All posts by niadelman

#blacklivesmatter and #sosblakaustralia: Bridging the Divide Between Anti-racist and Anti-colonial Activism

Rally Held In Baltimore Day After Charges Announced Against Officers Involved In Freddie Gray Death
Protesters filled the streets of Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. Gray’s death has become emblematic of police brutality and state violence against people of color in the United States.

As our readings by Vine Deloria Jr. have shown us, “A democratic society is always up tight about real rebellions because its very operating premise is that rebellions are nice. When rebellions turn out to be not so nice, panic prevails.” (Deloria 98).  Although written in the 60s, recent protests against state violence in New York City, Baltimore, and Australia have demonstrated that Deloria’s point remains salient. From this realization, the question looms: how are we to build resistance movements that are able to pierce through the “panic ceiling” that has lead to reporters calling black protesters “thugs” and aboriginal Australian protesters “selfish?” One proposed answer to this problem that has emerged in recent years is the possibility of going global and building transnational networks of activism, resistance, and alternative media representation.

One major obstacle to achieving transnational solidarity, however, has been the stark divide between anti-racist activism and anti-colonial activism within the United States. The lack of solidarity between black and Native American activist circles is not only confusing, but it makes certain “causes” wholly incoherent. The mutual support between anti-racist activists in the US and Palestinian activists, for example, is complicated by not including Native American activists and their causes. How can US-based activists fight for the self-determination of the Palestinian people and not do the same for the indigenous peoples whose land they are occupying?

Andrea Smith, a Cherokee feminist scholar, suggests that the gap between decolonization and anti-racism in the United States is itself the result of anti-blackness. By this, she suggests that

the colonization of Africa must disappear so that Africa can appear as ontologically colonized. According to Justice Daniel [the judge who made the famous Dred Scott decision in 1857], since only “nations” can be colonized, nations in Africa can never have existed. It is only through the disavowal of colonization that Black peoples can be ontologically relegated to the status of property. Within the Dred Scott decision, Native peoples by contrast, are situated as potential citizens. Native peoples are described as “free” people, albeit “uncivilized.” While because of their child-like primitive state, they are not worthy of citizenship at the moment, they may eventually become citizens if they were to renounce their relationship to their Native nation and demonstrate the “maturity” required to become a citizen. (Smith)

Smith further suggests that this “disappearanc e” of the colonization of Africa relegates black Americans to the status of “internal property” of the United States–making anti-racism a domestic movement “that cannot challenge the settler state itself” and, thus, further reifies the colonization and genocide of Native Americans.

Aboriginal protestors and allies “shut down” Melbourne city center on April 10th and May 1st to bring attention to the Western Australian government’s plans to close as many as 150 remote aboriginal communities. Many have alleged that such a move by the government falls under the category of “cultural genocide” as defined by the UN.

If we are to take Smith’s claims seriously, reframing anti-racism within the broader framework of global decolonization may be a more fruitful way of conceptualizing state violence within the United States and abroad. This is not to say that Native American and black activists should unite under the same cause per se but, rather, understand that remaining entirely separate movements only furthers anti-blackness and colonization. The state violence we have seen against the black residents of Baltimore does not exist in a vacuum vis-à-vis the closure of remote aboriginal communities in Australia or the high rates of teen suicide in Pine Ridge. These pockets of violence are certainly not the same, but they are undoubtedly tied to processes of colonization and violence that uphold modern nation states like the United States and Australia. This drastic unification of anti-violence movements around the world may sound far-fetched, but I’ve found similar statements on Facebook made by tribal elders in Australia, in a speech made by a community activist in Baltimore, and now I’m saying it: it’s time to get past boundaries meant to divide communities, like anti-blackness, and realize we have more to gain by committing to decolonization on a global scale than we have to lose (and have already lost).

Further Readings:


(1) Andrew Burton/Getty Images

(2) Jake Nowakowski/Herald Sun

Epistemic Repatriation: NAGPRA and the Decolonization of Academia

Larry McNeil’s “Vanishing Race” challenges claims to Native epistemology and asserts the visual sovereignty of the artist.

The past five hundred years of ongoing colonization in America has typically been described in terms of physical violence and assimilation, however it is the epistemic erasure that I wish to focus on in this post. A critical component of assimilation is an epistemic amnesia. In other words, to erase Native American theories of knowledge and effectively strip them of any agency or sovereignty. If one sees assimilation in this light, as an act of “stealing,” then Native theories of knowledge are something worth including in discourses of repatriation.

While no law can be enacted to return everything that was stolen, NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) certainly opens the door to repatriation of physical objects as well as the implicit repatriation of Native American knowledge. Perhaps the best example of how knowledge can be repatriated is in American colleges and universities. Not only do many of these institutions hold vast collections of Native artifacts and bodies, but they also hold possession over Native American knowledge. As Bronwyn Fredericks (Indigenous Australian) posits, indigenous peoples are still considered “objects” (as opposed to subjects) of the academy in the way that they are studied and how their voices are marginalized:

Personally, even though I know that our experiences as Indigenous people within universities often reflect the experiences we have as Indigenous people in broader society, I still get surprised and angry when it is other academics who espouse notions of justice and equity with whom we experience tension and conflict in asserting our rights and cultural values. (Fredericks, 3)

Native Americans protest Berkeley’s vast collection of Native bodies, amounting to some 12,000 bodies. Such protests underscore the need for reform in academia’s relationship with Native peoples.


Fredericks’ objections to the systemic racism within global academia urges us, as ethical scholars, to consider our how our way of study serves to empower or dominate Native voices. Moreover, we are challenged to investigate how our own methodologies can assume power over Native theories of knowledge, often unknowingly, in seemingly benevolent ways.

It is with this great sense of caution and sense of positionality that Fine-Dare approached the NAGPRA process at Fort Lewis College. She conducted the process in a way that privileged Native voices within the oppressive context of a research institution. Many of the Native consultants, who were present to identify objects for repatriation, expressed a desire to repatriate knowledge as well:

There was also general agreement that Native peoples’ knowledge should be solicited more often when curricular materials dealing with Native peoples were taught and archaeological and ethnographic programs planned. This knowledge should not be of a sacred or religious nature, however, but of a practical nature, such as that concerning agriculture or architecture. (Fine-Dare, Ch 4)

Sentiments like this demonstrate how the unfettered acquisition of Native knowledge can be construed as appropriation. If the discipline is committed to decolonization, then a necessary step to shifting its historically oppressive power dynamics would include recentering the study on Native voices and effectively repatriating power and control of Native epistemologies to Native peoples themselves. With this in mind, I challenge us, as a class, to consider the inherent power and privilege we possess in studying Native American issues from an academic perspective and use that knowledge to further decolonize academia.

Further Reading: