Justice (2016). “Go Away Water!” Kinship Criticism and the Decolonization Imperative.

Justice, D. H. (2016). “Go Away Water!” Kinship Criticism and the Decolonization Imperative. In D. Reder & L. M. Morra (Eds.), Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (pp. 349–371). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

“Kinship, like Fire, is about life and living; it’s not about something that _is_ in itself so much as something we _do_ — actively, thoughtfully, respectfully.” (p 350)

[“Go Away, Water!” (p 350) …]

“We have to challenge the idea that the hyperindividualist creeds of industrialization and atomization are the wellsprings of intellectual sophistication. Indigenous intellectual traditions have survived not because they’ve conceded to fragmenting Eurowestern priorities, but because they’ve _challenged_ those priorities.” (p 352)

[“Peoplehood and the Decolonization Imperative” (p 352) …]

“Stories define relationships, between nations as well as individuals, and those relationships imply presence — you can’t have a mutual relationship between something and nothingness.” (p 353)

“The idea of ‘the nation’ has fallen into disfavour over the last decade; it’s no longer viewed by most scholars as an inevitable or even desirable way of constituting group identity. Yet for Indigenous peoples in North America and elsewhere, community is the constitutive measurement of selfhood. Indigenous nationhood should not, however, be conflated with the nationalism that has given birth to industrialized nation-states. Nation-state nationalism is often dependent upon the erasure of kinship bonds in favour of a code of assimilative patriotism that places, and emphasizes, the militant history of the nation above the specific geographic, genealogical, and spiritual histories of peoples.” (p 353)

[Practical essentialism?… -oki]

“Of course, broad notions like ‘community,’ ‘people,’ and ‘nation’ are tricky to work with. We can’t very well use them without immediately qualifying them: Each community is different; no community is monolithic and without dissent, or even conflicting ideas about what exactly constitutes the group; the principles underlying tribal nationhood aren’t necessarily those that give rise to the nationalism of industrialized nation-states; and so on. Yet we can still talk about ideals as functional principles without erasing the specific contexts in which those principles operate; though members of a group might differ in their understandings of that community’s composition, they nonetheless work to articulate the shifty, unstable, but ultimately embodied notion of purposeful collectivity.” (p 355)

“What happens when appeals to ‘tradition’ are used to justify bigotry, abuse, neglect, or corruption, or when the traditions of one Indigenous community are used to dismiss the very existence of other Indigenous peoples? What do we do when Eurowestern values of individualism, antagonistic dualism, and market-driven commodification and commercialism replace older traditions of sacred kinship, communal concern, and complementarity, thus becoming the de facto constitutive traditions of the community?” (p 356)

[“To Cut Off the Remembrance of Them from the Earth” (p 357) …]

“… the very existence of Indigenous literatures, not to mention the decolonization imperative of Indigenous peoplehood, is a rebellion against the assimilationist directive of Eurowestern imperialism.” (p 357)

“Two telling examples illustrate this point. The first is the destruction of the Mayan codices by the Spanish invaders. As Craig S. Womack (Muscogee Creek-Cherokee) notes, this act can quite clearly be seen as an ‘act of cultural genocide [with] one culture finding itself threatened by the profundity of the Other’s literacy. These were illiteracy campaigns, sponsored by the group claiming to be the most literate’ (_Red on Red_ 13). The destruction of the means of knowledge dissemination was crucial to the policy of colonization, as the dominating creeds of Europe could only flourish in the perceived absence of the Indigenous epistemologies.” (p 357)

“‘Since Whites primarily understood the Indian as an antithesis to themselves, then civilization and Indianness as they defined them would forever be opposites. Only civilization had history and dynamics in this view, so therefore Indianness must be conceived of as ahistorical and static. If the Indian changed through the adoption of civilization as defined by Whites, then he was no longer truly Indian according to the image, because the Indian was judged by what Whites were not. Change toward what Whites were made him ipso facto less Indian.’ (_White Man’s Indian_ 28–29)” (p 360)

“Kinship is adaptive; race, as a threatened constitutive commodity, always runs the risk of becoming washed out to the point of insignificance. … race-reading — rooted as it is in Eurowestern stereotypes and deficiency definitions — can only view Indians through a lens of eventual Indian erasure.” (p 362)

“… it is as _peoples_ that we endure, through our obligations to kinship and balanced relationships.” (p 362)

[“Embodied Sovereignties” (p 363) …]

“Similar to the rhetorical avoidances in Red Shirt’s letter, Cook-Lynn’s focus on mixed-bloodedness as _the problem_ draws attention away from the colonial powers that turned intermarriage into a colonizing state.” (p 365)

“Womack’s question — ‘Is human knowledge the only kind of knowledge there is?’ — can guide us well here, as it speaks to the vital significance of the rest of creation to the lives and intellectual concerns of Indigenous peoples.” (p 366)

[“A Sacred Trust” (p 368) …]

“For me, at this time, the best approach is about relationships, about attending to the cultural, historical, political, and intellectual contexts from which Indigenous texts emerge. This engagement provides a rich range of interpretive possibility, and it sensitizes us to the multiple relationships and contexts that make such study morally meaningful.” (p 369)

“The living kinship traditions and literatures of each People — from ancient ceremonialism to Christian syncretism and pan-Native perspectives, from birch-bark scrolls and wampum belts to poems, novels, and web pages — rather than being perceived as a frozen set of principles or texts of merely ethnographic interest, are instead seen in their own enduring beauty as a strong but flexible structure that gives guidance for continuity even in the winds of change. … [page break] … Debate and discussion are time-honoured intellectual and social practices shared in the older political traditions of most Indigenous peoples in the Americas, with status conferred on eloquence, not coercion.” (p 369-370)

Selected References

  • Berkhofer, R. F. (2011). The white man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the present. Vintage.
  • Womack, C. S. (1999). Red on red: Native American literary separatism. University of Minnesota Press.


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