We need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act or In Which I Try To Talk About the Indian Child Welfare Act
Guys, listen, we need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act. All day and everywhere. We need to tweet about the #IndianChildWelfareAct. All day and everywhere. We need to pass along articles and write our own. We need to write open letters (even though, you know, everyone knows open letters are so last year) and put up Buzzfeed .gif stories or lists (Top 5 reasons why Indians aren't trying to steal a child from a nice white family but instead are trying to be reunited with a child that IS their family). We need to be the voice for all of the people who can't do press conferences and sit down with CNN or even local news shows. We need to take apart every single piece of rhetoric that is put out there. You know the ones that are like "Save this child!" or "They are seizing a child from a loving family" or "This child is ONLY this much Indian." We need a thousand million billion voices to counteract all those voices that want the story to be about a nice, non-Native (usually white) family who just wants to love this child they love so much. And not about how hard and long the child's Native family has also been fighting to be reunited with this child. We need to have all those voices out there. You know why? Because of this:
Going into her room and seeing her toys without her playing with them is the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Me and my wife, Veronica’s grandparents, her sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family our friends are heartbroke without her. I know we did everything in our power to keep Veronica home with her family. During this four year fight to raise my daughter I had to make many difficult decisions, decisions no father should ever have to make. The most difficult decision of all was to let Veronica go… -Dusten Brown
The "Baby Veronica" case, that's a thing that happened and it sucked. It resulted in a 2013 Supreme Court case where a Native father had his child seized away from him. The scene was heartbreaking and resulted in the legalized kidnapping of a Native child, who according the Supreme Court of the United States did not belong with her Native father, but instead belonged with the white couple who had illegally and immorally adopted her years before.
I wrote about it then. A few times. And one thing I said was this:
Writing this blog entry has been hard because this case hurts. Every time I wake up and read another news alert that something has happened in the Baby Veronica case that something tends to be disheartening, ill-informed, sad, racist, jerk-ist, craziness that makes me start shake my head and wonder, what's the point? Because the true nature of people comes out with stories like this. Suddenly, we are having to defend the right of a father to be with his daughter. Suddenly the adoptive couple is making a website called "SAVE Veronica." And my immediate thought is, save her from what? From her father? From a loving home with her father? From an extended family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and Uncles? From her Cherokee heritage? SAVE her from what?
But this is not a blog to tell you about why we need the Indian Child Welfare Act. Or why it is a law. Or how if the shoe was on the other foot you know all these nice white families would be yelling "OBEY THE LAW" at everyone instead of "SAVE THIS NATIVE CHILD FROM HER NATIVE PEOPLE! SCREW THE LAW!" If you want to read that blog entry you can find it here.
This is not even a blog to tell you about the latest case where a nice Non-Native family really wants to keep a Native child that they are fostering (law be damned) so they are going to fight it out in court for years and years, say that is in the best interest of the child, dismiss how the child's Native family has tried to stay an active part of her life even though they have been rebuffed at every stage, and also not mention how hard the child's father worked to try and get her back in the first place. Or how they did what all these nice Non-Native (usually white) families do. They started a "Save Lexi" page and campaign. They told their story to as many news outlets as they could. They are dominating the media right now. "Save Lexi" people say.
Read the full back story if you'd like from Indian Country Today. It is infuriating. Also this part:
In January 2014, Lori Alvino McGill signed on as counsel for the Pages. Alvino McGill worked onAdoptive Couple v. Baby Girl last year as a spokesperson for Veronica's mother, Christy Maldonado, who had given Veronica up for adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina before the girl’s birth in 2009. As Maldonado’s pro bono counsel, Alvino McGill argued in the media and on social websites against Veronica’s father Dusten Brown, using foul language and, in one particularly heated late-night exchange on Facebook, referred to Veronica’s biological father as a “sperm donor.”
I bolded that last part because that is what it's always about. Overturning ICWA. And they are not only going to do it legally. They are going to do it by controlling, manipulating and steering the conversation in popular media.
You may notice that while there are plenty of interviews with the nice white family who just want to protect their Native foster child from her Native family... there are not many with any of the Native people connected with the case. This happened in the case of Dusten Brown as well. Dusten followed the gag order, he believed in the law, and he thought cooler heads would prevail in a case that was about a father who loved his child. The media could have cared less, because if he wasn't going to sit in a chair with them and get them good ratings, they were going to go with the whole "isn't this so sad to have a child seized and kept away from a family that wants her?" (Isn't it sad that they are trying to do that to the father and his family as well? No? It should be...)
I actually wrote about this media insanity for an article that will be published soon. Because what I noticed about the media in these Indian Child Welfare Cases is this:
The representation forwarded by popular media of Native people in this case was specifically designed to diminish tribal sovereignty in public discourse. In most instances the national news media did not invite Native intellectuals to participate in this public dialogue. Public opinion was swayed because of the portrayal of Native nations as racist and discriminatory against nice white couples who wanted to adopt Indian children. On October 18, 2012, Dr. Phil dedicated an entire show to the case. Anderson Cooper also joined in the discussion of the case on CNN, which he argued was about the seizure of a Native child away from a white adoptive family. Wolf Blitzer (also on CNN) questioned why the Cherokee Nation felt like they deserved jurisdiction in the case. --Cutcha Risling Baldy
That's right news media. Maybe you can't talk to the exact Native family involved, but you can AT LEAST ask Native people to comment on what the case means and why it is important. You know how when you do a story on Donald Trump (like a milllion and a half of them) but you can't actually get Donald Trump to come on your show (cause he busy tweeting) so you call up one of your political analysts to make comments.
WE CAN DO THAT TOO!
But we were never asked. And what I noticed about the Baby Veronica case was the palpable lack of representation of any Native voices in the discussion. I also wrote about this too:
Native intellectuals were not invited to participate in meaningful public discussion, nor were they featured on popular media sites as guest writers or editors about this issue. Instead there was a tentative silence about the case, and a whispered hope that the Indian Child Welfare Act would be enough to protect this Native father. It was not. And though the Cherokee Nation had promised to uphold their sovereignty by refusing to give in to the demands to hand over the child to the Copabiancos, in the end Veronica Brown was taken from her father and driven away in front of national news cameras and a gathering of protestors holding signs saying “Cherokee children are not for sale.” -Cutcha Risling Baldy
What's the point? We cannot afford to be silent. Things have changed since the Baby Veronica case. Native twitter is a thing that exists. #HashtagActivism has told people we are #NotYourMascot #NotYourTonto and that #JKRowling needs to take a Native American Studies Class.
There are whole articles written now that are just a series of tweets. Here's what this person said on Twitter. Hey here's another thing someone said on Twitter. And because of this, there is NO DENYING that Native public intellectuals exist. I call it the #NewNativeIntellectualism
The new Native intellectualism is about interrogating popular discourse on Native peoples and offering a pointed and engaged critique. It's being passionate about online activism and presence because we know there are interconnections to how this informs public discourse about self-determination and the future of Native Nations.
It's every blog entry. Every re-tweet. Every voice that says "You may think there is nobody that can come on your show and explain sovereignty to you Wolf Blitzer, but there are many of us."
So if you do anything today, right now, head on over to your Twitter or your Facebook page and say "It's time to talk about the #IndianChildWelfareAct."
And refuse to be silenced.
What's some stuff I can do now?
Check out the Twitter feeds of some of these Native people, retweet, repeat.
Founder @ A Tribe Called Geek. Managing Partner @ Native Max Magazine. Producer/Host @ SuccessNativeStyle. Board Member of Not Your Mascots. (Opinions are mine)
Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. Publisher of American Indians in Children's Literature; PhD and M.Ed in Education, MLIS. See CV at website for list of pubs.
I'm an educated, professional Native woman. My very existence is a political statement. *No DMs*
And let me end with this. When Dusten Brown was finally able to speak publicly about his daughter, and the case that was all over the news media and took him all the way to the Supreme Court, what quickly became obvious was that he was not the callous, neglectful, brash or even arrogant person that the Capobiancos and their media team had made him out to be. He was a loving, caring father. And I end here with his message to his daughter because he is right, one day she will read about this time in her life, and I hope instead of Dr. Phil and CNN nonsense she is able to find this video and hear his voice to remind her how loved she will always be. And to remind us why our voices matter now, and can matter many years in the future as these stolen children find their way home.
And to Veronica, one day you will read about this time in your life. Never ever for one second, never ever for one second doubt how much I love you, how hard I fought for you, or how much you mean to me. My home will always be your home and you’re always welcome in it. I miss you more than words can express. You’ll always be my little girl, my princess, and I will always love you until the day I die. I love you and hope to see you soon. -Dusten Brown
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY!
I promise you this whole thing is not going to be about #MagicInNorthAmericaGate but a lot of it will be. This week in #SettlerNonsense JK Rowling forces me to revisit my love of Harry Potter through a critical scholarly lens (HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME JK ROWLING) and other people prove that in the public imagination fantastical creatures exist all around us, and they are usually Native Americans who are so "other" to us y'all.
What is #SettlerNonsense you ask
Settler Nonsense is dehumanization and dismissal of Native knowledges so prevalent in discussions about Native people. It is the ever present "vanishing Indian" story where we all just up and disappeared one day and NOBODY KNOWS WHY (it was genocide. Yep. Genocide.) Natives are always vanishing, dying or losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental.
#1: JK Rowling published some short (short) stories about the history of #MagicInNorthAmerica and there were Natives mentioned in it and it was not good. It was mostly 1. Natives are magical 2. But they don't use wands cause all the good wand makers are British (touche) 3. They do know a lot about plants though 4. Skinwalkers aren't bad. The people who said they were bad are just jelly. 5. When the wizards immigrated here they were like "where's the apothecary?" And Natives were like "walk 1/2 a mile up that way and get the stuff yourself. We are busy." 6. So the poor British wizards were like "It's a mad wilderness here. There are few amenities." And the Natives sat back in their cities and villages and went "sure, no amenities. You are right. Stay far away from our amenities-less villages."
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the stories because once they came out several really fantastic writers and bloggers put on their capes and used their non-wand filled hands to do what needed to be done. Here's an excerpt.
Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.
This whole wandless magic thing is bugging me. So Rowling has said multiple times that it takes a lot more skill to perform magic without a wand (Dumbledore does it at several points in the books), but points out that wands are what basically refines magic. Wands are a European invention, so basically she’s demonstrating Eurocentric superiority here–the introduction of European “technology” helps bring the Native wizards to a new level. AKA colonial narrative 101.
Dr. Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
Simon Moya-Smith at Indian Country Today
“I’m saying American society hasn’t evolved. Its conception of us and our spiritualities remains seriously antiquated. People all across this fading country still believe Native Americans cast curses, heal with magic potions … I’m saying there’s very little difference between what a 3rdGrade teacher will fleece to students in November about Native American spirituality, and what J.K. Rowling scribbled about Native Americans and magic.”
Over on Righting Red
For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!
I also really liked what author N(ora). K. Jemisin wrote
It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?
You're welcome Internet. Now that we have covered all the bases I'm sure we can all agree that what JK Rowling wrote was problematic, dismissive and hurtful to Native peoples. Also, ill-informed and contributes to continuing issues that face Native peoples who are just trying to get some good literature written about them so that kids/ students will stop writing book reports about how nice it was that Columbus brought some Natives back to Europe with him when he left so they too could visit the apothecary (I am guessing here. I know for a fact that some students write that Columbus was nice enough to run a quick cruise line back to Europe because nowhere do any children's books call it a SLAVE TRADE).
Except we can't all agree. The backlash was swift. There was a lot of "it's only fiction!" or "Stop being so PC!" or "You should just be grateful someone like Rowling even mentioned you!" or "Stop being such a cry baby!"
jSo here's my two cents.
$.01: Here are some times where things that JK Rowling wrote in Harry Potter really super mattered and also were more than just fiction.
$.02: JK Rowling has a lot of money. This does not mean I think she owes me anything but I think she owes herself to really take some of that money and enroll in a Native American Studies class. Heck, at least a Native American literature class. It is there that she will start to see how the language of "fantasy" and "magical realism" and "magic" is part and parcel to language of vanishing, pretend Indians. Like if we can make Natives kind of foggy in our imaginations it just feels a little bit like millions of people being killed or displaced isn't all that gut wrenching (it happened a long time ago in a land far far away you know?) We have to be real as well as fantastical. Because you know what, I'm not going to argue that we aren't fantastical. But we are fantastical and magical not just as wizards but because of the sheer strength and power that comes from our cultures, stories, songs and ceremonies.
Also we can be wizards and have an awesome wizard school and teach all about why magic with no wand is so much better but our schools would not and should not be divorced from our histories in the "no-maj" world as well. You know why? Because our wizards would not turn their backs on their no-maj family. And we would want even the newest wizard immigrant to know that.
P.S. Listen. If you're gonna do a whole boarding school thing with the magical school in the U.S. that has a background in Indigenous magic (which you said before) you really need to read up on the history of boarding schools in the Americas and be very conscious of that as you move forward. Please. Please stop what you are doing and do this right now. Please.
#2: Some girl on Instagram put up a photo of her "hot boxing a hobbit house" which just so happened to be her hitting a bong in a traditional Northwest California home in a State Park.
I'm not going to put up the photo of this girl that she posted publicly to Instagram and then let people make a bunch of comments and like it a lot before finally deleting it because many Native youth were all "excuse me?"
Her defense was that 1. She's native? And 2. It just looked like a Hobbit house because of the hole or something and she didn't mean to be disrespectful. Okay.
The reason why I was struck by this particular instance is the mention of Hobbits. It was the second time in a number of weeks that I had seen someone say these were "hobbit houses" or refer to Native people from the Northwest of California as possible hobbits. I don't really feel the need to correct that we are in fact, not hobbits because hobbits aren't real and if anything hobbits probably stole their ideas from us when we were exchanging ideas with Maori's from New Zealand long before Columbus got lost and thought he found India. Because hobbits are from New Zealand right? They were in the movie.
Somebody's going to write me a letter now explaining it's fiction and hobbit's are from MIDDLE EARTH to which I say, yes, exactly.
Why does it matter that some people refer to our houses as hobbit houses? It's just more nonsense really. I often explain that these houses were very well designed homes and in fact draw on principles that are now being used as part of sustainable building design. They were made from redwood planks, they were sturdy, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They were energy efficient. Also, they were permanent structures (so all those things you hear about Natives being nomadic wanderers... nope). And they survived. In some places in Northwest California Natives were living in homes like this through the 1920s. They were holding steadfastly to their village sites despite pressure to move and to destroy or build over those sites.
The particular site that the young woman was at is a recreational site in a state park meant to educate people about the Natives of the area called the Yurok. After she posted the photo a young woman posted a response to her trying to explain why the photo is so infuriating. That posted letter got the young woman who wrote the letter temporary blocked from Facebook for not meeting Facebook's standards? AND THAT ladies and gentlemen is why Facebook wins the #SettlerNonsense badge of the week.
Here is the letter for everyone to read.
*Update* The young woman who had her account banned from Facebook for a while posted a statement on her own website which you can read here. https://sineadtalley.wordpress.com/
So that's it for this week folks. Enjoy your #SettlerNonsense
I'm going to go and see where all my Fantastical Natives are at. #WhereMyFantasticalNativesAt
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
My friend Morning Star Gali got awarded a Leading Edge Fund fellowship so that she can work on restoring justice for Native Peoples.
Gali will document the crisis of mass incarceration among Native Americans in the state. Using her extensive network, organizing and community-based and engaged research background, she will mobilize Native nations, incarcerated Native Americans and their families, allies and policy leaders to address and shift the tide of over-incarceration and human rights violations within corrections institutions. She also aims to build solidarity and power among Indigenous Peoples throughout California, enabling them to restore sovereign rights and to heal, care for and resolve differences among their people on their own terms and by their own tribal governments.
Here she is in a video. #AwesomeNativeWomen
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Federal Indian law is a really badly written fiction story, Kevin Bacon is afraid of dirty handprints, Formation is cool but hmmm, and no Vanessa Hudgens... no.
This week in #Settler Nonsense (2/18)
It's the end of the week which means time for a new edition of "This week in #SettlerNonsense" a weekly review of some of the things that are just plain #SettlerNonsense.
#1: Antonin Scalia admits that the Supreme Court is just making shiz up as they go... in Federal Indian Law.
This article -- written by April Youpee-Roll about her experience meeting now deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia highlights one of the things that we've been saying about Federal Indian Law for a long time. It's just sort of made up based on whatever #SettlerNonsense happens to be in fashion at the moment. In her article she talks about meeting Scalia at one of his book signings. (Read her whole article. Seriously. Do it.)
As I handed over my book, I decided to go with, "I just wanted to thank you. When I was 10, I came to watch oral arguments in my family's case, and you joined the majority in our favor."
Take Sovereignty for instance ---
First Indians are sovereign because THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SOVEREIGN.
Then Indians are sovereign because "help we need you to help us cause we don't know how to help ourselves."
Then Indians are sovereign because "you're obviously sovereign governments, obviously. I mean you were making treaties with other countries long before the United States became the United States."
Then Indians are sovereign because "that's what the damn treaties say!"
But then people are like "but having sovereign nations within our nation is hard. Also we want all the land. Boo hoo."
So then the Supreme Court one day says that Indians are not sovereign they are "domestic, dependent" sovereigns and everyone who reads the Supreme Court decision goes "wait? What is that?"
They don't know. They just made it up.
We can play this game all day with Federal Indian Law. Like the freedom of religion. EVERYBODY has freedom of religion. Until one day the Supreme Court goes "except. Well not Native Americans. Okay, really it's not anybody. Because really the government can do whatever it wants with its land so long as they aren't directly targeting a religion." And the people go "wait? WHAT?" #TheyDontKnow #TheyJustMadeItUp
Argument for arguments sake. I guess the Supreme Court is supposed to make stuff up, that's kind of what they do. However, in the case of Federal Indian Law there are actually MANY MANY texts and ideas they could pull from that aren't just "made up" but instead are based in legal precedent. They don't have to make it up. It's just they ignore and/or don't know any real information about Native people, their histories, and their continuing societies and cultures. Why don't they learn about that in school? College? Law school? Clerking? #SettlerNonsense
#2: Kevin Bacon's new move is about a kid who steals haunted Indian artifacts from an Indian site and then the whole family has to put up with the scary Indian spirits that are coming to get them because...
WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP TAKING SHIZ THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO THEM? #SettlerNonsense that's why. This belief that all those things are yours for the "taking" because they don't belong to anybody anymore right? All the Indians are dead now, at least all the Indians that had cool rocks.
WHY ARE INDIAN SPIRITS ALWAYS SO MAD AND SCARY? #SettlerNonsense because they know deep down that Indians are just sort of pissed about all the #SettlerNonsense. This makes our Indian ghosts scary beings that want to come and make little kid's lives miserable. Also, in a world ruled by #SettlerNonsense Indian spirits tend to overreact, the way all Indians did back in the day. [sarcasm ahead!] GEEZ SORRY okay, we made you move out of your house, Cherokees. SORRY okay, we tried to take your children away from you and put them into schools where they were often abused. The whole "you guys are so sensitive" that even after you die you over react to things like some kid taking a rock is #SETTLERNONSENSE
WHY IS THIS THE FILM BEING MADE BY HOLLYWOOD? When there are so many other films that could tell much better stories? We can make a move about scary Indian spirits that haunt rocks but they don't make movies about scary white spirits trying to come in to some Indian families house and tell them they live there now. That's some real #SettlerNonsense
In Hoopa some of our First People who prepared the world for us went into the rocks/rivers/trees etc. This is a good thing. They are always with us. And they provide for and care for us as we provide for and care for the earth and all of its beings.
NOT-- "ooooo scary spirits in the rocks."
I feel like someone needs to make a trailer for what this movie would be with a Native family instead... The spirit shows up and makes dirty hand prints everywhere and the Native grandma is all "who's been touching my couch with dirty hands!" And then the kid gets in trouble and the spirit is all "aren't you freaked out now? I have dirty hands." And the Native kid is like "not really. I'm pissed. Stop getting me in trouble dude." End trailer. #MakeBetterMoviesHollywood
#3: Everybody is talking about Beyonce and how they are gonna get their behinds in Formation and I'm just over here like "wait, the director of Formation was also the director of No Doubt's WTF Native Appropriation video?"
Maybe you don't remember that video? It was ALL KINDS of #SettlerNonsense. Gwen Stefani was dressed up as an Indian. She then gets kidnapped by white lone ranger kind of dudes? And they drag her around, tie her to a wall, and threaten her with guns. All the time she is singing "do you think I'm looking hot?" #NotReally
I wrote about it here. http://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog/an-open-letter-to-no-doubt-not-so-hot
What I said then was something like:
The video also features a tee-pee village, Gwen doing some sort of smoke signals dance and sending up red smoke, scenes of cowboys getting drunk and heading out to the tee-pee village to shoot point blank at Indian people. It features Gwen in a weird swimsuit thing dancing in front of a bonfire in combat boots while telling us that we can go ahead and check out her ragamuffin. There's a lot of feathers, a red dress, a tee-pee hideaway which is for some reason filled with a hookah, an African mask and a bunch of other vaguely ethnic looking stuff. And a dog.
Turns out the director of this No Doubt #SettlerNonsense video was Melina Matsoukas and she is also the director of Beyonce's new video causing all this conversation. And this conversation. And this conversation.
One of my favorite Hupa's in the world texted me the day that Beyonce dropped her Formation video and was all "I LOVE THIS VIDEO."
Me too, It's pretty awesome.
And then I find out that it's directed by the same person who thought that No Doubt's video was okay? How do you not walk off that set? How do you not go "listen, this whole part where we have Gwen Stefani dancing around in a Tipi that includes a Hookah and some African masks. It's like Cultural Appropriation threw up in there and she's dancing around in it. I JUST CAN'T. "
There is so much vision in the Formation video. The song is one thing (I love the song) but the imagery that is put along with it, the celebration, the modern nod to a rich and deep culture. It is not Beyonce dressed up in old timey clothes playing -- it is saying "this is a part of who we are and a part of who I am and I am proud."
So what does this mean? I haven't decided yet. There is something to be said about how the appropriation of Native people is so accepted. Also, how little regard there is for how their culture also builds who they are as strong people in modern times. I just haven't been able to really put it in to words... yet.
#4: Vanessa Hudgens and her boyfriend carved their names in Red Rocks in Sedona, AZ
And the world went "Stop with your #SettlerNonsense Vanessa Hudgens."
#5: The Bundy Militia literally pooped all over Native American artifacts
Sometimes people say "Cutcha, what is #SettlerNonsense" and instead of trying to write some kind of eloquent explanation like:
Settler Nonsense is the narrative of loss that is so prevalent in discussions about Native people. We are always losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental. Natives are always in the last stages of their existence. We have long past the time of the last Mohican or the last of our tribe. This is to solidify the settler colonial desire for an eventual inheriting of this land, a rightful, uninhibited, ahistorical passing of ownership from the poor, dying Indigenous to the stronger, healthier, more vibrant settler colonial society.
But instead I'll just say: #SettlerNonsense is a bunch of white dudes taking over some federal land and demanding that it be given to them because they have "rights" to it and then digging a trench and pooping all over it. Also it's kind of #SettlerNonsense that they couldn't just go "discover" it in the first place because, and as we come full circle, our own legal system says that the United States owns the land by "right of discovery."
The head of the militia keeps going on about how the land belongs to "the people" and you have to laugh because in his #SettlerNonsense he's partially correct.
The Burns Paiute tribe are "the people" of that area. The land was never ceded to the government. So if that land should be returned to anyone it's the tribe. Anything else is just flights of fancy, like you're making it up as you go along. Which, as we have established from the beginning is exactly what they are doing.
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
Thank goodness this movie doesn't have Kevin Bacon in it because otherwise Zambo Dende would just be wandering around leaving dirty hand prints everywhere and acting like that's doing something. #MAKEBETTERMOVIESHOLLYWOOD
Somebody at a talk I was giving once said to me "the name is bad. I get the name thing. Nobody wants to be called that kind of name. But the mascots. Mascots make us feel really good about our teams. Mascots are a source of pride."
And then they waited for a response.
I smiled. "Sure," I said. "Some mascots may be a source of pride. And some mascots may be a source of many questions. But Native mascots do not make people feel a great sense of pride, they mostly just confirm that we are still comfortable with racist caricatures and that when we normalize them and say they are harmless, that just allows these images to keep saying 'ha ha, we think of your group as something beneath us.'"
"How so?" And this person was generally interested.
"Well," I said. "Let me tell you about this exercise I sometimes do in my classes..."
In Which I Show How Racist Chief Wahoo Really Is or Adventures In Teaching About Mascots
In my classes we often talk about mascots and imagery and representation. I assign students articles like this one, this one, and this one. And they usually watch a video about the personal nature of the mascot debate that happened at Stanford University (featuring my Mama). As part of our class lecture I feature a portion where we talk about stereotypical/racist imagery and discuss how to critically analyze this imagery for the story it is trying to tell. I'm trying to get students to understand that it is not just what the image looks like but also the argument that the image is trying to make. What is the story that you walk away with? What is the message that the image is trying to send?
I am often surprised at the visceral response that student’s have to racist portrayals of other cultures and it takes me a moment not to second guess my process of confronting them with these racist images as a way to show them how desensitized they are to racist portrayals of Native people. I can tell many of them are uncomfortable, very uncomfortable actually. They whisper to each other trying to figure out what my angle is and more than one often give me the side eye. I’m guessing they are convinced that my use of certain cartoons is some sort of tacit approval of the cartoon. I can see their heads spinning -- who googles stuff like that? And what does one have to google to find such a derogatory, ignorant cartoon for use in a class? Is this how she spends her spare time?
Turns out – “racist Asian caricature” will work just fine.
I wanted to find caricatures that were reminiscent of Chief Wahoo to lead them to the point where they can start to recognize how this "othering” of people in our cultural imagination is played out in popular stereotypes. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten the question “aren’t some stereotypes true?” And my favorite answer is “does it matter?” Stereotypes are built on a foundation of lies, half truths, biased interpretations etc. meant to support and justify colonial occupation. Stereotypes are there to influence how we see the world so that we are okay with what our settler-colonial state did to formulate this world.
If settler colonialism is the dark side, then stereotypes are the red light-saber. Also, Dan Snyder is General whatever that guy’s name was who was a general and had some dying heart and was actually a robot and Fox News is the Empire which would make Bill O’Reilly some kind of Darth something (Maul? Sidious?) but I really don’t want to give him that sort of satisfaction.
The first time I did this exercise in my class was one of the most illuminating.
Many of the students laughed uncomfortably at the ridiculousness of the portrayals in the cartoons. Once we started talking about them, it was hard for them to put in to words, or rather to want to say out loud what stereotypes were included in the pictures. I asked many questions – “How do you know the person is a certain ethnic background? What makes you think that? What about them is exaggerated? What’s the point of the cartoon? What are they trying to say about these people?”
And it was so fascinating to me to watch how many of the students were visibly uncomfortable with the image remaining on the screen as we talked about it. I could see some of them recoiling in their chairs and it sort of hit me how uncomfortable it was for them to see this kind of racist imagery because they are able to live in a world where they don’t have to see it if they really don’t want to. I know this type of imagery exists around us in various ways. Katie Perry as a Geisha, black face at Halloween parties on college campuses, but really… in a singular world where you hang out with your friends and check out their Instagrams, well that’s the privilege… the privilege of feeling like this type of overt, confrontational racism isn’t tangible and definitely isn’t socially acceptable. Unless your teacher puts it up as some cartoons as part of a class lecture…
I kept wanting to tell them “this discomfort. This physical reaction, this disgust, this head-shakingly bad taste in your mouth… remember that.” Because as we made our list of what these images confronted us with I was readying them for the blow. Here’s their list of what these images were all about according to my class:
That was their list! I was amazed… When I would flip to the next image they would shake their heads again. Some of them would sink down in their chair. One whispered “she knows these are awful right? Just plain awful…” And I would try to continue. Tell me what story this image is telling you. Tell me how this dehumanizes the person. Tell me which features are exaggerated and why. What story is this image trying to tell you about this person?
Finally I asked them to consider all the ways they were uncomfortable. I asked them to reflect for a moment on their visceral reactions. I said “think about these images and how having them here, on this screen, in your classroom… made you wonder if I was crazy because why would anyone want to call attention to images like this. And then look at this…”
And let's compare.
What’s the same about them?
My students replied: The crazy skin color. The exaggerated features, large mouth, large teeth. The sort of dumb look on their faces, like they are so stupid they don’t even know they are a racist caricature. The stereotypes, what they wear, how they dress, how their faces look.
And then I said "What's the story?"
One of the students replied. "It's that they are too dumb. They are dumb and okay with however we want to treat them. They go along with it. And we can laugh at them and use them the way we want to."
I immediately wondered if it was too heavy handed and if confronting them with incredibly racist and derogatory images would negate the message because they would spend most of their time personally reacting. Part of me wanted to say “it’s not fun is it? It’s not fun, or funny to be confronted with imagery that demeans you. It either demeans you by its portrayal of what may be your culture, or it demeans you by confronting you with stereotypes that you know all too well. Because the image would mean nothing if the stereotypes weren’t ingrained in us… this is what society gives to us. And think about what it means that our starting images caused a stir in the classroom but what would have happened if I had started with Chief Wahoo, something you can see on television today, something that is just a “normal” part of sports… you can go out to a store right now and buy a shirt, pants, posters, keychains and more with him on it. And then think about what it means that we are desensitized to the visceral nature of this image, what does that mean for Native people – but also, what does that mean for everyone else?”
Do I think everyone walked away believing my hype? Maybe. Probably not. If I have taught them anything it is to question everything and to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. But I do think there was kind of a safety-net that had been cast away from those “other” pictures, the ones that had made them squirm in their seats, the ones they didn’t really want to talk about. We ended the class with pictures that Native people posted declaring themselves #NotYourMascot. And I wondered which images they would carry with them as they left class.
I don't want to be an Indigenous Debbie Downer (okay yes I do. I do it a lot anyway. "Hey I love this music video..." "Sure, except it's racist." "Hey I can't wait for the Oscars." "Sure, except they are celebrating a film that is basically a white savior movie for Indigenous peoples or #DancesWithBears) but it's not just the name that we are talking about when we say #NotYourMascot
We are talking about how inundated we are with images of Native people as red faced, dopey, savage, creatures. That's what is all over our television and movie screens. I promise one day your grandchildren will be searching on their tiny watch phones while riding their (not going to set your house on fire) hoverboard and they will go "Grandpa, did you guys really have this picture of Native people as part of your sports teams and people would like wear it around and put it on the bumpers of their non-electric cars and everything?"
And you will have to be like "um. Yeah. Kind of." And they will give you the exact look my students give me when I put up some racist imagery, the one that says "This is bad. This is so bad. This is a joke. It's not funny."
It's not funny.
In Which I Nominate Myself To Be The Native Oprah and make my list of favorite things OR Buy Native This Holiday Season
It's that time of the year. Oprah is pushing many expensive things pretending they aren't that expensive and telling me I should buy them because what's $160? (My car registration that's due Oprah. CAR REGISTRATION) Each and every year I promise that I am going to reign supreme as the Native Oprah and make my own list of favorite things... but each and every year I have just gone ahead and not told anyone else because it's none of their business what I am probably buying other people as their gifts.
This year though, I'm getting on top of it. Mostly because it's important to #BuyNative and not just #AtTarget Native, or #AtAnthropologie Native or #AtWalmart Native, but instead Native, from Native artists who are doing wonderful and amazing things. So you want to get some Native things and impress your friends this holiday season? Here are some of my favorite things (hint hint to my BFF and my #SupaHupas and my #HoChunk and of course... the Husband).
Buy this shirt
Supports a good cause too. If you've never listened to Metis In Space then you should. Like right now. Go there and then come back. It'll be a while. I'll wait. http://www.indianandcowboy.com/metis-in-space/
Welcome back. Okay. Now buy their shirt.
This art work
This painted tile by artist Loren Lavine.
She's from Hoopa. That means she's cool.
There are so many other things on her Etsy site right now. You can buy any one of those and then send her a note and say "send it to Cutcha!" and she will! #ThankYouInAdvance
This book https://heydaybooks.com/book/a-is-for-acorn/
You have a baby? Buy it! Read it to them!
You have children? Buy it! Give it to your child. Tell them to get inspired.
You have no children? Buy it! Put it in your bathroom. Remind people what life was like before iPhones when we didn't just keep watching our TV shows while we were pooping.
This magazine subscription
While you're at it. Give the gift that keeps on giving. A subscription to News from Native California.
Then all year someone will be reminded how much you love them.
So much you gave them News from Native California. https://heydaybooks.com/news-from-native-california/
One time my BFF and I found a Cleveland Indians shirt at a garage sale. She took it home and then put a big black sharpie marker over the logo. Because #NoThanks
Now it's time for you to get on the bandwagon. #NotYourMascot
So buy this shirt: http://shop.beyondbuckskin.com/product/dechief-raglan
This hat right here.
My cousin made it.
It's an awesome hat.
I have a pair kind of like them. They are really cute. And when you wear them they make this really nice sound.
Also, wearing Native jewelry is important.
Also important to learn something this Holiday season.
Always be learning.
And this book (though I haven't read it... yet) is HIGH on my list. Sarah Deer is a Native woman who won a freaking Genius Grant cause she's a genius.
This collection of Indigenous comics. That's right, comics that are Indigenous.
An Indigenous comics collection? A collection of Indigenous comics?
A comic collection of Indigenous comics?
"So I really like comics but I can't find any Indigenous ones."
"I bought you a book."
Because we're all going to be in line soon waiting to get in to our screening and figure out WHERE THE HELL IS LUKE?! #LukeTruther
What better way to show your #StarWars love then with this awesome shirt. You know R2D2 was Native because he was a trickster with the best sense of humor and pretty much was like "Chill Luke. We'll just go blow up the Death Star, gimme a minute." http://oxdx.storenvy.com/products/14580765-r2dine2-mens-charcoal-crew
And this snuggling blanket...
Admittedly one of the more expensive things on this list because a girl can dream. http://eighthgeneration.com/products/salish-pattern-blanket
These blankets are wool and awesome and Native made. So if you were wondering "where can I find an awesome blanket that isn't just Native inspired but actually from a Native company" here you go!
Now, what if you want to take this blanket it and make it in to a really awesome coat that Cutcha can wear when she's up late at ceremony? Sure. That works too.
Oh man, I really want this blanket. Cold nights, awesome blanket... some peppermint tea and Metis in Space!
Z Nation was the first post-apocalyptic zombie tv show to feature Native Americans and it was bad… bad… really bad… I’m sure there was something redeeming… Eddie Spears is cute.
Recently the SyFy channel announced that they would air an upcoming episode that featured Native American people living on their reservation post-apocalypse. And there was a resounding “INDIANS ON TV! POST-APOCALYPTIC INDIANS ON TV!” because we tend to get a little bit excited knowing that (1) somebody is trying to make an effort to show a representation of us as alive, futuristic people and (2) hey we actually survived an apocalypse in this fictional universe!
As I have said before, Natives aren’t really represented in post-apocalyptic shows and movies which I find very interesting because Native people have actually survived apocalypses/ the end of the world before… If you want to know more you should read my blog about The Walking Dead and Settler Colonialism. Or listen to this radio interview.
It seems to me that by the time the futuristic apocalypse rolls around Native people have already vanished (as per the “vanishing Indian” trope), so they aren’t a part of this “new world.” Either that, or Native people are just straight chillin’ someplace else, probably on their reservations, and they don’t need to get involved in all that junk where people go into hordes of zombies and think it’s a good idea to try to lead them around (THAT WAS NEVER A GOOD IDEA RICK. NEVER.)
Z-Nation is a bit different because in this post-apocalypse there is a dude who is part zombie or something and they think he might be a cure? I don’t know I’ve only watched two episodes. And this episode was billed as a great thing because it featured many Native actors and a very Native specific storyline.
I watched it because I like seeing Indians on TV. I’ve written about this before in my blog where I explore the “Native Cameo.”“Native Cameos” are those 1-2 episode, sometimes intermittent appearances by Native characters on television shows. What I have found *spoiler alert* is that these Native Cameos resettle settler colonial claims to legitimacy, meaning, they justify, and normalize colonization and settler colonial occupation of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous histories.
To better critically analyze (or what I like to call “engage in Indigenous media analytics”) I have provided the following cheat sheet of what I have noticed about these Native cameos. In the Native Cameo:
1. Native Americans are spiritual peoples full of knowledge that is specifically aimed at addressing answers to questions and conundrums of main characters (Spiritual & Knowledgeable)
But ultimately what I was arguing was that
Understanding, discussing, and complicating the Native Cameo is important. We are more than just cameos to a world that tries to pretend like we don’t exist, or that we aren’t fully functioning nations of people who deserve equal footing in politics and culture. Our worlds are more than just other to the “real” or “normal” world that is often portrayed on television. When we are represented in places like Network television it can and should speak to our continued investment in our shared existence, in our shared experiences on Indigenous lands.
Now, while I think Z-Nation did complicate some of the usual Native Cameo points in their episode. (For instance there is a big attempt to have a “strong female Native” character here. She is the one who ends up in charge). There was still a lot of really problematic storylines that actually resulted in me and my friends GUFFAWING (yes, guffawing). And by the end of the episode the show had checked off every last one of my cameo requirements… (except mascots. Almost Z-Nation. Almost)
In the episode the main characters are running from a zombie-storm (z-storm) that is wide, moving fast and driving them toward the grand canyon. When they get there they meet up with a bunch of Indians living on the land, some in the sacred mountains of the tribe, others in the casino. There is the Chief (whose name is Danny) and the Mad Indian Guy (whose name is Gordon) and the Indian Princess Daughter (I didn’t catch her name) and the Medicine Woman plus several unspoken Indian parts. The Indians introduce themselves by saying “This is tribal land, no visitors allowed." And after they are told that there is a horde of zombies coming their way… they refuse to leave. And all heck breaks lose.
I offer you here my picture essay of this episode. Enjoy.
The Native Cameo in Z-Nation: A Picture Essay
Now everybody's friends.
Final conclusion: These Natives need their own zombie-apocalypse show. It would be awesome. There's some work to do... yes. Much actually. Many, many things. But if Eddie Spears ain't on the television each week what's the point of television anyway? Get on it Z-Nation. And then hire some really good Native writers. Lots of them actually. And Directors. This could be awesome. (This episode was not.)
no:'olchwin-ding, no:'olchwin-te (to growold in a good way): The Hupa Flower Dance and the revitalization of women’s coming of age ceremonies in Native California
The following is an excerpt from my in progress book based on research I have been doing for the past few years on the revitalization of women's coming of age ceremonies in Native California. People have been asking "where's the blog?!" And I can only respond "I'm trying to write a book!" So I thought I'd give a sneak preview of what I'm working on and a little bit more info about my academic life and why women's coming of age ceremonies are so important for Native communities.
At one time,women's coming of age ceremonies were a public celebrations of a girl’s first menstruation which demonstrated how young women are powerful members of Native cultures and societies and that gender equality is central to Native epistemologies. Prior to invasion by western settlers, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, like many other tribes in Native California, were complex societies where gender roles were egalitarian and spirituality was central to all aspects of life. California's post-invasion history was a genocide aimed at the total annihilation of Native peoples and included systematic attacks on Native women and their coming of age ceremonies. As a result, many Native nations no longer practiced their women’s ceremony. At the start of the new millennium, Native women in many communities throughout California have come together to bring back the ceremony as a way to strengthen their community and promote healing from the issues of exploitation and violence introduced during colonization.
As I set out to do research on the revitalization of the women’s coming of age ceremony for my tribe, I was keenly aware that I wanted my research and study to focus on the impacts of this ceremony and demonstrate how it (re)writes, (re)rights and (re)rites who we are as Native people. In my own community, the Flower Dance has been an important method of healing for our people. It not only helps young women to build a foundation for their futures, but it has inspired older women, men and young boys to change how they regard the young woman of our community.
In regards to writing what will become part of the historical record, and a testimony to the contemporary experience and autonomy of Native people, I wanted to help tell a powerful story about women, about California Indian women, and how California Indian people can continue to build their futures with the cultural and spiritual foundations from our First People and our ceremonies. It was for this reason I focused not only on rigorous scholarly research of archival, ethnographic materials, but also on informed community based research that does not treat decolonization as “metaphor” but articulates a tangible means by which to decolonize Native communities so that they can be healthier, vibrant peoples (Tuck & Yang).
I foregrounded interviewing the women who were tied to this revitalization, although there were men who are important to the praxis and (re)vitalization of this ceremony as well. I have personal relationships with all of the women who I interviewed. Melodie George-Moore is a medicine woman for the Hupa people, mother and teacher, my relative, and close friend of my mother. Lois Risling, my mother, is a Hupa elder, trained medicine woman, and educator. The young women who agreed to be interviewed included Kayla Rae Carpenter, Natalie Carpenter, Alanna Lee Nulph, Melita Jackson, and Deja George. Together they span the first ten years of this revitalization in the Hoopa community. Each of the women agreed to and were excited about utilizing their real names in this research, something that I found poignant and important to respect, because of how proud they were to be tied to this revitalization.
The following is an excerpt from the final chapter of my book...
xoq’it-ch’iswa:l (on her- they beat time; a Flower Dance is held for her) The revitalization of the Hupa Women’s Coming of Age Ceremony
As I have continued to participate in Flower Dance ceremonies it has become very clear to me that the resurgence of the Flower Dance is a tangible, physical, spiritual and communal act of decolonization. This aspect of the dance was reflected by Hupa medicine woman Melodie George-Moore as well. For her, the dance is about empowering women, because of how colonization targeted Native women.
[The Flower Dance is] a very powerful nod to what women bring to their tribe. Especially powerful seeing as colonization, and for some tribes up to 500 years of colonization, it’s amazing to see when they come to watch what they experience… decolonization, I would say, at a very basic level; at a very biological level. We are celebrating menstruation. I don’t care what you think of it, this is what we think of it (George-Moore)
The Flower Dance supports an Indigenous decolonizing praxis by enacting Indigenous methodologies that center on ceremony to counteract the impact of settler colonial ideologies of gender, history, and spirituality. The women who helped revitalize this dance believed it was the loss of the Flower Dance that contributed to the struggles facing the women of the tribe and that the performance of this ceremony would create a community of women who could provide support to each other and to the young girls.
TI think that it’s an important part to keeping the balance in our community, in our spirituality, basically in all the areas of our lives. ...There’s a lot there that sort of keeps that balance within our tribe, male and female (Carpenter, K).
Part of (re)building this community came from the resurgence of songs and singing among women. Some of the older women who participated in the ceremony were singing for the first time. Younger women were coming together with older women to teach each other songs and talk about their role in the ceremony. Some women created song groups, who specifically came together to make up new songs, bringing new life to the ceremony. In these song groups many of the women were afraid at first of singing but were encouraged by those older women who remembered when women “sang out.” In this respect, the personal journey of the women was reflected in their journey of learning, creating and singing a song in the ceremony. As Melodie George-Moore reflects:
There’s other things happening here, like the five generation first time dancers, all of them first time, one time, singing together for the first time ever. Wow, I can’t top that- five generations of women singing together at one time. That’s the ultimate, that’s the ultimate decolonization that happens (George-Moore).
The revitalization of the dance, therefore, has provided a very poignant methodology for addressing these issues of gender and societal imbalance and the introduction and adoption of a misogyny into Hupa cultural practices and epistemologies. Alanna Nulph notes that what she learned in her Flower Dance was that in Hupa culture and society women are very important in all aspects of the culture and that the Flower Dance ceremony speaks to that importance.
[In Hupa culture] women own a lot of property and regalia and did a lot of the work, they are acorn eaters and who gathered all the acorns? Women! And who weaves all the baskets? The women, with exceptions sometimes you know. Who cuts up the fish? Who drys the fish? The women. So women are important just as the same as men are important in the bigger dances, you need something to celebrate women or else women will get mad at you and you don’t want angry women in your society (Nulph).
Lois Risling explains that this dance has helped men to “look at women in a different light.”
When you dance over somebody and celebrate somebody you don't think of them just as a piece of meat or just as some kind of sexual object. Which is kind of ironic, because that’s not how the miners thought, the miners thought the opposite of [Native women], just as them being a sexual object. But I think if you’ve danced with somebody, you've said prayers over somebody, you begin to think of women in a different way. And this is I think really important for our society because we have been oppressed and we have been told that women, from Christian American morals, we’ve been told that women are not equal to men and they’re not in the same position that men are in. But this ceremony definitely shows that women are important to the society and play a very important part in it (Risling).
As Hupa medicine woman Melodie George-Moore reflects on the impact of this dance she focuses intently on how each of these young women, and all of the people who have become a part of a the Flower Dance community, are able to utilize the positivity of this ceremony against the many issues that still face the Hupa people. The dance, and it’s public celebration of young women, contributes to a community healing, not just an individualized experience on the part of the kinahłdung.
I think we’re making a dent in, or building and holding space against, negativity. There’s a lot of negative things in this world. Especially in the modern world. In the modern Hupa world there is a lot of negative things that are cause for concern and I think we’re holding space against that with this dance. …I thought (we were only) giving the girl armour but in fact what we’re doing is a lot larger than that not just for the girl but for other people who come to participate (George-Moore).
Blue Jay Sings-- The Revitalization of Women's Coming of Age Ceremonies and making Blue Jay Veils
by Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa, Karuk, Yurok)
Presentation on Flower Dance revitalization begins at 57:21 in below video.
In which we establish that there was a genocide against Native Americans, yes there was, it was genocide, yes or this is why I teach Native Studies part 3 million
Late last week this happened. A young woman by the name of Chiitaanibah Johnsen (Navajo/Maidu) told Indian Country Today about her experience in a history class at Sacramento State University where she disagreed with the Professor’s claim that Native Americans did not face genocide. She said that because she was trying to engage with him during class, he ended the class early, called her disruptive, and said that she was “hijacking” the class. She also said that her professor told her she would be disenrolled and expelled from the classroom.
You should read the entire article here if you haven’t.
Now, some people may be surprised to learn that when I talk about genocide in my classes (and I do, I often teach about California, and it becomes very clear, very quickly that what happened in California is a genocide) that students resist. There are many things that I tell them which they take at face value. If we are talking about basketry, they don’t question the methods or the outcomes of what I am saying about basketry. If we are talking about sacred sites, they nod along to videos I show them of Native people fighting for the right to protect their sacred places. But when we start talking about genocide, it usually results in few people who really, really, want there to have not been a genocide in the United States. That’s why this story hit so close to home for me. I mean, this dude is teaching in CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA. Genocide in California? Yeah, Native scholars have been writing about that for a while now…
Part of the problem is that many are surprised to hear there was a genocide, or even mass killings, or any horrific example of something that happened. When you start talking about sport killing, the hunting of Indians, the large sums of money that were paid for California Indian heads and scalps, the open, flagrant, killing of Indian children, -- well nobody’s ever heard about it before. The erasure of the genocide feels almost surreal, like nobody (especially our school system) could pull it off. If it was a thing that happened, we would learn about it, because you can’t hide something like that, right?
Bringing people into a discussion about how thoroughly we have “hidden” the genocide that shaped this “great nation” of ours is, yes, usually met with some skepticism. And what I noticed about this Professor’s response to some of Ms. Johnsen’s research is that these responses are ingrained, because we learn them even if nobody takes us aside and says “this is how you refute or question or muddy genocide against Native peoples.”
How we understand history is ingrained, it’s something that we have repeated… from kindergarten all the way through our required western history classes in college. We learn that history is benign, that history is the study of the past from an objective point of view that just wants to tell a story. We learn that history is in the past, and that our present and future depend on learning this story because we can learn a lot from it.
But in reality, history is about power. The ability to tell the story is a very powerful thing. And the history we have learned in the west, is about justifying, maintaining and supporting the illusion that western civilization, western control of, western ownership of this land was inevitable, beneficial, and destined (manifestly).
From a different perspective, history is not so benign. In fact, it is a constant presence meant to deny Native people’s very existence. Because if Native people exist, then all that history comes in to question. Who we will be, it’s not so set. And we are a country, not so settled.
I found this quote from Joy Harjo yesterday while I was preparing for class and it stuck with me because I know that to raise your hand, to say something, to speak as a Native person is a very powerful moment. Especially when someone will try to shut you down. In this case a Professor had an opportunity to maybe learn something, or at least bring this young woman into a discourse about the messiness of history. But most don’t want their history to be messy. They want their history to be in the past, and for them easily controlled.
But for Native people our history is our present is our future. Actually, that’s for all people, but Native people are clear examples of how this is true. Genocide (which happened) doesn’t just go away. Genocide… well Native people in California we didn’t just call it genocide… many of us called it “the end of the world.” An apocalypse, that doesn’t go away. That changes the world for everyone.
Or as Joy Harjo said:
“We are still dealing with a holocaust of outrageous proportion in these lands. Not very long ago, native peoples were 100 percent of the population of this hemisphere. In the United States we are now one-half of one percent, and growing. All of the ills of colonization have visited us in its many forms of hatred, including self-doubt, poverty, alcoholism, depression, and violence against women, among others. We are coming out of one or two centuries of war, a war that hasn’t ended. …But to speak, at whatever the cost, is to become empowered rather than victimized by destruction.”
Anyway… here is my list of the top three things people tell me that try to explain why it's not genocide against Native Americans (even though it is. It's genocide.)
Most Native Americans died of disease.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
(5) Top Posts
On telling Native people to just "get over it" or why I teach about the Walking Dead in my Native Studies classes... *Spoiler Alert!*
Hokay -- In which I lead a presentation on what happens when you Google "Native American Women" and critically analyze the images or "Hupas be like dang where'd you get that dentalium cape girl? Showing off all your money! PS: Suck it Victorias Secret"
In which we establish that there was a genocide against Native Americans, yes there was, it was genocide, yes or this is why I teach Native Studies part 3 million
5 Reasons I Wear "Indian" Jewelry or Hupas...we been bling-blingin' since Year 1
Pope Francis decides to make Father Junipero Serra a saint or In Which I Tell Pope Francis he needs to take a Native Studies class like stat
I need to read more Native blogs!
A few that I read...