Kim TallBear Comments on Indigenous Citizenship in the Academy, 1 Year Later
Second National Indigenous Citizenship Forum, First Nations University of Canada (March 21, 2022)
Editorial note: I will not post audio of the following text, a script of my March 21, 2022 invited lecture at the First Nations University of Canada Second National Indigenous Citizenship Forum. You can view the talk and Q&A here. I cannot unfortunately embed the original video of my talk within this post. Playback on other websites has been disabled by the video owner. This transcript, including the Q&A, is cleaned of filler words and small digressions for a smoother read and for citation purposes. Thanks to Carmen TallBear-Edmunds for transcription assistance.
I am not going to give a very formal keynote today. I wrote and asked for some guidance on what to talk about. I’m called by the media quite a lot…And I have been called on since 2012 actually to talk about false claims to Native identity. I was first called in 2012 by Boston.com when this online source was doing a news story on Elizabeth Warren when she was running for US Senate for Massachusetts in 2012, and a Republican opponent had called her “Pocahontas” and accused her of making false claims to Cherokee identity. And this story again ramped up in the news cycle in 2018 when Senator Warren was then being considered for the Democratic party nomination to run for US president. And it’s really ramped up again in the last couple of years with all of these high-profile identity fraud cases in both the U.S. and Canada. I was getting called in to talk about the DNA aspects of it…this is not something I set out to research. I got a de facto education on these issues, on many cases as I started getting called by the press many months before these stories break. So unfortunately, this issue has derailed a lot of my own research since January of 2021. And I probably should write a book on this, but I’m really resisting that. There are a lot of other things I want to do other than talk about Native identity fraud.
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The conference organizers, when I said, “What exactly do you want me to talk about?” said why don't you organize your comments around three questions. I’m going to spend most of my time on the first of those three questions. I’ll get to those in a minute!
Before I start, I want to alert you to a forthcoming essay that I just read in draft and commented on. An essay by my University of Alberta colleague, Dr Jessica Kolopenuk (FoMD and FNS), who has just moved from the Faculty of Native Studies over to a Research Chair in Indigenous Health at the Faculty of Medicine at the UofA. Although, she and I are still going to co-direct the Summer Internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Canada and our Indigenous Science Studies program at the UofA…Anyway, she gave me this essay to comment on that she gave me in draft and I’m hoping it’s going to be out in an open access online forum very soon. The essay she wrote is very much needed and actually addresses one of the key lessons that’s settled into my brain since I started being called on so frequently by the press in the last two years to comment on these cases.
The problem I’ve seen arise in the wake of these breaking Pretendian cases or “race shifting” cases—I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of debate today on the terminology for these, and there are advantages and disadvantages to all of those terms—is one that Dr Kolopenuk focuses on in her essay: that is the truly unfortunate degree to which white-coded (and sometimes, not always “disconnected” Natives) conflate their situations with blatant frauds.
The Reconnecting v. Pretendians and Naming White Privilege
In her essay, Dr. Kolopenuk calls especially white-coded Natives to not conflate the identity frauds with themselves, to resist that kind of identity insecurity, and to not make Native community push-back to Pretendianism about themselves. Rather, white-coded Natives need to acknowledge and interrogate their own white privilege. Kolopenuk’s insight into what she calls “The Pretendian Problem” is “that we must continue to name whiteness, model Indigenous relationality [when grappling with one’s own white privilege and when responding to calls from community about who we are and who we belong to], and we must learn from Indigenous women’s leadership on this issue.” I assume you’ve already talked about Indigenous women and their central role in calling this stuff out today.
I will also add, people need to stop scapegoating Indigenous women, especially when they refuse to play the settler respectability politics game. I’ve seen white-coded and/or self-defined “reconnecting” Natives scapegoat visibly Indigenous women, as well as center their own identity insecurity as they come to terms in public, on social media, or in published pieces with their grief and feelings of being used and deceived by frauds, sometimes who they had earlier defended. Again, the fraud situation isn’t about those who have living family in community and who can reconnect. Such people should stop making it about themselves.
Dr. Kolopenuk highlights the sometimes-delicate questions about belonging that we all face at some point from our communities, whether we’re “connected” or “reconnecting.” This is what our “Indigenous” (I’m putting scare quotes around the word “Indigenous,” I’ll come back and talk about that soon) communities regularly do. We check who we’re related to, and sometimes it might feel less than kind. But it is a common way of making connections and establishing context for how to relate to one another. Responding to questions about who our relatives are will never lessen, nor should it; rather, such questions can help facilitate authentic networks of connection. Dr. Kolopenuk gives you some personal anecdotes in this article too and talks about navigating a difficult situation like that, so it’s really helpful to think with her; she’s a sophisticated theorist on the intersections of race and Indigeneity. I cannot wait for you all to read Dr. Kolopenuk’s essay and hope that she’ll get some invitations to give a talk on this topic in the near future.
Forum Organizer Questions that Shape my Comments
The first question I was asked to respond to today is “What has changed for me since the first National Identity forum?” This was one of three questions posed to me by the organizers. I actually spend most of my time on this question.
Marrying in doesn’t erase the lies
In the last year, I’ve gained more clarity that false claims to ancestral connections are given cover under the shadow of the actual biological connections that race shifters produce to actual Native people when they marry in and have children. This painfully entangles and implicates actual Native extended families and communities in multi-generational lies and acts of race shifter appropriation. We must be clear on the difference between original false claims to ancestry and produced biological relatedness by marrying in. Making babies with Native people doesn’t erase the original and ongoing lies.
Ceremonial adoption does not make one Indigenous
The second thing I have come to understand…It has also become clear to me that we need to clearly articulate the difference between our relatively few legally adopted kin/citizens and the disingenuous and distorted cultural adoption discourses that race shifters often use to shield themselves from interrogation of their lies. As with making babies, it is true that we adopt kin—both ceremonially and legally. These types of adoptions are not synonymous. One may lead to Indigenous citizenship—depends on tribal or band membership rules and these change over time; the other form of ceremonial adoption does not lead to citizenship, at least not that I’ve ever seen. We must be clear again on the difference between original false claims to ancestry and citizenship, and produced social ties with Indigenous individuals or families via ceremonial adoption.
“Identity” is a problem
As I noted in the first National forum, the term “Identity” is a problem. I quoted from an essay I published in the 2020 Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies.[i] I noted that “Identity…does not necessarily imply ongoing relating. It exist[s] as a largely individualistic idea, as something considered to be held once and for all unchanging within one's body. Whether through biological or social imprinting, identity is often considered as one's body's property.” So we need to think carefully when we pull “identity” off the word shelf. Is this really the idea we care about? Or are we concerned with who is related? Who is affiliated by family and/or citizenship with our nations? We are concerned about collectivity, while settlers and others who do not hail from Native nations or tribal communities do genuinely often misunderstand (and it is their material and psychic interest to misunderstand) what it is to be Metis, or Cree, or Cherokee or “Indigenous.” They focus on these terms as connoting individual “identity,” and as a matter of personal choice. We should be more considered in our word choices so as not to enable their misunderstanding with our own uncareful deployment of the I-word.
We need to think carefully when we pull “identity” off the word shelf. Is this really the idea we care about? Or are we concerned with who is related? Who is affiliated by family and/or citizenship with our nations?
I understand that we are operating in English, a lot of the words that we have to choose from are really insufficient for communicating the complexity and richness of the ideas within our cultures and our kinship and citizenship structures. Yet, I am asking again, for people to be careful and considered in their word choices so that we’re not enabling non-Native appropriation of these ideas in ways that are not serving us.
“Indigenous” is a problem
This brings me to a second I-word, “Indigenous.” Since the first National Forum, I’ve become convinced that the term “Indigenous” is also a big problem. It’s enabling vague, distant, contorted ancestral or lineal descent claims (alleged or actual) to un-named or mis-named ancestors. “Indigenous” as its being promiscuously deployed, draws attention away from ideas of collectivity and belonging to First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and tribal communities. The term is being taken up sometimes by those who were not in fact “Indigenous” within the different robust definitions of Indigeneity in their home nation states. But they find themselves in the U.S. or Canada, then rely on very long-ago ancestral connections to first peoples on other continents to make new claims to Indigeneity in our lands. Such claimants attempt to elevate long-ago ancestral claims to equate their “Indigenous” status in these lands with ours, thereby challenging our tangible and ongoing kinship and governance structures in these—our home territories. Such claimants increasingly attack and shout over our voices to establish their own moral claims in this place. This is not unlike the Playing Indian of white settler since the 18th century in order to establish their moral claims to our lands. Even though many claimants in the US and Canada to vague ancestral Indigeneity from other parts of the world are not in fact “white” within current US and Canadian race definitions.
The concept of “Indigenous” has become so expansive in its meaning in social discourse that it has become meaningless at best and is being used to actively undermine land and governance claims that stem from firstness in place and from our co-constitutive emergence as Peoples or Native nations with/in the lands and waters of this continent. I increasingly hear pushback to the term “Indigenous” by people in community. And I increasingly agree.
In summary, we must challenge the practice of claiming to be simply “Indigenous” based on distant ancestry alone without reference to belonging in specific, living collectives or nations. And as I’ve said in other places, if we can dispense with these ancestry-alone claims, we don’t have to go digging through people’s genealogy. We need to be clear that we do not invoke “Indigenous” as a term disconnected from the ongoing collective presences and living governance authorities of First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and tribal communities. We need to be clear that without these specific and place-based living collectives, “Indigenous” means very little. “Indigenous” has facilitated our global organization and our sharing lessons of colonial history and tactics, and our tactics and demands for decolonization. But despite its organizational usefulness, we cannot ignore the real risk presented by Indigenous discourse as the idea is appropriated and its meaning largely evacuated with its solidification into an “identity” detached from belonging to longstanding, ongoing, living, place-based Peoples who continue to forge agreements and disagreements with settler-colonial governments in order to defend our lands and our own governance authorities.
We must challenge the practice of claiming to be simply “Indigenous” based on distant ancestry alone without reference to belonging in specific, living collectives or nations.
Self-indigenization is a continuation of the Indian Wars
I’ve learned that this gross, pervasive “Indigenous identity” appropriation is a 21st-century continuation of the Indian Wars. I have to credit my friend and co-thinker, Cedar Sherbert for that line. He is a Kumeyaay filmmaker and enrolled citizen of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel reservation in San Diego County, California. Cedar was instrumental in outing a major literary fraud, so-called Nasdijj—his real name was Timothy Patrick Barrus—in 2006. Cedar Sherbert had been hired to write a screenplay adaptation of one of Barrus’s three supposed memoirs, in actuality one of several disturbing fantasist accounts of “Nasdijj’s” supposed life as the son of an alcoholic Navajo mother and an “abusive white cowboy” father. Barrus wrote disturbing and completely fabricated accounts that include rape and incest all under this assertion that he was Navajo (Fleisher, 2006). The stories Barrus wrote were, as Cedar Sherbert describes them, accounts that are “rife with suffering.”(12:05) Sherbert explains in an online symposium Unsettling Genealogies that we both took part in last March of 2022, that “this is something Pretendians do—they have these narratives of suffering and abuse.” In reference to this particular piece of Barrus’s writing, Sherbert says “it was almost beyond human endurance to the point it almost felt like a parody of abuse.” Indeed, an over-focus on despair that flattens the lives of Native people into a sea of suffering is a classic pattern in Pretendian accounts as we’ve come to understand in our collective observations of their twisted thinking.
The “Nasdijj” case broke in The LA Weekly January 23, 2006, written by non-Native reporter Matthew Fleisher. The story was called simply NAVAHOAX. You can find it online. Fleisher, the reporter who wrote that story now works for the San Francisco Chronicle, who many of you will remember broke the Marie Cruz AKA Sacheen Little Feather story on October 22, 2022, written of course by Diné and Dakota investigative reporter, Jacqueline Keeler.
Cedar Sherbert and I were talking the other night as I prepared these remarks. We recounted together the aggression that Native women and others endure as we assertively confront the race shifter/pretendian phenomenon. Sherbert described what he called a “Cowboys vs. Indians response” to us, wherein we actual Native people are painted as the aggressors. Sherbert—remember, he’s a filmmaker—explained to me and I was typing furiously as he talked so I’m going to give you quote of what he said. And he’s thinking about all of this in relationship to Hollywood in particular because that’s his area of expertise. He knows the networks, he knows the players. He’s thinking about the history of film and the role of the Indian motifs in the building of Hollywood, so he said:
It’s like a cowboys and Indians movie—which he later pointed out to me are the narratives that helped build the Hollywood empire. I guess I wasn’t quite aware of how central Westers were to that so in the cowboys and Indians movies—We’re going to take your land, and when you fight back, you’re savages and aggressors. They call us names, make ad hominem attacks. This is the 2023 version of an old racist western that made us the savages when they invaded land that wasn’t there’s. We are painted as unintelligent…as brutes when we fight back, especially Native women who use their, settler’s technological weaponry against them, i.e. social media. How dare they attack us for standing up for ourselves when all they do is take, take, take. This—meaning identity fraud—is the newest iteration of the Indian wars.
Some of those attacks have surrounded the Marie Cruz/AKA Sacheen Little Feather case. I have learned all over again through the Cruz case that genealogical and historical evidence don’t matter to some people. They simply do not matter. We already know as Indigenous scholars that evidence that doesn’t line up with settler supremacist thinking will be ignored, and we will be continuously trolled and individually attacked for insisting on the veracity of our data.
And because both “the left” and “the right” are ultimately settler categories and ways of making political sense of the world, the settler left is as guilty of being fantasists regarding Indians as is the right.
I’ve learned that we individuals—Indigenous women or investigative reporters who out frauds—are going up against massive structures as individuals, and this puts us at a severe disadvantage.
Native nations must weigh in
In conversation with people like Cedar Sherbert, Jacqueline Keeler, Gordon Henry at Michigan State who organized the Unsettling Genealogies forum, and in conversation with my sister Jody TallBear, who is an attorney who thinks a lot about the intersections of tribal sovereignty and civil rights in the U.S., that we need the collective and we need institutions to step up. Our individual efforts alone won’t make the fundamental, long-lasting change we need.
So first of all, this means that tribal governments, First Nations, and other Native nation governance structures need to make statements on this issue and they need to start making demands for settler institutional change. Widespread Indigenous identity fraud is in fact a serious risk to Native nation sovereignty. We need to focus efforts on communicating how and why that is. Indigenous identity frauds are attacking…the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA. They’re trying to get involved in that and get ancestral remains back. In Canada we have had the recent Gitxsan custody case in which an “Eastern Woodland Metis” family challenged custody of a First Nations girl by her Gitxsan family.
There are ongoing individual and small group efforts to pressure arts organizations, publishers, literary festivals, and it’s frustrating to do this as individuals with emails and through social media. But if we had tribal governments backing us with the full force of tribal sovereignty and law, it would help us.
Tribes, First Nations, and other Indigenous governance organizations could fund positions, a person or an office, within their governmental infrastructure to research identity frauds claiming to be them, and return information to the nation. They could do press releases, they could coordinate with local media. In the United States, some tribes are major employers so media, local governments, and institutions have incentive to pay attention.
There should be concerted Native nation pushback against groups trying to infiltrate NAPGRA, ICWA, and other Indigenous protective legal structures. Again, those claiming false Indigenous identity are using these laws and trying to access yet more resources; they are trying to access our children, they’re trying to access our ancestral remains, and in certain parts of the country they are using it to access hunting and resource rights. This is a threat to Indigenous sovereignty. It is very clear. This is not just some niche issue that a few people care about. It’s not just “identity” politics. You see where that word “identity” is helping deflect from the seriousness of this issue.
Indigenous women whistleblowers and those behind the scenes
In addition to Indigenous women pushing back either in public or quietly behind the scenes—and there are people behind the scenes who are doing quite a lot who don’t want to be out publicly, because look at the trolling we endure—we have the press to thank for progress we have made. And I’m sure you’ve had some conversations about the role of the press too. It was not universities, it was not the publishing industry, it has not been arts organizations who had the courage to step up until they felt the harsh gaze after highly embarrassing breaking stories. We have benefited from investigative reporters like Jackie Keeler in the San Francisco Chronicle, Geoff Leo for CBC, Matt Fleisher for LA Weekly, let me see if I can pronounce this correctly, Ka’nhehsí:io [Kuhnuh-sio] Deer and Jose Barrera for CBC, Jose Barrera again for APTN, Adam Elmahrek and Paul Pringle for the LA Times. Both Native and non-Native reporters believed Native people when they said these terrible, decades-long lucrative lies were being committed, and resources were allocated to investigating these stories.
But individual Native women and press alone cannot create systemic change. We need universities, settler and Native governments, media conglomerates, the Screen Actors Guild, the publishing industry to step up. You will be sickened if you read the 2006 LA Weekly “NAVAHOAX” article at the knowing complicity—oh in addition to all of the sexual violence—you will be sickened at the knowing complicity of big-time publishers and Hollywood directors and producers in that identity fraud. Frauds are enabled by influential individuals across our societal institutions, people who also make money or raise their diversity numbers off of Indigenous identity fraud.
Just like we know the Indian wars didn’t only enrich the US state. Massacre and displacement of Indians enriched the wealthy capitalists, and it enriched the citizenry. Similarly, all kinds of settler institutions and settler and newcomer individuals, including our universities, benefit from Indigenous identity fraud. Many of them, without legal, social, and economic consequences will continue to enable it.
The second [and third questions] I was asked are, “Have we really made any progress towards ensuring the safety and security for legitimate Indigenous peoples in the academy? And how would I hope universities would respond in terms of processes and policy change?”
I think it’s more possible to speak now, in large part because of the mouthy Native women who have spoken first and have been trolled for it. In fact, I’ve seen former defenders of race shifters seem to find more space to speak because of the space made by Indigenous women and the press on these issues. And I’m a little bit torn by this. I’ve noticed people coming forward, writing pieces in prominent news outlets or literary magazines or being interviewed—people who should’ve said something a long time ago. Or…people who might have been well-placed like me who could have been saying things a long time ago, or people who might not have been so well placed, but because of the politics of their own whiteness, their own disconnectedness—and that’s their word, not mine—were defending frauds and conflating their situations. On one hand, I’m really happy for people—for the light bulb to come on, for them to say “Oh okay yeah, maybe this a problem. Let me reckon with this, and let me now speak publicly about it.” On the one hand I really know that I should be very happy when people do that—we need more people to see what a problem this is. On the other hand, when you walk through a door opened by people who have been maligned and trolled for it and then you act like they didn’t open that door, or don’t explicitly acknowledge the door that was opened through the hardship of others, I have a problem with that. So I’m kind of feeling both ways about this.
So this brings me back to Jessica Kolopenuk’s advice too on how to contribute to these conversations in ways that aren’t centering one’s own individual identity challenges and insecurities, and instead focus on how to respond in ways that center our collectives. And I think we always have to remember that. Is my response centering the collective? Is it helping support the needs of the collective—our nations and their needs for individual accountability even when it feels personally uncomfortable. Part of that is resisting the call of settler institutions and media outlets to refocus stories on individual identity challenges, and insist on the focus being on collective forms of belonging, be they family or citizenship and use these as our guideposts.
So we need to be clear—and I think we have the mechanisms and robust kinship and citizenship structures in place in our nations to be clear—about the difference between blatant fraud and the challenges that some of our people face who are interested in having more connected relationships…with their nations. And again, let’s really focus on what the collective needs, right? Settler institutions and media outlets—they always want to tell the individual story; it is not to their benefit to focus on the collective rights—collective—I don't want to use that word identity, but collective forms of belonging that we have. It is very much a collectivist versus individualistic conceptual divide that we have here between Indian country, as I call it being an American, and settler society.
Related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or EDI as we call it in Canada—they reverse those letters and call it DEI in the US—without attention to Indigenous nations as governments, and Indigenous citizenship and kinship rules as guideposts, EDI—Equity, Diversity and Inclusion—as it is currently conceived in universities, helps create our problems. It not only enables, but encourages box checking. And I’m sure this is something we can talk about at length in Q&A, if you like.
If we require proof of Indigenous community affiliation, I wonder will actual connected First Nation, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) people, for example in Canada, feel safer and more encouraged to apply for admission to our universities? If they see us really assertively dealing with this, if we advertise the fact that this is important to us, and we put it on our scholarship applications and admissions applications and our job applications, will actual connected people…feel safer in those institutions? Will they feel encouraged by the university taking a visible, protective stance? I think our universities might be surprised at how many Native applications are made more numerous and robust with such policies. I think there's an idea by many in the university that “Oh my gosh if we start being too strict, if we start checking, what's going to happen to our diversity numbers?” I think actual Native people might feel a lot more comfortable in those situations and places.
Committee on the Documentation of Indigeneity (CDI)
I just want to say something and I have to figure out how to talk about this because a lot of the cases we talk about are confidential and I have to be careful about that. But I was asked for the last year, while one of our other Native faculty members was on leave, to sit as a one-year temporary member of the Committee for the Documentation of Indigeneity at the University of Alberta. And I’ve learned a couple of things. We’re only dealing with student cases right now, which I think we very much need to deal with faculty and staff cases. I’m not quite sure why it started that way. I wasn't around for the beginning of the committee but I’ve still learned a few things about the challenges and the benefits of having committees like this. We need to build committees and mechanisms to vet Indigenous identity claims among existing and incoming faculty, staff, and students. It’s very clear that we need to have these conversations and we need to start committees like this. I think…it sounds to me, watching the news like many more universities are coming to terms with the fact they cannot bury their heads in the sand like UBC tried to do around the Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond case. And I know that was against the protests of some of their Indigenous faculty there too, but we need to have the conversation. Trying to resist having the conversation, being silent, no comment—this is not a viable way forward. And I’m hoping that more and more university administrators are realizing after all of these late-breaking cases that they can start out trying to do that—they are not going to be able to sustain that position. So some of the things I’ve learned on that committee are…and I knew this already, but it’s good to have it affirmed:
When you have a committee with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people on it—we’ve got attorneys, we’ve got people like me who are “Indigenous” from somewhere else, we have extensive networks out among Native communities and nations, not only across Canada, but in the U.S. and globally a bit too. We can vet these cases. We draw on our networks. I’ve had to do this in some of my own programs. When I’ve had an Indigenous participant from a particular program I run apply from Mexico—I don’t know anything about Indigenous categorization in Mexico; I drew on my network. I know people who do.
This is a lot of work for us at the beginning and we say that a lot. This is a problem presented by settler colonialism, by white supremacy, yet who's doing the hard work of responding to it? We have to do that and that’s just a fact of this situation. So it’s a lot of work for us in the beginning, but I think we have the capacity and the networks and the generosity and the care to do this work and do it well. I’ve been amazed by the level of nuance and deep care that we’ve had in these conversations towards including a real diverse set of actual Indigenous people.
Policy change, I think, on the university-wide level is going to be slow. This is due to legal challenges. And we’ve got attorneys that are in conversation with us so they’re really helping us think through what the legal implications might be at every step of the way. There’s union law—I don’t think academic unions get this at all—and that's going to be slow and challenging to change.
But I think again, we cannot fear the conversation, and we do have at places like the University of Alberta—I can’t speak for every institution—but we have a lot of really highly skilled, smart, experienced Indigenous faculty, staff, student support people, and students who are doing this work as well. So I think we can have these really meaningful, smart conversations and figure out who to do this. So I just want to say…that I think we do have the capacity to deal with this; but, again, it’s calling on us to do a lot of work again, to deal with the problems that we have inherited from a settler colonial, white supremacist society...
Questions and Answers (moderated by Dr. S. Bear)
Question: Hi Kim, thank you so much for speaking today. I really appreciated your words. I have a question for you, and I’m just wondering if you would be able to expand on [how] the EDI currently helps create the problem? I’m wondering if you can expand on that.
Kim TallBear: Well…I go between the U.S. and Canada so much too. And I try to be really careful about how I talk about the differences and the similarities. [Laughs] Because…I know how sensitive Native people are up there about this, and I agree with this. It’s so easy though to look better than the U.S. because the U.S. is such a low bar. So…when I say that I feel like we’re doing better in Canada, it’s not because Canada is better. It’s #1 because the US is such a low bar, and #2 because Native people in lands now called Canada have been much more assertive on this issue. So I say that as a background to the problems with EDI. I think that despite the assertiveness of Native people in Canada to this issue, we still have these kinds of—and we talk a lot about this in Native community up there—we still have this discourse of multiculturalism, right? I think despite the fact that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people are not considered part of this broad spectrum of racial categories in official Canadian policy in the way we are in the United States. You know, there’s still an attention to what’s distinct about Indigenous as a category, or First Nation, Metis, and Inuit.
There’s still too much emphasis on what multicultural discourse produces, which is an attention to individual identity and choice in that identity. And this is a really hard thing for non-Native people to accept—that we’re not talking about individual identity choice here. We really are talking about respecting the rules, whether they’re kinship or citizenship rules, of Native nations as collectives.
[Yet] There’s still this dominant discourse of multiculturalism that’s infusing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion discourse and programming. And so I think there is not enough respect for Indigenous—Native nations’ specific kinship and citizenship structures, and the fact that we need to focus on belonging to a collective. There’s still too much emphasis on what multicultural discourse produces, which is an attention to individual identity and choice in that identity. And this is a really hard thing for non-Native people to accept—that we’re not talking about individual identity choice here. We really are talking about respecting the rules, whether they’re kinship or citizenship rules, of Native nations as collectives. So, if the system is designed to respond in an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion way that's focused on individualism and on personal identity claims, how do we get them to refocus on the kinds of collectivist definitions that we want to foreground? I don’t think the system’s set up to do that yet. But there may be others, you know, Native people in administration and universities who have actually been in Canada a lot longer than me, who have a more nuanced response to this too. But this is my take given my seven and a half years in Alberta now and with that level of experience that I have.
Question: Hello Kim, my name is Ann Deer. I work at McGill University. I’m Mohawk from Akwesasne. We’ve chatted on social media and I follow you quite a bit. My question isn’t about the forum, my question is how do I get you to McGill to speak? In person!
TallBear: (Laughs) I have to be scheduled out quite a ways. I’m trying to say no to more, but send me an email. I’m scheduling out well over a year at this point. There’s great coffee in Montreal, I’ll come out!
Question: Hi, my name is [inaudible] and I’m joining from the University of Windsor. And thinking about the words that you shared that we have the capacity to do it, and I think it’s in direct opposition of how I feel that we don’t have capacity to do it. A part of the conversation I guess we did in our circle earlier is that I bring up the concern that we need to be empowering our home communities and our Nations to be able to self-determine that identity. That they’re not capable of it, and then I think of my home communities and the challenges they’re facing are not related to Identity right now. They’re looking at drug overdoses and the clean water and like the very on-the-ground battles that they’re facing and that this particular problem sits much differently. The problems we face in academia sit much differently than what I see my family facing back home. So that capacity thing is not sitting right with me. There was something that you suggested in which I have brought up at our institution that we need to hire people to be able to determine that, to be able to sit down and empower students…empower people that know they have the lineage, but don’t know how to prove it. And like they want to be able to demonstrate that kinship because whatever their story is, and that’s what we want. We want them to be able to proclaim that identity and effectively we’ll then do the opposite. We’ll then be able to show who is not a part of the communities, and so you sharing that part was really important. As institutions, we should be able to work with the First Nations around us and empower them to have those resources because they are so underfunded and they don’t have the capacity to do it.
TallBear: When I say we have the capacity I mean we, in the University, have the capacity. But remember, I’m at the University of Alberta. So there’s already a lot of Native people there. It’s the reason I came there from the University of Texas, and why I left the University of California Berkeley. I wanted to be at a place where Native people’s issues are central, where we have programmatic strength, and where we have numbers. I know that’s not the case at every single university so that’s where I meant we have the capacity. I do think there are Native communities–some–that have more capacity than others. But you're right, it’s going to be uneven. I’ve been talking to people from U.S. based tribes, for example, that have some pretty decent economic development stuff going on–they could take more of a lead. I do think where we have the capacity those people need to take more of a lead. And…this is not about “identity” as I’ve said. It’s why I don’t like that word. This is about belonging. This is very different; identity is a very individualistic idea.
I do see this issue as deeply interrelated with natural resource claims, with hunting rights claims, with claims to our children, and with claims to our ancestral remains. These are all issues that we care very much about on the ground. I do get that some communities are so strapped that obviously this issue would be lower down for them. But I do think that it’s our responsibility—those of who work on this topic—to be very clear about how this is entangled with and mutually supporting of these other kinds of money grabs—resource grabs that are happening by settlers against our communities. I really like the idea that you posed of hiring—the universities that can—of hiring somebody to help say somebody, you know, hasn't done the work they need to get enrolled, or deal with Métis Nation of Alberta to get documentation. I think that’s a great idea to help support people to do that. I love that idea. I hadn’t thought of that before. Having somebody there, you're saying, to maybe help students do that work–that would be great! Because it was also to help them connect–help them connect to more resources, help them to connect to people that can get them reacquainted with those communities so I think that’s a really great idea.
Question: I’ve been paying attention to the idea of the collectivism versus the individualism, and one of the things that Jean [Teillet] mentioned in her presentation—and I’m sorry Kim, I know you didn’t have the opportunity to be here all day—but you might have some ideas on. So there’s a case that’s actually going forward to the Supreme Court of Canada and it’s based out of Yukon right now. And it’s in the governance realm and they’re pulling out some human rights grounds to stand on to challenge ...the governance system in their respective community—Old Crow, I believe it is actually…Will that have any implications on this conversation? And for those of you that aren’t familiar, it’s a person who’s actually challenging their own First Nations’ Constitution because they’re not able to relocate to their home Nation in the event that they’re elected. And they’re using human rights grounds to say they’re being discriminated [against].
TallBear: I can’t respond. I don’t know the case and I don’t know human rights law. But I’ve seen that this is a topic that keeps coming up, human rights law being deployed against...what’s the word I should use here? Indigenous sovereignty? [Laughs] You see it’s becoming impossible for me to talk because I don’t want to use the “I” words. Yeah, no I can’t answer that question, but it’s something that I’m interested in and I’m paying attention. I’m sorry I missed that talk because I see the conversation kind of erupting out on Native Twitter right now and in the news.
Emcee: We have two questions from online. The first question is “I’m wondering how do we move past silencing each other about Identity issues?”
TallBear: I need an example of somebody silencing somebody on an identity issue. I don’t know what that’s referring to.
Emcee: I don’t have any additional context so we can move on to the second question.
TallBear: If they want to put additional context in I’m happy to try to respond.
Emcee: At last year's forum someone said words to the effect of “Indigenous peoples identity isn’t Indigenous peoples’ problem. It’s the settler institution’s problem.” Do you agree?
TallBear: Yeah, especially as we conceptualize it as Indigenous identity [laughs]. I think that’s a problem. But we are stuck here with the ramifications of this problem, right? So, yes, I think I’ve said that this is white supremacy and settler colonialism causing this problem, and yet we are forced to respond and push back. But I’m interested in if people have…you know, I guess I tend to focus on what we can do because having grown up in a Native community that was always in crisis…it’s second nature to me to get kind of get organized and respond to that crisis. I’m not so strategic about thinking about how the settler should respond. I mean other than I sort of incrementally figure that as I go along. I don’t know if that person or if others have ideas about—you know, maybe I am putting too much emphasis on what we can do and not enough on what they should do–so I’m interested to hear about ideas that people have about that. So yeah, I agree. But, it is our problem too because we inherit the ramifications of it.
Question: Hey Kim, Sherry Farrell-Racette here. You mentioned something that is related very seriously. You talked about your own research being derailed for the last few years because of being called upon to do this work. I was half joking with a colleague about applying for a writers’ retreat, which typically means people working on one publication. We would be a group of Indigenous women whose research and publishing careers have been derailed by doing the actual grunt work of uprooting people—because it’s probably ten people that are doing this work. It might be more, but I bet you anything you could nail it down to about ten people. I guess my question would be, how do we distribute this unpleasant, labor-intensive work amongst our colleagues? And the second is we have to move on two fronts. I mean that’s something that’s become very clear. We have to continue to uproot deeply embedded people who are still in institutions. That’s important, critical work. Because of all the reasons. But secondly they’re being abetted by institutions like SSHRC who are extremely sloppy, also Canada Research Chairs and so we have to move on two fronts. And we also have to be able to do the work that we love, which is also important work that our communities need. So, I don't know, any thoughts? Do you want to be part of the grant for the writing retreat?
TallBear: So, you know, I was going to do a proposal for a major trade press to do a book on this and I decided not to. And I’ve said no to two other books. I do need to write something. I've got a lot of stuff, and if this is what I’ve been working on since January of 2021, I guess I better publish something and not just do interviews and talks all the time. I think those would be really helpful testimonies to write...Maybe in the academy, the people doing the heavy lifting in Canada are a few. Although, I do think–like at UBC, you know, I keep track of who likes my tweets, I mean I don’t totally keep track because I ignore trolls completely. I don’t care what they say, I don’t even look at what they say. But, you know, I notice well-placed Indigenous faculty who are not being very loud themselves on social media about what was happening with METL [Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond]. I think there was a lot going on behind the scenes. I think people were pushing. One of the things I've noticed is I do think it’s easier the farther away you are. There are people at the heart of these cases. We saw the women who continue to be very vocal in Saskatchewan, for example. But I do think the pressure that the Indigenous Women’s Collective put on UBC from a distance was—I think there’s a role for people that are farther away putting that kind of vocal pressure on institutions. Maybe while the people who are closer to and inside the institutions are working more quietly and behind the scenes. I think for some people in B.C.—for some Indigenous women especially in B.C. who are within Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s orbit—it was very dicey and very scary. But I do think people that are in those situations and who fear that there is real risk to their financial and emotional well-being by speaking out—I do know that they sometimes they feed information and data to people who are farther away and who can take more of a vocal stand. In the United States there are many people across Indian Country who are feeding information to people who are taking a more vocal stance on this. I get emails all the time saying “Thank you. I can’t speak out. I was bullied. My children were bullied. I can't afford to lose my job.” This is happening. So I don’t think everybody has to be out front on this. I think some of us are more well placed to be out front. What I would like is for those who don't feel they’re so well placed and who are genuinely afraid, please don’t troll us. Please don't scapegoat us. Please don’t try to make yourself feel [like you’re] better than us. Just sit with your discomfort in your quiet. Don’t add to the problem, I guess would be my feeling. I’m grateful for the women that are out front. I’m really grateful. It also gives me strength and it gives me more courage. I fought from the beginning to have courage on this issue but some days it’s hard and when you see especially other women around the country also standing up and speaking out it makes you feel like maybe it is okay to do this and to be out front on this. So yeah, let’s talk about your plan, your proposal. I don’t know if I answered your whole question, Sherry, or if there’s more.
Question: Kim, it’s Celeste Pedri-Spade at McGill University. Thank you so much for your talk. One of the things that you raised just got me thinking about how we need to be careful about the way we talk about these issues because our words can be misused, and at times abused by people who are making either false or tenuous claims. One of the things that often make me—that I find uncomfortable, and I know that there’s others in my family who feel a little uncomfortable at times, is the way that—and i think you used the word—that white passing or white coded or white bodied Indigenous peoples, the way they talk about blood and race in the context of belonging. And I think this is heightened, or perhaps that uncomfortableness is heightened because, you know, people who often make tenuous claims, they often say things like, “Being Native isn’t about blood, it’s not about race.” But of course the irony is that their claim is based on locating just a little bit of it like in their ancestral past. [Kim inserts: “It’s more biologically essentialist than anyone’s claims.”] There’s an irony in that and so...I’ve just thought about—and it also seems—that kind of comment seems really disrespectful to Indigenous families who, you know, have lost people for the very fact that they live every moment of their life as a visible Native person and that’s a reality in a lot of our families. Is there a better way that we can bring in conversations about race and the diversity of Indigeneity to this conversation around identity, belonging, citizenship? Or do you think it’s another topic, and we talk about it somewhere else?
TallBear: I really like the way Jessica Kolopenuk—in this article that’s forthcoming—is really taking this on as a white-coded person. She’s talking through some personal anecdotes of how she’s had to deal with this and the questioning of her even though she’s both a connected person, but disenfranchised in her family through the Indian Act, right? So she really kind of roots her own connectedness and disconnectedness over multi-generations in a deep treatment of federal Indian policy. So I think this is really helpful, plus, the personal experience. So I do think that we can—we should be talking about the intersections of race and nation in relationship to this topic. I think we need people who actually deeply understand the intersections of race and nation. There’s a whole lot of people out there that are spouting—I’m going to try to be careful how I say this—really implicitly anti-Native nonsense that comes out of some humanities fields, particularly in the US. There’s a lot of explicit and implicit anti-Native sentiment in some fields that are theorizing race. This is why I’ve always paid a lot of attention–since the beginning of my academic career–to race politics, how race shifts over time and place, how those definitions shift, the particular way in which Native people have been racialized in relationship to whiteness. It is not the same that Black people have been racialized in relationship to whiteness. It’s got to do with them needing to dispossess us of our land and them needing to extract free labor from enslaved people. So there are very particular reasons—material reasons—why we're racialized in different ways in relationship to whiteness. We need to understand that history. We also need to have a healthy knowledge of and respect for Native nation sovereignty. There are very few of us who pay deep attention to both of those things and how they intersect. So yeah, I do think we should be talking about it. It’s an important part of the conversation. There’s a tremendous amount of knee-jerk reaction, sloppy thinking out there. A lot of people who could have legitimate connections to Native nations are relying on this sloppy thinking. They're not well schooled in the intersections of these things. I think we’ve got this kind of scholarship going where we can address these issues, I just don't think it’s necessarily getting read and I don’t think it’s the dominant scholarship on race across the disciples that are having influence over this conversation. This is a much longer conversation. I hope it makes sense where I’m going, to you? [MC: “She said yes.”] I think about this a lot…In the talks that I give on why we can’t just use DNA to adjudicate these problems, I go through a history of race and how red is racialized. I go through a history of federal Indian policy. And then I get to a point where I say “Okay, given these particular histories, these are the conceptual conditions within which we have people making claims to be Native American via DNA, via ancestry alone.” They’re not just creating these things out of thin air. The path has been laid for them by old school race thinking, by contemporary multiculturalist thought, by contemporary anti-racist thought that’s not actually considering Native sovereignty at the intersection of what it’s doing. So I think there are a few of us out there who are trying to make these intersections, but it’s certainly not the majority of people weighing in on these conversations.
Question: Priscilla Settee, I’m currently the interim Vice Dean for Indigenous for the College of Arts and Sciences, and I’m really glad that you pulled together the connection between Indigenous sovereignty and the topic at hand. Last week our province governing body just passed the Saskatchewan First law amidst, you know, widespread protests by both treaty and status and non-status and Métis people. And it’s a really dangerous act that gives the province full entitlement to all of the resources. And I think it’s really important what you said about drawing that parallel between Indigenous sovereignty and what's going on in some of the academies. So thank you.
TallBear: Nice to hear from you Priscilla. Yeah, I hadn't read that. I’ll have to catch up on that news.
Question: Dr. Bear: I also just want to say thanks to Kim…for recognizing those voices that are speaking out, and I think we’ve talked a lot about that and I appreciate that. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. You’re not only carrying a load working with your community, you’re doing your thing at the university, which comes with a lot of other things—a lot of committees, a lot of talks. And then on top of that—these women, these Indigenous women–are carrying also that load of whistleblowing and then getting that blowback. And so I really appreciate you recognizing that in this talk.
TallBear: Yeah I wrote an essay last year called, I don’t know, “three white bullies” or something, but it occurred to me in the last couple of years…I kept thinking about these white cheerleaders that harassed me on the playground in 6th grade. And then this other white bully kid—I was thinking about all these white bullies in my childhood and I was like “God this feels like that! And I feel duped because I’m caring what they think.” And it took me a while to get my courage in 6th grade and then 7th grade. And so I wrote a piece comparing pretendians and their defenders to the white bullies who harassed me in my childhood. But I’m really grateful for those white bullies now because Twitter is not scary like a pack of white girls threatening you on the playground. It was really good training for doing this work and telling myself I’m gonna stand up anyway even though I’m getting bullied and harassed and called all kinds of names. I’m so happy when I see—and it has been mostly other Native women—stepping to the floor and doing the work. I’m so pleased to see the commentary that they make, see the interventions that they make. The Indigenous Women’s Collective has done a lot. And they’re being very strategic, I think, about what they’re doing so I really really appreciate them quite a lot—both as individuals and as a group.
Dr. Bear: So not to genderize this, but what are your thoughts on this idea, again, Indigenous women leading in this realm?
TallBear: I do know men too that are behind the scenes. I’m not sure what I think about that. That’s how I grew up. I was born in 1968, in the middle of the American Indian Movement, and while you had all the photo-op guys with, you know, their braids and chokers and everything, who was really doing the work? It was women that were doing the work, that was organizing, that was writing grants to build institutions. I talked about this earlier today where I am in Philadelphia. People only think, when they think about the American Indian Movement and those problematic men. Those are the images that they have in their head, but really a lot of the real life-changing work for people and for children on the ground, institution building was happening by women. That’s just the world I grew up in. That’s what I’m used to. So I don't know. Is it that men are just in the background? If they’re not stepping forward, why are they not stepping forward? I hope some analyses about gender and who's picking up the heavy labor in this come out of all this. Are you all talking about this there? Have you had some good conversations?
Dr. Bear: Not on that specific ground, no.
TallBear: Maybe you will tomorrow.
Question asked by emcee on behalf of Geraldine King: “What role does the white possessive and white feminism have to play in this? I think of the way that many of these false narratives center the presumption of an abusive Native paternal line and/or a violated and traumatized maternal line.”
TallBear: Yup. In that NAVAHOAX case I cited, that’s exactly what it is. I know exactly, like what…there’s also been some narratives of the abusive Native father too, right? [TallBear asks for question to be read again]. Jessica Kolopenuk is citing the white possessive actually in that piece that she’s writing. I don't know, Geraldine was that you talking? [Emcee: “No she’s on line.”] I’ll bet she has an answer better than mine. But I do think about this. How are Native men portrayed in these narratives? This is anecdotal, but I feel like a lot of the stories that I’ve heard, there is kind of this portrayal of Native men as failures or abusers. I’ve heard many stories of “Oh, you know, my mother was raped by a Native man”…I think that there’s probably a good study that needs to be done of the gendered pattern of these stories as well. And then also the gender dynamics of who’s making false claims—are they disproportionately men or are they disproportionately women? What fields are they coming out of? There was a Twitter conversation that Zoe Todd was having about that the other day, which I thought was really interesting. There’s a sense by some people that we’ve had all these women that have been outed, but maybe there’s a disproportionate attention being paid toward women versus men. I wonder if—this is a genuine question, I don't have the answer to this—are there more women in academia doing this, and are the men in other sectors? I know the LA Times story that broke a few years ago was focused on small business set-asides in the U.S. and the small businesses who were claiming to be Cherokee, the protagonists in those stories were all men. I don’t know if it’s just a difference of sector or if it’s actually that women are being disproportionately focused on and why is that? Those are the questions that Zoe was entertaining in her Twitter thread. I don’t have an answer to Geraldine, ultimately.
Question: Hi Kim, it’s Jean Teillet. Thanks for your interesting talk, as always. I’ve learned so much from you. On this gendered issue, it strikes me there’s a gendered issue that is arising in who jumps to the defense of these pretendian women. And this was brought to my attention by Winona Wheeler so I want to credit her with this. What she said is that it’s men who appear to be for METL, certainly, jumping up to defend her. But also, what Winona is pointing out is that…these are the same men who did not jump to the defense or when women were trying to get back into the community—to get status back. These are the same men who put up roadblocks in those situations. But now they're jumping to the defense of the white woman, and also they’re not the ones who will hire the Native woman lawyer. So Winona, and I hope I’m capturing her comments correctly, but it struck me as a really interesting comment so I was taking note of it after she said that yeah actually there is a gendered aspect of it here too. The other thing I note is that Darryl Leroux points out that in academia it's largely women who are being outed anyway, but he thinks it’s largely women who are pretending. But once you get into the hunting and fishing realm it’s 99% men. But in academia—and I would posit government, which has not been exposed yet. I just wondered if you had some comments on Winona’s observations?
TallBear: I’m from the U.S. so I don’t know all these players necessarily and all these histories and background. I think this is really fascinating and it must be so enraging. It must be so enraging to see some Native men acting like that and doing that. I think that’s another thing to sort of expose and write about. It’s really sad. But I’m learning from the news about that and when these comments are made I don’t have the background, I don’t know all the players. These comments will come out in this report? There will be some accounting of this kind of conversation in the report, I assume, from this forum?
Question: Hi Kim, it’s Marilyn Poitras. I’m a former academia person and I am right now working actually in my own business to create a court for the Métis Nation Saskatchewan. So my brain is around how do we resolve our own issues? My brain is around how do we create our own relationships? How do we mend them? You know, my background’s in law and so we come from punishment and adversarial spaces. We come from really unhealthy ways to look at those issues. And I’m just thinking about talks, about how long it takes to get to the court about these issues, and some comments that you made in your presentation today, and how do we take ownership of this? So tomorrow we're going to hear from some elders and we’re going to hear about, you know, perhaps some traditional teachings, perhaps some personal stories about how to mend those relationships. But my question to you is, in the work that you're doing across the continent, are you running into any spaces where communities themselves have taken this issue on? And so not waiting for courts and other bodies to kind of intervene. And I really think that we’re at a place and time where we need to be able to do that given the complexities that we are facing. But I can’t point to any places where there’s examples of that. And some comments this morning that you wouldn’t have heard either were things around…identity’s an English term, citizenship’s an English term. We’re using—we’re stuck in those languages, and yourself saying even the word Indigenous. If we were going to talk about Nehiyaw, if we were going to talk about Gitxsan, and we were going to talk about Mohawk, their own language would have systems for that and resolution opportunities for that. Have you come across anything like that where people are going “No, no, no we’re not waiting for the University of Saskatchewan to get its poop in one place, we're going to do this ourselves.”
TallBear: No. And I’m in conversation—well, the one tribal Chairperson in the U.S. who has been vocal on this issue that I’ve come across who was part of our Unsettling Genealogies Symposium is Chief Ben Barnes from the Shawnee Tribe. And I think been trying to talk to the U.S. Tribal Chairman’s Association about this. My sister—I hope she wouldn’t mind me quoting this—she lives in D.C., she's an attorney in the Department of Energy, she works with civil rights issues—but said “You know, it’s really hard to get tribal governments to pay attention to anything they don’t immediately understand is an immediate threat to tribal sovereignty.” This is in the U.S.; I don’t know what your conversation would be like in Canada. So this is why I said we really really need to make this clear how this is an immediate threat to tribal governance. I am talking to some people in Southern California. There’s talk about one of the tribes down there hosting a community-controlled symposium on this issue. I’m really hoping that happens sometime in the next six to nine months. I think there is some interest by people…down there to talk about this. Particularly given what’s going on in Hollywood so their proximity to L.A. I think it would make it such that these cases are really front and center in the news cycle for them. But again, getting them to understand how this is affecting them because even though they might only be 50 miles from L.A., there’s a world of difference between a reservation in Southern California and L.A. or Hollywood, right? So people might still be just as disconnected as you would be between D.C. and Oklahoma, for example. So I don’t know of anybody in community who’s kind of taking the lead on this right now. But this one of the things that I and others are advocating needs to start happening.
Do you know of anything? I mean, because we hear like the person earlier said, there’s a lot of communities that are just so strapped, I get it. I think those that have the resources, and I think that…some of the California tribes have some money. It takes money to host a symposium like this, right? I don’t think everybody needs to be at the forefront; I don’t think everybody needs to be doing the same job. I think we all have different resources, different land bases, different capacities. I think it takes all of us attacking problems from different angles to get the work done. So I think it’s okay if some people kind of take the lead first and others are slower to follow.
Dr. Bear. There were no examples, no.
No examples, yeah. I’m hoping that changes in the next year. I’ve had to have a conversation with a couple of women at home because I’m in a tribal writers group in South Dakota, only Oceti Sakowin people. And, you know, we’ve got some of our frauds. And people at home—I remember growing up there, it’s like there’s one or two, they marry in. They’re not a threat. They’re not taking over tribal government. They’re not taking over the tribal college. There’s only one or two, they’re not a threat and they’re married into your family and you're like “Oh man, that’s so embarrassing. I can’t call them out, and their kids are my cousins.” That’s not how it is out here. They’re overpowering our voices. They’re ending up in influential positions and making policy. They’re theorizing the intersection of race and Indigeneity in a way that’s harmful to us. So I get why people at home don’t quite understand what a big problem it is. You know, I think on the reservation it’s not as big a problem. But the thing is, the problems out here eventually filter down through policy, through the statistics that get produced about us, that represent us as healthier and wealthier than we are. All of this eventually, I think, affects Indian Country. It just may not be immediately obvious because people are, as the earlier commentator said, they’re always dealing with one thing after another. They’ve got to deal with what’s right in front of them, they don't have the capacity to look out and say what's going to be coming down the line in five or ten years because there’s some pretendian making their way through Harvard and going to end up in Washington D.C. making policy related to us.
Q: Hi Kim, it’s Meika [Taylor]. I’m just wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on what you said about the U.S. having a low bar in regards to Indigenous citizenship and belonging? What do you mean by a low bar?
TallBear: I think I mean a low bar in terms of—what was I talking about when I said that? I don’t remember what I was talking about. I mean it’s got a low bar in so many ways. Was it in relationship to EDI stuff in the University? [Dr. Bear, “yeah, yeah.”] I think it was—I think I talked a bit about how multiculturalist discourse is a problem in EDI and the way it shapes EDI. That's not the kind of EDI that we need as Native nations. And I think I was saying that I feel like we are having pretty good conversations at the University of Alberta; there’s a lot more we could do and there’s internal critique and debate, but we’re doing a lot more. I travel around to a lot of U.S. universities. They're doing nothing compared to what we’re doing at UofA or in Saskatchewan or at McGill now. I mean really—and probably other places, I don’t know about. And again, it’s not because Canada’s better. It’s because we’ve had more assertive Native people there. I was saying this in a talk I gave earlier today: one of the things that I’ve really been fortunate to benefit from in moving to Alberta is—I think there’s two things that make a difference in being in Canada vs. being in the U.S. Native people are overall a larger percentage of the population there [in Canada], and I think numbers matter. Population size matters. You're harder to ignore the more numbers you have. You're also harder to ignore in the West of the U.S. where tribes have millions of acres of land holdings. I was saying to these people at this Ivy League university in the East: “You don’t have to see us, you don’t have to deal with us.” And there’s much more of the U.S. in which that’s the reality, I think, than in Canada, where you can ignore and erase Indigenous people. So I’ve really benefited in my programming and in my work and in my own critical thought by being in Alberta because there’s so many more Native people doing this work, articulating the problem, pushing back against the settler state. I also think it’s very hard in the United States—it’s the world's only superpower, although I don’t think that’s going to be the case for much longer—it’s very very hard to have a critique of the settler state when you live in the world's only superpower. It’s so overwhelming It is a very propagandized nation. I do think it’s easier when you're sitting across the alley from the U.S. I feel like I’ve gotten more critical in my own estimation of the settler state. I’ve gotten more expansive in my thinking about what’s possible because of these more critical anti-state Indigenous voices in Canada. So again, it’s not Canada that’s better. I feel like it’s Indigenous peoples up there that are more critical on the whole. And I do think that has something to do with population and I think it has to do with location. But I’m only seven and a half years in and I’m still trying to figure it out. So that’s probably when I meant by… I’m not trying to say Canada is great, I’m just saying that the U.S. is such a low bar it’s hard not to be better. But I don’t attribute that to white Canada by any means. I have to be careful! I don't want to get in trouble!
[i] See Kim TallBear’s “Identity is a poor substitute for relating: Genetic ancestry, critical polyamory, property, and relations” in Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, Edited By Brendan Hokowhitu, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Chris Andersen, Steve Larkin (2020).
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