Indigeneity and secularity

July 21st, 2017

Indigenous protective occupation and emergent networks of spirited refusal

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Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonThe spirited refusal of conceited and deaf forms of state secularity is on stark display in many contemporary protest movements. This is especially true in Native contexts wherein “Indigenous” is a relational category and “religion” is one of its most active and charged circuits.

Visiting the Standing Rock camps in September/October 2016, and again in November, we were struck by the importance of religious registers, by the global scales involved, and by echoes of other momentous Indigenous protection movements. More than echoes, we heard voices. Specifically, we had conversations with a group of Sami musicians and with Kia`i (Protectors) from Mauna Kea who had come to the camp to offer support.

In both cases, the clarity of their religious expressions—sometimes localized, other times more global in cadence—caught our ears.

July 12th, 2017

Fluid indigeneity: Indians, Catholicism, and Spanish law in the mutable Americas

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Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonIn this forum, “indigeneity” faces off against European “settler colonialism.” If the twenty-first century mode of conceptualizing indigenous resistance to dominant forms of settler power is primarily construed via claims to the land’s sacrality and traditional ritual relationships to it, then the history of the “Indians” of the Spanish Americas appears strange indeed. This will be no surprise to scholars of the colonial Spanish Americas, whose history never fits a model that, implied or stated, is the history of British imperial expansion.

This essay all too briefly sketches a history of indigeneity in which Catholic actors made excellent use of the Spanish legal system to negotiate a cultural framework that was hierarchical yet ethnically fluid. Their experiences and strategies fall athwart the dominant narrative of racial “fixity” that is the hallmark of the very peculiar history of US race relations, a template whose export erases the heterogeneity of experiences across the hemisphere.

July 4th, 2017

America’s music

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Jazz pianoOn December 4, 1987 both chambers of the 100th United States Congress passed a “resolution expressing the sense of Congress respecting the designation of jazz as a rare and valuable national American treasure.” No opposing votes were cast. The Jazz Preservation Act (JPA), as the bill came to be known, defined jazz as “an indigenous American music and art form” rooted in “the African-American experience,” and as “a unifying force, bridging cultural, religious, ethnic, and age differences in our diverse society.”

How do claims of indigeneity made on behalf of jazz, as in the text of the JPA, help to negotiate these competing representations: jazz as black, born of dispossession, and jazz as every American’s birthright? As this forum’s editors suggest, claims of indigeneity are at least implicitly claims about religion and race. Appeals to indigeneity permit race to enter into discussions of national identity and religiosity to appear in secular space. As a figure for race, religion, or both, indigeneity exerts a particular push-pull in relation to the secular.

June 29th, 2017

Questioning territory: A Jewish reflection on holy land*

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Jerusalem_Dome_of_the_rock_BW_14Thinking of territory as a patrie, a motherland or homeland, makes use of metaphors that hope to capture a primal relationship between territory and citizenship. It is this meeting that founds the very concept of nation as more than merely a linguistic derivative of natio, birth. Pre-modern and pre-statist intuitions of indigeneity undergo a modern schematisim that issue forth in citizenship.

Territory thus invigorated is the depth interpretation of the hyphen in the couplet “nation-state.” It is rendered sacral by political theologies that seek to invest it with the status of the divine hearth, consecrating thereby not only the claim to a sovereign right to it but also the demand of sacrifice of life to retain its integrity. In their quest for the aura of majesty we may consider civil religions as the republican version of monarchic divine right theories.

June 23rd, 2017

Sacrality, secularity, and contested indigeneity

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Indigenous peoples articulate their indigeneity within the political and legal language of secularism, even as it renders certain claims to indigeneity illegible. In this short essay, J. Kehaulani Kauanui examines the close linkages between secularism, settler colonialism, and Protestant Christianity in three interconnected issues in the United States context: sacred sites, temporality, and divine right.

This is the fourth essay in the series on Indigineity and secularity.

June 14th, 2017

The river is not a person: Indigeneity and the sacred in Aotearoa New Zealand

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Whanganui River (Image via Wikimedia Commons, photographer James Shook)Earlier this year, the New Zealand Parliament passed a remarkable piece of legislation declaring the Whanganui River to be a legal person. This was quickly taken up by global media: “New Zealand declares a river a person,” read the headline in the Economist, in an article that revealed uncertainty about what such legal recognition meant. Was it another quirky example from Downunder or a radical and effective form of environmental protection? The legislation was almost immediately taken up by Indian jurists as a precedent for making a similar declaration in respect of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Yet the story of the statute’s making is a very local one, in which legal recognition of the river’s personhood is deemed to be a postcolonial incorporation of Indigenous concepts of ecological spirituality and interdependency with nature. Both the local historical context for its making and the tensions that the statute manifests need careful unpacking.

In this essay, I question the assumption that the legal fiction of personality is an accurate translation into law of what Whanganui people believe and practice.

June 6th, 2017

Secular Christian power and the spiritual invention of nations

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Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonIn the Americas, missionary colonialism prospered on the sharp edge of secular Christian power. Cutting up land with a blade that reflected Christian glory on one side and secular state governance on the other, the new nations of the Americas were made through a process of violent spiritual-political invention. New Christian-infused forms of spiritual jurisdiction—royal proclamations and constitutions—were written on top of already-existing Indigenous laws and alliances also rooted in spiritual claims. Indigenous scholars such as John Borrows and Audra Simpson have made clear that for scholars to understand ongoing Indigenous sovereignty requires attention to history, to protocol, and to how Indigenous stories are both told and withheld.

I would add that thinking about Indigeneity in North America—or Turtle Island—requires careful attention to how ceremony, protocol, and invocations of the spirit have shaped all claims to sovereignty on this land, including those of settler-colonial nations.

June 1st, 2017

Is the “native” secular?

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Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonHeadlines scream of burgeoning populism around the world, but the shift in politics today could also be described as a return of nativism, and perhaps even of a certain indigeneity. Politicians speak of a people at home in a land, rooted in that land. They evoke the threats posed by those perceived to lack such roots: immigrants, racial minorities, and global elites.

There is a romance to the land, from rural farms and mines, to the provincial village, to the post-industrial city—sites  of lost dreams, of vanishing greatness. The specifics of place are joined together under the heading of “nation,” but nation alone is cold and abstract; it must be joined with the warmth of nativeness—indigeneity—to capture the imagination. Of course there are agents involved: politicians conjuring the images and feelings of nativeness, and the powers that be—whiteness, patriarchy, neoliberalism—whom those politicians serve, wittingly or unwittingly.