This conversation took place February 9, 2021. Full transcript is provided below.
Roger Green: Hi everybody, welcome back to The New Polis for another Critical Conversation. My name is Roger Green and I’m the general editor for The New Polis, and today we have guest speakers Tink Tinker, who’s been a critical conversationalist with us before — and he’s written a number of articles on The New Polis, including one that I reference all the time titled “What are we Going to do with White People?”
And Glenn Morris is from CU-Denver and runs the Fourth World Center for Indigenous Law. And today the discussion is going to be about an American Indian critique of sovereignty. So, I’m not going to spend much more time introducing the folks, there’s more on the announcement for the site. I do want to just alert people to the next Critical Conversation, which will be March 16. It will be with Jonathan Fardy and a couple of respondents on his book, which is Althusser and Art. The talk is not about Althusser, it’s about what is this thing called “theory” and what is its usefulness today?
And then, I’m going to post again in the chat here as we’re going for people to look at a call for proposals and papers for our conference in April, which will be April 14 and 15th on decoloniality and the disintegration of Western cognitive empire. And so, this talk and a number of posts on The New Polis have been building up towards that particular conference in April and I’ll just pass it over to Tink, I think he was going to start first this morning. Thanks for being here.
Tink Tinker: [wazhazhe greeting] It’s really good to be back in a conversation with The New Polis, Roger, and Carl, and good to be paired up with my colleague Glenn Morris from UCD. Sovereignty, native sovereignty, is an incredibly complex word. Yet wherever you go on the internet you’ll find native sovereignty being parroted, particularly by native politicians and native speakers. It gets thrown around like everyone knows what sovereignty is and what native sovereignty is in particular on those sites.
I’m going to start off by suggesting that the word is so problematic that natives should not use it. There are two particular problems that I have with the word in any native discussion of the word, both have to do with language. It’s quintessentially a eurochristian word – that is, a white word – and that’s the article Roger mentioned: “What are we Going to do with White People?” I prefer to use the word eurochristian. And whatever else it signifies it signifies with that particular worldview.
[Interruption from an attendee’s computer. Carl steps in and mutes them]
Tink Tinker: So, I was arguing that sovereignty is quintessentially a eurochristian word and whatever else it signifies, it signifies something within that particular worldview. And by worldview I’m indicating again that it’s a linguistic problem. There does not seem to be any equivalent word or terminology in any native language for the eurochristian word “sovereignty.”
So, natives have to borrow the colonialists’ language and terminology in order to express their resistance to the colonizers’ power. In other words, we’re using the colonizers’ worldview in order to resist the colonizers’ worldview. That’s incredibly awkward, at best. In one sense it’s the best we’ve got right now. So, it’s a political choice that a lot of native leaders making other native speakers and I’m arguing it’s time to make a different choice to abandon the word sovereignty.
It’s like the term “federal Indian law.” There are about 10,000 Indian lawyers functioning across Turtle Island in the U.S. and Canada. Well, in the U.S. because “federal Indian law” is a U.S. term, who seemed to think federal Indian law is Indian law and, of course, it’s not. It’s white law, eurohristian law, about how to best control the native populations of Turtle Island.
So, the first key problematic has to do with explicitly with worldview and the extent to which using sovereignty immediately abandons, necessarily abandons, the native worldview in favor of the colonialist eurochristian one. Cognitive linguists, in this case, usefully described the unconscious framing that happens within a language community, and they reference idealize cognitive models that already shape our terminology in our sentences before we actually utter them. And foundational, according to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and company and others.
The up-down image schema is foundational. It’s predicated on physicality for them. Walking upright implies this up-down image model. The problem with Lakoff and Johnson is they have not been exposed to native worldview and they’re prematurely universalizing their own eurochristian worldview as good for everybody. But in their mind, walking upright then dictates all kinds of up-down images from the rising of heat to feeling high or feeling low, feeling up and feeling down, to political and business structures, church structures, like the hierarchies in a corporation where you have a CEO at top and then middle management and at the bottom, labor.
Or U.S. government, where you have a president or king at the top, royalty and/or the Congress in the middle layer, and the voters or subject people in the lowest order. In the church you’ve got not only a Pope or a bishop at the top, and then clergy in the middle, and laypeople at the bottom, but you’ve got a super hierarchy because above the Pope you have this thing they call “God,” the white male Sky God, if you will, residing above everyone else in the heavens.
And, of course, the quintessential model of the word “sovereignty” comes out of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia where the sovereignty of the monarch is highlighted and underscored, but it’s immediately predicated on the sovereignty of God, so it begins with their theology and becomes political science, secondarily. The monarch consent invested by God to be the sovereign over a particular nation state, and you have the divine right of kings which gives way in 1776 to the United States and their reinvention of sovereignty by this rebel conglomerate to in this modern governance of the republic and of democracy and invest sovereignty and the people. The sovereignty of the nation-state itself, the sovereignty of a country in Europe, then that surfaces in Germany, for instance, here, the sovereignty of Parliament.
What does it [sovereignty] mean, this up-down image schema? It becomes so abstract that there’s no simple meaning. It takes a large book of 400 pages, unless you’re a German scholar, in that case it takes a three-volume set entitled Einleitung der Souveränität. I can’t even say the word anymore, I used to speak the language, now the Introduction to Sovereignty. A second linguistic problem is really closely related and it has to do with the character of the communication within a particular worldview.
To say that languages are codes for one another, is too easy an aphorism. I think people still treat languages as codes for one another. For English, for instance, native languages are you are you that people want to know, “What’s your word for ‘God?’” That’s presuming that we have, in Osage, a word for God and, of course, that word is totally lacking until the missionaries come and they pick one. Because they need to make Osage a code for Catholic English and Protestant missionaries do the same kind work. Even though they pick different language for different things, their word for God is always the same, so wakona becomes the word for “God.”
But the underlying problem is that eurochristian languages function around nominal abstractions. They’re nominal languages. Again, look at German and all the nouns are capitalized. It’s not quite so apparent in English, but it too is a nominal language and nominalization is a prime linguistic worldview for creating abstractions like the state, like sovereignty, like religion, like theology, like God, like prayer, like sin and evil.
All of those are abstractions and none of them have counterparts in any Indian language until the missionaries make up words, make up new Indian nouns to carry the weight of eurochristian obstructions. Indian languages are verbal languages. Everything involves the whirling, unfolding of life in action, in verbal action. So, it’s all very tangible and it’s happening now, it’s in the real world. So, Indians are radical materialists, I’ve often said, and I know that’s a eurochristian abstraction, but everything has its own life, everything is has its own reality, everything is everyone, every person.
It’s all alive, it is my relative. So, it’s really hard to take over the word abstraction and make that some kind of American Indian verbal quotient involving action, because it has to speak to some sort of nominal abstraction that exists in the invented eurocrhristian ideology and worldview. I’m going to stop right there and let Glenn take it for a while and we can come back in and discuss what really needs a couple of weeks, instead of two hours.
Glenn Morris: That’s no joke. [gives Native greeting]. As I begin, I’d like to first give thanks and acknowledgement to the peoples of the territory where I’m speaking.
Tink Tinker: Howe!
Glenn Morris: Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Utes and other original peoples of this territory. And I dedicate this work to the continuing decolonization and self-determination of indigenous peoples everywhere. And I submit these ideas in that vein, acknowledging that my presentation and I want to say, I apologize first, because I know that Tink advised me that we have a five-or seven-minute introductory comment period and then we’ll open it up. So, this is going to be a rush, because this is part of a much larger project that I’m working on about exactly the points that Tink was referencing. So, Roger, feel free to give me the high sign when I’ve gone too long here.
But as Tink mentioned even a cursory search for the term “tribal sovereignty,” “indigenous sovereignty,” “aboriginal sovereignty,” “native sovereignty,” “Hawaiian sovereignty,” “food sovereignty” indicates that, certainly since the 1970s, the juncture of sovereignty with Indigenous Peoples, often without substantive definition, as Tink mentioned, or explanation, has become ubiquitous in law case books, in native media, in tribal council meetings.
And the cursory search indicates that over 200,000 references have been made and some scholarly discussion on native or tribal sovereignty just in the past decade and a half or so. While I was at Standing Rock in 2016 opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline with tens of thousands of other native and non-native people, I watched and listened to several Indigenous People, raising from teens on Facebook to elected officials of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, using the term “sovereignty” in myriad contexts.
When I asked them what they meant when they described either perceived assault on tribal sovereignty or the assertion of tribal sovereignty, the reply would be generally something along the lines of, “I mean freedom,” “I mean the ability to make decisions independently, without interference,” or “I mean the power of our people to control our own destinies over our territory and resources.” And then I asked them, so, why don’t you simply use the term “freedom” or “independence” or “self-determination” to describe those conditions? And they would often respond that one term was as good as another, and the lexicon seemed interchangeable, but that sovereignty sounds more authoritative and much more politically substantial and effective and legitimate.
And when I asked them if any of them could tell me what the origins of the term were or where it originated or the actual elements of sovereignty, historically, not one of them could. Not one of them knew Bodin or Botero or Hobbes. Not one of them knew [Emerich de] Vattel. And so, I considered that problematic and I considered it problematic because, as Tink was mentioning, if we don’t know the genealogy of the terminology and we assimilate it as indigenous peoples into our own lexicon, into our own worldview, into our own cosmological view, if you will, then it becomes particularly problematic.
The late, great Lakota author and visionary Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), personal mentor of mine, and I know a friend of Tink’s and many, many other native people on this program. In his books, especially Custer Died for Your Sins in 1969 and We Talk, You Listen in 1970, grafted the term “sovereignty” onto native political aspirations and early in contemporary times that was the first and really popular extension of the Westphalian term “sovereignty” into the indigenous context in the United States.
But the Deloria later said that his use of the term “sovereignty” of that time was a novel political device. He acknowledged and recognized that it was a political device to push the debate for native justice beyond the place where it had been found by him and by others in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, really. And he never thought that it was to be a permanent description of Native political destinations. And so the following year, the American Indian Movement, that time led by Dennis Banks and Russell Means, began to pick up on Deloria’s lessons and AIM issued a bumper sticker that read “AIM for Sovereignty” and that was the first time that, as a teen, I had ever encountered the term in an Indigenous context.
And the concept of sovereignty, which is today taken almost as a dogma around Indian country, was a very unfamiliar and controversial notion. And Russel Means in his autobiography recounted the reaction of tribal chairman at the time, at the annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in 1970, and I’m quoting Russell Means now, he said,
AIM had a slogan ‘AIM for Sovereignty’ and Bob Jim, who was then the President of NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] and chairman Yakama tribe took the stage to condemn AIM and the urban Indians for wanting to steal U.S. funds for tribal governments that were recognized by the U.S. as domestic, dependent nations. Bob Jim held up one of our bumper stickers ‘AIM for Sovereignty.’ He couldn’t even pronounce it correctly, he said ‘here’s what we think of AIM and their ‘savarainity.’ And he cut up the bumper sticker with the scissors and he got a wild ovation. A few years later, Bob Jim and the tribal chairman who had cheered, when he cut up that bumper sticker had learned how to pronounce sovereignty correctly, some could even spell it, because, by then, they were starting to use the term to get reelected.” (End quote from Russell Means)
So, in the early 1970s, although terminology such as “tribal sovereignty” and “self-determination” were ridiculed by elected tribal chairman and tribal governments, as the confused jargon of native academics or radicals or malcontents, especially in Deloria’s writings, today the term is ubiquitous, although a common definition of the concepts remained elusive. My contention for this talk and for this work that I’m doing is that the ambiguous and confused assimilation of the term “sovereignty” into the mindset of Indigenous Peoples is part of the lexical colonial project of invader states.
The part that Albert Memmi and Ashis Nandy refer to as the colonization of the mind. That’s why I contend that the time is long overdue for indigenous peoples to abandon the term “sovereignty,” “invader state sovereignty” and, by implication, through mimicry as Homi Bhabha would say the use of the term, such as “indigenous sovereignty” or “Indian sovereignty” or “tribal sovereignty” or “aboriginal sovereignty” and any connection of sovereignty as a rhetorical concept, as a political, economic, or aspirational model or as a delusion of a framework to liberation from the current colonized circumstances should be abandoned. So, it is time, as Homi Bhabha and Frantz Fanon went on would say to discontinue mimicking the language and the design of the invader state and to stop fetishize.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I also encourage the abandonment of the use of the term “settler state” and its replacement with the term “invader state” which, in my view, is a much more accurate description of the historical and colonizing nature of the state. And to stop fetishizing that is continuing our irrational reverence or obsessive devotion to sovereignty, which is little more than a medieval, racist, patriarchal, European, political and this, Tink would say “Christian construct” that has brought Indigenous Peoples little more than misery and imprisonment.
To take Joy Harjo’s words of reinventing the enemy’s language a step farther, I’m going to suggest that we not reinvent the enemy’s language here, but that we reject the invaders’ semiotics of sovereignty and refresh and implement memories of Indigenous Peoples as free and independent nations. And so, what’s important in this conversation is for us to reveal the racist notions of Bodin and Botero, and even before that Machiavelli and, later, Hobbes and Locke and Vattel and, as Tink was referencing, Carl Schmitt and his progeny who just left the White House: Steven Miller, Steve Bannon and other advisors in the Trump Administration.
And so, because there’s a continuous line from Bodin to the …actually the Biden Administration right now, and I can pull out the Biden Administration’s most recent statement on Indian sovereignty from just the last week and show you the continuous thread. And so, because… There are three elements of sovereignty that have been continuously destructive of Indigenous Peoples and that, as Tink mentions, are antithetical to Indigenous values and worldviews and political models.
One is the notion that the sovereign and sovereignty is absolute, unlimited, and perpetual. Bodin I would say in his book On Sovereignty: Six Books of the Commonwealth in 1576 and then Botero continues that the state is a firm domination over people and reason of state, which is the other principle that’s really should be dissected by indigenous peoples, reason of state, raison d’etat, is first articulated by Botero in 1589 in which he said, the reason of state is the knowledge of the means suitable to found conservative and expand that domination and so we see in the seminal case in federal Indian law of Johnson v. M’Intosh, where John Marshall takes the message of Botero, the reason of state argument of Botero, and applies it to the creation of the United States and the diminishment of Indigenous Peoples and the political status and the legal status of Indigenous Peoples in order to create the United States and in order to guarantee the survival, he uses reason of state arguments in order to guarantee the survival of the United States through the creation of federal Indian law, the foundational case in federal Indian law in 1823.
And he also uses Locke and notions of the state and the state’s ability to impose notions of wilderness and the value of the cultivation of the soil and dispossesses Native People of that, even though 65% of the world’s daily diet today was originally cultivated by Native People. So, we see these extensions of, not only sovereignty in the sense that Bodin articulated, and reason of state or raison d’etat as Botero articulates it, but the Nauruan international legal scholar Antony Anghie, who talks about sovereignty doctrine, this entire complex of sovereign notions that are driven by the colonial ethic, colonizing ethic, has been extended to Indigenous Peoples around the world. And so, we see that and it’s based on what Tink was saying about this, the civilizing mission. It’s driven by the civilizing mission and the perception of Indigenous Peoples as different and therefore deviant and therefore beyond the pale, I’ll use that term deliberately from English law.
And then the last point that I wanted to say in my introductory comments is about Carl Schmit’s extension of Bodin and the description of sovereignty and the sovereign as the person who makes the exception. So, the state of exception argument of Bodin, of Carl Schmit and, frankly, of the Trump White House, but not just the Trump White House. And we see this reason of state argument that the state, the sovereign, has the ability, actually has the obligation, to determine when the law does not apply to the state, but also to create categories of exception of those people who are not protected by the state, who are not protected by the sovereign and, therefore, dispensable.
We see that, first of all, and Johnson versus McIntosh, that’s exactly what John Marshall does in Johnson v. M’Intosh. We see it at Guantanamo Bay of people who can be held incommunicado, indefinitely without charge, without trial, without due process; they’re in the state of exception, they’ve been placed in the state of exception and cases more close to home of the use of predator drones to kill U.S. citizens. Anwar Al-Awaki in Yemen and his 16-year-old son, who was born in the city where we’re meeting today, as a U.S. citizen killed by predator drones, not by Trump, not by Bush, not by Reagan, by Barack Obama.
And so, they were put in the state of exception, they were beyond the bounds of redemption according to the state, according to the sovereign. And so what we see here is what Felix Cohen called “the canary in the miner’s cage,” where certainly what happens to Indigenous Peoples in all of these contexts can happen to anyone.
So, I think I’ve said enough provocative things right now and we can maybe flesh some of this out in our conversation, but I do encourage Indigenous Peoples to abandon the use of the term “sovereignty,” not only for the reasons that I’ve stated, but because it’s actually antithetical to the decolonization project and to the liberation of Indigenous Peoples around the world. [Native closing] Thank you very much and thank you, Roger, for the invitation.
Tink Tinker: And Roger, if it’s okay I’m gonna follow up with a couple of comments. Thank you for a really nice rundown on the word “sovereignty” and its history. Incredibly useful. I was trying to be short and I probably short-shifted myself in terms of not clarifying exactly what the shifting worldview is when we adopt words like “sovereignty” or words like “God” or “religion” or “prayer” or any of those religious abstractions. I said that the eurochristian worldview is [rooted in an] up-down image schema, it’s hierarchy where you have a top and a bottom and a range in between. The bottom must give way to the top and, as Glenn said, it’s the top that declares the state of exception or in Carl Schmitt’s terms the dictator, the dictator.
Now American Indian worldview is very, very different. If it’s not up-down, what is it? I’ve always argued that it’s egalitarian, collateral egalitarian. We’re on a plane together, there is no up-down, it’s all horizontal. So, as my colleague Glenn has insisted in my memory for more than 20 years, in the Indian world there are no bosses. People want to say, “Yes, but you also have a chief, you’ve always had a chief.” And my response has always been yes, we have a word, gaihega, that you translate “chief” and every Osage village had not one, but two gaihega. And they took turns every other day being in charge kind of, like, having Hillary Clinton on Mondays and Donald Trump on Tuesdays.
So, you can see immediately there’s a problem there with the up-down hierarchy. If the gaihega, the person you all call “chief” is an autocrat then you’ve got people making contrary decisions every other day. For instance, it was a gaihega who determined the direction of the buffalo hunt. So, the first guy ago says we’re leaving the village in the morning we’re going to travel West. And after traveling West for a day the second gaihega says, okay, I’m in charge tomorrow and we’re going to travel East. That ain’t gonna work; you end up back in your village, right?
So somehow these two gaihega have to be on the same page with one another, which is to say, their business is to reflect the consensus of people, not to make autocratic decisions. It’s egalitarian-collateral which extends even further than the human beings in the village where babies are the equal of every gaihega. Where men and women are equal accepted, except women are more valuable than men, because our societies were all originally matriarchal and matrilocal. But it extends to all our relatives in the cosmos around us so that all the four-leggeds are part of that egalitarian.
All the flying ones are part of it, all the livin-growing [people] so that we cannot walk into the forest and cut a tree just because we humans need that tree, but there has to be a relationship with that tree, there has to be a ceremony, there has to be some permission given to take that tree’s life in order to use it to do whatever people think they need to do back in their village, whether it’s a ceremony or building a new lodge for a family. If we were going to use the word “sovereignty” in this American Indian worldview, maybe in my mind the closest we could come is to talk about the sovereignty of the land itself. Because, you see, the eurochristian invaders also just to say converted or tried to convert Indians to their individualist notions of christian salvation.
What about the business of converting the land into private property? See, they individualized even the land so that they broke up the sovereignty of the land into individually owned parcels. Another abstraction, another fiction created by the christian invaders and a word, again, for which American Indians have no counterpart. We don’t have ownership of anyone. See it’s “anyone,” not “anything.” We in Osage as far as I can tell have no word for “thing,” “object,” “phenomenon.”
All of those come to us from that up-down image schema where humans have sovereignty over any thing in the world. The freedom to exercise sovereignty over trees, for instance, so that they can clear-cut a forest just in order to make paper so that they can create new government policies and add to the federal Indian law in order to extend their control by the use of this abstraction of something called “law” to control on other people. Collateral egalitarian. Enough said for now, Kakunah.
Roger Green: I’m noticing, just from past Indigenous conferences that we put on with the Native American Justice Council at Iliff School of Theology, a lot of people like Deborah Harry, for example, are in the chat here, so I just want to invite other Native folks who want to comment or expand upon or ask questions of Tink and Glenn just to open up the conversation a little bit, but I kind of want to prioritize native folks’ voices, at least first, right now.
And I think, as people are sort of thinking as well, I think, to some of what Glenn was saying, I think that the foundation of the United States –sometimes political scientists use the term “dual sovereignty” to mean the states’ rights versus the federal situation — which seems to me to be a dialectic of devastation for Indigenous folks in Turtle Island. But a question has just come in from Greg Beanie who says, “When so many native people have had their language forcibly forgotten, how do we go about restoring a native worldview without using the language/tools of the invader?”
Glenn Morris: I’d like to address that. And I would like to also go back to a point that Tink was making just now because I’m very, very empathetic to that view, particularly in what we call great Turtle Island or North America. There are thousands of indigenous languages that are either dead or what ethno-linguists would call “dying languages.” That is, less than 1,000 fluent speakers. And so that becomes extremely important.
But I want to relate an experience that I had among our Maori relatives in Aotearoa, New Zealand and the discussion that we had about their debate over the same questions in Aotearoa. And there are two terms that get debated about how they describe what Europeans would describe as “sovereignty,” and the two terms are tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake. And so tino rangatiratanga is comprised of two words: ranga, which is “to weave,” “weave together” when they are making basket. So, for those of you have ever read the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, she talks about the braiding of the sweetgrass together in a sacred ceremony that’s emblematic of all relations; political, social, cultural relations among indigenous peoples and so tino rangatiratanga embodies part of that weaving. And tira, which is the word for “group.” So tira rangatiratanga is somebody who weaves the people together, and the concept of the chief is bound up with the weaving of consensus among people so, but they don’t have the same, it’s just what Tink was saying about the Osages, they don’t have the term chief.
So, it doesn’t mean sovereignty in the European invader-state sense of the word. And the conclusion is that the English word for sovereignty has no equivalent in Maori. Similarly, mana motuhake means “the authority that derives from the land” that is autochthonous, not autonomous, but autochthonous. It springs from the earth, it springs from the land and tino rangatiratanga is what you do on the land, so the mana, or the power, or the strength, emerges from the land, from your relationship with the land and all of life on the land. And so, it’s so a mana motuhake is completely antithetical to sovereignty in the Westphalian sense, or in the Schmittian sense, and so our Maori relatives reject that. And maybe Deb Harry has something to say about that.
Oh, so I’m sorry, I never really answered Greg’s point. So those Indigenous Peoples whose language has been devastated, often deliberately because it’s the considered deficient, and don’t have the facility with their own traditional languages to immediately use an alternative is to partner with other Indigenous Peoples who still maintain that because, and I know that this is very controversial among academics, but most Indigenous Peoples I know believe in the notion of genetic memory and so that’s now kind of coming up with studies, with regard to the transmission of historical trauma genetically from generation to generation. But genetic memory can be reawakened, I think most of us indigenous peoples believe.
It can be reawakened and so, even though our languages may be distant from us, there are still indigenous peoples who have those connections, who can help us to remember that. We saw that with the resurgence of indigenous spirituality in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, where the invader states made Indigenous languages illegal and so they atrophied, and they sometimes were forgotten. But with the emergence of certain ceremonialism and, particularly, I acknowledge the Lakotas and Dakotas of the northern plains who assisted so many other indigenous peoples in remembering what it is to be connected to the land ceremonially through purification ceremonies, through the Sun Dance, to other ceremonies so that … other people went back home and uncovered their ceremonialism, uncovered their connection to place and, by connection, by implication began the process of decolonization of their diets, of the politics, of their economics. And so, I believe that it’s possible by listening to other Indigenous Peoples who have begun those projects.
Tink Tinker: I would add to that that we need to remember that the loss of native languages and the loss of culture was very much a part of the intentional planning of both church and state. They did that. It was very successful. Our great-grandparents and grandparents, who in boarding schools were not allowed to speak Native language to one another, they were forced to learn English on most of Turtle Island.
Late 1700s early 1800s in California and throughout south of the Rio Grande they were forced to speak Spanish. They would intentionally take children – brother and sister – and send them to different schools so they could not even speak to one another. Now, in order to reclaim what was intentionally taken away from us, intentionally destroyed by the invader means we have to start hanging together with each other. Indian people with Indian people.
In the city it’s got to be intertribal. There aren’t enough Osages for me to hang only with Osages, and some of them are more colonized than I am. At Four Winds American Indian Council we spent the last three decades trying to bring Indian people together for conversation about how to decolonize our minds, how to decolonize our speaking, and every time I get a group of people together and start rocking and rolling, talking about how to decolonize our language, somebody in that circle of relatives would say, “But, Tink, you use this word. Isn’t that a colonial term?”
And I have to stop and say, hmmm, yeah, you’re right. I have to rethink my use of that word so that my process of decolonizing my mind and my language has been adult-lifelong. I mean, I started life doing a PhD in my mother’s religion in order to understand it well enough to begin the process of walking away from it, to my mother’s great disappointment, and to my father’s more open delight. I couldn’t keep them both happy, and yet they were married for 72 years before my mother passed.
Yes, it’s a process, a process of going back to my reservation and speaking to people back their elders particularly and beginning to use words and then sentences and listening for how those words are used. And I go home, and I critique the way they speak Osage because, as they resurrect the language, too often they’re resurrecting ie wazhazhe as a code for “English.” So that ie wazhazhe] becomes wazhazhe-ia, as you hear the language, instead of speaking Osage. Because adjectives and in [wazhazhe] generally follow what they’re describing. Little things like that. Or the phrase we use for “good morning,” Carl, I said it’s kasi x’si and, of course, they rock it like English. Kasi x’si. Kási x’si instead of kasía x’si. You’re no longer remembering exactly where the accent should be, and the accent is so slight in Osage, but it’s there and it doesn’t rhythm the way English does. So, it’s a process, Greg, that we engage for a lifetime. Kakunah.
Roger Green: And the next question from Shsh is related, and it says, “How do Native Americans overcome the feeling of alienation in modern days? I mean when they have to live among other euro-Americans?” Oh, and Sheldon, I saw you had a hand raised.
Sheldon Spotted Elk: In the queue you can put me in the queue after they answer the question.
Roger Green: I just saw it flash.
Glenn Morris: I think one of the greatest attempts and partial successes that colonialism has had on IndigenousPeople but, frankly, on all peoples is the destruction of community. And I mean genuine community. I don’t mean some rhetorical community, I mean a genuine community where we care for each other, we depend on each other, we assist one another, and that was the hallmark of indigenous societies at the time of creation. And so, as Tink was saying, I’d just like to add one more point that I see that there are a lot of younger indigenous people in the room here and they know that one of the admonitions that I give them is to remember that colonialism didn’t happen in a day. It was a very meticulous, deliberate set of structures that were imposed over decades and centuries, and so decolonization doesn’t happen in a day, decolonization is also a process. But we have the advantage of being in our homelands, and so it’s always possible to rely not just on other humans, but as I mentioned Robin Wall Kimmerer earlier, the book Braiding Sweetgrass, she tries to remind us of that. That we gain assistance, and we have community, not just with human beings but with every living thing in our homeland. And that’s where our ceremonies come from, that’s where the language comes from is from our relationship with those things.
And I know in a Western academic setting that seems irrational or it seems superstitious or what have you, but it’s what has allowed Indigenous Peoples to survive and thrive for millennia here. From time immemorial, as they say. So I would just say to Shsh, whover that might be, there’s a recent book put out by Joseph Marshall III from the Rosebud Reservation called Crazy Horse Weeps and the subtitle is The Challenge of Being Lakota in White America, and I think that Marshall, in the book, he’s writing a particularly for young Lakotas and Dakotas, but the lessons I think transcend that and can apply to young Indigenous Peoples everywhere, because, in this society alienation from community, particularly native community, which is distinctly different in my experience than other kinds of community … the regeneration of that community is essential.
And so I know that’s particularly difficult now when we have to have a meeting like this mediated through this electronic device. And we can’t see each other and touch each other and feel the essence of one another in the same room, but it’s worth trying and it’s worth continuing to do. Because, without it, we become just atomized targets and that’s the lesson our ancestors gave to us is to always renew and regenerate those connections that we have to one another. So, I just encourage you, when you feel alienated and you feel like giving up, to try to find and reach out – here’s some community right on here that live in Denver, that live in connection with one another. So, I encourage you to try to find that and make those connections.
Tink Tinker: Yeah, I would just add to that that it’s a matter of finding each other and [community is, to me again, too abstract…] communities. To me, again, too abstract a noun, the Indian words that reference our towns reference living together and your community is not what the graduate school where I taught, at Iliff School of Theology, setting aside a large room to be the student lounge. Creating community. In the eurochristian world people always talking about creating community. Whether it’s a club or a church congregation, we’re going to create community, right?
Now, Indian people live together so my fear, my worst fear, is being Indian in the city becomes like joining a club. And being Norwegian in Minneapolis is belonging to one of a half a dozen different Norwegian clubs. Weird stuff, huh? They haven’t been Norwegian for a century and a half or more. Yet at the same time they’re clinging, as white Americans, to some fantasy of being Norwegian, which gets shot out of the water the first time they go back and visit Norway.
Whereas Natives still have homes. We’re welcomed back on our reservations when we go back. And yet, in the city we have to struggle to find one another, we have to find the powwow, or find the schedule of powwows, make our way out to tall bull memorial grounds or make our way over to Four Winds American Indian Council or to an American Indian Movement meeting. Those are the places where I found community here, found people with whom I can live, people who immediately understand what I’m talking about and about whose issues I understand when they speak to me. So that’s where it starts. Kakunah.
Roger Green: Thank you, Tink, and just to let everybody know, I saw some hands come up and I’ve put some sequence into the chat, so we’ll take Sheldon next and then Danielle, because I saw her hand. But I can’t always see everybody’s hands because I can’t see all your faces. So, if you could use the chat, please, so that I’m not leaving anybody out. But go ahead, Sheldon, thank you.
Sheldon Spotted Elk: Thank you. I guess, a comment and a question. The comment is, I think me saying this, Sheldon Spotted Elk saying this, is that I think one of our greatest contributions to humanity as indigenous peoples of America is to teach the world about environmentalism and to teach the world about kinship. And so, if you go to any tribal community and you look at some of the immutable values – I use that word intentionally, immutable – some of the core things that make us Indigenous, it is about that reciprocity that we have with the earth and reciprocity that we have with others.
There is a growing movement, I feel like I would say growing movement at least, I’m law-trained, worked in house counsel for a tribe, currently a tribal judge for a tribe right now. I don’t work full-time for a tribe, though, but I am a Court of Appeals judge for a tribe, and so I get to see it from a governance perspective, and I think there is that word “sovereignty” and the point that has been well-made, the linguistic point about it, it’s been stretched so it’s almost lost its savor in some sense.
But if we go to the very core of the way that tribes manifest their governance there’s a growing movement about developing a body of tribal law, and so what that would look like for northern Cheyenne – a number of the northern Cheyenne tribe – we did have governance, we still do have governance, we had a structure of 44 chiefs were based on our societies and they still meet. Their major function today, unfortunately, has been really primarily reduced to running ceremony, setting up the Sun Dance, our annual ceremony. But before they had broader governance and the legal sense of what sovereignty is that aspect of being able to 1.) This is what federal Indian law would say so, when we talk about federal Indian law, and I go to the federal Indian law conference every year. For most of the years I’ve gone. I don’t think anybody would say that federal Indian law is Indian tribal law.
I think there is a distinction there, and if fundamentally for everybody on this, when we talk about federal Indian law, if you imagine with me three intersecting circles, a venn diagram of three intersecting circles, of the three sovereigns that are identified in the U.S. Constitution: the federal government, states, and Indian tribes. And what federal Indian law is, is describing the relationship between those three entities and how they push and pull and fight for jurisdiction, primarily, whether that’s taxation or whether that’s territory. And, of course, that’s within a colonial structure, and I think the Johnson v. McIntosh, if you read that case, it’s the most racist case you might run across. At least in the top five easily. So that’s something for great federal Indian law attorneys are winning big battles right now actually some big ones that happened, even this year McGirt v. Oklahoma. Something for us to be thoughtful of but to my primary point is this idea of cultivating tribal law.
It’s still…we haven’t vanished. We’re still here. And when he talked about those fundamental core things of being a Northern Cheyenne, number one is we get to identify who is a member of our government, who has the ability to participate in us. And whether that’s a government or whether that ceremony, that’s kind of one of the major fundamental things about who’s us? And how do we identify us? And so that’s one of the very core things about it, but when we talk about, like, how does our law replicate our community values? That’s some work that I think community members, lawyers, tribal elected officials, scholars, I think that’s the space that we really need to be cognizant about.
And there’s some scholars out there, Christine Zuni Cruz, who’s my mentor at the University of New Mexico, the thoughts about being able to get people together and, of course, being Northern Cheyenne is different in 2021 than it was when we killed Custer in 1876. That was a beautiful day, when we did that, and maybe that’s also our gift to humanity is that, but the values that we have, there’s a diversity and cosmology, there is a diversity in that worldview, and being able to take that into account as we craft our laws and be able to create space for what it means for Northern Cheyennes to have a sense of participation in governance.
And so, I think I would like to see – and I tribes are doing it, I could rattle off some names of tribes that are doing it right now – is this intentional outreach to the two out of three of us that live off reservation. Two out of three tribal citizens that are off reservation and how they’re reaching out and including us into community. It can happen this way, albeit not as great as being there in person, but also participation and ceremony. And I know there’s this intentional, and if you didn’t know this, and I think Professor Tinker does such a great job with this, there’s a whole history here, and if you don’t know about it, I think a lot of this conversation is going way above your head. But the whole history of the colonization and genocide project of the United States against Indigenous Peoples. It’s something that you need to know about.
But where we’re at today, I feel like we have some talented individuals. There’s an Indian Renaissance I feel like happening. There are so many different intersections that are happening, it’s exciting to see all the artists all the great thinkers, the lawyers, the doctors, all these things that are kind of happening right now, and the great intersection that we have going on right now in Indian Country. Some amazing things are happening in that intersection, you know. If you’re not paying attention to it, you’re missing it. There’s some really cool things that are happening out there when it comes to these types of discussions so great to be a part of this. I’ll leave it at that, that’s my comment.
Tink Tinker: Hawe! Sheldon, thank you, I think when this pandemic is over you and I need to find a way to meet up face-to-face and visit more. And that’s not to say we agree on everything, because we would end up arguing very productively, I think.
But let me say about environmentalism, first off. My problem with eurochristian liberal environmentalism is that the vast majority of eurochristians are worried about the environment for the sake of rescuing the future of human beings. That’s not particularly a native worldview perspective because human beings have no up-down hierarchy superior importance to the rest of the world around us.
What eurochristians call “The World of Nature,” right? No. Those are our relatives we’re functioning constantly at our best out of utmost respect for every living being, that is, every plant, every medicine, every squirrel, every sparrow. That’s American Indian environmentalism – it’s that collateral egalitarian worldview.
And I think in terms of, I try not to use the word “tribes,” except when I’m talking about recognized tribal governments, I think we have no choice except to talk about tribes. For me that’s not a Native category either, that’s a category that was imposed upon our peoples, and it puts Indian Peoples, again, in that up-down image schema, a notch below eurochristian peoples because they’re not called tribes, they’re called a Nation.
And the U.S. government for its part fills its website with talking about honoring this – I started checking it out during the Clinton Administration – honoring the government-to-government relationship between the U.S. government and Indian tribes. Right there you have the hierarchy – up-down – and it’s government-to-government, a voice studiously avoiding the terminology “nation-to-nation” for a reason, for a purpose, to make sure Indian Peoples understand “you’re a tribal government, you aren’t nation.”
Stuart Udall’s brother, Senator from Arizona [my memory got stuck here. It was actually Rep. Morris Udall. Can we substitute that here? He served on the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. Grijalva, same district from AZ, serves as chair of that committee today. -TT], explained it this way, gee, more than 50 years ago. Indian sovereignty is kind of like a state or county. That kind of subservience to the sovereignty of the top, the United States. In other words, an Indian nation under that kind of hierarchical grades of sovereignty is never completely free. So that we’re forced, coerced, the way our grandparents were in boarding schools, to invent eurochristian ways of organizing us.
So, yes, we have tribal governments. I mean, the Osages adopted a new constitution, a decade ago. And lo and behold, our new self-government is modeled exactly on the U.S. government. I mean, it starts with a principal chief, an assistant principal chief, a national congress, and a national judiciary. What’s that look like? And the last article in the new Constitution read: “This Constitution will take effect upon a majority plebiscite of the Osage people, and the approval of the Constitution by the Bureau of Indian affairs.”
What? What?! We can’t have a self-government until the Bureau of Indian Affairs says, yeah, that’s a good constitution, you can go for it? That ain’t free. That’s working with their models of an up-down hierarchy and trying to live within what some of my Indian lawyer friends call, “Tink, it’s the real world.” I’m not ready to concede the real world, I want to go back and reclaim those values, cultures, language structures that were ours and use them to talk back to this invader-state. Kakunah. And I say that with utmost respect. zhole wahoi with utmost respect. [With utmost respect in Osage, Sheldon].
Glenn Morris: Yeah, I agree with Tink and I think that this is what I was talking about with regard to building community, to honor your word, Sheldon, and I think we have many future conversations I hope that we can have about some of these points because part of community is having this respectful discussion and dialogue. I remember when I first started doing international work at the United Nations to help to develop the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and so on, and the first law review article that I had published was an argument that said that Indigenous Peoples and nations should be recognized as states under the Montevideo Convention, the UN Montevideo Convention of 1932, and so I laid out all the criteria said, you know, Indigenous Peoples and nations, they meet these criteria and they should be recognized as states by the United Nations and it was, you know, through these kinds of conversations with Vine Deloria, Jr. or Russell Means or Carrie Dann or Janet McLoud, John Mohawk, other people who are active at the time, who kind of gently took me aside and said “Why would we want to be states? Why? Why would we want to replicate the model of the invaders?”
And we had our own models before they ever showed up and the one thing that I want to mention, Sheldon, just quickly is your notion that federal Indian law is about a venn diagram of these three concentric circles. I would argue that it’s more what Tink’s talking about, it’s a pyramid in which the U.S. state is at the top, and indigenous governments are subordinate to that. And because, under Article Six of the Constitution, states are subject to the supremacy clause.
So, anything that they do that’s contrary to the federal constitution must fall. And similarly, under plenary power, or under domestic dependency, Indigenous governments are not co-equal governments with the United States of America. The United States could terminate your nation and your reservation tomorrow if it wanted to. It could say you’re no longer Cheyenne, you’re no longer a reservation, you no longer have a territory tomorrow under planetary power doctrine. And so, that’s not a co-equal relationship, and that’s what I’m talking about here.
So, for Indigenous Peoples really to express self-determination – and that’s another term they’ve captured under federal statutes, The Self-Determination Act. It means self-administration and federal law, but in international law, it means the right of a people to decide for itself its political, economic, and cultural future without external interference. And so, I would say that’s what indigenous peoples must do is to realize that the use of the term “sovereignty” as a co-equal with the United States is an illusion. It’s an illusion today until there’s genuine decolonization and genuine self-determination.
And one final point to go to Tink’s issue, on January 26th Biden issued this this executive action, and the title of it is “Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships.” And so, in one sentence there’s a major contradiction because either there’s tribal consultation and, as Tink says, anthropologically, sociologically, the United States has already subordinated Indigenous Peoples with the use of the term “tribal.” You look at any anthropological diagram of the levels of civilization and “tribe” is under “state” and under “nation” and it’s subordinate. It’s inferior.
And so, the use of the term “tribal nations” is a deliberate device to say, “You’re not actually a nation.” And Vattel says that, and John Marshall uses Vattel in Johnson versus McIntosh. Vattel says that in the 19th century. He says, these tribes, these wandering bands of people, they’re not nations. Even though the United States used the term “the Delaware nation,” “the Cherokee nation,” “then great Sioux nation,” “the Navajo nation” in treaties, Vattel already gave them the out and said, you can use that term, but everyone knows that it’s the prerogative of the sovereign to define those terms.
And so, those are really important conversations I think for us to have as communities to say, so, what might be a better term? What might be a stronger term? What might be a stronger frame that we can use to advance the cause of colonization and self-determination? So, I thank you again for your comments and I look forward to having ongoing conversations with you.
Roger Green: Danielle, you are up next and then, Fernando, I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll come back to your comment after Danielle.
Danielle SeeWalker: Thank you. [Native greeting]. I speak in humble and respect to everybody on this call, thank you, Tink and Glenn. I appreciate the comments that you made, Tink, regarding bringing pan-indigenous nations and groups together in urban areas like Denver and, Glenn, you also made great comments regarding a true community among our people, but what are your thoughts regarding the lateral oppression that exists within our communities? I know we don’t like to acknowledge it a lot, we don’t like to vocally talk about it, but it’s a real thing and exists, and it seems that we have a lot of work to do within that issue before we really approach a lot of these other outside issues. What are your thoughts?
Tink Tinker: I presume you’re talking about gender issues?
Danielle SeeWalker: No.
Tink Tinker: What do you mean by lateral?
Danielle SeeWalker: Lateral oppression within our indigenous communities. Things like, you know, “You’re not dark enough,” “You’re not Indian enough” or, you know, just all those issues that come up within our own communities where we’re supporting and uplifting one another, it seems we tear each other down a lot.
Tink Tinker: Yeah. Got it. That’s part of colonialism. The colonizer has invented that, and we bought into it. It was in the 1880s that the U.S. government fleshed out legally its notion of “blood quantum.” And their whole intention with blood quantum was to reduce the number of Indians legally so that they had less of a treaty burden of support for those Indians in terms of health and well-being, etc.
At one point, you had to be a quarter-blood Indian in one tribe enrolled in the tribe and a quarter-blood in order to get services from Indian health services. And that’s U.S. government meddling, it’s their colonialism. It’s not enough to be a citizen of a nation in order to get the treaty obligation of the U.S. government to provide healthcare to that nation in return for taking several million acres of Osage land, for instance?
We bought into it and there are tribal governments today that are busy engaging in internal legal decisions to remove citizens from their roles. Who, from what anybody else can see have every right to be on those roles. But that’s something we need to address among ourselves again in order to claim genuine Indian sovereignty. I’m light-skinned enough that I have occasionally been the target of that kind of acronym within the Indian community by Indian full-bloods who, for some reason, think that, because they’re full-bloods, they have a greater right to being Indian than those of us who are mixed-blood.
Being Indian is being a member of a community, purely. And at some point, we’ve got to figure that out internally amongst ourselves instead of constantly letting the U.S. government determine who you are. Let me say that much and see what other people have to say about it.
Glenn Morris: And I agree with Tink that processes of lateral violence are a function of, in large part, of colonialism and so we can learn a lot from other people who have been in colonial struggle. I mean, when we read Memmi or Fanon in talking about similar kinds of colonial violence or similar structures that a colonial system constructs in order to create lateral oppression, I think it’s important for us to learn those historical lessons and then to update them and apply them to our own circumstances.
Tink asked if it was referencing gender relations and it certainly is that, as well, and something that anyone on here who has been in my classes knows, that’s often where I start a class on Indigenous politics or Indigenous political systems is disabusing people of the notion that there wasn’t reciprocity, to use Sheldon’s term, reciprocity between men and women, between old people and young people, between humans and other species, other animal nations. And that’s what we have to do first of all, is forget the miseducation that we’ve received.
And that’s why Memmi says, and Nandy say, that political self-determination, that’s the easy part. Even economic self-determination, while more difficult than political self-determination, is easier than the decolonization of our minds because it becomes endemic, kind of, and it’s indiscernible where the line is. Where has Christianity seeped into traditional Indian ceremonialism, so that we think… or even gender relations? We think that certain mores now are Indian and, in fact, when we start unpacking it, when we start tracing it back, we can see the influence of missionaries on the development of a completely different ethical system.
And so, we see that in our diets. You know, fry bread’s a traditional Indian food, right? Well, we didn’t have wheat. If we didn’t have wheat, how could we have fry bread? But when you get a confined to a reservation and you’re given government rations that include some salt, pork, a tub of lard, and 50 pounds of white flour, what do you do with it? You survive.
But we have to unpack that. We have to decolonize that, and I’m encouraged to see many, many younger people talking about it – I just wish they wouldn’t use the word “food sovereignty” – but talking about decolonizing our diets and going back to our traditional foods and creating and expanding native seed banks to help us to remember those things. I appreciate your comments, Danielle, and I do think that the dismantling of lateral violence in our communities is integral to the future of decolonization.
Roger Green: Fernando Herrera, in London, asked me to read his question. In quotes “Is native or indigenous sovereignty,” perhaps comparable to black nationalism something like an impulse, a desire, incoherent, if you wish, to affirm that something is not clear inside an overwhelming force/frame, etc. Sovereignty affirms ‘territory.’ What would synonyms be? Is abstraction the enemy? Thank you.” He says he’s following from England.
Tink Tinker: First of all, Indian context is distinctly not like the Black American context. I don’t know about the black UK context. Black and American Indian are very different situations in the U.S., even though we partner up as allies in so many political actions. It’s not to say we’re not in conversation with one another, but our base is the land itself right here on Turtle Island.
The real tragedy for American Blacks is that they were uprooted from their land, their relationship to the earth in Africa, and transported over here into slavery. Of course, even as I say that it should not ever be forgotten that there were more Indian bodies being shipped out of Charleston in 1650 than there were Black bodies being shipped in so that our ancestors had that experience of enslavement as well.
But those of us who are still here on the land, this is our land. Not our property, but our grandmother with whom we have an undying relationship. We can’t call that sovereignty. It’s, in a sense, yes, abstraction is part of the problem. Abstraction is the enemy.
The word “religion” is an abstraction. The word “law” is an abstraction. Did Indian peoples govern themselves as Sheldon has assured us that we did? Of course. Osages had gaihega. They did have [Osage word] who made decisions, who sat in council, evidently, a lot, talking through the situation of the Osage village. These are old people who have gone through initiation ceremonies and have been elevated – elevated is a bad word because it shows that up-down image schema – but they’ve been set aside into this council as elders with status to decide for the whole village.
But it was never an autocracy because there may have been 70 people in this council at any one time. There were 24 clans. There could be two or three or four from every clan who are part of [Osage word: nónonzhinga]. So, it’s not going to work to compare us to other people. Our situation to that extent is unique and our task of decolonizing is very different from the African American task of decolonizing. Kakunah.
Roger Green: There was another question from Shima, Sh, and let me just go back and find it. “What do you say about marriage among Americans and Native Americans? Is it another form of colonial sovereignty? And it’s Sh ma, or I apologize if I’m not pronouncing your name right.
Glenn Morris: Tink, this is your area.
Tink Tinker: Yeah, that’s a tough one because miscegenation was also a part of the colonizers’ plan and part of the conquest of the cognitive, part of separating Indian people from our cultures and our peoples to either force or make it very, very appealing for Indian people to marry non-Indians. That’s another distinction between us and African Americans. They had laws to prevent or try to prevent American Blacks from marrying eurochristians.
And yet, just the opposite was the case for American Indians because it was another way to erase Indian People, to erase Indianness. And I’ve got to speak carefully, as Glenn knows, because I’m married to a Chicano woman. That’s a part of the problem too, because there’s no accounting for two people falling in love with one another, deciding to make a life together, to live together. I have to say that my spouse has been very supportive of my work in the Indian world, my participation in Indian culture, my insistence that our home is an American Indian home.
And years ago, we adopted a daughter, mina. She’s my mina, my oldest daughter. She’s now 12. And we’ve been very careful to raise mina as much as possible within this Indian worldview and Indian culture. But at the same time, it is problematic.
The more we intermarry with eurochristians, the more we get separated from our world, from our worldview, from our culture, from our language. Ideally, I want my daughter and my sons to marry wazhazhe people, to marry wazhazhe men and women. My three sons are all married to eurochristians, no, two of them are married to eurochristians, one of them is married in Taiwan to a Mandarin-speaking woman, and my grandkids are probably the only wazhazhe in the universe who speak Mandarin as a first language and speak English on Saturday nights when they Skype with me. But thank you for the question, it is a problem and I do want to hear what other people have to say about it.
Tessa: Hi, Tink and Professor Glenn, good to see you. Good to see everyone else here. I just wanted to add that, even though intermarriage happens, it’s still up to the individual nation to determine citizenship. It’s like quantum is something that was not created by us, you know, Anishinaabeg didn’t have blood quantum in the past, you know, so if I choose to marry out in the future and marry someone who is not Anishinaabeg, my children would still be Anishinaabeg, and their children would be Anishinaabeg. It’s up to our nations to determine who our citizens are and even if, I don’t want to use that one drop blood rule, that’s not the right word to say, but it’s what’s coming to mind, even though that might lessen, my peoples would still be Anishinaabe, you know.
But it would depend on their actions as well. Do they do the things that make them Anishinaabeg? Or do they do the things that make them colonizer? Thanks.
Tink Tinker: Well said. Thank you, Tessa.
Roger Green: There’s a question from Cynthia Rice that says, “Should we rethink the term Indian renaissance that was used earlier?”
Glenn Morris: [Laughs] Well, yeah, but I don’t know. I mean, any of these English labels, I think, are problematic, but that doesn’t mean that in indigenous resistance struggles around the world that people haven’t taken colonizer terminology and turned it on itself. I think about the Kanaks in New Caledonia, or Kanaka Maoli people in Hawaii, where the term “Kanak” was used as a pejorative. It would be the equivalent of the N-word here, and the French colonizers used it against the Indigenous Peoples.
And the Kanaks themselves decided we’re going to possess that term; we are going to reclaim that term. It is a Kanak term, but the colonizer, you turned it into a pejorative, and so it’s our prerogative and it’s our right, and now we believe that we can redefine the term. So, if we wanted to define “Indian Renaissance” in terms different than the European Renaissance, I guess that would be fine with me, but why bother?
That is my point with sovereignty. Why bother? Don’t we have terms that can describe our renewal, our reemergence, our decolonization besides having to resort to colonial monikers? And I guess that’s my whole point about sovereignty is that it’s unnecessary. It’s unnecessary for us to embrace or mimic the vocabulary or the behavior of the invader state.
We have a history that comes from time immemorial here, so to go back to Sheldon’s point about that, the Cistitas, just like I was talking about the Maori and mana motuhake, they have a term. They don’t need sovereignty. I’m sure Cistitas have a term, I’m sure the Osages have a term, I’m sure that everyone has a term. Lakotas have a term, Anishinaabeg have a term that talks about the ability of people freely to determine their destinies, or freely to determine their lives. And so, with regard to Renaissance, I think I’d regard it the same way.
Roger Green: Sky Morris has some comments in here, and Jesse and Gracie I’m seeing. So, I just want to invite any of you to just to join them with your own voices without me having to read your comments, because you’re bringing up stuff about land and territory and decolonization, meaning return to the land herself, Sky says, so do you want to elaborate on that? Any one of you?
Sky Roosevelt-Morris: [inaudible beginning] Many of our rabble rousers out in the community as well. My name is Sky Morris, I come from the White Mountain Apache Nation in the Shawnee Nation. And my comments were kind of in a similar vein of using terms like “renaissance,” because I think the overall principle of what we’re talking about is it goes further than just talking about sovereignty, it’s about intentional with the words that we’re describing ourselves in our situation and being creative with that.
And I think you have to be mindful of that and so it’s more than just talking about sovereignty, it’s about talking about how we are in this world, where we want to go. And also, this romanticization of decolonization. I would really caution people to not be so quick to use that kind of word or that kind of language because it’s sexy.
Eve Tuck and Yang who talked very extensively about decolonization as not a metaphor, when they talk about decolonization, it’s about land back and it’s not in a bumper-sticker-slogan, as my Uncle Glenn would talk about, sort of way, it’s about returning the land to herself.
And so, when that kind of language gets co-opted, I think that that’s something I would like to hear more about from Glenn and Tink about how, even when we do find language that might be appropriate to talk with the non-native world, because this is what this is really about. It is about us finding our language for ourselves, but it’s also about this interaction between us and the non-native world and finding a common language to have a conversation between the non-native world. And even when we do find or try to find some common language with the colonizers, they co-opt that language because it’s too confrontational to whiteness and colonialism and then they water it down like decolonizing your diet or decolonizing your life, and they have no intention of giving land back, they have no idea what decolonization really means, it’s just a yoga class that they talk about.
It’s a feel-good seminar that they talked about. They have no idea what decolonization really means because they don’t live it. And that’s I think really fundamental to this conversation is it’s more than just words, it’s the way you live your life. And that’s what Vine was talking about, and that’s what Russ was talking about, and that’s what all the greats have talked about. It’s more than language, it’s the way you live your life and it’s the way that you speak those ideas to life. And so, if uncles, you have any commentary about the co-opting in of this common language, I would really be encouraged to hear your thoughts or other folks’ as well, but thank you very much, this is a really, really good talk and I really enjoyed everybody’s comments, so thank you, ashon.
Tink Tinker: Thank you, Sky. I would say that I want to resist this notion of “Native Renaissance,” as well. I much prefer to think in terms of an active, vibrant, native resisting, a resisting and reclaiming of self — the Indian self, not the individual stuff, but the Native, living-together self. The community-ist self, if you will.
Yeah, I call that sometimes “decolonizing.” I don’t pay too much attention to how other people use the word, and I know it’s become common to throw it around as this is kind of hip, woke verbiage these days outside of the Indian world, but from within the Indian world decolonizing has to mean resisting the whole force, from the eurochristian world, they would try to reshape us as their mini-me, as their mimic, as their less-than imitation.
And when I talk about resisting, I’m thinking about it in a younger generation of Indian writers, like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. That’s the kind of resisting I’m talking about. And I’m intentionally using a verb here, “resisting,” and not the concomitant noun that comes out of the word, “resistance,” being actively resisting. Kakunah.
Glenn Morris: Thank you, my dear niece, for these comments, as always. They bring me strength and inspiration that there is a younger generation that is thinking deeply about these issues. And so, part of my deliberations are always assessing who the community is, who the audience is that I’m using terminology with because I agree with you that this society that commodifies everything, that cheapens everything, that reduces concepts like decolonization to a slogan can distract and divert us from our work.
And when I’m talking with Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous groups or organizations, to go to your point, I remember this passage from John Trudell, the great Dakota leader of the American Indian Movement and artist when he said, “We have to think about terminology we use, that we use.” And he’s talking about Indigenous People.
Now we have to think about the terminology that we use, we must think about thoughts that go with that terminology, because if we do not think about this struggle we are engaged in, if we do not use our minds to think about the coming generations, then the invaders will win their psychological genocide against us. (Trudell)
And so, the mindfulness that you’re talking about in terms of not simply sloganeering but to use Paolo Freire’s term, the great Brazilian pedagogist, praxis that there must be this theory, or this vocabulary coupled with action. So, I would replace, if we were going to use an English term, “renaissance” with “resurgence.” To extend Tink’s remark about resistance, that resistance to oppression is not sufficient, there must be a resurgence of who we are, of who indigenous peoples are and the reawakening of that and the resurgence of that in a very deliberate and mindful way. So I appreciate your comments and I think that those are very valuable insights.
Roger Green: For people who don’t know, Sky and Glenn and Tink and many people on the chat today are affiliated, in some way, with Four Winds American Indian Council here in Denver, Colorado, and this is an example, one example, of land-back that Tink was involved in. So maybe we could talk about specific, tangible examples of land-back, because I don’t think that most eurochristians, like myself, understand what that can mean.
Tink Tinker: Thank you, Roger. Yeah, in 2015 Four Winds had been meeting in an old Lutheran church building and an old Lutheran rectory right next door to the church. We met there for a long time, for a quarter of a century. Once, about 16-17 years in, the Lutherans decided to reclaim the land that is their property and run us off. And it was the President at Four Winds at the time, the president of the council, and the council who met with the synod and argued so persuasively that the synod backed off.
We didn’t tell them that the American Indian Movement had told us that if the Lutherans move to kick us out of the building, they’d have a public relations nightmare on their hands because AIM would be there to occupy the land as long as it took for the Lutherans to back down. They didn’t know that, but they backed down.
Then some years later and a new bishop, a new synod council, a new bishop’s staff. And they had an offer to buy the property, because this is prime downtown property in eurochristian terms. We told them in the early 2000s that we had a relationship with that land. We had buried people out of that place in ceremony. We had married people, we had celebrated sobriety anniversaries, we had planned political actions together, and we weren’t about to walk away from it without a fight.
By 2015, when they had this offer of one or two million dollars for that corner piece of land, the new bishop and his staff and the council made a very different decision, and a decision that was extremely ethical. They opened up conversation with Four Winds about returning that land to Four Winds.
Now, it wasn’t quite that simple because it meant giving property to Four Winds whereas property is not an Indian notion, that’s an abstraction that we don’t work with easily. But it meant we were now free to have a relationship with that place in the middle of the city that was entirely our place. It was, as we’d already claimed for 25 years, Indian country. And I’ve told Christian groups across the continent who’ve struggled with the Doctrine of Discovery: “So, okay, you have talked about the Doctrine of Discovery, researched it and decided to disavow the Doctrine of Discovery. So, well done, but tell me, as a result of your discussion in your denomination, how much land did Indians get back?”
And, of course, they were back to square one having to engage their conversation all over again because, they may have disavowed discovery, but the military industrial complex didn’t give a rip. They haven’t disavowed discovery; they still function on the basis of Johnson v. M’Intosh. And Sheldon was talking about Johnson as one of the most racist cases.
But pay attention, heads-up: No Supreme Court action has ever been even entertained about reversing Johnson v. M’Intosh. Think about that one for a minute. It’s too important to the existence of the United States. What I’ve told churches across the continent: Denominations, if you want to do something really radical, then give the land back to Indian people because every church on Turtle Island is built on Indian land. Every one of them. Kakunah.
Glenn Morris: I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave soon, but I wanted to say a few things before I did. And I want to acknowledge a couple of my friends on here, too. Gracie Redshirt Tyon is the Director of American Indian Student Services at CU-Denver, and I know that she has a lot to say about a lot of these issues, too. And my friend and brother Robert Chinate from the Kiowa Nation. And I thank both of them for joining us today.
It just goes to show that we could have several conversations like this, but with regard to the last point about, well, I think I want my concluding remark to be about this. We didn’t hear from a lot of our colleagues who are maybe academics or are thinking about this from another point-of-view and so an obvious issue that might arise is, “what Tink and Glenn are talking about are pipe dreams.” I mean, talking about deconstructing the Westphalian State or thinking about sovereignty and these ways.
The Westphalian corporate state today is the predominant paradigm in the world, and it seems insurmountable. It seems omnipotent. And so, what’s the point of this conversation, really? And I think that one of the parting comments that I want to make about this is that there are alternatives, and this what goes back to Sheldon’s point earlier about the sustainability of the system environmentally, politically, economically – the sustainability of the system under which we all live or are dominated and so what are the alternative models to that?
And so, there are Indigenous models of rhizomatic reciprocity or what I talked about with the Maoris or the Haudenosaunee system, which we didn’t talk about yet, about being committed and dedicated to the seventh generation from now. Other political principles that the Haudenosaunee shared with the framers of the U.S. Constitution. But many of those principles were just too advanced for them.
For example, gender reciprocity or periodic redistribution of wealth or the seventh-generation principle that we must make political and economic, and cultural decisions based on how they will impact people seven generations from now. And so all of those elements are important to the visualization and the creation of an alternative structure to what currently exists as the dominant paradigm in the world.
So, we didn’t really get to talk much about that, and certainly the Westphalian State system of Bodin and Hobbes and Vattel and Marshall and Schmitt, they’re alive and well. We’ve just seen it; we’re seeing it now with the impeachment. People in this country don’t realize how close they came to the state of exception.
A month ago, people in the White House arguing for the declaration of Martial Law. To impose the state of exception on the people of the United States, on all of you, in the United States. Those Bodinian and Westphalian and Hobbesian notions and Botero’s notion of raison d’état, they’re alive and well. And the United States came within a hair’s breadth of tasting it.
And so, the only thing that Trump lacked: He was too inept to get the joint chiefs of staff on his side. And so, if people think that what we’re talking about in our critique of the state sovereignty system is harebrained or exaggerated or archaic, this country almost experienced it – what native people have been talking about for generations. So, my hope is that there can be additional conversations about this and that we can really talk in-depth about alternative models to the ongoing Westphalian State system that oppresses Indigenous Peoples around the world. So, thank you very much for the invitation to be with you. Unfortunately, I have to go teach another class. Thanks, Roger, for the invite. I can stick around for a couple minutes. And thanks, Carl.
Carl Raschke: If I can say just something here as a scholar, this has been one the most fascinating seminars I’ve had. And I think there are ways to get those who speak Westphalian to engage in ways that isn’t, what I would call the kind of neoliberal masked form of colonization which is, like, we want to include you in our system, which is what higher education does.
But this is a matter of academics learning to listen and I think the only way we can do that is force them to listen, because I heard a lot of resonances with what both of you are saying. I mean, I’ve been researching myself right now, this week, the whole genealogy of Bodinian sovereignty and its dissemination throughout Western thought. And it’s been breaking apart anyway, but since we seem, in the name of something called “inclusion,” … bring it back.
And what I’m hearing is a voice, the voice of the land. The word “territory,” that’s the other word that we’re using in our description for our Conference, it comes from, at least the Latin word, for “land.” And to be able to hear the voice of the land, it’s like this is a way of hearing and speaking, that I think can percolate into academic discourse, (if they’ll just let you in) and I think we have to start knocking on the door, which is one of the reasons we’re trying to have this conference. So, I just always want to say thank you and, we not only hear you, we want you to speak louder.
Glenn Morris: I decided to stay just to hear what Carl said, but it reminded me of something that I wanted to say in relationship to Tink’s description of how the Four Winds building ended up in Native People’s hands, and I want to say this in relationship to, Carl, to what you just said because it’s evidence to me of how what we’re talking about with regard to Indigenous Peoples’ relationship to the land can begin to resonate and move people from the invader society.
And that is the one of the crystallizing points for the Lutheran Synod, and I think Tink will affirm this, was their visit to the Sand Creek Massacre site on the 150th anniversary of one of the most defining features in the creation of this state. And when they went to Sand Creek and the land spoke to them and the people who were there, who were killed, spoke to them, and they admitted that they had been complicit in that act of genocide, the Lutheran Church have been complicit. And they had a duty and a responsibility not only to speak about decolonization, as my niece was talking about, but to act, and to act listening to the message from the land. And that message was, “in your complicity, you must give the land back.”
And it’s a credit to them that they listened to that moral message from Sand Creek and came back, and I commend Tink, with this none of that would have been possible without Tink and his educating, his continued educating in the community in the Lutheran Synod about those points and up to allow them to make that connection between colonialism, their complicity in that colonialism, and one small step to begin to reverse that process. So again, I thank you all for your time and all of your work, and I look forward to seeing you again in the near future [finishes in Native language].
Tink Tinker: Glenn, really good to see you and be with you, even if electronic is the only way we can do it these days.
Roger Green: Thank you, everybody, so much for being here. And for people who didn’t speak and who were here or didn’t type something, thank you very much for being here. There are a couple of shares in the chat, just as I’m ending things here. So, Gracie Redshirt Tyon shared a document on decolonization not being a metaphor, which I invite you to check out. And then, just a reminder, as Carl said we are planning a conference in April – April 14 and 15th – there’s a call for proposals up on The New Polis right now.
And we also welcome people to write pieces. And you don’t need to be an academic or anything like that to be participating. We like to keep the conversations going in all sorts of different trajectories there, so welcome to that and welcome to our call for proposals and thank you very much Tink and Glenn and everybody else for being here.
[Multiple folks saying goodbye and signing off]
Glenn Morris (Shawnee) Professor Morris’ areas of expertise are indigenous peoples in the international legal and political arena, public law, civil liberties, and race/gender and the law. He has been active in the development of international legal standards for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples for over thirty years. Professor Morris directs the Fourth World Center (FWC), for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics at CU-Denver, www.fourthworldcenter.org. The FWC provides resources, research and other opportunities for the examination of the condition of indigenous peoples in a global context. For the past five consecutive years, Morris, through the FWC, has trained, sponsored and supervised the participation of dozens of indigenous students with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.
Tink Tinker(wazhazhe, Osage Nation) For 33 years he was a professor of American Indian studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he still holds the title emeritus professor. During most of that time, Tinker also was the (non-stipendiary) director of Four Winds American Indian Council in Denver. Tinker has abandoned christianity as a colonialist and Genocidal imposition on Indian Peoples in favor of recapturing the traditional worldview of Native Peoples. Although Tinker was trained in eurochristian theology and bible, he has come to see the Native experience of the interrelationship of all life and our ideal of cosmic balance and harmony as totally incompatible with eurochristian colonialist imaginary of hierarchy, one that sees reality as a manichaean hierarchical struggle of good versus evil. He is the author of Missionary Conquest (Fortress Press, 1993), Spirit and Resistance (Fortress Press, 2004) American Indian Liberation (Orbis, 2008), and numerous scholarly articles, including contributions to The New Polis. Tinker’s “Redskin, Tanned Hide: A Book of Christian History Bound in the Flayed Skin of an American Indian” has importantly drawn attention to a book of christian history bound in the skin of a murdered Lenape man gifted to Iliff school of theology, where it was proudly displayed for about 80 years.