From Flint to Standing Rock

Comments made at the NoDAPL action at SFSU on September 15, 2016.

The residents of Flint, Michigan, cannot drink or shower in their water because the state switched their water supply to a river known to be contaminated with lead poisoning. The decision caused major pipe corrosion that is irreversible — meaning that the lead will stay in the water for the foreseeable future. It has also caused, primarily in children and the elderly, learning disabilities and mental and behavioral problems.

Home owners and farmers in Dimock, Pennsylvania can light the water coming out of their faucets and showers and in their toilets on fire because it is contaminated with the several hundred unknown chemicals used to extract natural gas — hydraulic fracturing or fracking. They and their pets and livestock, and the animals and birds that live in the surrounding area, lose their hair, develop skin sores, suffer high rates of cancer and birth defects, and experience disorders of the nervous system. Some of these conditions are fatal.

In California there has been an extended drought evidenced by disastrous wildfires and a snow pack at its lowest in recorded history. It has gotten so severe that the state has declared a drought emergency and imposed water restrictions on individuals. But it has also lifted water restrictions on cities, permitted Nestle — on a $524 a year permit fee — to extract 36 million gallons of water from a national forest to sell as bottled water, and allowed over 70 million gallons of water to be used in fracking.

As countless academic and independent studies have demonstrated, there is not a single oil or gas extraction method that is safe for water (the land or air, but I’ll focus on water for here).

Hundreds of deregulated chemicals are used in oil and gas extraction. The millions and millions of gallons used in the process of fracking contaminates the land and aquifer systems for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. The water cannot be returned or reused.

We are creating our own conditions for intergenerational trauma. We are destroying the waters for ourselves and for thousands of generations to come.

This is part of why President Obama halted the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Since 2010, over 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures have occurred on U.S. pipelines. These incidents have killed 80 people, injured 389 more, and cost $2.8 billion in damages. They have released toxic, polluting chemicals into waters and aquifers.

Over 1,000 of these incidents occurred on pipelines carrying crude oil. The spills and ruptures have released over 7 million gallons of crude. One of the largest spills happened in North Dakota in 2013 when lightning struck a pipeline, which leaked over 840,000 gallons of crude onto a wheat field.

Nearly half of America’s crude oil pipelines are more than 50 years old, increasing the chance of corrosion and failure. Human error and failure of operators to act on potential vulnerabilities in their pipelines also contribute to accidents. So do natural phenomena like lightning and earthquakes. (Regions of Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma are experiencing their first ever earthquakes because of fracking.)

Only 139 federal pipeline inspectors are responsible for examining over 2.6 million miles of pipelines.

Additional funding for inspections is an important step. But even if we throw more personnel and money into the infrastructure we are still not addressing the basic issue.

We need to shift to renewable energy sources.

And why don’t we?

Because this society is based on the capitalist, imperialist premise that greed is good, money is life, and there are no consequences or social problems that money cannot fix.

They are killing us with it.

In fiscal year 2015, U.S. military spending was projected at 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending: $598.5 billion. Military spending includes all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance (including the 38 billion dollar military aid package just approved for Israel); contractors including security and construction; technology, vehicles, supplies, and all other Pentagon-related spending.

I leave you with this:

• The military makes its surplus supplies available to local police and even state transportation agencies like BART. Did you know that in 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture condemned US police brutality and the excessive use of force by law enforcement?
• The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the world, responsible for 93% of all US government fuel consumption in 2007. The DoD’s uses 4.6 billion gallons of fuel a year or 12.6 million gallons of fuel per day.



Water Is Life.

I am donating all proceeds to support #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

Budgets Are Politics by Other Means

The day/after my previous blog was posted, UIUC President Timony Killeen sent out an email blast to university employees informing them that the university has “no budget” and that they could expect severe (necessary) cuts and changes in the coming academic year.

In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein posits that crises — both natural and financial — are used by government and corporate officials to re-engineer the operations they oversee to advance free market ideologies and practices (i.e. inflationary profits). Those who pay the price are laborers and customers; those who benefit are officials, financial CEOs, and their compatriots:

“The theory of economic shock therapy relies in part on the role of expectations on feeding an inflationary process. Reining in inflation requires not only changing monetary policy but also changing the behavior of consumers, employers and workers. The role of a sudden, jarring policy shift is that it quickly alters expectations, signaling to the public that the rules of the game have changed dramatically – prices will not keep rising, nor will wages.”

Faculty, Staff, Student Debt: Bring Your Own…

In the context of university funding, it is faculty, staff, and students who bear the burdens of debt.

Since I graduated high school in 1980, I have been an undergraduate student (1980-1991), a graduate student (1992-2000), and a faculty member (2000-present), all in the state of California. I was an undergraduate student on a part-time basis at a community college and a private liberal arts college (1980-86) before earning my B.A. degree from a public institution in 1991 (in southern California). I did my doctoral studies at a public insitution (in northern California). All the way through, I had to work part to full time to afford rent and basic living expenses. On my salaries and fellowships I could never afford to pay for what was expected of me in relation to my professionalization — attending and presenting at conferences, conducting archival and field research, buying books and software and updating my computer. Those things I did on student loans, loans which I will carry “to the grave.”

Since earning my Ph.D. in 2000, I have been appointed as a full-time lecturer (2000-01 at a CSU campus), an assistant professor (2001-03 at a UC campus), and am now a professor (2003-present at a CSU campus).

At no point in time, at no institution, did the state government or campus administration not claim that there was an economic crisis of funding. Repeatedly the crisis was/is used to justify student tuition hikes, hiring freezes or erasures of faculty lines, cuts to student or faculty support, program dissolutions, and/or campus-wide reorganizations. Sometimes all at once.

In the few moments I have seen of alleged financial ‘recovery’ (early to mid 2000s), I have seen the money ‘return’ from the state to the university administration — not to the classroom, not to labor, not to students. To the administration. Especially ironic given the ever escalating expectations of faculty to serve on committees and task forces that essentially run the university.

As the California Faculty Association has shown time and again, these budget ‘returns’ never make up for previous cuts. They almost always normalize new baseline lows of financial support and instructional operation for the university system as a whole and at individual campuses. All the while they increase classroom size — demanding greater faculty workload and providing compromised learning environments — while decreasing faculty research and instructional support. (Keep in mind that that research is important not merely for publication but for teaching.)

Some examples:

  • I use to receive funds for instructional materials (books, media, the like) and participation in professional associations (travel, membership dues, conference registration).
  • My normal class size used to be 35 students, now it is 49-120 (without paid assistance)
  • If I were a lecturer in the CSU, I would be expected to teach five courses a term to be considered full time (that’s 245 students a term). I’d have to teach full time for 6 years to earn ‘tenure.’
  • In 14 years at SFSU, my total raises outside of promotion have not exceeded about ten percent (meaning, they have not kept pace with inflation and I live in the SF Bay Area so you do the math — in relation to cost of living I probably earn less now than I did in 2003. I certainly pay a greater percentage of my salary to rent than I ever have and I cannot afford to buy — back to the student loan thang).

Public Funding: Education For Whom?

State and federal officials have systematically underfunded, devalued, and minimized public higher education.

From California’s “master plan” commitment to fund public higher education in 1960, to the systematic defunding of the CSU and UC system ever since, to the rise of for-profit rationales, public higher education has become virtually unaffordable for both labor and student.

Faculty, staff, and students are forced into near-constant organizing efforts to defend and advance their jobs, their benefits/supports, their curriculum/programs, and their lives. (See here and here for more information.) Not only are work loads irrational, but we are forced into fighting to protect those workloads in a near-constant state of financial duress.

And then there is the all-the-way-through-it devaluing of critical ethnic and indigenous studies, disability studies, and gender/sexuality/feminist studies. Whenever administrators imagine financial cost cutting or restructuring, it seems to come at our expense. Just watch a few of the testimonials from the SFSU community to get a sense of how that devaluation works in the lives of our students.


In two moments of recent SFSU history, university administrators have claimed financial dire straights to propose drastic restructuring of programs at the department and college level.

In 2011, when the university proposed and then carried out a complete overall of college organization that resulted in college and department mergers, staff reassignments and early retirements, and increased faculty course loads. As reported in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Express, the California Faculty Association appointed a professor of accounting to analyze the university’s reorganization plan and budget:

Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University who has done similar analyses at CSUs Humboldt and Dominguez Hills, was appointed by the California Faculty Association SFSU chapter to evaluate campus spending. He detailed his findings that state there is no reason for cuts to faculty and students but rather costs of the administration. “The idea that SFSU is broke is absurd. It’s an absurd notion,” Bunis said. “As we’re going to show you, the only thing that’s broke are the priorities of the administration.” According to Bunsis, SF State currently has $78 million in restricted reserve funds and $20 million in unrestricted reserves. Cuts should be made in a particular order, but should begin with assessing reserves, he said… “Reserves should be used for short-term unexpected declines in revenue or short-term unexpected expenses,” he said. “That’s what they’re there for.” The University accounting office, Bunsis said, has documents detailing budgetary issues, but is not allowing those affected by them to see them. “They exist and they have them, they’re just not showing them to us,” he said. “It’s immoral to do so.” With the average cost per member at $230,000, he said, the administration is the largest academic unit with 214 employees. Bunsis noted that with a 20 percent reduction in administration positions, the University would save $5 million.

Despite criticisms of the proposal, SFSU administrators proceeded on course.

In 2016, when the university proposed to gut the College of Ethnic Studies, Howard Bunsis again reviewed and reported that there was no crisis justifying the proposed cuts. As covered in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Expressand the California Faculty Association:

Bunsis announced that SF State was not operating at a structural deficit like administration officials previously claimed, and that money should not be cut from any of the colleges.  “The idea of a college owing money or having a deficit is completely made up,” Bunsis said. “There’s no empirical evidence for it. Show me where the revenues are and where the expenses are and where is that structural deficit.”…During his analysis, Bunsis emphasized that SF State and the CSU are doing well financially. “SF State is in solid financial condition; they have sufficient reserves,” Bunsis said. “This institution does not have a financial crisis.” Bunsis brought up SF State’s assets, operating cash flow, enrollment rates and tuition costs, all of which were at adequate levels compared to the rest of the CSU system. Bunsis repeatedly put SF State in the middle in regards to its financial ranking. Attending the meeting were students and faculty from Defend and Advance Ethnic Studies, who were frustrated with administration’s lack of transparency concerning the 2016-17 budget and the financial issues surrounding the College of Ethnic Studies.

Only after a well-publicized student hunger strike and series of actions on campus did the SFSU administration back-track and restore some funding to the College.

But the SFSU budget remains a mystery — it is near impossible, even for the faculty union or mid-level management — to secure accurate information or details. This seems inherently problematic when it is the budget that is being used to justify the proposed cuts.

Austerity Capitalism

Returning to Naomi Klein, it is difficult not to be cynical or pessimistic when university officials claim that there is “no budget” when proposing or enacting dire cuts to programs that have such profound impact on particularly racialized, gendered, classed communities of faculty, staff, and students.

Budgets are politics by other means.

So if Klein is right we have to begin with the premise that the financial crisis is produced not organic. That serious choices are being made that do not only trickle down but flood. And that those who are barely or un- able to float are, well, not going to be mourned when they drown. For faculty, they’ll turn to temporary laborers within minimal contractual protections and no benefits; for students, they’ll raise tuition and increase international admissions.

Public higher education institutions like the CSU and UIUC have been (re)defined by free market ideologies and capitalist dreams. Maybe it is the communities and scholars who are working to change that as a given who are being thrown out of the boat first? Maybe the histories and cultures that challenge those goals as evolutionary wisdom are the ones being held under water?



The New Indian Removal

Reflections on the Dismantling of the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

anti chiefSince the early 2000s the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) developed one of the most vibrant Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) departments in the country, including several faculty lines, an artist and elder resident program, and student fellowships. Its faculty included those reknown for their scholarship (Jodi A. Byrd, Chickasaw), creative work (Joy Harjo, Muscogee), and international leadership in the professional development of the field of NAIS (Robert Warrior, Osage). One of their most recent programmatic accomplishments was the receit of an award to mentor (post)doctoral students working comparatively (transnationally) in NAIS across the hemisphere and Pacific. They were pushing disciplinary and intellectual boundaries in uniquely geopolitical ways, showing up the global relationality of Native/Indigenous experiences of U.S., Canadian, and European imperialism and colonialism while remaining attuned to the needs for Native/Indigenous faculty development and student mentorship.

This was no small matter for Native American and Indigenous communities in the United States. It seems just about every Native person has seen — some multiple times — the film In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports (1997), which documents the culture of racism towards Native faculty, staff, and students at UIUC. This culture of racism has been instanced and perpetuated by the Chief Illiniwek mascot, officially retired in February 2007 to comply with NCAA regulations but continually performed and marketed at UIUC sports events and local entertainment and food venues.

Many know that Native families in the region have been hesitant to send their children to UIUC and that tribes have rejected or been hesitant to develop productive relations with the university (even while supporting Native faculty, staff, and students and the department) because of the racist ideologies and practices that the mascot represents. Many also know that Native/Indigenous faculty, staff, and students have experienced ongoing acts of racist violence and harrassment, including the vandalism of an outdoor exhibit, “Beyond the Chief” by Edgar Heap of Birds in 2009, racist events sponsored by sororities and fraternities and campus organizations, and racialized threats against Native/Indigenous students, staff, and faculty on social media.

UIUC’s building of the AIS department suggested an effort to cultivate of a different kind of culture. In the spirit of that effort, during the 2014-15 academic year, AIS proposed to change its department name to Indigenous Studies and hired Palestinian scholar Steven Salaita. These actions were consistent with their work to extend the boundaries of the field. But anti-Palestinian groups and individuals as well as pro-Israeli funders mobilized a fierce reactionary attack that resulted in Salaita’s firing and his subsequent lawsuit and settlement over the violation of his civil rights in that firing (see here for details on the attacks).

In the context of campus and international attacks on AIS faculty over Salaita’s hiring, firing, and lawsuit/settlement, and the continued on-campus racism against Native/Indigenous faculty, staff, and students represented by the Chief’s relentless resusitation in post-retirement, AIS faculty have transfered their lines to other departments or left the campus altogether. At the end of the 2015-16 academic year, there will be no core faculty in the department.

Two Updates (6/1):

  1. The faculty have been informed that the UIUC administration will not commit itself to hire another NAIS scholar for 2 years, effectively absorbing the approximately $800,000 annually for the six faculty lines in AIS into the campus coffer. The real achievement, then, was gutting the faculty lines in order to reaquire the money for itself. In two years, the administration will have covered the Salaita settlement and pocketed $600,000.
  2. There are — will still be — Native/Indigenous faculty and fellows on campus but none will be in the department of American Indian Studies: the two current faculty in AIS are assistant professor Jenny L. Davis (Chickasaw), who will be transfering to Anthropology in August, and professor/director Robert Warrior (Osage), who will be moving to the University of Kansas in August. Davis’ first year on campus was the year of Salaita’s hiring/firing. The three postdoctural fellows include Silvia Soto, Brianna Theobald, and Korinta Maldonado. The faculty who have remained on campus but have transfered their lines include Jody A. Byrd (Chickasaw), who is now in English and Gender and Women’s Studies, and Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi), who is now in History. Faculty who have left the campus include Vincent M. Diaz (Pohnpeian/Filipino) and Christine Taitano DeLisle (Chamorro), who are at the University of Minnesota. LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) had already moved to the University of Georgia. Affiliated faculty include Joy Harjo (Muscogee) in English; Brenda Farnell (Anthropology); Fred Hoxie (History); Robert Dale Parker (History).

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

In God Is Red, Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., suggests that history ought to be understood not as a temporal progression or evolution of events but in its geocultural contexts. In other words, history is not about time but about place.

When the history of AIS at UIUC is told, it should be told not as an inevitable, natural, or social evolution of events, but as defined by the place now known as Urbana-Champaign.

The cities of Urbana and Champaign were built within the historical territories of the Illinois Confederacy, including the tribes of the Albiui, Amonokoa, Cahokia, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Kaskaskia, Moingwena, Michigamea, Espeminkia, Maroa, Matchinkoa, Michibousa, Negawichi, Peoria, Tamaroa, and Tapouara.

Through 1700, the confederacy was decimated by disease and warfare.

By 1800, only five tribes remained in the area—the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa. (Urbana was founded in 1822.) Under the terms of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the tribes were forced to cede their territories and remove to Indian Territory, which at the time included territories that would later become the states of Kansas and Oklahoma. (Champaign was founded in 1855.) As with so many other cities in the region, Urbana and Champaign were established and developed largely after the Illinois Central Railroad laid its tracks two miles west of downtown Urbana.

According to the UIUC website:

“The University was one of 37 public land-grant institutions established after the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act was signed by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Illinois was one of seven commonwealths that had not formed a state university. Eligible for a grant of 480,000 acres of public scrip land valued at $600,000, in 1867 the state established a university for the purpose of fostering access to higher education for the working people. … Its roots began as one building located in the muddy fields between the Illinois Central train station in Champaign and the courthouse in Urbana.”

As other public land grant institutions, the UIUC campus was only possible because of the territorial dispossession of Native nations that had historical and legal claim to the lands. The forced removal and liquidation of the financial assets of those nations under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act expedited the dispossession and economically, geographically legitimated non-Native claims to the land and their capital investments.

There is something ironic in the fact that the lands, under U.S. control, were reformulated as lands for the public, common interest — higher education and railroad transportation. Public and the common good, of course, meaning everything and anything not Indigenous.

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The New Indian Removal

Where are Native/Indigenous people in Illinois?

Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the American Indian and Alaska Native population of Illinois grew by 41.8 percent to represent .3% of the total state population.

According to the 2010 census, American Indian and Alaska Native population people are over-represented in the state’s prison population; they are about 3.5 times more likely to be in prison than Whites (see graph below).

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According to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform:

“Historically, Illinois has had a costly overreliance on prison which has grown exponentially in the last four decades, from 6,000 inmates in 1974 to almost 49,000 today. The growth has continued despite space constraints – today’s prison system was designed to hold only 32,000 – and falling crime rates since the early 1990s. …  Almost 60 percent of the prison population were Black compared to 15 percent of the general population. And while nearly 65 percent of the general population is White, Whites made up less than 30 percent of the prison population.”

According to the Illinois Poverty Rate:

“Poverty rates are 2 to 3 times higher for Illinoisans of color, and people of color fare far worse on nearly every measure of well-being. In the latest of its annual reports on poverty, “Racism’s Toll,” Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center lays bare the moral, human, and economic cost of the deep inequities in the state. Virtually all research on poverty shows that people of color are at a much greater risk of experiencing poverty across all age groups and across generations than whites. And mountains of other statistics and studies show the stark differences in outcomes, status, and experiences between whites and people of color: Black children in Illinois are nearly 4 times more likely to live below the poverty line than white children; the Illinois school districts with the most students of color receive 16% less in funding per student than districts serving the fewest students of color; unemployment rates are far higher for black Illinois workers than whites at every educational level; Illinoisans of color are 2 to 3 times more likely to not have health insurance; Black Illinoisans on average live 6 years less than whites; Poor black (16%) and Latino (22%) Illinoisans are more likely to live within a mile of a hazardous chemical facility than poor whites (13%); nationally, the median net worth for a white household is $110,500 versus $6,314 for a black household.”

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty:

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How do we understand these disparities?

According to Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

Apparently, in the United States, there is plenty of room for Native, Indigenous, and other racialized groups in U.S. prisons, unemployment, and homelessness but there isn’t any room for their sovereign rights on their traditional territories or in their unique cultures.


Chief Illiniwek literally, figuratively, and economically replaced the citizens of the Illinois Confederacy with a charactiture of a non-existent Indian chief. He did so under the guise of celebrating the state’s history, multiculturalism, and campus achievement but advanced patriarchal ideologies via the hyper-masculinity of white athleticism. At the same time, the university geoeconomically replaced the territories of the Illinois Confederacy with an institution of “public education” the Chief and his culture of racism has made intolerable for NAIS and scholarship, let alone for Native faculty, staff, and students.

UIUC created the opportunity for itself to change these things, to change its relationship to the lands and their peoples. It chose not to continue in the most hostile ways imaginable.

And what is particularly disturbing is that UIUC is not alone. As critical ethnic and indigenous studies programs around the country are struggling to survive systemic and systematic attacks, often under the guise of austerity, one can only wonder what other Chief Illiniweks will be (re)created to rationalize their erasure.

Charging Ethnic Studies


Photo Credit: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle

There is debt, and then there is indebtedness.


12768361_10209237502839770_8312454416598224311_oI offer some observations about the issues raised at Thursday’s meeting between San Francisco State University (SFSU) students, alumi, faculty, and staff of the College of Ethnic Studies (COES) and SFSU President Leslie Wong, Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ronald Cortez concerning the proposed COES budget for 2016-2017.

State Funding

1) As public education throughout the United States, the California State University (CSU) has been systematically underfunded even as student admissions applications and graduation rates have steadily risen. According to the CSU Budget Office:

The CSU’s 23 campuses are the source of almost half the bachelor’s degrees awarded each year in California and nearly one-third of the master’s degrees. Yet years of fiscal crisis have constrained the CSU’s capacity to admit students. In the fall 2012 term, the CSU had to deny admission to more than 20,000 eligible California undergraduate applicants. While the state still faces fiscal uncertainties, the CSU has legitimate funding needs in order to carry out its critically important mission for California of student access, success and completion. This 2014/15 support budget request is tempered by recognition of the state’s ongoing fiscal challenge, yet represents a credible statement of the university’s key funding needs. During a half decade of state fiscal crisis, state support fell to a low of $2.0 billion…. this amount was nearly one-third below the peak level of state support of $2.97 billion in 2007/08. A funding recovery began with the enacted 2013/14 state budget. Nevertheless, the current level of state funding is less than what was provided in 2000/01 (13 years earlier) when the CSU General Fund appropriation was $2.47 billion. This comparison makes no adjustment for inflation. Moreover, in 2013/14, the CSU is teaching almost 58,000 more California resident, full-time equivalent students (FTES).

12744124_1546635535648482_2709572018719127134_nSince the 1990s, rather than challenge public officials and voter priorities concerning the funding of education and address dwindling state support, CSU administrators have embraced corporate business models and assumed the operational role of fundraisers: looking for ways to privatize funding sources; create new revenue streams; develop contracts with corporations like Coke and Pepsi for campus monopolies for which the corporations pay donations; attrack donors through spectacular events and benefits; and create ways of augmenting programs with potential to bring in the dollars (athletics).

These efforts are capitalist-driven and they treat Ethnic Studies, Women’s/Gender and Sexuality Studies, Disability Studies, and the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Creative Arts — which tend not to bring in large private donations — as financial burdens to bear even as they herald ‘those programs’ as examples of how universities fulfill their ethical and legal mandates to serve social justice and multiple kinds of communities historically disadvantaged.

Ethnic Studies

12747412_10209237101029725_36213929216301683_oOn March 21, 2014, the CSU unanimously approved a statement to advance Ethnic Studies within the CSU. In part, the statement provides that the CSU is:

RESOLVED: That the ASCSU endorse the efforts of the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge CSU campuses and the Office of the Chancellor to vigorously support the growth and development of Ethnic Studies by providing adequate funding and support; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge that changes in status made to Ethnic Studies departments or programs only occur in consultation with campus Ethnic Studies faculty and through established campus curricular review processes; and be it further; RESOLVED: That ASCSU encourage campuses to evaluate Ethnic Studies programs, as we evaluate all academic programs, by recognizing their academic merit and educational and societal value rather than purely financial considerations; and be it further; RESOLVED: The ASCSU commend the California State Legislature for adopting Assembly Concurrent Resolution 71 – Relative to Africana Studies (2013) which expressed support for the continuation of Africana studies departments, programs, and related projects in California’s institutions of higher education, and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU distribute this resolution to the CSU Board of Trustees, CSU Chancellor, Timothy P. White, CSU campus Presidents, CSU campus Senate Chairs, CSU Provosts/Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs, California Faculty Association, CSU Ethnic Studies Council, California State Student Association and Members of the California State Assembly and Senate.

12747896_10209237025107827_4789752766287086561_oThe introduction to the SFSU strategic plan reads:

Emerging from the University’s long-standing commitments to teaching, learning and social justice, the new strategic plan is anchored by five core University values: Courage, Life of the Mind, Equity, Community and Resilience.

It goes without saying that the COES is core to the ability of SFSU to fulfill its own strategic mandate to advance social justice and equity. A fulfillment established in a January 2016 by a Stanford University report to have profound impact on student success.

In this study, we estimate the causal effects of an ethnic studies curriculum piloted in several San Francisco high schools. We rely on a “fuzzy” regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade GPAs below a threshold to take the course in ninth grade. Our results indicate that assignment to this course increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. These surprisingly large effects are consistent with the hypothesis that the course reduced dropout rates and suggest that culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.

Disporportionate Cuts, Centralization of Curriculum, and a Lack of Transparency About it All

Provost Rosser said that in 2009-2010 (her first year on the job) that CSU systemwide experienced a 10 percent budget reduction. CSU faculty, through their union, voted to accept a 10 percent pay cut or furlough to help compensate and save temporary faculty jobs.

During that same year, SFSU imposed a 15.89% cut on the COES.

At the time, the COES had 60 full-time faculty. Today it has 37. Over time, as faculty have retired in Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino and Latina Studies, the departments have not been permitted to replace them. Two promised lines to help develop the initiative in Arab Ethnicities and Muslim Diaspora Studies were withdrawn. American Indian Studies has had no new faculty lines since its last hire in 2010. The Cesar Chavez Institute, the M.A. graduate program, and the Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center have all lost funded positions for directors and advisors.

But since 2009-2010, course offerings in the COES have increased. This has occured through the centralization of augments for temporary faculty or lecturers in the Office of Academic Affairs (AA) by Provost Rosser.

After preliminary course schedules are produced by department chairs for tenure and tenure track faculty, with a few courses scheduled for temporary faculty through union entitlements or course releases, AA reviews the coverage of general education or statutory requirement courses in the COES. The courses are neeeded by the campus community in order to help facilitate student graduation and tend to be the ones most impacted in enrollment. But rather than allowing department autonomy in developing curriculum, AA decides which courses will get added and for how many sections. Departments then assign temporary lecturers to cover the courses. This has involved anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the total course offerings in the COES.

(As a side note, I should say that when American Indian Studies conducted its last self-study a couple years ago, Provost Rosser was sharply critical of how much weight was given to general education courses within our curriculum, a situation her office has directly created.)

At the meeting yesterday, while Wong, Rosser, and Cortez maintained repeatedly that there would be no cuts to the COES budget for next year, they also said that the COES would not receive any augmentation. Without augments for temporary faculty, there will be a reduction in anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of course offerings within the COES, varying by individual departments and programs.

12771723_1260535523962196_5273478727024577096_oIn fact, the COES Dean Ken Monteiro reported that the proposed budget for the COES will not even cover existing tenure and tenure track faculty salaries. But he was also careful to point out that he has not yet received a consistent or full accounting of the current or proposed COES budget from the administration. More directly, he has been given conflicting information.

That conflict is reflected in public statements issued by the SFSU administration. The budget they gave to the COES a couple weeks ago stated that it was at $3.6 million minus $245,000 for augments but is now saying — at the meeting yesterday and to the press — that the budget is $5 million. Both of these things cannot be true.

It also cannot be true that the SFSU administration knows how much — to the lecturer, to the course — that the COES budget needs to be cut by and not be able to produce an accurate budget. At the meeting, students demanded that the administration produce such an accounting by the end of Black History Month — Monday, February 29, by 5:00 pm. (You can read his non-response response here.)

Cuts v. Debt

Throughout the meeting, Wong, Rosser, and  Cortez maintained that the COES proposed budget would not be cut for the next academic year. They maintained that there would be no loss of permanent faculty or temporary lecturers. Several newspapers and blogs have repeated this insistence as a fact of goodwill.

What they did not address or acknowledge was the impact of the alleged debt they have imposed on the COES. In a letter addressed to the SFSU community on February 23, Wong stated:

Be assured that no plan exists to reduce the yearly budget for any of our six colleges, including the College of Ethnic Studies. While our 2016-17 budget for the University has not been finalized, we expect this year’s allocation to closely resemble last year’s. What has changed is how we respond to programs, including colleges, that run annual deficits, as has been the case for Ethnic Studies in recent years. When budget gaps have been discovered in other programs, a strategy was developed that allowed the program to continue while arranging to pay back its debt to the University within a set timeframe. In the case of the College of Ethnic Studies, no reimbursement plan has been requested. But the college has been asked to adapt to new budgetary discipline moving forward.  Adapting to new budgetary guidelines can come with challenges and, as I’m hearing from members of the College and others in the SF State community, anxiety about the unknown. As a lifelong educator, I believe strongly that increasing knowledge can greatly decrease concerns.

So, technically, Wong, Rosser, and  Cortez insist that they are not imposing any budget cuts on the COES but are only expecting the COES to make its account current. To balance the books. To stop over-spending?


As reported by Inside Higher Education, On January 8, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed $1 billion in new funding for public institutions, “an increase of 3.4 percent. (Roughly $590 million of that amount would come from the state’s general fund.) The total of $30 billion in state support for higher education would be an increase of 30 percent since 2012, when California emerged from years of deep, recession-driven budget cuts.”

As reported by Press Telegram, “Gov. Jerry Brown’s funding proposal for CSU during 2016-17 calls for an additional $139.4 million investment to pay for net student growth enrollment at 1 percent. CSU says 3 percent enrollment growth is needed. The higher growth rate would cost another $102.3 million in state funding, allowing CSU to enroll about 12,600 additional students.”

If the CSU budget is being augmented by the Governor’s office, allowing for student growth enrollment, how is it that the SFSU budget for the coming academic year is not also augmented? Why is the COES going to experience cuts at a time of growth, even a modest one, within the CSU? Why has the COES been asked to bear the brunt or the lion’s share of budget cuts to SFSU since 2009? Shouldn’t we be talking about what SFSU owes to the COES?

The Beginning and End of Ethnic Studies

Joanne Barker


UPDATED: Last week at San Francisco State University (SFSU), the only College of Ethnic Studies (COES) in the United States, was informed that next year’s budget would be cut somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000: based on this year’s budget of $3.6 million, that would mean a 13.8 percent budget cut (see table below).

To be clear, the COES has already experienced severe cuts: for instance, in 2009, the COES had 60 full-time faculty and now has only 37 full-time faculty.

The proposed cuts for 2016-2017 could mean no faculty sabbaticals or course release, no lecturers, no research institutes, no student resource center, and the suspension of all hiring initiatives on new and replacement faculty lines most immediately impacting a current search in Africana Studies. Tenure and tenure track faculty would be expected to make up the difference by significantly increasing their course loads and advising responsibilities. Further, with 40-50 percent less course offerings (considering the total percentage of those courses currenty offered by lecturers), students’ time-to-degree could also be adversely impacted.

The proposed cuts represent the systematic undercutting of COES resources at SFSU over the last decade. It is part of the structural undercutting of Ethnic Studies across the California State University (CSU) system and California public education more broadly. Unexceptionally, it shows what is going on nationally in regards to the advancement of neoliberal agendas to suspend funding of public education and social services (towards their privatization) while increasing funding for “national security” (the military, the militarization of police) as well as government subsidies of corporations and industry.


→ Since 2009, the College of Ethnic Studies has experienced budget cuts totalling about 10.48 percent.

→ The proposed cuts to the College budget for 2016-2017, totalling anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000 or 13.8% of this year’s budget, could result in a combination of specific cuts to the following: The Cesar Chavez Research Institute; Outreach and programming; the Ethnic Studies Student Resource Center; Tenured Faculty MOUs; Sabbatical replacements; Course release for Senate and other service; Work studies; Temporary lecturer appointments.

→ If the cuts go through it means that since 2009, the College of Ethnic Studies has experienced budget cuts totalling about 25 percent.

Working As Learning Conditions

Within the CSU, faculty time is allocated on a five-course per term basis. Each campus, college, and department has modest authority to decide on how to allocate faculty responsibilities and evaluations of performance on that basis.

Generally speaking, faculty tend to secure one course release per term for administrative responsibilities and one course release per term for research and publication. The other three courses they teach, and they are expected to enroll 50 students each. The overwhelming majority of faculty in the CSU are not provided with teaching assistance. This means that faculty are expected to teach three courses and grade the work of 150 students per semester without aid.

The only viable support for faculty research—the foundational basis on which curriculum design, publications, and conference presentations are produced—has to come from a modicum of CSU and campus-based grants and one-term sabbaticals. These grants and awards are highly competitive.

12719227_10153781283551418_6716576196408209125_oAt SFSU and in the COES, faculty wanting time for the professional development of their research and writing or for travel expenses to vet their work at conferences and workshops generally must secure outside funding from equally competitive sources. The policy has been that faculty are “charged” $10-12,000 per course per term for course release. Meaning, effectively, that a faculty person who wants time off teaching for research and does not have a CSU or SFSU grant to do so must secure an outside grant or fellowship at a minimum of $30,000 for a term and $60,000 for the academic year. Since most national fellowships, such as the Ford Foundation, average $45,000/year, CSU and SFSU has created a situation that essentially disqualifies faculty from being able to apply for these awards unless they are willing to make up the difference out of pocket.

Even without viable financial support for research and travel, faculty are expected to publish, present at conferences, and serve their communities. In addition to teaching evaluations, publications and service are used to decide retention and promotion.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the work load, lack of job stability, and salary of temporary faculty. Over the last decade, in fact, course offerings have been so centralized by the SFSU administration that the majority of temporary faculty in the COES have to wait 3 to 4 weeks before the term, and then 1 to 2 weeks into the term, to find out whether or not they have a job and then whether or not their courses will stay on the books for meeting enrollment expectations.

It seems superfluous at this point to have to say that the working conditions of faculty have dire impact on the environment of student learning, advising, and mentoring.

National Politics, National Contexts

The proposed cuts to the COES budget for 2016-2017 will wipe out what is left of any COES support for faculty research, hiring, and collaborations and modest student resources that have survived a decade of systematic gutting. The only way to understand the political significance of these proposed cuts is to situate them within national debates over public education and its responsibilities and relationships to Ethnic Studies.

The student-led strikes of the late sixties and early seventies were about redressing the curriculum of public education. The central criticisms that coalesced strike demands (which led to the formation of the COES at SFSU and Ethnic Studies programs around the country) was the responsibility and relevance of higher education not merely to the communities it served (though it was about that) but to its historical and institutional service to a particularly conservative, racist, and sexist notion of United States history, culture, society, economics, and politics. The strikes, in other words, were strikes against the way the erasure, distortion, and outright lies within higher education about United States history served the political agendas of whiteness, heteronormativity, and class exploitation.

But the response to the strike demands was uneven and often failed, characterized by the treatment of Ethnic Studies faculty, staff, and students as “window dressing” for university public relations (often presenting itself as an institution of social justice and equity) and of Ethnic Studies curriculum as a quaint and largely optional set of electives. Yes, even within the CSU and at SFSU, Ethnic Studies faculty tell many stories of being told that their professional journals and associations do not stand up to the scholarly rigor or intellectual relevance of their peers, that their courses are interesting but not ultimately necessary, and that their students would do better pursing more employable degrees.

The truth is that ever since the formation of Ethnic Studies, public officials and university administrators have been trying to “roll back” the changes. They have not used striker and subsequent critiques of higher education as an occasion to question university curriculum or the function of public education more broadly. Instead, they have indulged false nostalgia in attempts to get back to the day when those critiques were seen to be silenced or at least inconsequential.

power_to_the_people_by_acffOn May 11, 2010 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2281 to prohibit a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: 1) promotes the overthrow of the Federal or state government or the Constitution; 2) promotes resentment toward any race or class (e.g. racism and classism); 3) advocates ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals; 4) are designed for a certain ethnicity. The law had to allow: 1) Native American classes in order to comply with federal law; 2) grouping of classes based on academic performance; 3) classes about the history of an ethnic group open to all students; 4) classes discussing controversial history. The bill was lobbied by Tom Horne, superintendent of public instruction, to cut the Mexican-American Studies offerings within the Tucson Unified School District because he thought them “destructive ethnic chauvinism and that Mexican American students are oppressed.”

On September 13, 2015, faculty, students, and staff at the University of California, Berkeley, submitted a letter with over 660 signatures to the Chancellor, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost contesting a proposed “repositioning” of the Center of Race and Gender that would effectively downgrade its budgeting and institutional support.

Arizona’s HB 2281 and budget changes at UCB foreshadowed SFSU’s proposed 40 percent budget cuts to COES.

Of particular concern is how the cuts and their legal counterparts represent a broader conservative political agenda to “roll back” the institutional and political reformations of Ethnic Studies in public education.

Rather than looking for ways to advance Ethnic Studies, and its potential for raising serious questions about the implications of things like military spending and the militarization of the police, university administrators and public officials are strategizing how to end it.

The immediate goal of budget cuts serves conservative, neoliberal interests to diminish the potential critical attention and student empowerment within Ethnic Studies as a discipline and curriculum to revolutionize imperialist, racist, and sexist norms within public education and U.S. society.

Hand of deth


(1) The College of Ethnic Studies includes the following departments and programs: Africana Studies Department, American Indian Studies Department, Asian American Studies Department, Latina and Latino Studies Department, and the Race and Resistance Studies Program (including the initiative in Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies).

News Links

Things you can do to support:

  1. email and call the SFSU President Leslie Wong: email:; office: (415) 338-1381
  2. email and call the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser: email:; office: (415) 338-1141
  3. organize and email group letters of support through your programs, departments, associations, and organizations
  4. join the Facebook page for updates
  5. sign the student petition here

The Indigenous Feminist Killjoy

I write in conversation with Sara Ahmed‘s “Feminist Killjoy,” Mimi Thi Nguyen‘s “On Losing ‘Andrea Smith,'” and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson‘s “Land as Pedagogy” and Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back.

“We begin with a table. Around this table, the family gathers, having polite conversations, where only certain things can be brought up. Someone says something you consider problematic. You are becoming tense; it is becoming tense. … The family gathers around the table; these are supposed to be happy occasions. How hard we work to keep the occasion happy, to keep the surface of the table polished so that it can reflect back a good image of the family. So much you are not supposed to say, to do, to be, in order to preserve that image. If you say, or do, or be anything that does not reflect the image of the happy family back to itself, the world becomes distorted. You become the cause of a distortion. You are the distortion you cause.” — Sara Ahmed, “Feminist Killjoys” (2010)

The Indian Happy Place


“Growing up in Oklahoma, we have come into contact with Native American culture institutionally our whole lives — something we are eternally grateful for… With age, we feel a deeper and deeper connection to the Native American culture that has surrounded us. Though it may not have been our own, this aesthetic has affected us emotionally in a very real and very meaningful way.” Christina Falin, daughter of Oklahoma Governor, defending her portrait (2014)

Imagine a world where everyone gets to be Indigenous. It’s a world of happy.

Everyone walks around–from music festivals to Anytown, U.S.A.–in headdresses or headbands, animal skins, moccasins, with braided hair and war paint, carrying spears or bows and arrows or tomahawks. When people aren’t in what they think of as costume, they wear “tribally-inspired” lingerie and shoes. Fringe and suede and turquoise and feathers are every where.

Music videos, fashion shows, and “pro-Indian” Hollywood movies–from No Doubt to Victoria’s Secret to Adam Sandler and beyond–include lots of Indian warwhoops and comedic puns about slutty squaws and drunken warriors and we all dance and laugh cause it’s fun(ny). We wear our sports mascots with pride, and tomahawk chop ourselves silly at half-time shows.

We enjoy free access to every public and tribal land area so we can celebrate and explore our inner, natural spirituality. Oftentimes while naked and intoxicated.

And anyone, everyone, is able to claim either Indian or a tribally-specific identity–as descent or ascent–because that’s how they feel. They have always felt themselves to be Indian or Cherokee or whatever and so they must be. And anyone who says otherwise is mean, violent, and/or racist.

And we are all happy about it.

Because in the Indian happy place there is no longer any U.S. empire, colonialism, racism, sexism, or homophobia. There are no class divisions between us. There is no history of imperial dispossession, slavery, genocide, or oppression. All of those things might have existed a long time ago–we barely even remember them–but they certainly do not exist any longer. We have evolved.

We believe in ourselves as being evolved, at peace with ourselves and with one another, and having a damn good time of it besides.

11800253_10207725824208749_8357248191579677160_nThe Indigenous Feminist Killjoy

And then Indigenous people’s show up and spoil everyone’s happy.

Not all Indigenous people, of course, and not everyone’s happy. Because there is no monolithic Indigenous perspective or everyone affect.

So let’s say some Indigenous people show up and muck-up the happy affect for some others. And let’s be even more specific and say that it is some Indigenous women–many of whom identify as feminists–who have shown up and those whose joy they have killed include not only those who benefit from the social forces of white heteronormative capitalism that appropriate and misrepresent Indigeneity (the ones being called out to respond), but unexpectedly those who understand themselves to be aligned with, and have even worked alongside, Indigenous women against the exploitations and oppressions of white heteronormative capitalism.

And this is where it gets odd.

Because all of the seats at the table are full–family, friends, colleagues, allies, strangers, those with whom you do and do not share your politics and concerns. And some Indigenous women, some of whom identify as feminists, are perceived to have played a mean, violent, racist game of musical chairs to unseat others. Not only those who have committed years and years of cultural appropriation or misrepresentation, not only those implicated or benefiting from the appropriation and the misrepresentation, but other Indigenous scholars, activists, and artists and those who have seen themselves as naturally aligned with Indigenous women, perhaps especially those who identify themselves as feminist, against state (sanctioned) violence and oppression.

Indigenous feminists are represented as having done it all carelessly and callously, not so much with their talk of the role of cultural appropriation and identity fraud within the U.S. empire and its structural, systemic forms of colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. That talk is dismissed as liberal, progressive, leftist gobbledegook by those who benefit from the empire. That talk is embraced by others disenfranchised.

Rather, it is the talk of Indigenous governance, territorial rights, belonging, and responsibility that is figured by feminists and anti-racist activists (not necessarily different people or organizations), both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as careless, disingenuous, assimilationist, and statist. (Because decolonization means anyone can claim, or “good work” their way into, Indigeneity?)

The Indigenous Table


Individual affiliated with the Cayuga Nation

There is a table where Indigenous people’s sit. Heterosexuals, queers, trans, others. Wealthy, middle class, working, poor. Urban, rural, reservation. Democrat, Republican, Green, leftist, progressive. Traditionalists, Christians, atheists. Feminist, non feminists, anti-feminist. It is a table many of us have written about.

And yet, in this moment, in the not-new revelations concerning “Andrea Smith,” the Indigenous feminist scholar at the table is vilified for advancing colonialist, assimilationist tools of state violence and discrimination. For reifying racist tools of identity and identification. For attacking and bullying a woman. For personal jealousies and grudges.

The table is as intimate and familiar as the tribal. Where “feminism” bears the burdens of being anti-traditional (not culturally authentic) and anti-sovereignty. Where Indigenous women, queers, trans, and others are asked to shut up about, or set aside, their experiences and criticisms of tribal sexism and homophobia for the sake of “the tribe” and its ever fragile legal status under the empire’s rule.

The table is also where the trauma of identity fraud and the complex histories of brutal, violently enforced cultural assimilation programs run as deep as the interpersonal conflicts that can so often play out over a family meal. All of the anger, fear, and confusion over ongoing histories of dispossession, genocide, and erasure bear down on how we see and eat with one another. It is painful and raw. And it makes us feel vulnerable and exposed. It reminds us of our feelings of vulnerability and exposure. We are vulnerable and exposed.

And how dare the Indigenous feminist bring it all up. Speak it out loud. Make it here where otherwise it could be held at bay and turned into something else. A different kind of happy, to be sure, but a happy-as-comfortable place where the pain is not present or marked. Where we don’t talk about the frauds we eat with. Where we don’t talk about fraud at all. Where we sometimes feel like frauds ourselves.

UnknownThe Feminist, Anti-Racist, Progressive Table

“As feminists we have our own tables. If we are unseated by the family table, it does not necessarily follow that we are seated together. … It is not just that feelings are “in tension,” but that the tension is located somewhere: in being felt by some bodies, it is attributed as caused by another body, who comes to be felt as apart from the group, as getting in the way of its enjoyment and solidarity. The body of color is attributed as the cause of becoming tense, which is also the loss of a shared atmosphere. As a feminist of color you do not even have to say anything to cause tension! The mere proximity of some bodies involves an affective conversion. We learn from this example how histories are condensed in the very intangibility of an atmosphere, or in the tangibility of the bodies that seem to get in the way. Atmospheres might become shared if there is agreement in where we locate the points of tension. … The woman of color must let go of her anger for the white woman to move on.” — Sara Ahmed, “Feminist Killjoys” (2010)

“So it might be that the disclosures about Smith produce a profound ambivalence among those who cite and even love her scholarship or activism, and who are now confronted with the anxious question of whether her scholarship or activism remains usable; and it might be that such ambivalence also encompasses what her defenders know about themselves as scholars and activists. One could also feel this as a loss of self, and such loss might account for the reactive idealization of Smith against challenges to it. It would be understandably difficult to admit to unknowing (or partial unknowing) participation in the duping of whole fields of scholars and activists, or to admit that oneself has been duped; such that one might willfully misread, for example, the years-long timeline during which Smith’s friends, colleagues, and others sought to resolve her false claims in private, to then describe the tempo of these last weeks as an ungenerous demand.” — Mimi Thi Nguyen, “On Losing ‘Andrea Smith” (2015)

Ahmed and Nguyen help me think about the act of being unseated, of unseating, and the act of recasting through an affective conversion of the Indigenous feminist into not merely the obstacle to happiness–the killer of joy–but the tool of the liberal state. They help me think about the kinds of political, intellectual, and emotional attachments and identifications with “Andrea Smith” and her work across and between critical ethnic, race, and Indigenous studies as well as gender, sexuality, and feminist studies that might inform various processes of social formation and the more specific acts of reconstituting the tables at which we sit together (or apart). They help me think about the way these various actions necessarily demand that Indigenous feminists be relocated on what Nguyen calls “a continuum with the colonial state,” as violent racists, pro-assimilationists, in order not merely to unseat them but to mute them and mutate them into agents of violence and racism. Otherwise comfortable, maybe easy, citational practices mark what Nguyen calls political and intellectual “due diligence” and otherwise absolve us of having to think about what decolonization might actually mean and demand.

Without attention to Indigenous governance and territorial rights, not only is decolonization impossible but any assertion of social justice and transformative politics is rendered anti-decolonial. Anti-Indigenous.

Here, in the very moment of the the call to responsibility to/at the Indigenous feminisms, the feminist, anti-racist, progressive table, the table is transported into the political forum over which Indigenous feminists demand Indigenous governance and territorial rights be respected. Demand their cultural protocols for relationship and responsibility be respected. Demand a legal, cultural space, a place, not under the juridical regime of the empire.

The unseating, the recasting, the conversion happens precisely in order to suppress not merely the Indigenous feminist at the table but the table itself–the place through and over which Indigenous feminists demand treaty rights, environmental justice, and respect for Indigenous cultural reckonings of relationship, in ways that challenge the “heart and soul” of both radical politics and the promises of a liberal multicultural state of inclusion. It is the table where Indigenous feminists reject the state’s promises of inclusion and claims of political solidarity and futurity that are not based on genuine forms of decolonization.


Image credit: Ange Sterritt (Gitxsan)

Image credit: Ange Sterritt (Gitxsan)

In “Land as Pedagogy,” Nishnaabeg writer and activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson argues that,

“A resurgence of Indigenous political cultures, governances and nation-building requires generations of Indigenous peoples to grow up intimately and strongly connected to our homelands, immersed in our languages and spiritualities, and embodying our traditions of agency, leadership, decision-making and diplomacy. This requires a radical break from state education systems – systems that are primarily designed to produce communities of individuals willing to uphold settler colonialism. This paper uses Nishnaabeg stories to advocate for a reclamation of land as pedagogy, both as process and context for Nishnaabeg intelligence, in order to nurture a generation of Indigenous peoples that have the skills, knowledge and values to rebuild our nation according to the word views and values of Nishnaabeg culture.” (2014)

Indigenous knowledges and ways of being in the world, and their inherent “reclamation of land” as the ground upon which Indigenous governance, rights, and cultures are built, must be the starting point for any genuinely radical or progressive political strategy or action that wants to claim itself as decolonial or in alliance with Indigenous struggles. Land as pedagogy is not merely for the classroom, it is for any political movement that envisions itself as calling for genuine social transformative justice. There is nothing “transformative” about a non-decolonial political agenda or an alliance with Indigenous struggles that does not actively engage the question of Indigenous governance and territorial rights.

In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, Simpson explains that the work of social revolution begins with the need for Indigenous peoples to engage their unique cultural teachings in how they theorize and work against state oppression and for Indigenous empowerment.

“[W]e need to engage in Indigenous processes, since according to our traditions, the processes of engagement highly influence the outcome of the engagement itself. We need to do this on our own terms, without the sanction, permission or engagement of the state, western theory or the opinions of Canadians. In essence, we need to not just figure out who we are, we need to re-establish the processes by which we live who we are within the current context we find ourselves.” (2011)

Simpson argues that these traditions are not static, biblical dictates from the past— “rigidity and fundamentalism” understood to belong to colonial ways of thinking. Rather, they are living and lived and so ever-changing understandings of how to honor the unbroken importance of elders, languages, lands, and communities in Indigenous flourishment, transformation, and resurgence. By engaging these teachings within processes of opposition to state oppression, Simpson maintains that ethical values of land-based relationships and responsibilities ground practices of “self-actualization, the suspension of judgment, fluidity, emergence, careful deliberation and an embodied respect for diversity.”

Mindful of the state’s claims to offering democratic inclusion through a liberal multiculturalism, and its commensurate call for resolution by inclusion and reconciliation, Simpson’s work points to the relevance of Indigenous epistemologies and histories for reordering Indigenous governance, territories, and social relations. That reordering calls us back to the table with one another, to all our (non)human relations and kin, to an ethics of relationship and territorial-based responsibility.

Extending the Call and Response to Progressive Allies


From where I write.

1. Where do you live? Where do you work? Where do you labor on social justice issues?

2. On whose historical lands does your residency, work, and labor happen? Who is the Indigenous nation, peoples, of that territory? Who are the Indigenous nations, peoples, who claim that territory? (See UNDRIP.)

3. What have you done to educate yourself about that Indigenous nation’s histories–legal, economic, social?

4. In what ways are you currently supporting that Indigenous nation’s struggles? When was the last time you and/or the organizations with which you work attended, co-sponsored, or otherwise labored in support of that Indigenous peoples’ political and legal concerns, social and cultural events?

5. If you are affiliated with or working through a community organization, church, neighborhood group, union: how have you educated yourself on how the issues you/they care about relate to or concern the Indigenous nation on whose lands it occupies? How have you/they actively supported Indigenous peoples community organizing or labor concerns? How have you worked to establish links between your organization, church, group and Indigenous peoples in your region?



Map of Reservations