Do you know whose land we’re on?
This question is a prompting to acknowledge that we are all on settled, indigenous land. When I ask this question, it is invitational of relationships and reflection of how we are on shared space full of complicated, constellated, and violent histories. It is a request to take some time to experience those histories together.
In 2010, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association held its annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona. This was the same year when legislators created Arizona’s SB 1070. Many people, including the members, insisted that the 2010 chair, Robert Warrior, cancel the meeting. He chose not to. Many members boycotted and swore they would never return. I was a graduate student at the time and this was the first conference I ever attended. Before I made the decision to attend, I did what I was taught to do: I asked my elders. I participated in the discussions. I listened as much as possible.
Warrior consulted with the Tohono O’odham Nation before making his decision. What occurred during that meeting was pretty interesting. People changed their panels at the last minute to directly address the role of Native studies and indigenous histories within the context of SB 1070. A group of attendees created a last minute protest. Some folks were arrested and there was a donation set up to help with bail.
My own presentation was significant because I presented with my late mentor, Dr. Susan Applegate Krouse. She had Stage 4 cancer and would walk on a few months later. At the conference, I met scholars who would end of being my mentors and friends. But also, I learned something about myself as a first-generation, working-class person staying at a resort for work.
There was a small moment when I regretted my decision because I couldn’t make it to the protest which I planned on going to. I shared this regret with my mentor who told me this story. My mentor ran into her friend. She was asked if she was going to the protest and her response was that she was going to support junior faculty and graduate students as her form of activism. I have kept this story in my heart for a long time. It’s the story that helps me understand my work at a conference–that it’s about the relationships: the good ones, bad ones, hard ones, and easy ones. All of them.
I’m talking about indigeneity and indigenous history because it is through this history and these experiences that it is very clear that there is not one safe space on Turtle Island that is free from violence where people of color, non-Christians, people with disabilities, or LGBTQ+ people are safe.
I didn’t go to Kansas City for myself. I went with the following plan: support graduate students during the American Indian Caucus workshop, support graduate students who I presented with, acknowledge the two amazing recipients of the Tribal Faculty Fellowship Award, fulfill my responsibilities as member of the nominating committee, and be like those old, Indian aunties–to show up and do the hard work.
But, that doesn’t mean the conference was a positive experience or an easy one. This conference felt harder and weirder than past meetings. Many of the sessions in the convention center were sparsely attended. There was a clear and felt absence which I think was a good thing for us to feel and experience. Unless it was a panel with an American Indian scholar, I didn’t hear land recognitions at any sessions. I didn’t hear land recognitions during the opening remarks which is pretty typical. Yet, it is disappointing especially since there have been intentional discussions on racial violence, ally-ship, and social justice about the meeting. I share this critique because I think it’s possible to be invested in the survival of black and brown bodies and not engaging in indigenous erasure. I share this because American Indians are killed at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. When describing the devastating amount of murdered or missing indigenous American women in North America, words like “epidemic” are used.
On the last day, I was in an elevator with a group of white men who attended the auto racing show in the same convention center. I hate being alone in elevators with men. When the doors opened, another man wanted to get in. The elevator was clearly full but a man next to me, in his NASCAR hat, insisted we can make room. While making space, he elbowed me in the stomach and breast, stepped on my foot, and pushed me further into the corner. If this isn’t a fitting metaphor for indigenous erasure and racialized, gendered violence, I don’t know what is. I yelled at him. Loudly.
“You just elbowed me and stepped on my foot. You hurt me.”
“You’re not very nice.”
“You just hurt me. That was not nice. Respect my space. Respect my body.”
As he got off the elevator, he mumbled something about how women like me need to just shut up and how he’s sick of women not being nice to him. This comment, most of all, frightened the hell out of me.
This is not the only story about how white men talk to me and invade my space when I am alone and in public. It’s not the worst story either.
I quickly got off the elevator. I looked at my bruised foot and saw the fucker had ruined my pedicure.
Do you know whose land you are on?
Often, I am undeniably hopeful and optimistic. I think it’s critical for engaging in decoloniality. I hope that those of us who attended can tap into our experiences and the felt loss of those who didn’t attend and do something with it. I hope we can remember that there are no safe spaces on stolen lands. I hope we can find a way to talk about what shared spaces and constellated violent histories look like. I hope that we can find a way to talk about the decisions we make, every day, to survive. I hope that scholars will start doing land recognitions especially during the opening remarks. I hope we keep talking. I hope we do more than talk. I hope we offer understanding. I hope that the caucuses can be a model of collaboration, cross-coalition building, and assist each other in our survival. Like my now-gone mentor, like my aunties–I show up. I try to do the hard work. I continue to have hope.