From anti-mining film on Kamp Kallak Gállok in Sápmi
Sámi flags flying over Uppsala University!
Sámi filmmaker/photographer Tor Ludberg Tuorda & Kim TallBear
I am thrilled to be blogging from the 3rd Supradisciplinary Feminist Technoscience Symposium
organized by my colleague May-Britt Öhman
at Uppsala University, Sweden. The five-day symposium (Oct 14-18) is hosted by the Centre for Gender Research
within Dr. Öhman's research project, Rivers, resistance and resilience: Sustainable futures in Sápmi and in other Indigenous Peoples' Territories. This is my second year coming to Uppsala. I was also a speaker at the 2nd Supradisciplinary Feminist Technoscience Symposium
held in October 2012. This year's program brings together activists, cultural workers, and scholars from across Sápmi and the Scandinavian countries, as well as Japan, India, Canada, Morocco, Peru, Russia and the U.S.
We have had intense conversations following presentations on mining in Sápmi and a film on anti-mining blockades and protests by Sámi
and other activists against a cannibalizing form of extraction that undercuts the very basis of life. As I write this I read news posted to Facebook by indigenous friends in Canada about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assaulting peaceful Mi’kmaq led anti-fracking protests
today in new Brunswick.
In Uppsala this week, we have also heard presentations and responses on dam safety and dam disruption of Sámi lifeways; on traditional Sámi foodways; on indigenous language and cultural revitalization in Scandinavia and Russia; and on the role of urban indigenous people and institution building in the development of living indigenous cultures, and for opposing the colonial state. And we’ve heard about the role of women's activism in India for advocating for tribal rights and welfare, and indigenous epistemologies as incisive critique of western imperialism that perpetuates extreme global disparity and environmental destruction.
We are sharing our differences in indigenous experience that have to do not only with differences in indigenous cultures, but also in national contexts and colonialisms. And we are sharing lessons learned in challenging colonialism, including ongoing colonial relations inside the academy. Once we not only survive, but begin to do anti-colonial work in more privileged positions within the university or in government, what are the common challenges we encounter inside these institutions and within fields that continue to be integral to colonial projects (e.g. engineering, genomics, anthropology, development studies, natural resource management)? How do we work in different indigenous and national contexts to address these challenges?
Shaila Desouza, Goa University, Annika Idenfors, Uppsala U.
This is why I am here, and why I have become so interested in networking with indigenous peoples internationally. Although I inhabit an anthropology department in the United States, I am interested not for anthropological reasons. I am an ethnocentric Dakota after all. Anthropologically, I am most interested in the culture of my own people. I was raised in Dakota communities, both rural and urban, and thus I was a Dakota long before I was an "indigenous" person. But over the last dozen years I have grown through networking and travel into someone who also identifies as indigenous. And I have become committed to my relations with indigenous thinkers from around the world for reasons that have everything to do with being a Dakota. Because I am committed to Dakota sovereignty and thriving, and because I understand the power of being connected to a people who are tied to particular landscapes and waterscapes, which have been simultaneously assaulted by a colonial state, I have become deeply interested in and committed to aiding well-being and anti-colonial possibilities for indigenous peoples around the globe. I understand how important it is to Dakota flourishing to resist the colonial state through cultural and political work and I see that indigenous peoples in different parts of the world have made uneven progress in cultural thriving and political resistance. Thus I approach my work with other indigenous people from a Dakota and more broadly an indigenous standpoint.
We are aided in our people-specific struggles against colonial states by sharing lessons between us and by supporting one another in such work. Key to doing this is to understand not only the similarities between us, but also the differences in our respective cultural and nation-state contexts. I am active with the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
, an organization that has helped me network with indigenous intellectuals chiefly in the English-speaking world - in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Pacific, and the United States. NAISA is also working hard to increase its networks in Latin America. Along with my participation in NAISA, my conversations with old and new friends encountered in Uppsala, from Sweden and from around the world, remind me of the power of the category "indigenous."
Anthropologist Mary Louise Pratt notes in the volume Indigenous Experience Today
(de la Cadena and Starn, 2007) that indigeneity is a generative and productive category. It not only contributes to the rise in numbers of indigenous people worldwide, but it enables mutual recognition and collaboration by peoples across disparate geographies. It facilitates survival and acknowledges the historical rupture of colonialism. It enables us to share lessons learned for how to combat the colonial states and institutions that would erase us, and in the process destroy the very basis for human life - those nonhumans with whom indigenous peoples recognize our co-constitutive relations
. In other words, we understand our peoplehoods as emerging in concert with particular landscapes or waterscapes. We exist as peoples in relation with those places and indigeneity helps us defend those relations and to combat colonial states predicated upon our ancestors' and our continuing dispossession from those places. This is the nature of genocide against indigenous peoples by the way, the simultaneous destruction of co-constituted peoples and their nonhuman relations. Those who insist on defining genocide only according to something akin to the European Holocaust cannot see this.
Part of doing mutually supportive work between indigenous peoples is to build indigenous studies within different national contexts. A chief lesson I have learned in working outside of the Anglophone countries is that not everyone had the kinds of oppositional social movements that we had in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the American Indian Movement (AIM). Social movements forced a space in the academy for indigenous voices. While we in the U.S. still see the space for Native American and Indigenous Studies within the mainstream academy as marginal, there is, for example, even less space in the Swedish academy at present for Sámi voices and decolonizing work. Indigenous peoples worldwide might benefit from the theorization of indigeneity and anti-colonial thought by indigenous scholars in places where there has been more opportunity to do that. That is part of what we are doing in Uppsala - making more space in the Swedish academy for these conversations. In turn, I am reminded by my encounters here with indigenous studies scholars from Asia, Latin America, and Europe that indigenous peoples face different challenges at different times and in relation to different state contexts. Thus we organize our cultural-political work differently sometimes. We should support each other in whatever partial ways we can, and as always, learn from one another. We indigenous thinkers from different parts of the world are one another’s students and teachers simultaneously. We can and should offer each other both theoretical and technical assistance in the form of sharing analytical and social protest frameworks for opposing colonial states. And it is productive to work both within and outside of the academy. In the indigenous networks that I inhabit, the boundary between the academy and the “real world” is fluid, and indigenous thinkers, whether they have PhDs or not, help lead the charge in dismantling that boundary. We continue to do so this week in Uppsala.
Anti-mining protesters in Sápmi. From the film on the Gállok Struggle. We heard from two of them this week in Uppsala (Mose and Malin Norrby). See http://kolonierna.wordpress.com/
Re-posted from GeneWatch 26-4 | Religion & Genetics
On April 13, 2005 the Indigenous Peoples' Council on Biocolonialism issued a press release opposing the Genographic Project, which aimed to sample 100,000 indigenous and other traditional peoples to "trace the migratory history of the human species" and "map how the Earth was populated." IPCB critiques Genographic, and the Human Genome Diversity Project before it, as the contemporary continuation of colonial, extractive research. The analysis is also a fundamental historical examination of Western science. IPCB foregrounds the intellectual and institutional authority that science, a powerful tool of colonizing states, has to appropriate indigenous bodies - both dead and living - material cultural artifacts, and indigenous cultural narratives in the service of academic knowledge production.
Critics point out that such knowledge rarely serves indigenous peoples' interests and can actively harm them. In the 19th and early 20th centuries massacre sites and graves were plundered for body parts to be used in scientific investigations that inform today's anthropological and biological research on Native Americans. Throughout the 20th century, indigenous peoples around the world witnessed the too common practice of "helicopter research" - quick sampling without return of results or benefit to subjects. Indigenous DNA samples and data taken in earlier decades when ethics standards were lax continue to be used and cited in contemporary investigations, bringing those injustices into the 21st century. And new, more ethical research still takes time from other pressing projects and needs. Informed community review and collaboration with researchers will increase community benefit, but informed participation has costs. It takes resources to build capacity to sit at the table as equals instead of as vulnerable subjects - as simply the raw materials for science.
Indigenous critics also describe abstract risks that eventually contribute to legal and material harm. They worry about the objectifying nature of human genome diversity research in which indigenous and other "isolated" peoples are used to represent ancient, less admixed populations - as therefore less evolved and not active parts of the modern world, as vanishing, as less alive. They worry that the explicit racism that plagued the physical and social sciences of earlier centuries, which assumed evolutionary hierarchy among humans, the impending death of the Indian unable to cope with modernity, and a divinely sanctioned Westward expansion, continues to insidiously inhabit modern genomics. And they should be worried. Influential Western narratives about indigenous cultural stasis and notions of purity still plague the non-genomic sciences, including social and policy sciences and the humanities, with great impact on indigenous lives. Physical and cultural anthropologists, legal experts, and historians are called upon by the scientific state to adjudicate indigenous claims to rights or resources, e.g. to determine if a group constitutes an authentic tribe worthy of recognition, or whether American Indian religious freedom is actually being impeded by the actions of loggers, fishers, or rock climbers at a sacred site. In this intellectual climate, it is no wonder that genome science with its considerable cultural influence is viewed as a potential threat.
When indigenous critics exclaim, "We will not stand by while our ancestors are desecrated in the name of scientific discovery," or "Our creation stories and languages carry information about our genealogy and ancestors. We don't need genetic testing to tell us where we come from,"[3
] they are not simply expressing "religious" or "cultural" concerns. To characterize them as simply anti-science, or as religious zealots not only misses their sophisticated historical analyses and political insights, but misunderstands indigenous creationism as no different from the type of Christian creationism currently challenging the biological sciences and school curriculums.
In the same way that scientific thinkers defend the veracity of the evolutionary narrative ("narrative" does not necessarily mean myth) and scientific education against the "creation science" of some Christians, indigenous critics call out scientists and the church alike for their missionary tactics and their distortion of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous critics note that Western cultural and historical standpoints enacted through proselytizing scientific or Christian intellectual traditions get wielded as universal swords of truth over less powerful peoples. Indigenous critics see clearly the ideological biases in both scientific and clerical traditions, which before Darwin's Origin of Species
, were intimately entangled. Today, they are not as disentangled as their respective practitioners would believe. Both science and the church claim the right to tell the only true story of human history. While the empirical data informing the two respective approaches differs, they are both laden with longstanding narratives of indigenous isolation, unenlightened thought, and deficiency.
But it is very difficult for many non-indigenous people to see what is so clear to many of us. On the day that IPCB issued its press release calling for a boycott of the Genographic Project, a lively genetic genealogy listerv (genealogists who use genetics to fill in the gaps in their family trees) erupted in defense of Genographic and human genome diversity research. Populated overwhelmingly by self-identified European-Americans, recent ancestry in Europe is the most popular topic of conversation on this particular list. Native American ancestry is the second most popular.  (Unlike the law of hypodescent in which someone with any African Ancestry should be categorized as black and not white, U.S. race politics have historically sanctioned the absorption of "red" into the white body.) Many of the genetic genealogists online that day have a deep understanding of genetic science but could not grasp the basics of IPCB's incisive political critique. Indigenous critics do not simply object to human genome diversity and migrations research that contradicts indigenous creation narratives, but condemn the power that science has had to define indigenous peoples' histories, identities, and futures. They point out that indigenous peoples are still subject to exploitation in research. Yet one lister had this to say:
There are some indigenous people who fear anthropological DNA testing for pretty much the same reasons that
some people fear genealogical DNA testing. They are comfortable with their myths & not particularly interested in
investigating anything that might shake their worldview. Clinging to tradition is not something unique to indigenous
Another lister added:
My Mohawk ancestors believed that the world came into being on the back of a turtle. Subsequent evidence from a
variety of data sources such as the Hubble Telescope have proven this particular creationist theory to be incorrect.
Archaeological and DNA evidence has allowed a robust but incomplete understanding of the correct origins of my
ancestors. It is futile to play osterich [sic] and ignore what is staring us in the face. When the evidence speaks loudly
one must listen or forever be clinging to false assumptions. Still, that does not in any way affect my deep respect for
the traditions of my ancestors, but above all else I want to know the truth...
Native American and Christian perspectives that are critical of genome knowledge are often seen to fall on the same side of a "religion versus science" divide. However, unlike Christianity, Native American origin narratives are generally missing the will to convert and so are without inherent intolerance for other narratives, be they Biblical or evolutionary understandings. In the U.S., indigenous peoples often say they just want to be left alone to practice their ceremonies without having them outlawed or losing access to sacred sites through land and resource grabs. So why the resistance? Certainly, scientific thinkers do not have to worry about indigenous people imposing their religions in public school classrooms to the detriment of biology education standards. Even with the balance of cultural power on their side, scientific thinkers are taught to believe that science and politics should be separated for the good of neutral science, that nature and culture are opposed. One cannot be a rigorous scientific thinker and indulge in "politics." Of course, indigenous critics call attention to the politics that always already inhabit science. But being allergic to the recognition of power relations in the scientific enterprise no doubt impedes one's ability to truly grasp indigenous analyses.
In addition to a politics allergy, scientific thinkers read indigenous creation narratives in an overly simplistic manner when they reject for example accounts of a people emerging from a cave, or a hole in the ground. They miss central propositions in such narratives that reveal how indigenous peoples understand the world and their place in it. For example, indigenous creation narratives provide values for living, narrate our common history, cohere us as Peoples (and not simply "human beings") with a common moral framework. They tie us to sacred landbases. Indigenous peoples understand ourselves to have emerged as coherent groups and cultures in intimate relationship with particular places, especially living and sacred landscapes.
Indigenous concepts of ancestry and group go far beyond genetic ancestry evidenced in "populations." They involve biological, cultural, and political groupings constituted in dynamic long-standing relationships with living landscapes and waterscapes that define our people-specific identities. This is an important difference between the way that indigenous peoples wield the idea of "origins" and the way that human genome diversity does. In the latter case, landscapes or waterscapes are places through which humans and their molecules move and settle. An environment/human divide is presumed in the genomic narrative that is absent from the indigenous narrative. Indigenous notions of peoplehood as emerging in relation with particular lands and waters and their nonhuman actors differ from the concept of a genetic population, defined as moving upon or through landscapes. Therefore, it is true that indigenous creation narratives challenge genomic narratives, but when read in all of their complexity one can see the veracity present in indigenous creation narratives and the debatable conceptual and material presuppositions of genomic narratives. Indigenous groups are not anti-experimentation or technology, nor reject all new knowledge emerging from sciences, but often want to integrate that knowledge within their world views.
Indigenous peoples do not expect scientists to adopt their stories of origin. Theirs are not generally proselytizing traditions. But they - we - want our political jurisdictions over our bodies and lands upheld and we want the power of our stories to shape our lives respected, and to not be deemed as untruths. The central paradox of 21st century human genome research is that it is presented as global and anti-racist,[5
] but has advanced historically by violating subjects' rights to self-governance, by appropriating their biological resources, and sometimes even their cultural narratives, and by de-valuing the truths and powerful values of those it seeks to include and connect. Kim TallBear, PhD, is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). ENDNOTES
1. "Indigenous Peoples Oppose National Geographic & IBM Research Project that Seeks Indigenous Peoples' DNA," April 13, 2005, press release, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, accessed September 16, 2013, http://www.ipcb.org/issues/human_genetics/htmls/geno_pr.html
2. "National Geographic and IBM Launch Landmark Project to Map How Humankind Populated Planet," April 13, 2005, press release, National Geographic.com, accessed September 16, 2013, https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Landmark_Project_4_13_05.pdf
3. Ibid, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism.
4. I write extensively on the race politics of this genetic genealogy list in my just published book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
5. Jenny Reardon, "The Democratic, Anti-Racist Genome? Technoscience at the Limits of Liberalism," Science as Culture 21(1) (2012).
UPDATE: I originally posted this video in January 2012 that features the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN) - UC Berkeley collaboration to co-design an environmentally and culturally sustainable house on the PPN reservation. This week several of the principal players in that collaboration published an article in Science, Technology, & Human Values
, "Tribal Housing, Co-Design & Cultural Sovereignty
." I humbly theorized around the edges of this innovative project. Thanks to the PPN and Berkeley folks for allowing me to co-author this particular article with them for a Science and Technology Studies Journal. They are publishing more in the literature of their respective fields. For example, also see Shelby, R.
, Perez, Y., and Agogino, A. (2012). “Partnering with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation: Co-Design Methodology Case Study for Creating Sustainable, Culturally Inspired Renewable Energy Systems and Infrastructure
. Sustainability. 4(5), pp. 794-818.
Check out this moving video featuring the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN) - UC Berkeley collaboration to co-design an environmentally and culturally sustainable house on the PPN reservation in Mendocino County, California. Featured (@ about 2 minutes into the video) are tribal community members (including youth!), tribal planners and leaders, UC Berkeley engineers--faculty, graduate and undergraduate students--who are collectively reconceptualizing green building in ways that are situated in the lives and values of the people at Pinoleville. This project is a good example of one avenue for democratizing technoscience. The tribal community worked closely over the course of a few years with a UC Berkeley team comprised of engineering and architecture students and faculty to "co-design" a plan for constructing houses that tribal members could not only live in, but thrive in. In the course of design and building, several innovative things happened. The community's expertise was valued. This collaborative group did not only build a house, but they dismantled the usual hierarchical relationships between the technical experts and the "end users," or the community. Accordingly, this group built more than a house. In other design/building and research efforts (this collaboration was both) the technical capacity of experts and researchers gets built and refined while end users get a product. And research subjects, if they are lucky, get vague indications of potential benefits down the road, or simply satisfaction from offering their bodies, communities, or cultural practices for examination by researchers who produce "knowledge for the good of all." The PPN-Berkeley collaboration turns all of that on its head. The capacity of students, faculty, tribal planners, and community members got built. There are now tribal youth who have encountered Berkeley and can envision themselves attending this institution one day. Not only the research institution but the tribal institution got built during the course of this project. The tribe, importantly, controlled some of the project funding. In fact, the collaboration in large part began as a tribally-driven research project when the tribe approached the university with an idea. There are many lessons to be gained from this project, too much for this blog post. Watch the video. You too will be inspired. And if you want to learn more about t
his project go to the Web site
of one of the lead engineering graduate students involved in the collaboration,Ryan L. Shelby
. (The video also includes a brief treatment of a "sustainable surfing" project--so cool--that Berkeley faculty and grad students are involved in.) If you're in the Bay Area Ryan Shelby and Pinoleville Pomo Nation environmental director, David S. Edmunds will speak to my undergraduate class on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. here at UC Berkeley, 126 Barrows Hall. I'll be happy to welcome you to join in the learning.
Jun Kamata and Kim TallBear in Tokyo
Hot off the presses is Jun Kamata's new book, Native America, his first book of photographs with an explanatory essay (in Japanese) that explains contemporary Native American life and conditions in the US. Kamata seeks to overturn the stereotypes of Native Americans that pervade in Japan like everywhere, those worn out images of Native Americans atop horses, with long hair, looking like noble savages.
A Tokyo native, Kamata earned his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. from UCLA's Department of Urban Planning. Kamata has traveled all over the US. He is particularly fond of L.A., Tucson, and Minneapolis. I know because I have heard him rave on many an occasion. He is one of Japan's foremost experts in American Studies. He is also an amazing photographer. I am truly honored to be the cover photo (looking just a bit like my mother). Kamata publishes with commercial presses in Japan thus reaching wide audiences with his critical analyses and beautiful photographs. He says in an e-mail, "I hope that I am doing justice to what I've been learning from you and others who inspired me to explore Native America over years. I am also trying to let people know that Native Americans are living in the United States and not in the history books or museum." If you are in Japan, Native America is available at a bookstore near you!
photo: Jun Kamata
As presented at the American Anthropological Association 111th annual meeting, San Francisco, CA, on the panel: “Defrost: The Social After-lives of Biological Substance.”
Cryopreservation—or deep freeze of tissues—enables storage and maintenance of bio-specimens from whole human bodies, to plant materials, to blood samples taken from indigenous peoples’ bodies. And all of this happens within ontological, ethical, and racial regimes that never belonged to indigenous peoples. It allows the suspended animation and temporal transport of cells and within them DNA, life’s so called code, into realms beyond the bodies whose lives these biologicals helped constitute. That we have barely begun to read that code matters less, as my co-panelist Joanna Radin has pointed out elsewhere, than “desperate” desires “to accumulate fragments of a world whose inherent plasticity, augmented by the corrosive forces of modernity, seemed poised to render certain life forms extinct.
Radin calls for “cryopolitics,“a strategy for grappling with the unresolved problem of the appropriate use of old tissue for new purposes,” a response to the ethical shortcomings of narratives and practices past. In other enlightening ethnographic work, my co-panelist Emma Kowal explains the “biovalue” constituted by the ethical work and network construction of bio-scientists as they build collections of samples and curate them throughout their lives, hoping to cultivate intellectual descendants to whom they might bequeath their treasured bio-valuables—indigenous biological patrimony.
Bioethical responses emerging from non-indigenous institutions and philosophical terrain, including the incisive analyses of my co-panelists, teach me much. And leave me… speechless.
I have found myself these past months unable to think or write or do fieldwork for this project. I have not understood my own resistance. Faced with standing before you today, I had to admit simply that I am weary of having the agenda for what will be responded to set by those who are trying to figure out a way to do things better, but things that indigenous people never asked to have done in the first place. I learn much from my colleagues from around the world who chip away at tired old hierarchical regimes of knowledge production.
And I have been aided in my own critiques of the politics that inhere in the genome sciences by my grounding in feminist technoscientific epistemologies and ethics, including the concept of “feminist objectivity” that calls for inquiry from multiple, especially marginalized, standpoints. The argument is that inquiry from marginalized lives produces a more rigorous reading of the world, and knowledge for the benefit of peoples who have too often been treated not as the beneficiaries of research, but as its raw materials.
Indeed, this is an indigenous standpoint talk.
But all of this is focused on response, and I’m running out of steam for that.
So I turn to yet another feminist scholar, Neferti Tadiar, who articulates a concept of faith
that enables me to write—to speak here today—in a faithful attempt to regain speech: Informed by the voices of other Oceti Sakowin
thinkers within and without the academy.
More commonly known as Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples, today we comprise multiple “tribes” in the upper Midwest of the U.S. and south-central Canada. Some of the thinkers who influence me are living and—like the biologicals this panel is attuned to—some are now beyond bodies. As I lean on their thoughts, words, and imperatives, I speak “in concert with” these people I call my own. Tadiar explains this as being “already caught up in the claims that others act out.”
Refusing to be excised from them by some imperialistic, naïve notion of exact representation, I try to turn speechlessness into more than response, into claims about the world that I would rather see made.
Tadiar’s particular concept of faith
helps me move beyond
critiquing a non-feminist politics of objectivity such as pervades the genome sciences. That kind of critique comprised my work of the past ten years. Today, I hope to demonstrate how an indigenous standpoint can take us to an analysis of life and vibrancy that even a Western feminist standpoint cannot take us to.
But let me first highlight three critiques of the technology and practices we consider today, that are in part gestured to in my co-panelists’ analyses, but which I would cast in the shadow of an indigenous standpoint. Cryopreservation aims to preserve “life,” but is predicated on death
Cryopreservation of indigenous biological samples is about life, the extension of life, the study of life, the preservation of life. But a notion of “life” focused on the largely indecipherable patterns and instructions that comprise DNA’s scaffolding. It is a materialist conception of life that I do not disagree with. Indeed, there is bibliographic beauty in it. But I know now why I don’t want to talk about it.
Cryopreservation recalls the poverty of the genetic articulation of indigeneity that becomes ever more salient in our world of genomics-as-nation-building. Cryopreservation, like genetic indigeneity, emerges not only out of technoscientific innovations but also from a discourse of death. Cryopreservation’s co-constitutive narrative is that gathering indigenous DNA is about staving off certain death, preserving remnants of human groups and their nonhuman relations, defined in molecular terms, and archiving those molecular patterns and instructions before peoples or species “vanish,” the so-called genetic signatures of founding populations obscured forever in a sea of genetic admixture. Death by admixture. Or actual extinction in the case of nonhuman species.
As Joanna Radin explains: “Groups like the Yanomami or the Babinga did not live on the electric grid in real life—a signifier of their primitiveness—they, or at least pieces of them, could be frozen on it via the laboratory freezer. In this way, these populations would continue to live outside of time, and even outside of death”...Technologies of cryopreservation appeared a powerful way to keep them—or at least their genes—from going extinct.”
Genetic indigeneity, which grounds cryopreservation practices surrounding indigenous samples, and which is implicitly
political, might focus on connection to the land and cultural cohesion, like indigenous peoples ourselves do. In biological sampling of a group, the idea of geographic and cultural isolation and longevity in place is paramount. But genetic indigeneity also fundamentally contradicts a definition of indigenous in its explicitly
political social movement formation. For indigenous peoples ourselves, indigeneity as an organizing category is added to our people-specific understandings of ourselves. It helps us articulate our resistance as peoples to the assimilative state. It is about indigenous peoples’ survival, a “we are still here, and we are proliferating” discourse. Indeed, numbers of indigenous people have risen worldwide during the past two decades. This is not only about birthrates but about the generative success of the category. It is a source of power for peoples.
My forthcoming book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science
(University of Minnesota Press, 2013),
and the last ten years of work have been about responding to the erasure of indigenous peoples’ survival in bio-scientific research practices and narratives over several hundred years. Notwithstanding recent collaborative efforts, the interplay of genome-focused narratives and the political economy of genome research both pre-suppose and enable the erasure of indigenous peoples and their cultures. Cryopreservation enables appropriation of indigenous natural resources
Radin explains that the International Biological Program (IBP) that ran from the early 1960s through 1974, and which set the 20th-century scientific stage for the biological sampling of indigenous peoples (along with nonhuman communities) as remnants of a bygone world, an increasingly “civilizing” yet ironically toxic world. She reminds us that “The stated goal of research on primitive isolates was to salvage information that might benefit civilized communities’ understandings of themselves.”
But the conception of indigenous bodies as “natural resources,” the raw materials upon which nations are built, did not begin in 1960. In the 18th and 19th centuries too the U.S. nation building project relied on the appropriation of indigenous peoples’ lands. The U.S. positioned itself—positioned whites—as the rational agent capable of transforming nature in to productive property, and indigenous peoples in these lands as incapable of developing, indeed surviving in the face of the modern industrial state.
Whereas indigenous land (and bones and cultures ready for study) were seen as the rightful inheritance of whites in the 18th and 19th centuries and before—the live Indian has apparently been vanishing since contact, literally meeting death in the face of Westward expansion, or transformed biologically and culturally beyond recognition. Today rare, precious indigenous DNA is the remaining natural resource to be appropriated or stewarded “before it is too late.”
As Jenny Reardon and I wrote in a recent Current Anthropology
article, in the 21st century, the goal is to transform the raw natural resources that are genomes into something of value for humans: Genome knowledge supposedly “for the good of all.”
But who in pragmatic terms counts as fully human, and as recipient of those benefits is the question. Certainly a vanished Indian cannot make a claim. Cryopreservation enables social relations, including with indigenous people, even while it continues to de-animate them
We see a partial de-colonization of Western disciplinary thinking and a dismantling of hierarchies between Westerners’ and their non-human others, indeed also their previously less animated human
others, in this move to caretake biological samples via cryopreservation. We see recognition of non-human animacy, even if it is not explicitly stated in the analyses of my co-panelists, of human biological substance and the social relations it helps effect, especially that substance derived from indigenous bodies. Stewarded by non-indigenous scientists and institutions, the substance acts as object of mutual concern and desire by both scientists and
the indigenous communities that lay claim to it. Inspiring, frightening, challenging and empowering the humans involved with it, archived biologicals help constitute social relations.
Co-panelist Emma Kowal offers something slightly different as well. In the process of stewarding cryopreserved samples, she explains that indigenous people become vibrant in the way that genome scientists newly pay attention to the affective networks and biovalue co-constituted with indigenous DNA. But this is paradoxical as Kowal points out because biovalue, “the production of scientific value from human body parts,” is a form of “surplus value” actually produced when “marginal forms of vitality…[including] the bodies and body parts of the socially marginalized –are transformed into technologies to aid in the intensification of vitality for other living beings.
So indigenous bodies are both de-animated
(After Mel Chen I think in terms of animacy)
in the hierarchies of civilizing, scientific knowledge production. And yet, re-animated
as living indigenous people become scientists literally or in name as co-authors or co-Principal investigators within new, more collaborative ethical regimes.
Entrance to quarries. Expansive skies (photo: K. TallBear)
Life, blood, and stone
Vibrancy. Animacy. These are among the words through which disciplines are recently articulating the force of nonhumans in our cultural, political, and economic lives. And though this work is innovative, both methodologically and ethically, it only partially engages indigenous standpoints.
Indigenous cultures” have not forgotten that nonhuman organisms are agential beings engaged in social relations that profoundly shape human lives. In addition, for indigenous peoples, their nonhuman others may not be understood in even critical western frameworks as living.
“Objects” and “forces” such as stones, thunder, or stars are known within our ontologies to be sentient and knowing persons. This is where new materialisms intersect animal studies, and helps us to see that violence against nonhumans—water, earth, plant, animal—is linked to violence against particular humans who have historically been de-animated, made “less-than-human,” made “animal.”
Koyungkawi poet and acorn mushmaker, Linda Noel, explains to me that she doesn’t mind “being considered part of nature.” But she knows what they
mean by that, and that’s not what she means. For Noel, non-human is not less than human, nor less alive.
On that note, I turn from indigenous DNA—human biological substance frozen out of place and time—to stone. I want to talk about stone, the life that inheres in a stone, the social relations that proliferate as that stone emerges from the earth, is carved into pipe, is passed from hand to hand. (You may have heard them called “peace pipes”—that’s not quite right.) I speak of Pipestone, otherwise known as Catlinite after the 19th-century U.S. American artist who painted the site where the red stone is cut from the earth.
There is a story that tells us about the blood in that stone, that along with our loving attention to its materiality enables us to apprehend its vibrancy, its fundamental role in our peoplehood. Unlike with indigenous DNA, this is not a cellular vibrancy. Yet without it, prayers would be grounded, social relations impaired, and everyday lives of quarriers and carvers depleted of the meaning they derive from working with stone. Here is that story: It rained for many days, non-stop. A young girl saw a high hill and ran up there. Many of her people had already drowned. Alone, she began to pray. The rain suddenly stopped. She stood there, seeing nothing around her but water. Above in the sky she heard and saw a giant bird. He opened his wings. A man emerged. The man told her not to be afraid. He had come to rescue her. All of her people were killed in the flood, he told her. He wanted to marry her. Through their marriage together the humans would begin anew. When the water receded it all drained into one place. There in that place was the blood of all the people who had drowned. That place became the cannupa ok’e. The blood of the people, the red stone. 
Red is a sacred color for the Dakota, and so this place is taken to be sacred. The cannupa ok’e, the quarry, is also special to many other peoples whose members dig there today. The stone there is sometimes spoken of as a relative.
But U.S. Park Service pamphlets from the Pipestone, Minnesota quarry represent pipes as artifacts, as craft objects, and detail the history of white incursion in the area, into the quarry where Natives produced their artifacts, and the regulatory response of the U.S. government. These ways of understanding the stone and the landscape from which it is quarried—these material and regulatory histories—are not unimportant, but like the politics that enabled the production of indigenous biological samples abstracted from living bodies and vibrant peoples, these politics resulted in a de-animating representation of the red stone. Like bio-scientists in the 20th and 21st centuries with their imperative to bleed indigenous peoples before it was too late, a 19th century Euro-American painter and early 20th century geologists and government agents saw the place where the red stone lies as an artifact of a waning culture and time. They produced a “National Monument” to conserve it.
But like indigenous people who insist on their continuing survival and involvement with their DNA, indigenous quarriers and carvers, medicine people, and just everyday people who pray insist on living with the red stone daily. And they make decisions—some of them seen as compromised about how to best work with the vibrant objects of their attention. Some indigenous people agree to engage in research or commercial activities related to DNA. Others sell pipestone jewellery and craft pieces to make a living while also holding the stone and ceremonial pipes carved from it as sacred. Literal red human blood and the blood red stone have been translated into “resources.” And while this characterization is troubled by Dakota and other indigenous quarriers and carvers, it is not undone.
And here I am at the end of this talk with a response
after all, because this is the fundamental condition of indigeneity. It is predicated on there being a settler, an invader to whom we must always respond. Yet I hope that I am also moving into a stage of inquiry guided by the needs, desires, arguments, critiques, and material lives of the people from whom I derive. In the next couple of years I will turn my attention to pipestone as an agent in Oceti Sakowin lives, one imposed upon by processes of colonization, but a subject that also preceded such things. Acknowledgements: Thanks to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas, Austin (where I am a Donald D. Harrington Fellow in 2012-13) for funding support this year as I bring together the threads of multiple lines of inquiry. Thanks to David S. Edmunds for his always incisive editorial feedback and to Chris Andersen (UAlberta) for when I lose faith helping me see that what I know and need to write about is right in front of me. Finally, a big thanks to my colleagues and fellow panelists Joanna Radin (YaleU), Emma Kowal (UMelbourne), Tiffany Romain (Ricoh Innovations), Jennifer Brown (UPenn), and to discussants Jenny Reardon (UCSC) and Warwick Anderson (USydney) for our own productive social relations, and for having such fertile minds from which I can appropriate intellectual resources, transforming them into productive goods for the benefit of indigenous people. 
Joanna Radin, “Latent Life: Concepts and Practice of Human Tissue Preservation in the International Biological Program, 1964-1974," forthcoming, 32.
Donna J. Haraway, 1991a. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature
. New York and London: Routledge: 149-181; Donna Haraway, 2000. “Morphing the Order: Flexible Strategies, Feminist Science studies, and Primate Revisions.” In Primate Encounters
, edited by S. Strum and L. Fedigan, 398-420. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Donna J. Haraway, 1991b. "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privolege of Partial Perspective.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature
. New York and London: Routledge: 183-201; Sandra Harding. 2008. Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities
. Durham and London: Duke University Press; Sandra Harding. 1991. Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?
: Thinking from Women’s Lives
. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Neferti X.M. Tadiar. 2001. “The Noranian Imaginary.” In Geopolitics of the Visible: Essays on Philippine Film Cultures,
ed. Rolando B. Tolentino. Ateneo de Manila University Press: 61-76. 
Radin forthcoming 31.
Radin forthcoming, 32.
Radin forthcoming, 22.
Cheryl I. Harris. 1993. “Whiteness as Property.” Harvard Law Review
8 (June): 1707-1791.
Jenny Reardon and Kim TallBear. 2012. “Your DNA is Our History”: Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property.” Current Anthropology
Kowal 7, forthcoming.
Mel Chen. 2012. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect.
Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Kowal 29, forthcoming. 
Adapted from the story as told in the Pipestone: An Unbroken Legacy
Cross-posted from www.oaklakewriters.org, an organization of Oceti Sakowin writers in which I am a member, and on whose behalf I also blog.
On the third day of the Oak Lake Writers Society (OLWS) annual retreat, August 1, 2012, University of Illinois Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, Jodi Byrd
(Chickasaw) led a fascinating session by this name. We got down to analytical business pretty quickly and discussed how the zombie/demon/monster narrative, along with Christianity, is a founding myth of the United States. Our tribal writers, most of whom work with more traditional genres (and I don’t necessarily mean “traditional” in the tribal sense here), nonetheless were very lively participants in Jodi’s session.
She explained the links between such narratives, both in film and in (video) gaming and how Indians get designated as monsters. Alternately Indians get erased and the landscape gets represented as empty in many such works. These are ways in which they resonate with more traditional forms, including captivity narratives and westerns, for example. She noted that a surprising number of video games have Indian motifs of both violence and erasure. She cited a game called Prey
that features the “agnosia” she spoke of yesterday—a term she borrows from neurological science, a form of blindness in which one’s eyes can see but one cannot comprehend what one sees. In this game a Cherokee named Domasi "Tommy" Tawodi traverses a treacherous landscape to defend the land from invaders from space, aliens. As Jodi points out, "the use of 'prey' is a double entendre of savage Indians on the one hand, and the fact that the invading aliens have upended the food chain and surpassed humans at the top." Jodi argues that it is incomprehensible that the character Tommy could be defending the land from invaders from Europe, from colonialists. I asked what demographic creates games. Jodi responded that the majority of game developers are white and Asian males. Again, agnosia: Colonial violence and history—even what one sees before one’s eyes—cannot be comprehended. Overall, I think our writers found this a useful analytical intervention. Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan noted a slightly different—perhaps related problem. In mainstream classrooms Indian students “analyze in silence” the dominant narratives we’re fed, for example, of Indians as consorting with faeries (i.e. in Peter Pan
) and therefore as not real, or Indians as absent from a landscape in which historically there was tremendous encounter and violence (e.g. Little House on the Prairie
A lively discussion ensued around Jodi’s intellectual challenge in this area: If popular genre—science fiction, fantasy, and horror—are part of how settler colonialism processes its history and its role in this place, what then are the implications for us as Native writers taking up this genre? And what are the implications for how we take this up? Jodi asks, “Are we stuck with realism [and I presume she meant, the decolonial work we do here in the material realm], or can we also decolonize imagination?” We’re really skilled in American Indian Studies (AIS), she notes, at talking about the western and its role in the colonial narrative, but now we have all of these newer forms that now have more popular influence than that form. And Native writers are taking them up. She argues that all vampire and zombie stories are essentially captivity stories—that essentially the captive gets infected or contaminated and transformed. She also notes that the zombie narrative when it emerged with George Romero in the late 1960s was—lit critics have argued—a critique of whiteness. The zombies, pale and (un)dead, represented the advancing infection of whiteness. But she argues that the zombie narrative has flipped to where whiteness takes control of it in the 21st century. The zombie becomes invader, terrorist, the infectious agent that must be controlled, contained, and wiped out. The zombie’s subjectivity has flipped since its first emergence in the popular U.S. American imagination from a critique of whiteness to now being subjected to the nationalist authority of whiteness. I am no longer slightly embarrassed that I love zombie films. There is apparently so much in them for an intellectual to love.
Our regular co-mentor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn seemed less convinced, or perhaps she was just playing devil’s advocate when she asked “Why is it that Native writers are taking all of this up? And what are the implications?” Jodi added, that we should think about whether taking up these new forms is “a mark of assimilation, or does it help decolonize the imagination?” My fellow Oak Lakers are much more erudite fiction readers than I am. I read mostly academic writing and hardly ever fiction. Yet it seems to me that taking up science fiction, fantasy, and horror, given their pervasive influence in popular culture, is not fundamentally different from how our forebears first took up the novel, the short story, and the poem, or from how my fellow indigenous academics and I take up academic forms of writing. Jodi cited a Canadian Anishinaabeg writer, Drew Hayden Taylor
, who entangles in a young adult gothic novel form the vampire story with a story of European/indigenous contact and the Anishinaabeg Windigo story. She argues that to take up this genre is to take control of it in a way that centers indigenous experience and knowledges.
Stephens and Sprinkle (center left and right) with friends at Dyke March 2012
We’re changing the metaphor from “Earth as Mother” to “Earth as Lover.”
---Elizabeth Stephens, Artist, Ecosexual, Professor
We aim to make the environmental movement more sexy, fun and diverse.
----Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., Artist, Ecosexual, Sexologist
“Who wants to fuck a tree?” An attendee at the San Francisco Dyke March
asked when she saw Beth Stephens’ and Annie Sprinkle’s flower and vine-laden signs, “Ecosexuals,” which we marched under this past sunny Saturday in the Mission district. Most novices to the idea were less dismissive. Many curious young queer people came up to Annie and Beth and asked, eyes full of curiosity, “What’s an ecosexual
Many more seasoned folks knew Beth and Annie well. Beth Stephens
is a Professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-founder with Annie of the Love Art Laboratory
. Annie Sprinkle
is Beth’s artistic collaborator and her wife. Annie
is especially legend as a former famous porn star—the first porn star to earn a Ph.D.—a former sex worker, a sex-positive feminist, sexologist, and sex worker rights’ and health activist. Annie’s activist work, her intellectual work, and her art humanizes folks in the sex industry, and across a spectrum of sexual identities and practices. Many adoring fans gushed to Annie about how much they adore her and how important her work has been for them. Many wanted to have their photos taken with her on those crowded joyous streets of San Francisco. The most touching were the young queer women and trans men, so out, so effusive, clearly so happy to be who they are or are becoming, and to be amidst many other dykes and their allies.
Beth Stephens, Annie Sprinkle, Earth
Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are my friends. We were hanging out last Saturday. It happened to be the day of the Dyke March. We decided to go. Plus queer folks’ re-thinking how to be and have family is helping me at this point in my life. They remind me of something I was raised with in my Dakota culture. Family is not only about biology and state-sanctioned legal relationships. We can choose and make our family. It is about love and not ownership, reciprocity and not debt. It is about respect. I am grateful for queer folks’ courage and creativity in challenging oppressive heteronormative kinship standards that too often imply ownership and hierarchy because they enforce rigid categories. (I will come back to that category-hierarchy relationship shortly.) In creatively re-making and living gender and family, they make a better world for all of us. I was happy to be welcomed to go in support to the San Francisco Dyke March.
I am also not an ecosexual. Yet I carried a sign, an ally too in that regard. When Beth Stephens first told me about ecosexuality it did not resonate with me. Earth as lover? But I keep coming back to the concept after meeting Beth 18 months ago when she enrolled in my UC Berkeley graduate seminar on feminist and indigenous approaches to science, technology, and environment. Beth and I have lots to talk about. We both come from economically and geographically marginal backgrounds, from places and peoples with rich cultures, lands, and resources, thus the exploitation of our peoples and lands. I come from a South Dakota reservation and Beth from the coal mining country of West Virginia. We both ended up in Northern California eco-feminist academic worlds. I liked Beth from the beginning, and trusted that she had something to teach me as well. Ecosexuality Challenges Dominant Notions of Sex and Nature
This blog post is my first attempt to begin to theorize what ecosexual thinking might mean for me and for the broader intellectual worlds in which I work: indigenous, environmental, and science studies. How can ecosexual thinking be in conversation with indigenous and feminist critiques colonial and chauvinistically scientistic approaches to articulating and studying this thing we call “nature” and its close relatives, “environment” and “race”? What does ecosexual theory offer the world, especially as our institutions of governance and higher learning try to find new ways to solve environmental problems (in addition to continuing to create them), but too often at the expense of those who are less powerful. As an indigenous and feminist scholar of science studies, I continue to search for voices that can provide more inclusive alternatives to the less democratic knowledge practices espoused by nature’s self-appointed spokespersons, the overwhelmingly white, male, heteronormative scientific establishment that mistakenly equates its own historically-specific norms and knowledges with neutrality and universal truth. The dyke march and my first encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me. I am learning that queer sexuality and politics—acknowledging and helping love and desire flourish beyond rigidly enforced heterosexuality—not only helps us re-make our human relationships. It provides us tools for living better with the planet.
Beth and Annie refuse to relegate sexuality or sexual identities—like nature—to discrete and essential categories, to something that is only primal or instinctual, to be spoken of in whispers (sexuality), or different (nature), something outside of the cultural dynamism of everyday life, something outside of art. In their own way, Annie and Beth refuse the nature/culture divide. They work to bring into view what we have been told should be kept separate, managed, alternately exploited and violated, or saved and kept pure. In addition to the idea that they are simply found-in-nature categories, this is what “sex” and “nature” have in common. This is what draws me to Beth and Annie’s ecosexual thinking. With the rise of scientific authority and management approaches, both sex and nature have been rendered as discrete, coherent, troublesome, yet manageable objects. Both sex and nature are at the heart of struggles involving ideas of purity and contamination, life and death, but which only scientifically trained experts or rational subjects (read historically white, Western men) are seen as fit to name, manage, and to set the terms of legitimate encounter.
Annie’s and Beth’s art and activism disrupts these dominant ideas. Sexual practices and identities do and should be allowed to take multiple, shifting forms over time as our needs for different kinds of intimacies change. Thus the transformation of Beth and Annie from queer to also ecosexual. Practices and identities are fluid. This is good, something to be open about and celebrated. Likewise, we are in nature. Nature is us. We have close intimate everyday relations with nonhumans, and they do not always accord with the dominant, heteronormative, scientistic view of things. Sex is both nature and culture, both instinct and art. As Annie told my surprised undergraduates at UC Berkeley this past spring when she passed around a flower in full bloom for them to smell: “You put your nose in to smell that flower’s sex organ. You just had sex with that flower.” The seemingly mundane can be revelatory.
As ecosexuals, Sprinkle and Stephens have married various entities of Earth, Sky, Moon, and Sea but they began by marrying each other. Part of their collaborative performance art has been over the past seven years to “orchestrate one or more interactive performance art weddings …then display the ephemera in art galleries.” Their wedding years each incorporate the colors and themes of the chakras. From 2005-2011, they did a red, orange, yellow, green (earth), blue (sky), purple (moon), and white (snow) wedding, one color for each year. Photos of their colorful, choreographed weddings involving lots of community participation can be viewed on their Web site, LoveArt Laboratory
Yet another Web site features a photo of Sprinkle and Stephens tongue kissing tree bark. And another, the two of them kissing while placing their hands on a rock: “three way kiss with a rock hard rock,” Annie comments on her Facebook page. Giggle. They playfully talk about lying on their backs and gazing at clouds, “having cloudgasms,” or giving “grassalingus.” Now, I don’t get turned on by clouds, or tree bark, or rocks. (I once dead-ended into the tight, closed end of a tunnel inside a rock hard mountain while caving in Colorado and had the realization that this great, old being did not need me poking around inside its body.) On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.
But Beth and Annie’s work causes me to get theoretically excited. When I intensely start talking theory, Beth reminds me, “You know this is supposed to be fun, right? We don’t take it (ecosexual performance) too seriously.” Yet it is part of the art that is at the center of their lives. And if Annie and Beth’s agenda is to bring some light heartedness, joy, and fun to what they see as a sanctimonious and dour environmental movement that turns off potentially sympathetic folks, that is serious business, is it not? In my work, I want to diversify who does science, question the divide between science and traditional knowledge, question who gets to name the world and narrate its problems, and who gets to decide how best to solve them. Similarly, Beth and Annie want to diversify the environmental movement, its actors, discourses, and strategies for change. I also increasingly embrace laughter as a response to the absurdly hateful politics of our time. Laughter sustains me when anger wears me down and feels unproductive.
In a slightly different way than an academic strand of queer theory—queer ecologies—intends it, Beth and Annie are both queering the environmental movement and greening queer culture. Like ecosexual thinking, “queer ecologies” (see Mortimer-Sandilands’ and Erickson’s 2010 edited volume by that title) disrupts the nature/culture boundary and it seeks to undermine the heteronormative biases that inform environmental sciences and discourses. Heteronormative bias naturalizes heterosexual relations in nature while ignoring or making deviant queer or same sex relations. But for Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, queering doesn’t just mean bringing LGBTQI folks into the mix. Beth and Annie are also involved in activism against mountain top removal in Beth’s home state of West Virginia. Their film, still in production, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story,
foregrounds the lives disrupted and the work of resistance of a very diverse group of people in the West Virginia hills who fight this particularly violent treatment of the earth. The film spotlights oppositional local folks and transplants, people whose critical voices the state and coal mining companies render as marginal and therefore illegitimate. Legitimating marginal voices, queering discourses, is something Stephens and Sprinkle do in both their environmental activism and in Sprinkle’s sex worker activism. Bringing Indigenous and Ecosexual Stories Carefully into Conversation
Sprinkle and Stephens, because of the artistic and sex positive feminist work that they do, emphasize what we think of as sexual relations when they talk about being intimate with trees, rocks, the sea, clouds, mountains. Their ideas of social relations are grounded in their specific historical and cultural backgrounds and detailed in their “herstories” on their SexEcology Web site
: Growing up in the mountains alongside the Kanawha River, the winter, spring, summer and fall nurtured this young ecosexual from the start. The fragrance of the mountains’ forests and waters permeated my every waking and sleeping moment. My body was tuned to the cycle of budding leaves turning to dark green fully unfurled then slowly dying in oranges, reds and yellows and finally cold winter browns dropping off to rot in the emptiness that reveals the naked mountains. Even in their nakedness the mountains were laced with rhododendron, mountain laurel, dogwood, redbuds, magnolias, wild azaleas, hickory, oak, sycamore and sassafras...Hunting salamanders for fish bait in the fresh water creek running down off the mountain and into Daniel Boone’s Bathtub, forming swirls underneath Suicide Rock, then passing below route 60, to empty into the slow, caramel green of the Kanawha, made for some of the dreamiest moments of my childhood.
When I knew that I was an ecosexual I was nine. My dad discovered Yosemite and he fell in love. In retrospect, my dad must have been an ecosexual too. Our family visited Yosemite several times a year. That’s when it started, between me, and the redwood trees. I liked them BIG. And they were HUGE! Big, round, hard, but soft, redwood trees. Gentle giants. I loved the scent of the trunk, like vanilla mixed with soil. I have a strong memory of coming across a redwood that had fallen over from a storm. I walked around and peeked at its freshly exposed roots. So soft, so sensuous, so sexy! I had to touch them.
Another example of an ecosexual experience offered by Annie in her Herstory involves not touching her desired—a “big, erect” saguaro cactus in the Arizona desert, but an exchange of sexual energy nonetheless. Annie explains: “There was no touching of the cactus for obvious reasons, but I swear, that cactus and I exchanged our sexual energies.” This is another playful example that stretches not only who we see our human selves as in intimate relationship with, but it stretches the “sexual” experience into one that transcends matter and physical stimulation. It disrupts that spirit/matter binary that is so locked into our modern scientistic view of the world, a binary that is not so prevalent in indigenous ontologies.
Which leads me to a disclaimer: There are occasional references in ecosex literature to Native American knowledges in ways that are what I would classify as “New Age,” and I would advise caution around the appropriation of Native American knowledges and motifs to the ecosexual ceremonial and artistic repertoire. In plain language: Be cautious when a person calls themself a “shaman” and charges money for their services. Medicine people tend to work within a gift economy. And like many U.S. Americans, I do not see that they are especially open to foregrounding the role of sexuality in their work. Or if you do hang out with the shaman type, you should know that they probably do not have much standing among the very indigenous peoples they identify with. There are no easy, literal translations between indigenous ontologies and ecosexuality, at least among the indigenous people I run with. Rather, there are careful conversations with much careful thought to be had.
That said, in the North American indigenous traditions I have encountered, humans speak of having social relations with nonhumans. Our stories sometimes feature what we today would call sexual relations between humans and nonhumans, thus creating, for example, hybrid human-bear persons. But those relations don’t seem to be cohered into something, i.e. “sexuality” as we know it in Western modernity. Close physical relations do not seem so severed in these stories from other types of social relations. Our traditional stories also portray nonhuman persons in ways that to not adhere to another meaningful modern category, the “animal.” Our stories are complex and not romantic. They feature relationships in which human and nonhuman persons, and nonhuman persons between themselves, harass and trick one another; save one another from injury or death; prey upon, kill, and sometimes eat one another; or collaborate with one another. Speaking as a Dakota, and as I read in stories now documented rather than passed down orally, our peoples avoided the hierarchical nature/culture and animal/human split that has done so much damage. In Dakota thinking, nonhuman persons were both worthy of becoming family and they were worthy adversaries. But our ancestors did not view themselves as the owners of nonhumans, nor as gods who could see, study, name, control, and save everything.
I teach my students to recognize those pervasive boundaries and hardened categories that structure our minds, our College of Natural Resources, and our world today—boundaries between nature and culture and all of the subset binaries within that: animal/human, black/white, woman/man, heterosexual/homosexual, traditional knowledge/science, or society/science. These binaries go hand-in-hand with hierarchy—with the notion that some humans are god-like, capable of gazing on the world from above, from outside of nature, of apprehending it in the one true, universal way. This view facilitated human domination of Earth. It is naïve for those of us in the natural and social sciences to think this same view can save the planet. Ecosexual Curious
To return to Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, they may use ecosexual language and imagery that sounds to many of us like it is rooted only in San Francisco queer or New Age cultures. I hope I’ve shown you that their language also reflects a more expansive history—oops, herstory—than that. There are also foundational and shared principles in what they do and in more mainstream (if that’s possible) feminist and indigenous critiques of scientific and nature discourses. There is also a possibility for conversation with the ideas of my cultural forebears, and what I do in my scholarship and teaching as a 21st century Dakota and indigenous intellectual. This is what makes me a new ally to ecosexuality in the same way that I have long been an ally of queer people and their work.
This is my first venture into thinking through ecosexuality and the relationship of its underlying principles to indigenous thought and feminist science studies. This is an exercise which will perturb some and excite others to continue the conversation. It is a work in progress. I thank you for your patience, and I welcome the feedback of my fellow thinkers from the multiple fields in which I work, both inside and outside the academy.
ADDENDUM: JULY 19, 2012
During the two weeks that followed the original June 29, 2012 post above, an intense discussion occurred on the Facebook page of an indigenous studies scholarly association in which I am active. One person in particular took issue with the post, and focused his critique on Annie Sprinkle. The critic is a non-academic, a self-described Cherokee nationalist, not a spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation, but a citizen of that tribal nation. He is a spokesperson for the cause of protecting Cherokee identity from those who make claims to be Cherokee absent official citizenship or documentable genealogy. Over the course of two weeks he directed several charges at Annie, particularly related to ecosexuality and its potential overlap with New Age practices that, as noted in the original post, many Native Americans see as appropriating and misrepresenting our cultures and spiritualities. This is an important point that deserves further attention in the dialogue between non-indigenous ecosexuals and Native Americans. (We don’t really know whether some indigenous folks might also identify as “ecosexual.”) But it also became clear as the Facebook conversation unfolded that the Cherokee nationalist, himself gay identified, was critical of other non-heteronormative sexual practices. It also became clear, and he admitted, that he didn’t really read my blog post. The convergence of his particular critiques, which I will outline and respond to below (with help from Annie Sprinkle who kindly sent me e-mail responses that she has given me permission to quote from) is a good reflection of one particular response among the diverse and visceral kinds of responses that topics related to sexuality elicit in our society. As I write above, the relatively recent cultural coherence of disparate practices and physical characteristics into this thing called "sex" or "sexuality," like "nature," has produced dichotomies between what is considered civilized and less evolved or animalistic, and what is considered normal and good versus what is considered deviant and bad. Such category-making enables wholesale dismissal of Annie Sprinkle and her sexual politics by the Cherokee critic. In our broader society it enables violence against those who are deemed sexually deviant. Not previously having been a scholar of sexuality, I still recognize the similarity with the way binaries are created between what is nature and what is not nature, and the implicit assumptions that make a category subject to violence without conscience. I was a little unprepared, however, for the ire I incurred in writing about the connections as an intellectual exploration.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. The Cherokee nationalist was also deeply critical of academia and our practices. His charges were pretty standard fare. I/we are elitists who use inaccessible language. My response: Every field from genetics, to the law, to car mechanics, to medicine, to finance, to hairdressing and yes, even tribal enrollment, has its technical language that is not immediately accessible to novices. It takes work to talk to one another in a world of increasing specialization. This blog is for me, one way of engaging in that work. I wish the Cherokee nationalist had approached it in this way.
I should note that scholars who frequent the indigenous studies Facebook page weighed in on the conversation. Some of them also expressed concern over any New Age appropriation that could potentially occur in the ecosex community. But they also challenged the non-academic Cherokee nationalist on his language that eventually exhibited condemnation of certain women, lesbians, ecosexuals and others. We have nearly four hundred members on that page. Less than ten of us (all from the U.S. and Canada) engaged in this conversation. I do know others followed the conversation closely from private e-mails I received from them.
The Criticisms and Responses
1. False claims to Cherokee identity
. The Cherokee nationalist's first charge was that Annie Sprinkle once claimed to be Cherokee. Her response to that charge was unequivocal: that she "never ever" said she was Cherokee, the charge is "erroneous." She offered that perhaps the Cherokee nationalist is thinking of someone else, perhaps Hyapatia Lee, another former porn star who publicly identifies as one-quarter Cherokee. Annie explains that she is of Jewish descent. Furthermore, I responded to the Cherokee nationalist that if a person falsely claims to be Cherokee due to the complex racial politics that lead too many Americans to claim Native American identity absent demonstrable genealogical or political links, I would reject that claim. But I would not wholesale discredit her contributions to a conversation about which she knows something.
2. Ecosex associations with New Age appropriators of Native American cultures?
The second concern of the Cherokee nationalist was Annie Sprinkle's professional encounters with Harley SwiftDeer Reagan
(HSR from here on out), who the Cherokee nationalist also accuses of identifying inappropriately as Cherokee, and of appropriating Native American cultural motifs through New Age practices. Indeed, HSR, I think it safe to say, from the view of most tribal citizens, seems a bit off. Many--not only the Cherokee nationalist--would characterize his claims as fraudulent. On his Web page, harley-swiftdeer-reagan.com
, he seems to identify as "Metis," however, and not Cherokee. Perhaps he has changed his identification. The Cherokee Nation is known to officially challenge claimants to Cherokee identity who cannot prove that lineage. HSR currently writes that he is "a founder of the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society." It is no less troublesome in its politics to claim to be Metis absent political affiliation with a Metis community. Like many people in our dominant racialized society, HSR seems to conflate the Metis category with a "mixed-blood" race category, having nowhere in sight the notion that Metis communities, as they exist in Canada for example, constitute peoples or nations. In addition, his Web page bio reflects a hodgepodge of cultural claims. To my eyes, he looks like a classic New Age appropriator of Native American cultural motifs.
HSR says nothing on his personal Web page about his work as a sex educator, which is the work through which Annie has engaged him. Annie writes: “I wrote about a workshop I did with Harley Swiftdeer, for Penthouse Magazine. Penthouse paid for my trip...and for the workshop. I wrote about many workshops and events for many sex magazines. I only did the one workshop with Harley. It was at that workshop that I learned the most important technique about sex of any ever…. the Fire breath Orgasm (he calls it that--although all sex positive cultures have some version of ecstatic breathing to energy orgasm). This said, the fact that I took one workshop with him and wrote about it didn't make me a disciple. Or even great 'supporter.' … I do know that Harley is very controversial. …He's teaching sexuality in very explicit ways… I don't know about the quality of his native teachings/rituals, but as a sex educator, he's pretty brave and powerful...His teaching of the fire breath orgasm changed my entire take on human sexuality. From being about the body, to being about energy flowing into and around and through the body.” Annie Sprinkle writes about HSR as a skilled sex educator. And she does have expertise in that area while most of us in indigenous studies do not. HSR's own shoring up of his authority with reference to tribal traditions should be for us the crux of the problem, rather than Sprinkle's engagement with his sexual teachings. Still a word of caution is in order.
Non-native people should be careful attributing Native American authenticity to folks when they have no basis for really judging that. (I see Sprinkle as being careful in this way in her conversation with us.) And ecosexual practitioners within that will want to be careful. The vast majority of people have very limited knowledge about indigenous histories and sovereignty. Highlighting those histories and authorities is a chief role of scholars in Native American and indigenous studies fields. Knowledge that indigenous peoples constitute nations and citizenries
within our legal frameworks and not simply monolithic racial
groups is lost on most people who believe we should be able to self identify however we choose. But citizenship is granted by tribal, Metis, and First Nations' governments. Beyond citizenship, tribal communities recognize their own, although not always with love. That’s “community.” A purely individual right or choice to self-identify as something is insufficient in our indigenous world. We're on heavily mined terrain here so we must be delicate in our steps. But let me say indelicately that HSR looks clearly to be a fraud on the tribal identity front. This was basically the critique of all of the indigenous studies scholars (not all of whom identify as indigenous by the way) and not only the Cherokee nationalist, in that Facebook conversation. I think it is safe to say that we in indigenous studies and out there in Indian Country would be happier if he'd drop the mystical Native American motifs in his teaching of sex techniques.
As for any personal charges that she is engaging herself in New Age appropriation, Annie Sprinkle explains that as far as religion goes, she was raised Unitarian. Today, she notes, she "can be partly agnostic" and also enjoys and believes in parts of all religions. She asks, "is this new age?” She further explains in a moving statement that "when AIDS hit like a huge tidal wave of death and illness and pain and I lost many friends and loved ones, I was searching for ways to cope and definitely explored lots of new age healing modalities. I also explored various cultures and how they coped and prevailed. I was very interested in "tantra". I would admit that I've been guilty of some appropriation. However, when I did so, before I was (slightly) more educated, I saw it not as appropriation, but as honoring of other cultures. …I'd be very interested in hearing your take on New Age. Always open to learning more and seeing things from different perspectives.”
That “honoring” inclination is something that we in indigenous studies have criticized in supporters of Native American sports team mascots who often assert that by clinging to characters such as the infamous "Chief Illiniwek"
at the University of Illinois, they are honoring us. We in Indian Country tend to disagree. Given the few ecosexuals that I know, all of whom are also scholars and/or accomplished artists (ecosexuality involves performance) I trust that the response of those folks will be much less totalitarian and straightforwardly racist than has been the hyperbole of sports fans and mascot defenders. I hope that they will tell their fellow ecosexuals to exercise caution. This addendum, like the original blog post is my next move in this conversation with my friends Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle and with others. As Annie wrote to me in an email: "Humor and experimentation are a big part of our work...I look forward to talking more about these things. We are learning and growing. Our ecosexuality is relatively new for us. And these critiques are certainly thought provoking. I am not new to controversy however. I like to think of it as part of the fun. That's how I cope with the sex negativity all around in the culture that gets thrown at me. But I do learn from all critiques." Which leads to the third major charge directed at Annie Sprinkle and at ecosexuality by the Cherokee nationalist, that she/it is "repulsive."
3. The controversial politics of non-normative sexualities
. After the Cherokee nationalist's first charges, I had expected our indigenous studies Facebook page conversation to stay close to the topics of Native American identity and New Age appropriations. But he eventually issued scathing commentary of non-normative sexual practices and identities, characterizing Annie Sprinkle and others like her (porn actresses and sex workers, I presume) as "nasty women" who have "repulsive lifestyles." He also issued a shocking charge, (I hesitate to quote extensively as I have not asked his permission), essentially that gay identity is marred by having deviant sexualities tied to it. So, being gay should not be considered deviant. I agree! But all/most (?) other non-heteronormative practices and identities should be considered deviant and perverse? He worries that the gay community becomes a haven for "every sexual dreg society has to offer...GLBTIIQLMFAO." And now we should add "E" to that already too multiple term? He also mentions that the problem began when lesbians refused the gay moniker. I and other indigenous studies scholars--indigenous and non-indigenous, queer and straight--argued against such characterizations. Such derisive name-calling seems out of step with both honest academic inquiry and productive activism. And it is certainly not in the spirit of rigorous analysis and conversation that we like to promote in our indigenous studies community.
I highlight our conversation on the indigenous studies Facebook page in order to call attention to the varied kinds and tones of responses that will occur in our society around such issues. I saw intolerance and fear; anger, both righteous and abusive; openness; critical questioning; and generosity. Unlike Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, I am an academic newcomer to controversies having to do with the "sex negativity" that prevails in our contemporary society. (On a personal level most of us are influenced by sex negativity.) The response to my initial post and the politics of sexuality and nature at play in ecosexuality featured there affirms my sense that it is important work to engage in multi-disciplinary ways, carefully yet assertively, and with tolerance whenever possible with "nature" and "sex" topics, and their underlying binaries of nature/culture, purity/contamination, and normative/deviant. Such ways of dividing up the world into essentialist notions of good and evil (rather than defining good and bad, for example, according to suffering) help produce both nature and sexuality as rigid categories that end up doing violence to both humans and nonhumans. On our indigenous studies Facebook page we saw just a taste of the verbal violence that can ensue.
(Please note that some of the comments to this post were posted before the addendum appeared on this page.)
My teaching assistant this spring in my undergraduate lecture at UC Berkeley, “Society, Environment, and Culture,” chastised me. He told me to stop telling students how much harder they--you have it than did my generation of university graduates. (It’s been 20 years since I was an undergraduate.) He told me not to depress them. That they are not as hopeless as I am, but what I say also affects them. I guess in the age of market-driven education and ratemyprofessors.com, I forget that what I say actually matters on a psychic level to some of my students. We professors can be really out of touch—and I don’t mean with the current circumstances of the so-called “real world.” That’s a myth about academics. We live in this stressful, overworked, under-paid, real world just like the rest of you. The “life of the mind” is for many of us, also increasingly a life of hardship. But I mean that we can be out of touch with what students are actually thinking and feeling
. This is especially true in the research-oriented University of California system where classes are large, funds are short, and teaching assistants are on the front lines of undergraduate education while professors are bombarded with service, publication, and fundraising pressures.
I teach about “naturecultures” around the globe, a term that disrupts the notion that nature and culture, humanity and nonhumans, science and society are mutually exclusive domains. I teach about both violent and loving social relations between humans and nonhumans; about what is extractive and violent and what is inspiring in science. I teach about the uneven power and material relations between dominant and colonized nations, and the planetary fallout of that. Sometimes I find it hard to say anything more to your generation than “I am sorry,” sorry for the state of things as they are left to you.
But that makes for a terrible graduation speech. And this is what my wise teaching assistant, Jason Morris-Jung, gets after me for. He reminds me that I might try to look at things another more hopeful way. His cautionary note takes me back to some of the very same theoretical lessons that we try to give our students.
If it is not already clear, I teach at the intersections of indigenous thought, feminist science and technology studies, ecofeminism, and queer theory. I believe that those who have been relegated to the margins historically have much to offer in terms of rectifying our relationships between one another and with the nonhumans who have suffered so mightily at human hands. Those who live at the margins suffer more. And often they see more clearly for that. This is what feminist theorists such as Donna Haraway and Sandra Harding remind us of when they call for us to privilege a greater spectrum of voices, situated in very different locales as we produce knowledge, or do science, thus producing a “stronger objectivity.” Those who live at the margins not only see differently than those at the center, but they sometimes channel their suffering and their different visions productively into critical, hopeful, and innovative thought.
And so in my talk today, I want to center a voice from your own generation, not necessarily a marginal voice in the same way that indigenous or women’s voices have been marginal, but one from a generation that has yet to come into power. It’s the voice of a young man, a measured voice, a potentially hopeful voice. I want to share some of what he says because I wonder if his eyes see a path that is closer to what your eyes can see. In spirit then if not in body, I haul your generation up to this podium with me in order to have a conversation
about where we might go from here, rather than the usual tired process of having some wise old or oldish(?) elder telling you to go forth, do well, and prosper.
At UC Berkeley’s undergraduate commencement back in mid-May, I was moved and reassured by the words of Eric Olliff
, a graduate of my own department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. He is the winner of the 2012 University Medal, which named him Berkeley’s top graduating senior.
One knows what to expect of graduation speeches. Eric Olliff wanted to disrupt that. In trying to find ideas for his acceptance speech, he remarked that: "Naturally, I decided to dig deep into my soul….on Google.com…and when I typed 'valedictory speeches' into that search box, I was pretty disappointed…The results were along the lines of 'tell people to follow their dreams'…'tell a funny anecdote with universal appeal'…pretty standard, run of the mill sort of stuff."
Olliff also noted how the previous year’s winner had it all figured out. He had arrived at Cal knowing exactly what he wanted to do and the courses he wanted to take. Olliff however had a different experience. As a freshman, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He took Chinese language because he wanted one class with less than 500 students. But he ended up doing much at Berkeley. He found close friends. He went to Forestry Camp and learned ecology. He studied abroad in China, took hippie road trips in a rainbow painted bus, longed for a date, fell in love…twice. He had no idea what he wanted when he came to Berkeley but, and I quote, he says “it turned out pretty damn good.”
Yet at the end of his undergraduate career, unlike past winners he is not going to graduate or medical school at Oxford or Stanford. He has a summer research job that pays $13 an hour, and that is nothing to sneeze at in this economy. Although he is not (or not yet) Oxford or Stanford-bound, he loves the environmental learning he’s done and will continue to do, whether that’s in graduate school or whether it will be from a Winnebago and a life on the road for a while.
So why am I telling you this story? Because one would NEVER have heard this kind of speech in my Generation X from a young man with Olliff’s accomplishments. University medalists are judged on grade point—his was a 3.99—and extra-curricular activities. Yet there stood Olliff speaking before a crowd of 16,000 spectators in a football stadium at one of the world’s top ranked university systems, basically saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But he was not being frivolous or necessarily even privileged enough to not have to worry. That would have been the quickest response to such a stance among my generation of critical thinkers.
Like many of my own undergraduates in my Society, Environment, and Culture course—and my students are gender, race, class, and sexual orientation diverse—Eric Olliff does so much better what your generation does. He doesn’t have the same expectations as my generation. I don’t fully understand what his/your expectations are. But for many of you, who are tethered to reality, they are certainly not simply the same tired over-consuming, ladder-climbing dreams that proliferated in my day, during the 1980s, and which I have a difficult time letting go of. And Olliff is certainly not
certain about how things will turn out. But neither is he pessimistic. I am trying to do what my teaching assistant admonished me to do, to understand how a young undergraduate like Eric Olliff can say “let us not fret or panic, but rather celebrate our accomplishments.” Whatever those are.
I feel my age here in that I have to reach out to one of your own in order to offer you some useful advice. So I stand before you today taking part in a looping form of knowledge and learning. There will be no one way transmission of wisdom here today. I hope my undergraduates learn something from me, but I also learn from them. My hopes and ambitions and dreams cultivated in another century are not befitting for your generation or for this world anymore. We have to find a better way and I trust some of you to find it better.
So I circle back to what Eric Olliff might call a “run of the mill” truism. You are the future. But I don’t say that for your own good or inspiration. I say that, selfishly, for myself and for my generation and my parents’ generation. We need you. We need you to see the possibilities that we cannot see because our eyes are turned with regret towards the past and trying to figure out what happened and what we are to do about it. But I doubt that WE will do much about it when all is said and done. The more pessimistic or aggressive and stuck-in-the-past amongst us will continue to wage war with weapons, with extractive and polluting technologies, and unfettered market mentalities. The centrists among us will commission more research and policy analysis, or attempt to reorganize and downsize outmoded and broken systems. The more liberal among us will lament the supposedly more democratic past and call for a return to that—a greater inclusivity that only some of us really ever had access to anyway. What will we do but bomb, extract, plan, analyze, and lament?
Will all of you help us figure out how to live differently in the 21st century and beyond? What will our homes, our towns and cities, our transit and energy systems, our food and educational systems look like in the coming decades? What will become of the planet?
There is a work of fiction, later a film, called Children of Men
that I think signifies why you should take caution and develop a healthy skepticism for the visions of your elders. It portrays the last generation of youth on Earth after a suddenly infertile human race as “Omegas,” as roving bands of nihilistic young adults who with no future roam the countryside committing murder and violence. Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel, also later a film, called The Road,
in which an unexplained apocalypse has happened this time leaving the earth and not humankind infertile. Nothing grows and humans have again taken to the roads and countrysides raping, pillaging, and cannibalizing. These are hopeless and violent visions that see our world as ending. There is a proliferation of such films these days and I confess to watching them all with a sick kind of craving, wanting to see and think about how I would respond to such possible futures. I think my teaching assistant was in a gentle way calling me out for standing too much with the purveyors of such visions.
I hope you have something to learn from us. In my own Dakota culture, and through my 43 years of life experience I have learned to respect my elders. Our elders after all of their mistakes and lessons can especially teach us about patience, forgiveness, and letting go of purist, unrealistic ideals. But at this point in history most of them/us have little to teach you about how to live better and more responsibly in relationship with this planet. As best as I can see, many of you, on the other hand, are in the midst of figuring something out. We need you, and we need to support you in the collaborative, democratic, less hierarchical, more sustainable community and technology building that you do. Whether it is just your naturally youthful energy, creativity, and optimism, or whether it is where you are situated geographically (there is so much good thinking on this front in northern and central coast California), or where you are situated in relationship to another century that you were not so much privy to and probably do not lament the passing of its standards and aspirations, we need to support you. We need to honor what your eyes can see, and ours cannot. We need to give way to your ideals and visions for what the world can look like.
On that note, and also helping to keep my own pessimism in check, I want to highlight a different type of work and living that I think promises something better in our future. There are projects going on in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest—multi-generational, multi-disciplinary, and multi-cultural projects in which Native peoples, their youth and elders, their planners and traditional people, environmental scientists, engineers, and architects are working together to develop environmentally and culturally sustainable housing, land and resource management practices. They are breaking down barriers between fields, between so-called “traditional” and “scientific” knowledges, and between the generations. They are learning from one another in albeit difficult processes of exchange in which everyone and no one is an authority. One of the most interesting developments I’ve seen is a tribe that is building both culturally and environmentally sustainable housing that stretches the notions of “green” and “sustainability” to accommodate culturally-specific housing uses, i.e. houses that need to accommodate extended and not nuclear family structures and collective cultural activities, houses designed structurally with knowledge about how spirits might inhabit those houses, and with an attention to how morning prayers need to be performed. In this case, green housing is defined in ways that are less market-tied than our current national green building standards. Ideally, such houses are built by a community of citizens and not by contractors operating within a capitalist system. Again, where you live in California is a hotbed for this type of thinking and work. It’s not only Native Americans who are doing this. Lots of local folks are getting in on this type of living. Being in an environmental studies program, I see many young people living matter-of-factly with this less top down learning and working style and less market tied networks and institutions. This way of working is not a revelation for them like it is for my generation. It is an expectation of how things must work differently.
So I want to say not just congratulations but thank you for working so hard to be here today as graduates. Thank you for believing in yourselves. I know you don’t always feel that way. We all struggle with self-doubt. That never ends, unless you’re pathological and you don’t want that! The trick is to always walk that line between humility and self-confidence. And thank you in advance for the good work you will do throughout your lives. Finally, thank you for the honor of asking me to speak to you today. I look forward to our continuing conversation and our mutual learning.Congrats to the following graduates!Devan Amaral, B.S. Health SciencesMadana Cast (Ojibwe), B.S. Human BiologyChristopher Chavez, B.A. Latin American/Latino StudiesKirsten Courtney Concha-Moore (Taos Pueblo and Jemez Pueblo), B.S. Molecular, Cell and Developmental BiologyJessi Felix, B.A. Latin American/Latino Studies and Intensive LiteratureGemma Givens (Kaqchikel), B.A. American StudiesChelsea Hawkins (Duwamish), B.A. English-Language LiteraturesCristal Yeucatzini Cadenas Olivas, B.A. Latin American/Latin@ Studies and Spanish LiteratureLucio Cloud Ramirez (Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe), M.S. Social PsychologyCarolyn Rodriguez (Amah Mutsun), B.A. Literature (Modern Literary Studies)Tiffany Williams (Yaqui), Feminist Studies/Sociology
Dear readers, this coming Friday and Saturday, May 4-5, 2012 at UC Berkeley we are hosting a graduate student-organized symposium, What's New about New Materialisms?
that features talks and conversations by faculty and graduate students largely from within the University of California system.Our keynote speakers will be UC Santa Cruz's Karen Barad and Princeton's John Borneman.
I am excited to be part of the Friday afternoon panel where I'll be joined by UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar Benedikte Zitouni
who is also on faculty at St-Louis University of Brussels and by Mel Chen
, assistant professor of women & gender studies here at Berkeley. Benedikte, Mel, and I respectively will bring into conversation continental theories of new materialisms with Mel's notion of queer animacies featured in Mel's forthcoming monograph
with Duke University Press, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering and Queer Affect
, and indigenous thought on social relations between humans and nonhumans. In particular, nonhumans with which many indigenous peoples' see themselves as having relations with include entities defined within the secular West as nonliving, e.g. stones and spirits. Our panel will keep our formal comments brief in order to have a conversation between us and with the audience about why we bring together such diverse intellectual and cultural threads.
Other symposium speakers include Jenna Burrell, Donna Jones, Ruth Tringham, Peter Eckman, Lindsey Dillon, Ashwin Mathew, Mather George, Eliz. Goodman, Mara Green, and Liz Kelley (all of UC Berkeley), Jenny Reardon (UC Santa Cruz), Tim Choy and Nicholas D'Avella (UC Davis), Jean-Francois Blanchette (UCLA), Cynthia Schairer and Maria Cristina Visperas (UC San Diego), Jordan Kraemer (UC Irvine), and Shannon Meyer (UC Santa Barbara).