Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Indigenous resistance: how racism, patriarchy and anti-radicalism are linked

This morning, Steve Fisher, the curator of the University of Denver's research collection, forwarded the following announcement of a conference among art historians on "survivance";

"From: Sascha Scott
Date: April 8, 2013 12:37:54 PM CDT
To: H-WEST-request@H-NET.MSU.EDU
Subject: CFP: The Art of Survivance

Annual Conference of the College Art Association (CAA), February 12-15, 2014, Chicago

Chair: Sascha Scott, Syracuse University, sscott04@syr.edu.

The concept of “survivance” is a powerful tool for thinking about cultural production by indigenous peoples. Proposed by Anishinaabe cultural theorist, Gerald Vizenor, survivance emphasizes survival through active resistance to oppressive forces. The concept thus provides a way to counter the historically pervasive idea that indigenous peoples have been passive survivors of colonial domination. Within the framework of survivance, “resistance” should not be understood as a purely negative reaction to colonial victimization. Indigenous resistance can involve cultural negotiation and can be a vehicle through which indigenous peoples claim their authority, autonomy, and sovereignty.

Survivance has been productively explored in literary theory, indigenous studies, museology, and anthropology, but has gained less traction in art history. This panel seeks to explore the ways in which survivance can be used to understand the production, consumption, collection, exhibition, and circulation of visual media and objects created by indigenous artists. Of central interest are discussions of indigenous people who have strived to maintain their cultural traditions in the face of imperialism in its varied forms—colonization, political oppression, cultural appropriation and exploitation, etc. Papers are welcome that address indigenous visual and material culture from contact through the present. Scholars from a range of disciplines are encouraged to submit proposals, as are practicing artists.

Philip J. Deloria will be the discussant for this session.

Please send abstract, recent CV, and CAA conference application to Sascha Scott (sscott04@syr.edu) by May 6, 2013."


I responded:

"Dear Steve,

Recall the common description of Jews as passive faced with Nazism and tsarist pogroms. Except for the Warsaw ghetto uprising (and some notice that "armed" jews participated in the resistance in Poland, this misimpression is as at least as striking about indigenous people whose heroic resistance, for instance Goyakhle\"Geronimo" and the other warriors who made "indian country" a place of danger to aggressors. It is part of the feminizing and passivizing of the indigenous.

Consider the feminizing of the Vietnamese resistance against French colonialism, Japanese aggression and mass murder, French colonialism once again, funded by the United States, and the American aggression in Vietnam (post-1954) which left three million dead. See my poem Dien bien phu here (h/t Whitney Bard) and Loring Abeyta's comments here. That guerrilla war was very very sustained.

For sheer courage, it is "a good day to die" - it is hard to beat native americans. Indigenous men often take part in war (hence, the Shoshone Tink cites at the Iraqi border in 2003). Yet Tink rightly himself warns below against the idea that indigenous people even had a concept of war as opposed to self-defense or engaged in war before the colonialists projected this idea on them.

Nonetheless, the ideology of manliness in the US army (see Harvey Mansfield's silly Manliness, a purported interpretation and application of Plato) is the vision of fools...

Racism as an ideology is linked to patriarchy or sexism, and in many cases, to anti-radicalism (there are dangerous, dark, feminine - the fear of women starting with Eve is very large here - dictatorial figures who are stirring up revolt or murdering otherwise passive people) in elite ideology. It has been pushed, as Marx wrote to Meyer and Vogt in 1871 of the English elite toward the Irish, "through press, pulpit and comic paper"; it is a means of dividing people up, of dehumanizing some to dominate others. Pastor Martin Niemoller's famous poem illustrates this: "First they came for the unionists and the Jews, and I did nothing...and at last they came for me and there was noone left to protest." This is worth seeing and naming for what it is.

Both my Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? explain anti-radical ideology and its link to patriarchy - "burning witches," a European and American practice invoked for the execution of Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 - see Adrienne Rich's fine poem "For Ethel Rosenberg" here and here. In political philosophy, they are, along with Michael Rogin's Ronald Reagan the Movie and other Studies in American Political Demonology, unfortunately, unique.

But the sharpness of the link to the Vietnamese was brought home to me only by Whtiney Bard, my step daughter who has been working on memory and memorials with regard to Vietnam. An undergraduate at Evergreen State, she is writing about Cu-chi and current tours there - the underground tunnels where the Vietnamese survived and popped out in unexpected places to shoot at the American invaders. She is analyzing both Vietnamese and American cultural memories, something we could all learn from. In recent months, I have also discovered the making passive/feminization/supposed irrationality (they didn't like the stealing of their lands and murders) of indigenous people. Tink's letter about the Colonel pointing out to Iraq before invading in 2003 and saying 'Gentlemen, this is Indian Country' takes the cake in this regard. See here.

All the best,


Tink Tinker then added some thoughts, critical of the colonialist war-making stereotypes projected on indigenous people and sometimes sticking "like a cooked egg in an iron frying pan":


Again a word of caution. Let’s please be careful about characterizing Indian people in terms of colonizer stereotypes, i.e., as war-affected and somehow attached to warrior idealization. That is characteristically a psychological act of projection on the part of euro-christian invaders. It was euro-christian folk who came out of warrior cultures, were war-like, etc., after centuries of war-making across Europe prior to their precipitous invasion of the Americas.

I have been unable to locate any American Indian community who actually had a word for war—prior to the invasion and the invention of words for war in virtually every Indian language by the colonizer. Like words for god, missionaries, ethnologists, and colonial government functionaries picked pieces of Indian languages to shape them to reflect back Europe and the euro-christian worldview to the colonizer, and eventually these things begin to stick like cooked egg in an iron fry pan. It’s convenient for the
colonizer because they can reshape the whole worldview of the colonized and make the colonized all the more malleable. Memmi already noted this process back in the mid-1950s. And it was implicitly clear to Eastman and Apes before that.

A close analytical reading of some of the early evidence demonstrates that one of the most warlike tribes in all of Hollywood had very little of the war-thirst character prior to the Grattan affair in 1854.* I am working on an essay that might be ready to share with this Evans committee by early May that looks at a couple of the old Lakota winter counts to demonstrate this reality. While euro-christian peoples were killing millions of each other over religious ascendency, it would appear that Lakotas were finding themselves in a military context only about every four years with the net
result according to these winter counts of deaths totaling anywhere typically from one to four and on one occasion eight people. Even at that it is never quite clear that these deaths always derived from military activity at all. For Osages, another powerful warlike 'tribe', military action was always conceived first and foremost as a defensive action. The word picked by outsiders to signify warrior actually means protector and
includes a wide variety of different categories of protecting, most not involved in military action at all.

'A good day to die.' Always remember that this famous dictum attributed to Roman Nose, the Cheyenne defender, who fought with the dog society band of Cheyennes to defend their territory from White euro-christian invasion.The dictum itself signals a whole worldview about life and death that is completely foreign to euro-christian folk and does not at all signal any affection for war itself as an ideal.

Hope this helps some.


I responded:

"Dear Tink,

Thanks. I worried about using the term war, given what you had advised me before, but just thought in the context of patriarchal manliness, it was worth emphasizing, as for Jews and the Vietnamese. For indigenous people and the Vietnamese, this has no basis as you say - one should defend oneself against attack or in other contexts, provide protection; for Jews there is some awful patriarchy, but the depiction of passivity and shifty femininity is part of an elite ideology. Great care, as you say, is necessary in specifying exactly what one means.

All the best,


Tink replied:

"Yes, gender works itself out traditionally in a very different way in Indian communities. Women are statused quite highly, in order to insure the balance between the dualities of female and male. The absolute best book on this is Barbara Mann, Iroquian Women.

Male superiority had to wait until the Jesuits had the opportunity to teach us that. Originally, men didn't even own the lodge; the women did.



*The Grattan Affair, known in the colonial press as The Grattan Massacre, was the opening engagement of the First Sioux War, fought by United States Army to dispossess the Lakota Sioux, on August 19, 1854. It occurred east of Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, in present-day Goshen County, Wyoming.

A small detachment of soldiers entered a large Sioux encampment to arrest a man accused of taking a migrant's cow, although such matters, according to the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851), were to be handled by the US Indian Agent. In addition, the man belonged to a different tribe. Chief Conquering Bear offered his own horse, but the soldiers demanded the man's arrest. One of the soldiers shot Conquering Bear in the back and killed him; the Lakotas returned fire and killed a total of 29 soldiers, Lieutenant John Grattan, and a civilian interpreter. For more information, even though studded with colonial terms, see here.

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