Friday, September 13, 2013

Trans-Indigenous Juxtapositions

In his recent book, Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Literary Studies (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), Allen asks us to move away from a comparative frame in which one simply looks at what is the same or different about multiple Indigenous texts and contexts. What happens when we bring together two or more texts in “focused juxtapositions,” placing them close together and honoring their difference? He urges us to pay attention to the process of crossing from one context to another and to see what such crossings tell us. We too are interested in Indigenous exchange and collaborative production. In this week’s posts, we think about Chadwick Allen’s recent book and pose a few of our own juxtapositions.

By Keahiku

I was a big fan of Chadwick Allen’s Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts (Duke University Press, 2002); I’m also a big fan of his Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Literary Studies. In Blood Narrative Allen powerfully argued for a Blood/Land/Memory complex as a “useful construct for analyzing assertions of Indigenous [minority] identity and authenticity” (16) in opposition to dominant settler-cultures and their definitions of, and claims to, indigeneity. Here in Hawai‘i, for example, his Indigenous-centered Blood/Land/Memory complex would contradict the State’s definition of “native Hawaiian.” That is, the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) and the Hawaiian Homes Program (Section 201 (a) (7)), which were both created by the dominant settler-culture, who saw it fit to define us in this way: “The term ‘native Hawaiian’ means any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.” In chapter four of Trans-Indigenous, “Indigenous Languaging,” Allen presents the poem “Blood Quantum” by Kumu Naomi Losch, which exposes both the “tangible” and “symbolic” ruptures that the State’s racially-grounded definition has imposed upon the Hawaiian community (158). The presentation of contemporary Hawaiian issues within a predominately Indian-Maori conversation shows the practical benefits of Allen’s Trans-Indigenous methodology. It also alludes to theoretical creativity and the possibility of so much more…

Blood Quantum by Naomi Losch

We thought we were Hawaiian
Our ancestors were Liloa, Kualiʻi and Alapaʻi.
We fought at Mokuohai, Kepaniwai and Nu’uanu,
And we supported Lili’ulani in her time of need.
We opposed statehood.
We didn’t want to be the 49th or the 50th,
And once we were, 5(f) would take care of us.
But what is a native Hawaiian?
Aren’t we of this place?
‘O ko mākou one hānau kēia.’
And yet, by definition we are not Hawaiian.
We can’t live on Homestead land,
Nor can we receive OHA money.
We didn’t choose to quantify ourselves,
¼ to the left                      ½ to the right
3/8 to the left                   5/8 to the right
7/16 to the left                9/16 to the right
15/32 to the left             17/32 to the right
They not only colonized us, they divided us.

Allen’s newest work takes a much different approach to the issues of Indigenous identity than his last.  Namely, he no longer seems to be focused on articulating what “authentic” Indigeneity is, which is an epistemological concern.  Rather, in acknowledging the reality that contemporary Indigenous identities are “diverse” and “complex,” the focus from “what it is” shifts to “what it ought to be.”  Thus Allen’s main concern here is with the moral and ontological aspects of already being Indigenous, as “situated” within Indigenous-to-Indigenous relationships, or “juxtapositions,” in an ethical sense.  When Allen argues that we ought to move into the future as Trans-Indigenous--which involves “purposeful” Indigenous juxtapositions (such as the “multiperspectivist strategy” of putting Indigenous literature into conversation with Indigenous arts)—one can almost hear a self-critique of his earlier focus.  In Trans-Indigenous, Allen says that:   
The immediate question is not how to define clear criteria for which writers and works can be legitimated for Indigenous scholarship – that is, how to newly articulate old regimes for the regulation of ‘authenticity’ – but rather how to recognize, acknowledge, confront, and critically engage the effects of differential experiences and performances of Indigenous identities. (xxxii)
I find this different way of approaching Indigeneity helpful not only in my own studies, but for the entire discipline, too. 

I hear Allen’s call for “distinction” and “diversity” within a larger Trans-Indigenous movement, and indeed I couldn’t agree with him more.  I hold this “multiperspectivist” ideology close to heart; and, because I think it’s important to Indigenous theory, I quote Nietzsche:  “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity,’ be” (Genealogy, sec 12., Third Essay).  Both Allen and Nietzsche understand the value of diverse perspectives when it comes to understanding a larger concept. 

Allen’s Trans-Indigenous methodology left me further asking: Is there room for, say, African-American literature within Indigenous juxtaposition?  I refuse to be overly critical on this point, because, I think, Allen is moving us in the right direction with a more global awareness of Indigeneity.  A couple of semesters back we read Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism and Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized in an intro to Indigenous Politics course.  Yet, we simply don’t see very much dialogue between Black and Indigenous movements in the current moment. Why is this?  What are some of the reasons why the literatures, arts and activism of African American movements should or shouldn’t be included in “purposeful” Indigenous juxtapositions? This image of Martin Luther King, Jr. wearing a lei is at least one artifact of the productive exchange that can happen across our movements for social justice.

Read more about the story of how lei came to grace the marchers from Selma at these links:

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