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Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol. 4, No. 2, 2015, pp. 32-49
2015 R. Flowers This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0), permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Refusal to forgive: Indigenous women’s love and rage
Rachel Flowers University of British Columbia
Abstract This paper is concerned with the rising tendency to describe Indigenous women’s resistance to colonization and modes of solidarity with settler society in terms of love. This propensity ultimately suppresses the voices and struggles of Indigenous women and denies not only the validity of other decolonial emotional responses such as sadness, resentment, or anger, but also their transformative potential. This paper seeks to gender resentment and ressentiment to demonstrate that both are appropriate and critical responses to ongoing colonial violence and dispossession. Keywords: anger; anticolonialism; love; resentment; solidarity
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“Being at the Idle No More drum dance in Yellowknife this past week was moving in many ways. It was led, in part, by strong young Indigenous women who have moved in their own decolonization journeys from frustrated anger to empowered loving action.”
Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox (The Winter We Danced) In this paper I offer an anticolonial approach to the maintenance of alterity in light of settler solidarity with Indigenous resistance, as I come to understand it as a hwulmuhw slheni1 from Leey’qsun Nation.2 I propose that some modes of solidarity are misrecognitions of settler allyship; settlers do not necessarily need to be “allies” to be good relations. Primarily, I consider acts of settler solidarity with Indigenous women’s direct action and in relation to missing and murdered Indigenous women in this discussion. In particular, I am concerned with the effects of the increasingly common tendency to conflate Indigenous women’s resistance with love. While I do not reject love, I question the discursive separation of love from anger and the triumphalist narrative of love. Finally, I hope to reclaim space for Indigenous women’s rage, orienting it around a refusal to forgive, as informing an anticolonial approach to disrupting forms of violence and domination that reify settler colonialism. Refusal is a political practice that operates in opposition to statist forms of recognition, but also in conflicts over interpretation (Simpson, 2014). Refusal is simultaneously a negation of access to information and resources, as well as an affirmation of sovereignties.
In this section I consider the problematics in conceptualizations of allyship, as well as notions of co-existence, by those purporting to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, followed by an analysis of the settler desire for recognition by the colonized. First, I will briefly unpack my understanding of the settler. It is a critical term that denaturalizes and politicizes the presence of non-Indigenous people on Indigenous lands, but also can disrupt the comfort of non-Indigenous people by bringing ongoing colonial power relations into their consciousness. Often, the term settler is used without a critical understanding of its meaning and the relationships embedded within it, rendering it an empty signifier. For example, this occurs when non-Indigenous people self-identify as settler but mean it synonymously with non-Indigenous. The main problem, then, is the reduction of a set of privileges and practices to fit within a binary of Indigenous and non- Indigenous identities rather than thinking through the term ‘settler’ as a set of responsibilities and action. Instead of a term that describes an individual based on what they are not (Indigenous), to my mind, ‘settler’ is a position of privilege and enjoyment of standing. Indeed, ‘settler’ is a 1 Hul’qumi’num’ meaning “a woman of the land” or “Indigenous woman”. 2 Leey’qsun is a Coast Salish First Nation from Valdez Island, British Columbia.
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relational term that signifies the settler’s relationship to colonialism. The Hul’qumi’num’ word for settlers is hwulunitum, which means the hungry people. It explicitly refers to the fact that settlers were not from the land and did not know how or where to get food, but also to the greed of settlers to accumulate resources, land, people, and wealth. The category of settler is both a structural location and a product of social relations that produce privilege. The challenge, therefore, should be the subversion of that standing by refusing what settlers are, to allow new subjectivities to emerge. In response to Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” Foucault (1982) considers how we might imagine the future: “Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are. We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of political ‘double blind,’ which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures” (p. 336). As Indigenous peoples increasingly take up the politics of refusal (Simpson, 2014), the settler too must demonstrate a willingness to be refused. Settler privilege is the basis for injustice and oppression of Indigenous peoples, the privilege of the settler is predicated on the unfreedom of the colonized (Tully, 2000). The labor of settlers should be to imagine alternative ways to be in relation with Indigenous peoples. Perhaps a process of rupture and conflict might generate settler political identities anew? Settler colonialism is invested in gaining certainty to lands and resources and will achieve access through the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, violently or legislatively, a process that begins with the body, specifically the bodies of Indigenous women. Dispossession is the removal of bodies from the land, but also the disappearance of Indigenous peoples as free peoples. The process of colonization is intimately linked to patriarchy and capital; these are the primary obstacles to even beginning to imagine the co-existence of settlers with Indigenous peoples. How might such a gulf be bridged and solidarity created? In both Indigenous studies and direct action there is momentum to turn away from settler institutions and re-center Indigenous law thereby opening a space to transform Indigenous-settler relations. Moreover, Indigenous peoples are increasingly calling for solidarity from settlers to stand with us at a wide range of demonstrations in a shared anti-colonial resistance, particularly in ongoing advocacy for missing and murdered Indigenous women.3 Theorists of Indigenous resurgence have clearly articulated that settlers have an opportunity to listen, learn, and act in relation to colonial difference along side assertions of Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood (Arvin, Tuck & Morrill, 2013; Coulthard, 2013; Simpson, 2008; 2011). Moreover, Indigenous feminist theories, “offer new and reclaimed ways of thinking through not only how settler colonialism has impacted Indigenous and settler communities, but also how feminist theories can imagine and realize different modes of nationalism and alliances in the future” (Arvin, Tuck & Morrill, 2013, p. 9). There has and continues to be space offered by Indigenous peoples for settlers to align themselves with our struggles to support the transformation of the colonial relationship and constructing alternatives to it, or put differently, to move forward in a shared
3 I acknowledge concerns that the word “missing” inappropriately diminishes the active role of the perpetrators in disappearing women and could become a trope that disparages the violence experienced by Indigenous women. See Margot Leigh Butler (2003); Amber Dean (2009).
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future. The emphasis from Indigenous peoples on sharing and co-existing is essential to our ontologies and governance systems since these concepts are predicated on interrelatedness, and therefore, create a constellation of responsibilities to both the human and non-human world. There is an invitation to reimagine the future in common terms, “when we do not presume that [settler colonial states] should or will always continue to exist, we create the space to reflect on what might be more just forms of governance, not only for Native peoples, but for the rest of the world” (Smith, 2005, p. 311). Leanne Simpson (2014) strikingly explains how one person is capable of “propelling us to rebel against the permanence of settler colonial reality and not just ‘dream alternative realities’ but to create them, on the ground in the physical world, in spite of being occupied. If we accept colonial permanence, then our rebellion can only take place within settler colonial thought and reality; we become too willing to sacrifice the context that creates and produces cultural workers like Kwezens” (p. 8). Settler activists also deploy concerns over a common or shared future but do so problematically. Certainly, solidarity with Others is important and Indigenous peoples have no desire to build a future that is still grounded on a colonial relationship, but there is always a risk of having our messages co-opted, difference erased, and the presumption that the colonized want or are willing to share our futures. After all, what affords settlers privilege is the ability to implicitly set the terms of what a shared future is, without realizing they are asymmetrically dictating the terms of this discussion. Also, in moments of solidarity settlers frequently seek to utilize and deploy their privilege in ways that support Indigenous peoples’ resistance. In this, settlers often end up disregarding the privilege of being able to choose when to support decolonial struggles, which only upholds the settler position of privilege. In this way, our Indigenous sites of resistance also become sites where our domination is sustained rather than interrupted. Settler responses to calls for solidarity ought to oppose rather than perpetuate structures of domination and the settler position of privilege, recognizing that those calls offer opportunities and preconditions for ethical engagement based on respect, while keeping in mind that solidarity is not a temporal event but a “long-term commitment to structural change” (Arvin, Tuck & Morrill, 2013, p. 19). After all, solidarity means de-centering ourselves, in order to engage productively in the unknown and ‘in-between’ spaces of resistance, and confronting the impulse to claim to know or have authority over a struggle. A recent example of these tensions is the demonstration against Kinder Morgan that took place on Burnaby Mountain in 2014. The Tsleil-Waututh and Skwxwu7mesh Nations sought to interrupt and stop survey and drilling work for a proposed pipeline expansion through their ancestral, unceded, and occupied lands. As an uninvited visitor on these lands, I had an obligation to go and support the people. During the protest, the amount of support from settlers was overwhelming. Their intentions, however, as I came to understand them, were to prevent the destruction of a Conservation Area and confront corporate greed, rather than to oppose the infringement of Indigenous sovereignties. Eventually, as tensions rose, the police set up a perimeter wherein no citizens were to enter without penalty of arrest. In turn, being arrested became the objective of settlers and allies, many choosing to defy the court injunction and be
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arrested in the name of the environment. Even children crossed the line. Rather than securing bodies at the front line of an Indigenous-led protest, settlers chose to glorify arrests (and their arrests dominated headlines); their rebellion did not transform the context. Once removed, while some faced charges of civil contempt, the majority of those arrested faced no criminal charges and were released in a timely fashion. The inherent contradictions in this was lost on many who failed to connect their actions to the politics on the ground: that bodies are needed at a blockade to make it effective, but also, that in the city of Vancouver, Indigenous peoples are frequently arrested, brutalized, or killed at the hands of police and do not have the privilege of willfully walking into an arrest with full knowledge that their lives will not be threatened.4 Irlbacher-Fox (2012) makes an important contribution to guide how we might think through settler solidarity. She writes, “Co-existence through co-resistance is the responsibility of all settlers, and we achieve it in part by making change in our own systems and among other settlers, taking our cue from Indigenous action and direction”. She asserts that co-existence means co-resistance, which productively identifies the role of the settlers in dismantling their own systems of exploitation and extraction. This relationship requires the settler to refuse “to collaborate in maintaining injustice as the basis of the relationship between the state and Indigenous peoples” (Irlbacher-Fox, 2014, p. 156). However, there is, to my mind, an insidious move in this that disavows the settler by focusing on individual actions, falsely separating them from the state and suggesting that settler subjectivity is not co-constituted through the colonial state. The state is invested in the production of colonized subjects to replicate its governance. Indeed, settler subjectivity itself directly and covertly engages with and mimics colonial institutional structures. Unjust forms of state-sanctioned violence are mechanisms that are put into operation designed to “ensure its own preservation” by reproducing power relations of domination (Foucault, 1982, p. 336). In thinking through these relations it is crucial to interrogate the relationship between power and political will and how it functions in creating new forms of subjectivity. A settler political will should be willful, that is, willing to disobey a general will and always working toward an alternative future. Revolution is only possible when subjects violate the directives of commanding bodies, a willing willfulness to create the world anew by opposing the old orders (Foucault, 1982, p. 336). The will to change is simultaneously a negation and an affirmation. It is, as Foucault (1982) writes, “through the refusal of this kind of individuality that has been imposed on us” that new forms of subjectivity emerge (p. 336). The political will of decolonization refuses to reproduce the present and affirms alternative futures. An approach to Indigenous and settler relations that emphasizes relations of power implicitly points to a decolonial future; when “faced with a relationship of power, a whole field of responses, reactions, results, and possible inventions may open up” (Foucault, 1982, p. 340). This involves, “taking the forms of resistance against different forms of power as a starting point… to bring to light power relations, locate their position, find out their point of application
4 For a recent demonstration against police brutality in Vancouver, see http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/photo/standing-united-against-police-abuse/18375
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