Whitehorse, Yukon, January 30, 2024

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This is an experiment. I am blocked in writing the next book outline my agent wants from me. I want it from me too, but peer pressure from those I respect and will submit to (i.e. a smart, strong editor) seems to push me more effectively. I once published a piece in an edited book by my Oceti Sakowin Tribal Writers Society called “Posts from en route.” When I locate a copy of that piece, I’ll put in on this Substack. I remember liking it. These new “posts from en route” will be a way to capture daily vignettes that I think will come to inform the scenes of the someday forthcoming book that looks like it’s going to be a circuitous (and not strictly chronologically linear) account of my path to and through advocating for anti-colonial Indigenous science and sexualities. The book will be a mixture of memoir, ethnography light, and academic theory. I’m reading memoirs like that now to understand what my agent is asking for. This is something new for me and so it is far more interesting than writing another academic monograph. I really want to do this, but I don’t know how to yet. I hope these posts will warm me up for this new way of writing. I will record them directly to the Substack platform instead of using my usual Camtasia film and audio editing software. I want to be regular and efficient with these posts. Thank you for coming along with me to who knows where. Like the forthcoming book, these posts will also not always be chronologically linear.

The skies over Whitehorse, Yukon are the same bright blue as my shiny, sporty six-speed Toyota hatchback. I wish I could be more artful in my description. It is truly a shocking blue. It’s too treacherous to walk around town in my Edmonton fashion art boot mukluks. It melted, an apparently very un-Whitehorse event in January, then froze again. I went a block and realized I was destined for a fall without spikes on my boots.

Whitehorse Blue (Photo by Kim TallBear)

So I cut my walk short, and crossed the wide road to visit the territorial government liquor store. I bought two bottles of British Columbia wine, one white and one red, more expensive than down south in Edmonton. But the liquor store had not a bad selection. I penguin-walked back across the slushy, icy street to my hotel apartment that reminds me of something you’d see in the north of Sweden. Austere, functional furniture, a clean white kitchen with blonde wooden shelves: IKEA-like.

I look out the window onto the blueness over the snowy rock ledge with alpine (or are they sub-alpine?) trees atop the rocks, and expect it to be deadly cold, as it should be, but is not in this era of weak winters. We have them in Edmonton too. Half frozen rivers with intermittent deep freezes and big thaws. I wonder what the animals think who cannot easily cross the river in winter. I remember seeing their tracks on the snowy ice in years past.

When I moved to lands called Canada nine years ago, I would have been delighted with this even more northern place. This is my first time in Yukon, but there is a sense of familiarity. It is the now recognizable-to-me presence of white Canada. I flew in from Vancouver yesterday on a narrow, noisy plane squished full of white, male labourers talking about their manly work in mines and other places. They had the demeanor of regular flyers to the northern resource extraction zones. You know what I mean if you know what I mean. In 2015, I was relieved to be in Edmonton, which was as far north as I had ever been, latitude 53.5. I was relieved to be out of the much more crowded, noisier, hotter, screeching fast pace urban Texas world. In Austin or San Antonio or Dallas, the cars are always speeding around. There was so much talk of guns. The right to carry your gun around. Guns even sometimes visible on the backs of dime-a-dozen Libertarians or right-wing gun rights white men who were out and about town. Why would anyone need a gun on their back to order a weak caffe latte at Starbucks? When I sat in a Starbucks in my first couple of weeks in Edmonton, I was shocked to see a table of people, all with guns in holsters. It took me a minute to see that they were cops dressed in dark blue t-shirts and matching cargo pants. Must have been casual Fridays for cops. At least they were cops and not retired guys out for their morning coffee group. I’ll leave it at that. I’m not going to write today about the prison industrial complex and the militarization of the police force in North America.

I want to write about moving north, and how it gave me space to observe all the relations in another part of the world, and myself in relation to those relations. But my family would not follow. The people who I love and who love me most, do not love Edmonton. They mostly don’t visit, or if they do, it’s not with enthusiasm. A couple of them refuse to not live in California, a place, that wore me down financially. It was also crowded and full of screechy fast deadly automobiles on densely packed highways. It never stops blooming in the Bay Area. I had permanent severe allergies and was always coughing. Berkeley made me sick, in debt, and overwhelmed. I also missed the prairies—the openness, the quieter landscape, the lack of humans filling up all the space.

I drove from there to the south prairies of Austin, Texas first. I love country music, and one goes where the job offer comes from. Then I moved to the very north prairies, even farther north than where I come from in South Dakota and Minnesota, to Edmonton. I also wanted to be one of the ordinary people again, in a town where Natives might be among the regulars at the local post office, grocery store, and walk-in clinic. I got tired of being some weird fetish in the cosmopolitan cities with their corny Indigenous-erasing ideas predominating.

Had I come to Whitehorse back then, I am sure I would have felt relief, like I did in Edmonton. Eventually though, I came to feel the distance in the northern-ness of Edmonton, its farness from my homelands and from my homehumans. You can relocate, but you can’t necessarily make your dearest ones do that with you, especially when you value their autonomy. I am here in Whitehorse this week to connect with other Indigenous people, particularly queer and two-spirit people at a two-day event, and I know I will be emotionally and intellectually moved by their world here. I will be an intrigued and grateful visitor. I will be honored and happy in conversation with them. I thought when I moved farther north than I’d ever been that I might not always feel like a visitor in this northland, but I do. Period. And I am trying to figure out what to do with that. My grad school friend Eben, now an anthropology professor at Oxford (LOL, he’s so classic) once told me I am a boundary object after that science and technology studies concept introduced by Star and Griesemer in the 1980s. I’m still thinking about that. I do know that I have figured out in the last few months that when I feel compelled by the settlers’ societal narrative to settle in one place, I become cynical about it—all the things that place is not. When I migrate on a regular path—say between Edmonton and Minneapolis or between L.A. where my sweetie lives and Santa Cruz where my other sweetie, my daughter, lives—I see the best in each place. I am, literally speaking, simply not a settle-er. Perhaps then too, my allergies will not catch up with me.

Whitehorse Cruising (Photo by Kim TallBear)

It grows dimmer as I write this at just past 5pm. The brilliant blue sky is turning a softer blue. The snow at the tops of the peaks glows very slightly golden in the late afternoon sun. Soon it will be black night and the sun won’t rise until well past 10am tomorrow. I will record in one imperfect take and upload this post after an evening house dinner I’ve been invited to. And I will be fascinated, I am sure, by the emplacement in this far north land—at latitude 60.72—of recognizable persons and things—by IKEA kitchens, wine from temperate regions, the excellent cappuccino I had at the hotel café today, two-spirit drag performers, and who knows who and what else?

Until next post.

Indigenous affairs, cultural politics, anthropology, and decolonial analyses