Native Studies

Trans*historicities

The most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, “Trans*historicities,” edited by Leah DeVun and Zeb Tortorici, is now available.

coverimageThis issue offers a theoretical and methodological imagining of what constitutes trans* before the advent of the terms that scholars generally look to for the formation of modern conceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality. What might we find if we look for trans* before trans*? While some historians have rejected the category of transgender to speak of experiences before the mid-twentieth century, others have laid claim to those living gender-non-conforming lives before our contemporary era. By using the concept of trans*historicity, this volume draws together trans* studies, historical inquiry, and queer temporality while also emphasizing the historical specificity and variability of gendered systems of embodiment in different time periods.

Essay topics include a queer analysis of medieval European saints, discussions of a nineteenth-century Russian religious sect, an exploration of a third gender in early modern Japanese art, a reclamation of Ojibwe and Plains Cree Two-Spirit language, and biopolitical genealogies and filmic representations of transsexuality. The issue also features a roundtable discussion on trans*historicities and an interview with the creators of the 2015 film Deseos. Critiquing both progressive teleologies and the idea of sex or gender as a timeless tradition, this issue articulates our own desires for trans history, trans*historicities, and queerly temporal forms of historical narration.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Today is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day honored by the United Nations. This year’s theme is indigenous people’s migration and movement. The UN writes:

“As a result of loss of their lands, territories and resources due to development and other pressures, many indigenous peoples migrate to urban areas in search of better prospects of life, education and employment. They also migrate between countries to escape conflict, persecution and climate change impacts. Despite the widespread assumption that indigenous peoples live overwhelmingly in rural territories, urban areas are now home to a significant proportion of indigenous populations. In Latin America, around 40 per cent of all indigenous peoples live in urban areas — even 80 per cent in some countries of the region. In most cases, indigenous peoples who migrate find better employment opportunities and improve their economic situation but alienate themselves from their traditional lands and customs. Additionally, indigenous migrants face a myriad of challenges, including lack of access to public services and additional layers of discrimination.”

We invite you to learn about the various issues affecting indigenous peoples by reading some of our latest scholarship in native and indigenous studies.

978-1-4780-0023-5Ethnographies of U.S. Empire, edited by Carole McGranahan and John F. Collins, presents scholarship from across U.S. imperial formations: settler colonialism, overseas territories, communities impacted by U.S. military action or political intervention, Cold War alliances and fissures, and, most recently, new forms of U.S. empire after 9/11. From the Mohawk Nation, Korea, and the Philippines to Iraq and the hills of New Jersey, the contributors show how a methodological and theoretical commitment to ethnography sharpens our understandings of the ways people live, thrive, and resist in the imperial present.

In Colonial Lives of Property Brenna Bhandar examines how modern property law contributes to the formation of racial subjects in settler colonies and to the development of racial capitalism. Examining both historical cases and ongoing processes of settler colonialism in Canada, Australia, and Israel and Palestine, Bhandar shows how the colonial appropriation of indigenous lands depends upon ideologies of European racial superiority as well as upon legal narratives that equate civilized life with English concepts of property.

ddeh_64_1_coverEthnohistory reflects the wide range of current scholarship inspired by anthropological and historical approaches to the human condition around the world, but with a particular emphasis on the Americas. Of particular interest are those analyses and interpretations that seek to make evident the experiences, organizations, and identities of indigenous, diasporic, and minority peoples that otherwise elude the histories and anthropologies of nations, states, and colonial empires. The journal welcomes a theoretical and cross-cultural discussion of ethnohistorical materials and publishes work from the disciplines of art history, geography, literature, archaeology, anthropology, and history, among others. Recent special issue topics include “Native American Slavery in the Seventeenth Century” and “Colonial Mesoamerican Literacy: Method, Form, and Consequence.”

978-0-8223-6994-3Dana E. Powell, in Landscapes of Powerexamines the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico to trace the political conflicts surrounding native sovereignty and contemporary energy development on Navajo (Diné) Nation land.  Examining the labor of activists, artists, politicians, elders, technicians, and others, Powell emphasizes the generative potential of Navajo resistance to articulate a vision of autonomy in the face of twenty-first-century colonial conditions.

In Art for an Undivided Earth Jessica L. Horton reveals how the spatial philosophies underlying the American Indian Movement (AIM) were refigured by a generation of artists searching for new places to stand. Upending the assumption that Jimmie Durham, James Luna, Kay WalkingStick, Robert Houle, and others were primarily concerned with identity politics, she joins them in remapping the coordinates of a widely shared yet deeply contested modernity that is defined in great part by the colonization of the Americas.

978-0-8223-6368-2In The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen Noenoe K. Silva reconstructs the indigenous intellectual history of a culture where—using Western standards—none is presumed to exist. Silva examines the work of two lesser-known Hawaiian writers—Joseph Ho‘ona‘auao Kanepu‘u and Joseph Moku‘ohai Poepoe—to show how the rich intellectual history preserved in Hawaiian-language newspapers is key to understanding Native Hawaiian epistemology and ontology.

Critically Sovereign, edited by Joanne Barker, traces the ways in which gender is inextricably a part of Indigenous politics and U.S. and Canadian imperialism and colonialism. Following the politics of gender, sexuality, and feminism across diverse historical and cultural contexts, the contributors question and reframe the thinking about Indigenous knowledge, nationhood, citizenship, history, identity, belonging, and the possibilities for a decolonial future.

978-0-8223-6297-5What does it mean to say that Native peoples exist in the present?  In Beyond Settler Time Mark Rifkin investigates the dangers of seeking to include Indigenous peoples within settler temporal frameworks. Claims that Native peoples should be recognized as coeval with Euro-Americans, Rifkin argues, implicitly treat dominant non-native ideologies and institutions as the basis for defining time itself. Drawing on physics, phenomenology, queer studies, and postcolonial theory, Rifkin develops the concept of “settler time” to address how Native peoples are both consigned to the past and inserted into the present in ways that normalize non-native histories, geographies, and expectations.

Series Launch: Global and Insurgent Legalities

This month we’re excited to announce the new book series Global and Insurgent Legalities, edited by Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller and Eve Darian-Smith.

Global and Insurgent Legalities explores how law and legal cultures travel within and beyond national jurisdictions and how they become reconfigured in the process. Books in this series attend to the ways schools of thought indigenous to the global South refract and reframe the Continental social and legal theories that are typically associated with scholarship produced in the global North. The series promotes critical, interdisciplinary, and transnational sociolegal work on topics ranging from social, sexual, and colonial inequalities to the circulation of non-western concepts of property, sovereignty, and individualism. Recognizing the enduring impact of imperialism, colonialism, and oppression on legal and social relations, Global and Insurgent Legalities decenters the production of legal theory to include perspectives, voices, and concepts from around the world.

978-0-8223-7146-5The series’ first book is Colonial Lives of Property by Brenna Bhandar, which examines how modern property law contributes to the formation of racial subjects in settler colonies and to the development of racial capitalism. Examining both historical cases and ongoing processes of settler colonialism in Canada, Australia, and Israel and Palestine, Bhandar shows how the colonial appropriation of indigenous lands depends upon ideologies of European racial superiority as well as upon legal narratives that equate civilized life with English concepts of property.

978-0-8223-7035-2Renisa Mawani’s Across Oceans of Law joins Global and Insurgent Legalities this month. Mawani retells the well-known story of the Komagata Maru, a British-built, Japanese-owned steamship whose Punjabi migrant passengers were denied entry into Canada, and later deported to Calcutta, in 1914. Drawing on “oceans as method”—a mode of thinking and writing that repositions land and sea—Mawani examines the historical and conceptual stakes of situating histories of Indian migration within maritime worlds.

Both of these books are available now, and we look forward to watching the series grow!

Series Launch: On Decoloniality

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new book series, On Decoloniality, edited by Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine E. Walsh. Two books are available now, and we look forward to watching the series grow.

On Decoloniality interconnects a diverse array of perspectives from the lived experiences of coloniality and decolonial thought/praxis in different local histories from across the globe. The series identifies and examines decolonial engagements in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, the Americas, South Asia, South Africa, and beyond from standpoints of feminisms, erotic sovereignty, Fanonian thought, post-Soviet analyses, global indigeneity, and ongoing efforts to delink, relink, and rebuild a radically distinct praxis of living. Aimed at a broad audience, from scholars, students, and artists to journalists, activists, and socially engaged intellectuals, On Decoloniality invites a wide range of participants to join one of the fastest growing debates in the humanities and social sciences that attends to the lived concerns of dignity, life, and the survival of the planet.

Cover of On Decoloniality by Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine E. WalshOn Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis, authored by the series editors, is the first book in the series. Mignolo and Walsh explore the hidden forces of the colonial matrix of power, its origination, transformation, and current presence, while asking the crucial questions of decoloniality’s how, what, why, with whom, and what for.

The second book, What Does It Mean to Be Post-Soviet? by Madina Tlostanova, traces how contemporary post-Soviet art mediates this human condition. Observing how the concept of the happy future—which was at the core of the project of Soviet modernity—has lapsed from the post-Soviet imagination, Tlostanova shows how the possible way out of such a sense of futurelessness lies in the engagement with activist art.

Q&A with Dana Powell, Author of Landscapes of Power

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Photo by Marie Freeman

We spoke with Dana Powell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, about her new book Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation. Powell examines the rise and fall of the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant initiative in New Mexico, tracing the political conflicts surrounding native sovereignty and energy development on Navajo (Diné) Nation land and emphasizing the potential of Navajo resistance to articulate a vision of autonomy in the face of colonial conditions.

How does your book approach and examine the Desert Rock Energy Project initiative, a failed late-2000s attempt to establish a coal-burning power plant on Navajo land in New Mexico?

This is a story about the sociocultural dynamics of intensive extraction. The book takes two tacks: first, I approach the problem of Desert Rock historically, telling the longer story of the Navajo Nation’s decades of economic dependency on energy minerals, but ask readers to critically understand this dependency through the double entanglements of settler colonialism and environmental harm. At the same time, I examine the parallel legacies of resistance and energy activism, which emerged from grassroots leaders who not only recognized this nefarious entanglement but saw how the 1960s ascendence of coal production intensified the risk of exposure already in place from Cold War uranium extraction. Second, I approach the problem ethnographically, inviting readers into some of the on-the-ground complexities of tribal sovereignty, economic development, policy change, and various interpretations of place, by following the work of one social movement organization in particular. Ethnography allows me to examine the situated experiences of Diné people on both sides of the debate—those for the power plant, and those against the plant—as an embodied struggle around science, technology, and the future of infrastructure in indigenous territory. By interspersing ethnographic vignettes in between longer chapters that examine policy, discourse, expressive arts, and resistance strategies, I hope readers gain a feel for the everyday life impacts of large-scale industrial development and their unique dynamics in Diné landscapes.

You were a political organizer and assistant manager with the Indigo Girls, an activist folk-rock duo that campaigns and holds benefits for native communities. How did your involvement affect the direction and nature of your research?

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The national political organizing work that I did through my affiliation with Indigo Girls offered me privileged access to conversations within the Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, and the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, as well as dozens of tribal NGOs, which deeply shaped my sense of the double entanglement of colonialism and environmental harm in Native America (from early 20th-century extractive legacies to later 20th-century impacts of climate change). This involvement not only established certain alliances and relationships for me, which became crucial as my solidarity work morphed from activist-ally to activist-researcher, but allowed me to develop research questions in tandem with indigenous organizers and policy-makers. I came to see my work as nurturing a conversation among conversations, linking discussions within activist networks with similar discussions in academic debates. Later on, in my academic work with the Social Movements Working Group and Modernity/Coloniality groups at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, I came to see how the knowledge work of the environmental-social movements I’d been engaged in for many years established the epistemic framework for my newfound anthropological inquiries into the problems. Aesthetically, having spent years working closely with feminist artists who approached social justice through songwriting, performance, and music, I was tuned in to the ways that expressive and sonic arts flowed through Diné and other indigenous environmental justice movements; this orientation provided me with a much-needed balance to my emphasis on the policy and political economy of energy. Last, years of assisting with the production of community-based and larger market-based benefit concerts confirmed for me the power of spectacle and affect in public education and outreach, and I tried to enact this sensibility and intention in the writing that coalesced into this book.

How did your thoughts about indigenous environmental activism shift over the course of your time with the Indigo Girls?

Over time, I came to see environmental activism in the U.S. as social justice work with questions of indigenous political difference and matters of territory front and center. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers offered strong models of how to enact solidarity as white allies to an indigenous movement; their feminist and queer analysis brought new angles to thinking about “justice” in matters of environmental harm. For example, although large-scale environmental organizations were brought to task by grassroots groups of color a few decades ago (see the “Letter to the Group of Ten” authored by the Southwest Organizing Project, and others), changing public discourse on the racialized and gendered dimensions of environmental risk is still pretty poorly understood among wider publics. We were focusing on solutions: supporting community-led and tribal government-led wind and solar development in Native Nations; but, over time, my thoughts shifted from these national efforts toward the complexities of “transition” work in specific locations. Over the years, I came to see that the national (really, international) activism we were engaged in didn’t always line up with what people desired in specific locales, so I became increasingly interested in understanding these frictions and how building power in particular demanded more specific, rather than general kinds of knowledge.  

You describe how environmental journalists packaged Diné activism against the Desert Rock power plant as a “David and Goliath” story. Why was this frame harmful or misleading?

This Biblical metaphor offers no simple alignment: who in this struggle was the godless Goliath? The energy company, the federal government, surrounding jurisdictional states, or the Navajo Council? And who was the liberatory David? Grassroots EJ groups, the Navajo Council, residents of the impacted area who fought back through their endangered status? In the case of Desert Rock, the “perpetrators” and the “underdog” were not so clearly defined adversarial positions. The only appropriate analogy or likeness in this figure of speech is, perhaps, activists’ questioning of the “god” of capital.

You spent time in native communities both as an activist and as an anthropologist-observer. How did these two roles feel distinct from each other? How did your multiple visits to the Navajo Nation affect your understanding of the community and the nature of your research?

Perhaps like anyone who begins working in movements and then shifts in/to the academy, I experienced the unsettling feeling of betrayal: were my newly constructed academic questions—despite being inspired by the knowledge-work on the ground—a departure from more urgently needed, different modes of labor for non-native allies? Could the two positions ever be reconciled? Over time, I came to feel they were not so different, after all: the activist questions, theorizes, experiments, observes, analyzes and expresses, as does the anthropologist, following differing registers of expressive practice and media. Striving to maintain this critical edge within myself, recognizing and valuing both roles, deepened my understanding of the matters at stake and how the “local” struggle was, indeed, a “global” story and critically relevant to other extractive contexts. But at times, these roles made different ethical demands, challenging me to constantly interrogate what I was following, and why. Certainly, the multiple visits (that I discuss through the ethnographic trope of “arrivals” into the field) stretched out over years (1999-present) enabled me to slowly establish what have become long-term relationships of trust and collaboration with particular Diné people, and the project would not have been possible without these connections. And because I was examining the sociocultural life of the contemporary landscape, I had to learn to “see” infrastructures of power (from livestock wells to power lines, from ceremonial hogans to well-worn pathways in the forests) and it took many years of encounters to develop this perspective.

How can activists reconcile care for the environment with an understanding of the complex issues facing Native communities? What resonance do the lessons of Desert Rock hold for today’s activists?

Activists should not start with a consideration of the “environment”: it’s an abstract idea. As Anna Tsing, Bruno Latour, and many activists like those I work with in Navajoland argue, its unquestioned universality occludes the particularities of sites of struggle, in which the matters at stake are often not “the environment” as (we) imagined. Native Nations in the 21st century are facing new kinds of challenges to indigenous territorial sovereignty, often enacted through large-scale energy technologies: this was visible on a new scale, thanks to social media, during the Standing Rock/NoDAPL movement in 2016-2017. As I discuss in the book and elsewhere, activists who yearn for “environmental sustainability” in the U.S. cannot continue to follow the conventional “three E’s” approach to environment/economics/equity: the political difference of American Indians must be front and center in any project of harm reduction or transition. The notion of “equity” cannot contain this political/historical difference or the conditions of violence, ongoing, wrought by centuries of settler colonialism. An idea of “sustainability” that does not include sovereignty, in the case of Native Nations, is bankrupt. Likewise, as Myles Lennon shows in his study of Black Lives Matter activists’ pursuit of solar power, the question of energy justice in the U.S. brings with it long histories of the structural “demattering” of people of color. Activists can take these lessons of historical and political difference from the Desert Rock struggle. In this moment of public lands and sacred lands continually coming under threat (e.g., Bears Ears Monument, Standing Rock, Chaco Canyon, and more), especially with the expansion of energy infrastructure, activists who care for “the environment” would be wise to begin with an inquiry into the patterns of displacement, labor, settlement, and significance in a particular landscape.

Pick up Dana Powell’s Landscapes of Power for 30% off using coupon code E17LAND at dukeupress.edu.

Explore the Artists of Jessica Horton’s Art for an Undivided Earth


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In Art for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Movement Generation, Jessica L. Horton explores how the artists of the American Indian Movement (AIM) generation remapped the spatial, temporal, and material coordinates of modernity by placing colonialism’s displacement of indigenous people, objects, and worldviews at the center of their work. Inspired to see the work Horton discusses in person? Read on to learn more about the artists and where their art is on display.

Jimmie Durham

Jimmie Durham (born 1940 in Washington, Arkansas) is an activist, sculptor, essayist, and poet whose works are held in major collections around the globe. In Art for an Undivided Earth, Jessica Horton explains: “Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Durham exhibited alongside, collaborated with, and wrote about the work of fellow indigenous artists. He profoundly impacted a discourse about Native American art and settler colonialism long after he moved to Mexico in 1987 and to Europe in 1994, at which time he cut his ties to U.S. institutions.”  A highly-anticipated retrospective of Durham’s work downloadbegan at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles in January 2017; it is now on display at the Walker Art Center  in Minneapolis, and later heads to The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Remai Modern in Saskatoon.

 

James Luna

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James Luna (born 1950 in Orange, California) is a Payómkawichum and Mexican-American artist known for his photography, performance art, and multimedia installations. According to Horton, “Luna’s work culminated a decade of curatorial efforts in the United States and Canada to enhance the visibility of Native artists at the Venice Biennale, the oldest and some say most prestigious art exhibition in the world.” Luna’s corpus of work is displayed on his website; the site also provides videos of his performance art. You can view Luna’s work, including his famous piece “Half Indian/Half Mexican,” in person by visiting the Denver Art Museum’s American Indian Collection.

Fred Kabotie

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Fred Kabotie (1900-1986) was a Hopi artist best known for his painting, silverwork, illustrations, and pottery. In Art for an Undivided Earth, Horton points out that Kabotie “painted social and ceremonial dances from memory as government-imposed education and widespread bans on ritual practices aimed to transform Native bodies into productive labor for the U.S. economy in the first decades of the twentieth century.” Within Kabotie’s early works, Horton notes, this reveals “a persistent concern with maintaining Hopi sensibilities amid displacement.” Fred Kabotie’s work can be found in the Great Plains Art Museum’s Patricia J. and Stanley H. Broder Collection, the Albuquerque Museum’s permanent collection, and a current exhibit, “Spirit of Creation,” also at the Albuquerque Museum.

Kay Walkingstick

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Kay WalkingStick (born 1935 in Syracuse, NY) is a landscape artist whose later paintings often incorporate patterns from Native American pottery and rugs. These landscapes are particularly remarkable because, as Horton emphasizes, “Walkingstick’s artistic practice refuses a logic of difference that lingered in late twentieth-century debates about modernist primitivism, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, and the Columbus Quincentennial, by forging affective bonds with white artistic predecessors.” Her work is in the collections of museums around the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. A retrospective of Walkingstick’s work, “Kay Walkingstick: An American Artist,” will travel to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo MI, the Gilcrease Art Museum, Tulsa OK, and the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair NJ, during 2017 and 2018. If you can’t make it to one of these museums, Walkingstick’s work is also displayed digitally on her website.

Robert Houle

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Robert Houle is a Saulteaux First Nations Canadian artist, critic, and curator who has worked to unify First Nations contemporary artists with the larger Canadian art scene. In Art for an Undivided Earth, Horton explains that Houle’s mixed-media works “revisit the entwined lineages of ethnography and abstraction to tell a survival story” (14). Houle’s work can be found in many public collections, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto ON, the Heard Museum, Phoenix AZ, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, Sudbury ON, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa ON.

To save 30% on Art for an Undivided Earth use coupon code E17HORTN at checkout on our website.

Collateral Afterworlds: Sociality Besides Redemption

ddstx_130The most recent issue of Social Text, “Collateral Afterworlds: Sociality Besides Redemption,” moves beyond the binary of life and death to explore how the gray areas in between—precarious life, slow death—call into question assumptions about the social in social theory. In these “collateral afterworlds,” where the line between life and death is blurred, the presumed attachments of sociality to life and solitude to death are no longer reliable.

The contributors focus on the daily experiences of enduring a difficult present unhinged from any redeeming future, addressing topics such as drug treatment centers in Mexico City, solitary death in Japan, Inuit colonial violence, human regard for animal life in India, and intimacies forged between grievously wounded soldiers. Engaging history, film, ethics, and poetics, the contributors explore the modes of intimacy, obligation, and ethical investment that arise in these spaces.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Interview with Ethnohistory co-editor John F. Schwaller

We recently sat down with new Ethnohistory co-editor John F. Schwaller to discuss his background, how he’d like to shape the journal in the future, and plans for upcoming special issues. To learn more about Ethnohistory, visit dukeupress.edu/ethnohistory.

How did you come to be co-editor of this journal?

ddeh_64_1Matthew Restall [former co-editor of Ethnohistory] is a colleague and friend of mine and when he had served the journal for almost 10 years, he asked me if I would be interested in taking over the position from him. I’ve been a long-time follower and sometime author in Ethnohistory. My work in early colonial Mexico and especially my work in Nahuatl was very close to the journal, so it was a fun opportunity.

How would you like to shape the journal in the future?

What I really want to do is continue to emphasize high quality work on the rest of the Americas. Ethnohistory always has had very strong pieces on British and French North America. For the last ten to fifteen years the journal has included increasingly important pieces on what we now consider Latin America and I want to continue that tradition. Many of the articles have come from Mesoamerica—that’s Mexico and Central America. We have published a little bit in South America and we now have a couple of articles in the queue focused on South America. I would like to expand the offerings for Mesoamerica and South America significantly, so we have a really great presence for both continents in the journal.

What are some under-researched areas that you hope to publish about in the future?

I think, in terms of the profession at large it may not be as underserved, but there are certainly a lot of native peoples of South America that have not been covered sufficiently. We’re only beginning to see some really good studies of some of the native peoples of South America, and I would love to see more ethnohistories of peoples from South America.

Do you have any plans for upcoming special issues?

We have two proposals for special issues right now. One deals with Nahuatl speaking people, and I’m very excited about that. It’s an outgrowth of a panel at the American Society for Ethnohistory meeting in Nashville [November 2016] in which we looked at language and cultural identity in modern Mexico. We had several native Nahuatl speakers who were part of the panel. The organizers of the panel have asked if Ethnohistory would be interested in looking at the papers and the presentations for a special issue and I’ve told them absolutely. If it comes to fruition, at least one or perhaps two of the shorter presentations will be in Nahuatl with English translations.

What are you looking for in submissions?

I’m excited about everything. I really want people to think of Ethnohistory as an important place for their work to appear if they work on native peoples of the Americas.

Obviously with the revolution in languages that we’ve had since the 1970s, many of us are very excited by documentation and works based on documentation in native languages. We need not be blind to the fact that there still are valid and important sources that are only Spanish, Portuguese, English, or French, that can also enlighten us as to the history of native peoples.

To learn more about the journal or to subscribe, visit dukeupress.edu/ethnohistory. To submit your work to the journal, review the submission guidelines.

New Books in February

Can you believe it’s already February? Our Spring 2017 season is in full swing. Check out these new books dropping this month:

misinterpellated-subject-coverIn The Misinterpellated SubjectJames R. Martel complicates Louis Althusser’s theory of interpellation, using historical and literary analyses ranging from the Haitian Revolution to Ta-Nehisi Coates to examine the political and revolutionary potential inherent in the instances when people heed the state’s call that was not meant for them.

Fans of literature and iconic literary theorist Slavoj Žižek shouldzizek-cover enjoy Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask ŽižekThis volume demonstrates the importance of Slavoj Žižek’s work to literary criticism and theory by showing how his practice of reading theory and literature can be used in numerous theoretical frameworks and applied to literature across historical periods, nationalities, and genres, creating new interpretations of familiar works.

dying-in-full-detail-coverIn analyses of digital death footage—from victims of police brutality to those who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge—Jennifer Malkowski’s Dying in Full Detail considers the immense changes digital technologies have introduced in the ability to record and display actual deaths—one of documentary’s most taboo and politically volatile subjects.

Mark Rifkin’s Beyond Settler Time disrupts settler temporalbeyond-settler-time-cover frameworks. Rifkin explores how Indigenous experiences with time and the dominance of settler colonial conceptions of temporality have affected Native peoplehood and sovereignty, thereby rethinking the very terms by which history is created and organized around time by.

magic-of-concepts-coverIn The Magic of ConceptsRebecca E. Karl interrogates the concept and practice of “the economic” as it was understood in China in the 1930s and the 1980s and 90s, showing how the use of Eurocentric philosophies, narratives, and conceptions of the economic that exist outside lived experiences fail to capture modern China’s complex history.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan, in his latest book Pharmocracyworks atpharmocracy-cover the confluence of politics and racial capitalism. He traces the structure and operation of what he calls pharmocracy—a concept explaining the global hegemony of the multinational pharmaceutical industry. He outlines pharmocracy’s logic in two case studies from contemporary India to demonstrate the stakes of its intersection with health, politics, democracy, and global capital.

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Q&A with Bill Anthes

FAC-Bill-AnthesBill Anthes is a Professor in the Art Field Group at Pitzer College. His latest book, Edgar Heap-of-Birds, is the first book-length study of contemporary Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds. Anthes analyzes Heap of Bird’s art and politics in relation to Native American history, spirituality, and culture, the international art scene, and how his art critiques the subjugation of Native Americans. Anthes is also the author of Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960 (2006).

When did you first learn of Edgar Heap of Birds and his art? What was the first work of his that you saw?

I first became aware of Heap of Birds’s art in the early 1990s, as a handful of native NorthEdgar Heap of Birds American artists were breaking into the contemporary art world, through exhibitions such as the Decade Show in New York, and in the writing of critics such as Lucy Lippard, whose work has always advocated for artists of color, feminists, and others outside of the commercial mainstream. Heap of Birds’s works were also shown alongside a cohort of native artists in a series of exhibitions in the United States and Canada mounted in 1992 to counter official commemorations of the Quincetennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Heap of Birds and native artists including Carl Beam, Rebecca Belmore, Jimmie Durham,  Bob Haozous, George Longfish, James Luna, Alan Michelson, Edward Poitras, Kay Walkingstick, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith exhibited works that were fully engaged with the critical discourses of contemporary art as they mounted powerful critiques of the settler colonialism and its legacies.

The first work I saw would have been either the Native Hosts series – placards which recognize the native nations that claim sovereignty over the places where they are installed as well as defamiliarize the settler names for those places—or perhaps his Building Minnesota, which honors Dakota warriors who were hanged by the United States for their efforts defending their homelands during the Sioux War of 1862. As a descendent of settlers and immigrants, I grew up on what I learned much later was the traditional Cheyenne and Arapahoe homeland along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. For a non-native westerner, Heap of Birds’s artworks offered a quick and disorienting American history lesson.

Additionally, these works taught me a lot about contemporary art—as a critical and activist practice—and about what Native American art might be in a contemporary context. Native Hosts and Building Minnesota were machine-fabricated metal placards that, like many of Heap of Birds’s public art installations, appropriated the look and voice of state or corporate authority. Heap of Birds’s projects are sometimes criticized—or more often just misunderstood—because they don’t “look like” Native American art, which means they don’t conform to many non-native viewers’ expectations that art made by a Native person will be made with natural materials. (Of course we usually forget that many of the materials most commonly associated with Native American art and culture were imports—horses, glass beads—that were readily adapted by native peoples as they faced a changing landscape a new political situation. There’s a quote by artist Jimmie Durham that I like to share with my students and which nicely sums up the native ability to appropriate foreign objects, languages, and ideas to use in the struggle to protect and nurture native communities and people: “Every object, every material brought in from Europe was taken and transformed with great energy. A rifle in the hands of a soldier was not the same as a rifle that had undergone Duchampian changes in the hands of a defender, which often included changes in the form by the employment of feathers, leather, and beadwork.”

How did your conversations with Edgar Heap of Birds allow you to understand his work in ways that differed from when you started?

Native ModernsWhen I began this project, I had recently completed my first book, Native Moderns, in which I had tried to argue that Native American artists had produced a kind of modernist art in the mid-twentieth century, and that this was an important episode in the history of American modernism, even as it unsettled certain assumptions and habits of thought about the modernist canon (for example the assumption that modernism is primarily an urban cultural expression). I had also been thinking about contemporary Native American artists who had since the early 1990s begun appearing in some of the major venues and institutions of the contemporary art world, including the new biennials and art fairs that we associate with our current global moment. But despite these appearances on the global contemporary art stage, the work of native artists was not figuring into the discourses that were coming to define the moment—issues of transnationalism and exile, for example, which figure in the work of many artists today from Africa or Asia. I had planned, based on the thinking that had lead me to write Native Moderns, that a book about Heap of Birds’s art would argue first and foremost for his global currency, and to an extent this book still attempts to do that. But based on my being in conversation with the artist over many years, and based on a close study of his practice, and perhaps most profoundly on my experience of being with Edgar and his family as he took part in the Cheyenne Earth Renewal ceremony (sometimes called the Sun Dance) on the Cheyenne-Arapaho homelands in Oklahoma, I wrote a book that focused on the work’s grounding in a specific place and a profoundly indigenous and Cheyenne way of seeing and being in the world. As in Native Moderns, this led me to argue that attention to Heap of Birds’s work—and the work of contemporary Native American artists (and by extension the work of indigenous artists globally)—suggests other key terms and framings of the contemporary than are currently part of the conversation about contemporaneity.

As you mention in the book’s introduction, four is an important number in Cheyenne and other Plains Native cultures. How did you come to decide on using a structure of four chapters for your book? Was it clear from the start, or something that you developed during your research and writing?

That decision was very much a product of time spent with the work and the artist and the experience of the Earth Renewal ceremony, which is organized around repeated units of four—referencing the four seasons and the four directions—to ensure the efficacy of the ceremony. It started becoming clear to me after that how much of Heap of Bird’s work is organized in multiples of four, and that his ongoing series of abstract landscape paintings are also called Neuf, or four in the Cheyenne language. I was looking for an organization for the book that would allow me to approach the work in some way other than by chronology, or in terms of specific media (like painting, prints, and public art) as it became clear that Heap of Birds’s artistic thinking travels backwards and forwards in time. Key phrases and ideas appear in various media at many different points in his career, and I began to see this as an artistic practice that was centered in a place, more so than in time, or rather that the timeline one could follow in the work was more a spiral than a future-oriented trajectory. It was “always returning back home,” as Heap of Birds writes in several projects. That’s very much an idea, I think, that is taught in the Earth Renewal and in Plains and native cultures generally, and it was important to me that the book find an organization that come from a native epistemology, rather than the (now standardized and conventionalized) historiography of the contemporary in art history.

The thematic approaches of your chapters—Land, Words, Histories, Generations—provide generous containers for discussing the complexities of Edgar Heap of Birds’s work. For instance Land allows you both the Neuf paintings—abstract paintings inspired by landscape—and Heap of Birds’s conceptual signs in the Native Hosts series. For an artist who works in such a wide-variety of media, what was your process for distilling it down to these themes?

Indeed Heap of Birds has maintained an ongoing practice in a range of media, and it would have been possible, I suppose, to write a chapter on the paintings, and another on the public art installations, and another on the prints, for example. But the main themes—land or sovereignty, the power of language, history and ideas about historicity, and a commitment to the next generations, which is different, I think, than the notions of futurity one finds in modernism, or the “end of history” as figured in much contemporary art and theory—these themes cut across all of Heap of Birds’s practice and conceptual touch stones. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heap of Birds a conceptual artist, or a “post-studio” artist, as there is a daily practice of art making—painting, but often research and writing, as well—in which these key themes are explored and developed and returned to over and over again, regardless of the medium.

Often a drawing is a collection of words or phrases, and Heap of Birds also exhibits works in diverse media together in one space. So it was a matter of finding those themes, and then selecting works that spoke to them in a compelling way. I rearranged my choices for each chapter a few times, and some bodies of work do reappear in more than one chapter—I liked how that seemed to resonate with the idea that Edgar’s artistic trajectory is a spiral, rather than a timeline. There would have been many ways to arrange works to speak to those themes because, I think, all of Heap of Birds’s works speak to each of those four themes. So I tried to find works that would speak in a particularly compelling way, and not worry too much about media, although in the Words chapter, for example, I do follow something like a chronological or biographical path because Edgar has at various points made specific decisions about media and materiality to express those ideas as they evolved in his artistic thinking. And I as wrote in the introduction, I never imagined this a catalog raisonné. I imagined the book as the four interconnected essays that might open up Heap of Birds’s practice for new readers as well as audiences who have followed his work for many years.

You mention how Heap of Birds’s describes his artwork as a ‘puncture.’ Do you think that the provoking and political nature of Edgar Heap of Birds’s work is a factor that causes some museums to shy away from showing it? A contrast to this is Wheel, a large outdoor sculpture commissioned by the Denver Museum of Art, which you also discuss as one of Heaps of Birds’s most ambitious works to date. 

I don’t think it’s so much that museums and institutions shy away from art that makes a political statement, or introduces a “puncture.” That would rule out all but the most banal and formalist contemporary art. I wrote in the introduction that I think the main reason that Heap of Birds and other contemporary Native American artists lack a certain visibility in the contemporary art world is that their politics are, in a sense, illegible to mainstream audiences. Native (and more broadly and globally indigenous) experiences of settler colonialism and the very powerful and important concepts of sovereignty are just not, or not yet, part of the conversion around contemporary art today. Native artists espouse a connection to place that seems at odds to the always-on, interconnected world of globalization and neo-liberal political economy. Tuscarora artist and critic Jolene Rickard refers to this as a “shared ancient imaginary,” and I think that it’s in some ways antithetical to the ways in which we currently imagine contemporaneity. In some ways it’s the old stereotype that Native Americans are a “people of the past” and thus not part of contemporary art. When native artists do appear on the contemporary art world’s global stage, they often do so under limited and prescribed circumstances and pretexts – as exemplars of a kind of anti-modernity, fulfilling fantasies of a primitive spiritual wholeness or environmentally-harmonious life ways. These one-dimensional representations suggest that native people are not part of the shared time of globalization. I think we need to reframe those notions – of the contemporary and of the key terms for global contemporary art. If Heap of Birds’s political statements strike some viewers or museum or gallery professionals as unthinkable (or unexhibitable) perhaps it’s because it remains nearly impossible for many audiences to imagine a contemporary Native politics.

You write, “Looking outward from a lodge on a hilltop in Oklahoma to the global spaces of the contemporary art world, we might begin a different conversation about the contemporary.” You’re making an important point by writing about art that is made outside of major art centers. Why in our global and virtually connected society is this still such a challenge? These different conversations seem necessary and vital.

I agree, and I think that especially in a global art world it is very important to not grow complacent about what we think we know. There is an emerging historiography of the contemporary and I think the notion that the art world has been decentered might lead us to think that artists and communities everywhere have equal access to its institutions. But of course there are many art worlds and what we think of as contemporary art is really just one, elite sector (with very good PR!). Artists in countless locations and perspectives have taken many different and in some cases mutually incomprehensible positions vis-à-vis contemporaneity. This isn’t to say that the many art worlds are “separate but equal,” which of course is never true. There is of course inequality. And then there are artists who might choose to travel through many art worlds, like I think Edgar has done. The experience of witnessing the Earth Renewal was, for me, one of the most powerful contemporary art experiences I have ever had, but even to say that kind of trivializes it because we have such limited notion of what contemporary art is or can be. The view from a lodge on a hilltop in Oklahoma is, for me, very important because it suggests something about what a contemporary art practice and a history of contemporary art can be, something that is global – and perspective changing—in the most meaningful sense.

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