Un-Settling Questions: The Construction of Indigeneity and Violence Against Native Women
Marginalization and the South Dakota coalition against domestic violence and sexual violence. The localization of violence, ceoyjcnm tribal Law and order. Law on violence against women, visible violence and characteristics its possible consequences.
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ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION
The Construction of Indigeneity and Violence Against Native Women
Kimberly Dawn Robertson
There is growing recognition that violent crime victimization is pervasive in the lives of Native women, impacts the sovereignty of Native nations, and destroys Native communities. Numerous scholars, activists, and politicians have considered Congress' findings that violent crimes committed against Native women are more prevalent than for all other populations in the United States. Unfortunately, however, relatively all of the attention given to this topic focuses on reservation or near-reservation communities despite the fact that at least 60% of Native peoples now reside in urban areas. In Un-Settling Questions: The Construction of Indigeneity and Violence Against Native Women, I posit that this oversight is intimately connected to the ways in which urban indigeneity has been and continues to be constructed, marginalized, and excluded by the settler state and Native peoples. violence law female family
Thus, heavily informed by Native feminisms, critical ethnic studies, and indigenous epistemologies, Un-Settling Questions addresses settler colonial framings of violence against Native women by decentering hegemonic narratives that position “reservation Indians” as the primary victims and perpetrators of said violence while centering an exploration of urban indigeneity in relation to this topic. I do so not to “fill a gap in the literature” but rather to analyze the ways in which particular Native peoples become figured as the objects of state attention while other Native peoples become eliminated, both figuratively and literally, through the processes of colonialism.
To accomplish this task and formulate a theoretical praxis that articulates the intersections between marginalization, colonial spatialization, identity formation, biopolitics, and gendered violence, I arrange my dissertation to address three primary concerns: the multifaceted ways in which the United States has utilized a politics of location to facilitate the biopolitical management of Native peoples, the biopolitical nature of identity construction and regulation as it manifests in liberal legislative efforts directed at Native peoples, and indigenous employment of settler colonialist frameworks. Lastly, I apply a Native feminist analytic to the prevalence and conceptualization of violence against Native women in order to present the potential for such theorizations to alter our understanding of and fight against said violence.
This dissertation is dedicated to all of the “madwomen” who have come before me, who walk alongside me, and who are yet to be born, but especially to my daughters Estella Faye and Farrah Marie.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One. Visible Violence: Marginalization and the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Chapter Two. (Re)Locating Violence: Title IX of the Violence Against Women Act
Chapter Three. Unidentified Bodies: The Tribal Law and Order Act
Conclusion. Unchartered Territory: Native Feminist Reconceptualizations
A number of people have been critical to the completion of this dissertation and to each of them I owe unending gratitude. First and foremost, I'd like to honor and thank the women who have experienced the violence I write about for it is their bodies, their spirits, their experiences, and their knowledges that drive this project.
I'd also like to thank my committee members: Mishuana Goeman, Andy Smith, Juliet Williams, and DeAnna Rivera. Their guidance and support kept me motivated, focused, and challenged throughout the entire dissertating process. Likewise, Rebecca Hernandez-Rosser provided me with years of diligent mentoring and endless encouragement for which I will be forever grateful. Additionally, I'd like to thank the UCLA American Indian Studies Center, the UCLA Women's Studies Department, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, the UC Center for New Racial Studies, the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Muscogee Creek Nation for providing me with the opportunity and financial support to pursue my research interests.
Above all, I'd like to thank my family, friends, and community for their endless love and patience throughout this process. In one way or another, each of them felt the intensity of my life as a graduate student and supported me along that path. In particular, my mother, Janet Eberhard, and mi hermana, Jenell Navarro, were steadfast in their conviction that I could finish this dissertation and their strength helped me through more moments than I can count. My partner in crime and love, Charles Ramos, refused to let me lose sight of my goals and dreams for even a moment and our children, Rio Ramos, Estella Burque, and Farrah Ramos served as my daily inspiration. To all of you and the many others I don't have room to name here - Mvto.
Kimberly Robertson was born in Bakersfield, California in 1978. She initiated her postsecondary education at the University of Northern Colorado where she completed her B.A. in
English Language & Literature in 1999. She then obtained a M.A. in American Culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2001. In 2006, she began graduate work at the University of California, Los Angeles where she earned both a M.A. in American Indian Studies and a M.A. in Women's Studies in 2008.
Throughout the pursuit of her graduate degrees, Kimberly has also lectured at a number of different universities, including the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Riverside; and California State University, Long Beach. Likewise, Kimberly has held a variety of other academic positions. For instance, she has served as the book review editor for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, the assistant to UCLA's Tribal
Learning Community Educational Exchange program, and the graduate student researcher on UCLA's InSight: Indigenous Youth, Digital Images, and Violence Prevention program.
Kimberly has presented her research endeavors at a number of conferences and meetings throughout the United States. These include, but are not limited to, the American Studies Association conference, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference,
UCLA's Race and Sovereignty Symposium, the Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of
Genocide conference, the National Women's Studies Association conference, and the Indigenous
Women's symposium. In 2007, off our backs published her article “Globalization and the
Politics of Breastfeeding” and in the fall of 2012 Wicazo Sa Review will be publishing her piece “Rerighting the Historical Record: Violence Against Native Women and the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.”
Kimberly's research has been funded by a variety of entities. The most substantial benefactors have been UCLA's American Indian Studies Center, UCLA's Department of
Women's Studies, UCLA's Institute of American Culture, the UC Center for New Racial
Studies, the Muscogee Creek Nation, the National Congress of American Indians, and UCLA's Center for the Study of Women.
“Our voices rock the boat and perhaps the world. They are dangerous.” - Dian Million
Violence against Native women is a problem of epidemic proportions that not only endangers the lives of individual Native women but also erodes the sovereignty of Native nations and impacts Native communities both on and off the reservation.1 Despite the fact that the roots of such violence can be traced back to the earliest moments of the colonization of Native peoples,2 only recently has the federal government acknowledged the severity of this issue. In 2005, after decades of Native anti-violence mobilization, Congress addressed the specificity of violence against Native women for the first time with Title IX, the Safety for Indian Women Title, of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Title IX presented findings that: violent crime victimization for Native women is higher than for all other populations in the United States; one out of every three Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes; three out of every four Indian women will be physically assaulted; Indian women are stalked at a rate more than double that of any other population; and during the period 1979 through 1992, homicide was the third leading cause of death of Indian females aged 15 to 34.3 Additionally, Title IX professed to clarify and honor the unique legal relationship, otherwise known as a trust responsibility, the United States has with Native nations in regards to addressing violence against Native women.4
Relatively little change resulted from Title IX, however, and in 2007 Amnesty
International released the scathing report Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Violence. Maze of Injustice immediately garnered global attention with its indictment of the United States for its failure to address violence against Native women. Like Congress's findings before it, the Amnesty report merely reaffirmed “what Native American and
Alaska Native violence advocates have long known: that sexual violence against women from Indian nations is at epidemic proportions and that survivors are frequently denied justice.”5 Amnesty's coverage of the issue had forceful reverberations, however, and discussions of violence in the lives of Native women began to dominate the North American landscape as media exposés, newspaper and journal articles, public service announcements, documentaries, and even human billboards proliferated to address the issue. That violent crime victimization is higher for Native women than for all other populations in the United States became almost common knowledge, if not dinner table conversation, overnight. By the time Barack Obama began vying for the 2008 presidential election, violence against Native women had become an issue he simply couldn't afford to ignore and one that he incorporated into his platform on Native peoples through his campaign “Fighting for First Americans.” In 2010 President Obama demonstrated his continued attention to this issue by signing the Tribal Law and Order Act which specifically addresses violence against Native women in its attempts to reduce the incidence of crime in Native communities.
While violence against Native women has seemingly catapulted to national importance and captured a global audience, indigenous mobilization against said violence (primarily galvanized by Native women who are themselves survivors) continues to be marginalized and/or altogether ignored. While Congress, President Obama, and Amnesty International are regularly applauded for their attention to violence against Native women, relatively little has been said about the centuries of indigenous anti-violence advocacy that has established domestic/sexual violence programs, tribal codes, protection order processes, shelters and spurred the national legislation and international media frenzy that has recently manifested.
My own experiences and the histories I emerge from as an urban, mixed-blood, Muscogee woman have not been immune to the violence I speak of but rather have been intimately shaped by it. Thus, when I began my graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall of 2006, I embarked on a journey to more officially explore that which had, at times consciously and at other times unconsciously, (pre)occupied my experiences as far back as I can remember. This exploration was both personal and political, academic and activist, and centered on understanding violence against Native women as intellectually as I did intimately. From very early on in this research, I noticed that the discourse surrounding violence against Native women was framed in very particular and harmful ways. Most apparent, as I briefly mentioned above, was an emphasis on any nation-state attention to the problem and a suppression of any indigenous response to the issue. Native voices and actions were glaring in their absence and so I became particularly concerned with unearthing and investigating indigenous mobilization against gendered violence.
The seeds of the dissertation at hand, Un-Settling Questions: The Construction of Indigeneity and Violence Against Native Women, began to germinate in 2007 when I attended my first “Advocacy for Native Women Who Have Been Raped” training in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. The workshop was facilitated by anti-violence activist Elena Giacci and produced by Sacred Circle: National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women. After the training, I began conversations with Elena about how I might be able to craft a research project that both explored questions regarding the marginalization of Native anti-violence organizing and also served as a tool Native advocates might utilize in the struggle to eradicate violence. Throughout my next several advocacy trainings and a series of discussions with Elena, Karen
Artichoker (then director of Sacred Circle), and Brenda Hill (then educational coordinator of Sacred Circle), the collaborative project that would eventually become the first chapter of this dissertation was conceived. Shortly thereafter, I set forth on a journey to document the birth and development of the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SDCADVSA) from the perspective of the Native women instrumental in its existence. I did so in order to center the concerns and voices of Native women and decenter the mainstream, colonialist narrative that typically frames and tells the history of such events and historical moments.
Meanwhile, as part of my graduate work at UCLA, I was also afforded the opportunity to take a class with playwright, director, and scholar Hanay Geiogamah. Within the first two weeks of the course “Cultural World Views of Native America,” Geiogamah asked us to personally locate ourselves in relation to tradition and our respective creation stories. The panic, discomfort, and fear that rose to my throat when I stared down at my blank notepad in an attempt to complete these exercises were all too familiar. Pre-programmed and stereotypical images of “traditional” Natives and their corresponding experiences, behaviors, and beliefs fancy-danced through my mind and I was immediately overcome with the self-doubt, inner turmoil and inadequacy that often saturated me in moments like these.
How could I, I worried, an urban, mixed-blood Indian whose personal creation story begins not with a hollow log, a mound of clay, a turtleback, or the clearing of the fog to reveal my animal clan, but rather with the pain, terror, and violence that accompanies alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual assault, and domestic abuse articulate any sort of understanding or relationship to Native tradition? How could I, a rather textbook illustration of the consequences of colonization (such as assimilation, relocation, abandonment, internalized racism, violence, and historical trauma) express a worldview that could be called “Native” as opposed to anything else? Granted, when I found my Muscogee grandfather living on the streets of Stockton, CA only a summer before enrolling in Geiogamah's course, I was looking for tradition and an indigenous story of origin. What I encountered, however, were stories of incarceration, homicide, sexual violence, addiction, and poverty.
It wasn't another week into Geiogamah's course, however, before I realized that his presentation and exploration of Native worldviews were not ones in which I was going to, once again, feel assaulted and humiliated by static and romanticized images of Native peoples stuck in a glorified past or a severely-policed present to which I have relatively little access. The Native artists and cultural producers we explored in the class refused to narrate stale worldviews only accessible to isolated groups of Indians.6 Instead, their expressions of Native identities, realities, and possibilities carved a space in which I could begin imagining a more flexible and fluid understanding of Native identity, sovereignty, worldview, and “tradition.” A space in which there was room for me to articulate that my experiences as a mixed-blood, urban Indian woman, born to a poor white mother and a Muscogee father who was incarcerated, intoxicated, and violently abusive for most of my childhood and was then “disappeared” when I was in high school is no more or less “traditional” than the restrictive or encompassing ways in which we conceptualize Native identity. A space in which I could finally claim, without shame or embarrassment, that my elders, teachers, and bearers of tradition are sometimes Muscogee relatives but are also textbooks, children's books, powwows, Native storytellers, Yuroks, Navajos, Pawnees, Apaches, photo albums, birth certificates, enrollment cards, documentaries, performances, and other miscellaneous fragments of information. A space in which I could boldly assert that these are the various markers of my Native identity and serve as the foundations of my Native understandings.
It was the fusion of the above two experiences (working with Native anti-violence activists to illuminate Native anti-violence mobilization and interrogating that which I had previously understood as Native identity) that I originally envisioned as the scope of my dissertation work. Before long, however, my subject position as an urban Indian in Los Angeles, the metropolitan center with the largest population of Native peoples in the United States, coupled with the reality that the majority of Natives currently reside in urban areas7 also began to influence the direction of my research. The further I delved into my topic, the more certain I became that even more absent than discussions of indigenous anti-violence organizing was any discussion of urban Indian women in relation to violence. Most of the research on the prevalence of violence or anti-violence activism that has been conducted, documented, and/or recognized focuses on reservation or near-reservation communities and fails to address urban Indian women at all. I became increasingly concerned, then, with factoring an exploration of urban Indian existence and identity into my exploration of violence, indigeneity, and marginalization.
The challenges of this task where made exceedingly clear while I was conducting my interviews with Native activists in South Dakota. While the knowledge imparted to me by the women I interviewed and trained with there was invaluable to both my research interests and the development of my personal/political understanding of the issues surrounding violence against Native women, it was also limited in certain respects. Granted, by centering the voices and concerns of the Native women instrumental in the birth and growth of the SDCADVSA I was able to glean insights from perspectives generally marginalized and trivialized. I learned a significant amount about the organizational strategies Native women have employed to combat violence in reservation-based communities, the multiplicity of challenges they have faced, the various ways in which their stories have been stricken from the historical record, as well as their theorizations regarding each of these occurrences, which is detailed in the first chapter of this dissertation.
However, I also found myself hearing again and again that it's a tragedy that urban Indian women also face staggering rates of violence, but, ultimately, those women should return to their respective Native nations (read: reservations) if they really want help from their communities. Otherwise, I was instructed, they shouldn't truly expect to seek justice “as Native women” because the US does not have an obligation to individual Native peoples, but rather to sovereign Native nations. If urban Indian women have “chosen” to leave their reservations or their Nations, I was told, then they must organize against violence as “women of color,” not as Native women per se.8
The policing of Native women's identity implicit in these arguments astounded me. That they were espoused by women who respected my work, trusted me with their stories, and asked me to help document some of the most difficult work they'd done in their lives broke my heart. For what I heard them arguing was that my “choice” to leave (or not return) to the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma that two generations of violent men in my family had alienated me from made me less-deserving of protection from violence than Indian women living on the reservation. Furthermore, such rigid and limited conceptualizations of the bodies that constitute Native nations and their geographic locations in the U.S. immediately reminded me of the allconsuming panic, self-doubt, and inner turmoil I had associated with articulating my own location within the Muscogee Nation and Native communities before I had experienced Geiogamah's class and begun to take seriously the possibilities of rearticulating Native experiences beyond static, ahistoricized romanticizations of an original and traditional Indian somehow positioned outside of the colonial experience.
Informed by critical moments such as these, I began to ask myself more nuanced and challenging questions regarding the relationship between violence, indigeneity, gender, identity, and geopolitics. As a result, my project shifted from simply illuminating previously marginalized indigenized accounts of and responses to violence against Native women to interrogating the politics of marginalization and elimination. That is, I began to ask how and to what consequence the marginalization/erasure of certain voices and the privileging of others occurs. Who/what benefits from such narrations and who/what feels the pain of them? To what degree does space/place impact marginalization and erasure? And perhaps most significantly, how is the marginalization and erasure of certain voices an act of violence in itself?
Thus, Un-Settling Questions is concerned with the very ways in which particular Native subjects/voices/identities/populations have been eliminated from discussions of violence against Native women while other subjects/voices/identities/populations have been positioned as the focal point of these conversations. To facilitate this exploration, I position urban Indian women at the center of my analysis. I make this move for a variety of reasons which, among others, include: (1) my own subject position as a Muscogee woman living in Los Angeles; (2) the significant number of Native peoples who now reside in urban areas, particularly Los Angeles;
(3) the overwhelming lack of academic/activist scholarship concerning urban Indian women; and (4) the insights regarding the ever-shifting technologies of settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy that I believe can be gleaned from a project of this sort. However, I do not believe that the arguments I make in the following chapters are limited to urban Indian women alone. They can be applied to a wide range of otherly-marked Native subjects such as those who are not recognized by the federal government, those who identify as or have been identified as queer, and those who have been disenrolled or denied enrollment by their respective Native nations. Thus, I position urban Indian women at the center of my analysis in order to interrogate and emphasize the ways in which seemingly “undesirable” and “unrecognizable” Native populations have become simultaneously marked as enemies of the state and marginalized as subjects existing beyond state acknowledgement. I also examine the degree to which antiviolence mobilization (indigenous and otherwise) has come to rely on definitions of Nativeness that are steeped in colonialist discourse and how such definitions affect and shape both the experience of and the response to violence perpetrated against Native peoples. Likewise, I analyze how colonial dichotomies designed to fracture Native peoples (i.e. reservation/urban, authentic/fraudulent, full-blood/half-breed, recognized/non-recognized, etc.) have been utilized by both the settler state and, at times, Native peoples to silence/erase certain peoples and privilege others. Such political maneuvering, I argue, is intimately related to the ways in which settler colonialism facilitates the discursive production of populations in order to execute control over them. And lastly, I explore Native feminist articulations of sovereignty, tradition, Native nationhood, and decolonization that challenge the policing and regulation of urban Indian women in particular and Native peoples in general. I consider the ways in which Native feminists have begun dismantling the colonial mappings and white supremacist, heteropatriarchal logics that insist on fracturing Native communities in efforts to eliminate indigeneity and I suggest we take seriously Native feminist interventions that consider the potential that alternative conceptualizations or, perhaps more precisely, deconstructions of indigeneity have to explode the very foundations of colonialism, power, and domination.
Setting the Stage
Before I proceed to describe the methodology and organization of Un-Settling Questions, I would like to take a moment to outline the conversations with which this project intends to engage. This includes, but is not limited to, discussions surrounding violence against Native women, urban indigeneity, and the biopolitical management of Native peoples.
Violence Against Native Women
The primary field of literature from which my project both evolves and diverges is that which theorizes the relationship between violence and Native women. Upon careful examination, we see that such literature sometimes parallels and sometimes differs from anti-violence intervention initiated by women of color.9 This point is well-illustrated in the pioneering textbook Sharing Our Stories of Survival: Native Women Surviving Violence wherein which Native advocates compile years of critical interventions into the discourse and practice of antiviolence mobilization from Native communities across the United States.10 In the preface to the book, Jerry Gardner situates Sharing Our Stories of Survival alongside contributions to antiviolence literature made by other marginalized women but also posits that indigenous experiences of and approaches to violence, as well as the very existence of the book itself, arises from the unique political, legal, and social reality that mark Native women as distinct from other communities of color within the U.S. As a matter of fact, Sharing Our Stories of Survival was produced with the support of Title IX funding which, as I mentioned previously, was purportedly established to honor the aforementioned “trust responsibility” the U.S. has to American Indians.
This framing of the relationship between indigenous women and violence is carried throughout Sharing Our Stories of Survival and the women whose experiences fill the pages of the text emphasis two key points: (1) violence against Native women is not solely a contemporary problem, (2) nor is it one that can be adequately addressed by categorizing Native women as a marginalized ethnic group within the United States. Rather, the contributors posit, violence against Native women originates with the European/American colonization of indigenous peoples and necessitates an understanding of the nation-to-nation relationship between Native peoples and the US nation-state. A brief glimpse at the literature Sharing Our Stories of Survival builds upon demonstrates these claims and teases out the central tenants of indigenous theorizations of violence against Native women.
Academic and literary explorations of violence against Native women can be traced back to the early 1980s when Native scholars and activists worked alongside other women of color to articulate the intersectional nature of the violence that arises from sexism, classism, heterosexism, and racism. For example, in the seminal text This Bridge Called My Back:
Writings by Radical Women of Color, Native women such as Chrystos, Naomi Littlebear, Jo Carrillo, and Barbara Cameron join other marginalized women in order to document the violence they witnessed in their personal lives, their communities, and the mainstream women's movement. With each poem or essay, these women speak to the interlocking oppressions that saturate their lives “as women of color.” Significantly, however, they also speak to the specificity and embodiment of being a Native woman under colonial rule and even ask other women of color to interrogate the ways in which they might be implicated in carrying out the aims of colonialism.11 They began to articulate an indigenous feminist analytic that departs from a women of color methodology in the way that it simultaneously addressed racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and colonialism.
Native women were also authoring texts directed specifically at Native communities and concerned specifically with the relationship between Native women and feminism in the early 1980s. For example, in 1984 Mohawk scholar Beth Brant edited a collection of writings dedicated to “All Indian women who have survived these wars and live to tell the tales.”12 Among the 90 or so pieces included in the collection is Kate Shanley's “Thoughts on Indian Feminism,” one of the earliest writings articulating Native women's struggle with the discourse of feminism. In her essay, Shanley speaks of the resistance to “feminism” mounted by many Native women but also attempts to complicate the nature of such resistance. She describes the multiple ways in which “the majority women's movement” marginalizes Native women's concerns,13 however, she also argues that “the word `feminism' has special meanings to Indian women, including the idea of promoting the continuity of tradition, and consequently, pursuing the recognition of tribal sovereignty.”14 Ultimately, Shanley calls for a reconceptualization of feminism that incorporates diversity and the recognition of Native women's experiences.
Over the next couple of decades, Native women continued to critique and attempt to reshape the terrain of feminist inquiry, methodology, and practice. Mainstream and women of color feminisms were slow to acknowledge the significance and pervasiveness of colonialism, however, and often continued to marginalize indigenous contributions to feminist discourse.
Thus, Native women continued to pen essays and books such as “Who Is Your Mother? Red
Roots of White Feminism,” “Angry Women are Building: Issues and Struggles Facing American
Indian Women Today,” I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism, and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings on North America which both addressed this marginalization and began to form a body of literature that moved beyond critiquing mainstream feminism and anti-violence organizing to establishing a Native feminist analytic that interrogates white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and settler colonialism.15
By 2004, such intellectual work had led to the production of a special issue of Social
Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, & World Order titled “Native Women and State Violence.”16 Guest editors Andrea Smith and Luana Ross explain the impetus behind the issue by positing that “Native women are constantly marginalized in male-dominated discourses about racism and colonialism and white-dominated discourses about sexism” which results in the “inability of both discourses to address the inextricable relationship between gender violence and colonialism.”17 Again, this collection brought a number of Native women's voices together to interrogate both violence and feminist discourse.
In 2005, Andrea Smith published her own groundbreaking text Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. In this work, Smith affirms the theoretical premise that "colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized"18 and argues that locating Native women and Native communities at the center of exploration compels us to examine the role the state plays in inflicting both gender and race-based violence. She also posits that if we perceive of sexual violence not simply as a tool of patriarchy but also as a tool of colonialism and racism we must shift our understanding of sexual violence to encompass the ways in which “entire communities of color are the victims of sexual violence.”19 Likewise, Smith pushes the limits of what is generally defined as sexual violence to include occurrences such as the symbolic transformation of Native peoples into “dirty” and “rapable” bodies that pollute the body politic of the United States, the literal rape and dismemberment of Native peoples, the implementation of boarding school policies, forced sterilization practices, medical experimentation, spiritual appropriation, environmental oppression, etc.
Shortly thereafter, two additional special journal issues were edited by Native women.
“Native Feminisms Without Apology” appeared in a 2008 issue of American Quarterly20 and
“Native Feminisms: Legacies, Interventions, and Indigenous Sovereignties” was published by Wicazo Sa Review in 2009.21 The articles in these issues built upon the scholarly work Native women had been doing for decades prior but also signaled the emergence of a slightly different direction in Native women's theorization, for the contributors here asserted loudly and boldly that Native women could both be feminist and produce feminist analytics if they so chose. Thus, “without apology,” a powerful contingent of Native feminists ushered in a new era of scholarly endeavors wherein which the urgency of interrogating the intersections between white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and settler colonialism was emphasized. It is in this vein of intellectual production that I, also without apology, situate Un-Settling Questions.
Also central to my project is the body of literature that critically engages urban indigeneity, especially as it is shaped by colonial spatialization. Since the early 1960s, there have been increased efforts to “think urban” in American Indian Studies and communities. Much of the early literature on this topic characterized urban Indians as exiles living lives marked by cultural degeneracy, loss, and breakdown, stuck in a liminal space between the
traditional/authentic and the modern/assimilated. Events such as the demographic reporting from the 1990 U.S. Census and the establishment of off-reservation tribal offices in urban areas where Native nations have substantial memberships have more recently spurred a proliferation of texts that critically engage the urban Indian experience.22
This literature establishes a host of understandings about the relationship between Native peoples and urban spaces. For example, it accounts for the more than two-thirds of the total Native population currently living in urban areas and holds the US nation-state accountable for the colonialist practices that have contributed to this reality.23 Additionally, a number of scholars wrestle with and attempt to rectify the fact that colonialism and white supremacy has necessitated an “othering” of Native peoples that has resulted in excluding them from accounts of the urban (which came to symbolize Western civilization, industry, and progress as opposed to indigenous savagery, barbarity, and the pre-modern) therefore creating the perception that, for Natives, urban spaces serve only as places of risk, separation, disillusion, and dissolution. Such critiques challenge the representation of urban Native spaces as red ghettos - places of absolute poverty, alcoholism, loss of culture, and abuse.
In addition to responding to colonial accounts (or exclusions) of urban indigeneity, the urban Indian scholarship that emerged toward the end of the twentieth century also emphasized the indigenous survival, adaptation, and community organization that crossed tribal, state, and national boundaries and called the very utility of such boundaries into question. It presented conceptualizations of identity/community that were fluid and flexible. For example, in a piece titled, “Is Urban a Person or a Place? Characteristics of Urban Indian Country,” cultural anthropologist Susan Lobo argues that urban Indian communities are not densely populated geographical locations within cities, unlike other communities of color or ethnic enclaves in urban areas. They are, rather, “widely scattered and frequently shifting network[s] of relationships with locational nodes found in organizations and activity sites of special significance.”24 Significantly, she argues this type of community is more akin to that of Native peoples prior to the imposition of reservation borders where formalized, federally-prescribed notions of a tribe as “a bounded entity within a geographically rigid, demarcated territory or reservation, governed by a body of elected officials, and with stringently designated criteria for membership”25 did not define Native identity. Full of potential, then, for reimagining more expansive definitions of Native identity and community, Lobo's theorizations, among others, open up discussions of urban Indian experiences and spaces.
Despite such impassioned and critical dialogues there continues, however, to be a glaring lack of attention to the consideration of gender in relation to urban indigeneity. The few explorations of this kind that are available emerge from Native feminist analyses. Renya Ramirez's 2007 Native Hubs: Culture, Community, and Belonging in Silicon Valley and Beyond is, perhaps, one of the most noteworthy contributions to this small but growing field of literature. In the introduction to her book, Ramirez alerts her readers that although Native women are essential to sustaining urban Indian community life, they are often overlooked and rarely credited or mentioned for their work.26 To counteract this erasure, Native Hubs describes a “Native woman's notion of urban and reservation mobility”27 that engages transnationalism, diasporic studies, citizenship studies, and discourses of urban Indian identity in order to promote social change and illustrate the numerous ways in which engagement in urban Indian life can be regenerative and culturally reinvigorative rather than culturally degenerative. Additionally, Ramirez argues that the city, like a hub on a wheel, “acts as a collecting center, a hub of Indian peoples' new ideas, information, culture, community, and imagination.”28 In other words, native hubs, particularly as they are created and maintained by Native women, not only defy colonially imposed borders and boundaries but also re-member and reunite Native peoples situated in different political, legal, geographic, and cultural contexts throughout the Americas. For example, native hubs have the potential to bring together Natives from reservations, landless Natives, federally recognized Natives, non-federally recognized ones, as well as Mixtec Indian women residing illegally in the United States because of current relocation policies, etc. They have the potential to rearticulate Indianness in a way that opens up rather than restricts our understandings of Indianness, increase the number of those who might be invested in projects of Native nation-building, and ultimately resist the colonial project of Indigenous extermination and its counterpart - the ever-lasting trope of the “vanishing Indian.”
Although Ramirez's work is relatively unique in exploring the role of gender in urban Indian communities in the United States, a brief glance at the Canadian context reveals a handful of related intellectual pursuits.29 One of the most relevant texts in terms of the project at hand is Bonita Lawrence's “Real” Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood. In this book Lawrence utilizes a Foucauldian understanding of discourse - “as a way of seeing life that is produced and reproduced by various rules, systems, and procedures, creating an entire conceptual territory on which knowledge is formed and produced”30 - to posit that the Indian Act,31 as well as other settler colonial modes of defining Indianness, operates as “a discourse of classification and regulation, which has produced the subjects it purports to control, and which has therefore indelibly ordered how Native people think of things `Indian.'”32 That is, even as settler colonial regimes purport to simply describe who/what counts as Indian via blood quantum, culture, etc. it is actually through these genocidal actions that the creation of who/what counts as Indian is enacted. Unfortunately, however, the designation of some Native bodies as authentic Indians, Inuit, full-blooded, federally recognized, or status and others as Métis, mixed-blood, half-breed, urban, unrecognized, or non-status has been naturalized to the degree that we no longer consider “how these different kinds of Indigenous subjects have been created by legislation”33 in the first place.
Furthermore, Lawrence explores the way in which Indian identity was gendered in the
Canadian colonial encounter as well as the effects this has had on the forced urbanization of Canadian aboriginal women. She argues that by disenfranchising Indian women and regulating their access to aboriginal identity through marriage patterns or blood quantum, and by “declaring the Nativeness of urban mixed-bloods to be terminated,”34 the Canadian government (and cooperating First Nations) continues to rely on and perpetuate gendered processes of colonialism.
Equally significant to my research endeavor is Canadian scholar Sherene Razack's essay “Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George.” In this piece, Razack reads and historicizes the rape and murder of Saulteaux woman Pamela George in order to theorize the relationship between race, space, the law, violence, and identity construction. Specifically, she posits that spatialized justice is the logic that deems certain bodies and subjects in certain spaces as undeserving of full personhood and, thus, legal protection. In this instance, because Pamela George was an Aboriginal woman who occupied the Stroll - Regina's inner-city district described as a world of drugs, prostitution, poverty, and racial otherness - she became constructed as a criminal and degenerate Native woman lacking personhood, that is a “rightful target of the gendered violence inflicted”35 by her perpetrators who ultimately were not held accountable for her death.
Razack historicizes this process of gendered Indian identity construction by reminding her readers of the settler colonial inflicted displacements of Aboriginal peoples that creates spaces such as the Stroll and then relegates urban Native women within. White settlers first displaced George's Saulteaux ancestors by relocating and confining them to reserves. Lack of adequate housing, employment, healthcare, education, etc., as well as the Indian Act that
Lawrence speaks of, then forces Native peoples to migrate off-reserve and to urban centers. Once in the city, “slum administration replaces colonial administration” because in settler colonial logic, all non-designated Indian spaces are settler spaces “and the sullying of civilized society through the presence of the racial Other in white space gives rise to a careful management of boundaries within urban space.”36 Thus, inner city spaces such as the Stroll become racialized and severely juxtaposed to spaces of seemingly white racial purity such as the suburbs. These boundaries are then enforced through the disciplining of Native bodies.
Arguably, then, there has been an extreme shift in the focus of the discourse surrounding urban indigeneity. What was once a body of literature concerned with articulating “the urban Indian experience” is now a critical examination of the very ways in which “the urban Indian” has been violently constructed by settler colonialism. Un-Settling Questions aims to contribute to this still-developing area of examination by interrogating the construction of urban Indian identity as it is utilized to enact violence against Native women and shape our understanding of said violence.
The Biopolitical Management of Native Peoples
Lawrence and Razack's intellectual contributions lead us directly to the final major body of literature with which this project engages: biopolitics. Introduced by Foucault yet expounded upon by numerous other scholars, the concept of biopolitics is defined as an apparatus of state power that concerns itself not with “man-as-body” but rather with “man-as-species.” This is a critical distinction for the scholar whose theoretizations of the disciplinary regulation of the body has significantly, if not altogether, shaped the way we conceptualize a great number of the institutions that have dominated Western societies from the eighteenth century to the present: the family, schools, the military, prisons, the insane asylum, social services, etc. Foucault argues that the emergence of biopolitical state power does not put an end to the prominence of the disciplinary institutional power he dedicated much of his life's work to theorizing, as a matter of fact he argues that the two work hand in hand and are often articulated through each other, but rather marks a shift in the way in which Western nation-states conceptualize and govern their respective, burgeoning populations at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
These ideas are fleshed out in greatest detail and specificity in his “Society Must Be Defended” lecture given at the Collége de France in 1976. Here, he argues that with the industrialization and demographic explosion of Western states it become politically and economically necessary to begin exercising state power upon entire populations in addition to submitting individual bodies to institutional power.37 Thus, biopolitics emerge to control largescale phenomena such as birth rates, fertility, longevity, and morbidity and, ultimately, situate populations as political, scientific, biological problems. What also occurs at this moment is a different way of conceptualizing political power. Whereas, previously, it was understood that the sovereign had absolute power to “make die or let live,” biopolitics emerge alongside an understanding that the modern nation-state has been contracted by its subjects to “make live and let die.” Although the difference may appear subtle at first, it emphasizes the modern nationstate's role in protecting the social body through the perpetuation of life rather than the classical sovereign's role in ordering death.
Significantly, however, this new preoccupation with life does not eliminate the practice of death. Instead, the practice of death becomes more subtle, almost passive, certainly biological, and racist. This is not to say that the regulation of death wasn't racist before this moment, or that racism did not exist in disciplinary institutions, but with the emergence of biopower, according to Foucault, racism becomes inscribed in the mechanisms of the state that regulate populations as cohesive social bodies rather than as individuals.38 In this way, racism becomes that which determines who must live and who must die for the sake of promoting the social body. The logic that one must die in order for another to live is intimately linked to the theorization of war, and actually, brings war-like relationships within the functioning of the nation-state. That is, enemies to the nation are now conceived as being internal as well as external and the death of enemies if certainly justifiable.39
The killing of particular communities of people within a nation-state, thus, becomes perfectly acceptable if it is done in the name of life and results “in the elimination of the biological threat to and the improvement of the species or race.”40 Hence, like particular individuals became marked as degenerate/abnormal in order to strengthen the production of the normal bourgeois body, entire populations now become marked as biological threats/pollutants in order to strengthen the production of a seemingly pure and healthy social body. The murder, oppression, colonization, etc. of these peoples is then justified in the name of protecting life - notably the life of the social body that supports and is supported by white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.
The implications of these arguments are immense and have influenced a number of theoretical debates and conversations. Scholars such as Rey Chow have expounded upon them to analyze the representation of ethnicity in the era of multi-cultural liberalism while scholars such as Jasbir Puar have utilized them to construct a critique of homonationalism in the era of “terrorism.”41 Most relevant to the project at hand, however, is the way in which Native scholars have employed the concept of biopolitics as a way of thinking about the establishment/processes of colonialism as well as the construction of indigeneity as a threat to the colonial order. Andrea Smith's aforementioned text Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide is a compelling example of this scholarship. Smith employs Ann Stoler's explanation of biopolitics to demonstrate that racism against Native peoples is a permanent and pervasive element of the modern state. In fact, “it is the constant purification and elimination of racialized enemies within the state that ensures the growth of the national body.”42 Thus, Native peoples have been (and continue to be) metaphorically transformed “into a pollution of which the colonial body must constantly purify itself.”43 This “purification,” Smith argues, results in the “rapability” of Native women, Native communities, and Native lands and then justifies the biopolitical practices of which rape, dismemberment, boarding schools, reproductive injustice, spiritual appropriation, etc. are included. My desire to explore the ways in which particular Native peoples have been eliminated from discussions and understandings of violence is intimately informed by such theorizations. For example, to what degree, I ask, have urban Indian women been constructed as a polity exceptionally capable of poisoning or threatening the colonial order? And, in what ways is this “threat” mitigated by the settler state?
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