cultural rivulets where the natural and cultural coalesce. — Melissa Nelsen

Perhaps we too can embrace the life of water to recognize the ways our movements co-generate, to find our coalescence.

My Comments for the NAISA Presidential Plenary Session, “Feminism, Gender, Queerness, Sexuality: Keywords for Indigenous Studies?”

Presidential Plenary Session, “Feminism, Gender, Queerness, Sexuality: Keywords for Indigenous Studies?” with Mark Rifkin (NAISA President), Jodi Byrd, Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Mishuana Goeman, and Craig Womack

President Rifkin prompted us with a set of questions about the analytic work of gender and sexuality within NAIS scholarship. Without wanting to be surly or argumentative, my response is “why?” Why do we need to have a conversation about the relevance of gender and sexuality within and to NAIS(A)? Why are gender and sexuality not taken for granted—as is race, ethnicity, class, and nationalist politics—as core analytics of NAIS(A) scholarship?

To be clear, I am not asking why they are not topics of analysis any more than I would suggest that feminist analysis is only possible if gender or sexuality are topics. Rather, I am wondering about the social conditions on which conversations about the relevance of gender and sexuality are articulated. What are the conditions informing NAIS that make it possible, even “normal,” for someone to say “I do not do gender and sexuality” or “I do not need to do gender and sexuality.” (These were, by the way, conversations I had when I solicited contributions to a volume of original essays I am editing with Duke UP from those outside the usual suspects of GSF scholars in NAISA.)

Because if it is possible, even rational or normal, to say these things, then it is also possible to deflect, to minimize, or to pathologize the work of those who “need” “to do” “gender and sexuality.” In other words, if relevance/irrelevance is the shadow cast over the analytic work of gender and sexuality within NAIS, then it is not a question about analysis. It is about how gender and sexuality inform the terms and conditions of social relationality within which NAIS is produced, where some work matters and others does not, at least not on equal terms. (How many of our departments, programs, or journals still have the course or special issue on women, gender, sexuality, or feminism and otherwise expect no attention to these matters within the curriculum or the scholarship it produces? How many books and articles about Native/Indigenous social movements still ignore gender and sexuality politics in the grander narrative interest of more serious—i.e., political, racial, class—matters?)

Obviously, I contend that gender and sexuality are core to Native/Indigenous histories, cultures, and politics; to processes of imperial formation and violences of colonial domination; to interpersonal and communal governance; to land-based epistemologies and pedagogies. If you are not engaging that core, it is not because gender and sexuality do not matter. It is about constructing their irrelevance, articulating them as unimportant. And that is an ethic of relationship and responsibility, not merely to humans of various genders and sexualities but to the land, to the water, and to nonhuman relations. It is an ethic deeply embedded within the social politics that inform Native/Indigenous histories, cultures, governments, and territorial rights struggles; within ideologies and violences of cultural authenticity and legal claimant legitimacy; within the violences and discriminations of sexism and homophobia.

Some brief observations, or provocations, for discussion:

  • Gender and sexuality are about the ethics and responsibilities of relationship—to land, to non-human beings, interpersonally, within Native/Indigenous governance.
  • Our relationships demand accountability to Native/Indigenous forms of governance and territorial rights which are themselves grounded in land-based epistemologies and their genealogies. Questions of affiliation are questions of answerability—who do you answer to?
  • Lastly, instead of thinking about people who do and do not do gender and sexuality, perhaps we can think about how we are engaging gender and sexuality whether or not it is a category/topic of analysis as an ethical articulation of our relationships and responsibilities—an ethics of how we are with one another and the people, lands, and nonhumans we belong to.

Further Reading

“Gender.” In The Indigenous World of North America. Robert Warrior, ed. (New York: Routledge Press, 2014).

Indigenous Feminisms.” In Handbook on Indigenous People’s Politics. José Antonio Lucero, Dale Turner, and Donna Lee VanCott, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming; chapter available on-line as of January 2015).

Editor, Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, forthcoming).

International Day of Action On Palestine: Teach In On Gaza

University of California, Berkeley   7:30 pm    315 Wheeler Hall   September 23, 2014

I dedicate my words to Samer Tariq Issawi, and his mother, Layla Issawi. Samer was taken as a political prisoner during the second intifada, after a 266-day hunger strike he was released in December 2013, and rearrested in June. He and his mother are again on hunger strike.  I dedicate my words to Hasham Abu Maria, director of the Defense of Children International in Hebron, who was shot dead center in the chest during a demonstration in June. Samer, Layla, and Hasham were among the 189 individuals that our delegation met with in January and my prayers and thoughts are with them and their families. I dedicate my words to the 1,000s of murdered and missing Indigenous women along the extraction sites and transportation routes of oil and fracking in the US and Canada. What is happening to Indigenous women is not okay—energy extraction and its violence to the land and to women here on Turtle Island is about supporting a globalization of the U.S. military invasion and its oppressions in Palestine and elsewhere.

I acknowledge that UC Berkeley is on Chochenyo Ohlone territorial lands. The fact that neither the US nor California recognize the Chochenyo Ohlone as a legally-righted Indigenous people is important for many reasons, beginning with how the lack of that status means that federally-funded institutions like this university are not required to consult with the Ohlone over the terms or conditions of land use and access, nor the possession and control of their ancestral remains and cultural objects. These issues are related to those experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Tonight I want to identify some of the parallels between the experiences of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and of Palestine as a way of provoking our thinking together about the real need for effective strategies for solidarity against oppression.


I am a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians. We call ourselves Lenape which means people. The Lenape are indigenous to a territory called Lenapehoking (“Lenape country”), including parts of what are now the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Under the relentless conditions of military invasion, sexual violence, the economic coercion of poverty resulting from exploited labor and diminished resources (including restricted use of historical hunting and fishing areas and water for agriculture), malnutrition and disease, the Lenape were forced into land cessions by 18 congressionally ratified treaties between 1778 and 1866. Each treaty forced the Lenape—as declared “enemies” or neutral “friends”—to cede and relocate to ever smaller reservations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Cherokee lands. As a direct result of this history, there are now seven different “recognized tribes” of Lenape in the U.S. and Canada but none hold any independent territorial rights.

The criminally fraudulent, armed conflicts, and treaty violations that characterized Lenape land cessions have never been redressed by the United States. The U.S. claims plenary power in altering Indigenous treaty rights in the name of its national interest—or merely by the power to do so—and then conducts itself through illegal, fraudulent, and violent actions. This would seem encapsulated in 2006 by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which dismissed the Lenape’s efforts to redress one moment of the fraud in a claim to a modest 314 acres in Pennsylvania. Though the court acknowledged that Lenape title had been extinguished by fraud, it ruled that the court did not possess the ability to provide adequate resolution of the complaint.

At the same time, Congress and the Supreme Court have shored up eminent domain over tribal lands and resources by subjugating tribes as “domestic dependents” with limited sovereignty, no rights to treat or trade except through Congress, and land titles that amount to nothing more than a “use and occupancy” right that can be extinguished by the courts or congressional law. Today, tribes do not own one acre of the 57 million acres of lands that are held “in trust” for them by the federal government, nor do they control access and use of the natural resources and water on those lands. At the same time, in every way that matters to their health and well-being, they are disproportionately represented in the criminal system—from arrest to sentencing to incarceration—as well as in incidents of rape, poverty, unemployment, ill-health, and child adoption and foster care.

On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders issued a Declaration of Independence announcing the establishment of the State of Israel on Palestinian lands that they had been aggressively privatizing since 1897. Aligned with other Arab countries, Palestine fought back but Israel prevailed. In January 1949, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt signed an armistice agreement with Israel. At that time the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan.

Israel enacted its statehood through a series of property and citizenship laws and military service and benefits policies meant to facilitate Jewish settlement and rights over and against Palestinians. One of the earliest laws that they enacted suppressed and criminalized Palestinian political descent, legalizing detention, imprisonment, deportation, property destruction, area closure, and censorship, all without charge, legal representation, or trial.

Israel extended its occupation of Palestinian lands in the Six Day war of 1967. The war concluded with Israel taking the Gaza Strip and Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria, forcing over 335,000 Palestinians into refugee status without the right to return.

Israel declared and then enacted by law that these and other refugees who fled the conflict had “abandoned” their homes, so making those homes eligible to be confiscated for settlement. While Jewish citizens were provided with virtually free housing, electricity, and water, Palestinians were charged exorbitant fees or denied water altogether, severely impacting their agriculture. Transport of produce across borders was made all but impossible, requiring permits almost always denied. Further, Palestinians were denied building permits to build or repair homes and businesses, and were restricted from fishing to 5 miles off the coast. Travel permits—whether for work, business, medical aid, leisure—were greatly restricted if not outright prohibited. And the right of return was always tenuous.

The First and Second Intifadas occurred in Gaza and the West Bank against these conditions, which the United Nations and several international human rights organizations have classified as apartheid.



One of the core ideological requirements of imperial-colonial state formations like those of the US and Israel is the racialized distortion and debasement of Indigenous history and culture. This takes on several forms. It renders Indigenous peoples as the already dead and gone and so all but irrelevant in today’s modern world. It represents Indigenous people as inauthentic frauds, falsely claiming an identity that they merely use to gain social cred, legal privilege, or economic gain. And it identifies Indigenous people and their allies as complicit with threats against national security and social stability.

I find it more than interesting that along the extraction sites and transportation routes of oil and fracking in the US and Canada, there has been a real resurgence in the representation of Indian people as savages and barbarians, a discourse that too easily rationalizes violence against women (because they are barely if at all human) and violence against the land (because it is property). In fact, Indigenous women are being kidnapped and enslaved at “man camps” along these sites and routes to serve the workers, literally turned into nonhuman, disposable objects of pleasure.

But for imperialism and colonization, it is never enough merely to destroy, they have to reinvent the history of the land so that that destruction is rational and inevitable.

Until 1948, Ayn Aawd was a Palestinian village of about 900 people in Mount Carmel, in the middle of an olive forest on which the village depended. As depicted by Israeli director Rachel Leah Jones in her powerful film 500 Dunam to the Moon (2002), Israel so relentlessly attacked the village during the 47-48 war that villagers were forced to flee, finding some safety in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank.

After the war, Israelis settled the village that they claimed was “abandoned.” Using materials from “demolished” buildings in Haifa, they rebuilt the village as close to its original architecture as possible, to preserve its history, and then settled artists to literally recreate its history as uniquely Israeli. (One of these recreations was that the olive press was a technology imported by Palestinians from Poland.)

A single extended Palestinian family of about 25-28 people moved about 1.5 kilometers away to rebuild. They were not permitted electricity, water, or building permits. Defying these restrictions to build a village, the IDF cordoned their homes off with barbed wire, to prevent further expansion—which, at least in the documentary, the villagers appear to use as clothes lines when not pulling it down altogether.

In 1965, Israel directed the Ministry of the Interior to produce a zoning map of the 1948 territory. Only 125 villages were allowed to be identified—about 40 altogether erased. Ein Hod—old and new—were not included on the zoning map. The Ministry then used this map to create the Carmel National Park as a public space, mandating the destruction of all houses within the area and clearing out of the historic olive trees to replace them with cypress, pine, and palm.

The new village (artists colony), Ein Hod, now includes a gift shop, homes, convenience stores, restaurants and bars, and a stone walk way through gardens peppered with outdoor sculptures. Guided tours are told that the artists transformed an ugly, “abandoned” Palestinian village into a thriving community.

When these kinds of practices of erasure and representation fail to rationalize colonization for anyone but the already convinced, the imperial project demands that any remaining vestiges or expressions of Indigenous history and culture be confiscated, bull-dozed, and destroyed.

While in Ramallah, we met with Iman Hamoury, director of the Popular Art Center, which works to strengthen the cultural identity and history of Palestinians against the concerted efforts of Israel to criminalize them. It accomplishes this through art, dance, music, playwriting, storytelling, festivals, and archival work. The importance of cultural identity and expression is not lost on Israel. Israel has imposed severe restrictions on the center’s travels through checkpoints, curfews, and detentions. Dance gear and musical instruments are regularly confiscated and destroyed. The center’s offices have been raided and computers and materials taken. Artists, musicians, and dancers have been arrested for their performances, sometimes even for just carrying recordings and writings with them, as acts of terrorism or threats against Israeli national security.

In Ramallah we also met with one of the Palestinian leaders of alQaws, a group that works on queer rights in the 48 territories. He spoke with us about the links between sexuality and the occupation, including the need of queers to engage PACBI’s call and oppose the occupation but also their need to connect with international movements working on human rights issues. alQaws’ projects include Singing Sexuality, a group that connects historical and contemporary songs to rebuild their sense of community. Members of Singing Sexuality have been detained and their recordings destroyed as materials that threaten Israeli national security.


Another but core apparatus of imperial-colonial state formations is the open disregard of Indigenous humanity. Let’s talk about how imperial states treat Indigenous dead.

In the US, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 attempted to right the historical wrongs of grave desecration and cultural object theft and trafficking. NAGPRA provides for a modest protection of Indigenous grave sites on public and trust lands and the repatriation of Indigenous ancestors and cultural objects from federal agencies and federally funded institutions. Those that NAGPRA identifies as possessing the requisite legal status to make claims under its provisions include “lineal descendants,” “Indian tribes,” and “Native Hawaiian organizations.” To repatriate, those with the requisite status must be determined to be “culturally affiliated” to the human remains and cultural items they claim. NAGPRA directs that they consult with all of those who “may be” or are “most likely” associated with the geographic sites from where the remains and items originate. But, as I mentioned earlier, none of the Ohlone people are recognized by the US or California as a legally-righted Indigenous group. That lack of recognition has been used by UCB and others to avert consultation with the Ohlone on the affiliation of their dead. This has had real consequences, such as those confronted when a developer built the Emeryville Mall and apartment complex over an ancient village site. The Ohlone said no but the developer proceeded, disinterred some and left others to be sealed under the concrete. As compensation, he named a couple streets and erected a faux mound and basket in honor of the Ohlone people.

Meanwhile, in 1986, Israel reassured UNESCO that it was safeguarding ancient Muslim burial sites in the 48 and included Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in East Jerusalem on its Antiquities Authority list of historical sites. At the same time, it allowed the municipality of Jerusalem to dig up a number of graves, destroy the remains, and turn a portion of the cemetery into a public park called “Independence Park.” Israel advertises the park as “the city’s gay cruising ground.” On January 15th, 2005 the Israeli Electricity Company performed further excavations, obliterating more tombs in order to lay down cables.

In 2004, California Governor Schwarzenger laid the foundation stone for the “Center for Human Dignity—Museum of Tolerance.” The museum is a joint project between Israel and The Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles. In 2005, construction began. This has resulted in the disinterment of numerous graves and individual remains. The continuing desecration and vandalism of the cemetery (including graffiti that reads Die Arabs!) is not only disturbing. It is as if Israelis are telling—screaming, really—at Palestinians that they do not matter—neither them, nor their ancestors or their descendants, for thousands of generations behind them and another thousand ahead.


UnknownThe dehumanization of Indigenous women along the oil and fracking sites and transportation routes in the US and Canada has included an active sex trade involving rape, prostitution, kidnapping, mutilation, and murder. Indigenous women have been organizing to get these issues addressed in a real way by federal and local officials but rarely are their reports investigated, let alone prosecuted. Not to suggest, of course, that our current “criminal justice system” ever truly results in the justice part. More importantly, the “incidents” are treated as minor deviations in an otherwise good democratic society. Rarely are we seeing government or corporate officials truly question the “free market” ideologies that hold capitalist exploitation and militarization together.

At the same time, we are reminded this summer of the ongoing dehumanization of Palestinians by Israel and within the US (did you know that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists 77 hate groups in California, with over 10% specifically targeting Muslims and Islam and some of the most well-funded?).

For 51 days in Gaza, over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including 500 children, over 11,000 wounded and over 100,000 made homeless. Last week, many attempted to flee the poverty and despair and died at sea. All the while, images of Palestinian bodies and sound-bites of screams and mourning against invasion and occupation are squeezed into corporate news in between corporate ads like unfortunate and regrettable tragedies of the war but somewhat, entirely due: Palestinians had earned it, they said, because they had started it, they said; Palestinians are, after all, inherently violent, irrational, and criminal, they said. Savage really. And in times like these, it is hard to tell whether or not they are human at all.

And now, you can barely find a footnote to what is going on in Gaza. No bombs, no news.

I see our responsibility here tonight as insisting on an otherwise. As Palestinian spoken word artist Rafeef Ziadah speaks so powerfully about Palestinians waking up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, certainly here—in the relative shelter of a democratic society’s space for free speech and academic freedom—we can stand up and teach one another about our shared humanity.


Are You Queer?

What’s In A Name?
Historically, Lenape did not tell people outside of their family the birth name of their children. The birth name was considered a reflection of the child’s true identity and purpose—making the child known to spirit beings. To protect the child’s identity, and to protect the child from enemies, another name was given and used. This name might change over a person’s lifetime
Label Makers
I write this on Valentine’s Day, the annual eve of my birthday.
This year, being 50, single, and without children during these particular 48 hours makes ever-present in my mind my personal experiences of those oft posed and rarely solicited remarks and questions about my identity, sexual orientation, and mental health.
    Some Conservative Christian family members have assumed I am gay and too ashamed or afraid to tell them. There was a long time, mostly in my 20s and 30s, when they regularly initiated the “I hate the sin but love the sinner” conversation with me–usually over the holidays and always framed by painfully uncomfortable reassurances that would go in one of two directions: 1) if I just told them that I was gay they would still love me; or 2) “as long as you’re not practicing….” it would be okay if I were gay. In either direction, I was and still am fated as the “lost gay sister” they pray for.
    Some colleagues at the campus where I work and on all sides of the racial-ethnic-national-class spectrum of self-definition and self-perception have assumed that I am a “lesbian” because I do not have a “family.” (Stronger but not only in the College of Ethnic Studies where my department is located.) I am regularly introduced by colleagues on campus to the “other one” in their department in a not-so-subtle hope of match-making us into some marriage or civil union bliss that looks like a family to them.
    Some peers have asked me if I am gay or lesbian, as though there are no other options, and then become painfully uncomfortable when I do not answer them. Or answer them but then ask what they mean by those terms. “Can you only be x or y?”
    Some have asked me straight-out, “Are you queer?” And when I say I don’t understand the question or what they mean by the term, are shocked and confused. (After all, queer is the more radical identity.)
    I cannot tell you how many people have assumed I have never married because I suffer from some kind of psychological disorder (like depression) that prevents me from developing a “healthy, long-term relationship.”
    I cannot tell you how many people have assumed I “can’t have children” because, obviously if I could, I would have them. At least one.
    Many, many people assume I must be lonely. Deeply, inconsolably lonely. All the time and in some horribly unspeakable, tragic way. So horrible that they never ask. They just feel bad for me.
    Many indigenous people believe I must not be “traditional” because I do not have children (at the least) or a family (at the most).

In each of these instances, people want me to be something that they know. A label, any label, that would make sense out of my being 50, single, and without children. Because a label would mean that they know me. They could recognize me. They could find me.
Freedom, In Quotes
Of course, claiming and exercising the freedom to say, or not to say, who one is and is not is a privilege of political context and cultural significance.
Many indigenous peoples have not been able to say who they are–have been hidden or lied about by family members trying to protect them from imperialist militaries and local militia that were publicly torturing and killing them for being homosexual, or gang raping women to humiliate them and “their men.”

Many have paid for their lives, even in our “modern,” progressive world, for saying who they are and who they love.

For these any many other reasons, self-identifying or being identified as a woman and/or a non-heterosexual (for those biologically male or female) is a defiant political act worthy of respect and honor.
What If I Were Normal?
I write this on Valentine’s Day on the eve of my 51st birthday. Private messages of condolence and “check in” on my mental sense of well-being abound. And so I respond with this:
What if being a woman, at 50, single, without children were considered normal? What would that world look like?
Ageists would be so outdated. Maybe even having come to value all body types and shapes, faces and wrinkles, grey hairs, gravity butts, and age spots. Maybe they wouldn’t even think about themselves and one another in the standards of physical beauty reflected in icons of youth and anorexia.
Monogamists would enjoy all types of relationships. Maybe even stop trying to force every person on the planet into a life-long contract about protecting property rights within “families” and make space for those who value the experience of many different loves and desires and pleasures.
Marriage advocates–heterosexual and non–would be ashamed to admit it. And constitutional, civil rights would not be confined to and by any particular form of marriage or family.
Parents would calm down. Yes, having children is a blessing and important. But there are many other kinds of blessings in this world–for women who are not only important because they can bear children.
Women could relax. They would be honored for who they are. They would not have to fear physical violence.
Homophobes would get over themselves.
In that world, labels would work differently. I and others who have made unconventional choices about their lives and identities wouldn’t have to worry about our status, safety, and well-being. We wouldn’t have to make excuses or defend ourselves. And we wouldn’t be socially humiliated by family and friends for not conforming to their expectations of what happiness looks like (though I remain deeply unconvinced that happiness should be a goal).
Until I live in that world?

Am I queer? My only answer can be this: why do you ask?


Manna-hata, a Lenape term meaning “island of many hills,” became Manhattanwhen translated into the English language by an Englishman working for the Dutch who had established a colony on the island.
The Lenape were defrauded of the island by the Dutch in 1626.
As Georgetta Stonefish Ryan (Lenape) writes for the National Museum of the American Indian:

The “sale” of Manhattan was a misunderstanding. In 1626 the director of the Dutch settlement, Peter Minuit, “purchased” Manhattan for sixty guilders worth of trade goods. At that time Indians did everything by trade, and they did not believe that land could be privately owned, any more than could water, air, or sunlight. But they did believe in giving gifts for favors done. The Lenni Lenape—one of the tribes that lived on the island now known as Manhattan—interpreted the trade goods as gifts given in appreciation for the right to share the land. We don’t know exactly what the goods were or exactly how much a guilder was worth at that time. It has been commonly thought that sixty guilders equaled about twenty-four dollars. But the buying power of twenty-four dollars in 1626 is not known for sure.

As would be repeated across the region, the Lenape did not realize that the Dutch meant to claim the lands for their exclusive use — an exclusivity that the Dutch would work violently to protect against the Lenape and then the English.

In 1653, in fact, the Dutch built a wall attempting to block Lenape, other Native nations, and the English from attacking “their” settlement. By 1700, when the English assumed Dutch land holdings in the region, they tore down the wall and paved a street over its location that they called “Wall Street.”
The English would be defeated by the Americans. The Americans would preserve “Wall Street” — and all of Manhattan — as their own.
The Americans would never redress the history of Native land fraud that had made the U.S. possible. They would continue this fraud by violating their first ratified treaty with a Native nation — the Lenape in 1778. This treaty provided — among other things — safe passage for Americans through Lenape territory during their war with the English. As all of the treaties that followed, it was a treaty that would be violated by the Americans in the name of U.S. sovereignty and territorial rights.
“Wall Street” is only possible because of this history of land fraud and treaty violation.
The “United States” is only possible because of its still imperial-colonial relations with Native peoples.
What “Wall Street” and the U.S. have become — an imperial-colonial power over the world’s economics and the laws that protect it — is a direct legacy of the fraud and violence committed against Native nations.
Perhaps those who now claim to OCCUPY WALL STREET in the name of reforming America’s economy could remember their history and call it something else (see Racialicious’ post for more discussion of the importance of language in opposition). Wall Street is, after all, already an occupied territory. 
As are all of U.S. land “holdings” in northern America, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
(Woman in picture below: Jennie Bob [Lenape],1915)