stop writing about Indians
she told me again
only louder as if
I was hard of hearing
you have to allow authors
their subjects, she said
stop writing about
what isn’ t in the text
which is just our entire history
excerpt from graduate school first semester: so here I am writing about Indians again, Cheryl Savageau
This morning I watched a documentary about the public works projects of the early 20th century. Dams that created hydro electricity for cities. Aqueducts that brought water to cities. Public parks that were protected from cities. They talked about the setting aside of land and the movement of dirt, but not the displacement of Native Americans who had lived on land before it got protected or turned into dirt. The Indians who weren’t in the text.
Our history is the future. This is the title of Nick’s book and it captures a belief about history that matters. So often we are taught history as a thing that happened back then. It is static and has little to do with us today aside from being occasionally interesting. But history is indeed story and we’re in the midst of it. The things that happened back then reach forward to us in a hundred different ways. My maternal grandmother was born in 1919 in the Ukraine. Her life contained the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, WW2, Stalin, Hitler, postwar immigration, the Big Bopper and the Bee Gees. Moon landings and space shuttles. My paternal grandmother was born around the same time in northwestern Ontario. Her life contained residential schools and trap lines, Treaty 3 and the concentration of Anishnaabe families into reserves, the children she outlived. We live under laws and policies that were developed more than a hundred years ago, and with the consequences of others.
And yet we also live with possibility and promise because history is not only inevitable progress for some and disruption of others. It contains examples we can learn from, actions we can build on, and ideas we develop and expand into new places. For me it is the history of Black Disaspora in Indian country that contains so much promise amid the heartache. The relationships between Black and Native Americans is at once fraught and hopeful. Many of our tribes sheltered slaves, others owned them. Sometimes both. We returned runaway slaves under the terms of treaties we were determined to respect and sheltered them because this wasn’t what we meant. Tiya Miles, in the preface to the collection of essays Crossing Waters Crossing Worlds, notes that there is an third partner in Black and Native American relationships, a constant structuring white presence that gives shape to our ideas about each other. We don’t think about this enough. We need to.
As I read history I am struck by how deliberate colonialism was. It wasn’t “the times” as if now is any different and it wasn’t accidental. I am also struck by the persistence of purity as an ideology and how ideas about purity were invoked to separate us from land and each other and in those things we can find paths forward. We can be just as deliberate about our own decolonizing, about embracing the relationships that impurity creates in and among us.
I am so looking forward to this conversation, there are bios and links below that will introduce us to the panel and other works by the authors you may want to dip into.
If you missed last month’s conversation on Why Indigenous Literatures Matter you can watch that here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/882335162
And next month we are looking at Memoirs, which are personal histories. We have confirmed with Ernestine Hayes, author of the Tao of Raven, and Demita Frazer who was interviewed for How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor as well as our chat moderator Jenessa Galenkamp who will take a break from the chat rooom to join the panel.
Khadija Hammuda works in child protection and has done some organizing and educating in the community around Islamaphobia. A settler in Canada with roots in Libya, Khadija works against the colonialism so often part of the immigrant experience by developing relationships with Indigenous peoples. She recently started a new position on a specialized child protectionteam working collaboratively with Indigenous organizations to serve Indigenous families in Niagara. Khadija enjoys daily ice coffees and hanging out with her cat, Mungi.
Seán Carson Kinsella is migizi dodem (Bald Eagle Clan) and also identifies as twospirit/queer/crip/aayahkwêw and is descended from signatories of Treaties 4,6, and 8 (êkâ ê-akimiht nêhiyaw/otipemisiwak/Nakawé/Irish). They were born in Toronto, on Treaty 13 lands and grew up in Williams Treaty territory. A member of the Titiesg Wîcinímintôwak Bluejays Dancing Together Collective, Seán has been featured as a reader at both last year’s and this year’s Naked Heart festival. Their zine pîkiskiwewin sâkihtowin featuring poems of Indiqueer futurism, survival and getting hot and bothered was released last year. They are currently the Director, the Eighth Fire at Centennial College and have previously taught Indigenous Studies there as well.
Cheryl Savageau is the author of the poetry collections, Dirt Road Home, which was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Mother/Land, which has been described as “one of the best literary depictions of New England to date.” (Craig Womack, author of Red on Red). Her children’s book, Muskrat Will Be Swimming was a Smithsonian Notable Book and won the Skipping Stones Book Award for Exceptional Multicultural and Ecology and Nature Books. Savageau has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Arts Foundation. She has been a mentor to Native American writers through the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and received their Mentor of the Year award in 1999.
Savageau teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College.
Tiya Miles is Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is a public historian, academic historian, and creative writer whose work explores the intersections of African American, Native American and women’s histories. Her temporal and geographical zones of greatest interest include the nineteenth-century U.S. South, Midwest, and West. Miles offers courses on African American women, Native American women, abolitionist women, and “Black Indian” histories and identities. She has become increasingly engaged in environmental humanities questions and ways of articulating and enlivening African American environmental consciousness.
A citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Dr. Nick Estes is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. He is a historian, journalist, and host of The Red Nation Podcast. Estes also is a founding editor of Red Media Collective, which publishes books, podcasts, and stories highlighting Indigenous intelligence in all its forms. His writing and research engage decolonization, Indigenous histories, environmental justice, and anti-capitalism and have been featured in The Baffler, The Guardian, The Nation, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Jacobin, NBC News, and The Intercept. In 2019, Estes was awarded the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Non-Fiction. Estes is the author of the book “Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.” He is a co-author of two books coming out in 2021 on police abolition and Indigenous environmental justice, and is currently working on a book on the history of Red Power.