Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Even Indigenous Voices Need a Summer Break

The Voicing Indigeneity Podcast that me and my friends Madel and Angie do together will be on hiatus over the summer. Madel is in Palau doing research, spending time with family and recovering from her qualifying exams. Angie is writing her master's thesis in Ethnic Studies and audting some classes at UCSD. I'm in Guam for the next two months, doing some research, starting some trouble, and most importantly starting my life as a dad.

I'm sure we'll be back though in the fall, and I'll still try to post stuff on the blog for those who pass by the blog while googling random things about indigenous peoples, sovereignty, decolonization and academics singing badly. As a public service, I'm pasting below the links to all the podcasts we've done over the past year, 17 in all. I did get very nostalgic while I was collecting all the links because I've enjoyed so much these conversations and they have really helped pushed me forward in my work. For instance, in June I took my qualifying exams in my department and then defended my exams and also my proposed research project. So much of my essays that I wrote were ideas suggested and strengthened through my conversations with Madel and Angie. I'll paste some of my answer below and if you listen to the podcasts or have listened over the past year, and are one of our loyal fans (Hey Dustin!) some of my points will be familiar. Persistent themes over the past year have been, the difficulty of doing indigenous studies in ethnic studies, the role of sovereignty in indigenous communities, and naturally given the choices that all three of us made to be in Ethnic Studies, what productive/critical role we can play in furthering and shaping the project of Ethnic Studies.
Before I put some of my answer, I'll put the question I was answering in bold. I'm just putting the first two pages of my answer, but my ultimate point for my essay was that its crucial to not simply reduce the positions of indigenous people and minorities within a nation to the same thing, which is most commonly understood as "simply not white." To conceive of them as the same gives some agency to indigenous people, by giving them a position to speak from as a racial group, a minority, someone who is demanding recognition from a dominant group, from a state, from a nation. But it does not however address the ways indigenous people exist in sometimes drastically different ways in relation to the nation and to the state, and how so much of their resistance to state power, control or regulation isn't tied to racism or discrimination, but is related to a very formal and open depriving of sovereignty or self-determination. If we distinguish between these two positions, communities and identities then we can better understand exactly how processes of racialization work, how these groups are pitted against each other and therefore privilege certain dominant groups, how they take on each others features, and what role these positions play in the fantasies of whiteness and the relieving and reliving of settler anxieties.
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Critically outline and evaluate the ways that recent studies of indigenous identity, politics, theory, methods, and aesthetics have (re)shaped thinking in Ethnic Studies. Given this review, identify areas of difficulty and promise for future research.

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When I first read this question, my initial response was “easy!” Everyone knows the critiques, everyone knows these problems, at several conferences over the past year I have been consumed in conversations about this very issue. While searching for articles and books which would address the issue of indigenous critiques of ethnic studies, my eager and excited countenance quickly melted into a panicked, wide-eyed face, with “why aren’t people writing about this!?” written all over it.
For “white” traditional or older disciplines, such as literature, sociology, history, psychology, even American studies, there are no shortage of critiques about the limits, the silences, the racism and the tremendous amount of work which is just waiting to be done! For the brown or black discipline of ethnic studies, theoretical salvos or determined critiques seemed to be rare. There was almost a fear speaking ill about something which we have ownership over, as opposed to the feeling of freedom in razing a house which we know belongs to someone else.
It is natural that there be these sorts of inclusive “ethnic” non-white feelings of belonging of ownership of Ethnic Studies, given its diverse, inspiring, transnational origins as an academic discipline in the 1960’s. I certainly felt elements of this ethnic embrace when I first entered this department in 2004, and first encountered the language of “people of color” activism, that forms a potentially important imagined counter community.

It did not take very long however for sometimes minute and irritating, and other times overblown and aggravating disputes to emerge between myself and others around “indigenous issues.” In the discussing of the struggles of Native American and other indigenous peoples which are today attached to the United States, I would often make claims for a different articulation, then minority groups in the United States. In my attempts to squeeze, cram and vomit the issues of such as sovereignty, nations within nations and settler fantasies into ethnic studies, I would encounter incredible resistance on the basis of either, my essentialist arguments or the fact that I was calling something “indigenous” or “different” which was clearly like the experiences of any other person of color in the United States or transnational subject.

It took a few months, but it later became clear to me the disconnect and at least one of the major sources of contention. While an issue such as sovereignty was to me something which needed to be discussed at the level of the constitution of ethnic studies, and the formation of the people of color matrix, for most students, professors or conference attendees, is was something which should rightfully be discussed at the level of content.

We can see this similarly subsuming of native and indigenous studies, through their presence as weak branches or concentrations scattered throughout the ethnic studies departments and programs of the United States. It is always the smallest member of the American racial food groups, and is therefore often considered to have little to contribute to the wider intellectual imagining and critical posturing of the discipline. As the smallest and least represented, it therefore functions within ethnic studies, most often as a chain signifier only, not intended to mean anything apart then its inclusion as the final member of the ethnic food groups.
There is a pressure here to treat these differences either as insurmountable and demand indigenous independence from ethnic studies, or to see them as again minute, and not even to upset the potential power that indigenous peoples can derive by their continued silent fidelity to the people of color matrix. To make potentially essential claims about the epistemological nature or being of indigenous peoples, or claims based on cultural and historical differences can be productive and necessary, but also bring with them the risk of being lead down either irreconcilable paths.

I will not seek to argue against the presence of Native American and indigenous studies in Ethnic Studies, on the basis of some inherent impossibility. Rather I will argue that its co-existence alongside other racial/ethnic groups, is at its most critically productive if we do not subsume it alongside other minority groups, or reduce its existence or its status to simply that just another person of color. There are fundamental differences between these groups, and rather then splintering or fragmenting and setting back the work of racial social justice in the United States today, by making this claim, it can actually aid us in the work that Ethnic Studies claims to do, by contesting and denaturalizing certain structures of power and violence.
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Before I forget, here's the list of all the podcasts we've had, their names and the special guests. I'm really looking forward to fall and continuing our conversations. Its possible that we'll have an article coming up the three of us, but we'll see if we can all survive the summer first.
I'm also pasting throughout some of the silly photos we've taken before and after we podcast. I hope you enjoy them, I seriously think though that sometimes we would only podcast just because we wanted to take some photos with Angie's computer.

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17. A Visit From Long: Defining Indigeneity
Special Guest: Long Bui

16. Ethnic Studies and Sovereignty: The Difficulties in Critiquing a Settler Society

15. Sovereignty and Decolonization

14. Airport Thoughts: Indigenous Studies Conference Wrap Up

13. Good Morning Norman! The Indigenous Strike Back...With a Conference!

12. A Visit To Hogwarts: Group Guest Lecture at a Social Movements Class
Special Guest: Roberto Alvarez

11. The Wrath of Ross: A Reportback from The Ghosts, Monsters and the Dead Conference
Special Guest: Ross Frank

10. Lost Podcast: Decolonization and Decoloniality
Special Guest: Jose Fuste
9. Harry Potter and the 45th Generation Roman: Live from The Ghosts, Monsters and the Dead Conference

8. Onward Indigenous Soldiers: Let's Talk About Religion, Ba-by

7. Harry Potter and the Indigenous of Azkaban: Home, The Military, and a Surprise

6. Sound of Indigeneity: Songs From Our Lives

5. East of Indigenous: Special People in Our Lives

4. Indigenous Jane: Our Work

3. The Indigenous of the Ring: Why We're Here (in Ethnic Studies)

2. Second Podcast: Describing Indigeneity

1. First Podcast: Madel's Kitchen Table

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