On Indigenous Epistemology and Ethics

CJ Trowbridge

2021-10-18

AIS 440

Week 8 Literature Review: On Indigenous Epistemology and Ethics

Choose 2 of the lectures from the first 7 weeks of class and write a minimum 2 page response by answering the following questions:

1. What was the main topic of the lectures?

2. What did you learn from the lectures?

3. What questions did the lectures bring up for you?

I chose the first two weeks of class. These were necessarily broad and therefore among the most salient and wide-reaching topics. I was particularly interested in these because of the focus on epistemology and ethics. I think these are two of the topics from which the world can learn the most from the indigenous peoples of occupied Turtle Island.

Epistemology is the study of truth, and how to decide what is true or false in the world. Ethics is the study of morals, and how to decide what is morally right and wrong in the world. A somewhat more challenging but also valuable topic is ontology or the study of what is real and how to decide what is real in the world. We didn’t have a unit on the topic of ontology, but together these three fields essentially encompass the worldview of a particular individual, culture, or ethnic group.

I have personally spent a great deal of time working with and supporting spiritual elders and two-spirit educators from indigenous tribes, particularly from the Paiutes. I have always been surprised that there is so little focus on epistemic, ontologic, and ethical differences between the many views held by indigenous people and comparisons between those views and the views of colonizers.

One indigenous elder who I spoke to about this topic described the fundamental difference as being a difference between seeing the world through the lens of your own rights and power versus your own responsibilities. As he put it, colonizer culture sees individuals in terms of their right to the land and their power over other people. Meanwhile, indigenous perspectives – as he put it — focus on the responsibility of individuals to the land and to the people.

These colonizer perspectives taken together create an environment of consumption and destruction and exploitation and place moral value on economic productivity and the marketability of an individual’s job skills. In contrast, the indigenous perspective he outlined creates an environment of resident stewardship and mutual aid where the people see themselves as one with the land and its plants and creatures and as responsible for the wellbeing of their fellow creatures and the land they live on.

I have been shocked as I progress through my degree in Queer Ethnic Studies to see so little focus on indigenous philosophy. When I did my degree in Women’s Studies, there were many classes focused on feminist epistemology and feminist ethics. In particular, these classes focused on the broader worldview of different generations of feminist thought in different parts of the world and how they evolved together and apart over time. The same was true in my LGBT Studies degree. This is why I found the first two weeks of this class so interesting, because as I take this last class for my Queer Ethnic Studies degree, these two units have been the first formal introduction to indigenous epistemology and ethics I have yet seen in my academic career.

Every time I read about issues of indigenous sovereignty, I see them through the lens of epistemology and ethics, and I see this as one of the main knowledge gaps in many academic discussions around these events and issues. For example, Tanya Tagaq has been banned from most social media platforms following her sealfie campaign. Many white feminists like Ellen Degeneres and vegan organizations like Peta began loudly protesting online against the right of Inuk people to sustainably hunt seals – as they have done for countless millennia – on the grounds that the unrelated industry of commercial seal hunting has led to the species becoming endangered. Tagaq urged Inuk people to post selfies with seals they had sustainably hunted in order to highlight the fact that Inuk people have been serving as stewards of the land for millennia, and sustainably harvesting enough seal to survive on the land. Tagaq wanted to underscore the fact that the issue of endangered seals was not caused by Inuk hunting traditions which focus on sustainable coexistence, but rather it was caused by colonizer industrial seal hunting which focuses on the right of corporations to exploit and destroy the natural world in order to make as much money as possible. Framed this way, it’s impossible to fall into what the reading from the first week calls “settler moves towards innocence.” It’s impossible from this lens to see any part of this example as illustrating settler innocence; rather it bolds and highlights settler guilt and responsibility.

The biggest question I have coming out of this essay is why the department does not place more emphasis on indigenous epistemology and ethics. I see these as among the most fundamental and critical parts of studying any ethnic group or community. I see so many indigenous academics, activists, and other leaders being ignored and marginalized by the fact that they are speaking to an audience which is fundamentally unprepared to understand many of the points they may be making. I think this is one of the main missing components of cultural competency for people on the outside who are trying to listen and learn from indigenous leaders, but lack the tools and perspective to internalize some of the ideas without a strong grasp on the fundamentals of indigenous epistemology and ethics.

Resisting Pressure to Conform To Capitalist Hegemony

CJ Trowbridge

AIS 440 Week 6: Two-Spirit People

2021-09-28

Prompt: Describe an action, idea, or ideology that continues to impose colonial heteropatriarchal principles onto Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and what steps you believe are necessary to rewrite this area of colonial and settler analysis.  This response needs to be a minimum of two paragraphs in length and requires two sources.  Sources can include anything from the QIS book or any of the videos or articles assigned in class.  You may also include sources not assigned in class. Be sure to include your citation at the end.

 

Tanya Tagak is an Inuk indigenous musician and activist. She often talks about the way indigenous people have been pressured to assimilate into capitalism, and the way white feminists have participated in that pressure.

The most famous example from her work is the #sealfie campaign. The Inuk people have been sustainably hunting seals for thousands of years as their main food source. (Canadian Sealers Association) And yet when news stories started coming out that white-colonist-commercial-hunters were unsustainably hunting seals, many white feminists (Particularly PETA fans and white vegans) began attacking indigenous people for sustainably hunting seals.

In response to these attacks, Tagak encouraged Inuk people to post what she called sealfies with seals they had sustainably hunted. This led to conversations about sustainable indigenous practices and eventually a documentary called Angry Inuk which exposed the hypocrisy of attacking sustainable indigenous hunting practices while ignoring the global corporations that are actually responsible for the negative impacts on the seal populations. (CBC) One of the key things to take away from that documentary is the fact that sustainable seal hunting is one of the few things indigenous people can do to survive outside of the capitalist settler colonial system. There is a great deal of pressure on them to get jobs and move to the cities and buy gasoline and snowmobiles instead of maintaining their sustainable hunting traditions.

Tagak, like many other Inuk activists is still banned from speaking this truth on social media platforms like Facebook which sided with white settler colonists in attacking indigenous people for their sustainable hunting practices.  (Patar)

This is a great example of white settler colonists attacking and silencing indigenous people and pressuring them to conform to capitalism and patriarchal hegemony. We need to develop a discourse around resisting pressure to conform to capitalism which lets us talk about the ways indigenous people should be able to live outside the norms of settler colonialism. We need to develop a discourse that helps white vegans understand how wrong they are to attack indigenous people for sustainable practices they have been doing for thousands of years in perfect harmony with the very environment which settler colonialism has single-handedly destroyed in just a few hundred years.

 

Works Cited

CBC. (n.d.). How one documentary is changing people’s minds about The INUIT seal hunt. CBC News. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/cbcdocspov/features/how-one-documentary-is-changing-peoples-minds-about-the-inuit-seal-hunt.

Early inuit hunt. Canadian Sealers Association. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.sealharvest.ca/history/.

Dean, D. (n.d.). Tanya tagaq’s Cute SEALFIE pissed off a lot of idiots. VICE. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/4w7awj/tanya-taqaqs-cute-sealfie-pissed-off-a-lot-of-idiots.

Patar, D. (2019, December 20). Inuit crafters continue to be blocked on Facebook for selling sealskin. Nunatsiaq News. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/inuit-crafters-continue-to-be-blocked-on-facebook-for-selling-sealskin/.

AIS 440 Week 6: Two-Spirit People

Watch

In the Life: The Murder of Fred Martinez Jr

Two-Spirits Documentary 

Read

A Boy Remembered

Man who murdered LGBTQ teen in Cortez is released from prison

Write

Describe an action, idea, or ideology that continues to impose colonial heteropatriarchal principles onto Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and what steps you believe are necessary to rewrite this area of colonial and settler analysis.  This response needs to be a minimum of two paragraphs in length and requires two sources.  Sources can include anything from the QIS book or any of the videos or articles assigned in class.  You may also include sources not assigned in class. Be sure to include your citation at the end.

 

Example: In Queer Indigenous Studies, Finley writes “Native women are necessary for the imaginary origin story of the U.S.” (p. 36).  The continued sexualization of Native women has led to a crisis of epidemic proportions wherein Native women in the US and Canada are going missing and murdered at extremely high rates.  I believe the necessary steps are for the US and Canadian governments to work directly with Tribal nations, Tribal NGOs, and women centric NGOs to implement policies that help Native women and tribal/urban Native communities eradicate this horrific phenomenon.

Source: https://www.uihi.org/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-girls-legislation/ ;

Driskill, Qwo-Li. Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. University of Arizona Press, 2011.

 

You can view my essay response here.

 

Choosing to be Queer Native or Native Queer

CJ Trowbridge

AIS 440

Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse

Choosing to be Queer Native or Native Queer

I was struck by the following quote from the Barbara May Cameron article, “Cameron’s refusal to be queer in one corner of her life, and native in another, is as radical and transformative now, as it was then. In an interview with The Gully, Chrystos, a Native American poet and activist, and long-time friend of Cameron, credits her with “giving me a sense of dignity about my place in the world, and my right to be in that place.”

It reminded me of a speech I attended a few years ago where Clarmundo Sullivan talked about the difference between choosing to be a gay black man versus a black gay man, and the pressure to choose one or the other. Many of Sullivan’s comments sound a lot like Cmaeron’s. The article’s author said that, “Being both gay and Native American put Cameron in conflict almost everywhere she was.” And Cameron herself said, “We not only must struggle with the racism and homophobia of straight white America, but must often struggle with the homophobia that exists within our third-world communities.”

Sullivan said the exact same thing about the communities he is a part of, and like Cameron, it led Sullivan to specialized activism for people at the same intersection as himself.

The central thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism is that the experience of intersecting identities is different from the experience of those identities separately. The struggle of an indigenous gay woman is different from the experience of all women, of all indigenous people, of all gay people, or even some other combination of two of the three.

Cameron perfectly personifies the thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism by showing that being an indigenous gay woman still put Cameron at odds with indigenous misogyny and homophobia, with gay settler colonists, with homophobic colonizer women. Each of the marginalized identities Cameron occupies, taken on its own, faces microaggressions on the basis of her other intersections of identity.

Rejecting the pressure to “pick” one marginalized identity and instead acknowledging one’s many identities is a radical act, and feeling a sense of dignity about that intersectional place and one’s right to be in that place — as Cameron puts it — is a radical act of justice.

One of the classic failures of white feminism, of second and first-wave feminism, and of social justice in general is trying to reduce people to just one aspect of their identity while ignoring their other identities and the way their lived experience emerges from multiple intersections.

AIS 440 Week 4: Gay American Indians

Read

Listen

Write

Choose any of the readings, videos, or podcasts from the first four weeks.

Papers must include two parts:

  1. a review of the readings, videos, or podcasts. A review is not a close reading of a couple of key issues, nor is it a string of quotes. It is a summary of the main argument and the key topics the author addresses;
  2. a thoughtful, critical analysis or reflection on how/why the issues addressed in the readings, videos, or podcasts are important.

Tip: After you have completed the review/summary, think about what issues the readings, videos, or podcasts has addressed.

  • Are there particular issues that you find important?
  • Did the authors make an argument that you disagree with or were confused by?
  • Can you compare/contrast the issues of one readings, videos, or podcasts with another?
  • Can you relate readings, videos, or podcasts to other courses you have taken?

 

I was struck by the following quote from the Barbara May Cameron article, “Cameron’s refusal to be queer in one corner of her life, and native in another, is as radical and transformative now, as it was then. In an interview with The Gully, Chrystos, a Native American poet and activist, and long-time friend of Cameron, credits her with “giving me a sense of dignity about my place in the world, and my right to be in that place.”

It reminded me of a speech I attended a few years ago where Clarmundo Sullivan talked about the difference between choosing to be a gay black man versus a black gay man, and the pressure to choose one or the other. Many of Sullivan’s comments sound a lot like Cmaeron’s. The article’s author said that, “Being both gay and Native American put Cameron in conflict almost everywhere she was.” And Cameron herself said, “We not only must struggle with the racism and homophobia of straight white America, but must often struggle with the homophobia that exists within our third-world communities.”

Sullivan said the exact same thing about the communities he is a part of, and like Cameron, it led Sullivan to specialized activism for people at the same intersection as himself.

The central thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism is that the experience of intersecting identities is different from the experience of those identities separately. The struggle of an indigenous gay woman is different from the experience of all women, of all indigenous people, of all gay people, or even some other combination of two of the three.

Cameron perfectly personifies the thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism by showing that being an indigenous gay woman still put Cameron at odds with indigenous misogyny and homophobia, with gay settler colonists, with homophobic colonizer women. Each of the marginalized identities Cameron occupies, taken on its own, faces microaggressions on the basis of her other intersections of identity.

Rejecting the pressure to “pick” one marginalized identity and instead acknowledging one’s many identities is a radical act, and feeling a sense of dignity about that intersectional place and one’s right to be in that place — as Cameron puts it — is a radical act of justice.

One of the classic failures of white feminism, of second and first-wave feminism, and of social justice in general is trying to reduce people to just one aspect of their identity while ignoring their other identities and the way their lived experience emerges from multiple intersections.

 

AIS 440 Week 2: Decolonize Sexuality

Read

Abel R. Gomez – San Francisco Pride, Nation’s Largest LGBT Celebration, Takes Place on Indigenous Ohlone Land

A Map of Gender Diverse Cultures

Decolonization is not a metaphor

“Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools” (Tuck and Yang, 2012)

Listen

All My Relations Podcast: Ep #5: Decolonizing Sex (feat. Kim TallBear): 

Write

Please answer the following discussion prompt.  All responses must be at minimum of two paragraphs in length.

In what ways could your field of study benefit from including an Indigenous Queer perspective on gender and sexual orientation?

AIS 440 Week 1: Introduction to Native Sexuality and Queer Discourse

Read

How Does Your Positionality Bias Your Epistemology?

Listen

Write

Using the free website or free app (find on Apple or Google Play) Native Land research the land(s) where you grew up. If you grew up in several different places feel free to list the most relevant. If you grew up outside of the US or Canada, depending on country of origin, Native Land may still work.  However, if you are not from the US and/or Canada and your country of origin is not listed, please use where you are currently located, or a place in the US or Canada that feels relevant to you. Once you have learned the original inhabitants of that land, visit their website and note something you find interesting about their culture. Feel free to include additional resources if applicable.

Next, I invite you to think about the values ascribed to sexuality where you grew up.  For example were values or ideas around sexuality conservative, liberal, open-minded, oppressed, etc. Then, think about how these values were forced upon Indigenous people through colonization and settler ideology.

Write a 2-4 paragraph response based on your findings.  Please see my example below:

Hometown: Fargo, ND

Hometown values: conservative, abstinence only sex education, religious

Original Inhabitants: Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC)

Interesting information: Though Fargo, North Dakota was once the homelands of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, they have been forcibly relocated to an area in Minnesota called Scott, MN.

Impact: Conservative values imposed through religious and political ideologies have shaped the way people in this region of the United States think about sexuality.  For example, North Dakota has never had a female governor.  What message might this send to the original inhabitants to the land who valued matriarchal thinking (Waln, 2017).

Source: https://www.lakotatimes.com/articles/lakota-people-have-always-been-matriarchal/