Nick Estes on Trauma Politics

nick estes twitter thread

I found the following Twitter thread to be highly informative and ever-timely.

Nick Estes’ profile (@nickwestes) states: Oceti Sakowin. Kul Wicasa. Lakol Wicoun. The original Red Scare. Merciless Indian humor. @The_Red_Nation Podcast. Book: Our History is the Future.

“I can’t speak on whites pretending to be Black in the academy. But I see similarities with how whites have adopted a Native identity in the academy. Yes, there’s a question of resources. What’s not often spoke about is the politics of injury tied to these make-believe identities.

The cunning of trauma politics is that it turns actual people and struggles, whether racial or Indigenous citizenship and belonging, into matters of injury. It defines an entire people mostly on their trauma and not by their aspirations or sheer humanity.

Who’s the audience for the politics of injury? It certainly isn’t for those who are marginalized. Mostly it’s for white audiences or institutions of power. It’s non-threatening to be a traumatized person, especially when those dishing out the trauma become those who solve it.

Most Indigenous people I know became politicized through their collective historical experience from colonization. But being Indigenous isn’t solely a source of trauma. Thought of as nations with aspirations for freedom, the struggle itself through an identity can be liberatory.

We have seen the horizon of Indigenous struggle shift. Once it was beyond the settler state. Now it is seeking recognition and remuneration from the settler state for the injuries it has caused. @bloodizcurrency explains this in her book Therapeutic Nations. Read it!

Two examples: Elizabeth Warren’s narration of her fake Cherokee identity is based on a sense of perceived discrimination in her family. Andrea Smith creates an entire field based on locating and defining Indigenous trauma, which was based on her fake Cherokee identity.

I’m always cautious of trauma narratives. Indigeneity is more than just genocide. It’s a world-making politics for just relations. And the most dangerous elements — decolonization through land back and class struggle — tend to be neutralized within academic spaces.

The best way to combat this liberal tendency is by building and foregrounding actual politics that call for the material transformation of the world. No more crying on the shoulder of the man who stole your land or putting star blankets and headdresses on colonizers.

Identity plays a role, for sure. Class is about power. And Indigenous people often experience their class position through their Indigeneity and through the power dynamics of the colonial relation. But being Indigenous doesn’t automatically equal “good” politics.

What we are experiencing is less identity politics and more a politics of injury, or that an identity is based on injury. We can’t just be human beings, we have to have some kind of “plight,” as V. Deloria once put it. It’s not to reject identity but to reject dehumanization.

Finding Balance in Place

A personal musing.
When looking for understanding and self-guidance on something that is fraught with implications and possibilities (such as the thorny question of  identity), I try to back way up to a starting point for as much clarity and grounding as possible, before I move ahead into the present. It seems that when one jumps into the midst of a currently-transpiring moment, there are a lot of moving pieces: actors, past experiences, expectations, emotions, outcomes… all the elements of drama. It is nigh on impossible to see clearly, so gaining perspective as soon as is practical is important. With the challenge of the charged moment, it can be difficult to get one’s footing, or stay focused. The more that I can bring that groundedness to the matter-at-hand from the get-go, rather than try to develop it on the spot, the better my chances of coping adequately and mindfully. I have come to the realization that, as a human, the only thing I have any “power” over are my choices in the present. It is only the present which actually exists, with the past and the future existing as integral parts. So I try to make the best choices in the moment, by way of seeking balance in the place where I am.
So I think about things beforehand, when I am able, before diving in to the “question du jour.” I try to operate from an “ideal” perspective (to the best of my understanding), and then temper it with the realities of the situation and the others with whom I am involved. Note that “the others” are not limited to simply human. So, I try to handle identity in this manner as well. My basic understanding is that grappling with identity, as with everything else, is a seeking of balance. There is the way in which I see myself, and there is a way in which others see me. Ideally, I will conduct myself in an appropriate manner so these things are as clear as possible. I will be guided in these decisions by what I perceive as my responsibilities. I want to meet them as best as I can, to maintain the relationships with which I have been gifted in this state of being called “my life.” We are all a part of each other, in the totality called Creation, constantly changing and interacting. I am honored to do the best I can with what I have been given – this moment. It’s all I have. It’s all any of us have.
Then, all of the other “stuff” – the drama – gets added in, and I seek to navigate it as mindfully as possible, always keeping the basic understanding centered within. The balance acts as an anchor. The question arises: there are so many things to choose from (belief systems, religions, cosmologies, ideologies)… how do you decide what you will use for your anchor? what is your basic reference point? This is where I feel that place-based understanding, indigenous wisdom specific to the location where one finds oneself is the best choice (because those are the relationships within which you are a part, just then, whether you acknowledge them or not). And so, I seek to learn from the land, and from the people who know this land best, from intimate relationship with all of it for thousands of years. I look for those “original instructions.” This is how I will form my concept of identity…. I will identify with the place where I am. I am this place and this place is me. This is the essence of community, of being in relationship.
Bringing this around full circle, I will borrow a quote from Lisa Brook’s “Our Beloved Kin” which I just came across, reading the last chapter while on vacation in Maine (extracted from the discussion in pp. 339-342). This quote seems to embody the concept of seeking balance in the midst of tumult and influences pulling one way or another. During negotiations with the English during strife over land claims, with encroaching settlements and Native resistance, Wabanaki sagamores Moxus and Madoasquarbet express their desire (making their best choice) for stillness in the midst: “Our desire is to be quiet.” This speaks of balance. Finding the center. This, to me, is at the heart of me finding identity. If I can maintain that centeredness, to the best of my ability – making my choices to honor my relationships in place, in the present, to be quiet – I will best be myself.
And I must add, this is not about being as individualized as possible… far from it. The cult of the individual – the disease of separation which rules our modern Western society – is at the heart of our dysfunction and lack of relationship/community. It is estrangement and not at all life-affirming. When I recognize that I am a part of everything else, and start acting like it, I become who I was meant to be. And the corollary, I will then be best able to relate to all others around me. They will have to figure that balance out for themselves, of course, and bring it to the conversation. Some will be more coherent and collaborative, some will be agitated and discordant. That is the human story.
As a benchmark, I understand the gift of indigenous spiritual leaders, the medicine people, to be the highly developed ability to work with spirit to seek balance. They have great insight and understanding, and thus great responsibility to help their people. But, at the core, we all have those responsibilities, to all of our relations. It is not a religion, but a way of life. I am honored to do the best I can, always learning, always changing, because that is the way of Creation. Creation is a process, a totality, ongoing, not a point in time. There is no “time.”
Yesterday I realized a new way to understand the expression “We Are Still Here” – in Abenaki “Askwa n’daoldibna iodali”:  Be here. Be still. We are still, here.

Tech Helps Abenaki Spread Understanding of Native Culture

dustin lapierre vaaa phone app

“Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage,” a traveling exhibit, brings a group of objects and images to audiences in New England that explore Native American identity in modern culture, by asking, “What does it mean to be an Abenaki person in the modern world? What does it mean to be an indigenous artist?”

The exhibit documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage express native identity.

The traveling exhibit, developed through a partnership of the Vermont Abenaki Arts Association and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, is enhanced by a newly available app that delivers additional content about the exhibit. The Google Play store has released the new Android app, available for Android devices only, called Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.

Read the full article by Sarah Galbraith in the Rutland Herald.