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"We Are Not Red Indians" (We Might All Be Red Indians): Anticolonial Sovereignty Across the Borders of Time, Place and Sentiment

NYAS - Anthropology Lecture Series
September 28, 2015

Three Pueblo Indian women displaying their ollas for sale at the railroad tracks, New Mexico, ca.1900.

In a 2004 interview Yasser Arafat, in a state of near confinement and exhaustion, reflected upon his incapacity to move without the immediate threat of assassination, about the Palestinian right of return, about American elections, and his achievements. Among these achievements was the fact that “the Palestine case was the biggest problem in the world” and that Israel had “failed to wipe us out.” As a final mark of that success, he added the declarative and comparative and final point of distinction, “we are not red Indians.” This paper uses this point of comparison of a departure point to reflect upon the deep specificity and global illegibility of Indigenous struggle and life in the face of death and dispossession in North America. In order to do so I will choose a series of historical assemblages — of sociality, treaty-making, militarized pushbacks upon encroachment, spatial confinement (“reservationization”), and pushback for land, for life and for dignity within occupation to amend Arafat’s statement and reimagine “success.”  I argue that these assemblages are themselves a structure of political life that stand alongside and push against a “logic of elimination” – a logic that authorizes the removal, the attacking and “assimilating” of indigenous peoples for land. I consider these tangled processes in order to re-narrate the seemingly negligible political and corporeal life of Indigenous sovereignty within dispossession and settler occupation. This is an occupation that naturalizes itself through law and narrates itself as new, as beneficent and democratic atop the lands and lives of Indigenous peoples who persist, with sovereignties intact, in spite of this grinding historical and political process of settler colonialism. In order to put this point of comparison, and sentiment of Arafat’s achievement in relief the paper examines how is it that the very techniques of force, of pushback, of sociality and outright resistance receive the writ of dismissal within a global and comparative frame of resistance and (political life). At the end of the paper it is asked how these processes may be re-narrated and comprehended in a global, comparative frame of not only analysis, but struggles for justice.

This event will take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation offices at 470 Park Avenue South (betw. 31st and 32nd Streets). A dinner and wine reception (free to students) will precede the talk at 6pm, with the lecture beginning promptly at 7pm.

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Wenner-Gren President Leslie Aiello