Reading Reaction: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™

Note: I deeply enjoyed reading “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” and in particular I enjoyed this version read by Levar Burton who also provides some analysis of his own.

Our protagonist is a storyteller who creates elaborate virtual experiences to share “an authentic Indian experience” to tourists. This story follows a nascent relationship he forms with a customer. This pair of indigenous men struggle to connect from behind walls put up by the historical legacy of systemic injustices perpetrated against indigenous cultures (and men more broadly).

In particular, settler colonialism is a major barrier which prevents the two men from deeply connecting. They first have to get past the influence of capitalism which is placing demands on the type of relationship they may have and what value they may find in one another. At one point the protagonist says he’s not allowed to fraternize with customers and must only play his “savage brave” role in the virtual experience without engaging honestly.

The protagonist dresses up like a stereotypical “savage brave” in order to sell self-discovery experiences to tourists. These experiences fetishize the history and culture of native people in order to objectify the protagonist as a commodity to be sold to tourists so they can “find themselves.”

The second major thing our pair has to break through is the patriarchal demands on what it means to be a “real man.” Once they get past these and other barriers, they are able to deeply connect and become good friends.

Eventually, our protagonist’s newfound friend succumbs to the pressures of settler colonialism and patriarchy. He takes advantage of a weakened protagonist who is recovering from sickness and decides to betray him. He steals the protagonist’s job and friends, and in classic toxic-masculinity-form, he even steals the protagonist’s girl. What would Alison Bechdel say? (The character of the object-girl has zero dialogue that is not about men.)

A confrontation ensues and ends with friend-antagonist explaining that this whole story has actually been a virtual “Authentic  Indian Experience” which HE the friend was selling to our protagonist. We end with the protagonist coming out of virtual reality.

The “Authentic Experience” seems to me to be the fact that those natives who have not survived the extermination of a hundred-million of their ancestors by settler colonists are forced to squeeze into the rigid set of demands placed on them by the capitalist cis-hetero-patriarchy. Two spirit traditions for example are erased by mainstream culture or renamed to some already-commodified and “close enough” phrase that white culture already has. The act of squeezing into these roles the white empire has created for indigenous people creates tension and strain, just like it does for every community. That tension boils over in conflict and trauma and infighting just like it does in every community. The Authentic Indian Experience is the experience of watching a hundred million of your people be exterminated and hearing the message of assimilate-or-die and being given the imperative to destroy anyone not assimilating hard enough.

What really jumped out at me personally in this story is the way queer culture parallels many of these challenges. People have to work through trauma and layers of shame and self-loathing before they can deeply connect. In many cases, there is also the threat of violence if you’re uncertain about whether the other person is really interested in taking this journey closer together with you. I had to listen to the story twice to really connect all these ideas and It’s something I’m going to be listening to and thinking about for a long time.

Our History is the Future by Nick Estes

Our History Is The Future by Nick EstesI wrote at length about each chapter of this excellent book. It is both a primer on the history of the struggle of native people and also a vision of the future. Estes shows many examples of what white settler colonialism is, how it has been successfully countered, and what a possible future might look like.

Chapter 1: Siege

Chapter 2: Origins

Chapter 3: War

Chapter 4: Flood

Chapter 5: Red Power

Chapter 6: Internationalism

Chapter 7: Liberation

 

“The Police Killings No One Is Talking About”

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-20

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Stephanie Woodward, “The Police Killings No One is Talking About”

In 2014, police murdered a pregnant woman who was at a hospital for mental health issues by shooting her many times. (Woodward) These kinds of events are commonplace and there is no complete record of how many such people the police murder because they police can not currently be held accountable for these murders. There are examples of organizations like the Washington Post and the Guardian which try to keep track of the murders that hit the news, but at best we only know about a small number of these illegal extrajudicial murders by police. (Woodward)

At some point, the white imperial ethnostate decided that it’s fine for police to just murder anyone they see as posing any potential threat, with no consequences to police. At the same time, the police have grown more and more militarized and political, coming to see essentially everyone as a threat, and disproportionately these extra-judicial police murders target black people and native people. In fact, according to the article, Native Americans are more than three times as likely to be murdered by police than white people. (Woodward)

It’s not just the case that the police are not required to disclose these extra-judicial murders. It’s also the case that the corporate news media reinforces the white imperial ethnostate’s message of white supremacy by deliberately ignoring the murders. In fact, only about one in thirty police murders of indigenous people is even covered by the corporate news media. (Woodward)

These and many other structural issues affecting native people cry out for expanded activism, Red Power, and efforts to demand racial justice for native people, especially in light of the current political climate where so many are empowered to speak out and demand justice for the first time.

“For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must Die”

Glen Coulthard, “For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must Die” (2013)

            The author begins by describing the tactics being used to silence native critiques of settler colonialism. This argument is basically the illocutionary silencing argument; language is reconstructed by settler colonists in an attempt to take away the power of words to have action in the world. Effective approaches to liberation are labeled as illegitimate and criminalized. The power to create change is stolen from the marginalized group by the oppressor group using the tools of language.

The author expands on examples where the most effective strategies for demanding justice fall under these “illegitimate” strategies, suggesting that the reason they are considered illegitimate or inappropriate by the settler colonists is because these strategies work.

The author goes on to explain the proposed shift in Native American political ideology towards a land-based sovereignty system. This could potentially allow native people to finally get real control over their destinies for the first time since the founding of the white imperial ethnostate.

In a very exciting section, the author expands on some of the ways native groups have proposed or attempted to create decentralized consensus-based models of regional self-governance as opposed to accepting capitalist democratic systems imposed by the white imperial ethnostate. The author says that radical sustainability is antithetical to capitalist accumulationism. I think this is a crucial point which ties directly into Estes’ final argument from his book as outlined above. It’s not enough to fight off the attacks, marginalized communities also need to work hard to be what they are in the absence of the attacks. Radical sustainability goes further than simple sustainability because it actually regenerates what has been lost instead of just maintaining the terrible status quo. In this way, building truly native alternatives to the status quo goes beyond just continuing to survive and actually recreates a version of what has been lost. In order to do that, capitalism is just one of the things that has to go.

Nick Estes: Liberation

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-20

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Response 8

Nick Estes, Our History is the Future (2019), Chapter 7. Liberation (pages 247-258) 11 pages

            The chapter begins by discussing the way the story of Custer has been twisted and misrepresented. In reality, native people were gathering together to celebrate the new year. Custer saw it as an opportunity to exterminate them en masse and attacked the peaceful gathering. The natives killed the attackers and were labeled as the villains of the story. (Estes 213) Modern history books often mention the conflict but fail to explain what happened and why, often painting the true victims – native people – as somehow being responsible for the fact that they were targeted for extermination, simply because they survived the unprovoked attack.

Estes says, “Ancestors of Indigenous resistance didn’t merely fight against settler colonialism; they fought for Indigenous life and just relations with human and nonhuman relatives, and with the earth… What does water want from us? What does the earth want from us? Mni Wiconi—water is life—exists outside the logic of capitalism. Whereas past revolutionary struggles have strived for the emancipation of labor from capital, we are challenged not just to imagine, but to demand the emancipation of earth from capital. For the earth to live, capitalism must die.” (219) I feel like this is a critical point which is so often missed in activist movements. We can’t just react in defense; we must also fight to actually be what we are without our oppressors and those who want to exterminate and displace marginalized people. This was an amazing book, and this final argument from Estes brings it all together and shows us where to go from here.

Film: Angry Inuk

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-22

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Forum 7: Angry Inuk

            In Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s documentary “Angry Inuk,” we learned about some of the challenges facing arctic indigenous communities. We see an indigenous family hunting and butchering a seal. For them, seal hunting is an important source of food and trade which they have been conducting for tens of thousands of years. Outsiders see seal hunting as something people should not be doing; they call it greedy and evil.

There are many interesting dissonances in the story. The hunters are practicing time-honored traditions using rifles, boats, snowmobiles, and posting pictures of their hunts on Facebook. At one point they show a photo of children with faces covered in blood eating raw meat. The people in the video remark that outsider cultures might see the photo as scary but the Inuk culture sees it as a cute photo. Animal rights activists oppose seal hunting while Inuit activists fight for their vital right to hunt for food and trade.

The cultural differences are huge, and the conflicts seem intractable. The Inuks talk about using songs to settle disputes. Particularly interesting is the claim that losing one’s temper during a disagreement is a sign of a guilty conscience. This leads to an indigenous culture which prizes quiet and respectful disagreement, being met with an external culture of loud outrage on 24/7 corporate media.

It’s interesting to see the way this film ties into previous readings which showed that the idea of fur trade was demanded by settler colonists in exchange for goods but also in exchange for tolerance. Just as early white settler colonists demanded profits from native people in order to not slaughter them, modern white settler colonists demand profits from native people in exchange for rifles, boats, snowmobiles and computers. Native people find themselves in an impossible situation. They must produce trade but “must not” use the natural resources they have sustainably exploited for countless millennia. The central argument of the movement documented in the film is that most native seal hunting is actually sustainable and not cruel and greedy. At the same time, animal rights has become a vehicle for intense and extreme hate against native culture and native people with violent threats in the name of animal rights becoming commonplace from white settler colonists around the continent.

There is a ray of light at the end of the film; we see white settler colonist-led organizations partially endorsing subsistence hunting in what seems like an attempt to diffuse some of the violent racist and misogynistic reaction directed towards native people in the name of animal welfare.

Power and Politics in American Indian History: Trick or Treaty?

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-22

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Forum 6: Trick or Treaty?

While the corporate media focuses on perceived slights to its freedom, the number of missing and murdered indigenous women moves into the thousands. (NFB 0:00-2:00) Treaties were signed which made guarantees for indigenous people. The James Bay Treaty specifically guaranteed the sharing of native land and resources with the native people. (8:30-10:15) The treaty’s commitments and obligations are not being honored by the government and both sides have very different versions of what it means and why it was signed.

Canada explicitly agreed to protect and assist the native tribes, but viewed the agreement as a surrender by the native tribes. (11:10-13:25) After that, many laws were passed outside the bounds of the treaty which stole power and resources from native people in violation of the treaty and inspired a wave of red power movements which opposed this theft of power and resources in violation of the treaty. (13:30-14:30)

Canadian attitudes towards native people assembling to petition for a redress of grievances started to shift in recent years towards acceptance and empathy on the part of the white settler colonial government. (30:05-30:50) The widespread rise in red power movements led to a broad sense of solidarity, respect, honor, and love among a people who had long suffered oppression together. Seeking to make things better rekindled the sense of community which was a critical part of the culture that they were fighting for. (1:02:01-1:02-20)

 

Works Cited

NFB. National Film Board of Canada. (2014, July 29). Trick or Treaty? Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.nfb.ca/film/trick_or_treaty/

Nick Estes: Internationalism

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-20

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Response 7

Nick Estes, Our History is the Future (2019), Chapter 6. Internationalism (pages 201-246) 45 pages

            A new coalition rose up from the ashes of centuries of centuries of genocide. Leaders from surviving tribes all over the western hemisphere came together in Geneva to hold space together and speak with one voice. (Estes 175) They had the support of the soviet bloc, many third-world nations, and many national liberation movements all over the world. (176) The made the case that America had committed a genocide against first nations, systematically incarcerated leaders, and violated treaties in the process. They also brought up the COINTELPRO FBI program which had worked hard to destroy many community and civil rights organizations. They demanded America be prosecuted by the international community for these and other crimes against native people, black people, and other groups.  (176)

Vladimir Lenin himself supported the right of colonized nations to “secede and declare independence from colonial masters”. (178) Unfortunately, with America firmly in denial about its own history and committed to continuing its war of extermination and displacement, there was little the international community could do besides apply pressure. (179) This led to a wider alliance with other ethnic minorities in America and around the world. Together with this larger alliance of groups, a broader cultural shift became possible. (202) The work is continuing to this day. (210)

“Native Lives Matter”

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-20

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Lakota People’s Law Project Report, “Native Lives Matter”

Despite systemic violence against native people beginning on the first day of the occupation of “America” by the settler colonists who would birth the white imperial ethnostate, and despite a hundred million murdered native people and billions of acres of stolen land, these centuries of state violence, interpersonal violence, and a careful and deliberate policy of mass extermination and mass displacement have often gone ignored and untaught. (Native Lives Matter 3) It wasn’t until about a century ago that native people gained citizen rights in the white imperial ethnostate, and yet to this day they are systematically denied access to the services, wealth, and institutions of the white imperial ethnostate. (3)

“Black Lives Matter” is both a rallying cry and a claim; a normative claim, a claim about what should be but about what is it true today. To say Black Lives Matter is to say that Black Lives should Matter. Across the nation today we see case after case of police murdering black people with impunity, even at Black Lives Matter rallies, as if to prove the point that those lives actually don’t matter in the white imperial ethnostate. The same is often true at Native Lives Matter rallies or other Red Power events and meetings; police will often murder native people with impunity, making the performative argument that in fact native lives do not matter in the white imperial ethnostate. (4)

There are many differences in outcome between native people’s lives versus white settler colonist’s lives. Native people, like black people, have less wealth than white people. Native people, like black people, live less long than white people. Native people, like black people, are given less education than white people. In many ways, systems are built in this country to deny power and resources to native people in favor of giving those things to white people instead. (6) This is the definition of systemic racism, and while anti-blackness is different from anti-nativism, these systems work in the same way; stealing power and resources from non-white people and giving them instead to white people. Therefore the claim that “Black Lives Matter” is similar but different than the claim that “Native Lives Matter.” We see many discussions today about the need to focus specifically on black lives in the public discourse at this moment, but unless we acknowledge that the problem is the system, and the system is working against more than just black people, we can not truly change the system and create justice for either black people or native people. It can be true that both black lives and native lives matter. This may seem like a digression from the text, but given the current political climate, it seems irresponsible to explore this topic without making this critical point.

Incarceration is another critical area of systemic injustice. Native men are four times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. (8) Native women are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. (8) Altogether, natives are incarcerated at 38% higher than the national average. (10) Curiously, the Department of “Justice” has already recommended changes to reduce these injustices. (14) Additionally, as we learned from the Vice series, Red Power is already making progress in Canada and elsewhere. Maybe the tides will finally start to turn towards justice for native people within our lifetimes.

Nick Estes: Red Power

CJ Trowbridge

2020-07-20

Power and Politics in American Indian History

Response 6: Red Power

Nick Estes, Our History is the Future (2019), Chapter 5, Red Power

            The Red Power movement is the name for a broad range of native social justice and freedom movements. (Estes 149) One organization under this umbrella was the American Indian Movement, a militant vanguard organization which fought for native rights. (149) This is the group which went on to occupy Alcatraz. This spawned a surge in native justice movements around the country. (149)

We Will Remember Survival School is another organization under the Red Power umbrella which specialized in teaching native people important survival skills. (149) Other groups include Woman of All Red Nations and the International Indian Treaty Council. (149) Native people continued to be subjected to the white imperial ethnostate’s policy of extermination and displacement until many were forced off of reservations altogether. Once they reached academia, it led to a surge in new studies and education programs focused on native history and culture. (149)

Aim branched out at this point to form community policing organizations which protected native communities forced into urban landscapes. (149) These urban native communities grew in strength and power until they had a strong voice on the global stage. Then they were able to speak truth to the power that oppressed them and demand fair treatment and an equitable position in the modern society. These demands have continued to fall on deaf ears in the white imperial ethnostate. (152) As we saw in the Vice series, this is not the case elsewhere including Canada, where native people are treated with far more dignity and inclusion by the government.

As time went on, more and more treaties were violated, ignored and discarded as the policy of extermination and displacement went on. The official policy of the white imperial ethnostate shifted during the civil rights movement. (165) The FBI started a program called COINTELPRO for infiltrating and dismantling civil rights organizations include Red Power organizations. (168) The FBI went on to murder Red Power activists and even frame others by planting evidence to secure convictions. (169)

In the words of both Malcolm X and MLK (Who was also targeted by the same FBI counter-justice COINTELPRO group that was murdering Red Power activists and framing others for crimes they did not commit) the real threat is not the KKK member but the white moderate who stands by indifferent to injustice. As Estes points out, liberalism took over the charge against Red Power after the civil rights movement. (171) Mass incarceration became a new favorite tool in the now centuries-old policy of extermination and displacement of native people. Millions of people have been incarcerated in the years since, mostly nonwhite, and far more than any other country. (171)