AU PAC 2015 Recap

This past weekend we held our one year anniversary workshop at American University’s Public Anthropology Conference. It was a great session, with many participants (and it was our honor to have the keynote, Carole McGranahan in attendance) and there were a lot of interesting ideas and possibilities discussed. I just want to provide a recap of what was addressed and some thoughts for moving forward.

The main issue seemed to be, as always, the issue of access. How do ethnographers get to these sites and people of power without compromising the goals of upward anthropology? Several participants provided insight from their experience – for example the recognition that a lot of the transactions that constitute power don’t take place at the official sites (offices, meetings, etc.) but elsewhere (restaurants, bars, etc.). This is, in some ways, to our benefit, since anthropologists are adept at navigating these informal locales, and in others not. However, it was generally agreed that people who hold these powerful positions are often not as inaccessible or unwilling to talk as is generally believed. Another point that was made was that there are a number of anthropologists who work for powerful institutions and organizations – governments, corporations, etc. – and so it might be worthwhile working on convincing them of the value of this project. It might be a tough sell, but not impossible.

Another possibility that was suggested by one of the archaeologist participants is to look at the infrastructure. While people and organizations might not be willing to allow an ethnographer in to do their research, the infrastructure of power is an important aspect that needs to be investigated, and is often more visible. Doing material analyses of buildings, resources, landscapes, surveillance technologies, and so on, is both necessary and possible within an upward anthropology framework.

Another topic that came up and was discussed extensively was the issue of funding. Anthropologists struggle with finding funding as it is, so how can we expect to get funding for upward research when it is generally those powerful organizations who are providing the funding in the first place? Connected to this was a sense that the fact that anthropology is embedded within powerful organizations makes studying up difficult as well. This highlights the need for a reflexive practice so that these relationships of power can be disentangled. The funding issue remains a major obstacle, but various grant opportunities were discussed.

Finally, I asked specifically what we could do as a community to facilitate this kind of research. At this stage, most participants expressed interest in just keeping the conversation going. There seem to be a lot of anthropologists interested in these issues and a new approach, so having these opportunities and sites to continue the discussion is important. In that spirit, we are considering other possible events where we can host workshops or roundtables including the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting, the American Ethnological Society meeting, and, of course, the AAAs, which are only two months away! Depending on our availability (and funds!) we hope to host discussions at all of these upcoming events and more. If you have any suggestions – please contact me.

It was also suggested that we could provide resources for people interested in Upward Anthropology. With that in mind, I have begun a “Resources” page on the blog. It’s a little empty now, but I hope to add to it in the coming week. Again, if you have any suggestions, please contact me! Also, check out our blogroll on the sidebar for some great upward anthropology links!

Let me also say that, although I have been working on this project for the last year and most of the people actively involved are my colleagues from graduate school, I don’t consider myself or us as owners of the project. All I’m trying to do is provide some tools, resources, and opportunities to promote the idea of upward anthropology in whatever way I can. If you have an interest in upward anthropology in whatever fashion you conceive it, you are a part of this community and I hope you will take part in the community in whatever way you can or want. If you want to write for the blog, let me know. If you want to host a roundtable, workshop, panel, or session at a conference, go for it! If you think of some other way to promote upward anthropology, then great! The only thing I would ask is that you keep us informed in some way so that we can share the information and help promote the Upward Anthropology project in all of its iterations. Thanks to everyone who has taken part so far. I look forward to seeing and working with all of you again, and also to seeing new faces and generating new ideas.

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Ferguson and the Founding of Sovereign Violence

The following is a post by one of our members, Mike Roller – a modified version of the talk he will present at the upcoming Public Anthropology Conference. Mike Roller is working on his PhD in Historical Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Maryland. His research concerns race, capital, class politics and the political economy of emerging late modernity as it is understood through the archaeology conducted in a coal mining company town in Northeast Pennsylvania. Two blogs he maintains on the subject can be found here and here.

In a recent post, Jeremy Trombley suggested that Upward Anthropology might help us understand the ruthless violence in Ferguson, specifically the overwhelming response of the militarized police to community protest. (link to Jeremy’s posts) The entire sequence of events, from the execution-style killing, the disrespectful treatment of the body and the aggressive anti-riot tactics that served to criminalize the entire neighborhood are eruptions of a long history of racialized relations. A comparison made with another recent law enforcement interaction in which a confrontation between federal agents and white gun-wielding anti-government militias resulted in the withdrawal of federal forces is a telling example of how concrete and undeniable a factor race plays in such events. The tragedy of the event notwithstanding, we should be moved by the simple fact that the community responded to the killing with disbelief and anger and resisted the subsequent suppression despite daunting odds. I suspect at least part of the motivation to stand up against this injustice was directed to the world outside of Ferguson, asking us “How can something like this happen in America today?” Their challenge to us is clear: “We are showing you what has happened, now we all must decide what must be done about it.”

As Jeremy suggests, Upward Anthropology prompts us to turn our gaze upward, to disarticulate the logic that makes oppressive power seem natural. In the case of racial violence, this means apprehending a system that manages to be coercive before it even lifts a pistol or dons a helmet. As an archaeologist conducting research on the 1897 Lattimer Massacre, an instance of racialized violence in the Anthracite region of Pennsylvania in which 19 Eastern European miners of in-between white racial status were gunned down by a company-sponsored posse, I am interested in the role critical history can play in this endeavor. Events such as the violent militarized police response in Ferguson are raw materializations of historical processes, the unleashing of sovereignty stored up within the batteries of an ambient power system. To answer the question of “How can this happen in America today?” requires disarticulating the founding events of American power, governmental and sovereign. In the process we will re-cognize the America today in which Ferguson is possible, and begin to envision the America of tomorrow in which it is not. As I perceive it, race is at the center and the periphery of this issue but not in the middle. The strategy to effectively focus upwardly on power is to put aside the question of race and racism at first, but then come back to it again and again, tactically working our way up through the system until we have woven it back in at each moment.

State power over the life and death of subjects is classified under sovereignty: the authority to declare life or death, to suspend the rule of law or to act outside of it. When the state kills, for example in the case of capital punishment, it exercises its sovereign power to commit extra-legal homicide. Classically, the nature of sovereignty is cloaked in the sublime power of a mythologized founding event as a symbolic charter: the winning of a war, the signing of a treaty or covenant or the discovery of a territory. This is more than merely a historical game. More abstractly, sovereignty positions itself through a lawmaking act of violence distinguishing an “us” from a “them”, defining the boundaries of the social world from the excluded, the killable bare life (Agamben 1998). Sovereignty is tactically produced through the very mechanism of its self-justification (Butler 2004:82). Violence, then, is always already “necessarily and intimately bound up with” the lawmaking act of sovereignty (Benjamin 1978: 295).

The sovereignty of the United States was founded on a double genocide, both symbolic and real. Firstly, in the real effort to exterminate indigenous peoples from within national territory. In the first decades of the 20th century, once the government felt this mission had been sufficiently executed, could the image of American Indians be symbolically appropriated to adorn the nation’s currency: a move that seemed to affirm aboriginal assent to their domination. Kerry Lessard’s earlier post on Native American misrepresentations spoke to the violence of image appropriation.

Sovereignty can also be lent, sold and appropriated; a process Judith Butler (2004) describes as creating “petty sovereigns” or unelected deciders. In the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania in the years during and after the Civil War, coal operators were confronted with rising labor unrest connected to execrable working conditions. This came largely from recently immigrated Irish coal miners, their memory fresh of the colonial conditions of their occupied homeland. Coal barons quickly positioned the unrest as treason owing to the importance of coal to the Northern war effort. In 1866, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a bill allowing coal operators to maintain their own militarized police force to break strikes and discipline labor, the infamous Coal & Iron Police. For $1 each, coal operators could commission a force of their choosing endowed with the sovereign rights and powers of the State to enforce industrial discipline. In the early 20th century the federal government supplemented this force with the Pennsylvania State Police, known for their brutal targeting of recent immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, racialized in-betweens who labeled the constabulary “the American Cossacks” after the storied enforcers of Russian imperialism.

Uncoincidentally, in post-Bellum America, the perpetrators of Native American genocide and the Coal & Iron Police arose out of the ranks of a bloated military infrastructure owing to the near half a decade of warfare. Civil War veterans filled the ranks of both “westward clearing” military units and the Coal & Iron police, securing the stability of the nation’s industrial base, labor and land.

In 1978 Foucault suggested that within the 18th century, the power of the state became “vitalized” mainly through governmentality or the rational management and regulation of populations. The production of knowledge through demographic statistics, physiology, racial science, mass psychology and ethnology transformed the sources of legitimization and the roles and practices of the exercise of government on all scales. Governmentality operates as a mentality: a diffuse arrangement of power that unsettles populations and materials, directing populations to produce and reproduce themselves in ways that satisfy certain policy goals. But this does not mean that governmentality operates without its own forms of violence. Returning to the case of Native American genocide, by the late 19th century it was recast in the context of a kind of diabolical beneficence through assimilation practices such as deindianization, forced relocation, and the boarding school system. In another example, in the late 1940s and 1950s, federal, state and municipal authorities joined with capital to redevelop cities based upon industrial standards of efficiency, cleanliness and profitability. Targeting “blight”, the processes of urban renewal often operated to the disadvantage of urban minorities, namely African Americans, as neighborhoods were isolated, people discpalced, communities amputated by highways or abruptly condemned. The displacements of Urban Renewal in St. Louis, coupled with deindustrialization, is a major factor contributing to social issues in Ferguson today.

Judith Butler (2004) observed that America responded to the tragedy of 9/11 by unleashing a “return to sovereign power”. She cites phenomenon such as the policy of indefinite detention used by military prisons as the exercise of a sovereign executive power without constraints. Theoretically, the chronological replacement of sovereignty by governmentality is an overdetermination. In fact, Foucault recognized that sovereignty and governmentality coexisted but he did not specify how. He only suggests that sovereignty can reemerge in a state of emergency in a reanimated anachronistic form. Butler suggests that in the past, sovereignty operated as a focusing force for States, moored to tradition and law. Today, it emerges unmoored from this focus, erupting instead from “within the field of governmentality” itself. The danger here is that sovereignty draws its justifications from a realm of knowledge purportedly outside of history and law, but as a matter of fact leading directly out of the bureaucracy that provides for the security, health and order of society. This form of power produces “petty sovereigns”, unelected bureaucrats each endowed with the power of the state, “mobilized by aims and tactics of power they do not inaugurate or fully control… ‘rogue’ power par excellence.” (2004:56)

In the context of what we know now, can we retrospectively find a founding event for today’s sovereignty articulated as it is, within the field of governmentality? What configurations can we draw upon to “blast open the continuum of history”, drawing closer the constellation of Ferguson, Guantanamo and the nation’s mythic past? Such a founding event would have to be something simultaneously unmemorable and momentous, a racist fairy tale America tells itself, however concealed in bureaucratic language. Here are a few possibilities:

*The most immediate is, of course, 9/11. We might remember the delicate months of fragile despair and community in the immediate aftermath of the event. Butler suggests that at this moment the country could have chosen to join a global community. Instead the country chose insularity, nationalism and the suspension of constitutional rights, remodeling itself into a paranoid security state. I mantain that this choice was not made offhandedly but was informed by a predisposing history. In any case, we can be certain that the residents of Ferguson would attest to violence far deeper in memory. We must excavate further.

*How does the narrative of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans following the Civil War reflect developments of governmentality and sovereignty? Symbolic implications aside, a reading of structures such as the prison-industrial complex as forms of enslaved labor point to the porosity, if not the outright failure, of the mythic event. W.E.B. Dubois already pointed to a new narrative of the event in his 1935 Marxist analysis of the era of Reconstruction, insightfully resisting American exceptionalist interpretations. Dubois instead frames emancipation within the global trajectory of the collapse of the feudal systems throughout the world. Within Marxist history, the trajectory of European peasantry out of feudal systems went from bad-to-bad as emancipated families were “freed” to sell their bodily energies into industrial labor. For the unbound, Marx used the term vogelfrei, literally “birdfree”, containing a double meaning. Better translated as “those whose bodies cannot be buried but rather are left to be picked by the birds”, the vogelfrei were outlaws, unbound to live at society’s edges (de Boever 2009). The emancipated were freed, yes, unburdened, yes, but also left to vulnerability and precarity, bound into the promise of “forty acres and a mule”. In the context of American industrial history, it is clear that the “leveled” playing field of proletarianized labor does not abolish racial structures for class but in many ways signals the beginning of new American racial construction. For the remaining 150 years, as African Americans migrated or were imported as strikebreakers into the industrial north, racialization was exasperated into black/white binaries. As the feudal system of Southern enslavement was dismantled, racism grew to take on the form of a mentality throughout the country, reinforced by materiality, policy and discourse.

*Even further back we can point to the establishment of the national census in 1790. Demographics provide governmentality with its defining epistemologies. The significance of census data are its absorbent, modular and practical qualities. its capacity for retrospective manipulability. Its significance to power, therefore, lies as much in the trowel-edge of its collection as in the reinterpretation of its implications which open up the capacities to invade the territory of history. In this application, it provides a medium through which to manipulate the future. For the analysis at hand, the real significance of the census begins in the early part of the 20th century when the government sought to engineer immigration restriction in lieu of the perceived threats, political, biological, moral and economic, from the not-quite-white new immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. In what amounts to the bureaucratic founding event for American whiteness, theDillingham commission was established in 1907 to determine the makeup of the nation’s population for the purpose of protecting its racial character. They tactically chose to use to use the 1890 census for this occasion, a moment that preceded the greatest in-migration from Southern and Eastern Europe. In this tabulation they simply erased the existence of Native Americans and African Americans from the total population demographics so as not to skew the mathematics from their intended discovery. With the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1924 and 1927, a governmental apparatus was put into place to preserve a “professionally fudged” formula for American racial origins conjured from census data.

The danger of a sovereignty articulated within the field of governmentality is one of justification. Sovereignty in itself is legitimated tautologically. Ironically, it is this very aporia that lends it vulnerability: kings and dictators are killed and deposed. Moored to the governmental legitimations of security, population health and economy, sovereignty is inherited encased within the bureaucratic mentalities and practices passed on with each administrative position. Also in this way, the goal of government and the needs of the people become blended such that all who act through the forces of necessity are legitimated to act as petty sovereigns. In this way, sovereign power materializes its racial privilege and comes to see itself outside of history. In this way too, the national border is redrawn throughout the inside of every neighborhood and small town and every regional police force becomes one of the hands of the Empire.

Agamben, Giorgio (1998) Homo Sacer. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Butler, Judith (2004) Precarious Life: the Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso.

Benjamin, Walter (1978) Critique of Violence. In Reflections. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

De Boever, Arne (2009) Agamben and Marx: Sovereignty, Governmentality, Economy. Law Critique. 20: 20:259–270.

Public Anthropology – This Weekend!

This is just a reminder that we will be at the Public Anthropology Conference at American University this weekend to stir up some trouble and crack open the structures of power. The conference is free (but you should register at the above site), and is meant for academics as well as the general public – one of the reasons I keep going back to the PAC is that there always a lot of community organizers, non-profit folks, and others who come and take an active part in the conference.

This year, I am especially looking forward to Carole McGranahan’s keynote titled “Tibet, Ferguson, Gaza: On Political Crisis and Anthropological Responsibility.” I’ve been following Carole on social media since I was a fledgling anthropologist, and her work on the Tibetan independence movement (and the CIA involvement), as well as her general insight into the politics of anthropological research has been a great influence for me and many others. So, if for no other reason, come out to hear her talk.

Our workshop will be held Saturday, Oct. 4th from 2:30-4:30pm (right before the keynote). As with previous workshops, we will have no formal panel, but will use the time to discuss, plan, and mobilize ways to turn the anthropological gaze on the sites, people, and structures of power wherever they happen to be. Our hope is to come out of this conference with a momentum to carry us to the AAA conference in December and further events in the year to come. Hope to see you all there!

Upward Anthropology at AU PAC 2014

It’s official, we will be hosting a workshop at American University’s Public Anthropology Conference! Last year we inaugurated the group with a similar workshop and panel discussion, and we are looking forward to returning to AU this year to broaden the discussion and move ahead with the Upward Anthropology program.

This year’s theme is – appropriately – Violence, Resilience, Resistance, and we hope to contribute to that discussion by exploring the ways that anthropology can be used to understand the sites and structures of power, and inform methods of resistance and resilience. In addition to our workshop, we are particularly looking forward to the keynote address and contributions from Carole McGranahan whose research on Tibetan resistance and the CIA’s response are exemplary of the Upward Anthropology approach. It should be a great conference and a productive workshop for us. The conference will be held October 3rd through 5th at American University in Washington D.C. The final program hasn’t been released, so we will update this post as soon as we know what day and time the workshop will be held.

Ferguson and the Anthropology of Justice

I’m sure many of you have been following the news out of Ferguson, MO, where the 18 year old black man, Michael Brown, was shot down by local police. There are conflicting stories about what happened that night, but it is nevertheless clear that an injustice was done to this young man and he did not deserve his fate. The response from the police was to try to downplay, and cover up the issue, which resulted in protests that turned violent, resulting in an increasingly militarized response from the police. Scenes from the city over the last week have been compared to those from war zones. On Sunday night, things took a turn for the worse again as police and SWAT teams shut down protests with rubber bullets and tear gas hours before the imposed curfew in response to alleged attacks by protesters.

This is a tragic situation, and extremely complex with many contributing factors and causes. Many have pointed to the history of racialization that has caused the demographic shift within the town, and the economic and social disparities that have contributed to it. Some have considered the contrast between the way white suspects are treated and portrayed and the portrayal and treatment of black victims (i.e. non-offending individuals) of police violence. Others have discussed the increasing militarization of police in our nation, and the way this shapes community-law enforcement relations. And links have been drawn to the Trayvon Martin shooting and the killing of Eric Garner.

It seems a paltry contribution in the face of people dying, and the incessant and intractable racism that seems to permeate the country, but I can only wonder about the role that anthropology could play in helping to address situations like this in the future. First, I think it is important for the discipline as a whole to reflect on its own colonial and racist past and present – to examine why anthropology departments are almost entirely white, and why people of color who do come into the field end up feeling so marginalized, despite the fact that anthropology is presented as one of the great anti-racist disciplines.

Second, I think we need a genuine anthropology of race in the US. What’s lacking, I think – and this is why upward anthropology is so important – is not an anthropology of those who are marginalized by racial disparities. There is a lot of that, and much of it is good work. What’s needed, though, is an anthropology of the people, sites, and systems that perpetuate this racism. As Eric Holder has pointed out, the problem is not the obvious racism of people like Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy, but the subtle, and more hurtful systemic racism that can’t necessarily be pinned on any individual. Understanding how this covert racism is created and reproduced (even within our own discipline) is an essential task moving forward.

Finally, in order to address situations that are more specifically like the one in Ferguson, we need an upward anthropology of the police and military. What does it mean to be a cop or a soldier? How does that experience transform a person, and what does it mean for the relationship between law enforcement, the military, and the people and communities they confront on a regular basis? In this increasingly militarized world, questioning the role of police and soldiers, understanding how they view the world and the people they encounter, and contemplating a different approach to law enforcement and international relation is a decidedly anthropological task, but it can’t be done simply by studying down. We have to turn the ethnographic gaze back on those who have power, and begin working on a different kind of dynamic.

I’ve touched on only part of the problem, and only a part of the solution. Our hope is that the Upward Anthropology Research Community can push anthropologists to engage in a different kind of anthropology, and to transform anthropology into a more effective tool for justice. The events in Ferguson highlight an opportunity to think about the state of our country now, and how we might move forward – I think the same is true for our discipline, and I hope that more anthropologists will answer that call.

Interchangeable Indians: Consent, Context, and the Contested Image

The following is a post from on of our members, Kerry Hawk Lessard (Shawnee). Kerry is an applied medical anthropologist working within urban American Indian communities. She is concerned both academically and personally with the impacts of historical trauma and microagression on the health and wellness of contemporary Native people. As voice, authority, and agency factor so significantly in exacerbating postcolonial impacts, Lessard has partnered with artist/activist Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute) to marry social science with art in ways that make discussion of complex issues within Indian Country more accessible, relevant, and engaging. The two have very recently started a blog, “Kill the Man, Save the Indian” as a forum to explore an applied decolonization practice. Deal was also a recent guest speaker at Creative Mornings – the video of his talk can be found here.

Nader’s call for anthropologists “to study the colonizers” resonates deeply with me as a Shawnee woman who happens also to be an anthropologist. Upward anthropology presents an all too rare opportunity for the observed to turn the lens on the observers, often creating a useful discomfort that then allows for more honesty and equity in the relationships between the two.

The Last American Indian on Earth – © Gregg Deal

In the middle of getting dressed to go out,  I got a text from a friend, Paiute artist Gregg Deal.

“have you left yet? because i have something to show you.”

Pulling up the link to Daniel Wildcat’s June 10, 2014 essay for The Washington Post, I thought surely he meant to draw my attention to its headline, “Native Americans need reparations even more than African Americans do” [the title was subsequently changed to “Why Native Americans don’t want reparations”]. I was pondering the heavy-handedness of that statement when a familiar face looked back at me from directly below the headline: a photo of Deal in his performance art piece “The Last American Indian on Earth.” Dumbfounded, I understood his exasperation. The accompaniment of his image and art in an essay about neither of those things just rendered him little more than a stock photo.  And in the context of those whose voices are marginalized, that’s a considerable problem.

First, a few words about “The Last American Indian on Earth” are important for framing how problematic an issue this is.  In August 2013, Gregg Deal launched a performance art piece that, among other things, examines the impacts of microaggession not only on the ways in which non-Indians view American Indians, but on the ways in which American Indians’ own self-perception is informed and even distorted by these very same forces.  The concept is simple (well, not really, but …).  Dressed in a ribbon shirt, breechclout, and leggings, adorned with hairpipe breastplate and bonnet, Deal is an explosion of pan-Indianism, carefully documenting in film and in written word what happens when the general public is confronted with a stereotype made flesh.  As you might imagine, it isn’t pretty.  In February 2014, this work was featured in Washington Post Magazine, complete with photographs by Post staffer Lucian Perkins.  Fast forward to the photograph of “The Last American Indian on Earth” juxtaposed with Dr. Wildcat’s essay and concerns about consent, context, and the contested image of the American Indian become clear.

Although it is true that The Washington Post holds certain rights to its photographs of Deal in character, what are the constraints of those rights and where do they end?  While Deal agreed to the use of these photographs in an article about himself and his performance art, how could he have envisioned that his image would be separated from its purpose and used instead to illustrate an essay whose title was so misleading and inflammatory?  Consent was granted for an express purpose, one that this use falls well outside.  Perhaps there was some overlooked clause granting The Post rights to use this image in any way it chose, but doing so seems irresponsible considering the magazine’s understanding of “The Last American Indian on Earth” and its narrative.  Certainly there was no consent on Deal’s part to act as the interchangeable Indian.

When I use the term “interchangeable Indian,” what I mean to suggest is that Deal in all of his bonneted glory becomes representative of all Indians, at least in the limited ways that Americans have chosen to know and understand them.  This is foundational to the social critique of “The Last American Indian on Earth,” but taken out of context, the image presents fiction as fact, supporting an essay with which it has no organic ties.  Its only purpose is to signal to the non-Native reader that this piece is an “Indian thing.”  Pointedly, it panders to stereotypes embedded within American consciousness, a disservice to both author and artist.  To go further, coupling this specific image (Deal’s sign reads “My Spirit Animal is White Guilt”) with a headline (since changed) about Native reparations reflected neither Dr. Wildcat’s words nor Deal’s performance art and instead appears intentionally provocative.  The deliberate choice to join the two, then, seems egregious when held up to the negative feelings about American Indians that while coded in polite society, are on full display in any comments section of articles about us or our issues.  Probably like the one that follows Dr. Wildcat’s essay.  I don’t know; I haven’t looked.

And that’s what’s so damnably frustrating.  Use here of “The Last American Indian on Earth” implies something very different than what’s actually written bringing into question the weight and value of Native voice, both that of Dr. Wildcat and that of Deal. That The Post felt free to use Deal’s image in such a misleading way may be chalked up to corporate media prerogative but for American Indians, this violation cuts deeper.  American Indians simply don’t control the ownership and use of their own images as ridiculous as this sounds (and as it is).  Any expression of Indianness that falls outside of the accepted stereotype is immediately subject to invalidation and critique.  It is also the case that non-Natives reserve for themselves the right to adjudicate what and who is sufficiently Native and who is not.  America feels that we must accept their words simply because they say them, never mind our realities.

Consider the debate about the Washington DC football team.  Every opinion is considered valid except for the opinion of the people the issue directly concerns.  Don’t like what they say?  These days you can purchase the dignity of entire tribes with just a few dollars of Original American blood money and use them (as the team did in its propaganda video, “Redskin is a Powerful Word”) to justify a billionaire’s unjustifiable recalcitrance.  Exploiting poor people.  Sounds legit, right?  In fact, should you express any opinion as a Native person that counters the expectation that’s been forced upon you, understand that the first line of critique will be an attack not on the validity of your complaint but rather an assault on your identity.  Expect questions like, “how much Indian you are” or considerations of whether or not you are a “real” Indian, that then restrict the authority of your dissent.  Native people don’t get to choose the barometer for any of those things; non-Natives do.

America likes its savages to be noble and stoic.  Talking back subverts that paradigm and it makes people uncomfortable.  And that’s why The Post diluting Deal’s indigenous voice and altering its narrative to convey what it chooses is so problematic.  Native people must, as a very basic human right, be accorded the freedom to assert their identity, to articulate their own priorities, and to do so with their own voices.